Friday, 5 October 2018

Venom (Movie Review)


Sony Pictures takes another stab at its Spider-Man license with Venom, a movie based on the titular antihero last seen on the big screen in 2007's Spider-Man 3. But with Spider-Man currently being licensed out by the studio to Marvel's own Marvel Studios, it was clear going in that we wouldn't be seeing much of the beloved webslinger in this particular movie. What we have instead is a standalone movie that is expected to lay the groundwork required to jump start a new connected universe. And with a more than capable cast that includes heavy hitters like Tom Hardy, it would look like Sony might be on to something here, right? Well, not quite.

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a hotshot reporter who loses everything after he attempts to bring down Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the wealthy CEO of a bioengineering company with some shady practices. At the start of the movie, the company recovers a group of lifeforms called symbiotes from a comet in space, one of which escapes after their space vessel crashes during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. They eventually begin conducting experiments with one of the remaining symbiotes in their possession, the titular Venom, looking for a perfect host for it in a bid to learn how we might better adapt for survival on other worlds.

During a convoluted break-in into the company's research facility, Eddie Brock comes in contact with the symbiote, becoming its ideal host. This imbues him with superhuman abilities as well as an insatiable hunger that is played to great comedic effect throughout the movie. They manage to escape from the facility, but are soon hunted down by a group of mercenaries, leaving Eddie with no choice but to seek help from his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams), and her new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), with all this happening as the other escaped symbiote makes its way to the research facility for some sort of ultimate showdown.

It's been a while since I've seen a genuinely bad movie, and of the last few I remember, Venom is one of the more entertaining ones. The film felt like a throwback to a time when comic book movies didn't aspire to be anything more than CGI-laden adaptations of their source material, which could've worked on a purely nostalgic level of course, if only the finished product didn't feel slapped together. The movie's tone was all over the place, and it was clear that the director was just as conflicted as the title character, as he never quite seemed to decide if the movie he was making was a horror film, a superhero origin story or a straight-up comedy, ultimately failing on all three fronts.

The film's sole saving grace was its cast members, with Tom Hardy in particular giving a surprisingly comedic performance in the duel roles of Eddie Brock and Venom. But even that couldn't save what was essentially a missed opportunity, and its hard to imagine just how viable a connected universe filled with Spider-Man villains is going to be after this. Hopefully he gets a chance to put those acting chops to better use when (if?) we get the eventual crossover with Sony's next iteration of the webslinger and some of Marvel's better known properties.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Movie Review)


The 2018 summer blockbuster season is coming to an end, and what better way to end it than with what is arguably the best film of the entire season. Mission: Impossible - Fallout continues the high benchmark and current winning streak the franchise started with Ghost Protocol in 2011. Tom Cruise returns as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent, Ethan Hunt, with Christopher McQuarrie also returning as director in what is effectively a direct sequel to his previous installment, Rogue Nation.

Set two years after Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt and the IMF dealing with the aftermath of the criminal organization they took down in the previous film, The Syndicate. With their leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), captured, the remaining members of the organization form the terrorist group, The Apostles. The movie opens with the IMF and The Apostles butting heads, as the latter tries to secure three plutonium cores off the black market, and the former tries to stop them.

The IMF ultimately fails its mission, and the members of The Apostles escape with the plutonium, which they were acquiring for a mysterious client known as John Lark. This causes the Director of the CIA, Erica Slone (Angela Bassett), to insist on shadowing Hunt and the IMF on their mission to retrieve the plutonium with one of her agents, the trigger-happy operative, August Walker (played by Henry Cavill, and his infamous mustache). The plutonium is to be sold at a fundraiser in Paris, by a broker known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

Hunt and Walker infiltrate the fundraiser, where they hope to retrieve the plutonium from the White Widow by impersonating John Lark, the buyer. They succeed in gaining her trust when they save her from several assassination attempts. But things become decidedly more complicated when the Widow reveals the price for the plutonium cores: they must first help her extract The Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane, who it turns out had been pulling the strings as he strives to bring about his doomsday plot.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is not only one of the best movies in the franchise, but one of the best action movies to grace cinemas in recent memory, period. Tom Cruise proves once again that he is ever the viable action hero, performing his own stunts in some of the most jaw-dropping set pieces to be seen in any film. One of the biggest ones in the movie is the breathtaking HALO jump over Paris, which is impeccably shot and edited to reproduce that sense of vertigo and tension.

