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“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.

“Kubo” powerful, emotionally moving and beautiful

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After finally seen it, I have to admit how much I regret passing up “Kubo and the Two Strings” the minute it arrived to theaters. Laika Studios deserves better attention for how impressive their stop-motion animated features are. Even more unique is how they are made for the budget of a simple $60 million. A movie like this almost appears more than that. And yet, much was well spent with great characters, a powerful story and an overall movie-going experience that swept me away. In a sense, I’m tempted to put this on my list of all-time favorite movies. But perhaps, it will in due time once its greatness is more recognized (I’m looking at you Oscars.) I would go as far to say its a great anime (seeing its set in ancient Japan) considering the style and tone does feel like one.

The character of Kubo is highly identifiable. Not because he is a kid, but how imaginative and caring he can be. It’s about as realistic as a typical kid with innocence can get. In the first part of the movie, we get an idea of his surroundings and his limits. How protective he is others and how creative he can be. Gifted with a magic shamisen, Kubo uses this to bring origami to life and tell stories to the local village. A clever way to set up the remainder of the story as Kubo can draft heroic characters and monsters, but sadly stuck on an ending.

His life changes when two witches are after him and has to find three pieces of armor to save him and those around him. Accompanying his journey is a no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed samurai warrior trapped as a humanoid beetle (Matthew McConaughey). And let me tell you, I loved these characters and greatly cared for them. I loved how the Monkey was motherly at times, but knew when to be a fighter and protector. I adored Beetle and how he could provide comic relief for his bad memory as well as his heroic attempts. When one of them was in danger (especially little Kubo), there was a sense of danger and risk that we might loose these heroes. And that’s what I found more intriguing compared to the other summer films this year; there was a sense of care for our characters.

Again, I feel tormented I didn’t see this one sooner to really appreciate its beauty. Watching this was like “Wolf Children,” a movie about growing up and learning its difficulties along the way. To know when to let go and find your place in the universe. That to me is really what this movie was in a nutshell, but more. The lesson at the end is to make your own story and live it. Telling legends are good, but don’t forget to live your tale to the fullest. And even when it ends, those who heard it will remember your story and how important it can be. Few movies this year are able to convey such a heavy message in a unique way.

Thus at the end, I found myself in tears. Tears at the beauty of the animation and the way it concludes. Sometimes, you don’t need a big epic fight to bookend your movie. And that’s something missing from most good vs. evil tales. Without spoiling HOW it ends, violence can defend, but it can’t serve a happy ending in this kind of world. And they way this “alternative” was offered was so powerful and emotional that I had a hard time holding back every tear.

The only thing I do have to nitpick is the use of CGI. To its credit, there are times when it blends perfectly into the environment and obviously animating water in a stop-motion flick is near to impossible. Sometimes the CGI effects can stick out while other times it can blend seamlessly into this colorful world. I even found myself marveling at certain sets and blades of grass wondering what was really there and what was digital. Not to mention there is a great amount of effort and creativity in things like a giant skeleton (which is a big puppet as shown during the end credits) and an array of monsters. Each one feels like they were taken from Japansese folklore in design and poetic movement.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a movie I can’t recommend enough. It’s up there with “Coraline” as my favorite film from Laika. There is action, humor and plenty of heart. Not a single frame feels wasted and everything feels perfectly paced. The dark moments feel earned, the quiet moments are put in the right spots and when it gets theoretical about topics like death and what lies beyond, it’s executed in a way that is subtle and executable. So much that even little kids won’t have a hard time with the some of the harsher elements because they will be assured their story will live on even at the end. But it breaks my heart to see not many have given this one the love and respect it deserves at the box-office. I beg of you, see this on the big screen. Because if you blink out on this one, you will miss out on a powerful experience.

“Pete’s” dull and generic “Dragon”

dvnxj5nde6cjj-hzmo4lodtu15ulbzdj-largeThere were many things I questioned when watching the 2016 update of “Pete’s Dragon.” I was well aware director David Lowery wanted this take to be far removed from the 1977 musical. Honestly, I don’t blame him. I have a huge soft spot for the original, but will admit it does have flaws. The 1977 version is bloated and too goofy in certain spots. But perhaps, there is where the entertaining aspect came from. As I tried to accept the new version, I found myself at least appreciating it tried, but found myself hard to be engaged with it. Seeing it did get heavy praise from critics, is there something they missed or is there something wrong with me?

The plot for this new version takes the spine of the original and adds more meat to it. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is now a feral child that lost his family and seeks refuge with the green dragon. I give credit due to Fegley’s acting. His performance is going for a wild child take and it does work. But there was something problematic about it to me. For a kid that is lost in the woods for six years and goes “Tarzan,” chances are his vocabulary will either be limited or his speech will be underdeveloped. Having taken up psychology in college, I read up on cases where kids would be treated and lived like animals to the point they act like primitive; most notable is Victor of Aveyron. For if a child like Pete can’t understand what a balloon is or even the purpose of a sandwich, then why have him speak at all?

