Friday, 19 July 2019

The Lion King (Movie Review)

The Lion King was without a doubt the best animated film produced during the Disney renaissance and it remains one of the greatest animated films of all time till this day. This was not only due to its powerful story with themes of redemption and accepting ones destiny, but the realization of that story through some beautiful, hand-drawn animation, memorable dialogue (brought to life by amazing voice acting), and some truly awesome music. Simply put, it was always going to be tricky, remaking such a beloved classic.

But Disney had already proven that they could pull this off with their 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, a movie that not only updated its classic tale for a modern audience, but even managed to improve upon it in several ways. So when it was announced that that movie's director (Jon Favreau) would be tackling a classic as timeless as The Lion King next, we accepted the news with high hopes and a measured dash of skepticism. Unfortunately, his latest effort lacks much of what made his other remake so great, even though (or perhaps because) it follows its source material so faithfully.

The 2019 version of The Lion King sticks to its forebear so closely that it is almost pointless for me to recap its plot for this review. I mean, this is a movie we all saw back in its day as kids (or kids at heart). And even if you haven't revisited the original since then like I did before seeing the movie, chances are you would still be able to recite much of its dialogue or sing along to its memorable songs. So I'll focus instead on what I did happen to like about this version, and what I think went wrong with the remake.

First off, this new Lion King looks absolutely stunning and it should rightfully stand as a benchmark and indicator of just how far computer-generated imagery (CGI) has come over the years, much like The Jungle Book remake before it. The movie looked almost photo-realistic and was filled with so many breathtaking details that it often felt like I was watching a live-action recording of animals in the wild. But in their pursuit of realism, the animators have lost much of what made the original film so magical: the expressiveness of its animated cast of characters.

A prime example of this would be the character of Scar, who is ably voiced in this version of the movie by Chiwetel Ejiofor. In the original, Jeremy Irons' voice-over was perfectly matched by the animation, with exaggerated gestures like the arching of his eyebrow or the curling of his lips in a sneer helping to bring the performance to life. Here, the integration of the voice-overs felt like it came in after the fact, like the voices were simply overlaid over the too-real-for-its-own-good animation.

I really don't understand why it had to come across that way though, especially after The Jungle Book remake had already proven you could populate a movie with photo-realistic animals and still have them convey the full gamut of human emotions. Perhaps it was because that movie was anchored by an actual live-action performance (namely Neel Sethi as Mowgli), or maybe the animators simply had more time to put in details like subtle ear twitches or furrowed brows, which really goes a long way to make the performances that much more expressive. Or maybe lions are simply not as expressive as wolves, tigers and bears. Who knows at this point.

In terms of the actual vocal performances, the new cast does an admirable job while putting their own spin on the beloved characters. This includes Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and to a lesser extent, Beyonce as Nala. James Earl Jones also returns as Mufasa, even though one has to wonder why they simply did not pull his recordings from the previous version, since he was effectively reading the same lines. The obvious standouts here are Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumba, whose comedy dynamic help elevate the movie during its latter half. Their rendition of Hakuna Matata in particular is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The 2019 version of The Lion King should serve as an example for why newer does not necessarily equate to better. But the fact that it can't hold a candle to the 1994 version does not take away from the mammoth achievement the filmmakers have made in bringing the movie to life. It is impossible to improve on what is already effectively perfect in any case. But as a modern refresh, the movie falls way short of its full potential. That said, it is still effectively the same story we all fell in love with back in the day. And sometimes, a faithful retelling is the best we can hope for.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Yesterday (Movie Review)

It should come as no surprise that I think The Beatles are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I mean, no other band has left the world with such a huge collection of great songs, ranging from the instantly catchy (I Feel Fine, I Want to Hold Your Hand) to masterpieces layered with meaning (Hey Jude, The Long and Winding Road). So when I'd heard that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Love Actually) would be making a film that would serve as a tribute of sorts to those songs, I was instantly sold.

The premise of the movie is simple and interesting enough: following an accident that takes place amidst a global blackout, a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) wakes up to find that he is the only man left in the world with any memory of The Beatles and their music. He eventually decides to capitalize on this strange development by passing off some of their music as compositions of his own.

The film proceeds to chart his meteoric rise to superstardom, a rise that forces him to leave his current manager/love interest, Ellie (Lily James), in favor of Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), a cold, calculating woman who manages the likes of Ed Sheeran and sees her clients as nothing more than products to be packaged and sold to the masses. He is joined by childhood friend and roadie, Rocky (Joel Fry). But as Jack would soon find out, there are some things in life more important than money and fame.

Yesterday is a fun romantic comedy with enough reverence for the music of The Beatles to satisfy most of their fans. But anyone expecting anything deeper than that might come out of it feeling sorely disappointed. My main gripe with the movie is the fact that it doesn't even try to explain the reason behind its (almost) sci-fi premise. But I was too busy tapping my feet and singing along to the music on display to care too much about that, which I guess was the point of the whole endeavor.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Movie Review)

Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) comes to an end with Spider-Man: Far From Home, and what a wild ride it has been. It has proven to be the longest of all the phases thus far, with eleven films in total, but also the one with the most consistently great output of films. We were first introduced to the MCU's version of the webslinger in Captain America: Civil War at the start of the phase, where he stole the show with his fanboyish naivety and overall charm, so it sort of makes sense that he would close out the entire chapter in this film.

