Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver
















Not too long ago, I was bemoaning to myself that there was a distinct lack of genuine, hardcore, good action movies these days. Ones that hit hard and fast and had an edge to them. Not the watered down PG-13 stuff and all the Superhero movies either. I had a craving for some good, old fashioned gun play and roaring engines. Screeching tires and intense car chases. Little did I know that Edgar Wright was driving to my rescue and delivering one of the coolest and most stylish action films I've seen in a long time. 

Baby (played by Ansel Elgort) is a highly skilled driver working for crime boss Doc (played by Kevin Spacey) as a wheel man for the daring heists Doc carefully plans. Baby also suffers from a case of tinnitus and listens to music on his iPod constantly to drown out the hum. He also records random samplings of audio around him and remixes it at home with synthesized music, creating all new songs. Dubbed Mozart in a Go Kart by Doc, Baby is an ace behind the wheel and it's attributed to the constant beats he hears through his headphones and laser focus. He works for Doc to pay off a debt he incurred when he boosted a car that belonged to Doc, filled with valuable goods Doc was unable to retrieve. Baby is a good hearted kid though and the violence incurred during these heists is starting to get to him. He wants out and to just drive away. This feeling only intensifies when he meets and starts to fall for Debora, a waitress at the local greasy spoon. He vocalizes his desire to just start driving west with her and never look back, something she is very receptive to. Before he can though, he's pulled into one last job, forced to work with the dodgy Buddy (played by Jon Hamm), Darling (played by Eiza Gonzalez), and the loose cannon Bats (played by Jamie Foxx).     

There is a lot to be impressed about with Baby Driver. The writing is fun with it's rat-a-tat-tat dialogue and a story that is not as predictable as one would think at first glance. Edgar Wright has always had a knack for subverting an audience's expectations and does it here as well, crafting a story with a few twists I did not see coming (and would not dare spoil here). Backing this up are two things the film will be known best for, I think. First, the action sequences are seriously impressive and stylish as hell. The car stunts were all done practically (none of that CGI over the top nonsense the Fast and Furious movies do) and they are stunning. The fact that everything was done for real just makes it that much more impressive. Then, Wright adds some style to it with a choice of bold colors, especially bright reds and royal blues just to make it that much more distinct. 

Then there is the soundtrack to the film. The songs are like another character in the film, masterfully synched with the action on screen. Remember that scene in Shaun of the Dead when Shaun, Liz, and Ed beat up a zombie with pool cues in sync with Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now"? That's this entire movie. From Baby dancing down the street to "Harlem Shuffle" by Bob & Earl and pausing to play air trumpet in front of a trumpet hanging in a music store window to gunshots syncing up to the beat of whichever song is playing, it is nothing short a filmmaking and editing wonder. Music also plays into the film itself with various songs becoming bonding points between Baby and various characters, "Debora" by T. Rex for Baby and Debora and "Brighton Rock" by Queen for a similar moment between Baby and Buddy. On the opposite side of the coin, the characters also at one point discuss jinx songs, such as "Knocking on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan as songs that if they hear before a job will make them want to call it off. The film just celebrates music and how it can make us feel right from the get go as we see Baby rocking out in his car to "Bellbottoms" by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is a moment of pure joy right before a spectacular opening car chase sequence.

This film manages to gather an impressive cast. Ansel Elgort is great as Baby, who is of two minds of his job as a wheelman. He hates being part of a criminal enterprise and it weighs on him. In many ways, he is a very sweet and innocent person, but the violence these heists he's part of incurs weighs heavily on him and he's finding it harder and harder to ignore it. But he also loves driving and showing off what he can do behind the wheel of a car, which is what ultimately keeps bringing him back. Kevin Spacey is reliably great as Doc and gives his part the hard nosed authority to keep his gang in line, but he's also having fun with the role. He also really let's Doc's soft spot for Baby shine through, which was a plot aspect I was not expecting. Jamie Foxx was great as Bats and genuinely intense in his scenes as the loose cannon member of the group not afraid to get his hands dirty. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez made a great pair as husband and wife criminals Buddy & Darling, while also setting up what a possible future might be for Baby and Debora if he kept going down the road of a life of crime and she joined him. 

Baby Driver is not quite like any other movie I've ever seen. Some of the pieces may seem somewhat familiar, but re-assembled in new and exciting ways, set to some fantastic, deep cut music thumping on the soundtrack and all working together in wondrous harmony. I loved every minute of this from beginning to the closing credits as I danced my way out of the theatre. And then sped my car all the way home.      

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

















Every once in a great while, there will come along a movie that is so brazenly original and unlike anything else that it just takes my breath away. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was one of those movies. With a fantastic, rapid fire sense of humor and a unique visual style makes for one of the most memorable movies I've seen in the last decade. 

Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera) is a simple creature, living in a one room apartment with his gay roommate Wallace Wells (played by Kieran Culkin) and dating high school student Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong), who he has fallen out of love with but can't bring himself to break up with her. He is also in an indie rock band, Sex Bob-Omb, with fellow band mates Stephen Stills (played by Mark Webber), Young Neil (played by Johnny Simmons) and Kim Pine (played by Allison Pill). At a party one night, Scott catches a glimpse of Ramona Flowers (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He is able to work up the nerve to talk to her and get a date with her. The problem is that in dating Ramona, he has unwittingly agreed to fight Ramona's seven evil exes. As one shows up after another, Scott finds himself literally fighting for Ramona's heart while fending off opponents as varied as Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman and Jason Schwartzman.

The film is based on the comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley and director Edgar Wright draws directly from the source material in the design of the film, recreating entire comic panels on screen complete with text sound effects. The film takes place in a hyper-reality that co-exists with a sort of video game reality (for example, the defeated exes burst into coins as a score appears in blinking numbers on screen or when Scott says he's getting a life, he grabs an extra life icon out of the air), drawing inspiration from classic 8-Bit Nintendo games. The film has a rapid fire pace that leaps from one moment to another while rarely pausing to catch it's breath, with the jokes coming fast and furious. Naturally, it's a movie that rewards re-watching as the viewer will inevitably miss stuff on the first viewing (I know I did). It's hard to really describe the film beyond that. It has a unique style all to itself that really defies definition. It can fly off into a flight of fantasy at any moment and yet the film works. It's a film that is completely unique to itself and that is part of it's charm. If you can get into it's own oddball, madcap spirit, you're almost guaranteed to have a blast with it. 