The reason for his survival is under the wing of a giant dragon he names Elliot. Much like the original, Elliot is big, green and the ability to turn invisible. What’s different this time around is that he’s all CGI and covered in fur. I guess someone had Falkor from NeverEnding Story in mind when designing him, but it goes against the idea of Elliot’s original design. Not only did Don Bluth animate the 1977 version, but he was also modeled after a Chinese dragon in respect for how good they are. There’s a sense of innocence and mischievous personality that feels lost in the new take. Despite the good efforts of WETA Digital, this new Elliot doesn’t have much personality and takes on the feel of a big dog. Again, I know the intent was to make this akin to being cute, but this Elliot was anything but interesting as the story expects us to know his relationship with Pete and not see it develop. I think it would have been wiser to see their relationship much like how Tarzan grew with the apes in 1984’s “Greystoke” instead of just expecting us to accept it.

The new incarnation is also treated to an array of new elements that are either there to distinguish itself or try and improve things. Gone is the fishing town Passamaquoddy, and we get an unnamed town with a logging industry. Bryce Dallas Howard replaces the character of the lighthouse keeper with a forest ranger that takes Pete in and tries to understand his survival. Robert Redford is underused as a man who claims to have seen the same dragon in comparison to the overzealous town drunk Mickey Rooney played. A scheming medicine doctor is replaced with a hunter (Karl Urban) that seeks to capture the dragon. And the list goes on.

As I watched this new version, I kept wondering just how these different elements work or even pay off in this version. Some of it does have a sense of good set up like a subtle environmental message which disappears once it gets introduced. Even character motives are lost in the group showing perhaps this version should have been thought out more. Once Urban’s character captures the dragon, he claims to have big plans when he honestly just spitballs a few ideas and claims to own the dragon. There is no real motive outside of just existing for the sake of being a conflict here. I even hoped there would be more purpose to things added in like the logging company playing a part or even Redford’s character. But most of is minimally used or gets abandoned upon first sight.

In a nutshell, “Pete’s Dragon” tries to be more like the typical fantasy family film without a drop of edge, but falls into an unfortunate trap. Instead of giving characters with interesting motives and despite doing different things, it falls into the category of boy or family gets a unique creature and does something with it. I can’t tell you how many variations I have seen of this story line ranging from “Harry and the Hendersons” to “*batteries not included” to even “D.A.R.Y.L.” It’s hard to tell if director Lowery’s intentions were to pay homage to these kind of movies, but I can say what sets itself apart from those is a lack of darkness. “Pete’s Dragon” plays itself so safe, that you can very much predict what will happen before the end credits roll. And even then, the samples I just mentioned are FAR more creditable than this one.

This one is certainly harder to recommend simply because it feels more like an outline for a “Pete’s Dragon” reboot and less like an actual fleshed out story. I found myself nearly nodding off at times due to the slow pace and had a hard time trying to keep focus for what was meant to be a simple story. I guess kids might be ok with this movie. And yet after the theatrical experience I had, my thoughts are starting to question that. Midway through the movie, a family actually walked out of the theater as wrapped in their arms was a sleeping kid. Even near the trash cans, a little girl was more fascinated with the garbage instead of the “wonder” on the screen. And she was gone right before the end credits even began. I argue that little kids might be bored or even grow tiresome about midway after how slow and plodding things are. If I walked out on this movie, I wouldn’t have regretted it. But my honest regret about this new “Pete’s Dragon” was not walking out on it.

“Sausage Party:” offensive, filthy and hilarious

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Upon walking out of the theater, there was a strange feeling my mind had. It was almost like my eyes swelled up to the size of Beaker’s from The Muppets. There is no other movie I can think of that left me feeling amazed and shocked at the same time. In many ways, reviewing “Sausage Party” is hard because this is truly a movie that must be seen to be believed. It’s unapologetic, its stereotypical, its dirty to the max, its a cesspool of swears and innuendos, its insane but I enjoyed every minute of it.

The basic gist is that food in a grocery store comes to life every day with the hope of being picked. You see, each product believes that when they are chosen, they are taken to a heaven of their own to enjoy. Right off the bat, you can tell exactly what kind of movie this is. Much like with “South Park” or “The Simpsons Movie,” its a cartoony and dumb concept that holds a sharp and clever commentary. And even if this is an idea that has been done before in dumb (“Foodfight”) and smart places (“The Brave Little Toaster.”)

“Sausage Party” becomes more of a view on religion and beliefs without taking a brutal beating to it. Much like with Monty Python, the comedy on the subject matter is handled well by taking satirical jabs as opposed to stepping out and making mean ramblings. One such example is a Jewish bagel arguing with a Muslim lavash about how different they are. But not by what kind of product they appear as, they argue about different beliefs and the common misconceptions with their religious customs. As the lavash dreams how he wishes to be bathed by 100 bottles of virgin oil, the bagel disagrees with the “pure nature” he proclaims. A little predicable but the delivery makes it worth the laughs.