The same tension carries through the other set pieces and quieter scenes alike. And while the movie itself might feel overlong at nearly two hours and thirty minutes, it never seems to lose any steam as things continue to stack up at a breakneck pace. It is hard to see any other action movie topping this anytime soon, as it joins the ranks of Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the finest the genre has to offer.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Movie Review)


ABBA fans rejoice as the cast of the jukebox musical, Mamma Mia!, make a return to the Greek island of Kalokairi. Theirs is a bittersweet reunion though, as the story takes place one year after the death of Donna (Meryl Streep), frontwoman of the Dynamos and owner of the island's popular hotel villa, the Hotel Bella Donna. Much of the story is also told through flashbacks, and as such the movie functions as both a prequel and a sequel, with all the romance, comedy and musical numbers we've come to expect.

Since her passing, the Hotel Bella Donna has fallen into a state of disrepair, a situation her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), seeks to rectify through a grand reopening she intends to dedicate to her memory. Things don't go according to plan of course, as the island is hit by a storm on the eve of the ceremony, undoing much of the preparations as well as preventing all the high-profile guests from being able to attend.

Sophie is also going through a rough patch in her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper). She receives counsel from her mother's best friends and bandmates, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), and through their tales, she learns much about her mother's misadventures as a young adult (played by Lily James) in the summer of 1979, and how she came to meet her three fathers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård).

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is undeniably the best feel-good movie I have seen so far this year. The movie exudes the kind of charm that leaves a smile plastered on your face for the duration of its runtime. It doesn't hurt that I love ABBA and their incredible catalogue of hits. All that said, I must confess that I wasn't the biggest fan of the original film, which at the time of its 2008 release I found a little too campy for my tastes. Some of that campiness carries over into the sequel of course, but the musical numbers are so well executed here that you'd be hard pressed to find any reason to complain.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Movie Review)


Much like they did in 2015, the folks at Marvel Studios have chosen to follow up another Avengers movie with an outing of their ant-sized heroes. And of course, after the gut-wrenching finale of Avengers: Infinity War two months ago, you can be sure that fans have been waiting for Ant-Man and the Wasp, looking for answers, or closure, or a bit of both. Except the filmmakers have their own story to tell, be it one that is on a smaller scale and with relatively smaller stakes.

Set following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the movie finds Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) undergoing house arrest for assisting Team Captain America in its fight against Team Iron Man. Scott is just days away from serving his sentence when he receives a message from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped in the quantum realm for some thirty odd years. This leads him to contact Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), her husband and inventor of the Pym particle.

Scott is broken out of house arrest by Hope van Dyne (Evangelline Lilly), aka the Wasp, who you'll remember had assumed the mantle during the mid-credits scene of the last film. The two of them must work together with Hank to rescue Janet. Except they have to contend with not only the authorities (Randall Park) and a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), but also a mysterious masked woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through walls and uses this ability to steal Hank's lab (yep, the entire lab) with hopes of also finding Janet for personal reasons.

If you're one of those expecting Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide answers to some of the questions you had after Avengers: Infinity War, then I'd have to say prepare yourself for some measure of disappointment. The movie is as self-contained as they come.There is not an Infinity Stone in sight. What we get instead is much talk about quantum realms and particle accelerators. Thankfully, the movie itself is just as funny as the first one, with Michael Peña once again stealing the show with his portrayal of the fast-talking ex-criminal, Luis.

The movie also boasts more of the inventive action sequences we saw in the first film, making great use of its heroes' abilities to switch sizes. But for those still wanting to know how all this ties into the greater ongoing drama of the MCU, I'll say this much: be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene. It might not provide all the answers, but at least it places the film within the context of that other movie.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

A Quiet Place (Movie Review)


One of the downsides of living in a country where there is little appreciation for anything outside what it considers mainstream is you tend to miss out on a lot of gems. So of course I wasn't surprised when the geniuses that run our local cinemas had elected not to show A Quiet Place all through its global theatrical run. And so I had no choice but to patiently await its release on digital download, even as news of its success filtered over to our shores. But man was it worth the wait.

