Category Archives: Blockbuster

“Hellboy” Movie Review

Just because I voluntarily skipped out on something in theaters doesn’t mean I’m not gonna eventually come around to it. And sometimes, it’s not always fun going that route anyway. This violent superhero fantasy adventure film was released internationally by Lionsgate on April 12th, 2019. Although it grossed over $46.1 million at the worldwide box office, the film was budgeted at $50 million, making it a bomb for the studio. Some industry experts chalked it up to the film’s uneven marketing campaign, others blamed it on the general lack of public interest in the source material. But it was most likely because it tanked heavily with both critics and audiences, killing numerous hopes for a brand new franchise. Directed by Neil Marshall, the reboot began development when both Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman walked away from a possible third film. Mike Mignola, the creator of the comic book series the film is based on, has said that he had virtually nothing to do with production beyond writing very early drafts. Before the film even began production, a controversy arose involving a clear case of whitewashing, an issue that was quickly resolved yet still hung over the film. In addition, it was reported that Marshall consistently clashed on-set with producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin, who allegedly wanted to control every aspect of production. David Harbour stars as Hellboy, a demon who’s been brought up on Earth by human paranormal investigators. One day, they come upon a prophecy dictating that the world will end soon from Blood Queen Vivian Nimue, played by Milla Jovovich. Teaming up with a psychic medium and a cynical M11 agent, Hellboy must move swiftly to prevent the end of the world. Although I wasn’t crazy about it like other film fans, I really enjoyed Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy adaptation back in 2004. Despite some pacing issues, it took itself seriously *just* enough to still have fun with itself. I was bummed out that we never got a proper third installment because the universe and lore here is genuinely interesting. I was cautiously optimistic about this new iteration because while I love the cast, it really went through the behind-the-scenes wringer. It was especially intriguing because of the R-rating, which del Toro had consistently fought for and lost. But that doesn’t really matter because Hellboy is somehow both generic AND convoluted and one of the worst blockbusters in recent memory. I don’t really blame Marshall for this trainwreck because he likely had some really cool ideas of his own to bring to the table. But that didn’t seem to matter to the studio, who probably wanted to adapt one of the few comic book properties that still doesn’t have DC or Marvel plastered in front of it. I confess to not being super familiar with the source material, but this approach just felt wrong in so many ways. Perhaps the biggest offense with the new Hellboy is its complete lack of personal identity among the crowded superhero genre. Sure, the R-rating allows it to be bloodier and more profane than most entries, but that’s definitely not to its credit. On the contrary, the swap of a personality with tons of gore and swearing make it feel like it has the maturity of a 14-year-old deciding to mix Mad Max and Ghost Rider in a melting pot; only this isn’t NEARLY as awesome as that combo sounds. Among the sea of blood-soaked feces, David Harbour is legitimately a good choice for the titular character. His gruff voice and attitude are perfectly suited for the character, an otherworldy