Friday 29 December 2017

2017 in Review: Looking Back

Today marks the end of my 2017 in Review series. A brief recap for the benefit of those just joining in. The series was started on Monday with a rundown of my favorite video games released in 2017. This was followed by a rundown of my favorite songs on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite albums. And yesterday, I revealed my favorite movies. Today, I'll be looking back at some of the events that shaped the year, and trying to make sense of it all.

In October of 2016, Nintendo stunned gamers with the reveal of the Nintendo Switch, its then-rumored hybrid video game console. This was followed by months of speculation sparked by the promise depicted in the first look trailer above. Expectations were high by the time the device launched at the beginning of March, but no one could have anticipated just how successful the device would prove to be. In just 10 short months, the hybrid console has sold more than 10 million units worldwide, as well as produced what many consider two of the greatest video games of all time.

On July 20th, Linkin Park vocalist, Chester Bennigton, was found dead at his home after committing suicide. I can't even begin to describe how heart broken I was when I'd heard the news. This was a man whose music and words had shaped my thoughts and feelings for many years. I still get goosebumps when I listen to his vocals on Hybrid Theory and Meteora, feeling the angst, pain and sadness they so skillfully convey, as though the emotions were my own. Now we know that those emotions were a cry for help that went unanswered for far too long.

Ever since the sexual misconducts of movie producer Harvey Weinstein were brought to light by The New York Times in October, there have been several more sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood celebrities in a trend that has since been dubbed the Weinstein effect. Celebrities to be hit by this wave of allegations include Steven Seagal, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Stone and Ryan Seacrest, to name a few. But perhaps the hardest hit is actor Kevin Spacey, whose sexual misconduct allegations have led to the suspension of the final season of the Netflix series, House of Cards, and his complete removal from the recently released movie, All the Money in the World.

Reeling things back home now, those who'd read my reflection post from last year would remember that my 2016 was darkened by some very tragic events. So for me, 2017 was all about getting back up and moving on, easy words for what is essentially a mammoth task. They've been days when I found that almost impossible to do, when all I wanted was to be left alone to wallow in the pain I was going through, or scream as loud as I could as I tried to make sense of an otherwise senseless world. But I always found the strength I needed to push through it, all thanks to the people I care about.

That's right, it is the relationships we forge that give us that sense of purpose we need to make it through each passing day. And though those relationships may be fleeting like everything else in this world, it is best we never forget to cherish them while they last, and the memory of them long after they are gone. I've been blessed with quite a few people I could call friends, and a few others I consider "more than friends." You guys are the reason for everything, so I would like to take a moment to tell you that you rock. Thanks for being there in my time of need, even without knowing it.

Happy New Year in advance everyone. Here's hoping that 2018 is full of peace, joy, love, and all that jazz. Let's do this again sometime. 😉

Thursday 28 December 2017

2017 in Review: Favorite Movies

Get Out

Get Out is a satirical horror comedy about an interracial couple whose relationship is put to the test after they pay a visit to the girl's parents at their countryside estate. Jordan Peele knocks the ball out of the park in this, his directorial debut. The film also boasts a breakout performance from Daniel Kaluuya, who plays the black boyfriend, and one of the most wildly original plot twists to be seen all year.


Hugh Jackman was back as Wolverine this year in his last outing as the beloved X-Men character. And what a final outing it was too, as the Australian actor gave what was easily his strongest performance as the character till date. Logan is far from your typical superhero movie. It is a movie that eschews the tropes of the superhero tentpole in favor of shedding light on what makes its central hero tick.

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is the rare sequel that manages to surpass its predecessor in every way. The movie boasts more thrills and action, while also expanding upon the lore of the assassins hiding in plain sight in its mysterious underworld. Keanu Reeves reprises the titular role, but this time, he is joined by Common, who plays a rival assassin, as well as Laurence Fishburne, who plays an underground crime lord.

Wonder Woman

Following her brief appearance in last year's Batman v Superman, fans of the DC heroine, Wonder Woman, have been looking forward to her first solo outing. Thankfully, they didn't have to wait very long before she received the superhero origin story treatment. The fact that said treatment didn't suck was of course a welcome relief, and a much-needed win for the faltering DC Extended Universe.

Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort stars as the titular Baby in this unconventional heist movie about a getaway driver struggling to get away from a life of crime. The film also stars Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, and was directed by Edgar Wright, the man behind the Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy. What sets Baby Driver apart from others like it is the fact that the entire movie is set against a killer soundtrack, resulting in some truly unbelievably kickass moments.

War of the Planets of the Apes

The final installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy was met with high praise this year. The movie brings the story of Caesar and his band of ape companions to a satisfying close, with one of the strongest endings to a film trilogy in recent memory. Continuing the trend set by previous entries, the movie once again sets a benchmark for CGI and performance-based special effects.


2017 was a great year for Stephen King adaptations, with both The Dark Tower and IT receiving some big screen love. But of the two movies, it was IT that proved to be the runaway success, opening to rave reviews from critics and going on to become the highest grossing horror film of all time. Bill SkarsgÄrd plays the eponymous IT, a shape-shifting clown terrorizing children in the small town of Derry, Maine.

