January 29, 2018 - Darkest Hour
2018 Oscar Best Picture Nominee
2018 Best Actor Nomination - Gary Oldman
After a heated exchange with his war council on how to negotiate peace with Hitler, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) storms out of the room. Furious with the possibility of relenting to the German forces, he then turns and yells, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth” before he leaves. These chilling words resonate and remind the council with what is at stake. World War II has already begun and the German forces have invaded Belgium, with France as it’s next target. As the Allied forces sit trapped in Dunkirk, France, including almost all of the British army, tough decisions must be made. Churchill believes negotiating peace with the enemy is not one of them.
Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour takes place in the a short time frame, over a month in 1940, starting with the decision to place Churchill as the Prime Minister of the UK, after the failings of the previous Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). Churchill was a contentious choice, but a necessary one, in order to please both political parties. After he is elected, he wastes no time creating his war cabinet and plans the next step. He has always opposed peace with Hitler and will not let the rest of Europe sit defenceless while German troops continue their invasion. Known as a great orator, Churchill spends a good amount of time on his speeches with the assistance of his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) in order to invigorate his party and the citizens of the country. With losses and casualties mounting though, this is a tough task. A mistake in Calais, which cost the army thousands of troops, prompts Churchill to work on a plan to get the remaining soldiers out of Dunkirk, including sending all civilian vessels across the English Channel. There are a lot of things at stake, including a plan from part of his war council to replace him with a new Prime Minister. Pressure from his own party, and even a call to US president Franklin Roosevelt proves to be a dead end, as Churchill is at his most desperate. He must find a way to convince the government that they must fight. Eventually, after a quick detour to the London Underground in which he learns that the common people of country will fight no matter what, Churchill is reinvigorated. He heads to Parliament to deliver one of his best known speeches, “We shall fight on the beaches”, to the members, and earns the full support from both parties and Chamberlain. The film ends with the success of the speech and with annotations about Churchill’s life after the war.
Darkest hour is one of many Winston Churchill films made in the past 50 years (including another one made in 2017), but this is the first that focuses on such a small time frame of his political career. Even though we know how things turn out in the end, the tone is set on high intensity, and the feeling of dread is felt throughout. Wright does a great job of setting the mood of a country on the verge of war without realizing it, and a government in turmoil. Oldman also does an amazing job, transforming himself into the bald, heavy set Prime Minister with the same voice and mannerisms as the real Churchill. The transformation and performance is done so well that you can’t believe that this is the same person who played Commissioner Gordon or Sirius Black. The rest of the cast do a great job as well, highlighted with performances by James and Pickup. It is not a perfect film though. While the pacing is mostly done well, there are a few lag points in which things felt a bit slow, but the moments don’t last long. Also, while being based on real events and characters, some artistic liberties were taken (such as the tiger’s mouth comment). Churchill is still a contentious person in history, and we only get a small taste of his bad side, so the film won’t be for everyone, but the performance of Oldman alone, makes the film a worthwhile watch.
A- Adam Eltarhoni
November 7, 2017 - Thor: Ragnarok
Within the first few minutes of Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, our hero Thor(Chris Hemsworth) is already in trouble. Wrapped in chains and a prisoner of demon Surtur, Thor learns that Odin is no longer on Asgard, and that Ragnarok, a great event that will end the lives of many, will soon occur. Thor doesn’t seem too worried though, and after some light banter he summons his hammer Mjolnir to release him from his chains. Once free, Thor fights his way through Surtur’s guards and eventually defeats the demon by hammering off his skull. With the skull safe, Thor can return home knowing that he has prevented Ragnarok from occurring. This fun, comical beginning provides the lighthearted foundation of the rest of the film, which is perhaps the best one in the series.
Thor: Ragnarok continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever expanding storyline and includes previous characters from the franchise including Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and Heimdall (Idris Elba), and a few from other parts of the universe such a brief cameo from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). In fact, the Hulk features prominently in this film, which plays as a buddy flick more than a super hero film. Once Thor returns to Asgard after his battle with Surtur, he and Loki learn that Odin is in hiding. Odin is dying and he reveals to them that Hela (Cate Blanchett), their older sister, will be free from her prison once he passes. Hr returns happens pretty immediately and in a quick confrontation, Hela destroys Mjolnir. Loki and Thor attempt to flee but are quickly sidetracked, where Thor ends up a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Captured by a scrapper who he learns is an Asgard Valkyrie(Tessa Thompson), he is placed into the Contest of Champions a gladiator style battle to the death. Thor learns that Loki is on the planet as well and that his opponent is his friend, the Hulk, who has been missing for 2 years. Seeing an opportunity to escape and enlist the help of the Hulk and the Valkyrie, Thor must head back to Asgard to save it from from Hela’s destruction. The team arrives and after several battles, the remaining citizens of Asgard escape the destruction as Thor leads them to a new home.
Director Waititi does a great job of rebranding Thor and his storyline as a more relaxed one. The serious tones of the previous films are gone and we get an adventure that is similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Thor has a more wise cracking attitude, and the interactions he has with Loki, and the Hulk are fun to watch. The side characters are great as well with Korg, an rock like being with an Australian accent, as the highlight. The acting is well balanced overall, with a standout performance by Tessa Thompson. Karl Urban also does a good job as a newcomer to the series (soon every actor will be in a Marvel or DC superhero movie by this rate). Jeff Goldblum is the only weak part, as he seemed to phone in his performance. The soundtrack provides some great 80’s hits and the dialogue is enjoyable, even if it is predictable at parts. The story, which takes a bit from a Hulk comic storyline, is also well done for a superhero movie. While not as unique as Wonder Woman or the Spider-Man: Homecoming, there is a bit more to the plot than Thor and the Hulk escaping a trash planet, especially in the end where a tough decision about the future of Asgard must be made. And since it is a lighthearted film, we never worry about the potential real danger of our characters, which allows the audience to focus on the action and the laughs. In the end, Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what the film is advertised to be, a fun world hopping action film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, all to the tune of 80’s music.