The acting in the film is great with Michael Cera making the perfect offbeat slacker hero that is Scott Pilgrim. Whether he's playing in his band, trying to dodge Knives or on a date with Ramona, there is a sense to Scott that he's a little oblivious to others around him especially people he's been in a relationship with, such as bandmate Kim. Yet, he also seems a bit lost and doesn't think that highly of himself either. Beyond all the flash and action, the film is really a coming of age tale of Scott growing up and gaining some self respect. Of course, the film could also be taken as an over the top analogy of a man-child trying to deal with the sexual history of his new girlfriend. Either way, Cera manages to capture it quite well. Likewise, we have Kieran Culkin as Scott's sidekick/roommate, who tries to help Scott the best he can but he's also more interested in hitting on other guys, especially if they wear glasses. He also gets some of the best lines of the film, which Culkin delivers masterfully. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a nice sense of intriguing mystery to Ramona and it's easy to see why Scott would be into her. She has a sharp wit about her as well and a real independent spirit as well that was probably developed after so many bad relationships. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Ellen Wong as Knives Chau. Her relationship with Scott is very innocent and sweet and Ellen Wong does a great job portraying that, as well as given a lot of energy to her performance as well as she pretty much is Sex Bob-Omb's first and only groupie. 

The League of Evil Exes are a great group of extended cameos. Chris Evans shows up as Lucas Lee, a famous film star that was Ramona's second boyfriend, which leads to an amusing fight scene between Lucas and Scott on a film set, with Lucas' stunt team getting in on the action. I could tell that Evans was having a blast playing the self absorbed Lee. Likewise Brandon Routh turns up as Ramona's third ex, Todd Ingram, a bass player and super-powered vegan (because being vegan makes you better than anyone else apparently). I could tell Routh was having fun with the role as well, especially since Todd isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Mae Whitman is great fun as the one girl in the group, Roxy (Ramona had a "sexy phase," as Scott puts it). It's particularly amusing to see Whitman and Cera duking it out as they had played a couple on the show Arrested Development earlier, with Whitman playing the bland and forgettable Egg Ann to Cera's George Michael Bluth. Later in the picture, Jason Schwartzman shows up as Gideon Graves, Ramona's most recent ex and the one who put the entire league together. He's set up as the big bad for Scott to defeat, to use the video game terminology the film thrives in, and Schwartzman plays Gideon's sliminess to the nines.            

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World remains a bold breath of fresh air even seven years after it's release. It moves at a breakneck speed with rapid fire jokes and a very unique design and sense of world building. I hadn't seen a movie like it before I saw it and I still haven't. Part of me hopes I never do so it can remain the unique filmmaking treat it always has been.          

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

















I need to start off this review with a bit of a preface. Of the pantheon of Marvel superheroes, I've probably been a fan of Spider-Man the longest. I've found something to enjoy in each of the cinematic iterations up until this point even if they are a mixed bunch of films (which I think I may revisit a little later on in this blog). But, now, with Marvel fully at the helm of the character I really feel like they finally nailed it. They really, really nailed it. I'm so jazzed about this movie, I'm not sure I can be objective. But I will try, dear reader, I promise. And I'll take it easy on the spoilers too.

The film opens with video diary footage Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) shot while on his way to join the action we saw in Captain America: Civil War, entrusted to the care of Tony Stark's Forehead of Security personal guard, Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau). After that, we jump into the movie proper with Tony (played by Robert Downey Jr.) allowing Peter to keep the suit he made for him and encourage him to try and learn how to be a Superhero. Peter is enjoying being a small time hero around his Queens, NY neighborhoods, stopping bike thieves and various other small crimes. But he's hungering for something bigger, something that will prove to Tony that he deserves to be an Avenger. He gets more than he bargained for with Adrian Toomes (played by Michael Keaton) and his crew. They originally had the salvage rights to help repair the city of New York after the events of The Avengers, but got their contract revoked by the federal Government, who took over along with a company started by Tony Stark. Needing to make some money fast to keep his crew employed and support his family, Adrian and his crew start using the alien tech they salvaged to create dangerous new weapons to sell off for a tidy profit. Things are going well until Spidey stumbles onto their operation, bringing out a more dangerous side of Adrian, who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe and secure even if that means killing Spider-Man.

I feel like this iteration of Spider-Man really nailed the character as I always loved him. He isn't perfect, he messes up but still picks himself up and tries again. This is Peter Parker early in his career as a superhero and while he genuinely is enjoying it, he quickly finds it to be harder than he ever thought it would be. I liked seeing Spider-Man in over his head, trying to catch Adrian Toomes and his crew but also learning along the way how to do it right. Tony Stark has a supporting role here, acting as a bit of a father figure/mentor to Peter. I really liked their relationship and how it drove Peter to want to catch Toomes to impress Tony. That whole relationship between the two as they learned to work together and trust each other was a welcome addition to the film. 

The action sequences of the film were all well done and very well executed. It's become common for Superhero films lately to climax with a ton of overdone and poorly rendered CGI that this film wisely sidesteps, keeping things more grounded and practical, which I appreciated. I won't go into details because of spoilers, but I felt each sequence was really well handled and slickly executed. 

I loved the high school setting for the film and that they went ahead with a considerably younger Peter Parker, who is a sophomore in high school in this film. It's a welcome change from the other films that mostly skipped over Peter's high school years. This one really feels like if John Hughes made a Spider-Man movie. It really nails that time in a kid's life and feels authentic, which makes the more fantastical elements of the film work as well. The scenes between Peter and his best friend Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) were some of my favorites in the movie. I noticed there was a distinct level of diversity in the cast as well that really impressed me, whether it was casting Tovy Revolori as Flash Thompson, Zendaya as potential Peter Parker love interest Michelle, Donald Glover as Aaron Davis or Kenneth Choi as the school Principal, there is a real mix in this film that really impressed me. There's also a sweetness and almost innocence to the film that I found refreshing. This Peter just wants to do what's right and be a hero because he can and not someone bogged down by guilt and remorse by a murdered uncle. He looks up to Tony and Captain America and wants to be one of them. It's those aspirations and the stumbles he takes along the way that make the character so relatable to me. 

This film does a great job drawing it's characters and then casting actors in the roles that can really play them well. Tom Holland is now my absolute favorite Spider-Man. He captures the role perfectly in a way that I have been hungering for since the first Raimi film. This was the character I read in the comics and they really nailed it. Holland really captures not only Parker's quick wit, which he does have, but his naivete as well. They give Peter a great story arc in the film and Holland performs it wonderfully. 

But more than that, I appreciated the care they gave to the villain, Adrian Toomes. He has more depth than is usually given in these films and I couldn't help but at least kind of sympathize with him. At his core, he's just trying to provide for his family and stay afloat in tough economic times. He's a little guy trying to make it in the world, seeing himself overshadowed by the big shots like Tony Stark. I know Michael Keaton can play a great bad guy, as seen in previous films such as Pacific Heights and Desperate Measures. He brings that same level of menace to this role as well, especially in a particularly tense scene between Toombs and Peter, but tempers it because Toomes isn't naturally evil but feels forced into his place because he feels his livelihood and family are being threatened. Keaton does a great job playing this duality and it's nice to see that level of characterization given to a villain. 