The movie stars Emily Blunt and real-life husband John Krasinski (who also directs) as a couple struggling to keep their family safe in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the Earth's population has been decimated by vicious creatures that hunt by sound. Where did the creatures come from? A planet of angry librarians perhaps. The filmmakers don't even attempt to answer these sort of questions, choosing instead to focus on the plight of this one family stuck in this dire situation.

Much of the movie takes place on the rural farm the family calls home. They go about their day-to-day activities like any regular family would; they do laundry, help their kids with their homework, go out hunting and have dinner. Except they do all this in silence and with the knowledge that there are three of the creatures actively hunting in the surrounding area. It is quickly established that the creatures have no known weaknesses, other than the fact that they are totally blind. But things are about to get more complicated as the family prepares to welcome its newest member.

I know it is too early to call it, but A Quiet Place is quite possibly my favorite movie of 2018. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane before it, the movie plays out like an intricate game of chess, and we get to watch as all the pieces are moved into place. It eschews traditional jump scares in favor of a deeper sense of dread that permeates every scene. It also boasts one of the most memorable and impressive sound designs since Gravity, as it makes good on its titular promise, with stretches of silence that make even the most mundane sounds sound scary and unwanted.

But the movie is as much a family drama as it is a brilliantly executed horror film. Ultimately, it is a movie about parenthood, and what it means to keep your loved ones safe in the face of clear and present danger. I couldn't recommended it highly enough.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Incredibles 2 (Movie Review)


Everyone's favorite superhero family, the Parrs, make their return in Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2004's The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film picks off right where the first movie left off 14 years ago, with the mole-like Underminer arriving to lay siege on the city of Metroville, forcing the Parrs to once again don their superhero costumes and personas as they fight to protect its citizens.

They manage to foil the Underminer's plans to rob the city's bank, but not without leaving a trail of collateral damage in their wake. This causes the authorities to hold them accountable for the incident, especially since they had been acting against the laws forbidding all acts of superheroism. But their plight is brought to the attention of Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother-and-sister duo of superhero advocates (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener).

The pair are seeking to restore the public's faith in superheroes, and ultimately put an end to the law preventing them from fighting crime, and this they intend to do by showing the untold stories of the crime fighters. And in a reversal of roles, Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) is chosen as the face of this campaign, while Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) gets to play the stay-at-home dad who must tend to the day-to-day needs of their three superhero kids.

The Incredibles was revered for elevating the superhero movie genre, a genre whose landscape has changed drastically in the last 14 years with the advent of shared universes. So the fact that its sequel still feels as poignant today as the original did all those years ago is a feat in and of itself. As expected, the technology powering the production has improved since 2004, a fact that is immediately apparent from the very first frame, with details like hair and lights taking on a life-like quality.

The movie still retains the same animation art style though, with more of the fancy camera work and whiplash-inducing action we've come to expect from the original. Also worthy of note is the movie's score, which highlights and underscores all the key action scenes with a sense of urgency that gets the pulses racing.

2018 has already proven to be an awesome year for superhero movies, with heavy hitters like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 all finding success and critical acclaim (with Ant-Man and the Wasp and Aquaman still to come). We can add Incredibles 2 to that list, a movie that manages to feel fresh in the current landscape, while also staying true to form.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Movie Review)


Every summer, there seems to be at least one obligatory tentpole release from a long-gestating franchise nobody really asked for. In 2015, that movie was Jurassic World, except it exceeded expectations by breaking several box office records, proving that there was indeed a demand for just such a film. It also helped that the movie didn't totally suck. All that success of course meant that we would be getting an inevitable sequel, hence Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

It's been three years since the dinosaurs took over the titular theme park. In all that time, they've been left to roam wild and free on the fictional island of Isla Nublar. But their makeshift haven is about to come to a fiery end as an active volcano on the island draws closer to eruption. This raises the moral debate of whether or not their human creators should intervene or allow nature to run its course. But of course the film wouldn't be much fun if they'd chosen the latter.