badass who’s familiarity with human culture makes for some admittedly funny interactions. While the fighting choreography for the film is highly questionable, his immense physique makes him incredibly formidable. Opposite him for a decent chunk of the runtime, Milla Jovovich just isn’t that great as Vivian Nimue the Blood Queen. It’s not necessarily her fault because the script paints her as a highly generic villain without enough menace to give stakes. For me, Ian McShane is typically the kind of actor who can steal the show even in bad movies. But here, as Trevor Bruttenholm, he struggles to bring Hellboy’s adoptive father to life, saying many clunky lines with all the profanity of Al Swearingen but with none of the spirit. Sadly, none of the other supporting players are able to elevate much higher than these main three. Not Sasha Lane as a young and feisty psychic medium, not Daniel Dae Kim as a rugged and cynical M11 agent, (A role which was initially whitewashed very early on) not Stephen Graham as a bitter boar-like fairy wanting revenge on Hellboy, and not even Brian Gleeson as the very withered wizard Merlin can bring any real fun or nuance to their characters. Every one of them is stuck in a rut, seemingly unable or maybe unwilling to find any decent angle to work from. Even from just a purely technical perspective, Hellboy is far from impressive or even passable. The camera work by Lorenzo Senatore, cinematographer of Risen and Megan Leavey, uses weird frames to create the canvas. The colors often feel saturated, particularly the color red for blood, but that doesn’t really make it look unique or interesting. In fact, a number of shots are downright ugly and feel like a first-year intern trying to adapt a graphic novel with no clue of what they’re doing. It also doesn’t help that the CGI is mostly bad and unconvincing. Meanwhile, the editing job by Martin Bernfeld isn’t a whole lot better, as the action scenes are so choppy that they lack tension or pacing. Some moments feel like they were meant to be longer takes but were watered down at the last minute. During the dramatic moments, it’s even weirder. Often times, when a character is delivering an expository monologue or we see a seriously deformed Nimue lecturing her minions, it constantly cuts between different shots, and never in an organic way. The film opens with a prologue explaining the villain’s backstory, but the oddly muted colors and unnatural transitions are likely to throw people off. In many ways, this opening really sets the scene for the rest of the film to come. It’s only really the titular character’s impressive makeup by Joel Harlow that stands out in below-the-line departments. Harbour is literally red from head to toe and, unlike the rest of the film, it doesn’t look like cheap CG. His shaved horns are particularly cool, creating a unique contrast between his demonic origins and his more human persona. Plus, his piercing red eyes and massive stone-clad right hand make him at least look intimidating. But that’s all just the one character’s look in a film littered with problems on several levels. Lacking any clear direction or memorable moments, Hellboy is an unmitigated mess of bad writing piss-poor action scenes. It’s not really Neil Marshall or Mike Mignola’s fault here, as neither one really had much control over the project to begin with. If not for David Harbour’s compelling performance or the convincing makeup he wears for the entirety of the film, there would be almost nothing worth salvaging here. In the end, this is another prime example of what happens when studio executives interfere; they only have themselves to blame.

