We Could Be Immortals

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Star Wars: those two words coupled together bring back a litany of memories for people of all nations. An international phenomenon, successfully resurrected in 2015 thanks to Walt Disney Pictures and maverick producer Kathleen Kennedy, the public has had nothing but home runs since Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and this Christmas season, with the continuing adaption, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, there is endurance in the winning streak.

Picking up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, the Resistance has been hurled into a hurricane, with the sinister First Order riding their tails – destruction is damn near imminent, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Fanboys) is indispose, Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Robin Hood) is grounded, and Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express)’s attempts to recruit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker) prove even less than fruitless. Alliances will strengthen and break, leaders will stand proud and be struck down, and those who fight the tides of war must soon duel with fate.

Written and directed by, until now, one of my least favorite directors, Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom), The Last Jedi is an inspired work, bucking the trend of sequels who go full The Dark Knight and throw away all mirth and enjoyment — this is very much in vein with my favorite movie in the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, which had a lot at stake for these beloved characters but didn’t feel a need to accentuate darkness (remember, darkness is what brought the Jedi to ruin — twice — which is something audiences know, and if they don’t, should remember). Bravo, Rian — I misjudged you; I look forward to the next trilogy you are actively working on!

The stars (no pun intended) of this film are terrific, both the new and the old — returning from The Force Awakens, we have Finn (John Boyega, Detroit), who has gone full Rebel and fights with deep conviction — his blatant honesty is what makes him beloved. Poe Dameron is as wry and spry as ever, and if one were to put his actor, Oscar Isaac, in with a group of fighter pilots, one might never know the difference! His arc is something marvelous as well; he goes from loyal servant to leader in a pinch — not on a dime, mind, but it is truly great.

Daisy Ridley proves her worth to the acting industry yet again as Rey, the girl strong with the Force but with no past that she knows. She will endure long after her tenure in this franchise is over! Inversely, Adam Driver gives us another masterful performance as Kylo Ren, the lonely son under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Black Panther) — Driver’s training in his past career as a marine clearly helps him understand the hatred and pain in evil, and that only helps his characterization of Kylo, one that is equal in compassion as it is in duplicity.

New star Kelly Marie Tran (Adam Ruins Everything) is charming and resilient as Rose Tico, a Resistance soldier with more than one personal stake in bringing the First Order down — if she isn’t a household name now, she will be momentarily! Further notable additions include Laura Dern (October Sky) giving a powerful, purple-haired performance as Vice Admiral Holdo, Leia’s second-in-command akin to Gregory Peck’s Colonel Frank Savage in Twelve O’Clock High, and Benicio Del Toro (Guardians of the Galaxy) once cast as Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, now playing a hacker of the ominous name “DJ.”

But of the old standbys, credit is due to Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, the siblings of the Force who deliver immortal performances that we have never truly seen from them before — Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is a lost soul who has practically forgotten the good he once instilled in the galaxy, and both the actor and character have never been better. In the case of the late, great Miss Fisher, she has given the world a beautiful performance that will endure forever and will hopefully earn her a posthumous Oscar.

John Wayne once said, “courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” and for the Star Wars fans eager to see it, they had much to be scared of — the continuing story of characters they so loved could easily go awry, but I assure you, it hasn’t. This stands neck and neck with the series’ best, and I encourage all to enjoy it as I have!

4.5/5

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Thunderstruck

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Not many people would care to say it, but Marvel Studios’ 2011 effort at bringing Thor to the screen was a big friggin’ gamble, after the earthen adventures of the first two Iron Man films and The Incredible Hulk. Its final result, however, was masterfully helmed by Sir Kenneth Branagh was nothing short of amazing — thus, the God of Thunder quickly became my favorite Avenger. The second outing is well chronicled in the backlogs of this blog and was, I regard, the first big misstep from the House of Feige. Still, I held out hope for the third outing, but worries beset me when I heard the newly-announced director, Taiki Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) said he was “going to take the second Thor movie and add more jokes.” Jokes, I regard, were what killed Thor: The Dark World, but having seen Waititi’s effort, I feel nothing but giddiness and contentment with what I saw!

