Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

(Spoiler-Free) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Movie Review
Warner Bros Studios Pictures
The importance of family, power of love, good vs evil – the Harry Potter series was a master at being a universal phenomenon. No matter where you came from or how you found the story, author J.K. Rowling offered a doorway into storytelling as easy as flicking your wand and make-believing you were a witch or wizard on your way to exploring her wizarding world. Ten years after her first series ended, and the start of a new chapter has begun, it's a little clearer with the Fantastic Beasts series that the story we loved is not as accessible as it used to be - whether you’re a die-hard fan of the series already or just curious about the franchise's future.

Following Newt on his adventures, the second Fantastic Beasts film travels to the Paris wizarding world where Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) promises freedom for his growing, loyal band of followers who want to be liberated from the shadows of the No-Maj/Muggle world. In trying to stop his rise to power, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) requests the help of his former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Meeting in the middle are both foes and friends alike - Tina Goldstein (Katharine Waterston), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Leta Lestrange (Ezra Miller), Nagini (Claudia Kim), and Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) – who called to decide which side they are on.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Venom (2018) Makes Comic Book Movies Fun Again

Venom Movie Review
Sony Pictures
Why so serious comic book genre? This is the big question that pops up in my mind over the intense division, even backlash, over Venom. Sony's latest attempt at their own comic book universe is an unexpected detour from the expected adaptations we've seen over the years, and reminds us of how the genre used to be: purely fun for fun's sakes. Venom's splash of action, sci-fi, and rom-com is not the most traditional story of its kind, and that works both for and against the film.

Humankind is depleting all of its natural resources. So much so that it's gonna need a better planet. Creator and inventor of the Life Foundation Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) uses his spaceships to bring back aliens known as symbiotes with the hopes of finding human hosts, but they’re deadlier and dangerous than even his multi-million dollar corporation ever planned for. Enter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who uncovers shady dealings with Drake’s corporation and inadvertently becomes the host of a violent symbiote called Venom. Forced to act as a hybrid, Eddie and Venom work together to take down the Life Foundation.

Venom is an absurd comic book movie that embraces how absurd it is, and honestly, the pure joy of the film comes out of its leading performance by Hardy. Already having a reputation for going all in for his characters, he makes no shift in changing his methods now, and here it really works – he’s not only playing Eddie but gives Venom his voice and comically, awkwardly, and believably acts like there’s an alien taking over his body - it's some of the best, and most importantly playful (and not method-esque performances) he’s ever given. As much as the film includes the typical CGI combat scenes between the two of them against Drake's cronies, there are a few set pieces of Eddie fighting his body's reaction to Venom's invasion and embracing Venom until they end up creating a weird bond of compromise and trust. Their arc from enemies to frenemies and friends is one of the best on-screen relationships to come along in a long time, especially in the "superhero" genre. It’s almost impossible to think that another actor could’ve carried the film as entertaining as he does.

Following behind Hardy is the supporting cast who aren’t “bad” in any sense of the word, but in comparison to Hardy don’t have as much to carry in terms of showy performances or transformations. Riz Ahmed as Drake is sort of your typical Marvel villain as a rich inventor who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, but Ahmed is charismatic and tries to rise above some of the cliche tropes his character has. More minor characters are filled in nicely: Jenny Slate as one of the few doctors who questions the lengths Drake is willing to go to; Celphas Jones as Eddie’s steely boss are fine the roles that they have; Reid Scott as a doctor who tries to help Eddie. The only casting that felt out-of-place was Michelle Williams as Eddie's girlfriend Anne; she's well-balanced as stuck between loving or leaving Eddie, but the chemistry between herself and Hardy didn’t quite gel - I had a hard time trying not to imagine someone else in the role.

Therein lies a small crux to Venom: it entirely rests on Hardy’s beefy shoulders. If his performance works for you, it’s guaranteed to be a good time; if it doesn’t, well, the whole film falls apart.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

First Man (2018) Shoots for the Moon But Misses

First Man movie review
Universal Pictures
Most are probably familiar with Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission: the space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" quote, the iconic photo of Neil's footprints on the moon. Here for First Man, director Damien Chazelle explores a deeper, not widely known story, behind one of humankind’s biggest achievements.

Following the death of their toddler Karen, Neil (Ryan Gosling) and his family gradually set a course for him through trial and error to chart the famous Apollo 11 mission. While working his way up as a pilot and surviving the Gemini missions to landing on the moon, Armstrong’s eyes are so strongly set on the stars to deal with his grief, his relationship with wife Janet (Claire Foy) and their two sons starts falling apart at the seams.

One can’t have a biopic about Neil Armstrong without the Apollo 11, and vice versa. To tackle such an elusive figure with monumental events, it’s a real balancing act for any director to want to tell both stories. There's no question that Chazelle wanted to explore Armstrong's side of the events. However in focusing the film almost entirely from his perspective, the overall journey to the moon leaves a lot to be desired. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Fourth's Time The Charm for A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born 2018 movie review
Warner Bros Pictures
Every twenty years Hollywood has reinvented A Star Is Born, a seemingly timeless story where a veteran star’s fame declines as he falls in love with a newcomer who rises to the top. From earning standing ovations at film festivals around the world to epic word-of-mouth on social media, director Bradley Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga has earned acclaim for his directorial debut with the reboot of a tragic Hollywood fairytale. With so much hype surrounding the musical-drama-romance, the fourth A Star Is Born remake not only lives up to the hype but worth all its weight in gold and then some.