Serving as both a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming and follow-up to the amazing Avengers: Endgame, the movie finds the self-proclaimed "friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man" (Tom Holland) stepping outside his comfort zone and embracing his newly-appointed role as one of Earth's mightiest heroes. It's been eight months since the Avengers defeated Thanos, undoing much of the mad titan's work from five years prior. But it was a victory that came at a great cost, and Spider-Man: Far From Home wastes no time in addressing the effects of that loss.

I am of course referring to the death of Tony Stark, who you'd remember was both a mentor and father figure to Peter Parker in the preceding films, albeit a reluctant one. It was both touching and funny to see how the kids from Peter's high school are coping with the loss and its aftermath, as they struggle to deal with the sudden reappearance of half of the world's population, an event that they have since dubbed the Blip.

Peter is hit the hardest by all of this though, who aside from mourning Tony's death must also contend with his growing affections for MJ (Zendaya). He eventually decides to tell her how he feels about her during a two-week European field trip with the rest of his class, and the help of best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), except things don't go according to plan when the Italian city of Venice, which they had been visiting at the time, is attacked by a giant water-based monster.

The attack is eventually quelled by a figure dubbed Mysterio, who is actually a man named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllehaal) working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop a global threat. Both men try to recruit Peter in their fight against the Elementals, but Peter is conflicted between stepping into the giant shoes left behind by Tony Stark and just being the regular teenage boy he desperately wants to be.

If Avengers: Endgame was a celebration of all the awesome movies we've had so far in the MCU, then Spider-Man: Far From Home is our first glimpse at its shining future. The movie further traces Peter's journey towards becoming the Spider-Man fans all know and love, which is bolstered by tremendous performances from its talented ensemble, with Tom Holland and Jake Gyllehaal being the immediate standouts. The story also had enough twists and turns to keep casual moviegoers on their toes, even though veteran comicbook fans would've seen most of those twists coming a mile ahead.

The greatest compliment I can pay the movie though is the fact that it works as a teen/romantic comedy as much as it does a full-fledged superhero film, and I found myself laughing more times than I could control during its runtime. It is also one of the MCU's most technically accomplished offerings till date; I caught the movie in 3D/4DX, so the visuals and experience were that much more impressive and immersive. We really felt like we were up there with Spider-Man, swinging through buildings and generally trying not to take too much of a beating.

As a huge Spider-Man fan, I am still trying to decide if Far From Home is better than Homecoming, or even my all-time favorite, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2. I don't quite have a definitive answer to that yet. There were definitely aspects in this movie that were better handled, and aspects in the last one that I absolutely adored. Perhaps a second viewing would lend more clarity to the debate, but for now, the movie is definitely up there with the aforementioned films.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Toy Story 4 (Movie Review)

I was concerned from the very moment I'd heard that a fourth Toy Story movie was in development. I mean, the third movie had already been sold as the last one in the series upon its release, and it had ended so beautifully that it was always going to be impossible to match or surpass it. Well, leave it to the masterminds at Disney and Pixar to prove us wrong, as they've not only managed to craft a worthy successor, but one that also stands as a beautiful conclusion to the entire series in its own right.

Set two years after the events of the previous film, the movie finds Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the other toys from Andy's room already settled into life in Bonnie's room, the little girl who had taken ownership of them as Andy went off to college at the end of that film. It also opens by shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding Bo Beep (Annie Potts) and her departure from the group.

At the start of the movie, Bonnie is just about to start kindergarten and is struggling to deal with first-day jitters. This is not helped by the fact that she wasn't allowed to bring any of her toys with her. To cope with this, she creates a new toy in class, fashioned out of a disposable spork, some sticks and gum, and immediately grows to love and cherish this new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), above all others. But the toy itself struggles to deal with its newfound role, believing its place is inside the nearest available trashcan.

During a family road trip, Forky ceases the opportunity to act upon his suicidal tendencies, jumping out of their moving RV, and thus leaving Woody with no choice but to go after him. This leads them on an adventure where they come across an assortment of "lost" toys that include the imaginative duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), the sweet but sinister doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendrix), the stunt-crazed biker, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and a certain old flame whose reappearance has Woody reconsidering his place as one of Bonnie's often forgotten toys.

If Toy Story 3 was about accepting the inevitability of growing up and moving on from childish ways, then 4 is about rediscovering your inner child while embracing life and living it to its fullest potential.This is exemplified by its two main leads, Woody and Forky, and the fact that they have so much to learn from one another, despite being at different points in their respective lives. The ending of the movie didn't quite destroy me as much as the preceding one had, but the journey it took to get there was filled with more than enough heart, laughs and visual splendor to please children and adults alike.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Movie Review)

Every other summer, there seems to be that one movie that manages to stay under the radar until just before it releases to rave reviews and strong word-of-mouth, and by so doing becomes a must-see movie event. In 2015, that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Last year, it was Mission: Impossible - Fallout.  For some reason, I really thought Godzilla: King of the Monsters would be that movie for 2019. Sadly, it is not. What we have instead is what is sure to be one of its biggest guilty pleasures.