The film opens with several king-sized bangs, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth, In the Heart of the Sea) claims the life of a gigantic monster and finds a new threat awaiting him, in the bloodlusting form of Hela (Cate Blanchett, Cinderella), the Goddess of death. Destroying his prized hammer, Mjölnir, Thor barely escapes to distant planet Sakaar, where the Contest of Champions awaits, an old friend lies captive, and old wounds look ready to burst.

Hemsworth is in better comedic form than I have ever seen him! While I stand by my comment that dedicated comedies are not for him, this is a superhero film in the hands of a sharp, talented comedic director, and that same talent only helps our hero. Tom Hiddleston (I Saw The Light) is in equally fine form, returning easily to the black wig as Loki and never once stooping to the suffocating caricature he was in The Dark World. Finally returning to the MCU is Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk — the latter of whom now talks! There is no better heir to the legacies of Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby than Ruffalo, bringing the brawn and brain in both sides of his character! A surprising return comes in the form of Heimdall (Idris Elba, Star Trek Beyond), the Asgardian gatekeeper who has a lot to deal with this time — his return is surprising given his well-publicized disdain with the franchise, but is all the more welcome, as he’s integral to this story and the franchise’s future.

Newcomers to the franchise also shine — Tessa Thompson (Creed) does her first accent role as Valkyrie, the last of an elite Asgardian platoon, and she is fierce as can be, with a smoothness comparable to crystal rum! That being said, lots of female roles in blockbusters these days like to emulate Star Wars‘ Rey, but apart from being a scavenger, the same can’t be said of Valkyrie — she’s got a vocabulary like an acid-soaked whip and fighting skills to match, no matter how smashed she gets! Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is in fine, debaucherous form as The Grandmaster, he who pulls the strings in the Contest of Champions. You really want to smack him in this, because he’s a perverted jerk, but then you want to kiss him, because he’s Jeff Goldblum! Karl Urban (Pete’s Dragon) provides a comedic edge to his work as Skurge, an executioner under our villain’s payroll, and almost makes us root for said boss! Finally, Cate Blanchett — she takes another grand, villainous turn that most would be chewing the scenery in, but she manages to bring a level of humanity to such a horrid creature, one that suggests an abandoned child whose mind has filled with thoughts of vengeance. Bravo, Blanchett. Here’s hoping you make Dame by next Christmas!

The crew behind Ragnarok are integral to the films’ success — the film is brightly colored and peppered with detail, evoking memories of Mad Max: Fury Road, truly looking like a comic book without falling into the self-parody that Ang Lee’s Hulk did; see it in IMAX or IMAX 3D! The music is something else, too! Legendary composer and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh brings a score together that suggests the best of Patrick Doyle’s work and also Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (sidenote: fellow TRONiacs will surely appreciate the gladiatorial battle midway through the film!)

To clarify Waititi’s earlier statement, he did add more jokes, but the juvenile nature of said gags is toned down immensely — while there is one truly juvenile joke in the film, which you will surely recognize, the suddenness of its appearance actually makes it funny! The Dark World was inundated with them, so what could have remained the superhero equivalent of a Three Stooges comedy becomes that of a Marx Brothers satire, and it’s all the better. Waititi brings a comedic flair to the film reminiscent of James Gunn’s efforts in Guardians of the Galaxy, and as such, he’s not afraid to go serious when the need arises, and rest assured, there is as much at stake as there is in one of those films — one of the best examples of that is in Thor’s continued attempts at bringing Hulk back into the form of Bruce Banner, which starts off as a lighthearted gag, but evolves into genuine pathos by the time Banner becomes himself again. Also, Waititi isn’t afraid to linger with story elements — one of my biggest complaints with The Dark World was its glossing over the story in favor of naked actors, but though jokes may run deep in Ragnarok‘s DNA, it is still a film, and most great films have a narrative to follow with characters you care about! Here’s hoping Waititi is signed for more Marvel Studios ventures!

