Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2018
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo


Plot: The origin story of Han Solo, the handsome scoundrel in Star Wars, who began as a thief for an underworld boss before becoming a pilot and marauder for a gangster.


Review: The question on everyone's minds before Solo was released was: is this film necessary? Most would say no, since the great Han Solo got a good introduction in A New Hope, and his past isn't really an interesting story that needs its own movie. And yet, here it is.

Truth is, Solo isn't a bad movie at all. In fact, it's quite fun actually. Director Ron Howard, taking over from the fired Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who get credits for executive producers), keeps the film moving at a steady pace and sets up a handful of cool action sequences, the best being the train hijack in the first half. The script and dialogue is also mostly fun, save for a few exchanges involving Qi'ra and Dryden Voss that sound either too dull or serious.

In this story, Han Solo is portrayed as an idealistic kid who simply wants to survive and return home to his girl, only it isn't so simple when he discovers where she's been when he was away. Alden Ehrenreich makes Solo a likable hero much like Harrison Ford was back in the day, though he tries not to imitate him a bit too obviously. You won't see Ford's mannerisms in him, until maybe the final scene. Donald Glover fares slightly better as Lando Calrissian, putting his own take on the man and inserting Billy Dee Williams' performance into it as well. Woody Harrelson is also solid as Tobias Beckett, the man Solo hooks up with for a job. Emilia Clarke is alright as Qi'ra, but doesn't quite have chemistry with Ehrenreich as a love interest. Paul Bettany is rather weak as main villain Dryden Voss, being much too polite and not intimidating.

My favorite thing about Solo would have to be Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo, as he hasn't changed at all in any Star Wars movie, save for who plays him here of course. Here's where we discover how he and Han first meet, and it's quite hilarious. Chewbacca is always fun to watch, and he never disappoints.

The film could use better lighting though, as many of the action sequences take place in darkness or dim lighting. And despite the fact that it's fun, Solo really adds little to the Star Wars universe. Despite Howard's best efforts, it won't be as memorable as the other films that have come before it.

All in all, Solo is a fun popcorn film, and not much more than that. (7/10) 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Deadpool 2

Year: 2018
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, TJ Miller, Shioli Kutsuna, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Stefan Kapicic, Eddie Marsan


Plot: Deadpool attempts to protect a young but dangerous mutant boy from Cable, a time travelling cyborg who has an axe to grind with the kid.


Review: With the huge success of the first Deadpool (becoming the second highest grossing R rated film in history), a sequel was inevitable. But with the exit of director Tim Miller, can this sequel outdo the original?

Well, John Wick co-director David Leitch gives it his best shot, and I gotta say, it was almost as good as the first. But to be honest, it isn't really his fault. Ryan Reynolds, star and co-writer, may have gone a bit overboard in throwing the humor around this time. Yes, you will get plenty of R rated jokes, shots at pop culture and the like. I actually dug Deadpool's jabs at the DC Universe, and even the Avengers (including a poke at Thanos haha). But there were a handful of times when Reynolds could have pulled back a bit and let some of the dramatic scenes do its work.

As far as action sequences go, Reynolds, Leitch and company got it well covered. There's a brutal one on one fight between Deadpool and Cable during a prison riot, followed by an armored truck chase sequence (arguably the best part of the whole film) and finally a group fight in the third act which allows Deadpool's X-Men buddies Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio to get in on the action. Leitch knows what works and what doesn't, and all the sequences look incredible, so hats off to him.

While Reynolds is still the main man and still capable of making the audience laugh and root for him, it is Josh Brolin's Cable that nearly steals the show from him. Brolin, fresh off of playing Thanos in Infinity War, keeps Cable straight faced from start to finish and is every bit the badass he ought to be. I absolutely welcome the notion of seeing him in more Deadpool sequels to come. Zazie Beetz is the perfect foil for Deadpool as Domino, the lady with mutant luck power, who is just as lethal as he is, and able to get herself out of danger thanks to her ability. Oh, and if you're wondering about X-Force, the team Deadpool assembles in the film as seen in the trailers, well don't get your hopes up. That's all I'll say about that.