Seth Rogan plays the lead named Frank, a sausage who gets lost from his cart during a accident. While seeking to be back on the shelf, Frank starts to question not only his purpose, but also the value of why food exists. Even if we know what happens to food, the joke is funnier when we see his reaction to the terrible truth and wonder just how he will coupe with it. As always, Rogan is a lot of fun bring a manic energy while knowing when to be charming and likable.

Kristen Wigg is surprisingly funny voicing Frank’s girlfriend Brenda, a hot dog bun who wishes for…she’s a hot dog bun. What do you think is on her mind? Perhaps interesting is how Wigg’s character is used for a counterpoint as Brenda feels the humans (or “Gods” as they are referred to) are not ones to mess with still having faith in the food’s belief system. Even more startling is Wigg’s raunchy style of comedy is let loose to some welcome and hilarious lines. Coming of off “Ghostbusters,” I felt this movie suited her better to allow more breathing room for her shtick. Her character is more than a one note walking “hot dog in bun” joke. Brenda starts to question if the value of life should truly be questioned while also wondering if morale code should be worth sticking to.

Speaking of which, the best way to describe the movie and its comedy is very much if “The Brave Little Toaster” was directed by John Waters. Just when you think the opportunity to joke about sentient groceries are wearing thin, another joke lurks around the corner unexpectedly. There are moments in “Sausage Party” where on paper is sounds dumb, but then you see the clever side of it once it gets executed. This is notable in a scene when one of the sauasges (Micheal Cera) has an encounter with a druggie who goes on a “bad trip.” Every joke seeks a good opportunity into what kind of life this addict has along with the kind of things that would happen on a drug high. It hits bullseye without missing a single beat.

The only problems I have with “Sausage Party” are surprisingly minor. In this universe, people can’t see the food walk and talk unless are drugged up. This leads to a curious question of how the products look in the eyes of a human being in reality as opposed to the reality of food. This is evident in a gag when two baby carrots try to run and it shows a shot of them running. It then cuts to a shot of the lady seeing two carrots rolling off the counter showing “reality’s perspective.” There were points when I did question what would certain moments look like from reality’s point of view as food runs across floors or mingle with each other. There is one other nitpick and it’s aimed at the final joke in the movie. Instead of ending on a high note, it breaks the fourth wall in a way so bizarre that I questioned if it was ever needed. Even a friend of mine agreed that the scene preceding it would have just been fine to end on. After a climatic and jaw-dropping moment, they try to sneak in one more jab that could have been easily cut out seeing how little it effects the story.

But for what’s worth, “Sausage Party” is worth the recommendation. There are moments that I still can help but snicker over they appear in a movie like this. I enjoyed the jokes, the characters and theological stuff as well. Its that one summer surprise that packs tons of laughs and plenty of creative effort. Now as expected, children are not the target audience for this movie. In fact, I do question if parents will be that dumbfounded to take them to see it despite the marketing clearly saying its R-rated. For those curious fools who think a tyke will sit through it, I wouldn’t even attempt it. I predict that it will be a movie that will keep kids far away from the refrigerator as possible as adults laugh over the absurd nature this movie brings.

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“Suicide Squad” psychotic fun despite messy delivery

maxresdefaultssA few months ago, viewers were given the start of DC Comics’ Cinematic Universe known as Batman vs Superman. It was meant to be the big stepping stone in DC Comics’ foray into feature films but instead divided viewers and fans. Many felt it was the Citizen Kane of superhero movies while others thought the complete opposite. And despite being a financial success worldwide, movie executives wrote it off as a flop thanks to the negative public and critical reception. Fearing another flop on the horizon, “Suicide Squad” was given another look at and supposedly tinkered to avoid another brooding battle with viewers. Do the efforts pay off? No, but you can tell they were trying to make a popcorn flick.

Having not read any of the comics (outside of knowing some the characters), I was worried at first of how put off I would feel. The trailers sold this odd punked-out feature that didn’t match my expectations. But considering the hit list of duds I had to go through this summer, I was still open. Thankfully, Suicide Squad is not bad as I thought it would be. However, it’s far from being a good movie.

Following in the aftermath of Batman vs Superman, an intelligence operative (Viola Davis) offers a team of dangerous criminals for high risk missions. Among the group are elite hit man Deadshot (Will Smith redeeming his career), deranged doctor Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie chewing the scenery), smooth thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, also trying to chew up the scenery), the cannibalistic Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in impressive make up), a litterally hot headed ex-gangster named El Diablo (sympathetically performed by Jay Hernandez) and literal late add-on Katana (coolly performed by  Karen Fukuhara).The team is assembled to stop a supernatural entity trying to destroy a city and that’s basically about it.

