Wonder Woman (Review)

Wonder Woman (Review)

Though it stumbles at the start, Wonder Woman‘s mature handling of the period and interesting characters help propel the film to heights never before reached within the DC Extended Universe.

The beginning of the film is (arguably) its weakest moment.  It has the unenviable job of establishing this Greek fantasy setting of Themyscira, kingdom of the warrior women known as Amazons.  It has to introduce a different side to a universe that we’ve seen before in previous films and make it understandable to the audience.  Unfortunately, while the movie succeeds in doing all of this, it crunches it all down into the time allotted for the prologue, leaving the pacing of the prologue something to be desired.  There was so much information crammed into the first half hour that I was left without a real connection with any of the other characters.

Ironically, for me, it was when they finally left the bright and colorful island and entered the dreary and dark real world that the movie started to pick up for me (wonderful use of color there; don’t think I didn’t notice).  The World War I setting is unique and absolutely works for the story they wish to tell.  I have to tip my hat to the film for handling the subject matter with such deft precision.  How do you set a superhero movie in probably the darkest time in human history?  By never shying away from the dark but offering us the light that may be too hard to see.  Which is what Wonder Woman is here for.

At her heart, it’s not her Lasso of Truth, or her demigod status that makes her stand apart from the other superheroes.  It’s her ability to feel the pain and suffering of other people around her and to channel that pain into righteous fury.  She doesn’t care for the bullets aimed at her, all she cares about is destroying the ones causing suffering.  Which is what a hero is supposed to do.

The theme also works to explain the dynamic between the two leads.  Gal Gadot as Diana has an unshakable faith that mankind is a beautiful and good race while Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, a Captain who has been fighting the war for a long while, isn’t so sure.  It all fits beautifully together to the point where a wonderful thing happened, the first time in a DCEU film: I actually cared about the characters on screen.

Some of the lines of dialogue are a bit too on the nose but I didn’t care because I cared about the characters.  Some of the lines are also a bit cliche but I didn’t care because I cared about the characters.  The CGI might have been distracting but I honest to god didn’t even notice them because I cared about the characters.  They might have even used that freezeframe slowmotion thing a bit too much during the action scenes but I didn’t care because I cared about the characters.

You can have the biggest budget in the world, the greatest actors in the world and the greatest director and everthing, but none of that matters if the audience doesn’t care what happens to the characters on screen.  And by god, I did care.  I was absolutely invested.  I was so invested, I nearly cried at the end.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Review)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Review)

The soundtrack to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are probably the reason I’ll end up buying a Vinyl player.

Guardians of the Galaxy was definitely one of the better movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2 series of films.  It was unique, it was funny, the characters were instantly likable and even if the plot served more to add context to the MCU’s overarching story and it suffered from the MCU’s patented boring villain, it was still engaging enough to be memorable.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 delivers on the comedy.  It’s the same characters that we’ve come to know and love doing what they do best: save the galaxy while having to deal with each other.  This time around, there’s a bigger emphasis on them actually working together as a team.  With this comes the realization that this time around, the focus is on the relationships between the characters than them saving the galaxy.

Peter Quill finally meets his father, Gamora and her sister Nebula have to deal with each other after their plot line was left up in the air in the last movie, Rocket and Groot wind up with Yondu after a series of events, even Drax has moments with Mantis.  Every character has a clearly defined arc and development to the point where I realized that this was what I was supposed to be focusing on, not the overarching plot.

Sure, there’s a galactic threat that needs to be stopped by the Guardians but at the same time, you’re not watching it for that.  In fact, for the most part, I wasn’t waiting to see what happened next, I was sitting there waiting for the turn of events that kicks off the climax.  There’s no sense of rising action, for the most part; of the stakes getting higher and higher.

Having said that, I liked this movie more than the first one because of it’s emphasis on the character’s emotions and their relationships.  In the first movie, they had to learn how to work as a team to finish the mission.  In this movie, they actually have to learn how to live as a family together.  There is actual growth going on and it’s a pleasure to actually see them grow closer through all the trials and tribulations.  Though certain story beats are predictable, some are not and actually took me off guard.  The more we learn about the characters, the more we realize that those moments shouldn’t have surprised you because they were absolutely in character.