The movie takes place 5 years after the events of the 2014 reboot to the franchise, in which the titular Titan from prehistoric times proved its place as mankind's greatest defender against others of its kind (but not before leveling both Las Vegas and San Francisco of course). It also pulls double duty by planting the first true seeds for next year's crossover with King Kong from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla vs. Kong. But don't expect any kind of a strong connection to that movie in this one, other than a few oblique references here and there.

In the aftermath of both films, Monarch, the top-secret organization dedicated to tracking and studying Titans, has managed to develop a device called the Orca, which emits sound frequencies that can be used to control the giant monsters. It doesn't take long into the movie before that device falls into the hands of an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) who plans on using it to control King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon-like Titan who would in turn awaken all the other Titans and bring about a much-needed cleanse of the human race from the world.

In order to stop that from happening, Monarch recruits the help of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), co-creator of the Orca, whose ex-wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), and daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), have been kidnapped by the eco-terrorists. He'd lost his son during the attack on San Francisco during the events of the previous movie. But now he must put aside his aversion for the Titans and work together with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to find Godzilla, who is once again mankind's only hope and defense against the incoming Titan threat.

If none of that sounds like it makes much sense, then don't sweat it. The story is more or less an excuse to have skyscraper-sized monsters have a go at one another while wrecking everything in their path. And on those very grounds, the movie succeeds, delivering enough jaw-dropping spectacle to satisfy even the most jaded moviegoers. The problem though is that we've already gotten movies like Pacific Rim that prove that spectacle doesn't have to come at the expense of a good story.

Also lacking are the underdeveloped characters, whose motivations remain unclear or improperly realized for the most part. But it is obvious that the true stars of this movie are the giant monsters themselves, and the fact that each one looks so stunning and has been imbued with its own sense of personality needs to be applauded. I was especially wowed by Rodan, the birdlike Titan whose mere flight overhead is strong enough to cause shockwaves capable of leveling buildings.

Overall, I'd rate 2014's Godzilla higher than this sequel, despite the criticisms leveled against it for spending too much time teasing the fights between its Titans. This is simply because it gave us human characters you could actually invest in, as well as did a better job of balancing their plight with the conflict between the Titans. That said, Godzilla: King of the Monsters did feel like a logical progression from that movie, and one I might come to appreciate even more with a second viewing.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Aladdin (Movie Review)

Of all the movies released during the decade-long Disney Renaissance, the 1992 animated film, Aladdin, was arguably my favorite one. The movie had captured my imagination with its beautiful visuals and unforgettable cast of characters, not to mention its awesome soundtrack. So you can imagine my skepticism when it was announced that Disney would be adapting a live-action remake in their current bid to introduce their classics to a whole new generation. Thankfully, my worries have turned out to be unfounded, at least for the most part.

Aladdin tells the story of a skilled thief (Mena Massoud) that befriends a young woman (Naomi Scott) after rescuing her from a botched attempt to steal some food at the marketplace. Unbeknownst to him, she is actually Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan (Navid Negahban) of the desert kingdom, Agrabah; having grown weary of her place as nothing more but a price to be sought after by royal suitors, she'd desired to understand the plight of the commoners and help the less fortunate.

Believing that she is nothing more than a handmaiden, Aladdin pays her a visit at the royal palace one night. But he is spotted vaulting the rooftops by Jafar (Marwan Kenrazi), the Vizier and chief advisor to the Sultan, who has also grown weary of being "second place." Impressed by his climbing skills, Jafar captures Aladdin and takes him to the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, where he tells him about the princess' true identity before tasking him with helping him retrieve a sole lamp from its vast vault of many treasures, in exchange for what he'd need to win her affection.

Things don't go according to plan of course, and Aladdin ends up trapped in the cave with nothing but the lamp, his pet monkey, Abu, and a sentient magic carpet they'd found there. He soon discovers that the lamp is actually home to a powerful genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes as a reward for finding the lamp. And with the help of the genie, Aladdin begins his attempt to woo the princess by becoming a prince. But not without having to contend with Jafar and his equally villainous parrot, Iago.

Aladdin is one of those timeless tales that never ceases to amaze in whatever form it is being told in, and I think it is fair to say that Disney has done an admirable job with this 2019 live-action update. The cast in particular needs to be applauded for turning in such good performances, the obvious standouts being the two leads. Even Will Smith's take on Genie wasn't half bad, or at least as bad as we thought it would be after that second teaser trailer. The musical numbers as well were pretty stellar, with some of the most memorable ones feeling like what you would find in a full-blown Bollywood production.