Marisa Tomei also has some great scenes in the film and I really love her as Aunt May. I'm glad they went with someone younger as it never made sense to me why Aunt May would be such an older lady, as she was depicted in the comics and previous films. Tomei plays her scenes with Peter wonderfully and I really got that feeling of a bond between the two characters. As perhaps one of five people who fondly remembers the film Only You (in which Tomei co-starred with Robert Downey Jr.), I found May's vocal dislike of Tony Stark most amusing. Also, and this might be ever so slightly spoilerish, but she gets the last line in the movie and it left me busting a gut laughing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was everything I could have hoped for and more. I loved every minute of it. It was filled with thrilling action sequences, great acting, a well developed story and some fantastic humor as well. There is a light-heartedness to this film that I really responded to and genuinely loved. This may just be my favorite Superhero movie of the summer, or at least a tie with Wonder Woman. Ugh, why am I making myself choose? Okay, it's a tie! It's a tie. Seriously though, it's pretty damn fantastic. Also, since this is a Marvel movie I should advise you that it has a mid-credits scene as well as a huge, huge, game changing end credits scene so make sure to plan accordingly. You'll want to stick around for both.          

The World's End














As the concluding segment of the "Cornetto Trilogy," The World's End is a bit more unique than the previous two films. While all three films were uniquely original in their own right, this entry charts more new ground than either of the previous films. Mixing comedy, sci-fi thrills and coming of middle-age drama, this one is a strange and strangely fulfilling film in it's own right. 

Gary King (played by Simon Pegg) has been having a tough time of it. He knows deep down that he peaked in High School and now almost almost twenty years after graduation he's still living in the past. He decides to gather his old friends Andy Knightly (played by Nick Frost), Steven Prince (played by Paddy Considine), Oliver Chamberlain (played by Martin Freeman), and Peter Page (played by Eddie Marsan) to relive the glory days by re-attempting a pub crawl through their hometown called The Golden Mile. Somehow, he manages to talk them all into returning to their hometown for the pub crawl but as the night goes on it becomes clear to them that something is not right in their old hometown. Joined by Oliver's sister, Sam (played by Rosamund Pike), the group is horrified to discover that the residents of the town have been taken over and replaced by robotic duplicates by a group of aliens referred to as The Network. While trying to figure out what to do, the group decides to continue on their pub crawl, although figuring out how to fight back against the aliens get decidedly harder the drunker they get. 

Drawing inspiration from such classic Science Fiction as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and The Stepford Wives, director Edgar Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg crafted a thoroughly unique tale. The idea that saving the world falls on a group of reunited friends on a pub crawl is an intriguing one. Add in some unresolved issues between the friends, an unexpected love triangle and a wild card of a lead character, the unhinged Gary King, and drop it all in the middle of an alien invasion makes for an amusing, and at times surprisingly touching, adventure. They also came up with an intriguing villain in the Network, who believe they are helping improve the human race by upgrading people into cheery robotic replacements (or Smashy Smashy Egg Men as Andy suggests calling them since the robot replacements are surprisingly fragile, especially their heads, as well as the fact that they don't like being called robots). I also found the design of the robots Smashy Smashy Egg Men to be rather imaginative. When a limb or head is yanked off, the nub is not unlike that of a life size action figure or Barbie doll (because lord knows we all want to decapitate Man Bun Ken) filled with royal blue fluid. It's just something I've never quite seen in a movie before and I appreciated that. Since the Robot Smashy Smashy Egg Men limbs seem to be interchangeable, it adds for some wild fight sequences as well, as in one case one Smashy Smashy Egg Woman replaces their destroyed arms with the legs of another destroyed robot before attacking the group again. The film also continues the trend of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg cleverly foreshadowing the entire film in the opening scenes of the film. Still, the film contains several neat surprises in addition to their clever foreshadowing hints.

This film is probably the most mature of the three films, focusing on a group of childhood friends reuniting and taking stock of their life as they deal with the fact that they're all approaching 40. Simon Pegg turns in a fantastic performance as Gary King. Gary is a man who has been living in the past, driving the same old car and listening to the same music.He gets his group of childhood friends back together in a last ditch attempt to relive the glory days. His friends have all moved on to careers and families and therefore are hesitant to go back. They ultimately decide to in part because they feel sorry for Gary. Pegg really captures the essence of the character as a man who is desperately trying to be happy and peppy to all his friends and keep the party moving forward no matter what, but as the film goes on, it becomes clear how broken and how deep in despair Gary really is. It's an unexpectedly deep and moving performance from Pegg that really caught me by surprise. It's a nice touch that they switched up the roles this time around. For the past two films, Pegg has played the more straight arrow and Nick Frost has played the more slacker character. This time, Pegg is the mess and Nick Frost plays straight arrow lawyer Andy. Paddy Considine and Rosamund Pike turn in nice performances as well as the other two parts of a love triangle of sorts with Pegg's character. Pierce Brosnan shows up as the boys' former school principal now alien spokesperson and makes an interesting villainous turn (and it also marks the second former Bond to show up as a villain in one of these films, with the added bonus of former Bond girl Pike as well). 

The World's End marks the closing of the informal "Cornetto trilogy" as I mentioned in my review of the previous film, Hot Fuzz. The trilogy ends on a high note with some dazzling action, imaginative plot and surprisingly deep writing backing this one. While I still consider Hot Fuzz my favorite of the three, it is by the narrowest of margins with the other two films tying for second place for different reasons. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose only one for second place, much to my surprise, I think I'd have to give it to The World's End.           

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hot Fuzz
















With the upcoming release of Baby Driver, the latest film by writer/director Edgar Wright, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at his previous films. I've already reviewed his first film, Shaun of the Dead, on this blog (and it can be found here) so I'm jumping in with his second film, Hot Fuzz. A smartly written deconstruction and loving parody of action films, this one is a blast from start to finish (and my personal favorite, although I love them all).  

Nicholas Angel (played by Simon Pegg) is an exceptional police officer, excelling at every task he is given. He is so good in his job that he is transferred by his superior officers simply because he's making the rest of them look bad. Nicholas is sent to the quiet country village of Sanford to take the open vacancy as their newest Sergeant. Upon arriving, he meets his new partner Danny Butterman (played by Nick Frost), an action movie junkie who feels like he's missing out on "proper action" being a small town cop, despite Nicholas reassuring him that being a police officer is nothing like the movies. Meanwhile, Nicholas starts to notice something suspicious about a series of grisly accidents that have befallen a number of the residents of the town and becomes convinced that they are in fact carefully staged murders, despite the insistence of his fellow officers that it isn't (including Inspector Frank Butterman (played by Jim Broadbent), who is also Danny's father, and the department's two detectives Andy Wainright (played by Paddy Considine) and Andy Cartwright (played by Rafe Spall)). 

