Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Solo: A Better Than Expected Star Wars Story




   Die hard Star Wars fans have had a tough go of it. The Disney owned Star Wars has been a financial success, but it hasn't done much to win the hearts of it's loyal fan base. In fact, it has been the opposite. Most people seem to think that they only make these for the guaranteed money. They are not wrong. They are not totally right either. The problem has been the fans need to decide what they want. The biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was the fact that it was pretty much a copy of a New Hope. Rogue One was a great movie that fans didn't even know they wanted or needed. What came next was the worst thing for the franchise. The Last Jedi.  This isn't about that. This is the story of a young Han Solo. Let's start there.


We meet a younger version of the lovable scoundrel on the streets of Corellia. He is trying to buy a way off world and out of the criminal underworld for him and his friend/girlfriend. Things go wrong, he joins the empire, flees the empire, joins up with criminals, and meets some well known friends ten years prior to the rebellion.




  The cast works for what it is. Alden Edenreich is now Han Solo. He is tasked with the nearly impossible. Don't mimic Harrison Ford, but don't be so different that we don't recognize the character. He does alright. It takes a minute to get used too, but he plays it well. Emilia Clarke is a predictable, but interesting character. Jon Favreau and Thandie Newton have minor, but impactful roles. Paul Bettany is serviceable villain for the story, but he doesn't get much screen time. Phoebe Waller-Bridge lends her voice to one of the best droids to grace the saga, L3-37. She is the first mate to Lando Calrissian.


 Donald Glover was made for this role. It is the Lando we expect and a little that we don't . He is the smoothest man in the galaxy and in just enough trouble to make it interesting. There are a few things from him that I wanted to see, but again it is 10-12 years before Empire Strikes Back.



 We do get to see the Lando's version of the Millennium Falcon. It is beyond a trip down memory lane. The big complaint has been how new it looks and the design. The latter serves as part of the story and it provides for a cool moment. The fresh new look is purely Lando. He made some modifications and has an image to uphold.


 The pacing in the beginning is a little sluggish, but it is fun when it kicks in. Ron Howard basically re-shot a big chunk of the movie. The action scenes seem to just pop up, but they are well done. The train heist is great and we get to understand the Kessel Run! Both of these are fun to see play out. It is a small and somewhat predictable story that connects to a much larger and more familiar universe.


  It is a bromance. Chewbacca finally gets his moments to shine and they are fantastic. We always new that he and Han were close, but we finally see where it begins. While fans might not have asked for this, it is fun to see how it began for one of the most well known duos in pop culture history.



 The film is good with twists. A few will be called predictable., but a few we didn't see coming. It also does a great job of connecting to the new and old cannon. A few of the Rebels and Clone Wars might go over the casual movie fan, but will be loved by the hardcore. We get character mentions and a cameo that had the audience with me gasping. We learn more about what we already knew. We get some great action and more than a few iconic moments.  The moment that Han and Chewie fly the Falcon for the first time is goose bump worthy.




  The Last Jedi had the hopes of fans at an all time high and then did a great job of taking a giant crap all over them. It was something that never felt like a Star Wars movie. It also divided a fan base that was loyal for over 30 years. That isn't easy to do. A few praised it for taking chances, but most did not. This is a franchise that you don';t take chances with. There are expectations to be met. While Solo has it's flaws, it feels more like Star Wars than that Rian Johnson abomination ever did. It is an almost by the numbers Star Wars movie. It starts slow, but finishes strong. A good cast. A decent story. A side of nostalgia. Overall worth climbing aboard for a jump to light speed.





Friday, May 18, 2018

Deadpool 2: Fun But Forgettable









 Deadpool 2 is exactly what I expected it to be. That is a good and bad thing. There is a lot to like, but there is also a lot that you shake your head at. I am going into mild spoiler territory so read at your own risk,. The best way I can some up DP2 is making The Hangover 2 comparison. It was fun and OK, but just not as good as the original.




  When we find Deadpool he is working with Dopinder, going place to place, and killing bad guys. He is still with Vanessa. He is still the merc with a mouth. He is as Deadpool as can be. One of his hits goes terribly wrong and he finds himself in a bad place. So bad that he sort of joins the X-Men. On his first mission he encounters a mutant kid who is more than emotionally disturbed. Although he is only a kid now, he attracts the attention of the time travelling mutant, Cable. This leads to Wade protecting the kid from Cable, who wants to kill him now to prevent a horrible future.




