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“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.

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at the “Jurassic Park” Franchise – Part II

MV5BMTYxNjY1NjE2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzE0MDc4._V1_SX640_SY720_So now we come to the sequels. First off, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was actually based on a sequel Michael Crichton wrote but bears some heavy differences. I remember seeing this movie and hyped for it after seeing the teaser in a theater. I loved the T. Rex and the park so I had high hopes. One night, it was paired at the local Tri Town Drive-In Theater (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore) along with Warriors of Virtue. Say what you will about both, the fact that I saw movies outdoors from my parent’s car is good enough nostalgia.

I was lucky to stay awake for both films. I remember being ok with Warriors but really excited for Lost World. And when the second film finally started, I was hooked from the opening scene after than came eye candy. However, once we drove away as the end credits rolled, I just kept thinking to myself about the dinosaurs in the movie rather than if I enjoyed it or not.

It wasn’t till years later when I was 11 or 12 that I would finally get the first two movies on DVD, as it coincided with the third film. I always made this tradition to watch Lost World on Memorial Day and Jurassic Park on its release day in June as a way to commence summer vacation. I kept doing this until the idea of getting up early in the morning to pop in a movie got old and tiring. But I still remember watching Lost World and admiring the scope while appreciating the action scenes. However, something kept me from saying it was better than the first movie and I didn’t know why.

When I was in high school, I finally got around to reading the original Michael Crichton novels both movies were based on and surprised at the huge differences. While I have nothing against Crichton and will admit he is a unique writer, the only drawback was how the science elements were described like a biology textbook. It seems like in my view he didn’t want too much suspension of disbelief and kept adding explanation after explanation to patch up plot holes.

After examining both, I admitted to appreciating the film adaption of Jurassic Park over its novel for various reasons. The biggest being how Hammond’s character is made out to be a greedy jerk and not the kind man that just wants to create something unique and grand. The Lost World, on the other hand, I found more interesting in its novel than I did with its film. There were certain ideas and aspects I find more unique than what as attempted in the movie and wished it was closer to the source.

With the advent of the Internet, I would later discover just how much hate this sequel gets dumped on. Left and right, there would be a mixed opinion or someone slashing into it. It wasn’t like riding on the bus and talking about it while giving a sigh that the same person appreciates what you like. This was all over the world. So, I decided to re-watch the blockbuster I still had a heart for and see how well it held up. I can confirm that its nowhere near as good as the first but I still can’t find the fire to say its a bad movie like everyone else. However, what I can admit is that after watching it again, my feelings towards Lost World is leaning towards between average and mediocre.

Z3The whole story revolves around another island where Hammond (Richard Attenborough returning for a cameo) bred the dinosaurs free from human interference. Dubbed “Site B,” he hopes to show the good value of preserving the island compared to his greedy nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) who wants to exploit the site for his company’s profit. It’s here we get a bizarre environmental message that doesn’t feel fleshed out. At first, the idea of observing the dinosaurs on the island seems like a good solution but it gets thrown out the window when Ludlow’s group steps foot on the island to capture the prehistoric beasts for a zoo in San Diego.

It already sounds like a promising idea but then we get characters that just feel uninteresting or feel out of place. Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcom and they do something I find weird with his character. Instead of the awkward theorist, they try to make the character some form of action hero and it doesn’t work. I think Jeff is better when he is doing characters with big egos like in David Chronerberg’s The Fly or just basic comedy. Here, he has to sprout one liners and perform these stunts we would see better suited in a Die Hard entry. I can understand the difficulty of jumping through a building or performing in a chase scene, but it feels like Goldblum is having a hard time trying to be the next Bruce Willis than do his own thing. Once in a while, there is a funny line while other times it feels phoned in.

The rest of the characters I could barley remember. Vince Vaughn is in there somewhere, Pete Postlethwaite is very entertaining as a hunter with a character arch that doesn’t pay off as much and everyone else I barley can recall that much. Its a shame because I like the idea and even the novel spent a great deal going over the technical aspects and flaws of Site B. Here, its just a standard jungle adventure film.

JPTLWRexRoarSanDiegoThe positives that hold me back from being mad is the technical work and the action scenes. When watching the scene with the T. Rex couple attacking the van, I flashed back to when I first saw it at the drive-in and thinking how menacing it was seeing two rexes for the price of one. It’s a well shot movie seeing Steven Spielberg returned to the director’s chair but there are moments when he feels uncertain about the direction of the story. One good example is the ending. Originally from what I heard, a Pterodactyl attack at a helicopter was to occur but instead changed to have a T. Rex running down the streets of San Diego. Even today, I will admit its still an epic ending but it feels off with the jungle feel of the movie.