I felt a bit ashamed seeing there were parts of the movie I was engaged in. When characters would play off each other, I was actually starting to appreciate our group of anti-heroes. My favorite scene in the whole movie is when they break into a bar and just kick back for a bit. Some of them trade tragic stories while others show their true colors. This reminded me of the Batman TAS episode “Almost Got ‘Im”because it showed there is a side of humanity to these characters. We do get glimpses along the way via flashbacks of Deadshot having parental problems and the relationship troubles of Harley too. In a way, parts of it did remind me of the Saturday morning cartoon and how it balanced between the funny and dark moments.

When it has a joke, it can be funny. When it tries to be serious, it can be hit or miss while delivering a good moment. This is evident in Will Smith’s performance who I honestly didn’t mind that much. I felt like Smith was channeling his old days of blockbusters like Men in Black or Independence Day. He brings this tragic side to the character with the problem of his daughter pushing him to be good. Once in a while, Smith has a funny line or two while still showing essence of a three dimension being.

The same could be said for Margot Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn. Sure, she doesn’t look like the character but she channels the personality really well. There is a funny line Robbie says once in a while and her character does get interesting later on when we see her relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto). Personally, I really liked these group of characters and how strange yet similar they felt. However, with a 2 hour running time, I felt like some got shorthanded. I really wanted to see more of Killer Croc who barley got a line and while Katana is personally my favorite character of the batch, I felt she needed more to do. Ironically, Katana feels like a late addition to the story when she is introduced to us midway in the movie.

One of my concerns was how Jared Leto would live up to playing the Joker. And I admit, I was skeptical of the new look and wasn’t sold on it. And while I’m not a fan of the metal mouth appearance, I do admit Leto gets the personality nailed. Unlike Jessie Esienberg in Batman vs Superman, Leto has an understanding of this character and how he acts. There is a manic presence that doesn’t step on the toes of previous incarnations while doing its own thing. It felt more like a mad caped gangster fueled with punk. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear for very long. Those expecting for the Joker to make a big impact will be disappointed to hear how little of an appearance he makes. I’d go as far to say Leto feels like an extended cameo as opposed to a driving force for the story. If you removed him from the story as a whole, it wouldn’t change anything drastically.

And this is where my main problem with Suicide Squad comes into place. I do admit, its more fun than the brooding vigilante battle we got in March and boasts a good soundtrack. There are points where I feel it started to scale back the mean-spirited tone that was present in trailers or the plot start to meander for a bit. The first act is fine despite setting up our characters in exposition fashion, the second part starts to recover and get fun while the big climax suffers from trying to be a “big finale” that others like Ghostbusters (1984) or Batman (1989) succeeded.

The villain of the movie (without giving too much away) wants to take over humanity just because of the changing days and that everyone doesn’t worship gods anymore. So what? Judging from the trailers, I thought the gang was going to go up against the Joker considering it appears that way (at least that’s what I thought from the advertising). Instead we get an ancient witch that plans to take over humanity by spreading its wicked and evilness across the world. In fact, forget it. Its very much just like the 1984 Ghostbusters but with stuff changed around.

I’m also not a big fan of the editing on this movie. The manner of the flashbacks are abused so much that I wanted to watch the movie and learn these characters. Instead, we spend the first 20 minutes or so hearing a wealth of information that is the equivalency of Wikipeida text. The golden rule of “show, don’t tell” gets easily abused too much here. And there were points when I felt some scenes went missing in spots. One minute Leto’s Joker is taking out a security guard at the prison gates and then it immediately cuts to the Joker’s gang shooting up police guards inside the prison. The manner of pacing is sacrificed so much, that it leads to lack of focus on the plot as we rush to the next action set piece.

Honestly, I was hoping for “Suicide Squad” to finally break the mold and show DC can do more than brooding movies. While I admit there is fun to be had here, the comic company has still a lot to improve upon. Don’t let your story introduce characters. Let your characters introduce themselves. Don’t be afraid to go too bloody or too mean spirited. I was actually hoping this to be as good as “Deadpool,” which was entertaining in how unapologetic it was. “Suicide Squad” suffers from trying to be balance between being a light summer blockbuster film and a cynical anit-hero at the same time. The final result is a mix bag that is still worth seeing. Because honestly, I’d rather be entertained by one of Killer Croc’s one liners than see any more footage of Jesse Eisenberg’s painful performance as Lex Luthor.

“Star Trek Beyond”fueled with action despite some technical flaws

startrekbeyondposterThis crop of summer blockbusters has been played out almost like a baseball game. One movie after another has stood up to the plate and rarely make a home run. The only exceptions have been Disney and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others have been either less successful or barley made a big splash. Let me tell you, this has been a very dull summer with the choices we have been given. But with “Star Trek Beyond” up at bat, is it good enough to get itself a home run? No, but I’d say good enough to third base.

