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. 

Twin Peaks (2017) Review: Episodes 1-2

     “I’ll see you in 25 years”– Laura Palmer. 

     That line. Jesus. I’m still reeling from this premiere. The short of it is that this is pure David Lynch: its not what I expected, while at the same time being exactly what I expected. 

     If that doesn’t describe what David Lynch is (or co creater Mark Frost), I don’t know what does.

     To attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I’ll just rundown some bare bones elements. Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still in the Black Lodge as predicted by Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) 25 years ago. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery that seems to have popped up with a high school principal played by Matthew Lillard embroiled in a murder plot involving his possible mistress. I don’t know, I don’t trust anything laid out in front of me. 

     So getting that out of the way, David Lynch wasn’t fucking around when he said that he wanted each episode to be a movie in its own right. It pretty much is though. 

     What really gets me to be honest, is that all of the events in the Black Lodge feel like continuations of the original series, while the new storylines, as it were, have a wholly different feel from before. Lynch was wise enough to see that the soap opera satire that helped to define the original, was no longer relevant in today’s era. 

     With network restrictions a thing of the past, this series goes into the surrealistic imagery with an abundance of reckless abandon. Nothing seems to be held back, well, for the moment at least. As soon as I heard the eerie talk from the Other Place, I knew we were back home. 

     I have always attempted to make the point that it isn’t coherency that makes David Lynch projects special, but the emotions evoked from the incoherent images. There is an epicness in scope; with Twin Peaks itself getting a little short changed at the mement in these two episodes. 

     In all purity, the emotions that this series got me to explore was fascination and fear. Lynch was never one to shy away from horror, and he makes me feel uneasy. I was truly sad though that Sheriff Truman wasn’t there, and that the Log Lady was so frail (The actress would pass away after filming her scenes). But more than anything I was sad about Coop. He never deserved to end up there. 

     As melancholic as I may make this sound, I am already in love with this Twin Peaks. The murder mystery set up feels right out of Lost Highway. Hell, the cinematography feels like a cross between Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. The sound design is pure Lynch, it felt like being right at home. And as always the choice of music is just sublime, with an 80s aesthetic, commonly used, even though it was a Lynchian trope dating back to Blue Velvet. 

     I can only truly recommend these episodes to fans of David Lynch, not just Twin Peaks. The show is much different now, a more unhinged beast of not giving a fuck. I have no god damn clue what the fuck is going on, or even where it’s going, and that is exactly what I wanted out of this revival. Mr. Lynch, Mr Frost, wecome back. 

     

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. 

13 Reasons Why (2017) Series Review

When I first heard about Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why I thought I was in for a cry fest. A serious drama, dealing with a serious, complex issue; Man, was I so wrong. 

     The series actually plays out like a “suicide” mystery, instead of a murder mystery. What we get are 13 episodes, or “tapes” where we dives deeper into Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) motivation into why she decided to end her life. 

     As the tapes make their way through a select few students, causing riffs to be sure, it reaches Clay (Dylan Minnette), a boy who had a crush on Hannah, decides to investigate what actually happened to her. But the deeper he gets in, the more he’ll discover answers to questions he shouldn’t even ask. 

     As much as a initially thought this was going to be a dramatic series, I was quite pleasantly surprised that the show plays out like a noir tale. At the heart of this story is a mystery with a needlessly complicated conspiracy at its core. Dirty secrets are aired out, betrayals are a plenty, its everything you could want out of it. 

     I was hooked by the end of the first episode, being reminded of Rian Johnson’s Brick, another high school set noir mystery. I was transfixed on what was at the heart of this girl’s suicide, and what role did our protagonist Clay play in it? When you find out the reasons why, your heart will shatter. 

     The show is melodramatic through and through, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. It’s so highly addicting, but the show does go into somereally fucked up areas that teen shows used to allude to, but can now be seen in all its macabre ugliness. It made me uncomfortable, as it should, but be warned of what you could be entering. 

     The important thing you’re all probably wondering is, does it have a satisfying conclusion? I think it does. I have no clue if there’s going to be a second season, but the way it was left made me happy. There are a shit ton of plot threads left answered, but the most important one, Why did Hannah Baker kill herself? was answered superb enough. 

     Its a show that really does make you think. For all its plot contrivances, overly melodramatic scenes, there is a heart to it, a pain to be had. It gets very ugly by its end, just like any great noir tale. 

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

A tale as old as time… And they’re not kidding. The animated Beauty and the Beast was groundbreaking for its storytelling and more modern take on the fairytale subgenre  (Disney hadn’t made one in decades). 

     As part of Disney’s master plot to monetize our childhoods, we get an actual live action take on the story of Belle (Emma Watson) and… um… Beast (Dan Stevens). Seen the original? Well, your old favorites are here like Gaston (Luke Evans), Maurice (Kevin Kline), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Lumière (Ewan McGregor), all those guys. 

     Seriously, its the cartoon. But 40 minutes longer. And its not even a bad 40 minutes, Beast gets a song and man does he power ballad the shit out of it. It’s what stood out the most out of the additional content. 

     While seeing the movie and thinking that it’s just like the cartoon and I should’ve stayed home and watched that instead, something dawned on me: The performances, in particular Emma Watson as Belle, was not only perfect, but magical. She is the embodiment of the character; smart, lovely, and with a quiet dignity. I was captivated by her performance, and it’s worth seeking out. 

