Category Archives: In Theaters (Sort of)

“Fallen Kingdom” packs action, lacks in science

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25 years ago, audiences entered Jurassic Park. A wonderful summer blockbuster that pushed the boundaries of special effects and made dinosaur movies worth while. Since then, the park has eroded into Jurassic World, a new attraction that met its end at the guise of not a runaway dinosaur, but mixed reception. For me personally, I didn’t mind Jurassic World considering the amount of destruction and chaos I paid my movie ticket for. This time, the park is completely gone in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and all we are left with is the promise of what’s to come. But is it enough to sustain for popcorn entertainment? Many are going to disagree, but I think it does in some way.

On Isla Nublar, it is revealed the park was built on an active volcano that will cause imminent extinction to all of the dinosaurs on the island (for those questioning Site B, apparently they moved a bunch of them over to Nublar. I question if that was a good idea…) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to the island to rescue a bunch of the prehistoric beasts, despite U.S. Senate ruling in favor of letting the creatures perish. They are grouped with a batch of people set to get the dinosaurs off the island, but things take a turn when our leads find something sinister is at play.

Fallen Kingdom is structured with the park’s demise in the first half while the other half focuses on the fate of the dinosaurs. Viewers going into this might be letdown by the constant claustrophobic feel of the final hour, but oddly, I thought it was fine. It was a nice change of pace from the previous movies where these creatures roam free and cause mayhem. Now, they are out of their primitive habitat where one simple action could unleash them to the entire world to run around in. There is some relevance to Pandora’s Box as these prehistoric monsters are contained in one place with the knowing tension that one loose dinosaur could set forth Ian Malcom’s chaos theory.

Replacing Colin Trevorrow for the director’s chair is J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls and The Orphanage). Reasonably, he does a good job here as we go from one action set piece to the next. There is a slick pace that never feels slowed down or even too fast. One minute, the island is destroyed in a fury of lava and ash and then we get a dinosaur version of M*A*S*H* as our heroes need to perform a blood transfusion on one of the creatures.  It’s clear Bayona really likes to soak us in the horror with some intense scenes that will keep viewers on the edge. He really knows how to raise the stakes in the visual department, especially during the scenes in a lock-tight mansion.

Those bummed out by the CGI in the first film will be pleased to know there is some use of practical effects at play here. However, it is only when they are usable for certain scenes like when a character needs to interact. The CGI in those scenes are thankfully minimal, save for some extra eye movement and some small color touch-ups. There is better coordination between effect and actor here as the two blend rather well at times.

However, despite Bayona’s directing, there are aspects of Fallen Kingdom that feel weaken and that is mainly in the science. First off, there seems to be a never-ending interest in making more genetic raptors. This leads me to question exactly why chose this species time and time again. Are there any other creatures you could use at all?

Second, and I will be light on this as it is a spoiler, just how far can the cloning techniques really go in this universe? I won’t say too much, but there is a certain twist near the end that shows the science in this movie seems unlimited, or hints at it. Honestly, I felt it was a pointless tidbit that could have been easily removed from the picture and nothing would be lost.

The only element were Fallen Kingdom stands for me is in the entertainment. There are some really cool set-pieces and scary images that will certain leave a bit of an impact. The volcano explosion is clearly the centerpiece of the whole feature and is every second intense as well as fun. The final moments in the mansion are well-done and are packed with a lot of suspense. Then again, I am a sucker for movies like Congo or Waterworld where the enjoyment is in the silly yet action-packed moments.

Not everyone is going to like this one, but I’d say it was worth the admission alone, at least for me. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a good sequel? Well, its better than Jurassic World in certain areas. Does it make the power and beauty of Jurassic Park? Not so. Jurassic Park was lightening in a bottle. It can never be duplicated no matter what you. Fallen Kingdom goes in a completely different direction that has its share of good moments and some flaws that almost ruin the fun. However, I feel the thrills and creatures are enough to keep my summer blockbuster thirst full for a little while. Not a perfect movie all around, but certainly NOT the worst. And believe me, I’ve seen Alien: Covenant and Terminator Genisys. I know what true disappointment is like…

“Infinity War” starts on a bang…and ends on a whimper

From the moment the lights went up during the end credits, I did not feel a sense of optimism or joy. I turned to the left and right, noticing many kids, and Marvel fans, upset and/or in tears. Even the post-credit scene didn’t add any sign of hope. I’m certain it did set-up the future debut of a certain Marvel character, but at that point, I really didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I felt great disappointment in a Marvel movie and I have to thank “Avengers: Infinity War” for giving me that feeling.

For a good bulk of the first half, “Infinity War” really does feel like a Marvel movie. There is a fight scene in the city and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) delivers some funny one-liners. However, midway that joyful and light-hearted tone takes a noise dive going for a more darker concept. Those who want to get an idea, look up “Dalek Master Plan” and you will see what I mean.