Justin Lin takes the director’s chair while Simon Pegg and Doug Jung helm the script. The tones tend to clash from time to time as one can tell when one style is being injected. Pegg places the usual Trek banter of different worlds and character development when needed. Lin, on the other hand, fuzzes his style more prominently during the action scenes. While these two are obvious to point out, it doesn’t deviate from each other delivering a good entry.

The only downfall is that you got to sit through a lot of mediocre stuff in order to see the best parts. Highlights include an opening meant to be humorous where Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) offers peace to a race of tiny creatures to an explanation over old Spock’s departure from the franchise. The opening scene alone is a good example of how hit and miss the comedy is. Sometimes, it can be good when characters like Spock and McCoy banter while certain corny lines border on eye roll-worthy.

Once you get through the slush, “Beyond” kicks into gear when the Enterprise crew is sent out to save a crew wrecked on a desolate planet. However, the affair turns out to be an ambush as the ship gets attacked by an alien race that acts like a hive of bees. The scene where the Enterprise ship itself getting bombarded is surprisingly well-done. While its not effective like the crash scene in “Star Trek: Generations,” it still packs plenty of punch and intensity as the ships latch on and swarm around the doomed vessel.

Idris Elba plays the new alien villain named Krall who plans to fire back at the Federation with a device that eats away living matter. I admit, I felt practically bored at times seeing how good of an actor Elba is. I was fooled at first thinking this baddie had a one track motivation. But the third act gives us an interesting reveal that immediately has us realize why Krall would want to go after the Federation. It becomes something much deeper matching the villainous Khan, but I do wonder what it would have been like if this reveal came earlier in the film. On the plus side, it’s a great twist that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

However, midway the story sort of meanders. The crew is split up a bit as Spock and McCoy try to survive, Kirk and Chekov wander around for answers and Scotty is teamed with a cool alien inhabitant. While these plot threads don’t stray too much and serve purpose, it makes me wonder if these were developed better to hold more interest. I felt like it was used at times to show off how unique the planet looks and it does look good. But then, we have to cut from “Group Kirk” to “Group McCoy” and remember which party is doing what.

On the bright side, Scotty makes a new friend in the form of Jaylah, a bright white alien played by Sofia Boutella. I loved the personality of this character as she adds on something new to the franchise. The make-up alone is a step above those seen at Comic Con conventions and I like the idea that she has been stuck on this planet long enough to know its dangers very well. Somehow, I’m a sucker for characters like that who are stranded on a desolate place but know how to make it their home. Sort of like Swiss Family Robinson but with lasers. There’s just a cool sense to this character that never outstays her welcome.

While “Star Trek Beyond” seeks to be respectful to the original source, there are a couple of things that sort of bugged me. Like I said, the whole movie builds to a grand finale, but in order to get there, you have to sit through some weak comedy and sluggish pacing in spots. The action scenes, for the most part, do get better as we go along. And yet, I wish the whole “handycam” feel was ditched. This is a cliche that has been kept on for too long as during a big fist fight, we get tons of close-ups and shaky frame movements. Its distracting and takes away from the tension. And as stated earlier, the departure of Leonard Nemoy’s Spock could have been handled better. To the movie’s credit, we do get a nice tribute near the end, but I feel it would have been stronger if the explanation for his absence was either cut out or just handled better.

Never the less, I dug the creature designs, the sets and a spaceship base that has cities on the rims to make it look like a unique utopia. I felt it was nice to see the new Star Trek crew back together and create a fun experience. The first third can be easily forgiven by how better the last two thirds get. As the action scenes keep coming, they get better and better trumping one after another. While “Star Trek Beyond” is not the strongest entry of the batch, its a welcome one that is worth recommending to see in theaters.

New “Ghostbusters” underwhelms with unfunny humor and dull spirits

ghostbusters2016Prior to seeing Paul Feig’s new film, I read an article from the daughter of Harold Ramis. I enjoyed with delight seeing Violet share moments with her father and how much she appreciated the cult phenomenon he created. There were two parts in that piece that got my attention. One where she goes on to say how disappointing it was to see her dad’s likeness not used for “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon. To which Harold replied, “It’s fine. …The cartoon is its own thing.The same way you used to ask if the fans knew I wasn’t really Egon? Well, I’m not. It’s a character. There was a different Superman when I was a kid. Things change. ”

The second part that got my attention was near the end when she mentions the backlash of the new Ghostbusters movie with the principal characters gender swapped. At first she was mad, until the negativity came in. In a response, Violet pleaded to stop using the death of her father as a reason to hate the movie. To which I agree. Because a creator is gone and unable to make his vision, doesn’t give reason to use it as a purpose to hate another’s interpretation. Consider this a public service that just because someone decides to make their version, doesn’t mean it must be shunned. Call this contradicting considering my thoughts of the movie to come later, but if you don’t want to see or bother with this movie, then don’t. But when you criticize and claim you saw something before you have seen it, doesn’t give it the satisfaction it deserves. And while I admit this is not a good movie, its not one to really hate over. Because right now, right across from the laptop I am typing at are two copies of the first movie. One on Blu-ray and the other on DVD. They are on my shelf unharmed and untouched. And even if this new movie tries to erase the continuity of the original, it still exists in the minds of those who love it. Now that I am off my soapbox, let’s break into this.