- Adam Eltarhoni
October 23, 2017 - Blade Runner 2049
The last time we saw Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) he was leaving his apartment in Los Angeles with replicant and love interest, Rachel. The year was 2019, and with his mission complete, he was looking to escape, as Rachel will be hunted for being a replicant. In Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, the follow up to Ridley Scott’s sci fi classic film, we return to LA with a new story, and a new Blade Runner. Living up the the legacy of the original films can be a difficult task, mostly done poorly (the fourth Indiana Jones film), but sometimes becoming even better than their predecessors (the fourth Mad Max film), and this film strives to achieve the latter.
Blade Runner 2049, as the title suggests, take places 30 years after the events in the original film. The gloomy world hasn’t changed much, with the exception that the there are new replicants who live on the planet. They were created by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) a businessman who bought the assets of the Tyrell Corporation and found a way to make them safe. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those replicants and his work as a blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department is routine, until after a mission to retire a replicant leads to clues about a bigger mystery. Tasked with finding out more, K visits the Wallace Corporation and learns about Deckard and Rachel for the first time. He continues his search which takes him all over the region, from San Diego to Las Vegas, in order to find out the answer to this mystery. He is not alone on his mission, as his holographic girlfriend known as Joi (Ana de Armas) joins him. In addition, he is also being followed by Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), an employee of Wallace, who wants to find out the mystery as well and locate Deckard for other reasons. Without spoiling too much, the mystery is solved in the end, and K gets the closure he was looking for.
Blade Runner 2049 has it’s highlights, and is visually a perfect follow up to the original. The dreadful look of LA and other areas compliment the feel of a future lacking natural beauty (plants and animals are almost nonexistent on Earth). The dialogue is good, with a lot of depth and meaning between the characters. Joi, even though just a holographic program, feels real in her admiration for K, while the conversation between Deckard and K is one of the best exchanges of the film. The action scenes are also well done. K’s final fight with Luv on the shores of a concrete beach at night is a memorable fight scene that will keep you engaged. The soundtrack is also enjoyable, keeping with the theme of the original.
These highlights do not do enough to make the film a perfect movie by any means, as there are flaws that are too big to ignore. The first one being the run time. At 2 hours and 43 minutes long, the film drags on at several moments. Villeneuve is a master filmmaker, and both of his previous major releases, Sicario and Arrival, both end around the 2 hour mark. With Blade Runner, he is bogged down by a story that doesn’t need to be as long as it should be, and filled with unnecessary scenes. While the scene where Wallace explains his motives on solving the mystery looks interesting, it is a scene that could have been better done and saved minutes from the run time. This is a recurring theme sadly, where scenes that do not advance the story are inserted without good reason. The story is a bit lackluster and it doesn’t feel like anything new or exciting. With the sci fi world built from the first film, more could have been done for the sequel besides what is essentially an action mystery. The film adds a few extra characters and motivations, but they don’t flow well and are mostly unnecessary. The lack of screen time for both Ford and Leto (who both feature prominently on the marketing of the film) is also disappointing as they seem like the most interesting characters in the film. And while the original film did a good job of making the audience sympathize with the replicants, 2049 simply does not have the same effect. In the end, Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film that has it’s strong points, yet fails to leave a lasting impression and legacy to the original.
September 25, 2017 - Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Within the first 2 minutes of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is already in danger. After leaving the Kingsman tailor shop, he is attacked by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman candidate turned bad. The action quickly moves into the back of Eggsy car as a high speed chase develops while Eggsy and Charlie fight. The zany action continues as the camera swoops to different angles while the car drives through London with ease. Eventually Eggsy emerges victorious and after escaping into a hidden underwater tunnel in Hyde Park, he is safe. The absurdness of the action and the special effects are what we come to expect in the latest outing of the Kingsman series.
When it was released in 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit. Director Matthew Vaughn wanted to create a spy movie that was the opposite of the serious spy movies of the past decade. He was looking for a film with more crazy action and outlandish situations. The first film delivered on that, with a great cast featuring Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson. This time around Kingsman: The Golden Circle decides to up the ante with more action and silliness than the first film, and adds more to the cast of great actors including Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry. Elton John even makes an appearance in the film and actually plays a role in the plot. Speaking of plot, the stakes are raised even more when the Kingsman headquarters are attacked, resulting in Eggsy losing everything, including his friends and coworkers. The only other survivor is Merlin (Mark Strong), and they eventually find themselves in Kentucky to meet up with the Statesman, the American version of the Kingsman, run by Champagne (Jeff Bridges). While there they learn about a drug lord known as Poppy ( Julianne Moore), who is in the middle of a plan to poison the world through her drugs in an elaborate ransom plot to legalize all drugs so that she will become even more rich and famous. After to jet setting around the world from Switzerland to Cambodia, Eggsy comes out victorious on stopping Poppy’s scheme and saves the world once again. The plot is ridiculous even for a movie which is meant to make fun of the genre, but after remembering Bond films such as Moonraker, it can be mostly forgiven.
The Golden Circle is with many faults even if you look past the plot. The action is a bit too jumpy, even when the director attempts to keep it as a single shot at points and we never really have time to enjoy the choreographed fights. In certain fights the special effects are bad, making it more distracting than exciting. And, besides the final shootout scene in Poppy’s base, we are never worried about the fate of our heros. Some fights seemed forced, as if Vaughn needed to fill time (which isn’t needed as the movie drags on at 2 hours and 21 minutes). With a movie that focuses on action, this is can be an issue. The cast is another problem, but mainly the lack of using great talent in the film. Everyone does a good job, but we get such little use of Berry, Bridges, and Tatum, it leads one to believe they are only in the film so that can be advertised in the trailer. Elton John, on the other hand, has more screen time than the others and does a delightful job on keeping up the entertainment and providing the film with a few laughs. As for the side plots, Eggsy’s princess girlfriend and the US President’s evil intentions, they are forgettable and feel like more time fillers. Perhaps this is all part of the satire though, and Vaughn may know that his target audience doesn’t care about those details. For the rest of us, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an entirely skippable film.