Let me reiterate, Thor is one of my favorite movies — I saw it five times in the theater! — and, until now, my favorite film in the Marvel Studios pantheon, as it has been gleefully upended by Thor: Ragnarok, one of the greatest trilogy-makers since Toy Story 3. Lusciously photographed, brilliantly scored and joyously written without a shred of fear in taking its time, this has all the makings of a classic.

Rating: 5/5

Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is something of a brilliant fluke that printed lots of money and occasional awards in its heyday, but let’s not mince words — the sequels thus far, made with the potential of being a seafaring Star Wars saga, were land-locked crap. With the much-publicized “final film” that was released last week, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I was hoping with bated breath for one last hurrah to make amends for the sequels that sucked. Having seen it, patience is clearly a virtue!

In this film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through The Looking-Glass) is a battered ol’ drunkie, with little to sustain him but the next rum bottle that touches his lips. Fate (read: sheer dumb luck) brings him into contact with Henry Turner (Brenton Twaites, Maleficent), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley, The Imitation Game), and he brings with him a threat from the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and a desire to free his father from unending servitude. Teaming up with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a young astronomer accused of witchcraft, and Jack’s resident frenemy, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech), they seek the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact capable of freeing anyone from a curse of the sea.

In all seriousness, this is not the best Pirates movie in the series — it does, however, have the luxury of being the best one since the immaculate original. Depp, as always, blends into character as if no years have passed, with all the wit and twit we love about Captain Jack, and yet this is not just his movie — just about everyone gets a chance to shine, with Thwaites finally beginning to prove his mettle as an actor beyond a pretty face and a haircut, and Bardem embodying all the creepy he had in Skyfall with a bit of a dark comedic edge to it. At times, Rush seems to be fulfilling a contract, but he brings all the necessary “arrr” to the role he created in 2002. Scodelario isn’t as bright in her role as I hoped she’d be, but she’s clearly having a good time making a costume drama in the company of great people. Speaking of, Sir Paul McCartney (A Hard Day’s Night), a Beatle in the flesh, appears as Jack’s uncle and namesake — try not to miss him!

Fresh eyes arrive to the series in the form of seasoned action directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki), giving a stronger sense of action choreography and an ability to see the beauty in locations, something they exhibited as producers on Netflix’s Marco Polo, but the real beauty of this movie is in its having a new writer — Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can). In addition to bringing a fresh eye, relatively unbound to the conventions of the previous sequels, and while there are rehashed lines and some plot holes, he seems to know exactly what the fans want, and in the end, he gives it to us — not only are Henry and Carina lovers by the end, Will and Elizabeth, longstanding mainstays of the series, are finally, definitively reunited in an ending that, while it should have been that of the third film, is warranted, welcome and warmed my greasy little heart to 450ºF! Bravo!

In its last-ditch effort for a return to form, this final Pirates largely succeeds. The script is definitely riddled with clichés; the acting ranges from nominal to yuckin’-it-up, but in the end, the franchise has met a graceful end and its fans, myself included, have finally gotten the happy ending that we deserved! So do yourself a favor and board a ship for a joyous voyage in 3D at your earliest convenience!

Rating: 3.5/5

Perfect, A Pure Paragon

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If you are as much of a Disney fan as I (few are), then the thought of a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast gave you cause to salivate — one that kept the songs and its composer, eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken! I was sold, but as the days to release got closer, I found myself getting more and more cautious — suppose the end result sucked, a la Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables? I am proud and thankful to say that this adaptation, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), is nothing short of brilliant. I write this review assuming that you are familiar with the base of the story (and you had better be!), and as such, spoilers follow.