  The story is a mixed bag. It offers some great moments, but it also has it's fair share of moments that just make you shake your head. Comic book geeks like me were excited to see what they did with X-Force. We were getting Shatterstar and that was supposed to be great! We get a taste of Wade interviewing candidates in the trailer and it all looked hilarious. It was, but here come the spoilers. The trailer, unfortunately, gives us the only real glimpse of X-Force. The team does NOTHING! Outside of  Domino, who we will cover in a few, they are just there for comic relief.  They had so much potential to do more, but it is all cut short. They fix this in post credit scenes, but it still does not play well at all! Sorry Rob Liefeld. These characters were wasted.


 I think that there was a different version of the film that sees Bedlam and Shatterstar doing more. The pic above and some of the trailers lend credibility to this. We don't get to see that in the final version of the film. I really would have liked to see these guys throw down with Cable and the film's real big bad who we will spoil later. Peter, who just saw the ad, deserved a little better. X-Force was one of the jokes that the movie could have left out.


  The one member of the team that does shine is Domino. Zazzie Beets is fantastic! She is smokin hot, a bad ass, and holds her own comically. She steals every scene that she is in. Fanboys don't like her altered look, but it plays very well. She is a great character and is without a doubt, one of the best parts of the movie.


  Cable was also one of the things we were looking forward to seeing. Josh Brolin is good, but he will draw the Thanos performance which is better. No denying that. It is funny. Hugh Jackman embodied the character of Wolverine, but was physically much taller than the comic version. Brolin is the opposite. He is GREAT as the character, but is much shorter. He looks fantastic and kicks a lot of ass. His back story is altered a bit, but it works for what they are doing here. He is a highlight for sure, but I would have like to see his origin touched on a little more.



 Julian Dennison is good and I loved the return of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Here comes the spoiler, Juggernaut was excellent! They really got that part right. The fight with Colossus was pretty solid. I go back to my earlier statement about X-force though. It would have been cool to seem them all throw down.


   Vanessa plays an important role in the story, but we don't get enough of her. I will not short change Ryan Reynolds either. He was born to play Wade Wilson. I love what he does, but the dick jokes and 12 year old boy humor doesn't play as well this time around. The comic references will be too much for the common movie goer. Sure, fanboys will get them all. The screening that I was full of people who didn't understand the references that were dropped. Bigger budget doesn't mean better movie. There are a couple of cool cameos, but all in all DP2 is just O.K. The post credit scenes are fun and some of the best in the film. The action sequences are good. The CGI is alright, but it just fails to capture the magic of the first one. 

 All of these characters are up in the air with the possible Disney merger. It is tough to plot out their long term futures. I for one, hope Comcast buys Fox. I don't want to see this universe Disney-fied.
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fox has certainly done a great job of screwing up the mutant universe, but I don't want Disney controlling everything.

Anyway. Deadpool 2 is good. It's not great. It will not make as much financially as the first one did. It probably would have done better if it came out before Infinity War. Go see it, but think of it as Hangover 2 and lower your expectations.




Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Avengers : Infinity War and Beyond!



  It began 10 years ago when Robert Downey Jr. proclaimed to the world, "The truth is, I am Iron Man." He was correct and the Marvel Cinematic Universe born.  Comic Books and super heroes are American Mythology. It was a long journey to see the likes of Thor, Captain America, Hulk, and Spider-Man on the big screen. Putting them all on the same screen was thought to be impossible, but Marvel has done that.  It is a film series that has not only earned billions, but has told a story that has built for ten years.  The Infinity War is upon us.

 Let's get caught up quickly. If you haven't seen the entire span of movies, that's OK. I would advise you to check out The Avengers, Captain America : Civil War, Thor: Ragnarock, and Guardians of The Galaxy. Those will cover the basics.


   The Infinity War is all about the Infinity Stones which are wielded with The Infinity Gauntlet. What are the stones? I am glad you asked.  After the big bang theory happened, the six  stones were created.  If one could wield them together, they could destroy the universe.  We have been seeing the stones for sometime. In case you missed them:

1. The Mind Stone is the yellow stone that is embedded in Visions head. It was the stone that was in Loki's scepter that we saw in the first Avengers. It's power is, among other things, controlling people's minds.

2. The Space Stone. It was the blue stone that was in the Tesseract. The cube that we Loki was using in the Avengers. It can teleport things through space.

3. The Reality Stone. It was the red, "ether," from Thor the Dark World and it has the power to yo pretty much decimate people and things.