And therein lies my biggest criticism for the movie, the fact that it doesn't lean into its Middle Eastern origin more heavily, with the two leads adopting American accents that felt out of place within its colorful and culturally-rich backdrop. But even that small nitpick couldn't dampen what was otherwise a remarkable if somewhat flawed experience. Overall, it didn't quite reach the same emotional and storytelling heights as The Jungle Book, but I guess we have The Lion King to look forward to for just that.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 6 (Spoilercast)

The final episode of Game of Thrones has come and gone, and once again, it has proven to be quite divisive among critics and fans alike. People have taken issue with the fact that too many subplots have proven to be inconsequential, and with the by-the-numbers approach the showrunners had used with the final two seasons of the show in general. In all fairness though, they had clearly stated that the ending was going to be bittersweet, and the final outcome was precisely that, even if it didn't quite "go out with a bang" like many of us had hoped it would.

Listen to myself, Prince and Comfort (our special guest for the week) share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also look back at the series as whole, and reveal some of our best episodes and defining moments. Regarding the future of this podcast, now that Game of Thrones is over, we are already looking into providing future content by doing spoilercasts for movies and such, so continue to watch this space you must.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Movie Review)

The boogey man is back for another round of over-the-top action in John Wick: Chapter 3, the third film in the fast-growing franchise about the eponymous hitman who's been forced out of retirement. And as the subtitle, Parabellum, suggests, he is fully prepared to bring all-out war to all those that would oppose him or otherwise stand in his way. And all through the ensuing carnage, he remains glorious to watch as the movie manages not to feel stale in the same way that similar franchises like The Equalizer or The Transporter started to over the years.

The movie opens right where the previous one left off, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run after he is declared excommunicado for killing a member of the criminal underground's High Table on Continental grounds. And with a $14 million bounty on his head, it doesn't take long before all the shady assassins come out of the woodwork and attempt to claim said bounty. Emphasis on the word attempt though, because John Wick is still as deadly as they come, turning even the most mundane objects like a book from a library or a nearby horse into instruments of death.

But in order to put an end to the endless barrage of assassins after him, John Wick seeks out some owed help from the Director (Anjelica Huston), a member of the High Table, as well as Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow assassin and dog lover whose twin German shepherds are almost as deadly as she is. With their help, he hopes to find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), a senior member of the High Table powerful enough to end it all, a mission that takes him all the way to the deserts of Casablanca.

The High Table itself has already started making moves of its own though, sending out its Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) to mete out justice to both Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping John, with both men being given seven days to step down from their positions of power or face the consequences of their actions. She also recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos) to hunt down John Wick, a deadly assassin whose skills are only matched by his adoration for John's.

John Wick: Chapter 3 is a more than worthy follow up to the two movies that preceded it. It takes everything that fans love about the first two films, and cranks its up several notches. It deepens the lore behind the rules under which the criminal underground operates, while also shedding more light on John's past life as an assassin in service of that underground. And while the movie delivers enough thrills to be considered satisfactory on its own terms, it still somehow manages to leave you amped up for more of the same and what comes next by the time the credits roll.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 5 (Spoilercast)

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has aired and not everyone was happy with its outcome apparently. Color me surprised, but isn't that what Game of Thrones is known for? Subverting our expectations and spitting in our faces at every given opportunity? Regardless of how you felt about the episode, there is no denying the fact that it was an even greater technical achievement than The Long Night, with it graphic depiction of war and its consequences.

Listen to myself and Prince share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud.You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also give our predictions for the very last episode of Game of Thrones. It's feels weird saying that, the last episode. Here's hoping that it turns out just as bittersweet as the showrunners have promised it would.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Detective Pikachu (Movie Review)

Video game adaptations haven't exactly had the best track record with critics and fans alike, with beloved franchises like Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil all managing to fall short of their source material's full potential after making the transition to the big screen. This is what immediately makes Detective Pikachu appealing, because of all the video game-based movies we've had so far, it looked like it had the greatest potential of delivering the goods. But how exactly does the finished product fare? Not bad I'd venture, not bad at all.

The movie is set in a fictional world where humans coexist with Pokemon (a portmanteau for Pocket Monsters), creatures with special abilities which can be caught, tamed and even trained to battle other Pokemon. Most people in this world eventually form a bond with their Pokemon, but not Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young man who despite growing up in awe and adoration of the often cute but nonetheless powerful creatures, has come to have a measured level of indifference and aversion to their various species.

All that changes of course when Tim is forced to team up with Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a wise-cracking Pokemon with a caffeine addiction. Unlike other humans and their chosen Pokemon, Tim is able to understand and communicate with Detective Pikachu, which sets the stage for the buddy-cop dynamic at the heart of their relationship. Tim's father was a Detective himself, but had gone missing while on the trail of a case, so it is up to the unlikely pair to get to the bottom of the mystery behind his disappearance, with Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy rounding out the cast.