The dinosaurs are back but there isn’t much awe to them. They act like monsters running about and feel more of a danger than a wonder. Every time I think of this movie, I feel it focuses on the predators more than the herbivores. Most of the movie is shot at night and there are these green jungle color palettes throughout the movie that rob the original’s light blockbuster affair. There are times it feels like a 1990s remake of the famed silent film The Lost World where explorers visit a new island, see dinosaurs and bring one back for civilization but runs amok. I feel Spielberg was trying to create an action film along the lines of that but still trying to keep the darker material of the novel. It was a noble attempt but I can’t say its the worst. Bottom line, its a guilty pleasure.

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterJurassic Park III is the one I don’t have too much to say one because I never saw it in theaters. So my nostalgic view is from when I got the DVD as a Christmas gift. Keep in mind, 2001 was not a good year for blockbusters and it shows from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. But, it was our first DVD player and it was nice to have a few new movies about for our first foray into digital home video.

As for JP III itself, there’s aspects of it that just don’t work for me. I’m glad they got Sam Neil back to repirse his role as Alan Grant but his excuse to return to the island doesn’t work. He’s tricked into helping a divorced couple find their lost son who apparently found himself on the island after a parasailing incident. William H. Macy and Tea Loni play the separated parents and their chemistry didn’t gel for me. They just argue most of the time and show little romance between the two. I understand they are supposed to be divorced but you could at least do something interesting with it.

It also doesn’t help they are stuck on Site B which frustrates Alan seeing he’s never been there. Even more, they load more dinosaurs along with a Spinosaurus to replace the T. Rex (literally) and raptor with feathers on his head. Compared to the previous movies, nothing really stood out to me. It was the same old thing as these creatures get treated like something out of a B movie and less like animals acting on instinct.
While it has a shorter running time, Jurassic Park III just doesn’t have a reason to exist and its obvious throughout the whole movie. But I can’t say its a complete lost. Once in a while, there can be a cool scene like with the Pteranodon cage but others just build without pay off like the first Spinosarus chase. It tries to be heavy and big but comes off as stale and anti-climatic by the end. I remember thinking how much they couldn’t end this series with an entry like this coming off as lazy than passable.

JP-WhenDinosaursRuledAs I write this, the new Jurassic World is already out and I’m sure people have a lot to say about it. If some say it will save the franchise or be another dumb entry, I’m still hyped to take another venture into the park. At the moment, I would like to give out my thoughts on what I expect from this entry considering how dear this franchise is to me. I hope we get dinosaurs that are awesome but awe-inspiring at the same time. Characters that are fun and have a great amount of development packed into them. And of course, chaos. Pure crazy chaos. If it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll still appreciate the experience. Because that’s what going to the movies is all about. Being with a great audience and sharing what you remember the most. I think that is what I take away from this franchise the most. As skippable as the sequels are (with the exception of Lost World being ok in my books), I will never forget my first venture to the park and how grand of a roller coast ride it was remembering a simple time in my childhood when dinosaurs really ruled the world…

“Guardians” saves summer!

On August 1, 1986, Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck, one of the first Marvel Comic adaptations  to ever hit the big screen. In my opinion, its a campy, goofy B-movie that has flaws but doesn’t take itself seriously with the idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck stuck on Earth. Unfortunately, audiences were split over to take this movie seriously or not at all while critics were far harsh with the film.  Why do I bring this movie up you ask? Again, this was released on AUGUST 1ST and was the first Marvel Comic “comedy” of its time. For a good bulk of the 1990s, we mostly got DC Comic adaptations while Marvel stayed in the shadows till Blade and X-Men showed how comic adaptations can be fun but realistic at the same time with thought provoking messages of finding acceptance and good amounts of action.

"We are the Guardians of the freakin' Galaxy"

“We are the Guardians of the freakin’ Galaxy”

Skip to August 1, 2014 to the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy and it happens to the second attempt Marvel takes a crazy idea like Howard the Duck and make it work. When you think about it, Marvel has given us a long line of films that are dark yet have this uplifting vibe to them from Iron Man to Captain America. While comic book in tone, these movies were serious with its material while taking basic concepts and making them fun and engaging. Guardians is so absurd, so out of this world and strange on paper that it feels like it might turn one off. Yet, everything about it works well. Surprisingly, this is by far the most uplifting, funniest and by far the best one of the batch.

Chirs Pratt plays Star Lord (or Peter Quinn if you want his real name), who was a  human abducted as a kid by aliens and now grows into a bandit of the galaxy that has a bounty so big, it makes Bobba Fett look shallow in comparison. Chris’s take on the character is close to the heroic whim of the Rocketeer meets the space hero serials of the 1950’s but if he was a playboy and a lovable jerk. What keeps Star Lord from being unlikable is his child-like quality with roaming about the universe while still having a smug attitude. He even has a Walkman from the 1980’s and it still works interestingly. But yet, he is just the basic every man trying to make a quick buck with a strange relic that he doesn’t even know if its dangerous or mostly harmless. If he walked into the Cantina bar from Star Wars, I’m sure him and Han Solo would hit it off big.