Even in theaters, this is a hard movie to critique and talk about when the whole thing feels like one massive spoiler. There are certain story elements and sequences that make it tough for me to elaborate on and that might be hard to discuss when some wish to go in blind. So, I will try my best to be spoiler-free as I can here.

The first thing I should talk about is Thanos, a evil purple skinned and muscle bound alien that wants to conquer the universe. He is played by James Brolin under all that motion capture effects and does the job well. They give a reason for his tyrannical nature that doesn’t make him feel one-sided. He is a villain that will do anything in his power to obtain a bunch of powerful gems known as Infinity Stones. And when I mean anything, I mean, by God, ANYTHING. This not only makes him the darkest, but also the scariest being to ever hulk on the big screen.

As expected, there are some nice team ups, as Thor groups with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man works off of Doctor Strange, the list kind of goes on. But for a 2 and a 1/2 hour movie, there is the sense that some characters feel underplayed. A prime example is Black Panther. After “Captain America: Civil War” and his own solo movie, you think he would play a major part in this. However, he gets saved for the big finale at the end, when maybe some of his expertise could have been used earlier.

Did I mention this movie is long? Length is an expected criticism for a feature like this, but there are some things I felt that could have been shorten down or made more simpler. I feel like they are trying to make something grand or epic, like the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. It does make sense when you think about it. We have had 18 Marvel Comic movies within the past 10 years. And yet, it suffers the same  fate of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies by going too big and too grand. The pacing for certain storylines feel somewhere between too complex or not fleshed out enough.

And that falls onto the final nail in the coffin I have with this entry. Yes, the action scenes are good. Yes, it feels nice to see other characters work off each other. But what it lacks is a sense of heart or, to a lesser extent, a solid conclusion. I guess they are planning to resolve many things in another movie, seeing one is coming out next year. However, here is my argument. “Back to the Future: Part II” and “Empire Strikes Back” did have cliffhangers, but they felt hopeful. They gave you a feeling that you knew problems were going to be resolved and indicated a sense of good under a mass of darkness.

Here, they go straight to the wall and let things conclude on a downer note. I admit, I was really caught off guard by this. But after sitting through so much fighting and superhero banter, to end it all on a whimper is the last thing I would ever do. Certain characters die off and it really makes you feel like this is the end. From all the fatigue of fighting and arguing, could they at least end it on a note of hope?

And furthermore, there are too many open holes to let this end on. How did this character from (movie name withheld) end up here? How come this guy can’t use his powers anymore? What happened here? What happened there? Why even care when we are given this big of a tease and left with little to no sign that good will rise up? It makes movies like 1974’s “Earthquake” more joyful in comparison. OH YEAH, I went there!

We go to movies to escape from our own reality. We want to join in on the adventure and enjoy the ride. All of the pain from our reality deserves to be nullified for a good 2 hours or at least something longer. That is my own personal view of what a movie should be to me. And yes, once in a while, I will go for something darker, but there is a point to the existence of why it is there. Movies are a dream-like thing with shadows of character that hope not to offend their viewers. And if they do so, man…do we feel cheated in the end….

“Ready Player One” packs fun and replay value

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Steven Spielberg is the only director I can think of who can handle an adaptation like this. He has taken novels before with harsher characters and environments like Jaws or Jurassic Park. After having read Ready Player One, I figured he would have the opportunity to fix all the problems I had with the book’s pacing, story-line and connections to the characters. In many ways, Spielberg succeeds. However, there are times when I do feel there could be room for improvement here and there. On the whole, I’m still thankful to have a version that is far different from the source and knows when to have fun.

The story is set in the not-too distant future of 2045, were trailer parks are basically giant stacks of RVs. Everyone in the world is more invested in a virtual reality system called the OASIS, that is sort of like the Internet. The biggest difference is that it give many the ability to do what they want, even to go as far to cosplay as The Joker from Batman or drive the DeLorean from Back to the Future.

The creator of the OASIS, Jim Halliday (Mark Rylance), passes away and leaves his inheritance in the form of a giant video game. The set-up is simple. Beat the three levels, collect all three keys and the winner will get half a trillion dollars and complete control of the OASIS. Now, that is enough for everyone to jump to their VR visors and start hunting.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the players, who goes by the avatar name Parzival. In many ways, the Wade character is dorky, but at least identifiable. Unlike the Ernest Cline novel, where the character constantly spits out 1980s references, he at least seeks more than the prize. While his ambition is to beat the game, he’s not too selfish and knows when to help others out in need.

This comes to another character he meets named Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who is more than a girl with a badass attitude. I liked the tough approach they give her and they do hint she is much smarter than you think. Her and Wade hit it off with a romance that is a tad dorky, but cute enough to be accepted. They both have the same goal in mind to do something better for the world and both come from tragic backstories. Cliche, but they are better compared to the novel.