It’s a rarity in the MCU where the sequel is just as good and better than the first one.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is just as charming, just as heartfelt and just as funny as its predecessor.  It’s focus on the characters emotions and their relationships is a wonderful way to spice up the series and to make sure it doesn’t grow stale.  As it stands, it is currently one of the best movies of Phase 3, if not the best.

Beauty and the Beast (Review)

Beauty and the Beast (Review)

The live action Cinderella was better.

The 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite animated films ever.  When I heard that Disney was adapting the animated film into a live-action film, as they’ve been doing recently, I was excited but also skeptical.  Previous live-action remakes of classic Disney films have been hit or miss for me.  Maleficent was all kinds of bizarre though it had it’s moments and the same could be said about Cinderella.  So I went in expecting the film to be average at best.

I was wrong.  All this film did was appreciate how much of a masterpiece the original animated film was, which is saying something since this film is pretty much a shot for shot remake of that one.

Something positive first.  Many of the casting choices were very enjoyable.  Kevin Kline as Maurice brings something unique to the movie.  While eccentric, there’s a sensitivity to him as well as a hidden sorrow that makes him a sympathetic and intriguing character.  Though his French (?) accent is…questionable, Ewan McGregor really shines as Lumiere, the charismatic candlestick.  In fact, my favorite characters in the film were all the side characters, who performed their roles splendidly, if underused.

Unfortunately, this is not enough to save the film from it’s main problem: it’s adherence to the original animated film.  Everything that happens in the film happens because it happened in the animated film to the point that when they do change something, it no longer makes any sense as a whole.  For instance, when Belle is singing about how she wants more in life, she’s sings the final part on a wide open hill behind her house.  In the film, her house is within the town limits, so when she goes to the wide open hill, it’s literally looks like it’s 5 miles away from her home.

It got to the point where I honestly felt like I was just watching the original animated movie all over again.  I didn’t pay money for a theater ticket just to watch a movie I own on blu-ray at home.  For all it’s faults, at least Cinderella actually did something different with the film adaptation.

Speaking of, they even pulled the same stunt they did with Cinderella in a way.  Whereas in Cinderella, the milked the dress shot for all it’s worth, in Beauty and the Beast, they milk the songs for all their worth to the point where I actually think they slowed down the beats of the song to really get their money’s worth and left me getting bored.  Sure it’s the songs that I love but they’re sung so poorly that I just didn’t care.  Plus, it didn’t help that the first song that Emma Watson sings was just so auto-tuned that I couldn’t not hear it throughout.  And I knew that they were only singing/miming the songs because that’s what was in the original.

Which is a shame, because when the film deviates from the source material, it starts to become interesting.  I will say that the brand new song, “Evermore” is by far the best and most heartwrenching song in the film.  They added a small plotline talking about Belle and the Beast’s parents that I hoped would go somewhere.  A shared experience is a great way to get two people to understand each other.  Alas, it goes nowhere because they need to get to the dress (which reminded me of a plastic Barbie doll dress) and the dance.

I really wanted something new and different with this film.  A different take on the classic story that I love.  What I got was a shot-for-shot remake of the classic story that just left me sad.  None of the scenes had any impact on me because I had seen it done better before in the original.  I wasn’t singing along to any of the songs because they were all done better in the original.  I know I should try to judge a film on it’s own merits, but it’s so hard to do so when this film relies so hard on nostalgia from the original.  I know I’m in the minority (if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed) and if you think you’ll enjoy this film, then go ahead and watch it.  I hope you do enjoy it more than I did.

The Fate of the Furious (Review)

The Fate of the Furious (Review)

Binge watch The Fast and the Furious franchise and take a shot every time someone mentions “family.”

I haven’t been keeping up with the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.  The last movie I actually watched all the way through was the first one back in 2001. I saw a few moments of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift but had no real interest in continuing to watch the series.  It seemed to be a generic popcorn franchise that studios continued to pop out for easy money.

Around the time the fifth one came out, I started hearing people say that the films were actually good.  Still, I didn’t pay them any attention, even when Dwayne Johnson joined the franchise and they stopped being about street racing and started saving the world in elaborate ways involving cars.  Eventually, my buddy Mason from ReelDudeReviews asked me to join him opening night and since I had no other plans, we went and watched it.