4. The Power Stone is the purple stone from Guardians of the Galaxy. It has the power to destroy and entire planet.

5.  The Time stone is green. It was in the care of Dr. Strange and can be used to move forward and backward in time.

6. The Soul Stone. The stone is the only one that we have not seen. It allows it's wielder to take peoples souls and their powers.





 Thanos has been pulling the strings for a long time. He is on a quest to collect all six stones. His goal is to destroy half of the universe. He believes he is the only one who can put things in balance. The way intends to accomplish his balancing act is through genocide, hence why he is known as the mad titan.


 Infinity War is the culmination of the story that began with the first Avengers.  It is everything you want it to be and more. There are a few heroes missing, but I will not mention names for the sake of spoilers. There is a lot going on and it can be overwhelming at times. It takes some focus to keep up. The Russo Brothers do an amazing job of balancing the screen time. Each group has their own story arc and all are of equal importance.  The effects are top notch and two hours and forty minutes paces well.


  Infinity War is a great movie. There were some things that I wanted to see and they didn't happen. There were also things that I didn't see coming and loved! Story arcs are wrapped up and lives are lost. Some of which hold a lot of weight. It establishes the severity of the situation immediately. Thanos is every bit a bad ass and so are his inner circle. The movie has it's predictable moments, but it also zigs when you think it might zag.  It is an incredible roller coaster ride that will suck the air out of you and make you wishing you could go see the 4th installment tomorrow. There will be a 4th and it is not titled on purpose as to not spoil this one. 

In short, another win for Marvel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

READY PLAYER ONE...YES I AM



   Steven Spielberg has earned his place as one of history's greatest directors. E.T., Indiana Jones, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park,  and I could go on and on. He now is tasked with developing the popular Ernest Cline Novel, Ready Player One. Video games are a tough sell for the adult audience, but this time around could be different. Ready Player One is pure nostalgic yet futuristic fun! I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning.

   2045 and the world is a different place. Especially in an over crowded trailer park in Columbus,OH.  The world's population spends the majority of its time in virtual reality. Everyone has an avatar. A video game version of themselves that usually looks vastly different. They all occupy a world called The Oasis. Wade Watts ( Tye Sheridan) discovers clues to a hidden game within the program that promises the winner full ownership of the OASIS. He joins several allies to try to complete the game before indentured players working for a large company, run by Nolan Sorrento ( Ben Mendelsohn), can do so.



 It has been awhile since I have had this much fun in a movie. Yes it is a lot of CGI. It has very cheesy moments and conveys a message. It was just fun. The video game world is filled with pop culture characters and references. The sound track is amazing. The best since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. 



 I was on sensory overload trying to see all the characters and references packed into this thing! Street Fighter, Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, and the list goes on and on. The plot is fairly simple and easy to follow. It is a throwback to a time when the story was simple. 



 Ben Mendelsohn does it again. He was great in Rogue One as the bad guy and is perfectly cast here. I love villains that have the right blend of likeability and sinister. You never root for him, but you want him to get what he deserves. 




    Overall, the cast is solid. I am not a fan of Tye Sheridan, but he is surrounded by the right people. There is a twist to one of the characters that I won't spoil, but it was fun. It plays well with the tone of the story and isn't forced at all.  T.J. Miller is great as the henchman. We never see the reveal of his human character and I wonder if that was intentional given the bad accusations that surround him. 



  Ready Player One does what it is supposed to do. It makes you forget about life for a couple of hours. It doesn't try to hard. It is beautiful to look at and most of all, it is fun! You might not catch all of the references on the first watch, but it is fun trying.  Suspend belief, enjoy the nostalgia, and play this game. Well, watch this movie. 



Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tomb Raider and The Video Game Adaption Curse.



    Movies based on video games have a rough go of it at the box office. We are a few weeks away from the Rock trying to break that curse with Rampage, but first we get a new Tomb Raider. This franchise had a go in the early 2000's with Angelina Jolie. Needless to say, those films met mixed reviews at best.  This time, there is no Angelina. It is largely a cast of actors that we have seen before, but are not exactly household names.  Alicia Vikander takes on the title role in this complete reboot.
At a time when girl power is at an all time high, we get a new Lara Croft. Can the reboot break the curse and capitalize on the success of Wonder Woman? Let's see.



