Cars 3 (2017) Review

     Over this past decade I have actually come to have an affection for the Cars series (thanks to my nephew). Yes, even the much reviled Cars 2. But now we’ve come full circle with Cars 3 and I can see it being a bittersweet entry for the fans who grew up with Lighting McQueen. 

     Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) seems to be on his last legs. With a new racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) who is just plain faster than McQueen, causes him to question whether he can still cut it in today’s racing. With help from Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) a new trainer to help him back to the top. 

     I am such a sucker for the apprentice becomes the teacher stories, especially in franchises. The story has come full circle (hilariously) as McQueen trains his trainer. 

     Gone this time around is the grand scope of the previous film, and a return ro the small, intimate nature that gave the original its charm. Its more retrospective, even a little sad as Doc (Paul Newman) is referenced throughout the film and it brought the real theme of time fleeting. 

     Speaking of Paul Newman, Cars 3 did evoke some memories of The Color of Money a sequel to The Hustler. Now, Lightning McQueen was never disgraced like Fast Eddie Felson was, but the passing of the torch was reminiscent of it.  

     This is by no means a perfect film and Pixar has obviously made much better films, but the movie is light, inoffensive, and quite frankly, a little deeper than it had any business being. I finished the movie with a smile and that’s a lot more than most films this summer. 

Wonder Woman (2017) Review

     There, DC. Was that so hard?

     Who knew that adapting a single character and faithfully staying to the core fundamentals of said character would, you know, make a great movie? I mean, this is a game changer people! 

     Diana of Themyscira (Gal Godot), daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Zeus leads a carefree life until a man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), somehow manages to crash onto the island and warns of the War to End All Wars. Diana takes it upon herself to go to our world and put an end to her brother Ares, finally ending the Great War. 

     Everything that DC did wrong with their last three outings, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad; Wonder Woman gets right in pretty much every way. First off, here’s a story with an actual beginning, middle, and end. Yes, a fully formed story that isn’t just a set up for another movie or a “Universe.”

     I thought it was illegal to do that in comic book movies nowadays. 

     Second, there was an actual focus and care on developing a character. One. Character. You know, to understand and care about them and their motivation, instead of just throwing them in a blender and wonder what went wrong? 

    The whole movie is contingent on the performance of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, and I  sincerely cannot imagine anyone else in the part. She’s got the asskickery down, no question, but between bashing people’s heads in, she exhibits a warmth, an innocence that adds to her strength, not diminishes it. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for an actor to pull that off???

     Yeah, there is a love story here involving Steve and Diana, and its easily the best relationship of the DC Universe films (yep better than Lois and Clark). The chemistry between Pine and Godot is genuine, and natural to the story. Makes me smile thinking about it. 

     The supporting cast of Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock as Sameer, Charlie, and Chief respectfully, just knock it out of the park. These three actors know the value of supporting their lead, and have their moments to shine, but never overshadow Godot in any way. I actually remembered their characters names without looking at my notes, what does that tell you?

     Director Patty Jenkins has made something truly special here. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Having seen 2005’s Electra, and 2004’s Catwoman which are unbelievable pieces of shit, female superheroes were never the fucking problem. Shitty writing, acting, directing, etc. were the problem. Those films were disrespectful to the source material, and to filmmaking in general. 

     Like Diana at the start of the film, maybe I am much too naive in how the way the world works. I finally got to see the story of one of the greatest superheroes ever up on the big screen. It never, ever, should have taken this long for it to happen. Fuck it, I’m just so happy it was done this well. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Review

     I  thought that by the 4th sequel to a 15 year old franchise would make you want to question your life choices. Considering that the last one, On Stranger Tides, was a bland, uninspired affair. Maybe it’s the fact that my bar was lowered in every respect, it was delightful that Dead Men Tell No Tales is easily the best of the sequels. 

     The adventure this time around involves Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who has made it his mission to break his father’s curse. The only way to do it is to find the trident of Poseidon. And yep, only Captain Jack Sparrow can find it along with a woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), and of course, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). And what tale wouldn’t be complete without some unbridled vengeance against Sparrow, by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem)?

     Every Pirates movie features some young punk on some quest for something (Davey Jones’s Locker, a coin, pussy) but this time around its something fans of the series are actually invested in: the freedom of Will Turner). It almost felt like all the previous movies were just a build up to this one. When referencing the legends told about Jack, we know these tales because we saw fucking saw them ourselves. It just added to the experience instead of making up some bullshit adventure, involving some bullshit character, for some bullshit reason. This time we actually give a shit. 