So before long, a rescue operation is mounted and a team assembled to help with the evacuation. This includes the park's former operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and everyone's favorite dinosaur trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). The dinosaurs are to be transported to a new island, with the operation being funded by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of the original park's creator, John Hammond. Everything is not as it seems though and it soon becomes evident that their kind benefactors might be harboring some dark secrets.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom lives up to the legacy of its predecessors as a true summer blockbuster. The movie is full of spectacle, with some of the biggest set pieces the franchise has put forward till date. The visuals are appropriately spectacular, and the fact that a lot of the close-up dinosaur effects were achieved using animatronics helps sell their performances even more.

It's a shame the same thing can't be said about their human counterparts though, some of whose actions and motives were downright unbelievable. But overall, the movie provides enough thrills and close-quarters scares to tide fans over until the third and final installment of the new trilogy drops three years from now.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)



The second Star Wars anthology movie is here, arriving just five months after the release of The Last Jedi. There's been much talk over the internet about franchise fatigue, so I'd be quick to confess that like many fans, I was also skeptical about the prospects of a young Han Solo movie. I mean, here was a character we all grew to love over the course of the original trilogy, played so perfectly by Harrison Ford. And our skepticism wasn't exactly helped by news of the film's troubled production, with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being fired midway due to creative differences, prompting reshoots and a change of director.

They were replaced by Ron Howard, and he has done an admirable job of making the whole thing look like a coherent whole, unlike the last movie I saw with an equally troubled production. So the burning question then is how does all of this affect the quality of the final product? And the answer I guess depends on how you've felt about the recent crop of Star Wars movies, and more importantly, what you are expecting from this one. Billed as a space western, the movie makes good on its promise of depicting a fun adventure by a beloved character, but doesn't aspire to do much else.

The movie is set about 10 years before the events of A New Hope, at a time before Han Solo (now played by Alden Ehrenreich) became the hotshot pilot of the Millenium Falcon. Tired of life in the slums of his home planet Corellia, young Solo plots his escape with love interest, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). But the two are separated when she is captured at a security checkpoint during their escape. Han vows to come back for her, and he spends the next three years trying to raise enough money to buy a ship and do just that, first by enlisting in the Imperial Navy, before joining a group of criminals. Led by a man known as Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the group inform Han of a train heist that would reward him with enough money to carry out his vow.

Things don't go according to plan though and they are ambushed by a rival gang in the middle of the heist, ultimately losing the shipment of coaxium (a precious hyperfuel) they'd been after. Han learns that the job was actually done in service of the crime boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and their failure means they'll need to find another way to repay him. They manage to avoid certain death at his hands by convincing him they'd secure enough raw coaxium to repay him, but to do so, they'd need a ship fast enough to make the infamous Kessel run. And so they go in search of the one man with a ship that meets that requirement, the smuggler Lando Carlrissian (Donald Glover).

If I were to rank the recent Disney-produced Star Wars movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story would fall squarely into the last position. That said, the film is by no means a bad movie. Far from it. It has its fair share of flaws, for sure. It takes some time for things to really kick into gear, and it also fails to show any meaningful character development for its key characters, Han Solo most especially. There is also that overall lack of suspense, since we already know where the whole thing is headed. There were also some unresolved subplots and twists towards the end that allude to some sort of sequel or connection to a future anthology movie.

You can blame all this on the exceptionally high bars set by Rogue One and The Force Awakens. Or as the naysayers on the internet would put it, on franchise fatigue. But ultimately, the movie functions more like a fun excursion to a place we've all come to know all too well; beautiful for sure, but doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Deadpool 2 (Movie Review)


The Merc with a Mouth returns for another round of antihero mayhem in Deadpool 2. Helmed by David Leitch of John Wick and Atomic Blonde fame, the movie promises more of the over-the-top action and fourth-wall-breaking comedy that made the original such a hit. But does it deliver? Well, the answer depends on whether or not you subscribe to its brand of self-deprecating humor and extreme violence. In other words, there's plenty for fans to love, but not much else for anyone else.