Also in the ragtag group is Bradley Cooper’s stealing the show as a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket. He may have a mouth that matches the personality of Joe Pesci but carries weapons so huge that complement his furious attitude more than his size. This critter is less about wisecracks and more about blowing stuff up and keeping his personal needs in play. This is a really funny character and I’m sure there will be a growing fan base out there quoting his cynical but humorous quips as well as wishing there was a spin-off made. It also helps that he is more smart when it comes to fabricating things from weapons to even hijacking security systems. In short, Rocket is one creature you don’t want to mess with.

Aiding the fierce Rocket is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant tree like humanoid that grow to any size and even grown back a limb. The humor from this character shines a lot from his visual actions and the fact his vocabulary is only limited to saying “I am Groot” which acts as a form of language that only Rocket can understand. While technically the Zoidberg of the group, Groot gets a lot of memorable moments being a giant that can be destructive but also innocent and kind at the same time.

Dave Batista shines as Drax the Destroyer who looks and talks like a major brute but yet takes things way too literally for granite. Dave manages to make the character his and even go as far to take his own wrestling moves into the action scenes. Again, the quirk that shines the most from Drax is how his species don’t understand metaphors well and even have a poor understanding of knowing when to joke around or even know how to describe sympathetic feelings. His personality matches Strax the Sontaron from Doctor Who so well that it makes me wonder what a barfight between the two would be like.

Lastly is Zoe Saldana donning the green skinned Gamora who is one sleek assassin that questions the amount of brains in the leader of the group and everyone else. With a bad attitude and sometimes one step ahead, she can have a heart too when it comes to trying to being righteous and is not cold hearten as you think. She can be fun to watch when the sleek killer plays off of Star Lord’s devilish personality but even she knows when to show she has a heart.

The reason these guys are all together is because they are after an object Star Lord obtains early on that again could either destroy the universe or maybe be a cheap antique. One or another is after each other because of prejudice or one has a higher bounty quality and it honestly works. The first half of Guardians feels a bit slow but what holds it together is the way these people work off each other. They are schemers and pull heists but yet somehow you can see them working together for something like trying to save the world while other characters feel this is the last thing they would expect from them. I’m saying little about the villains as well as the other characters as it would ruin a lot of expectations. I admit, I was confused as to who the real antagonist was but when they got to reveal the true nature of the orb, it all made sense to who was in it to make a profit and who wanted to harness it to rule the universe. By midpoint, everything clicks and we know our good guys from our bad guys.

For me, I never read the comics themselves or see any cartoons with their appearance in them. But this movie is really a solid introduction. Again, it drags in the first half but I feel its because viewers have no idea who or what this universe is like. So that is understandable and by midway, we begin to relax and enjoy the bickering between Drax and Rocket while knowing how this alien universe works. I must highly complement director James Gunn’s decision to use practical sets, effects and make up while knowing when to use CGI for characters like Groot or Rocket. This gives the environment of Guardians a more realistic feel and not video gamey like Avatar or the new Star Trek films where CGI sets are the norm. Its a breath of fresh air to see a movie use more practical work for things like blue skinned aliens and even studios sets to look like a desert planet. I had a great time looking at these places and even feel robbed wishing these existed despite some feeling desolate and in ruins.

But even looking pass the special effects and story, what holds this move together are the Guardians themselves. These are average joe’s from their own worlds who you don’t expect to see form a team but yet they all have something in common. As Star Lord puts it, “I see losers…folks who have lost stuff. Our homes, our families.” And is with this, they have a reason to save the galaxy from this huge threat. They have had a hard time and this is their chance to at least do good for someone even if they had the worst of it. Even during the climax, I noticed none of them backed down when it came to a point they knew an action they would do would have little chance of survival.  They put their own life on the line just to save a world full of people and I find that is a rare trait in today’s film characters who would go far to take risks like this.

And unlike films that have multiple endings, when you think its going to end and it doesn’t, you are glad to see it keeps going. Not once did I feel Guardians dragged on for too long or even wish it to end sooner. It knew when to expand and conclude at the right spots. Its a very uplifting and humorous movie that I do hope many get the chance to see. It has something for everyone from great special effects to really great writing. August is normally the dead spot for summer blockbusters but I feel its appropriate for Guardians to end this dead and desolate summer season with a bang so big you feel satisfied. And…remember what I said about Howard being the first Marvel comedy. Want to really know why I bring it up? Stick around after the end credits of Guardians and you’ll see why. Because I do feel some things can come full circle. Regardless, Guardians is the best fun I’ve had at the summer blockbusters season and I’m sure to pre-order my ticket for its squeal way in advanced.