I don't consider this review full of spoilers, but if you're not familiar with the full A Star Is Born plot, it might be spoilerish. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Puts A Feminist Twist on Rom-Com Fairytale

Warner Bros. Pictures
Anyone who’s anyone has probably heard of Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan's international bestselling book that's taken the literary world by storm since 2013. If you haven't, chances are you'll know its name now with the critically acclaimed adaptation closely following its lead. And for good reason: director Jon M Chu charms with a story about love, sacrifice and identity that'll sweep you off your feet.

An economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to attend a family wedding. Making a good first impression to your possible-in-laws is naturally intimidating, but Chu’s meet-and-greet brings a shocking revelation: Young is the prized son to one of the richest families in Singapore and the approval of his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is extraordinarily difficult to earn; so much so, it might end up tearing them apart.

At first glance, Crazy Rich Asians is a lighthearted, endearing movie that's pretty much like every other romantic comedy: pretty people falling head over heels for each other in wonderful locations set to an addictive soundtrack. But sometimes the best rom-coms have substance as well as style, and this film has both in spades; especially the latter starring women (and men) struggling to sacrifice or uphold a part of their identity and traditions to appease the people they love.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018) Is The Best Franchise That Keeps Getting Better

mission impossible fallout movie review On the very rare occasion that Tom Cruise doesn’t deliver on his promise to thrill moviegoers, almost every summer we count on the renown star to bring on the excitement as the daring spy Ethan Hunt. Waiting for another installment has become an event in itself for fans anticipating where Cruise will take his passion for this sage next. Every Mission: Impossible installment seems outdo the last tone. Coming back for the sixth time, Mission: Impossible Fallout again proves to be the best entry in a franchise that just keeps getting better.

After failing to recover three plutonium nuclear cores, IMF Agent Ethan Hunt is forced to team up with the CIA’s top assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of a religious anarchist group known as the Apostles. While dealing with the aftermath of capturing one of its dangerous associates Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Hunt’s past comes back to haunt him, and question how he can save the world just one more time.

Every Mission: Impossible has been naturally different in their own way as the films have changed hands between directors, writers, and supporting casts. Despite definitive stylistic transitions between movies, the series has never lost the core of what it’s always striven to be: an action-packed escape with fun characters. Though the franchise as a whole and individually are far from bad (the earliest ones are certainly dated but not the worst), Fallout is not just a physical rollercoaster ride but an emotional symphony in humanizing its hero.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Watch On Netflix: Set It Up (2018)

For the past several years, romantic comedies haven't flourished like they used to. Gone are the days where one quirky love story after another swept us off our feet and dominated the box office. While The Big Sick and Love, Simon have recently become beloved favorites, regular hits seem few and far between. After significant word-of-mouth through social media, there might be some hope left for the ol' harmless genre with Netflix's Set It Up

Two hardworking assistants Harper and Charlie (Zoey Deutch and Glenn Powell, respectively) are anxious to live a normal life outside of the office and enjoy more free time to themselves. To get a much-needed break and reconnect with neglected aspirations/relationships, they decide to secretly set up their bosses Kristen (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs) for a quick hook-up that might just become the real deal.

Fascinatingly, Set It Up is not entirely different than most 'chick flicks' you'd find on the Hallmark channel - which isn't an insult to Netflix's surprise hit at all. Like all rom-coms, the story is a bit of a fairy-tale and more happy-go-lucky than real life fails to be; there's cutesy montages, sappy quotes about what it means to fall in love, a dance-party-Spotify-worthy songlist. Drawing on elements of what's worked in the past for the genre - heartwarming characters, the right cast, and a joyful setting - director Claire Scanlon and writer by Katie Silberman revive the rom-com wheel to create a funny and light-hearted movie night and a big hit online.

Where the movie truly shines is the leads. Zoey Deutch charms the hell out of her role as Harper, an awkward, dorky 'insert foot into mouth' aspiring writer who's become too comfortable filling out her boss's requests in order to take a leap of faith and combine her love of words and sports into a different career. (Something I relate with all too well, fyi). Glen Powell is the perfect counterpart as Charlie, a likeable guy-next-door who puts up with his hotshot boss in order to be promoted and live the high-life, but in getting everything he wants, he might inadvertently fall down the same loveless path Rick's on. As a pair they truly steal the show, wonderfully alienating each other until they fall in love as we fall in love with them.