Image result for hellboy 2019 poster

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“John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum” Movie Review

All of those kills and chases and mayhem-inducing stunts- all of it for a damn puppy. But hey, you certainly won’t find me complaining here. This action-thriller film was released in theaters by Summit Entertainment worldwide on May 17th, 2019. Made for the budget of $75 million, the film managed to earn back the entire theatrical run of its predecessor within the first 10 days of release alone. It has managed to gross over $318.3 million at the worldwide box office, easily making it the highest-earning installment in the series so far. This comes alongside a number of excellent responses from both audiences and critics alike. In addition, another sequel, supposedly the final one in the series, has already been set for release in May 2021. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski, the screenplay was written by franchise regular Derek Kolstad along with help from Chris Collins, Mark Adams, and Shay Hatten. According to several members of the production, there were so many sequences of the film that were quite hard to film in extended takes like they wanted. The subtitle takes its name from a famous Latin military saying in 4th-century Rome: Si vis pacem, para bellum, which roughly translate to, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Picking up less than one hour after the end of Chapter 2, Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the titular assassin who’s wanted by pretty much everyone. With a $14 million open contract on his head, he is cutoff from all support in the underworld, including the Continental Hotel. Using the resources at his disposal, John has to find a way to kick, slice, and shoot his way out of New York City in an attempt to clear his name. The first two films in the John Wick series were far more entertaining and engaging that I had anticipated from them. From first glance, it just looks like Reeves trying really hard to cling onto his glory days as an action hero. But they turned out to be very fun and violent, with some really awesome and creative worldbuilding to boot. I was extremely curious to see how they would be able to continue that momentum into the third installment, if at all. Would they be able to keep up with the breakneck speed of Wick’s kills and still reveal more about the world surrounding him? The short answer is yes: I daresay that John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum is my favorite of the series yet. As with the previous two installments, easily the best aspect of this film isn’t the big choreographed action scenes or the excellent filmmaking techniques used to capture them. No, what has continued to make this franchise separate from others in the market is its consistently fascinating worldbuilding, with a whole organized world of assassins to sink you teeth into. The more we learn about different aspects of these sort of societies, the more we get an idea of who John Wick was or is. Parabellum gives us even more hints about his past, including being part of a Russian crime syndicate fronted as an intense ballet company. It helps to make what should otherwise be a very boring and uninteresting protagonist into a mysterious and dangerous force. All the guns and bullets in the world can’t stop this man from dolling out violent revenge on the people who killed his puppy. Keanu Reeves is a better actor than most people give him credit for, and I still maintain that this is one of his best roles. Even in a year full of memorable roles, (Including a hilariously self-deprecating cameo in the rom-com Always Be My Maybe) he’ll still be remembered as the assassin who could lodge an axe into a person’s head from afar. It becomes quite clear that while he’s receiving all of this attention from other members of the underworld, he just wants to be left alone and internalizes a lot of his own suffering. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon, respectively, the manager and concierge of the Continental Hotel. They both deliver their lines with Shakespearean authority, aware of both the danger John poses to their establishment and how ruthless the High Table can be. Halle Berry leaves a big impression as Sofia, a German Shephard-owning assassin and one of Wick’s few remaining friends. Although she’s externally angry towards John for bringing trouble to her, it’s also clear that she has a hidden respect for him from a favor years prior. I really hope to see more of her character in the future, especially with her efficiency in the field of battle. Other players include Asia Kate Dillion as a cold and calculating Adjudicator for the High Table, Mark Dacascos as the arrogant leader of a group of ninjas after Wick, Laurence Fishbourne as a loud-mouthed underground crime lord, Anjelica Huston as the head of a Russian syndicate that John once belonged to, and Saïd Taghmaoui as the one man who might be able to help John out of his bind. Asia Kate Dillon may be my favorite among them, an antagonist who is more concerned with hard results than personal vendetta. Like Berry, I hope to see their role expanded upon in the next one because every time they appeared in a scene, it felt like it had far more weight. And as with the previous installments, Parabellum‘s technical prowess helps distinguish it from other films in the genre. Shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dan Lausten, the cinematography creates an immersive and slick world to look at. The contrast between light and harsh shadows allows for stark images on the screen, which helps increase the tension. While a number of action scenes do take place during the nighttime, it’s always easy to tell what’s going on. Nearly all of the big set pieces are captured in long-shots, allowing all of the beautiful choreography to be seen in all its glory. Meanwhile, the editing by Evan Schiff matches up to the camera work exquisitely. There are enough cuts in action scenes to keep things interesting without making things hard to follow. And the more dramatic or expository moments are cut together in a way that the audience wants to follow whatever the characters are saying. It also moves between scenes of John’s personal quest, and the people of the underworld he’s interacted with throughout the film being admonished by the Adjudicator. Finding a delicate balance between the gritty and the slick, John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum is a highly entertaining and wonderfully staged ballet of action and death. It’s quite clear that Chad Stahelski has grown comfortable and confident with this franchise and has found his groove very nicely. If he wants to spend the rest of his career making extensively choreographed action movies like this, then I will be perfectly content. Bottom line: this is the year of Keanu Reeves and I’m absolutely here for it.