Even as I type this, I feel really bad for saying that I didn’t find myself enjoying Paul Feig’s take. And personally, there’s a lot of factors to blame here. I could point my finger at Sony for how they tried to make another franchise after losing Spider-Man to Marvel Studios. Its quite clear in the advertising and marketing that they want this to be a big thing. But the problem is that the original 1984 film wasn’t destined to be a huge cultural hit. There was no planned franchise at the time. It was like lightening in a bottle. Once it comes it, it makes a strike on the big screen that can’t be duplicated. They sure tried here, but it falls pale in comparison. Even on its own, I can’t help but pick apart certain plot points and things that really bugged me which I talk about later in.

Another problem I could say is the casting, but even that’s not it. These are all really funny and talented people. I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy in movies like The Heat and she can be really funny. Even thought I wasn’t a fan of Bridesmaids, I admit she was the funniest thing in that movie from her twisted attitude and loud personality. But even here, I felt like she was struggling a bit considering the PG-13 tone this movie is mean to have and the relationships with the characters. The only break out was Kate McKinnon who had this mad scientist personality which was delightful to watch. Kate felt way more animated and seemed like she having way more fun. When Kristen Wigg and Melissa are together, there is more banter than playing off each other. Almost like arguing and that’s in part to what the characters do to each other early on. Nothing said to me, “oh, these two are close friends and I can see them getting along.” The performances were sort of dull and not very interesting. To which I personally blame more the script as opposed to the effort going into it.

The big take away is that the cast and crew really wanted to make a good movie, but it feels like they knew nothing worked because how weak the story was. Basically, it does feel like a rehash of the first movie with similar beats. There are differences here and there to keep it far apart from the original, but nothing stands out. For example, in the first movie, the original crew captures their first ghost and immediately they find the business they created booming greatly. Instead here, once they capture their first ghost, our heroines  get an immediate scolding for no reason. We want to root for these underdogs and see them succeed. That’s what made the first film work, because you felt success was on their side. In this new film, reality intervenes and prevents you from enjoying their success. Now they are being told to keep this supernatural stuff under warps and avoid public panic, when clearly its not even sending a panic. That never made any sense to me.

Another thing that bothered me was the constant use of negative male stereotypes. When watching this new take, I barley remember a point when I recall a male character that actually did some good justice for the girls. In a way, I felt more sorry for them to be surrounded by a cavalcade of jerks, morons and (without giving too much away) delirious fanboys. A prime example is Chris Hemsworth who joins in as their secretary and all he does is just act dumb to them. He doesn’t provide any help and just goes about like a buffoon.  It kept aggravating me because I felt like some better use could have been made out of this character and it didn’t. It was a one note joke that went on for way too long.

Without giving too much away, the villain is certainly the most weakest part of the movie. Neil Casey plays this creepy janitor that plans to bring an end to the world and they try to make it fit into this whole message about bullying. But it doesn’t feel blended in right. I feel its due to how there is no justification for the Ghostbusters crew and how unfairly they get treated. All Neil’s character does is go about and try to motivate the plot, but his moments are so little they could have been cut and replaced with something different. The motivation is not big enough to care for as he mucks his way to the big finale which tries way too hard to please.

The finale in particular tries to be overblown with much effects and spooks, but it goes on for too long. Its like they throw one thing after another just to please viewers of old and new with new monsters and appearances by old faces. However, there is no build up to this big climax. Ghosts come out and start to tear up New York like a giant cookie. Even the choice in ghost designs are uninteresting. In the original, they had these abstract and deformed designs that looked other worldly. In the new version, they feel like floating pedestrians crossed with rejected designs from The Haunted Mansion ride.

This new movie really tries to win fans of the old with Easter eggs and even cameos from characters who were in the original film. But it tries way too hard. Its trapped between trying to do something new for a different generation and appease fans of the old. And a good example are these cameos by the stars from the first film. Some I did find a little cute like Annie Potts and maybe Ernie Hudson. But others suffer either from feeling forced or going against what their original characters represented. One in particular plays this scientists that tries to debunk the girls, but the person who plays him doesn’t fit it. It completely goes against what the original role intended from the first film for someone who believes in paranormal activity.