Also in the chase is a greedy business man named Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who seeks to control the OASIS and make it an entire business affair. I found Nolan to be the right balance of cartoony for a video game character and his personality works well as a fun villain. There are times when he can get threatening near the end, but something about him lacks a certain menace like Matthew Modine’s character from Stranger Things. Yes, this guy will go as far to cheat his way, like in the novel, and they do allow extra time for us to know how big of a scum he is. While I didn’t find him threatening, at least until the last third, I still thought Mendelsohn’s performance was at least fun.

And that is the key word here, fun. Spielberg packs many scenes full of action and thrills that warrant much replay value. However, this is where the problem of this version of Ready Player One comes in. So much time is spend on these great set pieces, that we don’t get much with our characters. There are some nifty ideas like a museum in honor of Halliday that is run by a robot butler and moments like those got a good laugh out of me. But all of that is used for the sacrifice of knowing our characters more. When Wade does meet up with the real-life counterparts of his online friends, they meet, greet and move on to beat the final level. Part of me wishes that we could spend maybe a few minutes more understanding who these people are. I admit, the novel did add some interesting backstories to these kids which are somewhat missed.

Most of our time is spent going into 1980s horror movies, racing around New York and a battle, so massive, that I predict you will rent this on DVD and spend hours and hours freeze framing to see if your favorite character is there. The final moments alone are certain worth the admission price as characters from movies and video games band together to go against Sorrento and his army. But all of that at the risk of lacking development in certain things and people. There are times when they visually show the emotion and even visually show the way the world works without spelling it out. And yet, there are some lines of dialogue, or narration at the start, that exist just to set up things in this world.

But does that make Ready Player One worth skipping out? I don’t think so. Director Steven Spielberg is able to dig into elements of Cline’s novel and provide the best from the book while also adding needed improvement. Not everything is fixed, but I did except that. For all its faults, this movie still packs much that the average moviegoer can enjoy. If you liked Jaws, Jurassic Park, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or The Adventures of Tintin, stop what you are doing and see this movie. After all, a little escapism from reality wouldn’t hurt….

“The Last Jedi” Review – Spoiler Free

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As I walked out of the movie theater, I kept thinking back to the many things that happened in the latest “Star Wars” entry. For those keeping score at home, I felt “Force Awakens” was ok, but it was too embedded in servicing the old fans. However, “Rogue One” felt like a true “Star Wars” movie, amidst the grim war tone. Where does “Last Jedi” fall at my judgement you ask? Well, fans will be pleased to know I walked out during the end credits with a decent smile on my face. There was much to enjoy to give it a recommendation for the holiday, but at the same time, I still felt there was much improvement needed here.

To avoid mobs of fans and enthusiasts from wanting to Vader choke my neck, let me first talk about what stood out to me the most. There is a lot more character development at play here as new faces from “Force Awakens” get a chance to do more. X-Wing fighter Poe (Oscar Isaac) gets a lot of screen time, Finn (John Boyega) gets a chance to show he’s more than a mindless solider and old faces get a nice scene or two.

For those who recall where “Force Awakens” ended, we pick up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovering Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts and trying to learn about her past. Mark Hamill returns as the famed Jedi warrior whose character is taken in direction different and darker from the original trilogy.  Luke starts to question if he’s fallen into the same despair his old mentors did or just under self doubt. The scenes on Luke’s island are easily the best part of the whole movie showing not only how Luke is able to live, but also why he’s changed so much. Even Daisy Ridley is given more to do with her character as we explore deeper into her personal fears and hopeful desires of seeking the truth behind her existence.

I’m also happy to report that I loved more of Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren this time around than before. In “Force Awakens,” he felt to me like a whinny teenager trying to be Darth Vader and it wasn’t interesting. Here, the stakes are raised so much, that I really started to enjoy how conflicted Driver’s character was. Confused between his good and bad nature, there is a sense of a really complex character here that is more unique than what was done before. When Ren was menacing, you could really feel that presence as he’s stuck between choosing to support the Dark Side or maybe turn over a new leaf.

There’s all sorts of good moments in “Last Jedi” that give it an operatic scale and weight to it. There’s so much talent and effort going into it, that you feel like your watching a really big and epic story. There’s a lot of great powerhouse moments to choose from while each sequence tries not to overdo what the originals have done before.

But it also leads into what I didn’t like about this entry. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a good time watching this one, but not every movie is going to be 100% perfect. When you do find out what the main story is, you sort of realize how paper thin it feels. In comparison to another sci-fi blockbuster, that came out this year, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” felt like there was more going on with Star Lord meeting his father and the team trying to figure out how to deal with their personal issues. In “Last Jedi,” there are so many plot lines going on that you sort of wonder what the real story is. It’s kind of a shame when Rey’s plotline is the more interesting between (without spoiling too much) a never-ending space battle that is very much the car chase in “The Sugarland Express”, but in space.