One thing I appreciated from the movie was it’s tongue in cheek nature.  Nothing ever seems to be done with any real seriousness.  Being chased by police?  Send a wrecking ball through them.  No reason how or why that happens, it just does.  It’s one of those movies where cool things happen with a the slightest of reasons given as to why they happen.  Normally this would be a criticism, but for this film, I have a hard time criticizing it for that.  It’s a film that knows exactly why people came to watch it.  They didn’t come for the logic, they came for cool action and set pieces.

The only real criticism I can even think of is that the film has about seven films worth of backstory that go right over my head.  I had to guess that Paul Walker’s character’s name in the movie was Brian (again, I had only seen him in the film back in 2001) when they mention him in passing.  I didn’t know who was who or how they related to each other.  I didn’t know when Kurt Russel joined the franchise or why.  I was really surprised with Nathalie Emmanuel showed up in the film as a hacker, having only seen her in Game of Thrones.

The film is so over the top at times that it almost takes away from the impact of the more serious scenes.  The premise is that Vin Diesel’s character is being forced to work for Charlize Theron thus betraying his family (shot).  It’s a emotional situation that lends itself to good drama but at the same time, it has a hard time reconciling itself with how ridiculous the action scenes become.

Again, I can’t really fault the movie too harshly.  It’s a movie that did exactly what it set out to do.  It’s an action movie that entertains with the bare minimum of effort given to plot, character development and scripting and the maximum of effort given to intense action sequences.  All of this is held together with a cast that is surprisingly strong together even when I don’t have the experiences that I assume most people had watching all the movies previously.

Family (shot).

The Belko Experiment (Review)

The Belko Experiment (Review)

For a film touted as being “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” I had trouble finding any amount of humor in this movie.

The Belko Experiment offers an interesting premise: 80 office workers are trapped in a building and told to kill each other or else the bombs implanted in their heads will explode.  It’s a twist on the Battle Royale-type horror genre that’s found a niche within the market, probably made more famous to American audiences with The Hunger Games series.  To it’s credit, the genre lends itself to interesting characterization.  How would normal people react when put into this situation?  Would they try to work together to survive or would they try to kill everyone?  The philosophical questioning alone makes for interesting scenes where people try to discuss whether or not it’s moral to kill people so you can survive.

The setting also lends itself to interesting comedy.  The typical office setting means people having to get creative with how they kill people.  Lamps, scissors or even tape dispensers are used as potential weapons, with the humor coming from the creativity of the weapons.  Unfortunately, the potential humor is never used.  Instead, guns are introduced early on and with that, it becomes a fight between people with guns and people without.

There’s a lot to be said about hype and expectations.  The trailers for the movie made it out to be a black comedy movie in the vein of The Cabin in the Woods.  It was probably billed that way because of James Gunn’s success with Guardians of the Galaxy.  Watching the movie, however, told a different story.  While there are humorous moments, there aren’t enough of them and the moments aren’t funny enough that I would call this a horror-comedy at all.

I shouldn’t make this a point against the film, however.  A film should be judged on it’s own merits and not on how it was sold to me through trailers.  Drive taught me that much, a film billed as a The Fast and the Furious-style action film but was actually a character study of a getaway driver trying to be a good person.  So, The Belko Experiment is not a comedy.  What it is is a horror movie without thrills.

The downside of a Battle Royale style horror movie is that in the back of the audience’s mind, you know that eventually, people are going to start killing each other.  No matter how much people try to work to save each other, when it comes down to the wire, they’re going to start killing each other.  There’s a sense of inevitability when watching a movie like this and when watching a movie with a built-in expectation, nothing really surprises you.  Instead, you spend the entire movie simply watching things happen.

The Belko Experiment is a movie where I watched things happen.  People died and I sat there, a little tense and on edge, but never really shocked when people died.  Only one death shocked me but instead of thrilling me, it angered me because of built up expectations that were dashed with an unfulfilling payoff.  This is definitely a point in the movie’s favor, though, that I was actually invested in the characters.

Within the first ten-minutes of the film, we are introduced to a wide-variety of characters and instantly, we identify with them.  We understand them and we like them.  In fact, I’m not sure if there was one character that I didn’t like.  It’s saddening then that I didn’t feel like any character had any sort of fulfilling character arc, except maybe John Gallagher Jr.’s character.