Blade Runner 2049

Not very often does a sequel take 35 years to make. But when that sequel is as exceptionally good as Blade Runner 2049, then you can say that it was well worth the wait. Set several years after the events of the 1982 original, the new film sees Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard, a retired blade runner who has since gone into hiding. He is joined by Ryan Gosling who plays K, a new class of replicant who works for the LAPD as one of the eponymous blade runners.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is the third film in the Thor franchise. It has Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the titular god of thunder, but this time around, he is joined by Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk. Following a string of unfortunate events, the duo find themselves stuck on an alien planet where they are forced to fight in the gladiatorial Contest of Champions. Directed by Taika Waititi, the man behind the Team Thor series of shorts, the film marks the most comedic entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The most anticipated film of the year also happens to be the last one to make the cut in my list of favorite movies. Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off, in what is essentially the latest chapter in the Skywalker saga. In the film, Rey tries to convince a reluctant Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the force, while The First Order, led by the villainous Kylo Ren, moves to crush what remains of the Rebel Alliance.

And the winner is...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It's been roughly two weeks since I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the cinema and dear lord am I still trying to recover from the pure awesomeness of it all. I've already waxed lyrical about the things I loved about the movie in my spoiler-free review, so no point rehashing the same points here. What I would say though is this: the filmmakers had a choice between doing something fresh and something that was ultimately safe. I'm more than pleased that they'd gone with the former. The consequence of that decision is that we now have a worthy addition to the franchise that we can look back on fondly, as we revel at just how bold and groundbreaking it had been.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

2017 in Review: Favorite Albums

Jamiroquai - Automaton

For their eight album, Jamiroquai frontman Jay Kay had revealed that he wanted to share his thoughts on the current state of our human existence in an increasingly technological world, namely the loss of our ability to interact face-to-face in favor of interactions over the internet. But he also finds time on the new record to sing about his love for women, the night life, his daughter, and himself. Highlights include Automaton, Cloud 9, Superfresh, Hot Property, and We Can Do It.

Linkin Park - One More Light

From the moment I'd heard the lead single, I could tell that the new Linkin Park album, One More Light, was going to spark a lot of outrage. In their attempt to craft a wholly pop album, they'd left fans of their heavier material disappointed. I was one of those fans, and I admit that I was quick to dismiss the effort as selling out. But given a few more listens, the record began to grow on me and some real gems started to materialize. Highlights include Heavy, Good Goodbye, and Sharp Edges.

Nothing More - The Stories We Tell Ourselves

What does it take to craft a solid rock album? Deep, reflective subject matter? Check. Choruses that are singalong worthy and larger than life? Check. A degree of musical showmanship that leaves "nothing more" to be desired? Check. By all accounts, it would appear that The Stories We Tell Ourselves has got all the essential ingredients. But it is ultimately Nothing More's love for their craft that shines through. Highlights include Don't Stop, Funny Little Creatures, Go To War, Tunnels, and Fade In/Fade Out.

Paramore - After Laughter

After Laughter was Paramore's long-awaited follow-up to their 2013 self titled release. The new record was a sort of homage to the music of the 80s, leaving behind the punk rock and emo trappings of prior albums. None of the old edge was lost though, with Hailey Williams sounding her most vulnerable as she shared her experiences with love and heartache. Highlights include Told You So, 26, Pool, Grudges, Caught in the Middle, Idle Worship, and No Friend.

Lorde - Melodrama

Another album that was highly anticipated this past year was Lorde's Melodrama. And as far as follow-up albums go, the album managed to beat the dreaded sophomore slump by taking everything that worked on Pure Heroine, like its minimalist production for example, and turning it on its head. The result is an album that is undoubtedly more commercial, but one that still manages to retain Lorde's signature sound. Highlights include Homemade Dynamite, The Lourve, and Hard Feelings/Loveless.

Katy Perry - Witness

Creepy album covers aside, Katy Perry is one artist that hardly disappoints when it comes to the quality of her studio albums. Her ability to churn out radio-friendly fare like clockwork exemplifies everything fans love about her brand of pop music. Witness is an album filled with said radio-friendly fare. Highlights include Chained to the Rhythm, Roulette, Bon Appétit, Déjà Vu, and Swish Swish.

Kesha - Rainbow

For her third album, Rainbow, Kesha ditches her go-to subject matter of unrestrained, excessive partying for themes of forgiveness and female empowerment. Similarly, she also expands her sonic repertoire beyond the electropop with which she'd found fame, incorporating glam rock, neo soul, and most notably country music into the fold. And in so doing, she exhibits the kind of maturity that few pop artists can claim to have made after just three albums. Highlights include Let 'Em Talk, Finding You, and Boots.

Papa Roach - Crooked Teeth

This past year, I rediscovered my love for Papa Roach and their nu metal sound of old. But ever since their 2004 album, Getting Away with Murder, the band had opted to drop that sound in favor of a more modern hard rock sound. Crooked Teeth serves as a sort of middle ground between both eras of the band, catering to the needs of both fans of the old and new. Highlights include Periscope, Help, and Sunrise Trailer Park.

Taylor Swift - reputation

For her previous record, Taylor Swift had drawn inspiration from the decade of her birth. This time around, that inspiration comes from her superstar status, or reputation as the album is named. The album builds upon the synthpop of her 1989 album, and introduces some more contemporary flavors into the mix, as she further distances herself from her country roots. Highlights include ...Ready For It, End Game, Getaway Car, and Dancing with our Hands Tied.