As for Harper and Charlies' bosses, the script for both Kristen and Rick isn't horrible but could be a bit stronger. There's simply more to love about Lucy Liu's performance and wardrobe than Taye Diggs's. The former's boss-from-hell is fierce, independent, and demanding yet as down-to-earth-as possible, while the latter's quite one-sided and doesn't put his charisma to good use. Though Diggs is typically wonderful in everything he does, his character is less of a perfectionist womanizer with a heart of gold underneath, and more of a spoiled tantrum-thrower with shades of decency thrown in. While the rest of the cast has a sense of humor tailored to them (Harper's sarcastic/clever, Charlie's dry, Kristen's sharp), Rick's one-liners are so random they'll require a double-take. Additionally, Kristen/Rick's initial run-in can only be described as awkward, in comparison to the rest of the movie that's quite subtle and wholesome. While Rick's faults goes to the writing more than the actor, everyone blends together quite smoothly; Liu has a lot more to work with here (she might even get her own sequel), but with Diggs, they manage to exude 'will-they-or-won't-they' chemistry as well as Deutch and Powell.

The most refreshing aspect about Set It Up might be how it avoids falling into tropes with its characters, especially its heroine. The script, and Deutch, have a great time with Harper as a hard-working and dorky-to-the-max protagonist, and also showing that she hasn't had a lot of romantic partners but that doesn't necessarily define. Charlie, who thinks he's quite the ladies man, doesn't try to change her personality or looks to improve her life. Their relationship starts out as strangers who want the same things, which develops into a relateable friendship and something more. There's no man-boys forcing women to be something they're not (looking at you Judd Apatow) or a girl being forced to choose between work and love (looking at you...every other rom-com ever); all of the characters are on equal playing fields. As Netflix churns out feel-good flicks left and right, this one's reminiscent of traditional romantic movies that are thoroughly missed.

Set It Up might not be the most original romantic comedy, but sometimes that's the best kind of escape; girl and boy meet; for the most part get along and wear their 'friendship blinders' until they discover what they've been missing: each other. The movie has a lot to love just the way it is. With a great cast and delightful setting, it's genuinely worth a watch or two.

Have you seen Set It Up? What did you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Love, Simon (2018) Is More Than A Coming-Of-Age Story

Everyone deserves a love story, but cinema has been slow in letting everyone share their affection for others. Based on the best-selling book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is one of the most refreshing romantic dramedies in a long time.

Simon is gay. But nobody knows it yet. One evening, the gossip site for his high school tips off the community that someone is secretly gay but hasn't revealed their sexual identity yet. In a bid to ward off any attention, he anonymously shares his story of fears and worries about coming out, and begins a penpal relationship with "Blue" - another kid at school who's in the same position he is. When a nosy theatre nerd finds out Simon's secret and promises it'll stay so if he's hooked up with one of Simon's friends, Simon does everything he can to help him while sorting out his feelings.

Though I haven't read the best-selling book yet, the adaptation proves to be a hit on its own. Given how many young adult franchises just don't capture the attention like they used, and films representing the gay youth experience are becoming more seen than ever, Love, Simon is an enjoyable, important coming out of age movie.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Makes Superhero Movies Feel Good Again

Ant-Man and the Wasp movie review
Since Avengers: Infinity War left us in an exhausted heap of feels, Marvel offered their least suspected characters to cleanse our palate after everything changed with a snap of Thanos's figures. Surprisingly, against the odds that one of the Avengers' smallest heroes could fill in the summer gap, that's exactly what Ant-Man and the Wasp does: pick up the pieces from Infinity War's devastating wake and gear us up for the next leg in the Avengers' recovery with Captain Marvel in 2019.

Starting where we left off in Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) have rekindled their relationship and are determined to return to the quantum realm to find their long-lost matriarch Janet (Michelle Pfieffer). However, in the two years since Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) sided with Captain America in Captain America: Civil War to fight Iron Man over the Accords, he made a plea deal and was put on house-arrest to avoid going to jail. Brought in to help Hank and Hope on their quest, they're on the run from the FBI, and together, they must race against time and a new form of Ant-Man called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who is hellbent on stealing their new quantum technology.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Greatest Showman (2018) Sings A Surprisingly Different Tune


Musicals inspire us to set aside reality as characters break out into song and dance when life’s knocked them down or they're making their dreams come true. With the setting of a grand circus and a showman making his performers dreams come true, The Greatest Showman surprisingly struggles with creating magic outside of its wondrous score and dazzling production.

Hugh Jackman takes on real-life circus mogul P.T. Barnum from his downtrodden childhood to marrying the woman (Michelle Williams) of his dreams and creating an eccentric show starring outcasts – bearded lady, a giant, a dwarf, trapeze artists, siamese twins - to name a few. As his exhibition of "freaks" bring a different kind of success than he anticipated, Barnum's forced to face what his dreams are truly made of.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ocean's Eight (2018) Plays It A Little Too Cool

