Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Back in 1995, Robin Williams starred in a film that had an original story, was reasonably good, included a lot of CGI’d excitement, and was well-received by audiences in general.  However, that film aged pretty quickly, with the special effects looking dated within that decade, yet still held a special place in most people’s hearts especially after the loss of Robin Williams in 2014. 
When it was announced that there was going to be another movie—although it wasn’t said whether it’d be a sequel or a reboot—I thought it was unneeded and didn’t think it would stand a chance with today’s audiences.  Sure, special effects have advanced in the intervening years since the 1995 original, but the board game aspect of the story and wild animals running rampant angle wouldn’t cut it.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was released last December (2017) and although it received some very favorable reviews, I had no desire to go out to the local theater to see it (choosing instead to see The Last Jedi or whatever else was playing back then).  But time passed, the movies I’d been seeing lately on Netflix weren’t really doing it for me, so I decided to see this one purely for shits-and-giggles.
So what did I think of it?  First…let me give you the breakdown of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
In a brand new Jumanji adventure, four high school kids—Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner)—discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose—Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).  What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji—you must survive it.  To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves…or they’ll be stuck in the game forever, to be played by others without break.
Now, the film appears to try and pick up right where the 1995 film left off, but I think there’s a bit of a discrepancy here.  At the end of 1995’s Jumanji, after the game is tossed into the ocean, I believe the board game washes up on a beach in France, with the box halfway submerged in sand.  A couple of girls are walking up to it, speaking French, so it’s assumed the game made the voyage all the way to that country.  In this new film, it’s the same setup, only it’s been washed up somewhere in America.  Maybe the French girls were vacationing in America…?  It’s just an observation…I don’t mean to digress.
Aside from that, the story shows us that the game was found by a father who gives the game to his son, Alex (Mason Guccione), who dismisses it, mumbling to himself that nobody plays board games anymore.  With that said and seeing how the teen chooses to continue playing video games, it prompts the board game to transform into a video game console.  After he notices this, he plugs it into his television and turns it on, grabbing the joystick as he looks at the screen.  The film then cuts to the outside view of Alex’s window as we see a flash of light that tells us something has happened in the room…but we don’t know what.
So…as the story goes on, we start at present day, centering around four characters—two are likable, the other two are not—and how they end up together in detention, which sets them up to find the Jumanji game (which has made its way to the school’s basement somehow) and to be absorbed into it.  I do like that angle, having it become a video game that sucks in the main characters.  It’s a breath of fresh air and at least the movie shows that it’s not just a cookie-cutter reimagining of the first film.  The teens’ actions certainly sum up what most of us Gen-Xers had done throughout the 80s and 90s—being totally engrossed in video games. 
Once the teens get immersed into the game and the avatars are revealed, that’s when the fun begins.  Seeing the main character of Spencer finding himself to be Smolder Bravestone was amusing, especially when the real Spencer’s traits show through.  Watching and hearing The Rock repeat “don’t cry” to himself over and over when he first finds himself to be in this new jungle world was pretty funny.  Even more comical was to see the character of Fridge—a huge high school football player—end up as the diminutive avatar of “Mouse” Finbar.  The laughs really start to come when you see Jack Black embody the character of Bethany within the avatar of Professor Shelly Oberon.  Finally, the introverted teen Martha turns into the kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse.
I like the certain tropes they throw in to show you that our protagonists are really in the game by presenting the video game side characters in a loop, repeating certain directions and explanations, not interacting but just a program to get the players through to the next level.  Also, the way each character finds the way to display their strengths and weaknesses was a nice touch.
If you look back on the last few lines of the synopsis, it really doesn’t ring true when watching the movie unfold.  The only thing Alan Parrish (Robin Williams’s character in the 1995 film) left behind was a jungle shack that he’d built with his name carved in a piece of wood.  The shelter is of little importance in the movie and is glossed over fairly quickly.  Sure, they discovered it…in a way…but it has no bearing on the story.  The last line on the summary…?  I won’t give away the characters’ dilemma, but it sure isn’t what’s said there.
If there was anything I didn’t like was the choice for the villain of the game—Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).  Though I don’t mind him in most parts he plays (he’s actually really good in Ant-Man), I didn’t think he had what it takes to be the dark and over-the-top villain he sets out to be in this film.  Also, another aspect the filmmakers had gotten right tended to bite them in the butt at times.  The featured rule of having side characters within the game have limited conversations with the protagonists were sometimes broken—sometimes not engaging with the characters freely, but sometimes they did. 
But these are just nitpicked observations and really don’t take away from the fun you’ll have while watching this.
Directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher, Sex Tape), he really turns the adventurous story into a fun popcorn flick.  Though I’m sure Kevin Hart and Jack Black were probably hard to rein in, Kasdan takes this ensemble cast and makes them work together cohesively.  He takes advantage of the chemistry worked within this group, both in the teens and the game avatars, and brings the story together very well, never letting the action let up for too long and nary a lull is felt.
What makes the film even more entertaining is the music by Henry Jackman, who has scored the films of Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: Civil War.  The music in Civil War was especially memorable and really brought that movie’s feelings up front as the battles between friends raged on.  With those other music compositions in mind, it’s very obvious this man knows how to put feeling into a movie.
Let’s get right to it and let me give you my final “bit” on Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
As I’d mentioned, the fun is felt all the way and the laughs keep coming.  Whether it’s Jack Black doing his best impression of a millennial teenaged girl or Kevin Hart using self-deprecating humor, you’d be remiss if you thought this film was boring.  On the contrary, it doesn’t let up and keeps the action going throughout with a lot of comedy.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was—and always will be—a perfect action star with a little modest wit sprinkled in here and there, yet shares the screen time with his co-stars equally.  The movie is funny, action-packed, over-the-top, and just a great movie to sit and watch while turning off your brain.
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Monday, June 4, 2018