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

No year-end albums list would be complete without the inclusion of Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. Revered by critics for managing to surpass the highs already established by good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly, the album finds Mr. Duckworth once again at the top of his rap game. A definite forerunner for Album of the Year at next year's Grammys. Highlights include DNA, LOYALTY, HUMBLE, LOVE, and XXX.

And the winner is...

Nothing More - The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Very few bands today are able to craft a record as diverse and yet cohesive as Nothing More's The Stories We Tell Ourselves. The album takes listeners on a journey, one that feels just as personal as it feels all-encompassing. We can just as easily relate to Jonny Hawkin's call for change in "Do You Really Want It?" as we can with his father's words in the beautiful album closer, "Fade In/Fade Out." The fact that the record starts off on a high note and doesn't seem to lose any steam by its end points to the craftsmanship of a band that is at the top of its game. Whoever said that rock was dead?

Tuesday 26 December 2017

2017 in Review: Favorite Songs

Ed Sheeran - Shape of You

Few songs were as ubiquitous as Shape of You this past year. The song had the A-Team singer step outside of his comfort zone with its dance-hall and tropical house influences. But leave it to Ed Sheeran to make what should otherwise be a hot mess work, and in the process create what would become the bestselling single of 2017.

Jamiroquai - Automaton

The acid jazz band for the ages was back this year, and they came with some new tricks up their sleeve. With an electronic sound that was reminiscent of the French duo, Daft Punk, Automaton showed Jamiroquai fans that after a career spanning more than 20 years, the band was still willing to evolve and experiment.

Katy Perry - Chained to the Rhythm (feat. Skip Marley)

Katy Perry was another singer whose music seemed to be everywhere at every time this past year. But out of her deliciously catchy string of hit singles, Chained to the Rhythm remains the most successful and very best. It didn't hurt of course that she'd managed to score a performance of the song at the 59th Grammy Awards, in what would be remembered as one of the few standout performances of the show.

Halsey - Heaven in Hiding

Riding off the success of her collaboration with The Chainsmokers on the 2016 smash hit, Closer, Halsey was quick to produce the followup singles, Now or Never and Bad at Love. It is her song Heaven in Hiding though that featured most prominently on my playlist this year. Strangely enough, the song can only be found on the deluxe edition of her second studio album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.

Maroon 5 - What Lovers Do (feat. SZA)

Ever since Maroon 5 branched out into the realm of mainstream pop with their 2011 hit, Moves Like Jagger, there has been no looking back as the band moved further and further away from the blue-eyed soul infused pop rock of their earlier records. There isn't much cause for complain though, not when the result of that shift is filled with as much earworm goodness as their latest effort, What Lovers Do.

Papa Roach - Periscope (feat. Skylar Grey)

Papa Roach is one of those rare bands that has managed to stay relevant over the years. Nine albums in and their music still resonates with long-time fans and newcomers alike. And nowhere is that resonance more apparent that on the third single off their latest record. Periscope is a song that just begs to be left on constant repeat, with its smooth production and relatable lyrics.

Nothing More - Go To War

The band that gave us the unbelievably incredible This is the Time (Ballast) was back this year with yet another musical tour de force. That song was Go To War, the first single off their latest record, The Stories We Tell Ourselves. The song serves as yet another vehicle for lead singer Jonny Hawkins to showcase his vocal prowess, and he proves that he is more than up to the task.

Kygo & Selena Gomez - It Ain't Me

It Ain't Me is a beautiful blend of acoustic and electronic parts, a mashup that is reminiscent of the 2013 Avicii and Aloe Blacc collaboration, Wake Me Up. Norwegian DJ, Kygo, joins forces with Selena Gomez for this ode to a love lost to excessive drinking and wild nights. The result is a song that shows just how much artistic growth both artists have undergone since making their respective debuts.

Charlie Puth - Attention

Despite going on to become the bestselling song of 2015 and earning Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth multiple Grammy nominations, I still think that See You Again is one of the worst songs ever recorded. There. I said it. Deal with it. But as much as I'd like to equally dismiss his 2017 single, Attention, I've got to admit that the kid's got some mad talent, singing, writing and even producing what is easily one of the most memorable pop songs in recent memory.

Zayn - Dusk Till Dawn (feat. Sia)

One Direction's Zayn Malik teams up with Sia for this beautiful power ballad, Dusk Till Dawn. It is amazing just how well their voices compliment one another, in a seemingly effortless show of range and control. This is easily one of the best duets to come out this year. Why it didn't receive any Grammy nominations for next year's ceremony though, save for a Producer of the Year nod for Greg Kurstin, is anyone's guess.

And the winner is...

Nothing More - Go To War

Nothing More is one of the bands whose music I stumbled upon this past year. And boy am I glad I'd found them. Their music sits in that sweet spot between hard rock and heavy metal. Go To War is a metaphor for how being in a relationship can feel like fighting a war sometimes. It has the distinction of being the bands most successful song till date. And with the song currently vying for two Grammys in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance categories, the future looks bright for the San Antonio quartet.

