Thursday, August 17, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017) Movie Review

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My one gripe of Atomic Blonde is solely based on what my expectations of the film were. I expected a knock-down, drag-out fight from beginning to end, nothing but high octane action. What I got instead was a clever spy film with loads of action in between. So clever that I found myself having to pay more attention than I was hoping to. Fair warning now, if you're going to see Atomic Blonde, keep both eyes open or you could miss something important.

Atomic Blonde hits hard while being sexy and sleek at the same time. I think this pretty much sums up Charlize Theron's character Lorraine in a nutshell. She is quite the beast in this movie. I have never seen someone kick so much butt and look seemingly disinterested with the whole affair at the same time. She's the kind of person that you'd want to have along for a drink while always being in fear of saying the wrong thing. Theron commands the role as the female hero, even moreso in my humble opinion than Gadot with Wonder Woman. While both can be applauded for doing exceptional jobs, I have to give the butt-kicking award to Lorraine.

The plot is smooth with a handful of bumps in the road. There are just enough twists and enough intrigue that keep things moving along without muddling things too badly. Theron plays the role of hardcore spy Lorraine who is on assignment in Berlin to take down an espionage ring. What ensues among deceit and lies are long, well-directed actions sequences that show how well Lorraine can take a punch.

And boy does she take a lot of them. It's one of the most noticeable things to love about the movie, the fact that Lorraine can not only hang with the big boys, but she surpasses them in every way. She is as ruthless as John Wick and as nimble of foot as Black Widow. She gets hit (and hard), but manages to bounce back and destroy her opposition. Girl power at its finest.

Shot in an interesting contrast of grittiness and bright colors, Atomic Blonde is another awesome work by director David Leitch. I give it a 90.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Review

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I hate that my favorite action scene in Wonder Woman is the one I can't talk about without spoiling things. It's a climactic battle between good and evil and it fills the big screen from one end to the other. It's amazing to watch. Almost makes you think: Where has this been all this time, DC?

Mind you, this isn't the only pleasing action sequence, just the best. Wonder Woman's power is on full display throughout the entire film as she tosses tanks with ease and flies from one building to the next taking out a slew of dudes along the way. A lot of the coolest fight scenes ever done in film include the One Versus Many scenario and our superheroine of the hour finds herself in this situation more than once. While it doesn't quite meet the same level of excitement as watching Logan slice through enemies like paper, I give a lot of credit to director Patty Jenkins for ensuring that these scenes were carefully crafted to the point of being memorable.

Yes, DC fans, Wonder Woman is here and it's the movie you actually deserve. To those of you that didn't see Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice: 1. Be thankful; 2. All you need to know is that this film follows the origin story of Wonder Woman and how she went from a young girl growing up in the Greek-centric Themyscira to the powerful heroine who is symbol of love and truth. For those that did see BVS, this film answers the question: What's the deal with that old-timey picture that Bruce Wayne found?

While DC movies lately have been missing the mark with their humor, Wonder Woman finds its target quite a few times. I loved that the funny wasn't forced like it could be at times in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Because it came naturally, it was naturally funny. The film didn't just rely on Chris Pine to carry the comic relief load as a lot of the characters managed to get their quips in some form or fashion, even Gal Gadot.

Speaking of Gadot, I must give her all the props in the world for doing the character of Diana (Wonder Woman) justice. Gadot is sensational in her role. She offers the perfect blend of naivety and fierceness that makes Wonder Woman who she is. Maybe there's another actress out there who could have played the role just as well, but Gadot is by no means forgetful. She breathes life into a franchise badly in need of resuscitation.

For all of the things the film did right, there were a number of tiny things that kept it from excelling into greatness. I'll just touch on two. They failed when they tried to throw a love story into the mix. Again, I won't ruin anything, but not only did I feel like it was unnecessary, I also thought it was very contradictory to Diana's personality and her philosophy of life. They had already established (in a pretty funny way) that she had no need for a man. Why ruin things by forcing the issue?

Finally, the slow motion sequences were a little too much for me at times. There were a few moments where it heightens the moment, but there were too many times where it felt over the top a la Transformers. I hope they play with this a little bit for the sequel.

Is Wonder Woman the best superhero movie of the year? No and it's not even close. I actually laughed when I heard they were pushing for a Best Picture nomination. It's a solid film, but not nearly as good as what Logan gave us. Much needed win for DC, though! I give it an 89.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Movie Review

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Sure, a movie critic could come in and pick Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets apart, frame by frame. One thing that won't be a part of that discussion is the visuals. The film takes you on a tour from scene to jawdropping scene. You'll explore a space beach with titanic seashells decorating the water. Oceanic depths where alien creatures abide. Chase scenes with so many visuals you will blink and miss something. Director Luc Besson has never been one to shortchange creativity and Valerian is no exception.