Edgar Wright directed from a script that he and Simon Pegg wrote together. The two of them do a fantastic job deconstructing the various tropes of the action movie genre, especially those centered on the police, and make fun of it in a refreshingly amusing way. Much of this is done through the interactions between Nicholas and Danny. Danny, who sees Nicholas as this big city supercop, asks him endless questions based on things he's seen in action movies ("Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?" "Is it true that there is a place on a man's head that if you shoot it, it will blow up?"). Nicholas patiently debunks each one while also pointing out that the level of carnage and destruction in those movies would result in an insurmountable amount of paperwork. All the while though, there is also a legitimate mystery thriller going on in the film as Nicholas and Danny try to figure out the source of these strange deaths going on in the village as well as figuring out who's behind it and why. 

This, of course, leads us to the brilliant climax of the film. For the bulk of the run time, Nicholas has been talking down the various cop movie cliches only for the climax to gleefully indulge in every single one of them. It's a blast watching Danny and Nicholas act out every cliche that Danny asked him about earlier in the film. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg love to layer their films with foreshadowing as well, which this plays into, along with even subtler nods that are impossible to pick up on the first time through, making re-watching the film a nice treat as you catch certain things on repeated viewings. This film also contains a nice callback to the fence climbing gag from Shaun of the Dead that might actually be funnier than the one in that film. They also loaded the film with a number of fun cameos, including Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy as Nicholas' superior officers as well as a barely recognizable Cate Blanchett as Nicholas' ex Janine and director Peter Jackson as a criminal dressed as Father Christmas. 

The performances in the film are quite good as well. Simon Pegg more or less plays the straight person in this as the super serious Nicholas Angel who struggles to switch off his Police Officer persona and relax when he's not working. His first night in Sanford, he manages to clean out the local pub of all underage drinkers as well as arrest five people and it's not even his first day yet. On the other hand, we have Nick Frost as the laid back Danny Butterman. Now, I relate a lot to Danny and his love of action movies. At one point, Nicholas and Danny are hanging out at Danny's flat when Danny reveals an entire closet of shelves floor to ceiling with DVDs. I want that closet, carefully organized with tiny lights on each of the shelves to make perusing the collection that much easier (There is also a nice joke when Nicholas compliments him on his flat, then notices the unpacked boxes and asks, "When did you move in?" "Five years ago," is Butterman's response. I laughed harder than usual because my flat is in a similar state after living there about as long). Pegg and Frost are long time friends, with their acting partnership dating all the way back to the U.K T.V series Spaced, which they also worked on with Edgar Wright. They have a fantastic chemistry with one another that comes through with their characters here as well as they bond and Danny helps Nicholas unwind a bit. The script for the film originally included a love interest for Nicholas but they eventually discarded them and gave all the lines to Danny, adding an interesting, if slashy, new level to their friendship as well. Timothy Dalton shows up as the manager of the local supermarket, and potential murder suspect, and gives a wonderful comedic performance nailing every gag he can. 

The film contains numerous references and homages to other action movies. The main references are to the extreme sports action epic Point Break and the over the top action stylings of Bad Boys II. But over the course of the film there are also references to the likes of Die Hard, Dirty Harry, and Lethal Weapon among many, many others. In fact, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's action movie nerdiness runs so deep, a scene where Nicholas and Danny discover a farmer's giant cache of firearms is scored with the music from the trailers to all four Lethal Weapon movies. That really impressed me because of course I recognized it immediately.     

Hot Fuzz forms the middle chapter of the "Cornetto Trilogy," three films partnering Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The films are loosely connected by the similar casts and running gags between the films, although narrative-wise there is no connection between the films. The name is derived from a brand of Sundae Cones in Great Britain, with each film's genre inspired by the color of the wrapper of a flavor of Cornetto, this one being Blue, hence Police. The previous one was the Red wrapper (or Strawberry flavor), signifying the zombie film Shaun of the Dead and the third entry was the Green wrapper (or Mint flavor) with the Sci-Fi The World's End closing out the trilogy (more on that one to come).   

It's hard to believe it's already been 10 years since this movie came out. It's probably my favorite of the trilogy, although I love all three dearly for different reasons. I think in part it's because I grew up on the action movies that Wright and Pegg are so lovingly lampooning while creating a satisfyingly unique action film of their own. For that alone, it ranks among my favorite movies of all time. From the fantastic humor to the great performances from Pegg and Frost to the solid direction from Edgar Wright, there is plenty to love with this one. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Book of Henry














I was looking forward to seeing The Book of Henry ever since I first saw the trailer. It had an intriguing premise and I was a big fan of the director Colin Trevorrow's previous two films, Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World, so I was stunned when it was getting all these bad reviews. Not just mixed bad, more of they hated, hated, hated this movie bad. Armed with a free pass and nothing to lose but 100 minutes of my life, I decided I needed to know if it really was that terrible. And you know what? I don't think it was. 

Henry Carpenter (played by Jaeden Lieberher) is a young boy with amazing intellect and intelligence as well as a caring and compassionate person. He has the presence of mind to know that overall he would function better in a regular school than a gifted one as it offers him more social development. He oversees his family's finances and is so good at it, his mother Susan (played by Naomi Watts) wouldn't have to work if she didn't want to. He lives with his mother and younger brother Peter (played by Jacob Tremblay) and for the most part have a relatively happy life. The illusion of happiness is shattered when Henry realizes that the girl next door, Christina (played by Maddie Ziegler), is being abused by her stepfather, Glenn Sickleman (played by Dean Norris). At first, he tries to go to the authorties but reaches a dead end as Glenn is the Police Commissioner and no one believes the accusations (also Sickleman's brother oversees Child Protective Services, which doesn't help). Seeing no other option, Henry develops a bold and daring plan to take out Glenn Sickleman for good and one that Susan finds herself at the center of since Henry can't carry it out all on his own.