The Belko Experiment was a film of expectations that just aren’t met.  I was expecting a comedy but I didn’t laugh.  I was expecting a horror movie, but I wasn’t that thrilled by it.  There wasn’t even a moment that I could call my favorite.  I was simply sitting in the theater and things were happening before my eyes.  When the movie was over, I went to a taco restaurant, sure that I had wasted my time.

The Lego Batman Movie (Review)

The Lego Batman Movie (Review)

This could very well be the best Batman movie to come out in recent history.

The best thing that The Lego Movie franchise (universe?) does well is being able to understand how ridiculous the premise is.  The creators of the The Lego Movie knew full well that people would hear about the premise and just go “what?”  I know several people who didn’t see the movie because to them, it was a blatant cash-in of a product.  This actually worked in the movie’s favor because it allowed the movie to completely subvert the audience’s expectations and blow everyone away with its off-beat humor and surprising heart.

The Lego Batman Movie does all of this and more.  There is literally a joke every two minutes whether its in the dialogue or in the background.  It is so jam-packed that I was afraid to go to the bathroom for fear of actually missing important plot-points.  Which seems odd because it’s a cartoon about a Lego Batman but that is the other strength of this movie.  You find yourself caring about the characters and about the story.  They are all characters that you feel connected to not only because they are all incredibly brought to life by the voice actors because it all fits together with the overall theme.

The best movies tend to be the ones whose story is actually different than the premise.  In this one, the premise is just about Batman being Batman.  The story is actually about Batman (through a series of funny events) finds himself against his most feared enemy – being by himself.

The movie is about relationships and how important it is to not cut yourself off from others.  Everything that happens in the movie is all tied around this one theme and it’s all married beautifully into one brilliantly hilarious movie that left me content that I had watched another great movie from the Lego Universe.

The Space Between Us (Review)

The Space Between Us (Review)

Prepare for the feel good movie of the…month.  Too early to say year and its only one out this month.  Also prepare to hear why it’s not really good.

The first thing I noticed about this film is that it spends so much time setting up the premise that I spent what felt like an hour waiting for the movie to actually get to the plot.  We spend the prologue (not even the first act!) just watching events unfold, not even feeling a connection with any of the characters because we know from the trailers and the poster that they’re not the characters we’re supposed to be paying attention to.  The only one that’s even worth our attention is Gary Oldman playing visionary behind the endeavor to live on Mars and the man who decides that Asa Butterfield’s birth on Mars must be kept a secret from the entire world.

Then the movie suddenly jumps forward 16 years, leaving us all confused as to why?  Whatever happened to the age old maxim “show, don’t tell?”  You tell us how Asa’s character is trapped on Mars and wants to actually go to Earth, but you don’t ever show us why?  What was growing up on Mars surrounded by scientists like for him?  How did he handle scientists coming and going through his life as he is trapped on Mars?  These were the questions that I felt needed to be answered in order for us to fully understand and appreciate this character, who is played well by Asa but the audience never really gets a chance to empathize with his struggle and root for him as our protagonist.

This movie is an example of a movie that really should have given us a different protagonist because Britt Robertson as the rebellious and quick-witted Tulsa, Asa’s pen-pal on Earth, proved to be a much more interesting character than Asa’s.  In fact, I believe that she is character that actually has an arc with a beginning, a middle and an end.  Asa’s arc sort of ends once he actually gets to Earth.  And once Asa and Britt actually meet, that’s the moment that Britt’s character starts to change and grow.  It was sad to see the most interesting character in the movie to regulated to the love-interest character, when it’s obvious that the story could have been written to be about her struggle to trust someone again.

In fact, the movie for me didn’t start until the second act, which is never a good sign.  Seeing Asa interact with the world with wonder and a lust to experience everything there was to experience was actually quite enjoyable.  I wished there were more moments where Asa jumps in surprise as he beholds a horse for the first time or experiences rain.

By the end of the movie, though, I was left feeling perplexed.  That’s how they decided to end the movie?  Like that?  I won’t spoil but it left me feeling almost betrayed but mostly confused.  There were so many plot holes in this movie and emotions weren’t strong enough for me to ignore them.  The premise was interesting enough and there are elements in this movie that, by themselves, I could enjoy; but there was nothing in this movie that fulfilled me or made me feel like I didn’t just waste my time.