All in all, Deadpool 2 is a fun ride despite a few drawbacks caused by a slight overabundance of comedy and maybe the wasted X-Force potential. As usual, check out the post credit scenes. (7.5/10) 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Year: 2018
Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Dave Bautista, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin


Plot: The Avengers, the Guardians Of The Galaxy and Wakanda's finest join forces to stop Thanos, who is on a quest to collect all six Infinity Stones which will allow him to destroy half the universe.


Review: Ten years and eighteen films have all boiled down to this: a movie with an all star cast and nearly every superhero in the MCU involved. To call this an epic would be an understatement. Indeed, Avengers: Infinity War is the epic of epics.

So how does one consolidate all these heroes in one movie and make sure everyone gets their time to shine? Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, working again with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, divide the story into separate arcs, with each arc containing a certain number of heroes. All these arcs then converge into one finale, and I have to say, the Russos make it pretty seamless as they move from one arc to another, and because the action is ever present and the story keeps moving along, there is never a dull moment, not one. The 150 minute running time is barely felt, honestly.

But what of the heroes? Will some of them perish? Well, sadly yes. But it is to be expected, since this is a universal level threat, and certain deaths must take place. Thanos, the big baddie, and his children, the Black Order, do a tremendous amount of damage that poor Loki would be envious of. The good news is that the Russos make those deaths mean something, a fact sorely missing from Thor Ragnarok. Another good thing about this film is Thor's sudden penchant for humor kept to a bare minimum (thank you Russos).

Action wise, there is plenty, as mentioned. But unlike say, Michael Bay's last Transformers film, the CGI doesn't overwhelm the senses. Every sequence is fast paced yet clearly shot, even scenes of mass destruction look excellent. The Russos needed to make this film outdo every Marvel film that has come before it and to that end, they have succeeded.

The entire cast is on point, with some of them having more screen time than the rest. I can say that Chris Hemsworth's Thor, Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and Zoe Saldana's Gamora have more time than the others, with Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange, Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany's Vision and Chris Pratt's Star-Lord coming in a close second. Chris Evans wins the best entrance award as Steve Rogers (I so wanted to mark out in that moment), but the show stealer would have to be Josh Brolin as Thanos. Thanos is basically someone who wants to solve the problem of overpopulation, but does not care about the value of life, hence the "destruction of the universe" quest. He isn't just a formidable opponent, he actually makes good arguments for his case. Brolin successfully rises above his CGI/motion capture character and gives a performance to be proud of. Oh, there were also a few cameos to behold, some unexpected, and some unwanted (a certain girlfriend of a certain billionaire comes to mind).

Are there any downsides? Well, sorta. A few heroes do get minimal screen time, I won't mention who. Other than that, I honestly can't think of any.

Needless to say, if you've been following the MCU all these years, you'd be crazy not to watch this. It's Marvel's version of Lord Of The Rings, and just like that franchise, there's more to come, as this isn't simply the end of all things, it's also a new beginning. Highly recommended. (9.5/10) 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tomb Raider

Year: 2018
Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost


Plot: When Lara Croft discovers clues about her father's disappearance seven years ago, she goes on a dangerous expedition that pits her against a secret order who seek to unearth a mystical corpse with lethal powers.


Review: This reboot of Tomb Raider is itself based on the reboot of the video game in 2013, so those of you who know the game would find this very familiar.

In this film, Lara Croft isn't the badass Angelina Jolie made her out to be in the previous two movies. Here, she is a bike courier struggling to make ends meet, having left her inheritance behind after her father Richard disappeared seven years ago. When her father's associate reaches out to her and persuades her to claim her inheritance, she subsequently finds clues on her father's last expedition, leading her to believe he may still be alive. With the help of drunken sailor Lu Ren, she sets off to Yamatai island in Japan, only to run into trouble, in the form of the Order of Trinity, seeking to dig up a tomb her father is trying to keep away from the world.