The movie opens with Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) embracing his newfound status as a bonafide superhero. But his world is torn apart when he suffers a loss that sets him on a suicidal path made hopeless by his regenerative abilities. He is soon recruited by a sympathetic Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) to become an X-men trainee, and it is there that he discovers a new sense of purpose, after meeting Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) on their first mission, a young mutant boy also struggling to find his place in the world.

Unbeknowst to them, the young boy would eventually grow up to become a supervillain responsible for countless deaths. To prevent this, as well as the death of his family, a cybernetically-enhanced soldier from the future called Cable (Josh Brolin) travels back in time on a mission to kill the boy.  But Wade is determined to save the boy, and this he tries to do by assembling a team of would-be superheroes that would form the seeds for what would eventually become the X-Force.

Deadpool 2 is the sequel that fans of the original hoped and asked for. It is funnier and bloodier than everything else out there at the moment, and because it operates on a much smaller scale than the likes of recent superhero team ups Justice League and Avengers: Infinity War, it feels refreshingly personal. Ryan Reynolds (who also co-wrote much of the script) brings the character to life once again with another breakout performance, proving again why he is such a perfect fit for the role.

Deadpool 2 delivers the laughs and thrills while setting up more films in the franchise, with enough surprises to keep fans of the original (and of the X-men universe at large) happy and eager for more. And yes, you'll definitely want to stick around for the post-credits scenes, which were easily some of the best I've seen in any superhero movie.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie Review)


As far as event movies go, I think it's fair to say that there's been none as highly-anticipated as Avengers: Infinity War. Serving as the culmination of 18 movies and 10 years worth of buildup and carefully-plotted foreshadowing, the movie finally finds Earth's mightiest heroes facing off against their most formidable foe to date, Thanos. But is the movie itself worth all the buildup and hype? The answer is a resounding yes, and it delivers on the promise that was made in the post-credits scene of the first Iron Man movie all those years ago.

Infinity War picks off right where Thor: Ragnarok left off, with Thanos confronting Thor, Hulk and what remains of the Asgardians. And right off the bat, the movie shows us just how formidable a foe Thanos is. It is hard to talk about any specific plot points without falling into spoiler territory, even that early into the movie, but to sum things up, Thanos is basically gathering the six Infinity Stones. These are to be used in his ultimate weapon, the Infinity Gauntlet, which would help him become the most powerful being in the universe, capable of ending life with the snap of a finger.

In order to stop Thanos, the Avengers must put aside their differences and band together once again. But this time around, they would require all the help they can get, and they join forces with everyone's favorite ragtag group of heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy. I was indeed surprised by how much Infinity War felt like a Guardians movie, with all its intergalactic planet hopping and quirky sense of humor. But make no mistake, this movie is about Thanos, and he remains at the center of everything.

Much like they did in Captain America: Civil War, the Russo Brothers prove once again that they know how to juggle multiple heroes and still manage to give each one time to shine, even though there were times that felt like there was simply too much going on at once. This is definitely a movie that would benefit from repeat viewings, a requirement if you're hoping to catch all of its various hints and subplots. The movie's biggest shortcoming though is in its two-part delivery, a format that all but necessitates a cliffhanger ending. And what a heart-wrenching ending it was too.

But negatives aside, what Marvel has been able to achieve over these last 10 years is nothing short of amazing. And Avengers: Infinity War stands as the current pinnacle of that achievement. The movie had actual stakes, with the threat of death and total annihilation hanging over our heroes during its entire runtime. Thanos is also a complex villian, with actual, clear-cut motives, and I found myself rooting for him much in the same way we all rooted for Killmonger in Black Panther.

The movie also delivered the goods in terms of spectacle, with barely enough room between fight scenes to digest it all. Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that would be talked about for weeks, months and years to come, and it is quite possible we may never get to experience this level of anticipation and excitement again (at least until the second part comes out next year), so go out and enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Ready Player One (Movie Review)



Based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One marks a much-welcome return to science fiction blockbuster fare for Steven Spielberg, a genre he'd helped bring to the public consciousness over the years with movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park and Minority Report. The fact that some of those works had served as inspiration for the source material only makes his choice as director here a no-brainer.