August 28, 2017 - Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh is supposed to be retired. After 2013’s Behind the Candelabra, the director stated he was done directing films. After years of hits such as the Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic, and Magic Mike to name a few, our time with director Soderbergh seemed to finished. Fortunately for us though, his retirement is over with Logan Lucky, a heist film starring Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as two brothers from West Virginia who plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, with the help of a few friends.
The film starts with Jimmy Logan (Tatum), a construction worker who gets laid off from his job at the Charlotte Motor speedway due to an old football injury. Jimmy has a daughter that he sees when he can and an ex wife (Katie Holmes) who is planning to move out of state. He’s not too happy with this and heads to the local bar, where his brother Clyde (Driver) works as the bartender. Clyde lost his hand in the Iraq War, has a prosthetic replacement, and is convinced that the Logan’s are unlucky due to both of their injuries and family stories of lost fortune and health. After a small incident with British businessman, Max (Seth MacFarlane), Jimmy decides that him and Clyde need to do something with their lives. This plan involves robbing the speedway he was just working at, as he know how they move the money during events and how to get to it. In order to do so, they need a team, which includes sister Ellie (Riley Keough), convict Joe Bang (Craig) and his brothers. Since Joe is still in jail, Jimmy and Clyde come up with a plan to get him out in time for the heist. This set’s of a series of scenes that will be reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven. The plan is told to the audience, the team is assembled, and we experience the plan in action, albeit on a lower scale. There are no hi tech electronics or acrobatics in Logan Lucky, just the planning and the quick thinking of the team. During this time we get a mix of comedy and excitement as we wonder if Jimmy and Clyde can really pull off their plan. This get tense at moments, and there are a few twists that fit an Ocean’s style film.
Overall, Logan Lucky hits high marks in what you would expect from a Soderberg heist film. The acting is almost universally excellent, with Craig, Tatum, a Keough as the highlights. Even the brief appearances of Dwight Yoakam, as a prison warden, and Hilary Swank, as an FBI, are strong. The only weakness is MacFarlane, who seems a bit out of place in the film among an otherwise strong lineup. Fortunately he is not in it long enough to deter from the film. The visuals are great, and the setting, which jumps between Charlotte, and West Virginia, is a fresh feel in a heist film. Performing the crime in the middle of a NASCAR race is also a nice touch, with cameo’s from actual drivers sprinkled throughout the film. The film even has heart, as Jimmy isn’t some con man trying to get rich, but a man who wants to spend more time with his daughter, and needs the money to do it. One scene featuring the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" lends credence to his motivations. Steven Soderberg’s fingerprint is felt throughout the film, from the color scheme to the framing of each scene, to the music. In the end, we get an great summer film that will leave you entertained.
July 31, 2017 - Atomic Blonde
We first see Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) emerging from an ice cold bathtub; full of bruises all over her body. As she calmly collects herself, she puts a few pieces of ice into a glass and pours some Stoli Vodka (her preferred brand) into it and takes a sip. She is getting herself ready for a debriefing with her senior MI-6 officers on her recent mission to Berlin. Joining in this debriefing is CIA Agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who Lorraine is not to happy to see. She doesn’t think any outside agency should be a part of the debriefing. After a few unpleasantries are exchanged, including a comment on her black eye, Lorraine begins to tell the story from the beginning. This story includes action and sets the tone for David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde, a cold war spy movie based on the graphic novel The Coldest City.
It’s 1989 and the final days of the Berlin Wall are approaching. MI-6 loses contact with an agent in West Berlin who was working with a government agent from the east that has valuable information. Lorraine must go into the city to extract the information that was lost, and bring it back. While there she is to meet up with current agent in the city David Percival (James MacAvoy) who will help her out. The Cold War is in it’s final days in Berlin, and the East Berlin agent know as Spyglass (Eddie Marsen) has a list of all the western espionage agents hidden in a watch that was taken by a KGB agent. Spyglass memorized this information though, making him just as valuable at the list. Lorraine enters the city and already has troubles with the Soviets, forcing her to trust no one, not even Percival. She must also address a mysterious woman who has been following her since she arrived. As the days count down, with news reports on TV speak about the increasing protests in the east, Lorraine must get the information before it is all lost or ends up in the hands of her enemies. Her story is interwoven with cuts back to the interrogation room as we learn more about her mission and her interaction with her bosses. In the end, we eventually learn who is spying on who, and the motivations behind our characters as Atomic Blonde gives us a fun action film full of spies, style, and 80s hits.
David Leitch, who co-directed action film John Wick, lends his styling to Atomic Blonde, giving us strong action sequences that don’t feel over the top or redundant. When Lorraine is surrounded by Berlin police in an apartment she is searching, she must get crafty in taking down the officers as they search for her, leading to her getting away ungracefully through the balcony. When she gets hit hard, it shows, and her bruises don’t leave as she earns more. While things can be a bit too drawn out at times, Leitch makes sure to switch up the camera angle or setting so we don’t get too bored. Theron, who is also a producer for the film, takes on the role of a spy masterfully. She is seductive and dangerous, and carries the action without missing a beat. MacAvoy also does a wonderful job as Percival, an agent who has been in Berlin perhaps too long. We can never tell if we can trust him, and his changing demeanor throughout the film doesn’t help us decide. The setting feels fresh as well. While there have been tons of cold war spy films in the past, there hasn’t been one in a while, especially one that takes place in the final days of the war. Leitch helps transport us to this time period by giving us a great 80s soundtrack. Watching a chase scene through the streets of Berlin while New Order’s Blue Monday plays in the background allows the audience to get amped up what to expect throughout the film. The plot can get a bit complicated as most spy films tend to do, and it may cause a bit of confusion on the motivations of our characters, as well as their loyalties, but overall it can be forgiven. This is not a cold war drama after all. Atomic Blonde focuses on stylized action with a great cast and setting and hits high marks on it’s target.