My first experience with the Pokemon franchise came all the way in 1999, when I'd first played Pokemon Yellow on Nintendo's GameBoy Color (a game that was recently remade for the Nintendo Switch as Pokemon Let's Go). So in a way, Detective Pikachu felt like a nice callback to those childhood days, presenting what was once a world relegated to the confines of a 2.6-inch monochromatic screen in a beautiful blend of live-action and CGI. And therein lies my greatest concern about the movie's crossover prospects, with most of the fun I had with the movie being dependent on my built-in familiarity with the franchise and the lore it has built up over the years.

I'm indeed curious to know what someone who isn't already a Pokemon fan would have to say about Detective Pikachu, which was of course decent enough by its own terms. But one thing that can't be denied is the fact that this is a "far cry" from the Uwe Boll adaptations of old (see what I did there? 😉), so this is a hopeful indicator of what can be done with video game adaptations when placed in capable hands and given the requisite amount of attention to detail they demand.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 4 (Spoilercast)

How do you top the biggest battle ever put to film? By following it up with an episode that serves as build up for an even bigger battle, that's how. At least that was the feeling Game of Thrones fans had at the end of the fourth episode of the final season, "The Last of the Starks." It is clear that the battle for the Iron Throne is going to turn out every bit as exhilarating as last week's Battle of Winterfell.

With just two episodes remaining until the very end, fans are already going crazy with their predictions for how the whole thing would pan out. Listen to myself and Prince's predictions and our overall thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. Our podcast is now also available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

10 Reasons Why a Game of Thrones Movie could NEVER make $1 billion in 1 day at the Global Box Office

The title of this blog post says it all really. But just to give you some context, I had an argument a heated discussion with a couple of coworkers the other day, which started after one of them had said something along the lines of, "If Game of Thrones was a movie, it would make $1 billion in 1 day at the global box office." This was right after the long-awaited Season 8 premiere, a time during which all our social media timelines were flooded with posts related to the TV show. So I guess they could be forgiven for basing their argument on the sheer size of its social media buzz at that time.

What I can't forgive though is choosing to ignore the many variables and subtle nuances that go into making box office projections. Things like advance ticket sales, marketing budgets, early twitter reactions, critic reviews and audience demographics; all these things and more are used by box office analysts to come up with and refine their projections. And even with these details at their disposal, their projections still end up missing their mark more often than not, which is why most analysts allow for a margin of error by giving their projections as a range rather than a single number.

The purpose of this post, therefore, is to highlight the inherent flaws in such a projection, as well as detail all the things that would effectively prevent a Game of Thrones movie (or any movie for that matter) from attaining such a high number on its opening day. During our heated discussion, I'd used the then box office opening weekend record champion, Avengers: Infinity War, as a point of reference. (And I was summarily dismissed for being a Marvel fanboy for doing so, as silly as that sounds). But for this post, I'll be using its sequel, Avengers: Endgame, instead, since it just released and has already broken every conceivable opening weekend record there is.

Before I dive into the task at hand, there are a few clarifications I need to make. First off, when reporting box office numbers, domestic refers to its take at the US box office, international refers to its take from other territories, while global refers to the two figures combined, its overall take. Secondly, we are primarily concerned with how quickly the movie rakes up money from the global box office, not how much it is expected to make during its entire theatrical run. In other words, we are looking at it becoming the fastest grossing movie of all time, not the highest grossing.

So, without further ado, here are 10 reasons why I think a Game of Thrones movie could never make $1 billion worldwide on opening day:

1. The Size of its fanbase

I am starting with this point mainly because this is what the opposing party's argument was based upon. Game of Thrones is big. Scratch that, it is huge. The season 8 premiere was shown to a record 17.4 million people when it aired three weeks ago. Aside from that, you don't need to look any further than your nearest social media platform of choice to see just how big of a following it has. For example, on Instagram, the official Game of Thrones account currently boasts 9.5 million followers. That's a lot of followers.

But guess who has even more fans and followers than that? Marvel Studios, makers of Avengers: Endgame and the 21 films that preceded it. Their official Instagram account currently boasts 19.2 million followers, twice that of Game of Thrones. But I guess this is to be expected. I mean, the first Game of Thrones book came out in 1996, and the TV shows didn't start airing until 2011. Marvel on the other hand has been selling comic books and winning fans over since the 1960s, while their Marvel Cinematic Universe brand of movies have been making waves since 2008.

The point I am making though is that if Marvel Studios, which clearly has the bigger following based on the aforementioned numbers, needed 5 days to gross over $1 billion worldwide (a previously unheard of record by the way), then what hope does a Game of Thrones movie have to gross that amount in the span of a single day?

2. There Aren't Enough Cinemas

Going back to Avengers: Endgame as a reference point, it was pretty commonplace for moviegoers who'd gone to the cinema during the movie's opening weekend to find that the movie was sold out. Heck, some theaters had to stay open for 72 straight hours just to meet the demand of people that wanted to see the movie within its first three days of release. Over here in Nigeria, we had some cinemas dedicating most of their screens to showing just this movie, with round-the-clock showtimes every 15 to 30 minutes all through the day.