Big Driver

As I may have said countless times when reviewing a Stephen King adaptation, I am a huge fan of the author's works and love most of the movies made from his books.  Since before the recent rash of films adapted from his novels, there were quite a few that weren't really worth a look.  Believe me, there were some so terrible, I didn't have the heart to review them here, let alone admit it to myself.

However, starting with last year's It, King's work seemed to turn into a new branch of a gold mine, giving us quite a few flicksalbeit, Netflix originalsand a sequel to the aforementioned It and a few other rumored productions that may start up soon.

Recently, I had dove in to a short story collection of Mr. King's, titled "Full Dark, No Stars," to see about reading the first story contained within before the movie version was released on Netflix.  The story, "1922," was pretty good and well written.  So much so, that I decided to read all the stories in the book, one right after the other"Fair Extension," "A Good Marriage" (which also has a film adaptation that ran on Netflix, but I've yet to see), and "Big Driver."  That last novella was actually the second story in the book, but I'd left if for last, choosing, instead, to read the other two first"A Good Marriage" because I was familiar with the actors in the film and wouldn't have a tough time visualizing the characters in my head, and "Fair Extension" due to the length of the story itself (32 pages).

Somehow, and I can't remember where I'd read it, but I saw that "Big Driver" was made into a movie.  Now, this story, in no way, is anything supernatural or a full-fledged horror story, but it does contain something that would be horrible to anyone who'd have the misfortune to experience such a frightening and life-changing ordeal.  Just the fact that it was a Stephen King adaptation, I knew I had to see it as soon as possible, and checking Netflix, seeing it was available on DVD, I had it sent to me right away.

Before going into this film, let me give you this very short synopsis for Big Driver...

A famous mystery writer, Tessa (Maria Bello), sets out for revenge after a brutal sexual assault.

As I'd looked into the film, before it arrived in my mailbox, I noticed something that lowered my expectations for it and it was the fact that the film was first televised on the Lifetime Network, so I knew the subject matter was going to be altered a bit.  Reading the story before seeing this movie conjured up scenes like what I'd witnessed in the I Spit on Your Grave remake a few years back, which made the payback easily something you could cheer for as you see the heroine of the story get her revenge.  I knew Lifetime would not show the movie as it was intended, from book-to-film, so I held little hope that the movie would be any good.  Another letdown, in the form of checking the IMDb score, was that the film received an average of 5.6 out of 10, so I really didn't think I'd be able to finish the film.

Though, on the plus column, the film had a few recognizable facesone was an actress from a previous Stephen King adaptation, another was an Oscar winner, and one was a music icon.  I'm speaking of Maria Bello (from Secret Window), Olympia Dukakis (Oscar winner for Moonstruck), and Joan Jett (music legend inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015).  With this cast in mind, I was more than willing to give the flick a try. a whole, the film plays out like the novella, condensed, of course, like most films are when based on a book.  Watching it with Stephen King goggles, I enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it was an above-average adaptation.  It's when I try to see the film as a King novice, especially looking back at it and re-experiencing it again in my mind, that I may see some problems or confusion.  For instance, in the book, the lead character of Tessa is introduced to us as the author of a successful string of books that centers around a group of old women who identify themselves as the "Willow Grove Knitting Society," a small congregation that solves crimes.  The leader of the group, who Tessa identifies with the most, always comes to the forefront of her mind, especially when she tries to think her way out of a jam.  It's conveyed in the book as just Tessa's imagination coming forward, much like the GPS voice talking to's very obvious that she's using these figments of her imagination to help her out in some way.  But sitting back and trying to live vicariously through a King beginner, watching the movie unfold as it does, I have to wonder if all this is obvious.

Although I had put the movie down, initially, as a Lifetime movie and automatically figured it may be dumbed down, one aspect I'd like to point out is that the filmmakers didn't feel the need to wash out the colors of the movie so that it looks like a bleak story from the get-go.  The cinematography looks great, with a lot of visual style here and there.  The start of the film gave us a bird's eye view of Tessa setting out on her journey to the speaking engagement she's set to participate in and another shot in the second act had it down to a worm's eye view when Tessa is at her most vulnerable.  It may have been a subtle context shown by the director or cinematographer...or maybe they were just lucky with those shots.

