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.