The year is 2045, and our protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in the slums of Columbus, Ohio, known here as the stacks for the way its various mobile homes and trailers are stacked upon one another in true shanty town manner. Everyday life in the stacks is tough, and rather than face those challenges head on, Wade takes refuge in a virtual reality world called the OASIS, where he takes the form of his avatar, Parzival. It is a world of limitless possibilities, and one with the promise of a very special reward.

Following the death of its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a message is broadcast to all users of the OASIS, revealing an elaborate Easter Egg hunt. In order to complete the hunt, players must complete three tasks while gathering clues from Halliday's past, a past that is heavily steeped in a love of 80s and 90s pop culture. The first person that discovers the Easter Egg would not only inherit Halliday's riches, but also assume complete control of the OASIS itself. And thus began the hunt for the Easter Egg, a hunt that's been going on for 5 years when the movie opens.

Parzival is one of the many gunters (that's short for egg hunters) looking for the egg, and he is joined on this quest by best friend, Aech (Lena Waithe), love interest, Art3mis (Oliva Cooke), and fellow gunters, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zao). They'd collective come to be known as the High Five when they manage to beat the first task after Parzival cracks the clue hidden in one of Halliday's many recordings. This puts them on the radar of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of IOI, a company that is willing to go to any lengths to gain control of the OASIS.

Much like last year's Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One is a film worth experiencing on the largest available screen. I saw it in IMAX, and looking back, I can't imagine seeing it in any other format. The film is a visual spectacle; everything from the highspeed thrills of the first task, to the breathtaking final battle that surrounded the third one manages to one-up everything that came before. Even the quieter moments of the second task remains noteworthy for its photorealistic recreation of the Overlook Hotel from the Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick horror classic, The Shining.

Ready Player One isn't merely a love letter to pop culture and video game history. It is a celebration of blockbuster filmmaking. It is Steven Spielberg proving once again that he knows how to dazzle with awe-inspiring visuals and action that put the Michael Bays of this world to shame. The fact that none of that comes at the expense of a thought-provoking narrative is icing on an already-delicious cake.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising (Movie Review)



One of my favorite movies from 2013 gets a much-anticipated sequel in the form of Pacific Rim: Uprising. It's taken half a decade, due partly to the first movie's lukewarm reception at the North American box office. Thankfully, it made enough bank in China to guarantee a sequel was greenlit, but not before the project lost its director, Guillermo del Toro (who had to step down to direct the Academy Award winning The Shape of Water instead, but still serves as Producer). He was replaced by Steven S. DeKnight, and marks the Daredevil showrunner's feature-film directorial debut.

Set 10 years after the events of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising explores the aftermath of mankind's survival in a future where they were almost wiped out by giant monsters known as Kaiju. In that future, war with these monsters was waged through Jaegers, giant robots that are so large that they require two pilots to operate. We are introduced to a fresh batch of Jaegar cadets, who are led by Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who you remember sacrificed himself to close "the breach" from the first movie's climatic battle.

He is helped by Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), a rival ranger and former co-pilot. They are joined by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and doctors Newton Gieszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), who reprise their roles from the first film (though oddly enough there is no mention of Raleigh Beckett, that movie's hero, or any explanation given for his absence). The group must work together to ensure mankind's continued survival, even as the Jaeger program faces the danger of becoming obsolete in the face of a drone program championed by the villainous Liwen Shao (Jing Tian).

We've all seen giant robots beating the shit out of each other before, no doubt. But nowhere else was it as fun or exhilarating to watch as it was in Pacific Rim. The sequel does its best to ramp up on the action, as should be expected, but a change in directors also meant a change in overall tone, shedding much of the first film's dark imagery in favor of brightly lit cityscapes and colorful robots. This comes at the expense of the sense of majesty and splendor we got during the fights in the first movie.

Also, the film lacks much of the first movie's heart and otherworldliness, replacing that with a campiness that wouldn't feel out of place in your typical leave-your-brain-at-the-door blockbuster. But even at its loudest and very dumbest, the film still towers above all the recent Transformers films, which says more about the quality (or lack thereof) of the movies in that franchise than anything else.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Black Panther (Movie Review)



Leave it to the marketing powerhouses at Disney to turn another one of the lesser known superheroes in the Marvel catalogue into one of the most anticipated movies of 2018. But that is precisely what they've achieved with Black Panther, a movie that has already broken advance ticket booking records and is already poised to do more of the same when it releases worldwide this weekend.