One thing viewers of the 1993 Broadway show may not be aware of is that none of the songs written for said show carry over into this film, but fear not, as Menken and lyricist Sir Tim Rice write new songs that both make up for the missing ones and craft a new experience for the viewers of the show. Speaking of the songs, the movie is filled with brilliant performances, beginning with the Harry Potter franchise’s Emma Watson, who can sing, rest assured, and in spite of her promoted desire to modernize Belle, I was, as a feminist, glad to have seen her more resolute than openly militant — we’re bordering on the political, but I’m super happy this wasn’t rewritten as “Steinem and the Beast.” Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) makes a brilliant Beast, with one hell of a set of pipes — his signature number, “Evermore,” brought tears to my eyes, but it’s Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) who brings his latent background in musical theatre to the forefront and aces the role of Gaston with a great voice and the right levels of smarm, condescension and cruelty — just the right type of villain! Acting as his toady is Josh Gad (Back To You) as LeFou, who gets a larger story arc in this version, which fleshes him out without totally changing him. Kevin Kline (Silverado), as Belle’s father Maurice, brings a befuddled persona to the character, reminiscent of Buster Keaton in Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with an equally kind nature requisite of the character. He doesn’t get much of a song — less than two minutes — but his necessity isn’t in his singing, and you’ll find out when you see this.

The servile characters of the castle just about steal the show, with Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) and Ian McKellen (Cold Comfort Farm) leading the pack as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. With great singing voices (although Sir Ian doesn’t get to show his much), they make “Be Our Guest” a showstopper even better than the original (there’s even a visual nod to Esther Williams’ swim ballet pictures!)! Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) is adorable and kindly as Mrs. Potts, with a more knowledgeable nature than in the animated film, and alongside her is relative newcomer Nathan Mack as Chip, who is freakin’ adorkable. Here’s to your long career, boy!

Underplayed, but still appreciated, are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) as Plumette, the featherduster and Lumiere’s flame (…groan…), Audra MacDonald (A Raisin in the Sun) as Madame de Garderobe, a soprano-cum-wardrobe, and Stanley Tucci (The Whole Shebang) as new character Maestro Cadenza, a court composer turned harpsichord. They each get their moment to shine, to be sure, but a little more couldn’t hurt. Still, not a big enough gripe to warrant a lesser grade.

Again, those fearing too much modernization in this edition need not worry — what wasn’t broke (or baroque) in the 1991 classic mercifully remains unfixed in this version. Sure, there’s the much-publicized “gay-making” of LeFou, but if it wasn’t publicized, I guarantee nobody would have even suspected it. It’s mercurial, and those of a discriminatory position needn’t fear their children’s safety — you never needed to anyway. Other plot points that warranted expansion are done brilliantly so, from the whereabouts of Belle’s mother and what happened to the Enchantress, and that speaks volumes of the talents of writers Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being A Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), both writers I didn’t care much for prior to this, and director Bill Condon, who may have directed both parts of the Twilight saga closer, Breaking Dawn, but aside from giving him experience in visual effects work, there’s nothing resembling those two duds in this film.

Bravo to all involved in this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, who have created something as memorable as the musical and film that preceded it. It’s a pity it wasn’t released in time for last Oscar season, but it was better they take care of the film and not rush a single thread. I will happily see it again in IMAX 3D, and I urge all readers of this to see it too!

Rating: 5/5(?!)

Soon You’ll See A Golden Stream Of Light

2016 has been a great year for me crying like a baby at the movies, and Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon is no exception! As a huge fan of the original, to the point of memorizing and frequently singing the songs from it, I was, at first, disappointed when I heard that this remake was to be a non-musical adaptation, let alone set in the present day. As the release date drew nearer, I read interviews with the cast and crew that eased my doubts, and the final trailer had me hooked. In the end, I’m so glad at how well the remake is put together, rid of winks and nods to the original (as was the director’s intention) and crafting a wholly new experience that brings to mind the best of the adventure movies of the 1980’s.

The story opens succinctly – Pete, at age 5, is the sole survivor of a car crash while his parents are going with him on a camping trip. Alone in the forest, he becomes acquainted with a huge dragon, who seeks to protect him. Six years pass, and Pete (Oakes Fegley, This Is Where I Leave You) and his dragon, whom he names Elliot, are best of friends, enjoying their lives of fun and play together. Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Millhaven, a logging crew, led by brothers Gavin (Karl Urban, Star Trek Beyond) and Jack (Wes Bentley, Interstellar), draws nearer to the protected parts of the forest, while a park ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) seeks to keep law and order between the two, and all the while, the children of the town are driven by the stories of dragons in the forest told by Mr. Meecham (Robert Redford, Jeremiah Johnson). All of these people will meet through the one thing nobody seems to believe in!

