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.