Monday 25 December 2017

2017 in Review: Favorite Games

'Tis the season to be jolly. It is also the end of yet another year and, like previous years, time for me to highlight a few of my favorite things from the past year, as well as reflect on the events that shaped the year into what it was. Interested parties can check out posts from my 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 Year in Review series by following their respective links.

This year, I'll be kicking off the week-long series with a list of my favorite video games. That's right, no TV shows or books this year; guess I didn't see and read that much of either to warrant putting together a list. Also, 2017 has turned out to be quite the kick-ass year for gaming, producing some of the medium's greatest titles. So without wasting anymore time, here are my favorite video games of 2017.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo released the latest installment in its long-running Legend of Zelda series, Breath of the Wild, alongside its hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, all the way back in March. Since then it has gone on to sell over 5 million copies across both the Nintendo Switch and Wii-U consoles. The game received praise from fans and critics alike for breaking series conventions while setting a new standard and benchmark for open-world game design.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games, the studio that brought us the Killzone series, released its brand new IP this year, Horizon: Zero Dawn. The action RPG takes place in a far future where mankind has regressed back to a primitive state, while animal-like robots have taken over the vast wilderness that remains. Players control Aloy, a hunter from one of the game's many tribes, who must hunt said robots for survival, as well as uncover the mysteries of the ancient civilization whose technology gave birth to the machines.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Take one look at Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and you'll be hard pressed to tell that it is the product of a small independent studio. Such is the artistry of the latest game by Ninja Theory. The game itself is a melding of different genres, with its hack-and-slash gameplay and survival-horror elements complimenting its dark fantasy setting. It is also notable for exploring the effects of mental illness on a person, with Senua's journey to Helheim mirroring her descent into psychosis.


I've been having the "video games as art" argument for as long as I can remember, but nowhere is my position more clear than with the debut release of StudioMDHR's Cuphead. The game is beautiful to behold, with an art style inspired by hand-drawn animation from the 1930s. Looks can be deceiving though, for beneath that beautiful veneer lies a punishing run-and-gun gameplay that is guaranteed to bring even the most seasoned Contra players to their knees.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is a love letter to fans of Nintendo's beloved mascot. It also marks the return to the sandbox gameplay found in Super Mario 64. The game introduces a key new mechanic in the form of Mario's companion, Cappy, and his ability to capture certain enemies and objects in the game. This opens up some very unique approaches to solving puzzles, as Mario tries to collect enough power moons to power his ship on his way to thwarting Bowser's wedding to Princess Peach.

And the winner is...

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

There is no doubt that 2017 would go down in history as a landmark year for video games in general. But no other game this past year has managed to reignite my love for the medium like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with its vast open world brimming with possibilities at every turn. I mean, I've invested well over a hundred hours into the game, spread over several months, and I am still discovering new shrines and things to do. That alone is an accomplishment that few games can boast of. Couple that with a beautiful musical score and solid overall presentation and what have you? One of the greatest (if not THE greatest) video games of all time.

P.S: Merry Christmas everyone! Thanks for reading, and be sure to check in tomorrow when I reveal my favorite songs for the year.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Movie Review)

It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Star Wars. I mean, no other movie franchise was such an integral part of my growing up years, helping ignite my current love of movies and movie reviews. So of course, when Disney acquired the rights to the franchise and released The Force Awakens in 2015, I was right there on Day 1, grinning like a little kid. And while I was too excited to settle down and review it at the time, it still appeared on my list of favorite movies for that year.

It's been two excruciatingly long years since then, even though this was softened by last year's release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But the question remains: was it worth the wait? The short answer: hell yes! And for the benefit of the two or three people that are yet to go and see for themselves, I won't be discussing spoilers or touching on specific plot points as I expand on why I believe it is a worthy follow up, just my overall takeaway after seeing the movie.

The movie picks off right where The Force Awakens left off, with the First Order launching a retaliatory attack on the Resistance for blowing up Starkiller Base. This forces the Resistance, led by General Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), to evacuate their base, with the First Order in hot pursuit. Elsewhere, Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives at Ahch-To to enlist the help of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) on behalf of the Resistance. But what she finds on the secluded planet isn't the Jedi master of legend, but rather a damaged old man that has cut off all ties to the Force, following his role in the rise of the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is without a doubt one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, with many critics even considering it the best one since the highly venerated Empire Strikes Back. I won't go as far as giving it that designation, but I must say that it is the most artistically and technically impressive one till date. The movie is beautifully shot, with several jaw-dropping shots that will stick with you well after the credits roll. The actors were also more than competent in their roles, with Mark Hamil's portrayal of Luke Skywalker being the obvious standout.

The movie also boasts quite possibly the best light saber duel since The Phantom Menace, but to say anything more about that particular scene would risk spoiling one of the most shocking moments in the movie.

All that said, the movie did have some notable flaws. There were specific plot lines that felt inconsequential, as well as some CGI work that looked especially cheap and unconvincing. But here's the thing: even The Empire Strikes Back had its own flaws. But that hasn't prevented it from taking its place as one of the greatest cinema experiences of all time. The same principle applies here.