In addition to me sputtering like a faucet, 2016 is also a great year for actors, particularly children —  Oakes Fegley brings the requisite euphoric glee when around Elliot to showing great fear and wonder when taken away from him. Further, child actress Oona Laurence (Southpaw) is charming as Natalie, Jack’s daughter, instructing Pete on the ways of the world he has missed out on with warmth and kindness. While they do carry the heft of the film’s emotional weight, the adults in this film do not rest on their laurels at all, best shown by Howard and Redford, as a daughter and father looking to believe in stuff most left to childish fantasy and getting far more than they bargained for. Wes Bentley and Karl Urban also do great work in their roles, with Bentley showing a warmer side than I’ve seen from him in his previous films, while Urban, the ultimately misguided villain of the story, being mean but never truly evil, which is how it should be; his character is not a mustache-twirler.

The film is gorgeously shot in the home of Middle-Earth, New Zealand, and by no less than cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), who shows off the best of the land in a way that enhances the believability of the story and the great visual effects by the amazing artists at Weta Digita, who make Elliot’s fantastic self seem real and breathing, and only help the raw emotions you as an audience member feel throughout the course of this movie. Ultimately though, the best kudos have to be given to writer-director David Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks, who could easily have plagiarized the previous film’s material and instead crafted a harrowing, beautiful experience that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Between this and The Jungle Book, Disney is on a roll with its live-action ventures! I look forward to what Lowery and Halbrooks bring to their upcoming remake of Peter Pan, also at the House of Mouse. Until then, see this movie and you will leave feeling happy to be alive!

Rating: 5/5

I Can See Clearly Now

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Oh Alice, dear, where have you been?

I rarely go see a sequel to a film I hated, let alone one I hated on a cellular level, but Alice Through The Looking Glass is a horse of a different color in that it greatly improves on the previous film and still keeps much of the same creative team intact.

Continuing where the 2010 pseudo-remake left off, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska, Crimsom Peak), now Captain of her late father’s trading vessel, the Wonder, has returned to London at the turn of the century from a three-year voyage across China and finds her benefactor dead (and his funding in the hands of her ex-fiancee), her home and her ship under the threat of repossession and her mother less proud of her than before. All seems hopeless before the reappearance of Absolem (Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest) — a butterfly friend of hers from Wonderland, who leads her through the proverbial looking glass back into the world of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, Black Mass), who is not at all well. To help him, she must gain the assistance of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, The Brothers Grimsby) himself and, together with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Interstellar) and her subjects, face her old nemesis, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech) once again.

Like most films on the Disney release slate, I had been following Looking Glass since it was announced, but it really took my eye when the studio announced that James Bobin, director of 2011’s The Muppets was signed to direct — if anyone could save the sequel, it would be the man who, temporarily, revived Jim Henson’s brainchildren. Sure enough, he does, making the jump from puppets to CG quite nicely, even if some visual effects (i.e.: the destruction of Time’s castle) are milked for amazement a bit too much. The performances are sound, with Depp and Hathaway slipping effortlessly back into their respective roles, but the true stars of the film are Wasikowsa’s Alice and Lindsay Duncan as Helen Kingsleigh, Alice’s mother. Having found her voice in the previous film, Alice has found her place as a strong woman, completely disregarding the norms of the year she lives in, and Wasikowska plays that brilliantly (perhaps having played a contrary sort in Crimson Peak helped!), while Duncan’s Helen, no longer in mourning for her husband, seems to gradually learn from her daughter’s adventurous spirit and is now a character worth rooting for!

For what little time the late, beloved Alan Rickman has in the film, it is still nice to hear his dulcet tones one last time in a new release. Bonham Carter seems bored with the Red Queen, and, forgive me if this is uncouth, peeved to be working alongside her ex-husband again, even with him as producer? Cohen, however, brings to this his finest feature film role in nearly a decade — his protrayal of the mysterious Time parts Ludwig Von Drake and John Cleese circa Fawlty Towers. He’s worth the price of admission alone! Also, keep an eye out for small roles portrayed by Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), Richard Armitage (The Hobbit Trilogy), Andrew Scott (Spectre) and Ed Speelers (Downton Abbey). It’s a real treat to see them, even for a moment!