As it says in the synopsis, the story is about Tessa being brutally attacked, and it's very uncomfortable to see.  Even though I mentioned that the movie is a Lifetime production, the act of the Good Samaritan turning rapist is still very graphic in nature, there's no getting around that as the act is a motive for Tessa's actions later.  The language and material, naturally, had to be written with the afternoon audiences in mind, no four-letter words or nudity involved in this one, but the message gets across.

In the book, there is a lot of dialogue going on within Tessa's mind, giving us what she's thinking and cluing us in on her strategy and feelings towards her plans.  You may or may not be able to get this from Bello's performance, but I think it wasn't conveyed well enough wherein the bookTessa gets to a very low point where she accepts death; in the film, however, I don't think that comes across too well.

Everyone's performances are good enough to make the situations believable (except to hear the rapist say "How about I screw you?" instead of what he actually says in the book), but let's face itthis film wasn't destined to be an Academy Award Contender.  It's simply a mystery thriller, surrounded by horrible circumstances, but it's all wrapped up as a nice revenge story.

Surprisingly, this is not director Mikael Salomon's first dip into the Stephen King adaptation universe.  Although he has many credits to his namemore than 50 as a directorhis first King film was 2004's Salem's Lot television movie remake.  He also directed two episodes of "Nightmares & Dreamscapes: the Stories of Stephen King."

Finally, I think this would've been a nice flick to include a little Stephen King cameo, perhaps during the scene where Tessa finds herself at the biker club...but I didn't see him anywhere in this film.

Anyway...let's get right down to it.  What's my final "bit" on Big Driver?

The film starts off as your usual Lifetime movie, with girl talk between friends, an author speaking at a library, but soon takes a turn for the rape/revenge sub-genre.  It's neutered a bit, but the point is driven home, with our main heroine being driven to vengeance very quickly.  The film is short and to the point, no lessons learned, no messages given, just and eye-for-an-eye standard movie.  If you're a Stephen King fan and like to see how his books translate to film, the movie is worth a watch.  Would I purchase this to add to my Stephen King collection?  Probably not.  Would an average moviegoer, with no knowledge of King's stories, enjoy this?  Hard to say, but I'm thinking they wouldn't.  I guess if you're a fan of the leading ladies, maybe so, but I'd wait until it's re-runned on Lifetime or some other channel.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Deadpool 2

Prepare for the second coming...

The surprise hit back in 2016 from Fox (“the studio that killed Wolverine”) pretty much proved itself worthy of a sequel in the first day of its release back then.  With the money it made, making its budget back in probably the first few hours of screenings, the studio would have to be a bunch of “ass-hats” to not throw money at—and greenlight—a sequel right away. 


What helped the sell?  Ryan Reynolds.  If it wasn’t for his portrayal of the titular character of Wade Wilson—which shouldn’t be that difficult seeing as the writers of most of the comic book series currently use his comedic wit as a template for the hero—that movie wouldn’t have been as successful as it had been.  Even before there was any mention of a movie being in development, when reading a “Deadpool” comic book, I couldn’t help but picture Reynolds speaking the parts and cracking wise throughout the storyline.


No one wants to talk about the first time Reynolds portrayed the character of Wade Wilson (not even Reynolds himself) back in 2009 in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but there was a bit of excitement when it was learned that he’d be featured in that movie.  As the movie played out and people came to understand how the character’s depiction had turned out, that’s when comic book aficionados became upset and lost even more faith in Fox.


However, all the wrongs have been made right, we’d gotten a movie with a decent origin, finishing off with an after-credits stinger that went right out and announced a sequel, going as far as telling us that the character of Cable would be in it…comic book fanboys went nuts.


So here we are, after nearly a year of constant promotions, starting with the hilarious short that played before the Logan film last year, we get the sequel…Deadpool 2.


I’ve got to say, I’m a little surprised that the film is titled so simply, not giving us a subtitle, but opting for the sequential number of 2.  I thought there’d be something funny to go into this movie, like a subtitle mocking some other movie or an MCU movie or maybe even something from the DCEU, like Deadpool V Cable: Martha Martha Martha…?  But what’s in a title, right?  It’s the finished product that makes or breaks the bank…the title could’ve been something lame like Deadpool Returns, so it really doesn’t matter if it has a cool title.


As I gather my thoughts and piece together everything I saw on the opening weekend, let me give you the synopsis of Deadpool 2


Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary, Wade Wilson—also known as Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds)—brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues—Domino (Zazie Beetz), Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), Bedlam (Terry Crews), and Shatterstar (Lewis Tan)—to protect a young boy (Julian Dennison) with superpowered abilities from the brutal, time-traveling mutant, Cable (Josh Brolin). 