And yet the movie didn't make $1 billion in 1 day, since there was clearly a bottleneck in the number of patrons cinemas could admit in a single day. This shows that for a Game of Thrones film to manage that feat, we'd first need to have the available infrastructure in place. In other words, more cinemas would need to be built, with enough screens to accommodate enough showtimes to generate $1 billion in ticket sales. Either that, or ticket prices would need to be hiked up significantly, and that is of course assuming that moviegoers would still be willing to see the movie at those hiked-up prices, which brings us to my next point.

3. The Price of Admission

A cursory Google search tells me that the average movie ticket price is around $9. By comparison, a one-month subscription to HBO Now costs $14.99. But we all know that HBO's streaming service is not the only way to actually watch Game of Thrones. The sad truth is that a vast majority of the people who watch the show do so via illegal download and streaming websites, which basically costs them nothing. So here's the question: would the same people that watch the show for free be willing to shell out 9 bucks for a movie ticket? The cynic in me does not think so.

But let's even assume that they were all willing to shell out 9 bucks. All 54 million people who streamed and downloaded the season premiere for free according to the article I linked to above. Add that number to the 17.4 million people that actually paid to watch the show legally and you have 71.4 million rabid fans, just waiting to storm theaters to watch the Game of Thrones movie on its first day of release. Multiply 71.4 million by $9 and what have you? $642,600,000, a number that is $357,400,000 short of the assumed $1 billion our GoT movie is supposed to make.

4. Game of Thrones is not Family Friendly

Aside from the fact that its earlier seasons were renowned for subverting viewer expectations by killing off its main characters, Game of Thrones is also known for its gratuitous depiction of sex and violence. It is a show geared towards adults after all, and its tendency to divulge key plot details in the midst of its many sex scenes helped coin the term, sexposition. But all those naked bodies and beheaded characters could only ever mean one thing for a Game of Thrones movie: it would be slapped with an R-rating faster than it would take Gendry to run to the Wall from the frozen wilds of the North.

So what does getting slapped with an R-rating have to do with the movie making $1 billion you say? Well, everything. Because in the history of cinema, no single R-rated movie has ever grossed over $1 billion during its entire theatrical run. The highest-grossing R-rated movie till date is Deadpool, which had managed an impressive $783 million at the worldwide box office, despite its potty-mouthed hero and his tendency to decapitate his foes. And we are talking lifetime grosses here mind you, not single day grosses. There have in fact only been 39 movies that have managed to gross over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and a vast majority of those were family-centric.

Because let's face it, the movies in mega franchises like the Avengers and Star Wars wouldn't be half as successful as they are if they weren't appealing to and safe to watch by entire families. In other words, for a Game of Thrones movie to have any kind of a fighting chance at making a billion dollars worldwide, it would first need to be severely edited down to at least a PG-13 rating, a decision that I am pretty sure would not sit well with fans, which is a good segue for my next point.

5. China

Once upon a time, the US box office was the be-all-and-end-all when considering a movie's global box office prospects. Not anymore. During the first quarter of 2018, the Chinese box office overtook the US. This was at a time during which Black Panther was raking up cash from American moviegoers mind you. It also explains why a movie like Warcraft, considered a box office failure in the US for making just over $47 million against a $160 million production budget, could still go on to make more than $400 million globally. So long story short, a movie's viability at the Chinese box office is sure to affect its overall box office prospects.

This leads me to the question: how popular is Game of Thrones with Chinese audiences? The reason why I ask is China is infamous for its strict censorship of films, a practice that has been extended to the TV show over the years. So assuming it is just as popular over there as it is elsewhere in the world, we still know that a Game of Thrones movie would never be allowed to see the light of day, unless of course its makers are willing to produce a super-clean cut that would pass its censorship standards. At which point one has to wonder what the point is, since Chinese audiences are also known to favor piracy as a means of getting to see the show in its original, unedited form. Speaking of which....

6. Piracy

Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in the history of online piracy. This is yet another measure of its overall popularity, for sure, but as I already discussed under Price of Admission above, its popularity doesn't exactly equate to a general willingness to spend hard-earned cash on it. Heck, it can even be argued that its popularity has been fueled by its availability through piracy. After all, all those people sharing tweets and memes all over social media must have caught the latest episode somehow, and the show is not even legally available everywhere in the world.

So for our billion-dollar-opening Game of Thrones movie to work, online piracy would need to be taken out of the picture completely. And that my friends is where we start to enter into the realm of fantasy. Simply put, there is no way to put an end to online piracy. I mean, just look at how many times the authorities have tried to shutdown popular torrents websites like The Pirate Bay and YTS, yet they still exist today in one form or another. Just don't ask me for links. 😉

7. Counter-programming

As popular as Game of Thrones has become, there are still a lot of people out there that simply can't get into it. And I mean a lot. Some are put off by its medieval, fantasy setting, with its dragons and undead wights preventing them from enjoying the deep family drama and politics at its core. Others simply can't stomach or overlook its graphic depiction of sex and violence. For such people, Game of Thrones is simply not their cup of tea. And rival movie studios are aware of the fact and fully prepared to capitalize on it.