July 17, 2017 - War for the Planet of the Apes
The beginning of Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes opens on a snowy woods. As soldiers sneak slowly through the terrain, a text overlay briefly recaps us on the story of the prior two films and what is happening now. War has come to the apes after the San Francisco attack in the last film, and the soldiers are on a mission. They arrive to an ape encampment, and scout it out. Before a soldier makes his move he is tapped on the shoulder. It’s at this moment we see the men are accompanied by gorilla soldiers, who are working with the men on this attack. This revelation shows us that the war has become more complicated than just human versus ape as we start our journey in the 3rd film of the new Planet of the Apes series.
After the assault by the humans fail, as backup apes arrive to fight back, some of the soldiers are captured, including a gorilla member of the team. It is at this moment that they are introduced to Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the tribe. Caesar, in hopes to offer a message of peace, releases the captured humans. Later that day, Caesar’s son Blue Eyes arrives from a long journey to find a new home. His mission has been a success and he speaks of a land across a desert that is not touched by humans. They decide that this is where they will go to start a new life. Planes change that night though as an ambush attack on the ape’s home results in the death of Caesar’s wife and son from the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the leader of the soldiers. Realizing that they are not safe, Caesar sends the tribe off on the journey to the new land, while he will go off to kill the Colonel. Joined by Maurice, Luca, and Rocket, Caesar heads north in search of the soldier’s base. The search leads them to a little human girl who cannot speak. While Caesar wants to leave her, still blinded by his anger at the humans, Maurice convinces him to take her along, otherwise she will die. As they work their way towards the base, the group encounters another ape who can talk, known as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). He once lived in a local zoo and went into hiding when the virus hit. He knows the location of the base and agrees to help the group with their mission. Throughout this time Caesar is haunted by the visions of Kobu, the ape from the last film. Kobu was bitter at the humans and started the assault on San Francisco, which has lead them into this current situation. Caesar killed Koba and now wonders if he is becoming more like him, vengeful and full of hate. Eventually they make it to the base of the Colonel and realize that the rest of the tribe has been taken and forced to work as laborers for the base. This leads to the big finale in which Caesar must free his fellow apes and stop the Colonel for good. Once successful, the tribe heads to the new land, free of humans (with the exception of the little girl), to start a new life. Caesar is now at peace, and can rest knowing that his kind is safe.
The story of War of the Planet of the Apes is a good one, as it is more than an action film, is it a film about (for lack of a better word) humanity. It can be hard to bring emotion out of computer generated characters, but Reeves does a great job of showing us that it can be done. Caesar is trying to protect his kind, and even through the loss of his loved ones, he has to make decisions that benefit all. He know he should not be violent, like Koba, but after constant aggression from the humans, he feels like there is no other option. While he is the smartest of the apes, he still is emotional, and does not waver from his revenge plot. Kind hearted Maurice also shines, as he provides balance and sensibility to Caesar when he needs it. Nova, the little girl, is a reminder that not all humans are bad and full of hate. We also get development in the virus, which has mutated into a new form, one that has become more dangerous for the surviving humans and the reason for the Colonel’s actions. This slow world building intends to payoff with each film in the series. As for the cast, Serkis does a great job with Caesar, giving life once again to our leader, as well as newcomer to the series Zahn, who provides great comic relief in an otherwise serious film. There are some weaknesses with the film, though. There is a lot of story here, and the near 2 and a half hours are felt the whole time with scenes that move slower than necessary. Cutting 20 minutes out of the film would not sacrifice any of the plot. Harrelson does a fine job as the Colonel, but never seems too threatening or villainous. Overall, Reeves does a good job on keeping our interest in the Planet of the Apes series, and I look forward to seeing where the series will head next.
- Adam Eltarhoni
July 10, 2017 - Spider-Man: Homecoming Review
Being a 15 year old kid can be tough, especially when you have to balance school, friends, and not being killed by criminals who are robbing an ATM across the street from your favorite deli. This is the norm for Peter Parker (Tom Holland) though, who goes around after school dressed up as the spider man, fighting crime and staying alive. We get a taste of this all in Jon Watts Spider-Man: Homecoming, a reboot of our favorite web slinger and his first full film in Marvel’s ever expansive Cinematic Universe. After 5 previous Spider-Man film outings this century so far, one would think they had ran out of material, but Homecoming may be the best one since Spider-Man 2, and perhaps the best Spider-Man film overall.
Spider-Man: Homecoming starts right after the end of the first Avengers film. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) runs a contracting company that is in the process of cleaning up the destroyed parts of New York. The contract is cut short and this triggers events that lead to Toomes donning a flying suit with wings in what makes him the Vulture eight years later. The movie wastes no time in trying to be an origin story, and the Vulture is established before the opening studio credits. We are also spared of Peter’s origin story, jumping right into him filming (with his phone) his mission from Captain America: Civil War. Skipping the origin story, which is usually the weakest part of first films, allows Watts to give us a Spider-Man story that feels fresh. After returning from his first mission, the 15 year old Parker is ready for the next assignment. Months go by, without a word from Stark, and he spends most of his time stopping small incidents. Everyday he leaves school and dons his spider suit, leaving his extracurricular activities and friends behind. He is an eager superhero, ready to prove himself and become part of the Avengers. This need to prove himself eventually has Parker cross paths with the Vulture, who almost kills him on their first encounter. To top it off, he must keep his identity secret from his loved ones, which is tough when the girl he has a crush on admits to being a fan of Spider-Man. Homecoming treats us to a Peter Parker that is high school focused, we get to see a true teenage superhero. Peter is not popular and a bit nerdy, and like most teenagers, he wants to fit in with the cool crowd. By his side is Ned (Jacob Batalon) giving great comedic relief and support. Peter does survive both high school and the Vulture in the end, leaving us with potential for a sequel that will surely come.