The above summary is definitely shortened and streamlined to save you from any spoilers because there is a lot of funny surprises that you’ll have to see fresh and for the first time.  However, unlike most movies these days that ruin some of the story for you by showing most of the action and jokes in the trailer, Deadpool 2 shows you different takes of the scenes which gives us revelations and fresh takes that we haven’t seen.  Although, in this sequel, it’s a bit jarring to go from slapstick scenes to more serious notes in the story, but it all comes together in a very stimulating style.  Most filmmakers would not be able to accomplish this, nor would they have the courage to try.


Character by character…


Of course, Ryan Reynolds—back in that red and black leather number—kicks ass just as much as he had in his first outing (not the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, but the 2016 standalone).  The laughs are constant, with Reynolds’ humor showcased throughout, breaking the fourth wall, interacting hilariously with the straight characters, showing his awareness that he’s in a movie. 


Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is here once again, acting as Wade’s anchor to calm him down from the constant quips and to bring the movie to a more serious tone when they’re together.  We don’t get too much of her character within the story, and it’s for good reason…you’ll see once you experience the film.


T.J. Miller’s “Weasel” is not featured as prominently as he was in the first film—it may be due to Miller’s off-screen issues, it may not—but he does have some funny interactions within the film, as Wade’s assistant in the X-Force interviewing scenes and in one particular scene where Wade is recovering from a pretty critical injury…which gets a lot of laughs here.


Now, the character every comic book geek was waiting for—Cable (Josh Brolin).  The first film was bold enough to give us that bit of info during the after-credits scene in the first film—as Deadpool parodies the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, complete with robe and background set design, he flat out tells the audience the sequel will include the character of Cable.  However, at that time, no one was cast as the cybernetic-armed mutant.  Though many names were thrown about, Josh Brolin was the one who’d won the part and he delivered in spades, giving us the look and mannerisms we’d come to expect—well, at least us comic book fans anyway.  Brolin embodies this character and I loved everything about his depiction…well, except for his height…which wasn’t a problem until near the end of the movie when he’s walking alongside Reynolds, who’s a good three inches taller than him.


As for the rest of the cast, back for the ride are Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Dopinder (Karan Soni), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic).  But new to the Deadpool franchise are Firefist (Julian Dennison), Domino (Zazie Beetz), Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), Bedlam (Terry Crews), and Peter (Rob Delaney).  I’ve left off a few other characters because they’re a good jolt added to the film, so I don’t want to spoil it for you.


Although director Tim Miller gets a lot of accolades for what he was able to do with so little in the 2016 film, he decided not to come back for the sequel (probably because he’s working on the Terminator reboot set to be released next year).  So, the director’s job went to David Leitch, who really doesn’t have that much in the way of directing movies, but has had quite a career in stunt work for films.  Leitch’s first directing gig was for the highly acclaimed John Wick, followed by Atomic Blonde before coming on board for Deadpool 2. 


So, let me just give you my final “bit” on Deadpool 2...


The sequel is just about as funny and entertaining as the first, with a bit more action and a lot more characters involved.  As we’ve seen in the trailers, the “X-Force” team is initialized and we’re more than likely going to get a movie soon, featuring these team members and maybe more added to the mix.  You won’t have to sit through all the credits to see some scene that’ll clue you in on a sequel because there is none.  But the start of the credits features some humorous animated stills and in between the middle of the credits are some hilarious scenes that are surprisingly comical.  As in the first film, the strong language and graphic content are not suitable for young children, but there isn’t any nudity or sexual situations here, so you can feel comfortable watching this with teens…or at least allowing yours to see it.  A few shocks are to be seen here, especially for comic book fans, so just get out there and see this before it leaves theaters.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Never tell him the odds…
So, Disney wasn’t kidding when they said they’d be releasing a Star Wars film every year, were they?  Starting in 2015, we’d gotten The Force Awakens, Rogue One in 2016, The Last Jedi the following year, and, here in 2018, we get the standalone film—Solo: A Star Wars Story.
I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t very excited when they had announced this at first, even when the date grew near.  The reason being is that when I think of a Star Wars film, I’m expecting a little bit of Jedi fighting with some lightsaber action going down.  But since I had enjoyed Rogue One (which didn’t have any Jedi or lightsaber duels, only brief mentions of The Force), I decided to be optimistic and had started looking forward to the movie, making sure to see it the day after the opening date (May 25th, 2018).  Like everyone else who had followed the story of this production, hearing the firing of the original directors—Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—at first left me feeling that this movie wasn’t going to be very good, especially knowing that those directors had gotten very far into the production before they were let go.  Enter Ron Howard—director supreme of such hits as Splash, Backdraft, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind—to fix what was presented to him, which resulted in a reported 80% of re-filming and reshoots.  With the short amount of time that Mr. Howard had to make the production and release it on schedule, it looked rather bleak.
As I first set eyes on the trailer for this film, I felt it had the look and feel to the first Blade Runner film, with the synth-heavy score and dimly-lit sets.  The only redeeming quality the preview had for me was that it was a Star Wars film and it contained a bit of the John Williams music throughout.  All that aside, I knew I was going to see this film within the scope of the release date and that I was not going to wait for it to arrive on home media.  Only, my hopes were going to be minimal, setting the bar pretty low when going into it.
So, before getting into my views of the film, here’s the breakdown for Solo: A Star Wars Story
With the emerging demand for hyperfuel and other resources, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself in the middle of a heist together with other criminals—Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau)—to find a way to save the girl he loves, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).  Along the way, he meets his future co-pilot, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and the suave gambler, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in an adventurous situation exposing the criminal underworld of the Star Wars saga.
As this film started, it was great to see the story start out with the text, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”  However, like Rogue One, we don’t get the fanfare or the episode text crawl, just the explanation of the demand for hyperfuel within the galaxy, which is the crux for this story.  The hyperfuel—coaxium—in little or large amounts, is like gold and it’s what our young hero, Han Solo, uses to try and get off the world of Corellia with Qi’ra, the girl he loves.  When he has no choice but to leave her behind, throughout the start of the film, he does what he can to get back to her and save her from the terrible planet where she remains…that’s where the adventure begins.
A bit different from the books and comic books, where it’s said to be Star Wars canon, the origin of how Han and Chewbacca meet is enjoyable and gets a few laughs.  It’s great to see how their friendship develops throughout the film, starting with them just being members of a hyperfuel heist to finally being pilot and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon.  The same can be said for when Lando Calrissian is introduced, played brilliantly and believably by Donald Glover, as he’s definitely a smooth operator much like Billy Dee Williams played the character back in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  
If you’re a fan of the original trilogy, you may have always wondered about how Han won the Millennium Falcon from Lando and what was the Kessel’ll see it here.  Are there any familiar faces from any of the other films?  Yes.  A very surprising cameo is to be seen and had me running some numbers and doing some galaxy math…but it was good to see this character.  How they fit into Han Solo’s world, I have no idea.  You may want to know about some other origins regarding Han’s life that had been mentioned in the original trilogy and you won’t get them here in this film, but I’m willing to bet we will in future installments.  And I’m happy with that because I really didn’t want Ron Howard and the Kasdans to shoot their whole wad with inundating us with everything about Han Solo’s life in one short movie.