Ocean's 8 Movie Review
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Since Ocean's 8 started stitching its cast list together in 2017, the reboot to Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's franchise took on huge expectations and a need to prove assumptions wrong before it ever hit theaters. Despite how epic the cast is or big the anticipation (or sleek the trailers are), sometimes the power to make a good movie isn't with those on the poster; it's with the actual powers-that-be. And unfortunately, this director plays it way too cool and practically topples the film like a house of cards.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister to Danny Ocean (George Clooney), spent five years, eight months, and twelve days in jail with one thing on her mind: pulling off her next con. Reunited with her team of grifters - Lou (Cate Blanchett), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), they make Hollywood's biggest star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) and jewelry powerhouse Cartier their next target. But Ocean's jewel heist isn't just any jewel heist: all she aims to do is break inside the Met Gala and walk out with $150,000,000. Easy.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Quick Reviews: Deadpool (2016) and Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool Movie Review
20th Century Fox
Diagnosed with stage four cancer after falling head over heels with the love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wade Wilson's conned into becoming something he never wanted: a superhero. Duped by a mysterious recruiter Francis (Ed Skrein) who promises an experimental cure for cancer, Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is taken prisoner and his body is tortured into awakening mutant genes that cures his illness but leaves his body disfigured. And Francis isn't done yet: he also kidnaps Vanessa. There's only one thing left on Wade's mind: to do whatever it takes to save his girlfriend.

Deadpool is very much like the titular character: it's not like any superhero we've seen before. Unapologetic in its wisecracks and sarcasm, Ryan Reynolds's performance breaks the fourth wall and favors the deadpan humor he's developed throughout his career in Hollywood. The film is easily tailored to his comedic sweet spots, which isn't surprising because he was extraordinarily passionate about bringing this character to the big screen (especially after he was mutilated in Wolverine: Origins).

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Throws Down the Gauntlet (spoiler free)

Avengers: Infinity War movie review
It all comes down to this. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, even Twilight, one film of several sequels inevitably ends up being responsible for "the beginning of the end". For Marvel, eighteen movies left a trail of breadcrumbs for its biggest cinematic villain over the past ten years, Avengers: Infinity War (and its sequel to-be-released next year) throws down the gauntlet like never before.

Loki's alien invasion, Ultron ripping apart Sokovia, and disagreements over the Accords were a walk in the park for the Avengers. Nothing has prepared Earth's Mightest Heros for Thanos (Josh Brolin), a dark lord who's been wreaking havoc across the universe determined to collect the Infinity Stones - gems that represent Time, Mind, Soul, Reality, Space, and Power. Once he possesses all six stones, he can wield their power with the snap of his fingers, and he has some deadly plans in mind once he succeeds. Spread out across Earth and space, our favorite superheros unite to put an end to his limitless power.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018) rings in another exciting wave of terror

Platinum Dunes / Sunday Night
Platinum Dunes / Sunday Night
For the past few years nailbiting and bloodcurdling movies like The Witch, It, and Get Out have reinvigorated the horror genre. Though it's never been a favorite of mine, the latest suspenseful flick A Quiet Place's continues to make you think twice about where the genre will take us next.

This review contains spoilers - please read at your own risk.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Phantom Thread (2017) Combines Beauty with the Bizarre

Photo Credit: Focus Features
A period film is rarely going to be anything else than what you expect. They carry with them a certain routine charm and elegance, and often breathtaking costumes and scenery to draw us into another time. Unless it's an old-fashioned mystery, biopics of twentieth century figures or unrequited love stories in the seventeenth century, aren't pegged to have some massive twist that leaves you feel like you've left a suspenseful thriller. Phantom Thread has all those things you'd expect of a typical period film, but surprisingly, not everything is what it seems.

Hiding twisted secrets underneath its beautiful facade, something hypnotic and unsettling lingers within the gorgeous visuals of director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest feature. A waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) falls head over heels with fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis). Being in love with Woodcock is to be caught in a beautiful web. With Woodcock's decadent creations comes his elusive charisma and moodiness, a perfectionist attention to detail, and his equally mercurial sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Will their romance last and how is the question we're not beckoned to ask, but it's one that we find out the answer to in stunning, unimaginable ways.

On the surface, the film is a love story. Alma, Reynolds, and Cyril love his clothes; designing, refining, and bestowing them on women worthy of wearing them. There's such a love of them there's seemingly nothing that can outdo their significance or steal away their attention, except for each one's love of control over their lives and each other.

Just like the canvases he makes with his clothes, there's a pattern to Reynolds's relationships: fall in love with a muse, ,the honeymoon phases out, and he ultimately cheats on his significant other with his work. But unlike Reynolds's past muses, Alma refuses to wear out her welcome. She challenges Reynolds and Cyril wanting more and more, becoming a pawn in their game and also in a step ahead of their moves. They've all found their match in each other, preying on weaknesses to gain the upperhand. Their relationships become less of a tragic romance and more of a Hitchcock mystery, wondering who is going to be the first to submit, what will make them crack: Reynolds's  perfectionism, Cyril's control of their business, or Alma's refusal to be a doormat.

Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson created a film that has all the ingredients of what you expect of period films we've seen before, from gorgeous costumes and production design to a romance that seems doom to ever work. And yet a bizarre obsession in its characters and story sets itself apart.