   A younger Lara Croft has not claimed the wealth that her father left behind. She trains in mixed martial arts and is employed as a bike messenger. Refusing to sign the paperwork declaring her father dead, she struggles to make ends meet. She soon learns that her father was more than a buisness man. She begins to question his death and sets out to solve the mystery of his whereabouts. After finding a map and his journal, she sets off on an adventure. Young Lara must push herself beyond her limits to save the world from an ancient evil.




  Alicia Vikander shines. She is smaller in build than the video game character, but you do believe her as Lara Croft. The girl definitely has an it factor. The problem with Tomb Raider is pacing. The action scenes are great, but they are clumped together.  You go from all, to nothing, and then back to all. It just feels rushed at times and then long slow periods between action.  The rest of the cast is also kind of wasted.


  Walton Goggins is terrific actor. He can do comedy like in Vice Principals, drama like Justified, and can be the villain like he is here. I just felt like he wasn't over the top enough. You never really care about him. He comes across more as a background henchman then the big bad of the film.  It's a shame because with a little better writing, he could have been a great casting choice.


 If you have ever seen an episode of  Into The Badlands, then you know exactly how bad ass Daniel Wu is. He is completely wasted here. I realize you don't want him to save the day. You can't take that away from Lara Croft, but he never gets a true moment to shine. That is a true shame.


  The visuals are cool. The scene on the boat is done very well and so is the waterfall. The movie also makes some faithful nods to the video game. The problem is that it just doesn't feel big enough. I like the casting of Vikander and hope we get to see her as Lara Croft again. I am just not sure that we will. I think Tomb Raider is a step in the right direction where video game adaptions. I just don't feel that it is good enough to break that curse or the box office.  Fun to watch, better than I expected, but only slightly above average.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Black Panther: Marvel's Next Big Thing



  Marvel is about to gain more praise, break ground, and deliver yet another hit. Black Panther will finally be released and while he might be the first black hero, he's not Marvel's attempt at bringing a black hero to the screen. For that, we need to go back to the late 90s and revisit Blade. What Marvel does do is take an old black hero and bring him to the forefront for a new generation. It is a very welcome change and Black Panther definitely has the Marvel/ Disney machine behind it.

  It is very good. It pushes all the right buttons. It delivers what was promised, but it does have a few large flaws. We will get to those, but first let's talk about the movie. Mild spoilers at best will follow. you have been warned.


We first met Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War. After the death of his father, he returns to his native Wakanda to claim the throne and lead his people to a new age. Technologically advance, but isolated. Wakanda has survived for thousands of years by staying hidden and creating an amazing world centered around vibranium. The strongest metal in the world and the source material behind Captain America's shield.  While attempting to apprehend Klaw ( Andy Serkis) for murder and stealing vibranium, he uncovers a secret that he didn't know his father had kept.  He also faces a new threat that not only puts his throne at risk, but the outside world too.



  The first thing the movie gets right is the cast. Top to bottom it is great. Forrest Whitaker, and Angela Basset are solid, but I really liked Sterling K Brown in his brief role. What separates Black Panther from the rest of the Marvel movies is pattern. It follows it's own more so than repeat the same formula. Granted, that formula is a proven winner, but this movie definitely stands on it's own. My favorite part of this film is the fact that nothing feels forced. It is very much it's own story and it stays within that.  The action gets a bit CGI heavy at times, but it is a super hero movie.



  What I loved about Black Panther is it's diversity.  The film has very strong, intelligent, and capable females and the best part, they are in no way forced. They fit naturally. They are real and written to appease anyone. They work. We live in a world of what are called Social Justice Warriors. They need to realize that great female characters and strong ethnic leads are better when they are not shoe horned in to fit agendas. Lupita Nyongo, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright are incredible in this movie. They are so well defined as characters and are truly a highlight of the film.



Black Panther also has one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Andy Serkis is fun as Ulysses Klaue, but he isn't the big bad. That task falls on Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. He looks incredible. He is magnetic on screen, but the best part is the fact that he is good at being bad. He is bad guy with clear motives. He wants to rule the world. He isn't afraid to kill and he doesn't want to be redeemed. He is one of the better villains that Marvel has put on film. It is also really good to see Michael B. Jordan get another run in the Marvel Universe. No one should have to be remembered for that horrific Fantastic Four from a few years back.


 The star of the show is Chadwick Boseman. He was one of the many highlights of Civil War. He is bad ass in the suit and as a hero, but he goes well beyond that. He conveys the honor of T'Challa with flat out charisma and likability.  I think he is another in a long line of successful casting choices by Marvel. He is a great hero and a solid role model.