And that leads into another problem I have with “Last Jedi,” it’s too bloody long. Clocking in at 150 minutes, this movie feels like it goes on for ages. There are plenty of cool moments and really great scenes, but there’s only so much you can put in. How much grander of an adventure does it need to be? There’s obvious spots of comedy that could have been so easily cut down or things changed for the sake of plot.

For example, in the middle of the movie, a couple of characters have to find this hacker at a gambling planet. And when our main characters go there, it lingers on it for way too long. In between all this, Rey is learning the Force and the Resistance is trying to get away from the First Order. When we cut back to the gambling planet, it feels like a big screeching halt and just stops the movie for us to look at weird aliens gambling. On top of that, there’s nothing really interesting about this concept. Even “Futurama” did this idea better because the concept of a casino on the planet Mars could fit within the TV show’s comedic and satirical tone.

The biggest problem I have with “Last Jedi” is that it doesn’t know when to end. After it gives us on great powerhouse moment, it just keeps going and going and going tossing one scene after another. As much as I admit, it does try to rehash moments from “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” but reshuffles them around. I can at least look past a tiny bit of that, because these moments don’t feel as “fan service” like in “Force Awakens.” But when it keeps tossing out one climax after another, it gets tedious. There’s no reason for this to be 150 minutes long. By the time it got to the final battle, I was thinking to myself, “why does it need to top itself five minutes ago? Didn’t we already have a really cool climax?” And just when you think it ends, it doesn’t. Even when you feel like there is a good place for the movie to conclude, “Last Jedi” doesn’t know what kind of final image to rest itself upon. At that point I was getting very restless and close to yelling, “END! END!” right at the big screen.

Does that mean I really disliked this one and deserve the wrath of many Star Wars fans? No and this is in part to one crucial scene that won me over. Without spoiling it, it’s a very crucial character moment where Luke comes to terms with who he is. It makes you realize there was a character arch with Luke Skywalker all along after “Return of the Jedi.” There is this feeling of satisfaction when THIS CERTAIN SCENE happens. It’s so well-written and executed so perfectly, that it felt like a genuine Star Wars moment. No dialogue explaining things or going into political jargon. It made certain things come full circle in a sense. I will remember this scene as my favorite moment in this new Star Wars trilogy and admit to being moved to tears over it.

Do I wish more things could have been handled better like the baddies Emporer Snoke or Captain Phasma? Yes. Do I believe the pacing of the story could have been handled better? Yes. But, did it improve upon things I really disliked in “Force Awakens?” Yes. “Last Jedi” contains plenty of powerhouse moments that will certain leave your rump well glued in the seat. It’s well-acted, well-shot and well-written. I’m not going to praise one person and say they are the soul reason for making a new Star Wars entry that I enjoyed. I think EVERYONE here, regardless of the new director, is the main reason this movie is really enjoyable. Do I feel there could have been some adjustments here and there? Yes, but I can’t argue when it uses Porgs for the right moments for those who love them and hate them. If your going to see one movie this holiday season, for now, I say make it this one before it leaves theaters. It’s a much better early Christmas gift than what J.J. Abrams attempted in 2015.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Mummy (2017)

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mummy posterHonestly, there is no reason this movie should be given a spotlight on this blog-a-thon. However, it does tie into the theme of “cult classics” (somehow) and the Universal Studio Monsters franchise is normally watched around Halloween. On top of that, I’m certain EVERYONE had something to say about this dusty turkey. And yet, if I had to toss my two cents in, The Mummy is without a doubt, on my roster, for being the worst movie of 2017.

Let’s back up a little and talk about some history. Universal Studios has been desperate in every way to try and bring new life to their horror themed franchise. Back in the 1930s, movies about Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and many others are what put the studio on the map.  These are iconic pictures that leave a lasting impact upon the public, regardless if one doesn’t like black and white features. There is a glowing haunting impact that is still left from the ideas and building atmosphere.

Universal Studios has been toying with their creature features for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times they tried to get a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake off the ground. Even John Carpenter nearly got the chance to helm it; that is if a certain Invisible Man movie with Chevy Chase didn’t bomb at the box-office. Bottom line, this studio has been trying. They tried a new Wolfman in 2010, it didn’t do very well. They tried to give Dracula an origin story, it did moderately well, yet critics put a stake right into it.

Now, the new plan was to reboot everything and create a shared universe along the lines of Marvel Studios. Not a bad idea, but there is one crucial problem. In order to achieve it, you need to introduce your monsters individual first. Give Marvel some credit, it took time and effort to establish who their superheros were and why are they all connected. It made the debut of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble in International waters) the more satisfying seeing characters we already saw. The concept of a shared universe seemed not needed when you consider there already exists a movie with all the monsters meeting (more on that later in the month).