     Bardem’s Salazar is a foe worthy of his vengeance, and the first villain that actually creeped me out. A charming rogue with a clear and relatable motive. And the humor is actually funny this time around (who knew humor had to be funny to work), with Depp’s Sparrow actually coming off as inspired, rather than picking up a pay check. His would be execution scene pretty much set the tone that this movie is going to be silly. Really fucking silly. 

     Even looking back on it now, and the others, I realized that Dead Men Tell No Tales is going to be the installment that I’m genuinely going to watch more and more. Seriously, who knew that it took 4 more films for the series to get great again. I know, because I seen it! 

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

     I am probably one of the few people on earth that actually liked Prometheus back when it was first released. Yeah, it’s got a lot of logistical problems, but the mixture of horror/sci-fi and the question of our mortality was damn intriguing. It had a unique point of view that set it apart from the other films in the Alien series. 

     Alien: Covenant? It’s just old hat by now. 

     We know the plot to most of the Alien flicks by now: It starts with a transmission and the crew of the Covenant, which is a colonial ship, follows the source to a planet which may be inhabitable for its people. So the crew lead by Oram (Billy Curdup) decide to investigate and come across David (Michael Fassbender) and yeah, it’s not gonna end up pretty. 

     As far as acting and visuals go, the film is pretty tip top. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels joins the ranks of strong women the franchise is known for. I can see how difficult it can be to act vulnerable while also kicking ass. Fassbender’s duel roles as David and the Covenant’s Walter shows that the man just owns every role he plays. Shit, even Danny McBride (yes, that guy) manages to convey a sincere level of vulnerability that made me care. 

     But the problem isn’t the acting or the wonderfully disgusting visuals, but the rehashing of old troupes and ideas already used in previous installments. There’s a section of the film that expands on the Engineers that was pretty kick ass but it was done with as soon as it was introduced. It was clear to me that director Ridley Scott had some ideas to expand on the themes of Prometheus but clearly he wanted to give fans more of what they wanted, which was the xenomorphs. 

     The fans were wrong. Fucking wrong. 

     Since this is pretty much a fan service flick, fans will enjoy it. I’m just pissed that we could’ve gotten something different, a little unique to set it apart from the other flicks. Instead, it’s just Alien: Redux. 

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) Review

     From the opening scene I knew I was going to be in for a fun ride. Living in an age where its all about the dark, gritty, painfully serious, tortured superhero film, it’s such a refreshing take when you can laugh and smile at a sentient baby tree dancing his ass off. 

     That’s the kind of joy that you cherish. 

     It’s been only a few months since the last film, when Star Lord (Chris Pratt) finally comes to meet his father Ego (Kurt Russell) and he’s happy as can be. But Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) suspects something else is afoot while Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and, somehow, Yondu (Michael Rooker) are being chased down by the Sovereign race for stealing batteries. 

      Yeah, you read that right. 

     I don’t know what surprised me more; the absolute fun I was having, or the unexpected depth there was to a story with a giant living planet. 

      Make no mistake, this is a father/son movie through and through. Here’s that rare sequel that took the foundation of the original film, and actually expanded and built upon what came before it. This felt like more of a continuation than just a straight up sequel. 

     A lot of love has to be given to one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, Michael Rooker. His Yondu got such an emotional upgrade in this entry, adding more humor, and dare I say,  a warmth that was lacking in the character the first time around. 

     No one other than director James Gunn could have made a film like this one. I just came to accept that the Marvel films have to play it a little safe in order to keep the brand going, but Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 clearly shows that you can take thematic risks, like the perils of fatherhood, the fear of abandonment, to new fucking pop culture heights. 

     I didn’t expect this movie to be on par with the last, and I sure as shit didn’t expect to be wiping tears from my eyes, especially to a movie with a baby tree dancing his ass off to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. 

     Well Marvel, you raised the bar again. Now fucking keep it there. 

Power Rangers (2017) Review

     Ah, another property being relaunched as a potential film franchise. The nostalgia kick is too strong to ignore. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Power Rangers television show. I knew who everyone was, it was too cheesy for me even in elementary school. 