The visuals go a lot further than the actual depth of the movie and that's a part of the problem. Valerian is pretty straightforward so don't expect a whole lot of twists and turns. It felt like Besson was trying to get from Point A to Point B with as straight of a formulaic arrow as possible. Mind you, there are other films that do the same. John Wick is the most recent that comes to mind. However, when you take this approach everything else has to be spectacular in order for the film to work. That doesn't quite happen here.

The main characters, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) were about as deep as cardboard. They were there for one thing and one thing only: advance the plot. Not sure if it was the acting or the poor script, but the execution could have been so much better. Going back to John Wick, Wick's character has a similar lack of depth, but he's got something the rest of the audience can reach for and relate to: Rage. He's beyond angry and you get it. You root for him to see his rage and revenge exacted. With Valerian and Laureline, on the other hand, there's not enough motivation to really care about what happens to these characters. Not to mention, they have zero chemistry yet viewers are supposed to believe there is a spark of romance there.

Regarding the plot, a dark threat is trying to attack the City of Alpha and Valerian and Laureline have to get to the bottom of it. The film doesn't do everything wrong, which is the reason I didn't rate it lower. The action is fun at times. You'll also find yourself laughing a bit if you like a drier wit. A few tweaks would have made the film as good as its visuals. As it stands, I give it a 75.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Movie Review

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Sony should really kick themselves for the shoddy way Spider-Man: Homecoming was marketed because the film is just plain awesome. The trailers don't even come close to doing it justice, not even by a long shot. I can't count the number of times I've been duped by a trailer and had to sit through a terrible movie. In this case, I'm happy it's the other way around.

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to Queens to resume his role as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He's restless, as most teenagers tend to be, and wants a shot at something big. He wants to be an Avenger. He sees a chance to prove himself when a new villain pops onto the scene, but finds he might be in for more than he bargained for when he tries to take the villain down.

Though Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, they decided to play nice with Disney, who owns the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and try to create something special that both companies could benefit from. Business dealings aside, the movie is a great success largely in part to its seamless blending with the MCU. Memorable scenes with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark (and a couple of other guests I won't ruin) help embrace Peter Parker into the larger world that he was introduced to in Civil War. This movie is fully about Spider-Man, yet you never get the sense that the Avengers crew is all that far away.

The film manages a tough balancing act of keeping things light-hearted while still addressing the complexities of teenage life that Peter has to experience. Peter is the type of character where you laugh at him and feel for him at the same time. I thought Tobey Maguire did an exceptional job of capturing this in Spider-Man 2. After considering this for some time, I liked Holland's version even better. Holland is an exact portrayal of a kid that just wants to have fun but is burdened with the responsibility of always doing the right thing.

Cons you say? As in, what I didn't like about the movie? Hardly anything. Definitely nothing worth mentioning. Between the amazing action, cool twists that keep you guessing, and great acting all around, I was very impressed with how this movie came out. I give it a 96.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) Movie Review

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I saw War of the Planet of the Apes two days ago. Forty-eight hours later, I'm still trying to think of what I didn't like about the film. In an age of film where franchises try and cash in on sequel after dreaded sequel, The Planet of the Apes trilogy has sneakily become one of the greatest trilogies ever made. If War is the cherry on top, it's the tastiest cherry I've had in awhile.

In the wake of the last film, the war rages on between apes and humans as a new strain of virus threatens to eradicate all of mankind. Lead ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) is trying to get his followers to safety before the war overcomes them all.

I can imagine that visual effects are a lot easier when trying to create something that isn't real. When the audience has nothing to go on, it's not as hard to suspend disbelief. That's why I give so much credit to the visual effects crew handling the apes in this film. The realism and the sheer attention to detail is breathtaking. My eyes never got the better of the effects which allowed me to relax and enjoy the film the way it was meant to be seen. Everything from movements right down to the tiny details of facial expressions was perfect. From a visual standpoint, the scenery is also amazing. Beautiful caverns surrounded by waterfalls where the apes live and the mountain stronghold of the enemy army are just two of many awesome backdrops for the great war.

The pacing is darn near perfect. Seamless blend of action and story progression. By the time it's over, you don't feel like you've spent over two hours watching a film, rather it feels like an experience.