With a total of six credited screenwriters Spider-Man: Homecoming is well composed, from the story arc to the dialogue. Nothing feels too forced and Holland does a great job of delivering the sarcasm we have seen from the comics. Batalon’s Ned may be the typical geeky sidekick, but he does it with such authenticity, it doesn’t feel cheesy. Keaton’s Vulture is also a hightlight of the film. A strong villain makes most films, and Keaton gives us a guy who isn’t really trying to be evil, or take down any organization, but a man who just wants to live life and support his family. He is able to change from friendly to fearsome in such a way that you might actually think he is a madman. Robert Downey Jr returns as Tony Stark and is great as usual. He is in the film just enough that it doesn’t feel like he is taking the spotlight away from Parker. Since it is a superhero movie, we also get a lot of great action, from fighting criminals on the streets, to a battle on the Staten Island ferry. While there are a bit of moments that may feel cheesy or make you think that wouldn’t happen (even for a superhero film), they can be forgiven as this is a movie that isn’t trying to be a serious superhero film. This film is less Dark Knight and more Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a good thing. Overall, we get a good film with introduces Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man to the world.
June 26, 2017 - Baby Driver
At the beginning of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, we open on the start of a heist. Baby (Ansel Elgort), the getaway driver, sits in the car with his headphones on, while the others get out to begin the robbery. The action focuses on Baby, as he jams and sings along to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion while the robbery is taking place. Once the crew returns to the car, Baby is off on a police chase through downtown Atlanta, headphones still blaring the song. After some close calls and intense moments they make it to safety, and we get a small taste of the action to expect in the film.
Baby Driver is a movie with a simple enough premise; a young getaway driver with a big love of music, is looking to do some work before moving on from his life of crime. This involves working heists with Doc (Kevin Spacey), a ringleader of sorts who has criminal connections and sets up each job. Everyone gets a split of the earnings and people go on their way until Baby is contacted again for the next job. Along the way though, the movie becomes a love story, as Baby meets a waitress (Lily James) at a diner after one of the jobs, and begins to fall for her. While most action films add the romance as a B plot, Baby Driver shifts focus to give us a love story as the foundation to the film. This doesn’t diminish the action at all though, as Baby still has a job to do, and we get introduced to an excellent cast of criminals, from the impulsive Bats (Jamie Foxx) to the cool guy Buddy (Jon Hamm), both who join the crew for a big heist. While the plan for this heist is simple enough, distrust begins to grow among the group and things start to go wrong No one is safe as things spiral out of control and Baby must find a way to come out alive.
Edgar Wright is best known for his comedy films such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and has given us one of the best movies of the summer. In addition to the excellent performances by Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm, relative newcomer Elgort does a great job as our protagonist. He may seem goofy at first (as we see in the first scene) but Elgort delivers a performance that adds substance to the character. Wright, who also wrote the script, gives us an action story with emotion and twists, all to an awesome soundtrack that will have you looking it up after the film. Songs such as Queen’s Brighton Rock has never sounded better that it has when Baby is leading the getaway from the police. Everything comes together at just the right moment with just enough tension to keep you engaged.
The movie is not perfect though, as some scenes feel a little awkward and forced. One scene in particular, involving a bank robbery, has a normal citizen try to stop the robbery with his truck, chasing the criminals down the highway with a semi automatic weapon he just happened to have in the passenger’s seat. While it adds to the excitement of the scene, it’s hard to believe any citizen would chase an armed group of robber down the interstate just to stop a bank robbery. The title of the movie, while a reference to a Simon and Garfunkel song of the same name, does not invoke an image of a high end action film. Either way, this doesn’t distract too much from the film, and both can be overlooked. In the end, Wright does a wonderful job of creating the best action film of the year so far, with the help of a great soundtrack and a talented cast.
June 5, 2017 - Wonder Woman
Diana (Gal Gadot) is not a fan of women’s fashion of the early 20th century. After arriving in London with Allied spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a fun little dressing montage ensues. New to the rest of the world, Diana comments that the outfits are constricting and does not allow for battle movement. With the help from Steve’s secretary Etta (Lucy Davis), Diana finds a suitable outfit and she continues her mission to find and kill Ares, the god of war.
This fish out of water theme is persistent in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the latest superhero movie to be released this year, and perhaps the best in the past few years.
Wonder Woman starts with Diana living in present day Paris, where she receives a photo of her from World War One. This triggers a flashback that takes us to the heart of the story, starting with a young Diana living on Themyscira, an island in the Mediterranean, wanting to learn to fight. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, is queen of the Amazons, a warrior people whose duty is to protect the world from Ares, who defeated the rest of the gods ages ago. Her mother initially protests her training but Diana eventually grows up to become a great warrior. One day, she sees a plane crash into the water off the coast and rescues a man named Steve Trevor. Learning about the details of the great war that is happening in the rest of the world, Diana is convinced that this is the doing of Ares, and takes the godslayer, a weapon designed to stop Ares. With this, she leaves her home to help Steve, who has a notebook with information on a new chemical weapon, return it to London. This leads to them heading to the front lines with the assistance of a group of friends in order to stop German general Ludendorff, who Diana believes to be Ares in disguise. Along the way she learns the nature of man, and the horror of war. The world is more complicated that she thought, and she must come to terms with this reality.