     Well, we’ve come now to the inevitable film reboot, and I got to say… 

     That it ain’t bad…

     The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from a Power Rangers movie: Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) wakes up from her deep slumber, and starts causing some shit, meanwhile a group of misfit teens acquire some gems and superhuman powers. Lead by Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Rangers have to work together to defeat Rita, and find themselves in the process. 

     I genuinely feel that this will quite possibly be the best movie that will ever be made with this material. I mean that as high praise. The acting, writing, and even the directing is a lot better than this movie deserves. Let’s not kid ourselves here; its a giant monster/robot movie. Who the fuck is going to see this to get a thoughtful high school drama in the vein of John Hughes? I sure as shit didn’t. 

     Where the movie broke through was the respect that was given to actually develop and respect the characters. Yes, I’m even including the genetic clone of Zac Efron as the Red Ranger (shut up, he is). My God, even Rita Repulsa was given an intriguing backstory as a fallen ranger (a shiny nickel for those that guess what color she was). Even Alpha-5 (Bill Hader) was actually funny, and didn’t make me want to throw a beverage at the screen. I want a Zordon/Alpha-5 spin off where they just bitch to each other for 90 minutes. Just take my money. 

     Like any good pasta dish, Power Rangers does have it’s fair amount of cheese, especially when they fight the monster, because of course it does. Its a god damn Power Rangers movie!! I don’t give a shit how many Oscars the movie might have won in the future, if there wasn’t those cheesy mecha battles, the film would’ve been a complete failure. I even had a joyous grin on my face when the theme song played. 
     Bear in mind, I never thought the series in all of it’s incarnations was really any good. Just wasn’t a fan. It was too cheap and low budget even for my unrefined tastes as a child. But if the show had been anything like this movie, I would’ve been that guy that wouldn’t shut up about the show. 

     Never have a been happier to be proven wrong about the quality of a film. I never thought I would say that I liked a Power Rangers movie. Never. 

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review 

     Ghost in the Shell has been a seminal classic in anime for over 20 years, with its complex themes of humanity’s relationship to technology, it’s questioning of human nature, and the spirituality that comes with it. Sounds really deep and cool right? Well, good luck finding it in this incarnation. 

     The story begins about the same, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human robot hybrid working for the authorities to stop cyber crimes from happening. But soon enough she’ll discover her former identity, and the truth if she is really just a ghost in the shell. 

     I know that there are times when you need to separate the film at hand, and the source material but this time its unavoidable. The material doesn’t work for an American audience. All of the nuances, the spirituality, the philosophical aspects are all gone in this version. It’s like a shell of its former self and yes, the irony is not lost on me. 

     Did the director tell the actors not to act, and just stand there and be set dressing? Don’t get me wrong, the film is visually stunning, and does look like an anime come to life, but at what cost? The story’s soul. Trust me, an origin story is a terrible substitute for actual characterization. She even acts the same when she finds out the truth. Its almost hilarious. 

     What it comes down to is that the movie is poorly acted, when they attempt to, excruciatingly written, and just plain boring. The pace is so laborious that I wish I got paid to see this, so I’d have something to show for it. 

How Logan (2017) is the Unforgiven (1992) of the Comic Book Film Genre

     It truly is the end of an era. Even though there has been a steady flux of superhero movies since 1989, the true boom of the genre kicked off with 2000s X-Men. With that came Hugh Jackman’s instantly iconic performance as Wolverine/Logan, a role so synonymous with the franchise that he gets shoehorned in every chance they get. 

     Its been known for a while that this was to be the man’s final portrayal of the character, and as soon as I saw the opening shot, I knew that to be the case. 

     That this was going to be the comic book film version of Unforgiven. 

     I’ll cut to the chance in saying that what these two movies have in common the most is about eras coming to an end, and old heroes have no place in the world anymore. 

     Both films deal primarily with an ageing protagonist at the end of his “career” both have one close friend, and both are thrown into the last job by a young hothead. Hell, I was astonished that Logan even dealt with the stories of his exploits becoming books, and the stuff of legends. 

     While Logan deals with a specific character as its focal point, Unforgiven had its own original character but with the weight and history of its actor, Clint Eastwood. He made a name for himself playing as The Man with No Name; someone who had no past, no future, no heart. Even though the character has a name, William Munny, deep down fans of the western saw this as what became of the Man with No Name. 