After the big and epic Jurassic World, this film is a return to form for director Colin Trevorrow as he works on a smaller and more intimate canvas from a script by Gregg Hurwitz. The film is ambitious in it's own way, juggling several different genres at one, going from whimsical, offbeat family comedy to very dark thriller along with another I won't mention due to my desire to keep this as spoiler free as possible. They damn near get away with it to, although some may find the shifts in tone more jarring than others if the critical response is anything to go by. Still, there are moments in the film when things just go a little to much to plan that had even me, one of the most forgiving moviegoers ever, thinking, "Oh come on!" The film really does stretch the limits of suspension of disbelief, especially during the climax of the film that Henry has set up and Susan is carrying out, with prerecorded instructions from Henry guiding her along the way that she frequently responds to. Henry's planning works out almost exactly as dictated and it would've been nice and more suspenseful if maybe things didn't quite go to plan and Susan had to think on the fly instead. Yes, Henry is a very clever boy but you can't predict human behavior that exactly and it would have been a nice twist if it hadn't gone exactly as planned. 

Still, it's the performances that really save the show. Naomi Watts is fantastic as Susan, who works as a waitress and is also an aspiring children's book author. Also, since Henry takes care of many of the household responsibilities, she is a bit more of a free spirit as she plays video games after work and hangs out with her friend and co-worker Sheila (played by Sarah Silverman). Even though chronologically she's the adult, in many ways Susan is another one of the kids as well and over the course of the events of the film grows up a lot, which made for an interesting story arc. Jaeden Lieberher is an actor I've been seeing turning in some great performances as well and is great here as well as Henry. He is able to convey Henry's intelligence but also his incredible compassion in a very touching performance. Jacob Tremblay was also quite good as younger brother Peter, who looks up to Henry and wants to be more like him. I also liked Dean Norris' performance as Glenn Sickleman, resisting the urge go outright villainous with his role, making the plot point of the authorties shrugging off the accusations against him seem at least somewhat plausible. Lee Pace shows up as a neurosurgeon Susan meets and the film does seem to imply some romantic interest there, but it doesn't really develop much. Despite a few endearing scenes between Pace and the two boys, he's a bit wasted here which is a shame. Still, a movie with token Lee Pace is better than a movie with no Lee Pace in my book.

Yes, The Book of Henry is a flawed film. But it's not the trainwreck the critics so viciously made it out to be. The story strains credibility and the ending probably works out just a little too neatly. But the film contains some fantastic performances and some genuinely beautiful cinematography. Besides, at it's core it holds a bold new idea for a movie. For all it's flaws, it was something that I had not seen before. In an era of endless sequels, remakes and "re-imaginings", I welcome anything that is original regardless of it's imperfections. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Imagine Me & You




















It's actually nice to know that every once and awhile, even the LGBT community can get a frothy, British rom-com full of beautiful London scenery and posh accents. Imagine Me & You fits nicely in that particular genre. While it doesn't reach the levels of a Richard Curtis film, it does have it's own charms as well.  

Rachel (played by Piper Perabo) is newly married to her loving husband Heck (played by Matthew Goode). Things are going along well it seems and the couple strikes up a bit of a friendship with florist Luce (played by Lena Headey), who they met when she provided the floral arrangements for their wedding. They try to pair her off with Heck's womanizing friend Cooper (played by Darren Boyd), but that takes a turn when Luce lets them know she is a lesbian. Still, Rachel and Luce remain friends and go on outings together. Things become complicated when Rachel starts developing feelings for Luce that are reciprocated by Luce. This leaves Luce with an agonizing decision: does she stay with Heck or give into her feelings for Luce, with whom she may share a deeper and more fulfilling connection with. 

The film was written and directed by Ol Parker, who attempts a difficult narrative balancing act with this film that mostly works. The film opens with the wedding of Rachel and Heck, who appear to be by all indications a happy couple. Then he has Rachel falling in love with someone else, in this case another woman, and the film wants me to root for Rachel and Luce but there was still a part of me feeling very sympathetic to Heck. Now, Ol Parker does try to suggest that Rachel and Heck are not the perfect match that it would seem. But he's still a totally decent guy, as the film makes clear. Ultimately, the film does resolve these plot points, but more than anything this was the plot point that I struggled with the most in this movie. But, on the other hand it does add more emotional weight to the film as you feel how serious Rachel's dilemma is as opposed to if Heck was a bit of a jerk, so it does add some more depth to the movie than is common for the genre.

The performances in the movie are decent. Piper Perabo and Matthew Goode both turn in endearing and appealing performances. Perabo does a great job playing Rachel's dilemma and you really feel for the character. Likewise, Matthew Goode is quite charming as Heck, which made me feel for his character as well as the story went on.  I really liked Lena Headey as Luce though and thought she did great in her role. She has great chemistry with Perabo and the two were really great together, with the scene where they play Dance Dance Revolution together in an arcade being a standout as possibly the cutest scene of the film. As a long-time Buffy fan, I did appreciate Anthony Stewart Head turning up as Rachel's quirky father as well and he gave an amusing performance.

Overall, Imagine Me & You is a cute and funny romantic comedy, with some surprising depth to it as well that makes it a bit more memorable. Critics didn't think much of it when it came out in 2005 but I feel it has aged better than most. It's nothing earth shatteringly new, but within the rom-com genre, I've seen much worse too.      

Monday, June 12, 2017

Big Eden


















I have long considered Montana to be my second home despite growing up in Minnesota. It's a fantastic state that I have always loved visiting. So, naturally Big Eden, which takes place in the Big Sky Country, holds a lot of appeal for me. 

Henry Hart (played by Arye Gross) is an artist living in New York City when he receives a call that his grandfather, Sam (played by George Coe) has fallen ill. Henry rushes home to the small town of Big Eden, Montana to help take care of him. He's greeted by family friend Grace (played by Louise Fletcher) who helps him get settled. Since neither Henry nor Sam is much of a cook, she recruits the owner of the local general store, the shy and introverted Pike Dexter (played by Eric Schweig), to deliver dinner to Henry and Sam each night, which was prepared by Widow Thayer (played by Nan Martin). Henry quickly discovers that his old high school crush, Dean (played by Tim McKay) is also back in town, divorced and with two young kids in tow. Meanwhile, Pike has been secretly crushing on Henry and begins secretly substituting meals he prepared for the ones Widow Thayer has been making, even recruiting his friends who hang out in his shop to help. When some of the town locals catch wind of what Pike is up to, including Widow Thayer, they come together to help Pike win Henry's heart.

Thomas Bezucha wrote and directed the film and infuses the entire film with a warm sentiment without being sappy. He manages to craft a group of characters to populate this small Montana town. The story does take on a sort of fable quality as the film goes on and noticeably omits any sort of homophobic character, which I actually appreciated in the film. Some people have criticized the film for that aspect, saying it was unrealistic that there wouldn't be in a place like small town Montana, but as someone who has spent a fair amount of time there, I don't feel like they're giving Montanans enough credit. In my experience it's always been a very live and let live attitude for the most part. Bezucha shot the film in Montana, primarily around Whitefish and Kalispell and uses the surrounding scenery to beautiful effect, creating and idyllic backdrop for the film to unfold.