Though Daniel Day Lewis earned rightful acclaim for what might be his last film performance ever, Phantom Thread has plenty of stars equally worthy of praise. Vicky Krieps is a force to be reckon with as Alma, a character whose an unshakable force coming up against immovable objects. You never know what's up her sleeve, or if she's ever going to be in on the game that her lover and his sister play. The other is Leslie Manville, stepping out of a career of smaller roles into one that is fiercely resolute, whose steely gaze will make you surrender in an instant. While Lewis definitely gives a good performance worthy of his career's curtain call, the three of them, Anderson's direction make a great team.

To say the least, this is not the romantic film one might anticipate. The whirlwind dalliance you think you're embarking on at the beginning is not exactly the one that unfolds, and that's truly a marvel. Anderson's writing is an example of how a script could've only been produced by its director; his attention to detail is on everything from the quaint English style of Woodcock's workplace and home that's charming but claustrophobic, to the impeccable costume design by Mark Bridges. He manages to make you feel like you've been transported into a beautiful, yet bizarre world of his own design. It's best to go into this with as little knowledge as possible because a big surprise in the characters' relationships can have a gasp-worthy effect (it did for me). As strange and unpredictable as the story evolves, it leaves one wondering so many questions, and with a feeling of having been hypnotized and bewildered.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Phantom Thread?
What did you think?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cloverfield Paradox (2018) Is One Sequel Too Many for the Apocalyptic Franchise

Cloverfield Paradox movie review
Photo Credit: Netflix
Ten years ago Cloverfield thrust movie goers into NYC with terrifying found-footage of a monster invasion. It was an original film with a massive organic marketing machine that became a cult hit. Fast forward eight years, after a long string of will-they-ever-make-it hype, 10 Cloverfield Lane was an ambitious, successful follow-up with a different take on the-end-of-the-world. Even though the series's third installment, Cloverfield Paradox, follows in their footsteps, it's missing all of the same qualities that made the first two films so darn good.

Dropping on Netflix after the 2018 Super Bowl without any previous hype, the latest version of events leaves Earth behind to cover the apocalypse from space. As countries go to war at home over energy crises, an international space crew aboard the Cloverfield space station tries to utilize Shepard particle accelerator to create a renewable energy source. The downside is that executing the particle can create alternative realities. The crew's gamble poses numerous threats and questions: what will their actions do for those at home? is the sacrifice to leave their families behind worth it if they never return? did their vortex transplant monsters on Earth?

The one thing the Cloverfield franchise had going for it was its thrills. Not only its ability to release a new movie out of nowhere and let fans rush to see it, but also its ability to be scary. Cloverfield dropped movie goers into a first-person perspective as a group of friends try to survive a Godzilla-like attack. 10 Cloverfield Lane kept its suspense claustrophobic with a young woman taken in by a conspiratorial survivalist and making us question if he was crazy or telling the truth. Paradox starts off with a cool enough premise as the particle accelerator hurls chaos on the Cloverfield station. Along with the crew as they one from one crisis to another, you're supposed to feel like you don't know what's going to happen next. But unfortunately, the film's inspiring horror elements become too commonplace. After the first thrilling curveball, the script recycles "wouldn't it be scary if this happened" ideas every ten minutes; most of the intended scares of dimensions colliding are gimmicky. This isn't necessarily bad if you just want to enjoy a popcorn flick, but if you want more than the same tactics to make you scared it's unexciting.

If there's one thing the movie has going for it is the impressive cast, which includes but not limited to
David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi. Gugu-Mbgraw and Elizbeth Delecki are the only refreshing entries with each having their own reasons for wanting to manipulate the alternative reality they've fallen into, but even their agency boils down to a simple process of elimination instead of anything deliberate. Unfortunately, the abundance of talent can't save the film from the fact that their characters are the most basic tropes: each one representing their home country and bringing their international conflicts (and stereotypes) from home on board.

Similar to its sister sequel, Paradox wasn't originally connected to the Cloverfield universe. The script was written with the idea of it being released into theaters as its own solo flick. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane which found its place in the apocalypse universe, Paradox might've worked better on its own. Despite the decent reputation of Netflix making its own content and intentionally trying to be a great sci-fi flick, Cloverfield Paradox makes for a great SYFY flick on the level of Sharknado. With the Cloverfield name attached to it, it could've been a lot better.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Cloverfield Paradox? What did you think?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Panther (2018) Reigns Supreme in the MCU

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios
When a new movie enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe, critics expectantly hail it as a game-changer before it even hits theaters. Facing a mountain of expectations and pressure to deliver, sometimes the final product isn't worth the excitement or gets lost in the shuffle among all the other pending projects. As one of its most anticipated movies of the year, Black Panther had a lot to overcome. Entertaining, socially relevant, and engaging, the long-awaited film soars to the occasion and conquers the predictable MCU hype.

After his father's passing in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must claim his throne as the King of Wakanda, a technologically-advanced African utopia that's shielded itself from the outside world. The transfer of power is challenged as his country questions hiding their innovation and culture to protect themselves in fear of being conquered. His journey is further caught in the crossfire when a black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and special-ops agent Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) aims to tip Wakanda out of the shadows whether the nation is ready or not.