This is where counter-programming comes in, because for every tentpole release like Avengers: Endgame, there are smaller-scale movies like The Intruder and Long Shot that manage to thrive in its shadow by targeting a totally different demographic. And these other movies would of course eat into the available screens theaters have to show the tentpole release (remember that we already don't have enough screens and theaters to begin with). So for our Game of Thrones movie to hit its projected opening day gross, we have to assume that it would be the only movie showing at the cinemas, and that everyone would be willing to go see it on the first day, whether it is their cup of tea or not.

8. Marketing

Game of Thrones has come a long way since its early season 1 days when major battles used to take place off-screen. Over the years, it has left us with episodes full of pure spectacle like Watchers on the Wall, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards and most recently, The Long Night. It's increased success has meant that HBO could afford to budget $15 million to produce each episode of its final season. That's $90 million total. And that's not even considering what it must have spent on marketing in the lead-up to its final season, because left's face it, if it wasn't for all those ads and endorsement deals it had been throwing in our faces over the months, no one would've remembered to tune in on April 14th when the first episode aired.

But guess who has even more money than HBO to spend on marketing? Disney, owners of Marvel Studios, the 800-lb gorilla in the ring of movie studios. Avengers: Endgame is one of the most expensive movies of all time, with a production cost of over $350 million. And with a further $200+ million spent to market the film, it is hard to see how HBO could ever match or surpass that amount. And once again, it took Avengers: Endgame 5 days to gross $1 billion worldwide, not one day.

9. That Other Game of Thrones Movie

Believe it or not, we've actually gotten a Game of Thrones movie before. Well, it was not technically a movie, but a special screening of the final two episodes of Season 4. It was shown at 205 Imax locations in the US, where it managed to gross $686,000 on its opening day. A far cry from $1 billion dollars, for sure, but we're talking far fewer screens here. That's a per-screen average of roughly $3,350. So indulge me for a minute as we do some wonky math.

A quick trip to Statistica tells me that we had over 182,000 theater screens in 2018. What do you get when you multiply 182,000 by our $3,350 per-screen average? $609,700,000, which is once again shy of our projected $1 billion opening day gross. And this is assuming that every single available theater screen in the world has been dedicated to showing our Game of Thrones movie. But like I said, the math above is wonky at best, but even in its wonky state, it still adequately illustrates just how unattainable a $1 billion opening day gross is.

10. Historical Data

In the history of cinema, no other movie has remotely come close to grossing $1 billion in a single day. Even going beyond movies to entertainment in general, the fastest grossing product in the history of entertainment remains Grand Theft Auto V, a video game developed by Rockstar Games that managed to gross $1 billion in 3 days. And mind you, those 3 days included the several months of pre-orders that preceded the game's release, which resulted in a first day gross of over $800 million. A mammoth achievement, no doubt, but we also have to consider that the game debuted for $60 retail, not $9. And it still wasn't able to gross $1 billion in a single day.

The current fastest opening movie of all time is of course Avengers: Endgame, which made $157 million on its opening day in the US alone, with a further $108 million made from China where it had opened two days earlier. That's $265 million already, off the two largest movie markets in the world. Factor in other opening day grosses from around the world and you have something closer to half a billion dollars. That is huge. Astronomical even. Now times that number by two and just think of all the hurdles our Game of Thrones movie (and the movie industry as a whole) would have to cross to get there.

And once again, we find ourselves in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking, where the only movie being shown at cinemas is our Game of Thrones movie, and everyone is being forced at gunpoint to go and watch it. If that were the case, then sure, the movie would gross $1 billion in a single day, easily. Heck, why stop there when it can as well gross $10 billion? But wait, aren't there like over 7 billion people in the world today? Imagine if all of them were to turn up for our movie on opening night. 7 billion times $9 is $63 billion. HBO would be swimming in money right now.

And that, my friends, is why box office projections are based on very real facts, like historical data, not assumptions. Records are made to be broken, for sure, but never by the magnitudes being suggested here. By the time you read this post, Avengers: Endgame would've crossed the $2 billion mark, on its way to outgrossing Titanic to become the second highest grossing movie of all time. Will it eventually hit $3 billion and outgross Avatar by so doing? Maybe. Only time would tell at this point. But what I am driving at is this was a record that was set in 2009, and it has taken this long for us to get another movie with a remote chance of breaking it.

There is no denying the fact that a Game of Thrones movie at this point in the TV show's popularity would've been huge, provided it was well-made and marketed. It could very well had been the first ever R-rated movie to cross the $1 billion mark. But to make that same amount in a single day? That's a different type of suspension of disbelief that this film and box office enthusiast is simply incapable of.

But that's just me. What do you think? Could a Game of Thrones movie (or any other movie for that matter) actually make $1 billion in 1 day?

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 3 (Spoilercast)

We always knew that fans of Game of Thrones were in for a real treat this past weekend, with the long-awaited third episode of the final season of the series airing on Sunday. I mean, this was supposed to be the episode that was finally going to feature the battle between the army of the living and the forces of the Night King and his undead army, the Battle of Winterfell as we'd been calling it.