Come the summer of 2017, a string of sequels and reboots that never seemed to catch on with some exceptions. Arriving to the big screen is The Mummy, a movie Universal Studios is confident will be a huge hit and ignite a massive interest in making a shared universe. And let me tell you, for a movie called The Mummy, it’s sad to see it plays out more like a 2 hour trailer for a franchise as opposed to a standalone feature.

the-mummy3Every problem can be summed up in the opening. First, there is a 30-second flashback to Medieval Times were knights hide a powerful ruby. Cut to modern times where a group of FBI-like agents find a tomb carrying said ruby. Then, it flashes back to show the origin of the mummy and how she came to be. What should be a simple introduction is really a massive exposition dump. There is too much being addressed and it doesn’t know what information is crucial to the narrative. It literally throws everything at you and expects a sense of understanding.

So, now your probably asking how is the rest of the movie? Well, here’s a hint. Notice how the focus of this article is about Universal’s choice to make a franchise. When you boil down to it, there isn’t much of a movie, or a story, to discuss. Tom Cruise is a treasure raider who finds a mummy, mummy curses him in a weird set up that sounds stolen from Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Russell Crowe shows up as Dr. Jekyll to talk about a set of agents who prevent monsters from going loose and that’s it.

the-mummy-russell-crowe-dr-jekyllEverything I summed up in that small paragraph is all you need to know. Sure there are things I didn’t talk about like the performances, a subplot involving a dead friend that is taken from An American Werewolf In London, the complex origins of the mummy that make no sense, the rampage on London near the end and the obvious tie-ins to “future entries.” Honestly, who cares? If Mummy just stuck to one story line, it would have been fine. Instead, it feels like different scripts were bunch into one and then hacked down with a chainsaw. All we get is a set of shreds that don’t add up. Stuff happens, but there is rarely any connection.

I tried to think of anything positive about this movie and I could only come up with two things. Tom Cruise plays the lead and, regardless of ego, he tries to be entertaining. His performance goes for a very goofy-action hero tone that matches Brendan Fraser, but it feels weird knowing he’s more equipped when it comes to spy movies. And for what little we see of Sofia Boutella, she tries to bring a sense of menace to her take of the mummy. Under all the poor CGI effects they paint over her face, she is really trying to stand out. Unfortunately, her presence is literally buried under Cruise’s rampant ego and “too many cooks” trying to steer this popcorn flick.

la-et-film-title-the-mummy-20161205I really can’t even do much justice to recommend this train wreck. Your better off seeing the original 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff. That one was more scary in atmosphere and selling the concept of reincarnation. Why can’t we have a movie like that anymore? A horror film that sells on scaring you with atmospheric tone and concept as opposed to jump scares. I’m certain there are some out there, but I can only imagine how few there are. This movie is pure proof that certain executives can’t keep up with the times on what audiences want. A lesson that is learned again and again as time goes on. Just when Hollywood thinks they know what people want, they come out with a movie too late once that previous obsession has died down. We are pass the bar of shared universes. Some can work, but this one doesn’t.

Avoid at all costs.

 

“IT” scary delight

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Last month, viewers got “The Dark Tower.” Basically, a way on how NOT to adapt a Stephen King adaption. The problems lies in how overstuffed and expansive King’s universes really are. After reading his famed novel “IT,” I can see why adapting his books can be a challenge. There’s only so much information you can cram in to justify for a two hour venture. Well, I don’t know how but director Andres Muschietti was able to take a 1,100 page novel and use the right parts to make a good movie.

The basic story is there as a supernatural entity is killing and eating kids in the small Maine town named Derry. A group of kids discover the truth behind the kid’s disappearances in hopes to stop this monster from any more terror. Sounds basic enough, but Stephen King’s novel goes so in-depth that it feels like your reading a history text book at times. To King’s credit, he has good ideas, knows how to build atmosphere and create some memorable characters. Muschietti was kind enough to know what to cut out and what elements were crucial to keep in.

The main meat of this adaptation relies on the child portion of the story. While we get to see them as adults and try to stop “IT” again, all of that is rightfully saved for a possible follow-up. The focus here is on the “Losers’ Club” and who they are. We see what fears they each have which plays a important fact later on. You get the feeling of being a kid again when the world was big and yet you feel defenseless.

All of the kid actors do a good job conveying these characters. Each one bringing to life so much depth and yet few feel like a trope. I feel this has to do with how the setting is changed from being in 1958 to 1989. A time when the teenager was more rebellious and carefree than before. This is reflected with Eddie who is trying to bypass his mother who wants him to remain inside his home. Along with that is more character depth for the bully Henry Bowers who feels more like a threat and less like a generic stock villain with a pocket knife.