The Last Jedi was precisely the kind of sequel we needed after The Force Awakens. It takes the groundwork laid by the previous movie, and turns the whole thing on its head, shattering expectations at every given opportunity. At a runtime of two and a half hours, it is the longest Star Wars movie till date. But the fact that director Rian Johnson has been able to cram this much awesomeness into that runtime is a feat in its own right.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Justice League (Movie Review)

The most eagerly anticipated entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is finally here. And after four movies (and not nearly enough backstory between them), comic book fans and moviegoers in general get to witness the superhero team up meant to rival Marvel's The Avengers. So how does it measure up to Marvel's beloved franchise? Read on to find out as I try to answer just that in my non-spoilerific take on the movie.

Justice League is set about a year after the events of Batman v Superman. Superman has been gone for all that time, while Batman has been busy trying to assemble a team of metahumans to staved off the threat he foresaw in a vision from the previous movie. And just like clockwork, it isn't long into the movie before that threat manifests in the form of Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons. Their mission, it seems, is to bring forth some sort of apocalypse, which involves the joining together of three ancient artefacts known as Mother Boxes. Sounds familiar?

The movie does what it can to introduce the members of the Justice League within its two hour runtime, but once again, the franchise's greatest shortcoming is not allowing for enough room to explore the arcs and backstories of these individual characters, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman most especially. There is also that palpable sense that the directors (Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon) had made a concentrated effort to lighten the tone of the film, making the shift jarring in places, but it works for the most part.

I have to admit that I went into Justice League with lowered expectations, after the huge disappointment I suffered after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. And all through its overdone, cartoony CGI, and hard-to-follow action sequences, I kept asking myself one question: was it any good? The answer to that question is a reassuring yes. I mean, this is the moment every DC fanboy has been waiting for. And while the film isn't without its fair share of flaws, it is still a general step in the right direction and a hopeful indicator of things to come.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (Movie Review)

Up until now, the Thor movies haven't exactly been seen as one of the finer entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the last one generally considered as a low point for the MCU. Well, all that changes with Thor: Ragnarok, the third entry in the franchise. The new movie benefits from a lighter, comedic tone first introduced in the Team Thor short films that preceded it, even as it pushes the overall narrative forward ahead of next year's Avengers: Infinity War.

Set two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the movie opens with an imprisoned Thor (Chris Hemsworth) engaged in a battle of wits with the fire demon Surtur, who is determined to bring about the titular Ragnarok, the prophesied end of Asgard and all things as we know it. He manages to defeat the demon, and returns home only to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Loki reveals that he'd placed his father under a spell, and left him in a since-demolished nursing home on Earth. And with the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), they locate him somewhere in Norway.

But all isn't well with the former ruler of Asgard, who reveals that he is dying, and that his death would undo the seal that has kept their sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death imprisoned for so long. He passes away and Hela returns to reclaim her rightful place on the throne of Asgard, defeating Thor and sending him to the planet Sakaar, where he is once again imprisoned and forced to fight as a gladiator for the entertainment of its people and their grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). It is there that he reunites with his fellow Avenger, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the reigning champion, and he tries to convince him to help, to hilariously comedic results.

Thor: Ragnarok does for the Thor franchise the same thing Captain America: Winter Soldier did for Captain America; it takes the franchise in a bold, new direction. It was no doubt the most fun I've had in an MCU movie till date, surpassing even the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in sheer number of gags and creative use of licensed music. Director Taika Waititi has proven that the success of his well-received Team Thor short films was no mere fluke. Here's hoping that he gets another stab at the franchise, before Thor hangs up his cape and (what's left of his) hammer for good.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (Movie Review)

The original Blade Runner is often referred to as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. And for good reason too. It remains one of the most visually-stunning films of its era, and it also helped cement Ridley Scott's position as one of the best directors of the genre. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film explored themes such as mortality and existential crisis, and posed several questions that are still debated till this very day.

As the title suggests, the sequel is set 30 years after the events of the 1982 classic. Replicants - human-like robots manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation - are no longer relegated to the off-world colonies. They have in fact become a vital part of mankind's survival in the polluted Earth of the future, made possible by Niander Wallace's (Jared Leto) perfection of their ability to obey their human creators. K (Ryan Gosling) is one such replicant, a Nexus-8 that works for the LAPD as one of the eponymous Blade Runners, police officers who retire (read: kill) replicants for a living.

The film opens with K on a mission to track down a fellow replicant (Dave Bautista), albeit one of the older, non-compliant models. But his investigation leads him to a discovery that further blurs the line between humans and replicants. There are those that would love to stifle this discovery for fear of creating a replicant uprising, namely K's boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). And those who would like to harness the discovery for their own personal gain or profit. K is caught in the middle of that struggle, even as he starts to question the essence of his very being.

Blade Runner 2049 is quite possibly the most visually impressive movie I have seen till date. Director Denis Villenueve carries over some of the impressive work he'd put into Sicario and Arrival, and marries it with the world first brought to life by Ridley Scott 35 years ago. Everything about this film drips with visual polish, from the way he plays with lights and shadows to create tension where there should otherwise be none, to the way almost every shot is framed and filled with breathtaking detail.

All that said, Blade Runner 2049 is not for everyone. The movie carries over the deliberate pacing from the previous film, a decision that no doubt resulted in its almost three-hour runtime. It also favors introspection and deep thought over explosions and shoot outs. More than half the people in the cinema where I saw it walked out in disappointment as a result. If only they'd taken the requisite five minutes to find out what the film was about beforehand.