Villains are hard to do well. A lot of villains in cinema history are one-dimensional with most of what we know about them being they've just always been the bad egg in the bunch. War, however, gives us a villain in Colonel (Woody Harrelson) with an actual motive. We still get the bad egg aspect (and, yes, you will probably leave the film hating him), but at least you get an understanding of why he feels justified in doing what he's doing. In stories like these, things are seldom black and white. Just like life's conflicts, there are reasons why both sides think they're right. And just like life's conflicts, it's a shame that the black and white war between apes and humans couldn't end in gray.

Great story. Memorable characters that will stick out long after the film is over. Grand action that will keep you glued to your chair. It is so refreshing to see a trilogy get better with each film. I am happy to give War For the Planet of the Apes a well-deserved 95.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Baby Driver (2017) Movie Review

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In order to pay back organized crime leader Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby (Ansel Elgort) has agreed to become the driver for his bank heists. Baby's plan is to earn enough money to pay off his debt and be done with crime for good. We all know that in movies like these, things rarely go as planned. 

While there wasn't a whole lot wrong with Baby Driver overall, I did think director Edgar Wright could have done a better job of splicing the action and drama. There were a couple of spots where you would come off the high of an amazing action sequence only to be a stuck in dialogues scene where you felt like things were moving ultra slow. Again, I only noticed this a couple of times and it's not nearly enough to slow down this powerhouse of a movie.

This review should come with a disclaimer: Baby Driver will not be everyone's cup of tea. It's weird (in a good way), strange, and quirky. It never quite does what you expect it to. Just like Baby tunes in to his own soundtrack, the film as a whole marches to its own drum. For those of you walking in expecting to hate it, give it a chance. I can promise you it will be like nothing you've seen before.

While the film is more action/drama than just straight action, I can assure you that you will definitely get your money's worth in thrills. From the car chases to intense shootouts, the action scenes are not only phenomenal, but clever. I haven't put my theory to the test yet, but I'm willing to bet you could watch this movie more than once and notice a different little nugget in each scene. I won't ruin anything. Let's just say it delivers.

The action is just as much fun as the characters are creative. While the movie doesn't waste an exorbitant amount of time on explaining backstory, I found it refreshing that each character had their own little flavor that contributed to the heist team. They're characters you want to keep getting to know, characters that surprise you by exceeding expectations. My personal favorite was Joseph (CJ Jones), Baby's deaf caretaker. He's merely one example of the depth of these characters and the strong acting that brought them to life.

I was starting to lose faith in 2017 movies until I saw this gem. Baby Driver gets an A for originality. I can't wait for ten years from now when: 1. Disney has finally bought the remaining Marvel franchises and we see them all come together on the big screen; 2. We get a Mission: Impossible 10 where Ethan Hunt has aged but opts to go on one last mission; 3. We look back and Baby Driver is a cult classic. I give the film a 93.

Friday, July 7, 2017

It Comes at Night (2017) Movie Review

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If nothing else, Joel Edgerton is the shining light of It Comes at Night, delivering yet another strong performance. He plays Paul, the father of a family living in a home in the woods during a post-apocalyptic era. He carries a quiet intensity that you can feel, whether you agree with his decisions or not. I thought his constant state of paranoia was exactly what you would expect to see from someone having to survive in the "last days".

As we have seen countless times before, sometimes even great acting isn't enough to save a bad movie.

Paul and his family, consisting of his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), having been hiding out in this rural home trying to avoid "what's out there". From everything we can gather from the trailers and the early stages of the movie, there seems to be a spread of a viral infection of some sort passed on by human contact. Things quickly take a turn when another family suddenly enters their lives.

Do you ever find out what comes at night? I wish I could ruin the movie and save you the trouble, but it's not my style. I will say this, however: Prepare for a lot of smokescreens during the duration of this film. Just when you think a specific moment is actually leading you to answers, it ends up being much ado about nothing. I felt mislead so much, it ruined the overall experience for me. Sometimes movies are vague for a specific purpose. This one was a little too vague for my taste. A few answers here and there not only would have given the audience a greater satisfaction, but it would have also sped the pace up. Yes, the film is slow. Like snail's pace slow.

I would be willing to give this film a much higher score on one condition: That it was social commentary on all the homicides that have occurred at the hands of police officers in the US recently. Joel's paranoia was an uncanny correlation to how situations with law enforcement have been escalating into unnecessary deaths. What was Joel ultimately afraid of? Losing his own life. As a result, he constantly found himself in situations where he had to make quick decisions, sometimes too quick. Sometimes downright wrong.

If I'm scoring it just as a film and not social commentary, I give it a 69.