On a whole, Tomb Raider borrows a lot of cues from the Indiana Jones films, especially Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. But thanks to the firm direction of Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, it works mostly. Uthaug spends a good amount of time developing Lara's character, a tough young lady who faces a lot of adversity but is never afraid. Speaking of Lara, Alicia Vikander throws in a solid performance and makes her a likable and strong heroine, yet one who is vulnerable at times, unlike the over the top version Jolie was back then.

Uthaug also sets up a handful of action sequences, and while many of them are just so-so, the standout one would be Lara trying to escape a rundown airplane stuck on a waterfall. The sequence where Lara and Lu Ren are on a boat being capsized by strong waves comes a close second.

As for the supporting cast, they're a mixed bag. Dominic West is believable enough as Lara's dad, and while Daniel Wu does a good enough job as Lu Ren, he is little more than Lara's sidekick here. Walton Goggins seems a bit disinterested as Vogel, the film's villain, throwing in a rather standard performance. Kristin Scott Thomas is wasted in the role of Ana, Richard's associate, though I suspect she will show up in the sequel if there is one. Nick Frost nails his minor role as a pawnshop owner though, using his comedic skills well.

Overall, since I can hardly remember the first two Tomb Raider films, I'd say this reboot is quite entertaining. Judging by the way it ended, there's plenty of room for a sequel. Hopefully the next round will be somewhat less derivative of Indy's exploits. (7/10) 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rampage

Year: 2018
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Demetrius Grosse


Plot: A space station carrying out top secret experiments is destroyed, causing a meteor shower that sends three canisters containing lethal pathogens to Earth. The pathogens subsequently infects a gorilla, a wolf and a crocodile, increasing their size and aggressiveness. It's up to the gorilla's handler, a disgraced scientist and a government agent to stop them from destroying Chicago.


Review: I vaguely remember the video game of the same name that Rampage is based on, where players get to destroy buildings using the giant animals. Quite fun. That aside, Rampage is every bit the summer popcorn movie it's being marketed as, though not without its flaws.

These days, when you put Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in a movie, you know it has blockbuster written all over it. Johnson certainly has earned the right to be the most bankable star in Hollywood, with action film Skyscraper coming out later this year and Hobbs & Shaw coming next year. From his time in WWE, he has been a very likable guy and has no problem at all making the transition to movies, and he does seem like he's playing the same guy every time. Here, he's Davis, a former Special Forces soldier turned primatologist, who is best friends with an albino gorilla named George.

When a wolf, a huge ass crocodile and George get infected by the pathogens and turn into rampaging monsters, Davis teams up with Dr Kate Caldwell, who used to work for the company that made the pathogens, and Russell, a shady government agent with a few tricks up his sleeve. With a gorilla and a crocodile on the loose, it's like watching King Kong and Godzilla all over again. But is it fun? Yes it is.

Director Brad Peyton, who directed Johnson in San Andreas and Journey 2 The Mysterious Island, certainly knows how to destroy stuff. Here, he's a lot like Michael Bay, except he doesn't go overboard or throw in unfunny humor. While there is a lot of destruction to behold here, it only really kicks in during the second half, when the beasts arrive in Chicago and start crushing everything. There is a cool sequence featuring the giant wolf and a group of private military contractors going at it in a forest in the first half though.

As mentioned, Johnson is a likable guy and he brings that to the table as Davis. Naomie Harris plays the staple female brainy role as Caldwell, who has her own axe to grind with her former employers. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is basically Negan in a suit, but it works as his Russell character is just the guy Davis needs when the moment requires it. Convenient? Maybe. But it's perfect for him. Malin Akerman is suitable enough as Caldwell's greedy employer, with Jake Lacy equally fitting as her dimwit brother and the movie's defacto clown.

The CGI look good for the most part. But Rampage does suffer occasionally from a lack of focus when Peyton slows the film down so that Davis and Caldwell can exchange their sad pasts, or when the FBI show up to investigate Akerman's company, which feel really extraneous.

Overall, Rampage is a fun popcorn summer movie which ought to keep you entertained before Infinity War arrives. (7/10) 

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