But if you're the kind of person that likes the movies you see to leave a lasting impression, then Blade Runner 2049 comes highly recommended. It is a visual triumph that expands on the premise of the 1982 classic, and elevates itself to the realm of art.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Movie Review)

If 2015 could be considered a good year for spy movies, then perhaps 2017 is a good year for sequels, with the likes of John Wick, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes, Bladerunner and even Trainspotting all getting eagerly-awaited follow ups. But of all the sequels that were in the horizon at the start of the year, the one I was most excited for (save for Star Wars: The Last Jedi of course) was Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the follow up to one of 2015's most wildly original showings.

The film is set a year after the events of the first film, with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) having settled into his role as the new Galahad. But his world is rocked when the Kingsman are all but wiped out by a devastating attack by The Golden Circle, a drug cartel that is led by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a woman obsessed with 1950s American culture. This forces the surviving members to seek the help of their American counterparts, the Statesmen, a spy organization masking as a distillery whose members include Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and their leader, Champagne (Jeff Bridges).

Going into Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I already knew that director Mathew Vaughn had to achieve the difficult task of delivering the action set pieces fans had come to expect from the first film. And for the most part, the film succeeds, culminatinig in a final act that is arguably just as wild as the church scene from the first film. It's a shame the same couldn't be said about character development. This is one area where I think the movie fell short, even as it tries (and fails) to imbue its characters with some measure of emotional depth.

Channing Tatum was underused and even outright missing for the better part of the movie, with his character's inclusion serving more as set up for the inevitable sequel than anything else. It doesn't help that the whole thing felt overlong, with a run-time of almost two hours and thirty minutes. Perhaps the film could have benefited from tighter editing, but in its present state, it plays more like a string of disjointed setpieces, with very little character development in-between.

All that said, I would still recommend Kingsman: The Golden Circle to fans of the original, or to fans of spy movies, over-the-top action and stylized fights scenes in general. And with a sequel all but guaranteed at this point, here's hoping that the next installment manages to bring some much-needed character moments into the mix.

Sunday 9 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Movie Review)

Tom Holland's Spider-Man follows up his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debut in last year's Captain America: Civil War with Spider-Man: Homecoming, the 16th movie in the MCU. One of the smartest moves the folks at Disney did with their reboot of the franchise is their decision to not make it a superhero origin story. So having been spared from watching Uncle Ben die a third time, we instead get to watch the young Peter Parker face his greatest challenge yet, high school.

The movie takes place two months after the events of Civil War, with the titular hero getting restless from fighting nothing but small time criminals. Things become less mundane when those criminals begin arming themselves with alien-technology-based weapons. He eventually traces the source of those weapons to the villainous arms dealer, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a man that has an axe to grind with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) for putting his salvage company out of operation.

On the other end of the spectrum is the day-to-day stresses of life in high school. Peter and best friend Ned are stuck at the bottom of the social ladder, being the nerds that they are. But Peter develops a crush for Liz, a senior who also happens to have a deep admiration for Spider-Man. He wrestles with the idea of telling her he is Spider-Man, even as he also struggles to strike a balance between school and the Stark internship (a code term for his Spider-Man duties). He manages to ask her to the forthcoming homecoming dance, except things do not go as planned as his two worlds collide.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, vibrant take on the popular superhero franchise. It is arguably the best Spider-Man movie till date, even though my rose-colored glasses still lead me to bestow that honor upon 2004's Spider-Man 2. Much like Ant-Man before it, the stakes here are on a much smaller scale. The movie works as both a superhero flick and a high-school comedy. The film boasts one of the better, more complex villains in the MCU thus far, and Michael Keaton does an admirable job of portraying that complexity.

But the true star of the show is of course Tom Holland, who never ceases to amaze with his childlike wonder, much like he'd done in Civil War. Disney have proven once again that they've got that Midas touch. And if like me you'd been worried by the relatively short time span between when the Sony/Disney deal was announced and this movie's release, allow me to put those fears to rest; the finished product doesn't feel rushed or slapped together in any way. What we have instead is another solid entry in the MCU.

Saturday 3 June 2017

Wonder Woman (Movie Review)

From the moment I saw the teaser trailer for Wonder Woman last year, I could tell that the DC Extended Universe was about to receive a much-needed win. This was after they'd released a string of superhero tentpoles that were largely panned by critics, and divisive among fans. Regarded as the most anticipated movie this summer, Wonder Woman proves that a more traditional approach to superhero filmmaking can still result in something that ultimately transcend the conventions of the genre.

Set during the events of World War I, the movie provides the requisite backstory we'd expected after Wonder Woman's appearance in Batman v. Superman. As such, the entire film is presented as an extended flashback triggered by the same photo of her she'd been trying to retrieve in that movie. We are introduced to Diana (Gal Gadot) as a child living on the island paradise of Themyscira, where she and her fellow Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus, are shielded from the world of man.

Eager to become an Amazonian warrior herself, Diana begins her training in secret, through the help of her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). This was against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who'd told Diana the story of how the god of war, Ares, had defied his father, Zeus, killing the other gods and leading mankind down a path of war and destruction. Zeus had ultimately defeated Ares, and with the last of his strength, left the Amazons in care of a weapon capable of killing a god, should Ares return someday.