The film opens with a history of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that develops from five warring factions, after its people learn how to mine a meteorite for the alien metal, Vibranium, having been united by a ruler who'd become the first of the eponymous Black Panthers. Following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T'Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), returns home to take his rightful place as king of Wakanda. But first he needs to prove himself worthy by accepting challenges from any of the other four tribes.

His claim to the throne is solidified when he bests the rival tribe leader, M'Baku (Winston Duke), in armed combat. Soon thereafter, he learns that the arms dealer Ulysses (Andy Serkis) was trying to peddle off some stolen vibranium on the black market. He sets off to South Korea where the deal was to hold, accompanied by Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Dania Gurira), members of the Wakandan royal guard, the Dora Milaje. And there he has his first encounter with Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a criminal with a mysterious past and an equally strong claim to the Wakandan throne.

I'll admit that I had approached the idea behind a Black Panther movie with much skepticism. This was true even after his incredible debut in Captain America: Civil War, and that skepticism only seemed to grow along with the buzz surrounding the movie. I understood that the movie was notable for being the first of its kind to feature a predominantly black cast, but was afraid it wouldn't deliver in the storytelling department. So if like me you've been harboring such fears, let me just put those concerns to rest.

Black Panther delivers on all fronts. It tells a compelling story that is populated by equally compelling characters. It boasts one of the best villains to emerge since the likes of Loki and Wilson Fisk, and that villain is brought to life beautifully by Michael B. Jordan, who I think we can finally forgive for the role he had in the hot mess that was 2015's Fantastic Four. But of all the characters to be introduced in this movie, by far my favorite one was Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's younger sister. She is smart, funny, and has a killer music and fashion sense, a woman after my very heart.

In retrospect, I guess I should've known that Black Panther would live up to the hype, given the pedigree of actors and filmmakers who were working on it, and Disney's propensity to knock such movies out of the park. There seems to be no end to their current winning streak, and with two more movies on their roster this year, the future looks brighter than ever.

Monday, 29 January 2018

My Thoughts on the 60th Grammy Awards


The 60th Grammy Awards were held last night, during which Bruno Mars basically pulled an Adele, cleaning out in all six categories in which he'd been contending. These included the three biggest awards of the evening, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Album of the Year, taking home the awards for his songs, That's What I Like, 24K Magic, and his 2016 album of the same name. This of course came at the expense of Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, who were also contending for those very same awards.

But at least Kendrick managed to clean out in the rap categories, winning five awards in total, which is five more than Jay-Z received from his eight nominations. Yep. That's right, Jay-Z went home empty handed despite leading the nominations going into the awards. This is particularly disheartening for the jigga man and his fans alike when you consider how critically acclaimed his 4:44 album was, but it can be argued that it had been eclipsed by Kendrick's own critical darling, DAMN!

Elsewhere, I was admittedly disappointed that Nothing More didn't win in any of the three categories they'd been vying for. But the band is relatively young, at least compared to the likes of Foo Fighters and the late Leonard Cohen, so if they keep churning out great music in the years to come, it is only a matter of time before they receive some much-deserved recognition.

Other notable wins include The Weeknd, who won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Starboy, although it is a bit of a head-scratcher why this album didn't get any recognition outside that category. Ed Sheeran also got some love in the pop categories, winning both Best Pop Album for ÷ and Best Pop Solo Performance for Shape of You. It is also worth noting that Despacito didn't win any awards, to my great relief, but we did have to endure a performance of the song during the telecast.

Speaking of performances, there were ballads aplenty, but the performance that had everyone talking was by Ke$ha, who was joined by Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and Bebe Rexha for a rendition of her song, Praying. All in all, it was a very safe and politically correct Grammys last night, with Bruno Mars being singled out by the voters for honor due mainly to the fact that the music he'd released during the eligibility period was the most appropriate and in tune with their sensibilities.