At its’ heart, Wonder Woman is a superhero movie. Diana has powers and magical weapons, and the villain is a god, but underneath, you get a story of morality and sacrifice. Visiting the trenches in Belgium, Diana wants to help all the suffering people she comes across, yet Steve tells her that it is not possible. This is a new concept for her, as she has never experienced this. She also does not believe this, and she heads out of the trenches to help retake a village captured by the Germans. This leads to a great action sequence, where we see Diana and team take out the troops and liberate the city. The action in the film doesn’t feel out of place or dragged out, and we learn more about our team each time. In addition to that, the story feels fresh, with the setting in a war that was known for chemical weapons and trench warfare, a time we don’t often see in movies. As for the actors, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are perfectly cast in their roles. Gal gives us a Diana that is innocent to the outside world yet presents a strength in her demeanor. Chris plays the jaded spy well, who knows he must do what he can (good or bad) to complete his mission. Visually, the film hits the high marks, giving a great juxtaposition of Diana’s home with it’s clear blue skies, to Europe, covered in grey and ravaged by war. One gets a good sense of how this time period really was for Europeans.
This is not a perfect movie by all means though, as some scenes seem a little cheesy (the aforementioned dressing montage), and the dialogue is rough at parts. Even after Steve and his crew see Diana deflect bullets and leap great heights, they don’t seem too impressed, as if this is an everyday occurrence. Steve knows Diana is extraordinary, yet does not think that Ares is real, which is a bit hard for the audience to believe. It is also odd that Steve, an American, is a spy that works in London and reports to British intelligence. My knowledge of how that worked in reality is little, so I may be wrong, but it seemed out of place.
Overall, this is a great superhero movie to add to the pantheon of others, and the best one so far this year. While I have never seen any previous Wonder Woman material, this is a great introduction to the character, and I look forward to seeing what she brings to the Justice League movie later this year. Even with the small shortcomings, Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint.
May 22, 2017 - T2 Trainspotting
When we last saw Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) he was leaving town after robbing his mates. He decided to “Choose Life”, and break free from his drug addiction and friends that enable it. 20 years later, he is back in Edinburgh after living in Amsterdam and, as you can expect, they aren’t too happy to see him. After saving Daniel “Spud” (Ewen Bremner) from killing himself, Mark is attacked by Spud for leaving them so many years ago. The same thing happens when Mark revisits Simon “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller) at a his pub, where small talk turns into a fight with pool sticks breaking and pint glasses being hurled. This is a fitting homecoming for a man who betrayed his friends and left them to their self destructive lives.
Danny Boyle’s original Trainspotting film is a legacy in the British film scene, doing an incredible job of portraying the youth scene of a group of drug addicts in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. He shows us a group of twenty somethings living for partying, petty crimes, violence, and heroin use based on the novel with the same name written by Irvine Welsh. While no one is truly a good person, Mark is the closest to being our protagonist, as a he does get his life back on track and sobers up. After leaving with the money at the end of the film, we are left with some hope for him, yet no true closure on the rest of our team. T2 intends to give us that closure without ruining the memory of the first film. It is a tough task to complete, in this age of unnecessary sequels, and it does the job well.
The death of his mother is the reason for Mark’s return to town after all this time, and after saving Spud’s life, Mark intends to help him break his addiction. We learn that Spud was on a good track for a little while with his girlfriend and kid, but after a timing mishap, he loses his job and the trust of his family. This leads him back down his path to heroin and an attempt at suicide. Mark’s assistance works, and he offers Spud to find a new addiction, one that is not harmful. Spud tells Mark he has to visit Simon, who has now been poorly running an extortion scheme with girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) as well as managing his aunt’s pub. Simon has a new plan to open a sauna (really a brothel), and wants Mark to help. Mark declines but eventually returns, as he reveals that his marriage is failing and he has nothing of importance to return to in Amsterdam. He decides to help Simon and Veronika pulling some petty crimes, while bringing Spud in to assist with remodeling the pub. During this time we also get a look into “Franko” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) life. A prisoner for the past 20 years, Franko escapes and is back to his old thieving ways, bringing his son into the mix. Paths cross eventually when he learns that Mark is back in town after a humorous exchange a nightclub. Driven by revenge, Franko involves the rest of the group in order to get to Mark, leading to a final confrontation to end our story. And while heroin addiction and escape was the theme of the first movie, reminiscence and finding meaning in life seems to be the theme in this film. No one has really moved forward in the past 20 years. By the end of our film though, we have some redemption, and that’s the best we can hope for from our crew of degenerates.
Having the original cast, who did such a great job in the original, and adding a few new elements creates a great film that pays homage to the first movie while giving us a new story. Each actor still brings a presence to the screen that feel authentic. Certain scenes are duplicated and locations revisted, such as the bathroom with “the worst toilet in Scotland.” At one point, when Veronika asks Mark what the Choose Life statement means, he gives us an updated version of the original monologue (...Choose an iPhone made in China by a woman who jumped out of a window and stick it in the pocket of your jacket fresh from a South-Asian Firetrap…). The writing is just a good as the original and the music is just as fun. Danny Boyle, who has become an acclaimed award winning director, adds his mix of filming and storytelling in a way that he does best keeping with the feel of the original film.
- Adam Eltarhoni
May 15, 2017 - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
In Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword we start with war, with the evil sorcerer Mordred advances his army towards Camelot. As the giant war elephants trample through the castle and soldiers, King Uther (Eric Bana) prepares to fight back. Running into Mordred’s encampment atop one of the elephants, Uther uses the magical sword Excalibur to kill Mordred and end the assault on Camelot. The victory is short lived however, and kicks off a chain of events which lead to a coup of the throne by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Before perishing, Uther and his wife send a young Arthur away on a boat, where he is eventually discovered by a group on women in Londinium. It is here that Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up and where our true story begins.