I’m certain this movie might have it fans and I know really well, this will be an easy movie to hate on. But at the end of day, all these cast and crew members wanted to do was make a good movie. However, a troubled script can’t save the day. I feel really bad for not liking this because I wanted to give this new incarnation a chance. I wanted to walk out of the theater and admit I was wrong about the whole affair. Sadly, that is not that day. Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is so flawed that I found myself being emotionally taken out of the movie a lot. I wanted to accept what was on screen, but nothing clicked. The jokes were unfunny, the effects were not memorable and the overall experience was just dull and boring. I literally sat there in my seat trying to find a good joke throughout the whole affair. In the end, I only laughed three times. So far, this has been a dull crop of summer blockbusters and I keep hoping something will come along to break the dullness. To which I am sad to say “Ghostbusters” didn’t answer the call very well here.

 

P. S. If you are curious about Violet Ramis’ article, click the link below. I really recommend it. It helped me out.

http://splitsider.com/2016/07/on-my-dad-harold-ramis-and-passing-the-ghostbusters-torch-to-a-new-generation-of-fans/

“BFG” disappoints despite good production

maxresdefault (1)I had high hopes going into “The BFG.” It was created by one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg, and looked very promising. I remember reading the novel by Roald Dahl as a kid and thoroughly enjoying it. The idea of a giant roaming around while delivering dreams was a noble concept. As you can imagine, the hype was immerse with each trailer and TV spot that came my way. It looked good, had a unique cast and seemed to stick close to the source. And by the time I finally saw it, I found myself torn. For something that looks good and held such promise, how did I end up feeling so disappointed by the end?

Mark Rylance starts as the title character who snatches an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) after she sees him. The two hit it off like a grandfather and grandchild relationship which is cute at first. The early parts follow the tone close to the book as Sophie learns of the BFG’s world and its dangers. When these two have a conversation, it lingers between exposition and character development heavy as we learn how similar are two leads are. They both live in dark environments and feel like the only bright spot to their lives.

Even the BFG (“Big Friendly Giant”) is interesting himself with a slang vocabulary and secret passion to deliver dreams to sleeping patrons. There’s a hidden tragedy to all seeing how alone he is, despite being surrounded by nine other giants who not as kind as he acts. There is a sense of sadness to the character who is stuck with a disgusting vegetarian diet of snozzcumbers and his house which is full of knick knacks and other trinkets. Even the girl they got to play Sophie is not too bad. Despite having her react with awe most of the time, there is a nice spunk to her attitude that meshes with the big and sublime giant friend.

Sadly, it all goes downhill when the changes to the source material kick in. The mean and cruel giants in Giant Country only come off as feeling threatening instead of frightening. At first, the idea of these big homeless creatures dressed in garbage like rags and rubber tires is a touch creative. But when we see them in action, there’s not much tension or menace. They all come off like big bullies instead of brutal beasts we dare not mess with. The leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) really tries to be villainous, but there’s not much to feel about his threats to the BFG.

And I completely blame that on how much the source material has been watered down. In Dahl’s tale, these giants were brutal and deadly creatures while looking deformed and gruesome. There were talks of how much they like the munching of bones and how each country they went to tasted so differently (“Swedes taste of sweet and sour.”) And that was something I always loved of Roald Dahl’s work. He knew how to balance the dark and light side of his stories without pushing any limits.

In Spielberg’s case, the lightness and fantasy elements are played up way too much. While the design of the dreams and nightmares are interesting, like floating fairy lights breezing about, we spend way too much time on these bright things that it undermines the darker elements. Or at least what is left of the dark stuff. We don’t see the giants on their crusade to eat people (or in some cases, barley gets a mention), there is no feeling of danger or peril at all and even the big climax only happens for a mere 90 seconds. Heck, there’s even a scene when the evil giants tear through the BFG’s home to find Sophie. All the camera does is focus on Sohpie running about while the giants rip up the place and smash stuff in the background. Even the score during this sequence feels more whimsical and less intimidating.

If I had to compare this version of “The BFG” it would be to the “Nutcracker Suite” segment from Disney’s “Fantasia” and Spielberg’s “Hook.” Both are light and look bright, yet there is a problem. In “Hook,” you felt there were risks going on and felt the danger of Neverland. In the world of “The BFG,” if you took out the scenes with the bad giants, you wouldn’t miss much. Without proper antagonists or even a will of darkness, you will just end up with a movie that has pretty lights and an overload of whimsy. I feel bad because I can tell there is effort behind this and there are points when it does adapt the source well enough. But alas, not enough justice was done to make this a pure classic. The right beats are there but nothing felt engaging or unique. I’m sure little kids will enjoy it, but older viewers might be bored very quick with its podding pace.

In a case of “watch this, not that,” I actually recommend the 1989 animated adaptation by Cosgrove Hall. A Roald Dahl adaptation that even Dahl himself applauded over after seeing it. The animation is good for its technical effects,  the designs for the giants are memorable, the stuff it uses from the source is appropriately put to good use and even the synthesizer score is edgy and fun. I’m certain this will be reissued to DVD at some point and when it does, I say give this one a better look. Because at the end of the day, when an animated adaptation is more emotionally engaging than one done by Steven Speilberg, you know something is clearly wrong.