This film has a fantastic cast for what is really a rather low-budget film and uses them to wonderful effect. Arye Gross is great as Henry, doing a great job portraying his character, a man at a crossroads in his life trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Part of him feels like his time in Big Eden is only temporary, but part of him wants to stay as well and is looking for a reason to stay, especially as weeks turn into months. Louise Fletcher is great as Grace, exuding a great, maternal warmth in all her scenes (so very un-Nurse Ratched then). Eric Schweig is great as Pike, who is very shy and has trouble expressing himself and Schweig does a great job making the character quite endearing. I also have to single out Nan Martin as the Widow Thayer, who makes the town busybody an absolute delight with her deep throat voice and animated expressions. Over the course of the film she sets up singles gatherings to try and pair up Henry with someone, first with girls and then when she realizes he's gay brings about another group of single guys until she finds out what Pike is up to and switches gears to help him instead.          

There is a lot to love about Big Eden. It's a wonderfully directed and acted romantic story, filled with lovable characters with plenty of humor and warmth. And every time I watch it, it makes me want to go back to Montana again. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It Comes at Night


















Sneaking into theatres along with the big budget blockbusters currently screening is a film that might just be better than any of them (ok, maybe not Wonder Woman, but it's close), It Comes at Night. Frightening and scary in a very grounded and real way, this is a thriller that will stick with me for a long time.

A small family of three, Paul (played by Joel Edgerton), Sarah (played by Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), are holed up in a large cabin in the middle of the woods. There is a global pandemic going on that has thrown the world into chaos and they have isolated themselves from society in a bid for survival. They have boarded up all the windows and the only way into the cabin is though a triple bolted door, ominously painted red. One night, the family is jolted awake by a man, Will (played by Christopher Abbott) trying to break into the cabin. Paul is able to subdue him and take him outside, tying him to a tree. Paul then proceeds to leave him there for 24 hours in an attempt to determine if Will is alone. Satisfied, Paul then goes out and questions Will. Will explains that he tried breaking in only because it looked abandoned (to be fair, it does) and otherwise wouldn't have if he knew a family was living there. He explains he has a wife and kid himself stashed away in an abandoned house not far away and can trade with them for supplies. Instead, Paul invites them to come stay with them at the cabin in part because he fears that if they leave, word will leak out about where they are. From there a tentative friendship begins between the two families as they combine resources. But slowly doubts, fears and paranoia begin to come in as each family begins to wonder who the other really is.  

The film was directed and written by Trey Edward Shults who crafts a startlingly real portrait of two families trying to survive in a world gone completely off the rails. He creates a very realistic depiction of what people might do to try and survive a global pandemic and also how a situation would push a person to do things they would never normally think themselves capable of doing, all in the name of keeping their family safe. Each moment of storytelling in the film and the decisions of the characters makes sense from a "What would I do?" perspective. I totally got that Paul, Sarah and Travis wanted to help Will and his family, but at the same time they have to take some severe precautions to make sure they stay safe, not only from looters but from infected people as well. The film does a good job of tapping into human nature, especially with feelings of fear and mistrust. The question of how well does anyone really know someone? It really taps into the nature of fear and paranoia and how it can affect someone, with that being the "It" of the title. Throughout the day, everyone is keeping busy and bonding. Will teaches Travis how to split firewood while Paul keeps watch. The wives bond while doing their chores. The two families bond while playing board games. But, alone at night when the house gets quiet and each person just has their thoughts, those fears come creeping in again. 

The acting is strong across the cast of the film. Joel Edgerton brings a lot of balance to Paul, a man willing to do whatever it takes to keep his wife and son safe. He is able to show both the regimented strictness that his character has is designed with safety in mind in a world gone mad and offset that with the more compassionate side of the character. Will is a very similar character trying to get his family to safety and under normal circumstances, Paul and Will very much could have become friends. It's a smart decision on the actors and the director to not try and make either character seem outright villainous because neither one is, but rather their own insecurities and paranoia escalating the tenuous partnership between the two. The other performance that really impressed me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis. He does a great job portraying a young teen forced to grow up fast and how everything that has happened is really starting to effect him mentally. He's having trouble sleeping and having increasingly intense nightmares (this movie is one of the rare times I didn't mind the whole "it was all a dream" trope). It's a rather understated and realistic performance that also conveys what effect the stress of their lives is having on him. 

It Comes at Night is a unique thriller that takes a nightmare scenario and plays it out in very realistic terms, which in turn makes it all that much scarier. By presenting us with two relatable, everyday families and watch them as they try to survive a global plague, isolated from the rest of society as their own paranoia and fears about one another threaten to tear them apart. The film works largely because it feels so real and it's not hard to relate to the characters and wonder if you'd do anything different in the situation. The really scary part for me is realizing there probably was not.
     

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Kinky Boots


















This 2005 British Gem has probably been overshadowed by the Broadway hit musical that was inspired by it, brought to the stage by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, but the film itself is a heartwarming and funny film in the mold of The Full Monty or Calendar Girls and is worth checking out on it's own merits.

Charlie Price (played by Joel Edgerton) has just inherited his father's failing shoe business that has been a family legacy for several generations. Desperate to keep the factory running, Charlie finds some unique inspiration on a marketing trip to London where he meets drag queen Lola (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor). He notices Lola's broken stiletto heel and realizes there may be a market for women's shoes made specifically for men. With some help from co-worker Lauren (played by Sarah-Jane Potts), Charlie develops a prototype boot, which isn't quite successful when Lola sees it. Lola then decides to team up with Charlie to develop the kind of footwear she has in mind. When it's revealed to the factory workers what the product change will be, there is a bit of surprise among them, especially the close-minded Don (played by Nick Frost). With the deadline of a footwear show in Milan, where they will be debuting their new product line, looming it's going to take everyone in the factory to come together to make it in time and hopefully save the company in the process.

The film was directed by Julian Jarrold from a script by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth. They manage to infuse the project with a lot of good humor and warmth into the film without it becoming outright cheesy. The plotline of the film is reasonably predictable, but within that well-worn framework, they manage to create some genuinely endearing characters that I couldn't help but love, even if I knew exactly where this movie was going. Julian Jarrold directs the film nicely, giving the film a nice pace. The film also brought about it's message of acceptance nicely without being overly preachy, which is always nice when a movie can do that.