Things are set into motion when a fully-grown Diana rescues an American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), from a plane that crashes near her island. He'd been shot down and is closely pursued by a ship of German soldiers, bringing their fight to the shores of the Amazonian island. The Amazons intercept the invading army, defeating the Germans, but not without suffering some loses. Steve is interrogated thereafter, and under the influence of the Lasso of Truth, reveals that he'd been a spy in the German army, where he'd stolen information that could help end the ongoing war.

Convinced that the war is an act of Ares himself, Diana decides to leave her island with Steve in a bid to find and defeat the god of war, defying her mother's wishes once again. They arrive at London, where she struggles to blend in and conform to the rules of a male-dominated world. But it isn't until she is taken to the trenches of No man's land does she witness firsthand the full horrors of war. And it is there that she starts to embrace the possibility of a greater calling.

Wonder Woman is a fine example of a superhero origin story done right. Rather than just settle for being yet another eye candy extravaganza full of explosions and skimpy costumes, the movie attempts to do something impactful with its source material, and succeeds. The fact that it is beautifully shot also helps, its colorful palette and tone standing in stark contrast with the greys of the previous films in the DCEU. Hopefully some of that color and warmth spill over into the forthcoming Justice League movie.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)

In 2012, Ridley Scott made his return to science fiction with the Alien prequel, Prometheus, a film that somehow managed to leave viewers with more questions than answers. Alien: Covenant is the inevitable sequel that attempts to answer some of those questions, a task it manages surprisingly well, even though it leaves us with its own set of questions to mull over until the next installment.

In Alien: Covenant, the crew of the titular spaceship is woken up from cryogenic sleep by their resident android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), after their ship sustains some damage during their deep-space mission. They were en route to Origae-6, a habitable planet to which they were transporting the 2,000 colonists aboard their vessel, 16 of which were killed during the accident, along with their captain (James Franco).

This leaves the first mate (Billy Crudup) in charge of their mission, a man of faith who is forced to make a hard decision when their ship intercepts a transmission from a nearby planet. Ignoring the protests of their terraforming expert and dead captain's wife (Katherine Waterson), he leads his crew to the strange planet where it seemed they'd have an even better environment for their colonization mission. But what they find there instead is a world harboring some very disturbing secrets and lifeforms.

If any of that sounds familiar, it's because Alien: Covenant adheres strictly to the formula set by the first film in the series, Alien. This is both a good and a bad thing as Ridley Scott attempts to bring the events of Prometheus closer to the 1979 classic. We get to learn the ultimate fates of the two survivors from the previous film, while we also gain some insight into the origin of the titular aliens in the series, the xenomorphs.

Half the fun is watching the xenomorphs pick off the hapless crew members in increasingly creative and gory ways. And unlike the recent movie release, Life, which was accused of being derivative while exploring a similar premise to the films in the Alien series, Alien: Covenant is consistently thrilling and beautiful to behold, even though we've admittedly seen some variation of all it has to offer before.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Movie Review)

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back! The ragtag heroes were first introduced in their 2014 self-titled Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, proving that you didn't need established characters to make a great comic book movie. Having succeeded in making them household names, the filmmakers take the guardians on a second galaxy-spanning adventure before their highly-anticipated team up with The Avengers.

Much like the first movie, the film opens with a flash back that reveals more about Star-Lord's origin on Earth, followed by a musical montage. This time around, it is Baby Groot doing the dancing, busting some moves to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Sky Orchestra, as Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Rocket do battle with a giant monster trying to steal some very powerful batteries owned by the Sovereign race. As a reward for their services, the Guardians are given custody of Gamora's sister, Nebula, who she intends to transport to a prison on their home planet.

Before the guardians can leave with their prisoner though, the Sovereign race launch an all-out assault on their ship, having discovered that Rocket had stolen some of their batteries for himself. The guardians are rescued by a man on a strange vessel, but their ship is already too damaged by then that they crash land on a nearby planet. The man comes to their aid, and is revealed to be Star-Lord's estranged father, Ego, a celestial being who is part god, part planet.

He takes Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax to his home world, while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to fix their ship and watch over their prisoner. The latter pair is soon captured by the bounty hunter Yondu, who'd been hired by the Sovereign race to hunt down the guardians. On Ego's home world, Star-Lord bonds with his father, but Gamora suspects that everything on the idyllic planet is not as wonderful as it seems.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was praised for its originality and its often slapstick turn of events. And while a good part of that originality has been lost during the wait for the inevitable sequel, the new movie still boasts just as much fun and laughs as the first one, not to mention its own set of killer tunes and stunning visuals.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Logan (Movie Review)

It's hard to imagine that Hugh Jackman has played the character of Wolverine for 17 years. But that is how long it has been since he first donned the signature adamantium claws in Bryan Singer's 2000 film, X-Men. So for his final outing as the character, we definitely needed a story that would bring the character's arc to a satisfying close. Logan is that suitable farewell, a solemn end to the Wolverine trilogy that is more character study than superhero movie.

The movie wastes no time in showing how it had earned its R rating, as we witness an older, washed out Logan violently take down a group of thugs. His story takes place in a dystopian near future where mutants are on the verge of extinction, and he is one of the last surviving members of the X-men. He works as a limo driver, a job that earns him barely enough money to buy the drugs he needs to keep an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) under control.