 I only really had two problems with the film. Chronologically, I feel like this movie should have come after Civil War and before Thor Ragnarok. It is a great world builder where Wakanda is concerned and an even better character introducer. It does very little to set up Avengers: Infinity War. The other issue that I had were the not so subtle political messages in Black Panther. I understand that it is a huge platform. I am also a firm believer that things need to change in this country. I just prefer that my popcorn friendly super hero films leave that stuff out. I watch these to forget the state of the world for a couple of hours. 
 All of that being said, Black Panther is a really strong film. It is another smash for Marvel. Not as good as Civil War, but way above average.




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Star Wars : The Last Jedi and Next Let Down


The Star Wars franchise is a piece of American Culture at this point. It has stood the test of time and is loved by many. Even as divisive as they are, the prequels are still respected as being part of the franchise. J.J. Abrams and Disney continued the story with The Force Awakens and now the franchise is as popular as ever. After time has passed, I don't think that film is as good as the money it made. I like some of the new characters, but it is pretty much a carbon copy of A New Hope.

 In every one's defense, the hype around Star Wars is more than any director can truly overcome. Rian Johnson is now tasked with continuing the story in The Last Jedi. The trailers are intense and misleading. The look and tone appear very different and they are. It is the most anticipated film of the last two years and now we see if it lives up to the hype.



 The film begins with General (Princess) Leia and her small group of Resistance on the run from the First Order. Hoping to draw others to her cause, she sends Rey to find her lost brother Luke. It is her hope that the last of the Jedi can restore balance to the galaxy and rally others to their cause. Rey is tasked with not only bringing Luke back, but also with training her to understand the power that has woken inside of her. In the meantime, Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren also have plans for her and Skywalker.

  Those are the basics and I am still trying to come to grips with how I feel about the film. Carrie Fisher is great and there are some great emotional moments. There are so many questions that were asked in The Force Awakens. Rey's parentage and who Snoke really is being two of the biggest ones. There have been two years worth of fan theories floating around. All of them wrong and most of them better than what the film delivered. It feels different than your previous Star Wars films did. I need to see it again, but until then here we go....

 
 
 
    The film looks fantastic! It is a gorgeous piece of film and deserves praise for that, if nothing else.
 Snoke does demonstrate his power, but his story doesn't go at all the way it is expected to. I expected so much more and this film does not carbon copy Empire Strikes Back in the way The Force Awakens copied A New Hope. Part of me wishes this film did.


 
    We do get introduced to new characters. I like Rose, who becomes Finn's new companion. Her brief story has heart, but her and Finn's mission is a useless story point. It is through them that we meet DJ (Benecio Del Toro) on the casino planet. His character is useless and isn't tied to any characters in the past. At least the film doesn't lead us to believe that. Laura Dern has a solid role. The movie does a great job hiding her allegiance where Poe is concerned.

 



    Kylo Ren comes across better in this movie than the last. His duel with Rey left him scarred more than just physically. He is still dealing with killing his father and it has certainly changed him in several ways. The conflict with him, Rey, and Snoke is good. I did like the dynamic between Kylo and the villains. He and Hux are both power mongers. Watching them play against each other is fun.  Sadly, Captain Phasma is again wasted.


  Luke Skywalker is the man! Mark Hamill is the star of this movie. He is Luke. He gives a great performance and we do get a very different Luke. He is clearly tortured, but there are moments of the farm boy that we remember. We are given a sense of his vulnerability and how powerful he actually is. While I loved seeing Luke, the movie toyed with me a lot where he is concerned. There is a great Leia moment. I like where they went with him, but then I am TRULY disappointed with the end arc of the character. We have some great Luke moments, but I feel liked they missed the mark with him.




 I like the new characters. I like the fact that Star Wars is back on the big screen. I don't like that it feels like Disney is more concerned with profitability than doing justice to the characters that built the franchise. It has more humor than I expected. Most of it works, but there is some that becomes tedious. The over all story has some issues. I like the cast, but not the direction. I wish  some of the spoilers and theories were real.  I think some of them would have played better than the film that we got. People will love this I'm sure. It will make money, but to me this movie suffers in the story arc department. I am not crazy about the overall path, but I don't make those calls.
People who say it is the best Star Wars since Empire, need to take a hard look at that statement. I didn't hate it. I certainly didn't love it.  I left disappointed, but I would recommend people see it and draw their own conclusions. The Force is strong with this one, but not nearly as strong as it should have been.