One aspect of this production that made the rounds was the news that Alden Ehrenreich had to take some acting lessons during some of the filming, making most believe he wasn’t right for the part and that he wasn’t going to be convincing as a young Han Solo.  I don’t know what that all entailed and I really don’t care—and most viewers shouldn’t as well—Ehrenreich nails this part and he’s very believable as a young Solo.
As the trailer offered, the film plays some music cues that pay tribute to John Williams, which is what the fanboys want.  A lot of people complained about the choice of music score on the Rogue One film, going as far as to re-edit some scenes on YouTube with John Williams music, showing that the scenes play a lot more dramatic that way than with the original music from composer Michael Giacchino.  Here, in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the music duties go to John Powell (Shrek, The Bourne Identity) and I can’t really fault him for relying a little on familiar Star Wars nods to Williams.
Overall, the film will keep your attention, noticing the bravado Ehrenreich brings to the table and taking in all the CGI-generated sci-fi action within the story.  One particular scene that made me smile and brought me back to my younger days, looking up to the hero of Han Solo, was his piloting skills as he twisted the Falcon in flight to bat away an Imperial Tie-Fighter to make it crash off to the side.  With all the history of Solo’s famed ship, it was good to see it in its heyday and to see how good it really was with the right pilot at the helm.
Along with Alden Ehrenreich, the other actors in the film all added to the eclectic collection of characters within the story.  I had my doubts about Harrelson because I always see him as Woody from Cheers, but he is a strong character here, playing Tobias Beckett—sort of a mentor to Han Solo.  Although the CGI character doesn’t get much time on screen, Rio Durant adds a bit of levity, especially as it’s voiced by Jon Favreau in a lighthearted and amusing manner.  Thandie Newton’s Val is a no-nonsense member of Beckett’s team who is only dedicated to him and no one else.  Finally, Joonas Suotamo is not new to playing the part of Chewbacca, though he quietly steals some scenes here and there; because of his stature, he shared the part with Peter Mayhew in The Force Awakens and took over the role in The Last Jedi, so this isn’t his first rodeo.
Also, some key characters that are worth mentioning...
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of the droid L3-37 was refreshing and, at times, very amusing.  Her need to free droids or to make them aware of how enslaved they are within this world gave the character a purpose besides to make precise calculations or to be the deus ex machina getting the human characters out of a jam.  The villainous character of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) was nice, especially the touch of having the markings on his face turning redder as he was angered was something new to these films and I liked it very much.  Erin Kellyman as Enfys Nest ended up being a very important part, especially near the end when it’s clued to the audience that she and her people are the start of the Rebellion that’s to come.  Of course, it’s nice to see Warwick Davis (playing the minor character of Weazel) in a Star Wars film.  Even though you won’t know it’s him, the thin Wookiee, Tak, that Chewbacca helps to free is none other than Mr. Anthony Daniels (normally seen in the gold-plated costume of C-3PO).  And how can there be a Ron Howard movie without a cameo from his brother, Clint Howard?  You’ll see him playing the repugnant Ralakii who runs the droid fights in the film.
My final “bit” on Solo: A Star Wars Story?
I can’t say that I disliked this film, but I can’t say I totally loved it either.  I thought it was a fun ride, very adventurous at times, and had some lump-in-the-throat moments (like when Chewie first sits in the co-pilot’s chair with Han).  A few scenes made me want to clap and/or cheer, while most of the film made me smile with some of the wink-wink references to something we may or may not see in future films.  Although the plot of this film was pretty thin with not much at stake—that we can see at least—just the fact that it’s viewed as an historical piece, with origins some of us may have wanted to see, it’s still a very fun film and worth the price of admission.  Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun time for the whole family, so take an afternoon off or see it this weekend…you won’t be disappointed.
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Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Wow!  Just…wow!