The script, once again written by Linda Woolverton, is much more coherent, but does seem to borrow from other fairy-tale properties — the plot point of the Hatter dying due to Alice not believing him reminded me all too much of Peter Pan (I distincly remember she even says to Hatter, ‘I’ll always believe in you.’ Hmm.). Also, the aforementioned mother-daughter relationship is a little reminiscent of Woolverton’s own Maleficent, which I loved, but pangs of fear of familiarity ran through my mind for a bit. These fears were more or less unfounded, but the ending did seem a bit similar in tone. Nevertheless, the film is greatly satisfying and empowering without being suffocating. While the film’s dismal box-office gross so far probably won’t grant it a sequel, it’s good enough where it ends here.

I was surprisingly satisfied with Alice Through The Looking Glass, leaving the theater feeling warm and fuzzy inside, and if you’re one of the many who saw the first film, please do yourself a favor and see this one, even if you’re not that interested — it’s very much worth it!

 

Rating: 3.5/5

The War of Iron Aggression

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SLIGHT SPOILERS WITHIN

Captain America: Civil War is an excellent palate-cleanser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. That being said, I have too many questions after seeing it:

 

Why is the Sandman Ex Machina (i.e.: this is your [family member]’s real killer) re-used from Spider-Man 3?

 

Why does this new Peter Parker look like Jamie Bell’s stand-in?

 

How did the Marvel brass not know that Alfre Woodard was already cast as a different character in their own series, Luke Cage?

 

What happened to most of Elizabeth Olsen’s Eastern European accent?

 

Why cast Daniel Brühl as your villain if you’re barely going to use him?

 

Was the creative team that ashamed of The Incredible Hulk that William Hurt is barely even acknowledged?

 

Why is so little of this actually compelling?

 

Anthony and Joe Russo give good direction, but the end result is befuddled. Further, the script falls like a CEO who’s lost everything. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely write very well for Captain America and his team, but they failed Iron Man miserably — one photograph of a dead college kid shouldn’t have been enough to change his politics. The character has seen death countless times over eight years, both his own and the Avengers’ fault, and this only hits him now? I hope the hiatus from now until Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 clears the minds of all involved.

 

Rating: 2/5

Shining at the End of Every Day

(Change of plans, dear reader: I will be swapping back and forth between old flicks and new releases every other Sunday; in this way, I hope to keep up-to-date, both with this blog and my personal life. Feel free to hassle me if I fall behind.)

Luscious, isn’t it?

Since his sabbatical from Pixar Animation Studios after Ratatouille, director Brad Bird made his debut into live-action filmmaking with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. While a runaway success, I feel the film was a total letdown in its script and performances, which is a crying shame, as it featured luscious cinematography, daring IMAX scenes and stunts that flowed like mercury. I really wanted to like it — twice. Now, like a shining light comes Tomorrowland, the brainchild of Bird, Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus) and newcomer Jeff Jensen. Of course, the film owes its existence to the mind and talent of Walt Disney and the Disneyland Imagineers, past and present, but this film is far from brand plugging — rather, it both tells a story that inspires and serves as a guide for the human race of today.

In the film, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) is an optimist in a time — as of this writing, that time is now — when everyone has just about lost hope in their own future, even her own father (Tim McGraw, The Blind Side), who is about to lose his job at Cape Canaveral. However, everything changes when she receives a pin that transports her into another world — a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, if you will. Hindered by the pin’s limitations, Casey seeks the help of Frank Walker (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven), a jaded inventor and gains the assistance of Athena (Raffey Cassidy, Snow White and the Huntsman), a little girl who is not all that she appears, to find the world that she yearns to be a part of, and save it from a sinister force.

To get my only two gripes out of the way, there is, to my eyes, so much product placement — I’m not talking about Disney products, I mean outside sponsors — General Motors, Nabisco, The Coca-Cola Company — I’ve never felt my attention become stammered by product placement until now, but since they’re spaced few and far between, it doesn’t matter too much. Secondly, the script plays out smoothly for the most part, but toward the end, loses definition in its detail. Perhaps this is a casualty of the cutting room floor, or maybe the words sounded better on paper, but the movie still succeeds in its narrative, and that’s really what matters.