The biggest scene stealer is of Bill Skarsgard as the demonic clown Pennywise. From the first scene, there is a hint of something uncanny from the way his eyes look in the other direction and his kind delivery feels more eerie. In a 1990 TV miniseries version, Tim Curry donned the clown make-up and gave a fun performance. I feel Skarsgard easily blew that out of the water. When we see him terrorize the kids, the performance is never over the top or too scary. Skarsgard walks a middle ground that is fun and creepy at the same time.

Those who are afraid of horror movies and want to know how gory it gets should be fine. When I went to see it, there was an 11 year old in the audience who acted fine. However, some moments might be too intense to see from a blood fountain gushing from a sink to a quick shot of Pennywise nibbling on a dismembered arm. Being one whose seen many horror movies, the violence and horrific tone feels more on par with the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, but doesn’t feel too gory or too much. Little kids under 10 might not sit well with some of the ghoulish imagery and running theme of missing kids being eaten by an evil clown.

I was honestly surprised by what “IT” came to offer. This new adaptation was fun as a haunted house while even heartwarming when it needed to be. I do have one or two nitpicks with some of the changes, but they are all the more welcome. When a scene from the book was being adapted, I grew more excited as the scene played out wondering how it would play out. When “IT” was funny, it was funny. When “IT” was scary, you could feel the building tension and creepy atmosphere sinking in. By changing the theme of the story to “facing your fears,” we get not only a movie we can identify with but a journey we wish would never end. If there is a second half in the near future, you can count on this film fan anticipating the next chapter of “IT.”

“Pirates” 5 stale despite lively action

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There are certain franchises that deserve the need to hang their cape and maintain their golden years. I hate to admit it, but I feel Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” is one of them. I recalled fond memories of seeing the first one “Curse of the Black Peal” at my local drive-in theater and enjoying the shear spectacle. As expected, two sequels followed to make a trilogy that were in my opinion mixed but still had some fun. Then “On Stranger Tides” arrived and the wear started to show. Too many complex story-lines, too many convoluted rules and not enough momentum to stay afloat. Now we arrive at the fifth outing, “Dead Man Tell No Tales,” and I feel there’s nothing left to explore here.

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow but there is nothing new Depp brings here. In previous entries, the rum boozed Captain always knew he had an extra trick up his sleeve when it came to escape or battle. Here, we have seen these character’s actions so much that we are aware of the trademarks. Even worse, Depp feels tired in the role as he walks through like he’s sleepwalking his part. The only time he feels interested is when his character is not talking and partaking in action scenes considering the huge amount of stunt work.

Tossed into the mix are two new characters Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who are trying to be the two new leads of the franchise. Henry is set up as the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who we last left cursed to the Flying Dutchman, and is trying to seek a way to break his dad’s curse. It is the basic father and son story but it doesn’t feel developed. On Carina’s angle, she has an interesting concept but it gets easily tiresome. Carina is constantly deemed a witch by her knowledge of the stars which starts as an amusing joke, but gets old by its constant use and one huge plot hole. If everyone deems her a witch, then how come this government is secretly keeping a witch alive for their personal use. If they are using one for their own service, why not use Carina’s methods for their own good instead of trying to execute her.

In the middle of all this, a dead captain named Salazar (Javier Bardem) is out for blood as he tries to hunt Jack Sparrow down for something the booze-hound savvy did to him years ago. To Javier’s credit, he really chews the scenery and acts like he’s having a good time. I’m close to saying he’s the only reason to see this entry for how well-acted and oddly designed him and his ghostly crew are which feel like remnants of a strange Salvador Dali painting.  I like the idea his body moves around like its still floating in water seeing it was the last thing that happened to him when he died. But doesn’t this sound familiar? A supernatural entity that is out for revenge against Sparrow over something he did. Haven’t we been here before?

In fact, the whole movie banks more on the nostalgia of the others and does little to reinvent. Once in a while there is a neat action scene, but it doesn’t last too long to make its impact. Jack finds himself going against a Guillotine blade while being swung around, zombie sharks menace our heroes and old friends return. But there’s much to care about when none of your characters are anchored to a ticking clock or any form of leverage. Certain people could just wonder about without any risk and there still wouldn’t be a sense of care. Even the appearance of old faces like Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) really try to have some fun, but feel this is a tired and repeated premise.

The only reason “Dead Men Tell No Tales” exist is just to see if there’s any life in the franchise along with another reason. I believe after how many fans reacted to the third on “At World’s End,” the people behind this one are trying to make up for those mistakes of a tragic love story and how drawn-out it was. Maybe if this came out 5 years ago, it would have been passable. As it stands, its a swift two hours of swashbuckling that really feels like a fish out of water when your compare it to last week’s Wonder Woman and all the other “better” summer blockbusters that came before it.