So much has gone through my mind in the last twenty-four hours, both during the movie and hours after leaving the theater, and I’m already planning a second viewing of this third chapter of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes—Avengers: Infinity War.  The film is epic, both in running time and the scope of the story—where it goes and how it divides up the team of superheroes…this movie is immensely marvelous.


I’ve got to say, I had my doubts, yet had my expectations set pretty high, because that’s where this film had to go to impress me.  With the first teaming back in 2012, I had been let down a bit with the follow-up—Age of Ultron—and, to put it in James Cameron’s recent idiom, was starting to give audiences “Superhero Fatigue.”  But this new film certainly put that uneasiness to rest and shut down Cameron’s foolish projection, as we now have a bar set so high that any chapter of the Marvel Studios films is going to have a tough time reaching.


As each trailer was released—and even the leaked Comic Con footage—on the internet, I’ve indulged myself to those short vignettes multiple times just to satisfy my craving for the upcoming film.  As I was sitting in the theater yesterday, waiting through the few trailers they showed before the main feature, I wanted to scream out for the projectionist (Is there actually still a person up there in that little room?) to play the movie already!  But the time arrived, the lights dimmed, and the movie started.  About two hours and thirty minutes later, I sat awestruck and eager for more.


So, with all that expressed, let me give you the film’s breakdown from Marvel Studios…


As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos.  A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality.  Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment—the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.


Of course, I’m going to be very careful not to spoil the plot, the surprises, the ending, nor will I describe the after credits scene.  Full disclosure, however, I am a Marvel Comics fanboy and will gush over certain superheroes featured throughout this film.  If you still feel this may spoil the film for you, or if you want to go into this movie fresh without any info whatsoever (which I recommend), please stop reading and come on back after you see it.


With that out of the way, let’s talk about Avengers: Infinity War.


Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who have both teamed to write a few other Marvel Studios films in the last five or six years), these men gave us a fantastic story to follow along.  They must have an Infinity Stone of their own (the ‘Scribe Stone’ perhaps?) but they’ve given us a few wonderful stories out of the oeuvre of Marvel superhero films we’ve seen thus far. 


Many of you who have picked and chosen certain movies out of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and have not seen every single movie from the litany of their superhero flicks may be asking yourselves if one would need to see all or any of the movies preceding this one.  I’d say that if you have an idea of which hero is which and know a semblance of their origins, you might be okay with going into this cold.  Probably the only confusion one may have is at the start of this film and how it kicks into gear.  Thinking about that, I may be inclined to say that you should at least watch the very entertaining Thor: Ragnarok, especially waiting until the first of the rolling credits to see what happens.  However, it’s probably best to experience all the movies—in order of release—before you go and see Avengers: Infinity War.  But if you just can’t manage to sit through around thirty-six hours of superhero cinema, you can watch a recap in about fifteen minutes right here.


As each Marvel film has shown, whether during its main story or as an after credits scene, something big was coming with some very high stakes involved.  Especially the scene that was featured after the credits rolled for Age of Ultron, we knew Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) was finally going to show and make it a gamechanger, and it was no secret that this film was going to feature him as the main antagonist.  From the previous films’ teasers to the trailers for this film, we all knew that Thanos was going to be a force the Avengers were going to have to reckon with…and boy, is he ever that force in this!


Although it’s not my favorite format to watch a film (I still think it’s a gimmick that has ran its course for far too long), the 3D wasn’t too bad and it didn’t induce a headache like most 3D films usually do.  In fact, I kind of liked the Marvel logo that slides in-and-out in the beginning of the film that finishes with Captain America flinging his shield toward the camera…that wasn’t too shabby.  But for the rest of the film, it really did nothing to make the movie better.  I found myself during some of the darker scenes wanting to take the glasses off so I could have a clearer and brighter view of what was going on, so you’re going to want to see this in standard viewing form.