Now to all who worry about when I said that the film “serves as a guide,” be not afraid — this is not a message movie; you will find no WALL•E-style, studio-mandated preaching here. If anything, I see the film as a kick in the federal government’s pants to get America back into the space race, as well we should — at the least, more tax dollars need to go to NASA, and not the pockets of money-born Senators. This film and Interstellar should be given back-to-back screenings outside the U.S. Capitol.

On its technical merits, Tomorrowland shines, both in regular theaters showing it in the 2.20:1 aspect ratio (giving the feeling of a 70mm epic of old) and its Digital IMAX version, presented in 1.90:1, which fills the screen. The visual effects are luscious and grand, which  begs the question as to why the film wasn’t shot/converted to 3D. I feel it would have fit like a glove, but given the amount of night shots in the film, I’m also glad it wasn’t, lest it resemble the 3D presentation of last year’s Maleficent.

As for the cast, Clooney fans may be shocked to know that though he carries top billing, he’s not in the film as much as Robertson is, and that’s exactly how it should be — this is a story for the impressionable youth of today. On that note, it’s great to see Robertson carry the story in a sci-fi film that doesn’t require her to wear salacious clothing or wield a sword or gun. Some would call it boring, and under lesser talent, it could be that, but with Brad Bird at the helm, it works, and Robertson brings the requisite kindness and earnestness to her performance. Remember, she’s a high schooler who wants to build a better world, accent on “build.” As Athena, Raffey Cassidy just about steals the show, and holds her own among Clooney, Robertson and all others in the film. Her innocence and bright, girlish glee give the story the feeling of a kids’ adventure film in the vein of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and more recently, Super 8. She’s surely got a bright future ahead of her, I just hope she doesn’t burn out like so many other young actresses. You may be wondering if this film has a definitive villain, so I’m going to tell you this: yes, it does, and go see the film to find out.

I highly recommend Tomorrowland — it’s not perfect, but it has a heart of gold and never stops loving the future that isn’t guaranteed, but is absolutely possible. Go see it in any way you can, but any giant screen is your best choice!

Rating: 4/5

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I Am Satisfied With This Film

And the best part is that he's not cloying or annoying in any way!

And the best part is that he’s not cloying or annoying in any way!

This review is Spoiler-Free, proud-to-be!

Up until Big Hero 6, I hated all animated films made post-2010 (i.e.: Tangled, Toy Story 3). Given how Pixar has turned to milking toy money from their “art” (see also: Cars 2Brave, Monsters University, and so on), Walt Disney Animation Studios hadn’t fared much better in my eyes — Wreck-It Ralph was nothing more than a commercial for both GameStop and Nestle, and Frozen pushed the agendas of both radical feminism and toy moneymaking over a story for everyone.

My hopes for Big Hero 6 were beneath contempt when I went to see it today, and for the first act, my hopes were met. It’s not unlike Oz, The Great and Powerful, where the first act is stagnant with exposition, full of needless wordplay and references to preexisting material, and there is little care given by the creative team to like the characters you see — at least for an adult; as children, it’s a given that you love everything you see in a theater. That being said, like Oz, the film kicks into high gear in the second act, when the motives of the characters change under the presence of a threat and a chance to stop it, and it only gets better from there — if you wanted a Disney movie with the panache and wit of Wreck-It Ralph, but also the heart and soul of Meet the Robinsons, this is the one.

I must also give kudos to the film’s directors for not casting celebrities as these delightful characters — too many animated films today are riddled with big names (i.e.: Epic, The Book of Life) just to get cash from adults who would otherwise not see the film. The real star of this cast is T.J. Miller, whom I found insufferable as a token comic relief character in Transformers: Age of Extinction (and, in said film, was glad to see him get bumped off in the first half hour!), but is hilarious without chewing the scenery and unpredictably warm in this film! The weak link in the cast is not so much about performance as it is about sound — relative newcomer Ryan Potter voices Hiro, the lead in our story, and while I believe his character’s convictions and motive, I don’t believe that he sounds like a fourteen-year old kid. His voice is just too deep, and I wish that someone with a more youthful voice could have been chosen instead… or, at the very least, some computer alterations would have helped.