Aided by the albino mutant tracker, Caliban, the three of them have taken shelter in an abandoned factory somewhere across the Mexican border. Events are set into motion when Logan reluctantly accepts to transport a woman and her daughter to a safe haven called Eden. The pair are being hunted down by a team of cybernetically-enhanced humans called Reavers, who work for Transigen, a research facility from which the two had recently escaped. Thus Logan embarks on this final mission, one that will surely push his failing abilities to its limits.

My expectations were high going into Logan, and I am pleased to say that those expectations were met, if not exceeded. I loved the dramatic tone, as well as the near future setting. I also loved the intensely gruesome violence, which proves that an R rating really can improve a story of this kind. But most of all, I loved Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the title character, Logan, which was by far the movie's greatest accomplishment. The film plays like no other movie in the X-men franchise, eschewing genre conventions in favor of something more thought-provoking.

Friday 17 February 2017

My Thoughts on the 59th Grammy Awards

My post-Grammy analysis post is going up later than customary, but what can I say? It's been one of those weeks. The 59th Grammy Awards were held Sunday evening, and I was able to watch a recording of the telecast in its entirety during the week, even though this was managed in bits and pieces between mountains of work. Hosting duties were handled by James Cordon of Carpool Karaoke fame, and as could be expected, he had no problem holding the whole thing together while also managing to deliver a few quality gags along the way.

There was an overall sense of deja vu this year as Adele onced again cleaned out in the major categories, winning all 5 awards for which she'd earned a nomination. Her wins included awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, and of course, Album of the Year. She'd beaten out fellow musical juggernaut, Beyoncé, for that last award, and even went as far as renouncing the award to Beyoncé during her tearful acceptance speech.

Elsewhere, Drake and Chance the Rapper won the rap categories with 2 awards apiece, with the latter also scoring an additional win for Best New Artist. Beyoncé managed two wins for Lemonade (Best Urban Contemporary Album) and Formation (Best Music Video), a crying shame considering she'd gone into the ceremony with the highest number of nomitations (9). David Bowie was honored with 4 posthumous awards for his album, Blackstar, while Cage the Elephant beat out Blink -182 and Panic! at the Disco for Best Rock Album (Tell Me I'm Pretty).

In terms of performances, The Weeknd and Daft Punk made musical magic with their performance of one of my 2016 favorites, I Feel It Coming. Other standout performances include Shape of You (by Ed Sheeran), Chained to the Rhythm (by Katy Perry and Skip Marley), the Bees Gees tribute (by Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Little Big Town and Andra Day), and the hip-hop mashup between A Tribe Called Quest, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes and Consequence. Bruno Mars also brought his A-game during his performance of That's What I Like and the Prince tribute, so no surprises there.

One thing that surprised me this year though were the sheer number of hiccups and mistakes that were caught on camera. We had everything from Adele fumbling her lines and having to restart a song, to a faulty microphone during the Metallica performance, to Greg Kurstin being rudely cut off during an acceptance speech. I realize such things are inevitable during a live event, but come on, this is the Grammy's we're talking about here, not some B-grade musical sideshow.

Monday 6 February 2017

The Wedding Party (Movie Review)

Well, this is a first. But whenever a movie gets touted for besting Rogue One at the local box office, then that movie had better damn well live up to that claim. Released locally on the same day as the recent Star Wars spinoff, The Wedding Party was the movie that had people flocking the various Lagos cineplexes all through the holiday season. So, of course, I was mildly curious and needed to see what all the fuss was about.

I'll start with a quick disclaimer: I am not the biggest fan of Nigerian movies. In fact, I tend to avoid them like the plague. This is due mainly to my inability to overlook their many artistic and technical shortcomings. That said, I'll try to keep this review as fair and free of bias as humanly possible.

The Wedding Party tells the story of an intercultural wedding between two high society families that don't exactly see eye to eye. It features an ensemble cast that include Adesua Etomi, Banky Wellington, Richard Mofe Damijo, Sola Sobowale and Iretiola Doyle. Set on the day of the titular party, the movie tries to capture the behind-the-scenes details of the typical Lagos wedding, in colorful and cartoonish fashion.

Unfortunately, the end result is plagued by the very same shortcomings that keep the vast library of Nollywood movies from being watchable. For a high-profile movie of this kind, the production values were surprisingly low. The editing was poorer than it had any right to be, with scenes cascading into one another with very little sense of purpose or direction. The sound mixing was even worse, with background music clashing with dialogue at every given opportunity.

As far as acting was concerned, the majority of the cast were content with mimicking the same caricatures we've seen in at least a dozen other movies. By and large, the biggest offender of the bunch was Richard Mofe Damijo, delivering his lines with the kind of hamfisted bravado that only a Nollywood veteran could muster. You can't blame him though, not when the script itself is laden with enough poorly-written dialogue and leaps of logic to make any recent Nicolas Cage movie look like high art.

The Wedding Party is a glorified home video masking as a proper theatrical release. The movie was so cheesy that by the time the end credits rolled, I felt like an overfed mouse. If you've managed to avoid seeing it at the cinemas this long, then I'd advise you continue doing so. There's simply nothing to see here, folks.