The Avengers fanfare is back to start off this flick with Alan Silvestri back in the composer’s chair to give us a great soundtrack to back our heroes.  He was certainly missed in the previous entry of Age of Ultron where Danny Elfman and Brian Tyler took up that spot for some reason.  I’ve gushed over Silvestri many times before because of the memorable movies for which he’s composed music.  Films such as Back to the Future, Predator, Forrest Gump, and most recently, Ready Player One are some of his memorable ones.


As for screen time each actor is given within this story, one would think it’d be an impossibility to allot them all ample time, but it wasn’t.  Counting the main characters in the cast listing—and that’s the main heroes without counting their righthand guards, fellow sorcerers, significant others, etc.—was upwards of around thirty.  But if you want to include the rest of the characters that are noteworthy and substantial, you’re probably looking at around sixty.  No one is shortchanged and everybody has a role to play in this epic parable.


The directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo do a fantastic job of taking this huge task and giving us such a beautiful superhero flick.  It’s a comic book geek’s dream—I should know—and seeing how they took charge of the second and third Captain America films, you can see why this worked so well.  But it’s more than that…it surpassed my expectations, surprised the hell out of me in one scene as I think I left my jaw on the floor of that movie theater last night, and, at the end of the film, I haven’t felt this way since I saw The Empire Strikes Back way back in 1980.  What I mean by that is that I’ve never felt the need to see what comes next in any movie since.


As I spoke to some colleagues of mine who partook in this outing last night, we discussed what we saw for a few minutes after the film, standing in the lobby of the theater as the next batch of moviegoers were flowing in to see the next showing of the movie.  During the discussion, I couldn’t help comparing this film to its predecessor, Age of Ultron, noting how much down time that film had with a few lulls…especially the scenes featured in Hawkeye’s house.  But Avengers: Infinity War has no such breaks or screeching halts.  It may seem that way at times, but it always ends up with some action that helps out the plot.  And that’s the thing about this flick, as opposed to some of the other Marvel films, there are no action scenes for action scenes’ sake, only action that helps the plot move along.


Besides the serious tones in this film—and there are quite a bit—additionally, you’ll see some very funny moments at times.  Though it’s nothing like the laugh-a-minute romp that Thor: Ragnarok had been, this film has quite a few laughs that had the crowd cracking up.  I mean, ten years ago, would you have believed we’d see a film with a God of Thunder teaming up with a living tree and a talking raccoon?


Though every main character has their own introduction into certain points within this plot, there are a few that just caused everyone to clap and cheer as they were shown up on the screen.


I won’t get into the scene or spoil anything—as I’m nervously trying my best as I write this—but when Captain America (Chris Evans) is shown for the first time in this film, it is monumental, eliciting quite a bit of applause from the packed house.  Now sporting a beard and some longer locks, he’s now a gruffer Cap, without his shield (which you would’ve known if you’d seen Captain America: Civil War) but just as strong and agile as he’s ever been.    


Now I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Spider-Man and loved the fact that Sony finally came to their senses to allow the inclusion of the character to the rightful owners when he made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War. Though I’m iffy on his first MCU outing in Spider-Man: Homecoming, I felt that the character has finally come into his own and shined when he was on screen.  Tom Holland fully embodies the young hero and gets his due screen time in this extravaganza.  As with Captain America’s entrance, we get the same from Tom Holland’s arrival, which is seen in the movie’s trailer.  But he’s definitely more of a webslinger here, seemingly getting the hang of his powers and agility, and when he jumps into action at the start, it’s…amazing.


Another favorite of mine is Hulk.  Growing up, I’ve enjoyed some of the cartoons, positively loved the CBS series in the late 70s with Lou Ferrigno donning the green paint and shredded pants, and I still enjoy the 2003 film starring Eric Bana.  Since his appearance in the first Avengers film, his appearance—voiced and motion captured by Mark Ruffalo—has been the best adaptations of the character.  Once again, I won’t spoil the inclusion of his character to the story, but Hulk’s scenes are sure to shock you.


Without writing a book, you’ll have to believe me that they’re all here, all with equal or at least a meaningful amount of time in the film, giving it their all, battling like you’ve never seen them battle before.  The risks are deadly, the fights are felt, because these heroes are up against something that they’ve never been up against before in their life.  You’ll feel their pain, their aguish, their dilemmas.  At the same time, there is so much humor, unlikely comradery…it is so much fun and adventurous…this is an Avengers movie like you’ve never seen before.


Before I make a mistake and write something a little too revealing about the plot, let me give you my final “bit” on Avengers: Infinity War.


A great example of what a superhero film should be is what I’d watched last night.  I hate to compare Marvel Studios to Warner Bros., but the execs over there have got to be pulling their hair out as they try to understand how their rival comic book moviemakers are kicking ass at putting these superheroes up on the screens.  Any other studio should just pack it up and give up because Marvel Studios have got what it takes and must have the greatest moviemaking strategies ever conceived.  But besides all that, this movie is excellent and the Russo brothers have got a difficult task ahead of them in trying to top what they’ve accomplished so far.  Avengers: Infinity War is funny, action-packed, full of story, and will leave you wanting more when that screen goes black and the credits roll.  The good news is that we don’t have to wait the normal two- to three-year gap before they get the next movie released—the next one is coming out next year.  Not only that, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is set to arrive on July 6th and Captain Marvel on March 8th of 2019.  Also coming to theaters near you, though not exactly part of the MCU, is Deadpool 2 on May 17th and Venom on October 5th.  So, fear not, comic book fans, there are quite a few other films to satiate your appetite until next year.  For now, go out there, see this film, don’t let anybody spoil it for you, and thank me later.