As kings of separate courts on a road to self-discovery, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan lead the story with intensity, passion, and heart. On the one hand, T'Challa is of noble birth, but to guide his people means facing his role model's darkest secrets that puts his own reign in jeopardy. Though he's earned his place on the throne, his decisions about his country's future will ultimately mirror the kind of person he wants to be, a shift that possibly dismantles the cherished legacy his father built. But he has to do right by his heart and what's best for Wakandans everywhere.

In his opposition, Erik Stevens grew up on the streets of Oakland, California; lost and forgotten he was formed by the corruption and oppression. He's not so much a villain, but someone who's left to think that destroying the world is his only option for justice. Hailing from opposite sides of the world but facing similar obstacles makes their feud so much much more than good versus evil; it's a search to do right by themselves and their people; how a system and its leaders has the power to build or break its people; to be seen, validated, and integrated into the world. It's the kind of story superheros often pursue but also become so formulated and repetitive. Here, they feel less invincible like we know masked crusaders to be, and more powerful by showing their humanity in its many different layers.

The film's cast is one of the most solid ensembles to come. Together and individually, as a family they bring their own brand of emotional and physical bad-assery. Rarely do action films harness the power of one headlining lady, let alone several. Here everyone gets to shine, working together for the greater good: Danai Gurira as Okoye, a traditionalist general of the all-female special forces of Wakanda; Letitia Wright as T'Challa's effervescent sister and innovative backbone of Wakanda's scientific and technological advancements; Lupia Nyong'o as Nakia, an undercover spy trying to will Wakanda out of its old ways. Together and individually, they are smart, clever, protective, passionate, generous, funny, vulnerable, and ready to kick-ass. They are a few highlights (including Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis) who bring an enthusiastic, fierce vibe to the T'Challa and Erik's clash.

Like Patty Jenkins and DC's monumental step-forward with Wonder Woman, director Ryan Coogler brings everything to the table. As a superhero movie, Black Panther is vibrant, rich, funny, action-packed and an emotional rollercoaster ride. Sure, it's fun to just go to the theaters and just enjoy a good popcorn-worthy showdown. But what truly elevates an entertaining, fulfilling story is the elements it weaves throughout. Black Panther packs great storytelling, intense fight sequences, and a wicked sense of humor, into a superhero movie. But it's not just a superhero movie.

Echoing Batman's Gotham or Superman's Metropolis, Coogler lets us Wakanda burst to life in gorgeous costumesindigenous traditions, and the advanced technology it thrives on. Its soundtrack blends beautiful African tribal music with hip-hop and R&B, playing with the vibes of ancestral homages and modern music. Beyond delivering representation and long-deserved diversity, the story solidly weaves issues of race and blackness, political diplomacy, cultural differences between rich and the poor, and an identity for minorities that has been ignored and suppressed for too long. Black Panther is a fun ride, but its power also lies in blending reality into fiction, using storytelling to tell some potent, necessary truths. And, it's done with a deep well of passion that pours onto the screen.

In the same vein that all of the right cards had to be in place for Wonder Woman to receive her own feature film, Black Panther finally claims its throne. Why did it take so long? Because the industry is still stuck in its own web of what they think sells. A lot of films have come along to slowly but surely crack the glass ceiling - Get Out knocked it out of the park. Wonder Woman proved complex female heroines are important. And now, Black Panther has shattered expectations. The rest of 2018 has a lot to live up to. Long live the king.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Black Panther? What did you think?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I, Tonya (2017) is Pure Gold

Photo Credit: Neon
For nearly twenty five years, the complicated rivalry between figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took the world by storm. In 1994, obsessed news outlets and the public tried to call the shots of how Harding attacked her fellow competitor to stay on top. Now, this time solely focusing on the former, I, Tonya ambitiously sets at least one side of the story straight.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was raised by her ruthless, narcissistic mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to be the best figure skater in the world. Determined and hard-working, she manages to become a U.S. Champion on her way to Olympic glory. Then her abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and his lame-brain friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) clumsily attempt to out her biggest competitor Nancy Kerrigan by whacking her in the knee. The attack instigates a worldwide scandal spiraling Harding’s fall from grace.

Taking a page out of Tonya’s book to be unpredictable and unvarnished, director Craig Gillespie’s film is not your typical biopic. More of a tell-all from Tonya and her family’s perspectives, the movie plays with different sides of the story because there never is just one. The movie is narrated by the four main culprits involved throughout Harding's life - Harding, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn. As they describe their versions of events, history isn't concerned with looking back and over-fictionalizing  what happened. Nope, this movie's all about letting the people directly involved have the final word.

Through a wicked ride of comedy and drama, Harding is painted differently than how we might remember her. If one is looking for a catfight on ice, the movie is going to disappoint. Harding's life leading up to the incident and afterwards is depicted in a no-holds-barred, flipping her reputation as the victimizer against Kerrigan and showing her own experiences as a victim of domestic abuse. Delving into the normalized abuse Tonya suffered by her mother growing up, and then her husband, Robbie as Harding often breaks the fourth wall in the middle of being attacked or insulted, describing to those watching what's going on, how she feels and why the cycle continued. It's not the most typical or sensitive way to display what she went through growing up, but it's pivotal in showing how desensitized Harding had become to these normalized cycles and how big of a hit her self-worth ultimately takes.