“Wonder Woman” is blockbuster fun

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Ever since “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” I wondered when DC Comics would finally get their act together and make a fun comic book movie. The only two I recall that worked so well was a bulk of “Superman II” and Burton’s “Batman.” Finally, with a breath of air, I can claim “Wonder Woman” as my favorite DC Comics movie to date. It’s fun, action-packed and does what has been missing the whole time. A bright colorful superhero flick that isn’t afraid to try things.

Gal Gadot plays the Amazonian warrior Diana who is tough but has a human soul. The movie starts off introducing her character in probably the smartest way. We learn who she is and what she wants to gain over the course of the plot. Diana maybe trying to understand the nature of her people, but she wants to know what lies beyond her island home to see if humanity is more forgiving then what her people think. There is no big quest to save her world or big urge for a love interest like Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” The aspect of World War I plays a big factor into her character as she questions if human beings should be saved or left to their own devices.

Helping her out is US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who helps Diana understand the world outside her own is not all pleasant. His character works well as the straight man as Steve keeps her curiosity at balance while letting her understand the human element is more complex. There is a love interest hint but thankfully downplayed to let the two work off each other. Pine and Gadot have a fun chemistry that really works in scenes when Steve is trying to have the Amazonian learn about the treatment of women and government law.

On the opposite side, a German general (Danny Huston) plays a red herring in all this as he works with the diabolical Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly gas bomb. Most of the movie focuses these two are trying to craft the ultimate killing device with much menace. Unfortunately, I found myself more interested in the Poison character. She has a disfigured face which feels like a tribute to William Castle’s “Mr Sardonicus” and seeks to ensure they have the upper hand. While they don’t build her up to the “big evil one,” I felt there was something memorable about her performance and look. In contrast to the iron-fisted general who is just there to win the war.

There is much action to behold as “Wonder Woman” leaps from one colorful action scene to another. Something missing in recent DC adaptions was the value of fun and there is much to enjoy. One of my favorite moments was seeing Diana dash into No Man’s Land and go up against an air full of bullets. There is something awe-inspiring yet enjoyable with the usage of music and energetic visuals.

Even the side characters are a lot of fun too. At Steve’s side is a ragtag of secret agents and sharpshooters who provide plenty of comic relief. But when they are not cracking jokes, there is a sense of vulnerability to these characters that help Diana’s understanding of the human race. One such example is a Scotsman who post-traumatic stress disorder who can be a good shot but also has a heart. While they are aware of how hard the war is, they try to keep optimistic in the best way possible.

And for a movie like this to take on a heavy subject as war, it knows how much to focus on the darker details. Images of injured soldiers, families without homes and dead bodies after a launched gas bomb could have weighed in on the fun factor, but it works. Diana understands the human race is a complex bunch that fight each other, but never feel spite against one another. In a lesson never learned from Superman, you can win on some days but lose sometimes as well. This is an element I see Fieg’s “Ghostbusters” tried but I feel it works better because the main character is trying to know how the world works.

I am close to say “Wonder Woman” is a perfect movie, but there is one tiny flaw that can either make or break the movie. Throughout the story, Diana believes this was is the doing of a god and seeks to end it by killing him. It leads to an interesting concept about belief. Diana is stuck to her mythological history while Steve believes things are a cause of human nature. There comes a moment when it starts to pay off, but unfortunately a twist villain confirms the true nature.

For a moment, I thought it was going in a very smart and very clever direction, but then it felt like we were not ready for something unique and different. The final 20 minutes resort to a final showdown between Wonder Woman and the true antagonist behind the whole thing. Why couldn’t they just do something more brilliant like have Diana’s mother appear in her mind and try to remind her of her warnings or something less cliche. Instead, they play it safe and even if the climatic fight scene is explosive, I just wish it a much stronger element than a twist villain.

But, I can’t rampage on this latest entry. DC Comics and Warner Bros are trying to make a good adaption here and I can see it. They were so close and yet so far from perfection. However, I think I can let them off the hook this time. Even if the ending was slightly lame, “Wonder Woman” still turns out to be fun and engaging from beginning to end. Its finally refreshing to see a good movie from the other comic book brand and can safely say this one is certainly worth your time.

“Alien: Covenant” disappoints on many levels

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As I left the theater, I honestly gave a small giggle. Once I got into my car, the giggle became a laugh. Then, as I drove to my house, the laughter just couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe how absurd and dumbfounded this feature was that I found myself laughing in mockery over what strange choices director Ridley Scott took. At least when “Prometheus” came out, Scott had the upper hand in starting a fresh timeline. My theory is thanks to those who complained about the unhinging questions and mysteries from that movie, we ended up with “Alien: Covenant.” A film meant to pacifier fans who complained about Scott’s prequel. Instead, I feel those pacifiers have been rejected in the process.