However, I thank you for reading!


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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Belko Experiment

As always, searching through Netflix’s titles for something I’ve never seen before, I came across The Belko Experiment as it had a very high rating average from other members.  Seeing that it was categorized as being in the horror genre, it piqued my interest enough for me to look it up and to read up on it. 


The first name that caught my eye was the name of James Gunn.  Many of you may know that name of the man who brought a little-known Marvel Comics property to the screen in a film called Guardians of the Galaxy, but I also remember him as the director for a pretty good throwback horror flick—Slither.  Gunn has also been a very successful writer of screenplays, such as Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Super, as well as the two—soon to be three—Guardians of the Galaxy films.  After seeing him attached to this title, I figured it’d be somewhat entertaining.


Although Greg McLean’s name didn’t ring a bell when I saw his name attached as director, I soon found out he was the director of a couple of Aussie horror flicks that I thoroughly enjoyed—Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2.


Along with a few familiar names in the cast, I decided to have this disc sent to me to watch, and so I added The Belko Experiment to my queue and awaited its arrival.


Let me synopsize the film with the help of IMDb’s plot summary…


In a twisted social experiment, eighty Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.


From the start of this film, it had me interested, having all the characters introduced as exposition is given about how they all—as most of them are Americans—took this awesome job in South America, working for this American governmental building in the middle of nowhere.  But that’s when the uneasiness begins, especially when they notice there is a bit more security on this particular day as they’re all being checked in systematically upon entering the company’s grounds. 


Of course, this movie comes with the understanding that you’re going to need to suspend disbelief a bit—as most films of this caliber.  Certain features of the film might make you laugh at how absurd it is, but some aspects might make you ask yourself would you do the same if you were in the position of the characters on screen.  I’d give an example, but I really don’t want to ruin any of the surprises or shocks this movie will present to you upon first viewing.  All in all, as the synopsis above will tell you, this is a story about a deadly group test to see who has the best survival instinct.


So…what can I tell you?


Although most of the characters are cookie-cutter and run-of-the-mill clichés of your average good guy/bad guys, they still give you faces to root for and others to jeer.  Even though the subject matter is pretty serious, there’s always room for the comic relief which is brought forth in the shape of Sean Gunn as he plays Marty, the stoner employee of the Belko Corporation.  Some of the dialogue he delivers is pretty funny and alleviates the tension in some of the scenes.


Now the main character of Mike, John Gallagher Jr., was someone who I didn’t know at all and wondered why they’d have an unrecognizable actor in the lead.  When reading up on him, I realized that I did see him in a couple of other films—Hush and 10 Cloverfield Lane—but he really wasn’t the center of attention in any of those movies, so he never really left an impression on me.  But as the film went along, it became clear that the story needed him to be the regular-everyday-good-guy that felt a moral obligation to save whoever he can rather than taking the easy way out.


In watching this movie, it basically asks you a theoretical question: What would you do in this situation?  You’re stuck in this building, with no way out, and you’re given a choice to kill other people to save yourself.  It’s a tough dilemma, that’s for sure.


Now, Tony Goldwyn plays Barry, the manager of the employees and, at first, plays it as the protagonist, trying to have everybody remain calm and to reassure them that they’ll all make it through this.  Seeing him in this capacity surprised me as I can’t help but remember him as the antagonist in Ghost opposite Patrick Swayze.  Sure enough, however, after it’s apparent that the only means of escape is to do what the voice over the intercom tells them to do, he turns into the nemesis we all know he’s destined to be. Also along for the ride in the bad guy train is John C. McGinley as Wendell.  Both men are portrayed as former military and have an edge over everybody else in their experience with combat and taking the offensive.


You’ll see Michael Rooker in this as Bud the maintenance guy and although he really doesn’t play into the plot, it’s good to see a James Gunn alum involved here.


What’s my final “bit” on The Belko Experiment?


Overall, the movie is a lot of fun and will hold your interest throughout, especially to see what will be the outcome of all this.  I guess this film can be categorized as a thriller—not really a horror film, but it does have it’s bloody moments.  When the gore hits, it’s pretty wild and shocking, coming out of left field and upping the ante.  The few main characters go through quite a bit in this film and you can totally understand what they’re all going through, wondering if you’d have the audacity to do the unthinkable or the moral obligation to do what’s right.  The Belko Experiment will definitely make you think twice if you’re ever offered a government job in a country outside of the United States.  Check this one out, you’ll really enjoy it.


Thanks for reading!


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