     The chemistry with Beast works well enough, but the famous ballroom dance scene didn’t have that majestic push that the animated version had. Maybe I’m just not a child anymore. And while I did enjoy Gaston’s backstory being fleshed out, and the witch’s curse actually being thought out (covering some plot holes along the way), I just grew to appreciate the animated original more because of how streamlined its story was. 

     As entertainment, the movie totally works; the problems, while minor, are my own to bear. This version was made for the adults who were raised on the original, stick to the cartoon for your kids. It worked for you, right?

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Review

     It’s incredible how 20 years went by in a wink. How we all reach a point in our lives, and wonder where the hell it all went. 

     T2: Trainspotting is a shockingly stunning follow-up to the original, catching up with the core group consisting of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) twenty years after Renton stole 16,000 pounds from his “so called mates”.

     This leads to not just Renton to confront his past actions, but the others as well, some in jail, some running hustles, others attempting suicide, just the usual stuff. 

     Much like the original film, the film is light on plot, but man is it heavy on the characters. This is a great thing, actually, its downright refreshing. One of the few films in years where I didn’t see the actors on screen but the characters I’ve known and loved for two decades. 

     I finally got to see my friends again. 

     I need to put these doubts to rest, something I lost hope in ever writing; A sequel that actually treats its audience with respect. 

     The first thing I was worried about was that this film was going to negate/undo the growth and catharsis of the original, shitting on the iconography that I held so dear. 

     It didn’t. My God, it actually works as a companion piece to the original. Can you a imagine, a follow-up twenty years later and it’s not a cash grab? It’s actually about something? 

     As someone who grew up watching Trainspotting the themes of regret, anger, and worthlessness hits close to the heart. That you can only run for so long before you have to stop and face it. It resonates so deeply, even I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it. 

     I can’t believe that director Danny Boyle had a film like this in him. He manages to avoid the pratfalls associated with going back to the well and made an original work that isn’t a retread of his glory days. He didn’t make the same movie twice, he gave this entry its own voice with an energy that I was sure wouldn’t even come close to the original. 

     There have been so many films, so many filmmakers who have tried and failed spectacularly to recapture the iconography of their past, or the churning out of retro properties from long ago youth, that I almost wanted to laugh at how Danny Boyle made a movie about the yearning for the past. And how terribly sad such an endeavor is. 

     It’s always about the future, it’s always about having hope. Its about choosing life. 

     

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. 

Starman (1984): The Most Underrated Love Story Ever. (Spoilers)

     On this Valentine’s Day, I was thinking of some romantic movies to basically cry over (I keeps it real). Strangely though one movie has randomly come up time and time again among my male friends: John Carpenter’s Starman. 
     Never heard of it? 

      First, sit in the corner and think about your life choices

      Secondly, be prepared to happy cry your ass off, because it’ll give you hope in love. 

      Thirdly, it’s a science fiction flick, so it’s alright for men to cry. If you don’t, you must have the darkest of souls, and need professional help. 

     The premise is pretty straightforward: An alien has crashed on earth and needs to get home. He comes across a widow (Karen Allen) who’s grieving over the death of her husband (Jeff “The Dude” Bridges). The “Starman” takes her late husband’s form from a hair strand. After losing her shit, she reluctantly drives him to the rendezvous point. 

     And obviously she starts to fall in love with him, but that’s not makes this movie special. There’s way too many reasons. 

     Jeff Bridges is clearly, one of the greatest actors who has ever lived. I’m not kidding. I may be in the minority, but this role is the best performance he has ever given. With his clipped speech, and awkward, jerky movements, I thought this was a real story about an alien (I was not a bright child). The man gives a balancing act of weird, but gentle, comical, but without condescension.

      I have never been more in love with Karen Allen in my life because of this movie. Its her character arch that the whole movie hinges on. yeah its predictable that she’ll fall in love with the Starman, but my god its so organic, so effortless, that you accept its formula, and move on. How does she make being strongly vulnerable so easy? You feel sorry for her, sure, but you don’t pity her at all. I admire her. And the train scene…

     I’ll try not to cry, but the train scene (too late) is so beautiful. Karen Allen’s character, Jenny Hayden, cannot have children and explains it to the Starman. On the train, stowing away, they make love. 

     Then he tells her he gave her a baby. That it would be both her husband’s baby, but also his baby.

     Jesus Christ. 

     He tells her he will be a teacher, and if she didn’t want it, he will stop it. The genuine emotions in this scene are so masterful. He tells her happily, she is just overwhelmed. 

     The music in this scene, by Jack Nitzsche, is going to break you in tears. Especially the final scene where he has to say goodbye to her. Where she finally gets to say goodbye to a form of her husband. I mean, man, she gets to have a baby now. Trust me on this, the music will get you. 

     The funny thing is, I completely forgot about how the US military is after them because alien? It makes some important points about the savagery of humanity  (especially the deer scene), but its the love story at its core that makes me weep. 

     And still to this day, my father bitches about how a sequel was never made. Seriously, every person who’s seen it wants to know what happened to the baby. I kid you not, Jeff Bridges said this even in an interview for Tron: Legacy. 

     For this Valentine’s Day, this movie will bring couples together. Even the most cynical. You won’t regret it.