By pushing herself out of her dysfunctional family, Harding is a scrappy warrior. As the film dives into the absurd, letting you be a spectator to her downfall and addressing how the media portrayed her, its offbeat style also creates empathy for her; to understand the purpose of skating as her Achilles’ heel; how she gets her self-worth from skating, how her ambition is a refuge and curse. The movie is wildly successful in its ability to be heart-wrenching and uncommonly funny. But never it never entirely absolves Harding for what happened to Kerrigan, nor uses any of the film's violence for cheap laughs.

What ultimately carries I, Tonya is the cast lead by Margot Robbie. Playing Harding from fifteen to forty-seven years old, the native Australian completely throws herself into the role from the mid-western speech to the second-hand make-up and costumes. As an actress, and a vital producer to the film and ensuring the movie was sensitive yet candid, Robbie creates a palpable image of Harding - a white-trash underdog who’s unvarnished personality didn’t fit the golden ice princess image. The film’s style has a lot going on, and Robbie manages to ground the audacious portrayal into something believeable. With her, the supporting cast Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, and Paul Walter Hauser, morph what would be caricatures into real-life people that you really can't believe actually exist.

A big hand goes to the screenwriter Steve Rogers in balancing Harding as both a victim and victimizer; she was a bystander to her husband’s crime and also complicit in it. The film covers a lot of ground like class in America, the value of a person’s image over their talent, and a woman determined to break free. His writing bends and curves all over the place but never jumps the tracks.

Interestingly, as the movie focuses on Tonya more than Kerrigan, a lot of critics wonder what the latter thinks - especially since Harding serves as a producer and I, Tonya’s has been collecting accolades in Hollywood. It’s easy: she’s moved on and living her life. Even though the movie does not glorify and limits showing Kerrigan’s perspective, much of the social commentary about her  comes across as a projection of long-overdue sympathy. Considering that the movie explores society's judgement on them both, it's interesting to look back and see them both treated like a sideshow in this major circus; Kerrigan also became a salacious scandal, soon not living up to critic's expectations, with her attack being made into parodies and getting called out her on her own mistreatment to other skaters. It makes me wonder if we’ve moved beyond a place in cinema to explore people who are flawed and don't live on an imaginary pedestal that everyone is perfect; or that maybe the expectation for the movie was to pit two women against each other in a superficial feud.

I, Tonya is not a straight-forward investigation of ‘Who dun it’, trying to cleverly re-imagine who is the real culprit of attacking Kerrigan. The movie’s a true-crime soap opera, digging into a scandal that divided the world, the dark underground of figure skating, and a woman picking herself up from her bootstraps skates. The story swerves in-between being funny, dysfunctional, and dark, but as crazy as it gets, it never loses sight of Robbie as the star or the Harding as the story; it's pure gold.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen I, Tonya? What did you think?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Third Time's Surprisingly The Charm for Fifty Shades Freed (2018)

Fifty Shades Freed movie review
Universal Pictures
Once upon a time author E.L. James penned a Twilight fanfiction that spiraled into a worldwide phenomenon known as the Fifty Shades trilogy. After cashing in a billion dollars at the box office over the course of three installments, the finale Fifty Shades Freed surprisingly ends on a confident note.

The Greys's love is on the line once again as Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) happily ties the knot to complicated-is-an-understatement Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). But not everything is good in kinky paradise. Surprises are in store for the newlyweds as an unplanned pregnancy uproots their attempt at a vanilla relationship, and Ana's former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) returns to hijack their wedded bliss.

Breaking free from Sam-Taylor Johnson's impressive yet awkward Fifty Shades of Grey, and James Foley's stilted sequel Fifty Shades Darkerthe journey here is as smooth as its going to get. Writer Niall Leonard and Foley team up once again to helm the story and up the ante in the eleventh hour just enough to save two love birds who are idolized by their author and readers from being totally forgettable. Unfolding a slew of excitement at a solid pace, the action and romance surprisingly strives for 'a climax' fit for its fandom.

Leading the way in her final curtain call, Dakota Johnson gets her power back. Ana no longer tiptoes around Christian's issues as she becomes  more than pleased to challenge him for independence and her own desires at every turn. Chemistry still lingers between Johnson and her partner-in-the-red-room Jamie Dornan, but the latter is somewhat left in the dust as their characters' relationship morphs from his twisted psychosis to two hearts meeting in the middle. The couple are united in their love enough to deal with all matters kinky-sex-related or not, but it's ultimately Johnson's funny, vulnerable and bold transformation that matters most. She's finally given a fuller opportunity to grow the quirky, experimental ingenue into a strong-willed, fierce woman calling all the shots - Mrs. Grey Will See You Now if you dare.