The showrunners had of course made sure that we also knew just how epic the battle was going to be, edging out the Battle of Helm's Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as the longest consecutive battle sequence ever put to film. So how did the whole thing stack up at the end of the day? You can find out below or over at SoundCloud where Prince from The Drunk Pen and I take a stab at the battle that was, and its defining moments.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame (Movie Review)

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) launched with Iron Man back in 2008, no one could have predicted the grand scope and ambition of its 22-movie narrative, a story arc that has recently come to be known as the Infinity Saga. Over the years, we've had several great movies that fed into that overall narrative, movies like Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange. Avengers: Endgame is a celebration of all those movies, and a stunning reminder of just how unprecedented an achievement the whole endeavor has turned out to be.

In case you've been living under a rock for the past one year, Earth's mightiest heroes suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, a defeat that resulted in the loss of exactly one half of all the people in the world and universe at large. I think we are well past the point of considering that fact a spoiler, and if for whatever reason you hadn't seen or heard about Infinity War's ending prior to now, then I have to ask, "Why are you even here?"

Avengers: Endgame therefore serves as the aftermath of the Decimation, the official term for the universe-spanning disappearance of half of all life. But to talk about any aspect of that aftermath would be to ruin its impact when you do get to see it for yourself, so I won't be divulging any specific plot details in this review. I mean, chances are you've already made up your mind to see the movie. And if you haven't, this is me saying that you have to, simply because no other film has come close to realizing what the Russo Brothers have been able to with this one.

I'd ended my Avengers: Infinity War review by saying, "we may never get to experience this level of anticipation and excitement again (at least until the second part comes out next year)." Well, it turns out I was right, because not only does Endgame match the level of anticipation that surrounded the arrival of Infinity War, it shattered our level of excitement as well. I'd never heard a crowd scream so loud and for so long during a movie, and I highly doubt if I ever would, ever again. It's hard to imagine any other film delivering on such a visceral and emotional level like Avengers: Endgame manages to do. It was fan service at its finest, and a firm reminder of why we'd all invested all the time we had with these characters over the past 11 years.

I've seen every MCU movie since Avengers: Age of Ultron at the cinema, and Avengers: Endgame is the first one that I actually feel compelled to go back and watch multiple times. It deserves to be experienced in all available formats. I'd settled for a standard 2D midnight screening, but I can totally see myself going back to see this in IMAX, 3D and even 4DX. But whatever format you eventually decide to settle upon doesn't change the fact that this is a must-see movie, so go out and see it you must.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 2 (Spoilercast)

The highly-anticipated Battle of Winterfell is almost upon us, and I am once again joined by Prince from The Drunk Pen as we discuss the highs and lows of what was essentially another episode of buildup to next week's epic confrontation. You can listen to our thoughts on the episode and the battle to come below, or head over to SoundCloud where you can also join in on the conservation by leaving a comment in the comments section.

Friday, 19 April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Shazam! (Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Us (Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Captain Marvel (Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 2 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 January 2019

Glass (Movie Review)

Few directors have recorded as many hits and misses in the past two decades as M. Night Shyamalan. And of all his successes, Unbreakable remains my favorite one, a unique take on the superhero origin story which came at a time when such movies were not considered mainstream or commercially viable. He'd won over critics and moviegoers alike with its surprise followup, Split, a psychological thriller released 17 years later. The movie was so successful that many considered it a return to form, so of course, we all anticipated the arrival of the final film in the trilogy, Glass.

The film opens with the Unbreakable David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who has since taken to fighting small-time criminals as The Overseer with the aid of his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Having learnt about the actions of The Horde (James McAvoy) at the end of Split, David takes systematic walks through the city streets in the hope of coming in contact with anyone that might lead to finding him. The two superhumans eventually meet, but their showdown is cut short when both are captured by the authorities.

They are subsequently taken to a mental institution, where they meet Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychologist that believes people like them are merely suffering from severe cases of delusion. It is her intention to treat both men, along with long-time psych ward resident, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book collector whose rare bone disorder had earned him the nickname, Mr. Glass. But unbeknownst to her, Elijah has been harboring plans of his own, and it involves her two newest patients.

I tried to go into Glass with an open mind, I really did. But nothing in this world could have saved the film from its head-scratching and very much convoluted finale. In his attempt to blindside audiences with one of his signature plot twists, Mr. Shyamalan has managed to undo much of the groundwork that had been laid by the two previous movies, and their associated brilliance. None of which is helped by the fact that none of it adds up, at least not within the context of the current film.

This is not to say it was anything as bad as Superman uttering the name, Martha, in the middle of a fight. Far from it. But the bait and switch nature of the twist makes it a poor choice, however you choose to look at it. Still, for all of its shortcomings, Glass remains a refreshingly different take on the superhero genre. The movie had its moments, and fans of Unbreakable would appreciate its adherence to that film's style and vision. It's just a shame that it couldn't have ended on a better note.