There have been many iterations of of the King Arthur legend in cinema. From classics such as Disney’s Sword and the Stone and John Boorman’s Excalibur, to the BBC series Merlin. Each have their own spin on the story, and Guy Ritchie’s version is a great addition to the lore. Ritchie, who is most famous for films such as Snatch and the Sherlock Holmes movies, adds his trademark style to film. Interwoven scenes, sped up action, and unique camera angles all add to the fun of the film. A montage of Arthur growing up on the streets, from being bullied everyday and to learning to become a fighter, is done at twice the normal speed. This gives us a idea of how he came to be, without filling too much time. Present conversation between characters mixed with future scenes of what they are discussing helps move the story along without being confusing. Later, when an attempt on the king’s life does not go as planned, Arthur and crew must escape through the streets of Londinium with guards chasings. This allows Ritchie to showcase multiple fight scenes that are reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed video game series. The action feels fresh and Ritchie gives us a sense of danger as they turn every corner.
Even the story feels fresh in this telling of the King Arthur story. As Vortigern is working on building a tower, Excalibur reveals itself in the stone. Vortigern realizes what this means and knows he must find his nephew, the only one who can pull the sword from the stone, and murder him to consolidate his power. He sends his guards throughout the land to bring in men of age who could be Arthur. Arthur, who is in Londinium at the moment and is avoiding soldiers for an incident regarding some Vikings, is found by the king’s guards, who think he is just a commoner of the right age. He is put on a ship to Camelot to join others in pulling the sword. To Arthur’s surprise he succeeds, and Vortigern plans a public execution. During the display Arthur is rescued by a mage who, with the assistance of a rebel group, free him and bring him to their hideout. Arthur is unwilling to help though, as he does not want any trouble and wants to return home. Over time, after Arthur learns more of his past and what happened the day his parents were murdered, he obliges and becomes committed to killing Vortigern. Instead of rallying armied against Vortigern though, they create a plan to pull Vortigern from Camelot, which leads to the previously mentioned assassination attempt in Londinium. It is here that Arthur, who has had trouble controlling the power of Excalibur, is able to use the sword to its full potential, and decimates a group of soldiers that surrounded him and his group. The group is able to escape the city with some casualties. Eventually he must confront his uncle and an assault on Camelot is planned, where Arthur finally defeats Vortigern and becomes King.
The theme of not wanting to be the hero has been used in films before, but King Arthur: Legend of the Sword presents it in a different light. I was pleased that the people trying to convince Arthur did not tell him it was his destiny (or that he is the chosen one), as that has been done in so many films in the past. Instead they want him to learn from Excalibur and find out his past, in order to see his way. Charlie Hunnam does a great job as Arthur, filling that role of a street hustler turned king. He has a certain attitude and presence about him that allows his delivery of dialogue and action to feel authentic. The rest of the cast do a great job as well, although it is still tough to believe Jude Law as a villainous character. The dialogue, while not perfect, is fine overall, with some funny exchanges and witty remarks. It has a very Guy Ritchie feel to it. Most of the special effects are good as well, although the CGI in the final fight is a bit too unreal. Overall, Guy Ritchie gives us a great King Arthur story done his way and in his style. With medieval fantasy movies coming out every year, this one is a winner.
- Adam Eltarhoni
May 8, 2017 - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
At the beginning of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, we are placed right into the beginning of one of the team’s missions, protecting batteries from a monster that is coming to steal them. As the battle begins, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) turns on the music and starts dancing as his teammates are thrown around in the fight as the opening credits roll. This scene is a hint what to expect in the sequel to the 2015 hit movie about a rag tag group of criminals who save the galaxy and become heroes. Taking place a few months later after the first movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 features all of our favorite characters from the first movie on a new adventure to find the parental origin of group leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Joining him are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel).
The chain of events kick off after the team defeat the monster from the opening credits and collected their reward from a race of golden people called the Sovereigns. They receive their reward, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), and leave, with Rocket deciding to steal some of the batteries they were paid to protect. This leads to a chase from the Sovereigns’ fleet which the Guardians almost don’t escape until they get saved by a mysterious man. After crash landing on a planet, they meet the man called Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals to be Peter’s father and a being known as a Celestial, which is basically a god who created a planet with his mind and a physical form that has traveled the universe. In the meantime, the Sovereigns are on a hunt and hire the Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his ravager crew, who have been exiled by the greater ravager community, to find the Guardians. Plotlines converge as we learn the true intentions of Ego and more about Peter’s past, all to the tunes of hit music from the 70’s. In the end the team matures, and after a long battle, come out victorious as we are to expect with all the Marvel movies.
It’s tough to take a surprise hit such as Guardians of the Galaxy, a relatively unknown Marvel property, and create a sequel just as good, but James Gunn almost pulled it off. While not as good as the first, the movie keeps up the pacing of adventure and fun, especially with Baby Groot. Baby Groot fills the cute role to perfection and his actions are enjoyable on screen. The acting is well done for the most part, and besides adding Sylvester Stallone to the movie for some reason (he’s still not a good actor), everyone embraces their role. Music plays an important role in both films and while the mix from Vol 2 is not as strong, it is very enjoyable and includes strong hits such as The Chain by Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra (you can find the playlist on Spotify). The music is integrated well and doesn’t feel too much of a burden. As for the story, it can get a bit bogged down at points, and the relentless assault from the Sovereign drones stretch the action until is it dull towards the end. Yet, once we get past all of that, we see a good story about family and acceptance, which is more than we have gotten from a lot of recent Marvel films. If that wasn’t enough, Baby Groot and his presence will keep you entertained. I look forward to the release of Vol 3 to continue the adventures of our Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Adam Eltarhoni
April 10, 2017 - Going In Style
Robbing a bank is no easy task, and it’s even harder when you are over 70 years old, as our main characters learn in Zach Braff’s remake of Going In Style. An attempt early in the film by Joe (Michael Caine) and Willie (Morgan Freeman) to steal from a grocery store ends in a humorous low speed chase that also gets third buddy, Albert (Alan Arkin) in trouble with the store security team. After getting off with a warning from the security manager, Joe and Willie realize they must get better prepared if they are going to pull off the heist.