The acting is really where this film shines. This film is Chiwetel Ejiofor's show front and back and is magnetic in the role of Lola, filling the character with so much love and life but also showing the hidden pains underneath as well as Lola and Charlie bond throughout the movie. Joel Edgerton also does well as Charlie, showing the immense weight and burden Charlie has trying to keep his family business afloat. He doesn't want to see anyone lose their jobs as he has known many of them for much of his life. There is a scene early in the film where he has to let some employees go and you can tell each one is just agonizing for him. Sarah Jane-Potts is quite charming as Charlie's ally in the factory and provides some much needed support as well as the initial inspiration to change the product rather than just give up. 

Overall, Kinky Boots is a fun bit of fluff of a movie. Yes, it's a bit predictable, but it still has a lot of warmth and humor that makes it hard for me to resist. It's cinematic comfort food, a movie you can put on knowing it's going to put a smile on your face. And sometimes that's just what I need in a movie and this one fills that bill nicely. It's well directed and filled with wonderful performances, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola. It's worth seeing just for her.   

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

But I'm a Cheerleader



















It's June once again, which is Gay Pride Month, and like last year I thought I'd take a look at some more great LGBT themed films. Now, with the controversial election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the subject of Gay Conversion therapy has hit the news in a big way over the last few months as it is something that has been documented that the Vice President approves of. This inspired me to kick off this year with a movie that takes a satirical look at such a practice, showing through absurd humor how such a process could never actually work. 

Megan (played by Natasha Lyonne) thinks she's an average, American teenager. She's a cheerleader dating a football player. But there is something off about her. One day after school, she comes home to an intervention with her parents (played by Bud Cort and Mink Stole), her best friend (played by Michelle Williams) and a representative from a support center called True Directions, Mike (played by RuPaul Charles). They explain they think she's a lesbian and want to send her to the True Directions camp to get her straightened out. She insists she's not, because she's dating a guy and she's a cheerleader. Nonetheless, she's packed off to camp where she is joined by several others in their quest to become straight, heterosexuals. Once there, they go through the steps of the program, led by camp director Mary Brown (played by Cathy Moriarty), that are set up to re-affirm traditional gender roles, such as women doing the housework and men doing butch, manly tasks. Each is color coded in either bright blue or pink as are the clothes the boys and girls wear. Another part of the therapy is to try and find the root of why they went gay. Soon, Megan comes to terms with her true sexuality and not only that begins to develop feelings for another camp mate, Graham (played by Clea Duvall), who is hesitant to reciprocate because if she gets caught and thrown out of camp she'll be disowned by her parents.

The film was directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Brian Wayne Peterson and together taken an sharply satirical look at so-called conversion therapy programs that claim to cure people of their heterosexuality. The film shows, in many ways that this is not possible. Mary's supposedly cured son Rock (played by Eddie Cibrian) spends much of his time in the film trying to entice Mike, who insists he's an ex-gay, with various suggestive exploits and Mike's reactions show he can just barely resist. The film also introduces a pair of ex-ex gays, Larry and Lloyd (played by Richard Moll and Wesley Mann), who covertly infiltrate the camp to provide an alternative to the kids, letting them know it's okay to be gay and also provide refuge to kids kicked out of the camp when they're unable to "kick the gay habit." The film also showcases some of the actual treatment methods used in these so-called conversion therapy retreats and when cast with the absurdist humor of the film makes these "therapy" methods seem equally ridiculous. 

The film has a great cast, anchored by Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall. Natasha Lyonne really shines in a great comedic role as a girl who is initially devastated to discover that she is gay, but then over the course of the film comes to accept it and as her relationship with Graham grows, even embrace it. Clea Duvall is likewise great as Graham, playing a girl who knows what her truth is but feels obligated to go through the program anyway to appease her parents and is probably afraid to be cut off from them. Cathy Moriarty is a hoot in the film as a woman completely devoted to her convictions in trying to "cure" these kids and gives an wonderfully over the top performance as only Cathy Moriarty can. The film also has a rare out of drag appearance by RuPaul Charles as one of the counselors who works with the male patients and has a lot of fun with his role as well.

But I'm a Cheerleader is a film that feels as relevant now as it did when it came out in 1999. Granted, gay conversion therapy has largely been debunked and is even now illegal in some states. But when you have a sitting Vice President who still believes in it, it's not as much of a thing of the past as we'd like to think. And sometimes it takes some savage humor to really show the truth of some things.    

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman



















Wonder Woman has had a long and drawn out trip to the big screen with attempts dating all the way back to the late nineties. While both Batman and Superman have had numerous big screen adventures, this is the first cinematic outing for Wonder Woman. Thankfully, it's a really great one. Full of wonder and adventure with just the right dash of humor, this is the first truly great DC movie since Christopher Nolan's Batman films.

Princess Diana (played by Gal Gadot) has spent her entire life on the idyllic island of Themyscira, surrounded by a group of warrior women led by Antiope (played by Robin Wright) and overseen by Diana's mother, Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielson). Initially hesitant to allow Diana to train with the other women, Hippolyta eventually allows it and instructs Antiope to make sure she becomes the fiercest warrior of the Amazons. However, their secluded existence is suddenly disrupted when a crashing plane pierces the veil that shields their world from ours. Diana sees the plane and dives into the ocean to rescue the pilot, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine). Unfortunately, Steve is followed by the German Soldiers that were chasing him and the Amazon women are violently introduced to the World War raging in the outside world. The Amazons are able to defeat the German forces, but not without some casualties. Fearing that Ares, the God of War, has returned and is responsible for this War to End all Wars, Diana insists that she accompany Steve back to his world and put a stop to Ares once and for all, taking them all the way to the front lines of World War I. 

There is so much to love about this film, it's hard to know where to start. Director Patty Jenkins and Screenwriter Allan Heinberg handle the film so well, balancing the big action set pieces with smaller character moments. The pacing is just right as nothing feels bogged down or dragged out. They know how to develop their characters so that the action of the third act actually has weight and meaning as our intrepid heroes work to save the day. They develop not just Steve and Diana, but Steve's band of cohorts (who I might as well call his Howling Commandos because the similarities between this movie and Captain America: The First Avenger are pretty overt, not that I'm complaining). You see them work together as a team to overcome the enemy and save the day, not just relying on Diana alone (although being the superpowered one, she does have to do the heavier lifting). I also appreciated the period setting of the film, taking place during World War I. Not only is it unique, but it also places Diana smack dab in the middle of the Women's Suffrage movement. It's only touched upon in the movie, mainly through Steve's secretary Etta Candy (played by Lucy Davis, who damn near steals the show), but it's still an intriguing parallel. The film also does a fantastic job balancing the bleakness of war with some lighter moments as well, either with Steve being the fish out of water in Themyscira (as well as being the first man Diana has ever seen, leading to an amusing scene in the Amazon baths) or Diana being a fish out of water in 1918 London (with scenes of Diana trying to find less conspicuous clothing with Etta being particularly amusing).    