Despite the fans holding onto being entertained for the final time, Freed's biggest flaw stems from its home studio leaving everything to the last minute. With a major lack of promotion and any industry-led interest, Universal didn't camouflage how quickly they wanted to unload the finale off of its slate.

Fifty Shades Freed doesn't have time on its side, barely hitting an hour and forty-five minutes to explore its fanfiction origins. Compared to its predecessors lingering at two hours each, the first awkwardly strayed from being a truer adaptation and the second had nothing going on except a humpathon, Freed isn't given the luxury of letting the story the build. Surely the production and costume aesthetics carried on from Darker are just as impressive here, but any standout moments are difficult to savor. Even the supporting cast making up the Greys's clan of family and friends, who were never more than appearance-makers before, are too fleeting to have a purposeful impact. Packed with action, comedy, and erotica, the script doesn't waste a single scene squeezing in as much as it can, but the film's pace is rushing towards a finishing line with nothing on its tail. One can only imagine what the cutting room floor looks like, leaving the series's true admirers to cross their fingers for an extended DVD for a fuller movie. Blink and you might miss the theatrical alternative.

Though fans forgave what critics and naysayers considered to be cinema sins, the Fifty Shades's road has been bumpy, to say the least. But let's be honest, Fifty Shades was never for the haters. The story was understood and beloved primarily by its readers and author.  From being inspired to try kinky sex with their own spouses to readers understanding abusive relationships, or just being curious about the books and starting discussions, there's still power in a story that hooked millions of women, who cherish and know what the characters mean to them. For them, it'd be silly and lazy to ignore the importance of this sensation written by a woman for women, something that is still severely lacking in Hollywood and even if the results are imperfect. The fact that its heroine goes out with a bang matters just as much.

Outside of its inner circle, Fifty Shades Freed is another one for the books and fans who will surely enjoy themselves. Foley manages to squeeze what's left of the original material for its worth with a script aiming to tie up all the loose ends. Even if it's comforting that third time's the charm, it's a shame the trilogy didn't have this kind of gusto from beginning to end. For even the most casual fan of its actors like myself, there's no denying the trilogy had a shaky start and middle, but for the ending, Freed finally manages to get it right.

for readers: ★★★
for me:★★☆
for everyone else:☆☆☆

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Get Out (2017) Defines What The Horror Genre is All About

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Horror movies are a great opportunity for people to confront their fears, either imagined or real. Putting bigotry at the center of his stunning debut, director and writer Jordan Peele churns out a smart, scary, and relevant thriller with Get Out.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet his girlfriend’s family for the first time in their secluded home far from the city. There's a slight catch: Rose Armitrage (Allison Williams) is white, and didn’t tell her parents that Chris is black. Though she tries to reassure him that everything will be fine, Chris discovers a disturbing family secret that shows their true colors.

Ignorance and prejudice permeates all the time on the news, social media, and everyday life. The system has us so conditioned to treat people as if they’re invisible for simply trying to live their life like anyone else, except for what they’re stigmatized against: their gender, sexuality, religious preferences, and more specifically here, the color of Chris’s skin. To racists, in this case the Armitrage family, it’s the definitive feature. Chris becomes a featured attraction at the family get-together; he's on display for the whole world (us) to see, but also invisible to this family who views him as commodity, to be taken advantaged of. 

Brilliantly, Peele uses social and racial fears, being the outsider, to trap us inside the house with Chris as his girlfriend’s family downright don’t know how to treat him as a human being other than for his skin color. They try to be colorblind but can’t see beyond a person’s skin. They think people are special tokens of wokeness, inserting culture to prove they're 'down' with others who are different than them. They think to insert points of the other person’s supposed culture is to be seen as inclusive; everything they try to do to not seem racist is actually racist. While there are a few good jump-scares throughout, its Peele's acknowledgement of systematic racism, white girl womanhood (I'm a white woman and trying not to be fake-woke here), appropriation, slavery, police brutality, and interracial relationships that offers the real suspense and horror. He weaves imagery and metaphors throughout that movie that are never too obvious to be obnoxiously on the nose or too subtle to be overlooked to create a terrifying atmosphere.

For everything Peele packs into the movie, it has a definitive balance of not drawing the lines between audiences, to not inundate people of color with experiences they've already had or alienate white audiences. Its ambition is empathy, like any other movie, to put you into a character's shoes, identifying with being 'the other' and how that plays into the collective whole. With a fairly unrecognizable cast at the helm, Peele churns out amazing performances with his actors. Commenting too much on the stars might give too much away, so Daniel and Allison are sublime, carrying the movie with a supporting cast that offers the right amount of hostility and creepiness.

Mixing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Hitchcockian suspense, the writing and direction of Get Out is downright brilliant. Easily, the movie feels claustrophobic because it subtly drops us into Chris’s shoes, letting the story mirror society. It divulges horror to re-affirm the terrors Peele and people of color experience, allowing satire and symbolism to call out the absurd real world. Stunningly building suspense, the story feels like it’s going in one direction, only to turn the tables around and venture elsewhere, making you feel like there is no escape. Peele's honest work here exposes that how too many people never do.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Get Out? What did you think?