The original Going in Style was released in 1979 and featured George Burns as the main character. With the recent trend of remaking all that is old, Zach Braff gives us a modern upgrade from the original crime comedy. Besides the main plot, three elderly friends decide to rob a bank, the two movies are not much alike. The film begins with Joe at his local bank at the time that it gets robbed. After a brief interaction with one of the robbers, he is less traumatized by the incident and more intrigued that the robbers got away without and trouble. He soon learns afterwards, along with Willie and Albert, that the pension funds that they were all receiving have stopped due to a new company buyout. With a family to support (Joe’s daughter and granddaughter stays with him), he begins to think about ways to make quick cash to save his house, which leads him to his decision to rob the bank. After some convincing, the other two are on board and they begin their plan to rob the same bank as earlier.
With this cast of talented actors and story, Going in Style gives us a fun adventure that keeps your interest. Michael Caine does a wonderful job as Joe, the leader of the group, who wants the best for his granddaughter. Morgan Freeman, who seems to do one of these “old people go on an adventure” types of movies each year, also does not disappoint. His reasons for wanting to rob the bank is quite different though, as his kidney failure is getting serious, and he wants travel to see his granddaughter before he gets worse. Alan Arkin provides a good compliment to the other two, as the most reluctant member of the three. He doesn’t have any family to concern himself with, and he doesn’t mind being broke, so he has no reason to become a criminal. He eventually agrees to the plan, once he learns that the bank will have their pension money. This leaves his motivation as the weakest of the team, but it’s a Hollywood movie and we must have the team together. They all add great comedy though, and caters to the crowd of the older movie going population. There a good amount of age jokes, and references that an older crowd would enjoy. Besides the comedy, Zach Braff does a good job of setting up the tension on whether or not they can pull it off. On the day of the robbery, Joe, who walks his granddaughter to school every morning, brings along her estranged father to help do the walks in the future. There is a lot of uncertainty on if Joe believes he will succeed, and wants to prepare for the worst. The feeling of dread continues throughout the day as Joe, Willie, and Al do final preparations. I won’t go into too much detail about the plan, but they have come a long way from the grocery store incident, and it shows.
Overall, Going in Style hits a few high marks, primarily with the actors, but does not do much more than entertain. The comedy is there, as well as a story that will keep your interest, which is good enough for the intended audience.
April 3, 2017 - Ghost in the Shell
Within the first 15 minutes of Ghost in the Shell, our main character Major (Scarlett Johansson) infiltrates and takes out a group of villains with relative ease. From jumping off a building, to attacking the criminals in her invisible outfit, the movie gives us a taste of the style and action to be expected. How does she manage this feat? Major is a cyborg, the first of her kind she is told, one that has a human brain placed in a robotic body. This is a future where people can get cybernetic enhancements to any part of their body, and she is the next level in this technical evolution.
It is always a tough task to take a beloved franchise such as Ghost in the Shell and turn it into a live action film. First appearing in 1989 as a manga, Ghost in the Shell takes place in a futuristic Japanese city and follows the story of Major, who is a member of an anti-terrorist force known as Section 9, it became an anime film in 1995 followed by a series and another film. With a lot of source material to pull from, writers Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger along with director Rupert Sanders create a film that seems to be a mix of old references and new details. In addition to Johansson as Major, the cast features Pilou Asbæk as Batou, Major’s partner in the force, Michael Pitt as Hideo Kuze, the man Major is hunting, and Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, the head of the police force. While Scarlett is a little bland as Major, the others do a wonderful job in the film. The setting is also nice. Section 9’s city feels over the top, with its holographic advertisements everywhere, but also realistic, with its run down areas and overcrowded landscape.
For the plot, Ghost in the Shell has the feel of an anime, and for an audience who hasn't seen any previous material, such as myself, the story is entertaining without being too dependent on the source material. It has a feel of a 90s plotline though, and does not offer too many surprises. One year after becoming a cyborg, Major begins to have “glitches” in the forms of visions she sees in real life. She has no knowledge of her life before becoming a cyborg, and Major begins to think these glitches may have something to do with her past. Meanwhile, she is also on a hunt for a mysterious person who is looking to take down the Hanka Organization, one of the largest robotics company in the world. Helping her with this task is Batou, the hard scrabbled partner who prefers feeding stray dogs over hanging out with people. The back and forth between the two feels natural, and adds to some of the best moments of the film. On top of that is the previously mentioned action sequences that make the movie an entertaining experience. The fights are fun, and the shootouts are even better, leaving you wanting more.
The film is not without its problems though, with a clichéd dialogue being the primary issue. The interactions with the Hanka corporation CEO Cutter and most other characters are full of one liners that are laughable, and the movie does not want to let you forget that Major is like a “ghost in a shell”, repeating this concept constantly, as if we don’t get the meaning of a human in a robot body. Certain scenes seem unnecessary as well. Major’s visit to the bottom of the bay for some alone time provides no real importance besides the fact that it is pretty to see the sea creatures swimming around her. While Johansson, as mentioned earlier, does not add much to the character, although without seeing any previous material from the series, it may be intentional.
Overall though, we are given a fun futuristic action movie that doesn’t try to be overcomplicated or surprising. As long as that is all you are expecting, you will be entertained.