The action sequences in the film are quite well executed. Some have been criticizing the use of slow motion in some of the fight scenes, but I didn't mind it myself. The big standouts for me were the fight between the Amazons and the German soldiers on the Themyscira beach. Even though they have never seen guns before, they are able to defeat the soldiers through superior fighting skill. The sequence is a marvel, seeing them working together as a unit to defeat their newfound enemy. The other big one comes later in the film as Wonder Woman is first revealed to the world as Diana charges across No Man's Land to defeat the German Soldiers before heading on to liberate the village beyond the German trenches, with assistance from Steve and his cronies. It is a marvelously well-executed sequence that really impressed me. Also, bonus points to Patty Jenkins for resisting the urge to add a line saying only a woman could cross No Man's Land. The only criticism I can think of for this film is that the climactic fight between Diana and Ares once again becomes an overblown CGI-fest that frankly kind of bores me. Still, within this sequence there are moments that were genuinely moving and heartfelt that mostly make up for it (and I won't go into further details because spoilers). I just wish they had found a more unique way of staging the climatic showdown than to just rely on throwing a ton of sub-par CGI at us. 

The performances from the cast are top notch. Gal Gadot firmly cements herself as a fantastic Wonder Woman after her extended cameo in Batman vs. Superman last year. She fills Diana with such hope and optimism that it's impossible not to absolutely love her. Likewise, Chris Pine is great as Steve Trevor and makes a great partner for Diana in their shared adventure. It helps that Chris Pine and Gal Gadot have some strong chemistry, which does some of the work for them. It's the smaller moments in the film that really cement it, such as the aforementioned scene in the baths, or when Diana and Steve are on the boat to London as he tries to explain male and female relationship dynamics in his world to her. There is of course a love story element to the two of them but even that is handled really well in the film as it charges towards it's climax. In supporting roles, we have Steve's team, which includes Ewen Bremmer as his sniper, Charlie, along with Said Taghmaoui as Sameer and Eugene Brave Rock as The Chief. Each actor is great, giving the most of their individual character moments, each creating a unique and endearing character. Then there is Lucy Davis as Etta Candy. She only has a few scenes in the movie but just steals every single one of them as Steve's hysterical and lovable secretary. 

Then, as the main villains, we have Danny Huston as German General Ludendorff, who is working on a deadly new poison with Dr. Maru, nicknamed Dr. Poison, (played by Elena Anaya) that they think will spell a last minute victory for Germany once it is detonated over London. Of course, Diana thinks Ludendorff is Ares in disguise while Steve just wants to stop the bombing. Both actors make for decent villains, but as a consequence of the film spending so much time with the hero characters, aren't developed as much. It's a minor quibble, maybe, but I wouldn't sacrifice any of the other scenes in the film to develop them more so I suppose I'm fine with it. They're just not particularly memorable, although that is no fault of either actor who are giving their roles all they have. 

Wonder Woman, with a few minor quibbles noted above, is everything I hoped it would be. It was a fantastically made film that does the character of Wonder Woman justice. It is filled with wonderful performances, masterful directing and strong writing that bring the world of Wonder Woman wonderfully to life. It ranks as one of the best superhero origin stories I've seen grace the big screen, coming to us with the depth and strength of storytelling as the best of them.          

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales














Back in 2003, when the original Pirates of the Caribbean was released, I had my doubts about it. A movie based on a theme park ride? Could Disney get any more crassly commercial. Nonetheless, I decided to check it out (my then-current crush on Orlando Bloom no doubt playing a part) and to my surprise I had an absolute blast with it. A large part of it had to do with Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. There just had never been a character like him in film and I loved him immediately. This film was soon followed by two increasingly bloated and convoluted sequels, a Jack Sparrow solo adventure and now we come to the fifth installment. I have followed Jack, sorry, Captain Jack's adventures since the beginning, so naturally I had to check this one out as well.

The film opens with Henry Turner (played by Brenton Thwaites) searching for a way to find Poseidon's Trident, which it is rumored can remove any curse, including his father's curse to captain The Flying Dutchman. He sets out to find Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp), who he believes can help him locate it. In the process he encounters the spectral Pirate Captain Salazar (played by Javier Bardem), who has a bone of his own to pick with Captain Jack, who many years previously tricked him and caused him and his crew to become trapped in their ghostly existence within an area known as the Devil's Triangle. Teaming up with Astronomer Carina (played by Kaya Scodelario), who everyone keeps calling a witch because how dare a woman like science things, Henry and Captain Jack work together to try and locate the Trident before the recently freed Salazar and his ghostly crew catch up to him.     

The film was directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg from a script by Jeff Nathanson and the three do a good job of coming up with a new adventure for Captain Jack while tying all four previous films together, bringing in Will and Elizabeth's son into the adventure as well (who Captain Jack is not particularly pleased to meet, remarking "So, you're the product of that evil couple!"). They keep the film moving at a brisk pace, which considering some of the more bloated entries in the series, that is something to be thankful for. They also manage to come up with some unique action sequences, including an attempted rescue of Captain Jack, who is strapped to a guillotine, something Jack is unfamiliar with at first ("I don't mean to complain, but this basket is full of heads," he remarks at one point). The film falls in line nicely with the other films, coming up with another unique item for everyone to be chasing after for this film, although really they're chasing the same thing every sequel in this franchise has been chasing: the elusive charm that infused the original film. This one probably comes closer that the other films (all though all of them certainly had their moments). It helps that this movie has a clear-cut plotline and doesn't get bogged down with too many subplots, although there are a couple involving a British captain (played by David Wenham) and Pirate Captain Barbossa (played by Geoffrey Rush) getting involved in the action, but for the most part it keeps things fairly straightforward.  

The acting was reasonably strong this time with Johnny Depp once again playing Captain Jack, the same lovable, eccentric rogue I've loved since the first movie. I imagine five movies in Depp can just slip into Captain Jack with ease. Similarly, Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbossa, playing the character with the same over the top flair that has Rush doing everything but literally chewing the scenery. But, this sort of colorful overacting is why we go to these movies. Nuance has no place in a zany swashbuckler like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Although the film does find some new depths in Barbossa for Rush to play, which is a welcome addition to the film. Newcomers to the series Brenton Thwaites does well in his role, more or less playing the straight man of the group, with Kaya Scodelario as his love interest. It was nice to see a smart girl in the middle of the action who took an active role in helping the group find their Macguffin treasure, in this case Poseidon's Trident and Scodelario plays her well.

Overall, I enjoyed the latest adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew, as I have the previous films more or less. They still haven't quite managed to recapture the fun of the first film but this one got pretty close. If you're a fan of the series, you'll probably enjoy this one as well. If you're not, then why have you read this far already?