I should point out another film would have taken place after “Prometheus” called “Paradise Lost” and I was rather intrigued to see where it would lead. From what I recall, unless its the “Mandela Effect” kicking in, we would have seen Elizabeth Shaw’s character visit the Engineer world and seek her questions of why this and that. Either that concept was tossed when writer Damon Lindelof left or Scott had alternate plans. After all, he did say there would be no xenomorphs in the next feature and then contradicted himself by saying they would have aliens of a similar breed. Honestly, I’d rather get my opinion out of the way now considering how confusing it is to look into the behind the scenes stuff already.

The plot is very close, if not, and somewhat similar to the first “Alien” movie. A group of people get a distress call and go to investigate, they find a strange stuff there, one of the members gets attacked by a creature that impregnates him with an alien and so forth. Scott tries to rectify that by doing some new stuff like introducing the ship’s crew in the midst of an action scene. But when casualties happen, like one of the scientists die in the wreckage, we feel little to no empathy because we just met these people. In previous movies, at least we had time and development in understanding who we are with. Here, I could care less.

The spacecraft named Covenant holds a crew on a mission for colonization. That means, we spent with couples instead of scientists. Even when the crew of Prometheus was doing things like taking helmets off in oxygen laden alien ships, I wouldn’t mind it too much because they were observers and examining things. Here, when I see normal people walk around on an alien planet without something crucial as a space helmet, it begs the question if they really think they got a chance at living or have a death wish. And when your characters are so dumb enough to a point they slip on bloody floors or shoot alien creatures inside a ship near explosive equipment, it gets irritating to wonder if anyone has any brains. Even the Robinson Family on the “Lost In Space” series knew much better than these people.

I can’t remember a single character that was memorable or did anything significant. Sure, Katherine Waterston’s character is given this Ripley-style arch where they place her in the background and build her up, but it doesn’t work. All we know to her character is that she is suffering from a loss and you don’t feel the building emotion of her recovering once her big action scene kicks in. Most of these crew members feel like the red shirts you would see on Star Trek. The minute you see them, you know someone is going to act dumb and die from their consequences. Even the captain is so miffed that what happens to him later on is so baffling that it makes you think why would anyone make such poor choices.

So is there anything worth sparing? For one, Michael Fassbender has proven to be very unique to this “prequel” trilogy. He does double duty as android Walter who seeks to serve the crew and android David who plans to one up mankind in his own right. Being a fan of Blade Runner, there is a running theme of creation vs. creator that is reflected here. Instead of creation asking for something impossible to achieve, it seeks to outdo creator by means of making something in his own image. It is here the character of David is brought to creepy levels that overpower those of HAL 9000. The idea if he is created in the most perfect way possible and wishes to let humanity die on its imperfect nature. A typical trope but it’s helped with the character of Walter who is complete opposite and let nature take its course.

Even if I said most of the crew are forgettable, Danny McBride is surprisingly engaging here. His character Tennessee is more laid back and less manic compared to his other comedic roles. McBride tries to channel his actions like he is the next Kurt Russell when it comes to overpowering computer restrictions and comes handy in key action scenes near the end. Considering how I’m used to seeing him in raunchy comedies, I’m very speechless to see how great his acting is here. When he looses someone dear, we see him react in broken manner that shows how much he is giving it his all.

On the whole, did I completely hate this movie? For the most part, I’d say maybe the first and second acts where fine. When it was doing its own thing and trying to follow on the questions “Prometheus” left, that’s when I felt it worked. The final 20 minutes, on the other hand, try way too hard to repeat what made “Alien” so enjoyable. “Alien” was about claustrophobia and survive in the unknown space frontier. Here, all of that gets revisited in a section of the movie that could have been so easily cut out and you wouldn’t have noticed it. I won’t go into spoilers about what happens in the final third, but if you know what happens at the end of EVERY ALIEN MOVIE, then I’m certain will expect that it will go in THIS DIRECTION as well. But wait, there is a bonus twist tossed in that is sure to throw viewers for a loop but even we can see that coming a mile away.

How did one of the most unique and mysterious of features get turned into something akin to “Friday the 13th?” The beauty and sublime are replaced by trope characters repeating things that have been done light-years before. There was never a sense of dread or fear. I was never scared at all by these CGI monsters and never felt like I was on the edge of my seat during the action scenes. It’s hard for me to chalk off if Ridley Scott was giving too much freedom with the franchise or the keys to the liquor cabinet during press interviews. I feel bad for saying that because Scott is capable of doing a good movie and this shows it. There is much eye candy to behold, but the story that goes with it doesn’t match up. If 20th Century Fox is considering another installment, my best recommendation is to really overlook what has become right before they hand over the blank check budget.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional

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THE FOLLOWING IS SPOILER FREE! YOU’RE WELCOME!

Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.