“Finding Dory”worthy sea-quel

finding-dory-trailer-poster-internationalWhen one brings up “Finding Nemo,” most attention turns to the character Dory. A small blue fish, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, who has trouble remembering mostly anything. Instead of an annoying running gag, Dory was an interesting character. The fact she is struggling to think back and maintain her previous thoughts was well written and knew when to be funny. “Nemo” still holds up enough on its own, but was this sequel worth the 13 year wait?

The plot nearly rehashes a good bulk of material from the first movie, but at least it has the advantage to expand on a few things. The first third is mainly comprised of scenes from the first movie as an attempt to remind viewers of previous events. Instead of an angler-fish for example, our heroes get briefly menaced by a giant squid. This is mostly one problem I have with “Finding Dory” as certain moments almost feel like a rehash of the first film. This is the standard trap most movies like “Ghostbuster II” and some of the “Pink Panther” movies where it rehashes some material instead of giving new stuff.

Thankfully, that is not the case here. The final 2/3rds focus on the new environment our characters go to and certainly a lot more exploring on Dory’s character. Instead of a comedic sidekick, we dive into the backstory of this odd fish and how she was separated from her own parents. The search for her folks moves on as it leads them to an aquarium that acts as a hospital for Marine animals. This opens the door to see new creatures and view the world of what a zoo would be like from the eyes of an animal. It leads the way for some clever gags like a “touch pool” and incredible visuals like a massive tank full of different fish.

finding-dory-trailer-whale-sharkFans of the first movie will be happy to hear Dory is great as ever. Ellen’s innocent yet playful personality leads to some funny moments, but even some heartfelt ones. As we progress on the search for Dory’s parents, the story allows this character to be explored more in different ways. Certain moments from “Finding Nemo” are called back, but feel expanded on (the line “I remember it…because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you, I’m home” has more deeper meaning than before.) We get treated to key flashbacks that act like visual clues to the viewer before the final revelation comes into play. Both act as a prequel that is satisfying and useful to expand into Dory’s origin.

Again, much of the movie teeters on feeling recycled but instead does it in a fresh manner. Instead of the “Tank Gang,” we get a couple of Marine animals waiting to be set back into the ocean or enjoy life. Highlights include a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) who self-doubts himself, a whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) who was a childhood friend and even a couple of sea-lions that are territorial like the pelicans and seagulls from the first movie. Each has their own quirk and personality that helps them stand out and become much useful later on.

gallery_findingdory_7_c7217635Perhaps the soul character who will be talk of the town is Ed O’Neill as Hank, a grouchy octopus that is interested in breaking out to another aquarium for selfish comfort than return to the ocean. The minute this suction cup inhabited, CGI creation first appeared, it had me in stitches. Hank is, without a doubt, one of Pixar’s best characters since Sadness or Bing Bong from “Inside Out.” Not only do I love the “Grinch”-like personality, but just the way it moves sly and quick around the aquarium. It serves as a bigger challenge for the workers as Hank uses tons of camouflage methods in order to blend in. Truly the animators had a lot of fun and creativity behind the ways Hank could hide or change color. The movement alone is almost reminiscent of a fast paced Chuck Jones creation, but knows when to slow down for a bit.

For most of the summer, there hasn’t been a single movie I’ve seen that makes me really say “this is what a summer movie should be.” “Finding Dory” comes close to being this level if it weren’t for a few things. I wish the “rehashed” bits in the first third were better done and there is one small dark turn that feels almost unnecessary. Though this “small dark turn” only lasts for a few before turning into an upbeat moment, it still has decent build up. I do admire the twists and obstacles that get thrown out as we start to wonder just how Dory will be able to achieve that happy ending.

Even more, “Dory” is probably the most unique in the Pixar batch for being a movie less about discovering family and more on learning to live with disability. We met these characters who have personal problems and some with internal flaws that can’t be dealt with easily. As Dory struggles to overcome her memory problems, we want to see her succeed instead of laughing at her pity. Its rare for a movie to help coupe with those who have problems like this to tell them its ok to live with these things. And honestly, I’m good with that.

PIPER

However, parents be warned. Some parts of “Finding Dory” might be a tad intense for younger viewers. From a thrilling squid chase to (again) a certain dark moment near the end, this has material that might upset some kids. While its nothing traumatizing or brutal (like say “Good Dinosaur”), it more feels like the same level of intensity as the first movie. If your kids saw “Finding Nemo” and was ok with the peril, they should be fine then. On the bright side, we do get a cute short call “Piper” that might be able to calm some sensitive viewers down. In connecting with the main theme of the movie, we get treated to a tiny bird who is trying to overcome a big obstacle. In a nutshell, the animation was stylish yet fluffed enough to not deter from the Pixar style. And when a heartwarming short and a good movie go hand in hand, you know your ticket price was worth it in the end.