Big Hero 6 is not the best animated film of the year; that award belongs to The LEGO Movie. That being said, this is not a film to be missed, particularly in 3D, and it represents a return to form for Walt Disney Animation Studios. After all, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!

Well, it Hurth

Sums Up The Movie For Me.

Thor: The Dark World is a wet, cold mess. I have nothing good to say about it, so fasten your damn seatbelts, true believers — no good can come from bad.

Spoilers are all around this review, so if you don’t know the plot of this film yet, try Wikipedia or IMDb.

As a guy who not only adored 2011’s Thor but saw it five times in theaters and owns the Blu-ray, I got sick when I realized what I saw on a cold Thursday night in November. My biggest qualm lies in the story — it’s never focused; it twerks all over the place. The scenes on Asgard are too long and, I say with a heavy head, much too wordy. The first film got the science/magic of the story down pat because it was quick and didn’t dwell on the technical aspects, while this joint is lost in translation to Lehman’s terms.

With that in mind, the writing is apalling, which is probably the result of having six writers (five of which are credited) whose ideas do not merge, but crush each other. The scenes on Asgard and Svartalfheim move much too fast and, in some cases, seem cut abruptly short, while the scenes on Earth (why bother calling it “Midgard” in this one when you didn’t use the term in movie number one?) are reduced to Fantasia-length interstitials and try too hard at being comedic. Scale is also a problem — where the first film was massive, this is too small, or at least it feels that way, given how we are rushed through these what-should-have-been massive locales. The battle in Vanaheim, for example, is so small in size and importance that I do not feel that much is at stake.
In point of fact, I never felt like much was at stake for any of the characters, and because of that, I didn’t care much for them at all. Thor doesn’t change much while Jane never seems to be in much danger or care about the fact that she is marked for death thanks to the film’s MacGuffin, and the romance between the two of them seems stale and contrived. Meanwhile, Odin is too much of a king and not enough of a father to Thor and Loki — and why does he insist on leading Asgard to certain massacre after Frigga’s death? Not even the death of a loved one should completely impede the judgement of someone like him, especially when he is the one who banished Thor for restarting war with Jotunheim. There are too many problems abound — why should I care about Sif and the Warriors Three if they have no material? Why cast Zachary Levi as Fandral if he isn’t used much and we can barely catch a glimpse of his face? Where the hell is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the villain of the story? Was that Alice Krige as an Asgardian nurse in one scene? Why is Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) running around naked for half of his screentime (was Lars von Trier the Second Unit Director?)? Why isn’t Sif steaming with jealousy over Thor choosing Jane over her, his childhood friend? Why is Hogun, one of two culture quota fillers in the film, shoved out so abruptly? Why does this movie feel like it was shod together in one night? Also, the subplot about paths between worlds, hinted at by Loki in the first film, are almost untouched — perhaps another casualty of rewrites?

Speaking of Loki, I wonder if the creative brains behind this knew that the film is called Thor: The Dark World, not The Mischievous Misadventures of Loki, or Thor: The Dark World. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Tom Hiddleston’s acting and he has an eye for quality that I’ve not seen in any other actor… but like Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, there is such a thing as too much of your favorite character, and in spite of Mr. Hiddleston’s desire to see Loki redeemed, he seems to be made up on the fly, with no defined path of character development; first he’s bad, then he’s sympathetic, then he’s bad, then he’s a hero, then he’s a dirty, lying bugger who murdered his adoptive father for a seat on the throne of Asgard. Thanos can’t come for his head fast enough.

Add to this the fact that the movie feels butchered from its intended length (what should have been a two-and-a-half hour film feels sliced-and-diced into one hour and fifty-one minutes), and what you have is, as said before, a wet cold mess.

Rating — 1/5. In truth, there are about five enjoyable lines; rent it from your local library.