     Unforgiven marked the end of an era where a most popular genre (the western) had long past it’s popularity, and the film acts like a eulogy. Where the lines between good and evil don’t exist anymore (or possibly never did), where morality became an old wives tale. 

     While superhero films are not going to come to an end anytime soon, but they sure are on a decline in terms of quality. A lot of troupes are being rehashed in new window dressing, and people have taken notice. 

     Logan is a film that is predicting its own genre’s future; a barron wasteland of regret amd missed opportunities. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of The Wolverine is at last where it should always have been: a monster filled with rage, and mourning. 

     Thinking back on the film, I recognize that this movie makes the end of an era; the current crop of superhero movies would never have been possible without X-Men. 

     As much as I lament that this is the end, but I do truly hope that this is the beginning of something new. Logan is without a doubt, a drama. Yeah there’s action in the flick, but the movie took its time to reflect, to build, to give its characters personality. It makes sense to have Wolverine be the gruffed hero at the end of his journey. He was the one with the most mysterious past, the one who was always more of an icon than a full blooded character. 

      The Western ascetic is no accident. The parallels between Logan and Unforgiven are undeniable, and both serve as the final word on their icons: One was the Man with No Name. The other was Logan. 

John Wick Chapter 2 Review

     All of this started because of a dog. Jesus. 
   

      A couple of years ago, John Wick graced our screens and quickly became one of my favorite action movies of all time. Rarely do you see a film that manages to take a simple premise, hoods killed his dog, and it propels you into a world so dense, so rich that you just want to stay in it. 

     I can’t remember the last time a new sequel made me so giddy with excitement. 

     John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just gotten satisfaction from killing the assholes who killed his dog, and is ready to retire… again. But someone from his past is back to collect a debt, a blood oath that if he refuses could have dire consequences for his existence. So, the carnage begins again. And you’ll never be happier. 

     John Wick Chapter 2 needs to be taught in films schools on how to craft a sequel. This isn’t a retread, but an actual continuation of the story. Sure this time he’s not causing millions in property damage because someone killed his dog, but you still get sucked into this world that was only glimpsed at in the original. 

     Yes, here’s a follow-up that expands upon the foundation of the original. 

     The action here comes off as nothing short of art. Seeing the picture, I was astonished at how much of a comic book feel it generates. I’m talking an actual old school comic book, with deep, rich, luscious colors, blood splatters that would make Jackson Pollack proud, and editing so precise that, holy shit, I can see what’s happening in the scene. This needs to be the standard, not the exception. 

     When the original was released, I proudly included it among the best films of 2014. I have never been happier to say that I saw a sequel that is in so many ways better. Chapter 3 can’t get here soon enough. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review 

     Right before I sat down to watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it dawned on me what a risk this film is for Disney; even though this is quite possibly the biggest franchise in the history of movies, can audiences accept an installment that has no Jedi and principal characters that we have never even met before?

     The short of it is that, yes. Yes they sure can. 

     To help clear up any confusion for the casual fan, this story takes place 19 years after the fall of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire. The Rebellion is in full swing, and they’re on the verge of collapsing. With word being reached that the Empire has a weapon that can destroy entire planets, they recruit the daughter of the architect in charge, Jyn (Felicity Jones) to gather information on this station. 

     Jyn is partnered up with a whole squad including Cassian (Diego Luna), K2 (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut (Donnie Yen), Baze (Wen Jiang), and Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) to eventually steal the plans for the Death Star and bring hope to the rebellion. 

     What struck me the most about the movie was just how emotionally invested I was in the characters. Please bear in mind that almost every character is a creation for Rogue One never having appeared in any other sort of media. I had heard some gripes that first two acts slug along, but it was those two acts that made me care. I get that everyone wants to get to the good shit, i.e. the theft of the plans, but understand that the third act only works because we came to care about this team. 

     I apologize for being so vague on the details that made the story so emotionally engrossing, but I can’t in good conscious ruin the loving craftsmanship that went into the production. Yes there’s a whole lot of fan service, but the core story is about Jyn and her crew. 

      Its been a few days since I saw the movie, and I can’t shake it. Not even The Force Awakens left me thinking about its stories and characters this much. I was so terrified that Rogue One was going to be an insulting cash grab; instead what we got was an engrossing, heartfelt tale that left me wiping away tears, and an inspirational feeling that I haven’t felt in years. 

     This, this movie is why I love Star Wars.