“Lagaan” Movie Review

Although I’ve reviewed a handful of foreign-language films before, it occurs to me that I’ve never reviewed a Bollywood movie. So what better way to resolve that checkbox than making it a part of my New Year’s resolution? This epic musical sports drama was originally released in theaters around the world on June 15th, 2001. However, per a promise, the producers arranged to have it premiere first in the ancient village of Bhuj where it was shot. Although it was produced on the then-unprecedented budget 250 million rupees, (Roughly $5.32 million in U.S. dollars) it managed to gross over 3 times that amount. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing films in the country at the time, and scored massive critical acclaim across the world. It also managed to become the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, the film was partially inspired by the 157 film Naya Daur starring Dilip Kumar. The filmmaker had an extremely difficult time finding funding for the project, so much so that the main star started his own production company just to get it off the ground. While Gowariker and Sanjay Daima came up with the overall story and English dialogue, the dialogues in Hindi and its various dialects were handled by K.P. Saxena. With a grueling schedule that included a year of pre-planning and 6 months of filming, the cast and crew have continually stated that it was one of the most physically challenging films they’ve ever done. Set in the small Indian town of Champaner in 1893, Aamir Khan stars as Bhuvan, a young man devoted to helping his poor village thrive. With the local British cantonment putting their boot further under the neck of the Raj, the cruel leader Captain Andrew Russell, played by Paul Blackthorne, orders the citizens to pay double the tax. However, he makes a deal with Bhuvan to cancel all taxes for the next 3 years if they win a game of cricket against him and his British soldiers. Bhuvan takes up the challenge and with help from Russell’s sister Elizabeth, played by Rachel Shelley, brings along 10 other men to learn the game within the course of 3 months. For years, I had heard raves about the Bollywood film industry, but never had the chance to watch one of its offspring. It wasn’t until a few years ago during a class that I finally managed to watch one; it was this movie. Since then, I’ve watched a handful of others in the genre, albeit more modern ones such as Queen and Dangal. But after discovering that this film, along with other films by Aamir Khan, were available in their entirety on Netflix, I decided to give it another go. Would it hold up on second viewing? And thankfully, as has been the pattern with my New Year’s resolution, Lagaan is still a wonderful movie and actually improves the second time. Don’t let the intimidating runtime of 3 hours and 43 minutes steer you away, though. This is rather typical of big Indian movies, often setting their stories against a massively epic canvas. I actually argue that this is one of the best primers for getting into Tollywood or Bollywood films, as it has all of the essential ingredients the genre has to offer. It really is a huge, old-school crowd-pleaser and it’s honestly refreshing that it does not care what its audience thinks of it. In that, some people might be quick to dismiss Lagaan (or Once Upon a Time in India in some territories) as being too predictable and easy-going, and they would be partially right. And yet, the film has such a strong and engrossing way of immersing you into its world that it’s almost impossible to escape from its orbit. Aamir Khan is one of India’s biggest movie stars (If not their biggest) for good reason; he’s perfect in the lead role. As Bhuvan, he exudes empathy and concern for the people in his village, recognizing both the oppression dealt out by the British regime and their own personal tensions. Opposite him, Gracy Singh is a true talent as Gauri, his longtime love. Not as thankless a role as it may sound, her singing and dancing skills are incredible, especially when she sings a melody about her seemingly unrequited love for the hero. Paul Blackthorne is also delightfully villainous as Captain Russell, without a doubt the main antagonist of the picture. Arrogant and stubborn to a fault, he has no problem making the villagers’ lives a living hell- or for that matter, infuriating his superior officers. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an impressive ensemble of actors with varying roles. There’s Rachel Kelley as Russell’s kindhearted and unassuming sister, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the seemingly powerless Raja of the region, Yashpal Sharma as a woodcutter jealous of Bhuvan’s heroism, and Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Vivek, Akhilendra Mishra, Pradeep Rawat, and Aditya Lakhia as some of Bhuvan’s cricket teammates. While these men have many differences and doubts, (Lakhia plays an “untouchable”) the chemistry the hold is key to making the audience care about them. On the technical side of things, Lagaan has so many techniques worthy of the best epics in cinema. Anil Mehta’s sweeping cinematography is a thing to behold, capturing everyone and everything in every frame with perfection. The sweeping shots and predominant colors of yellow and brown help craft a look of a piece of history long forgotten. During musical numbers, like many Hollywood and Bollywood classics, the camera often moves flawlessly between different characters during the song. Meanwhile, Ballu Saluja’s editing job is able to keep the momentum consistently going for the mammoth runtime. His graceful scene transitions and patient cuts make sure nothing is too rushed or drawn-out. The climactic yet somewhat unorthodox showdown between the soldiers and the villagers is cut together in such an elegant and captivating manner that it’s hard to lose attention. And not to mention, his editing manages to do something remarkable: It made me sweat my palms during a cricket match, something that has never happened before. That, alone, is a noteworthy accomplishment. A.R. Rahman, one of the industry’s most celebrated composers, provides the instrumental film score here, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated ones in cinema. For all of the flare, there’s actually only two instrumental tracks on the soundtracks, but they both leave a huge impression. Crescendos aplenty can be heard in percussion and horns especially, and span various different musical styles. There are also six original songs that are a joy to listen to, with extravagant choreography and lyrics by Javed Akhtar. My personal favorite is actually the very first one, “Ghanan Ghanan,” performed by all of the villagers. Concerning their plight of a serious drought, it’s quite hard to get the central melody out of your head. It manages to perfectly illustrate what the movie is all about: unwavering optimism in the face of great trial and adversity. With an incredible soundtrack, characters worth rooting for, and palpable stakes in the rather simple plot, Lagaan is a sweeping musical triumph of epic proportions. Not only is it arguably the most accessible Bollywood movie for Western audiences, but it’s also officially my favorite sports movie of all time. The wonderful costumes, fantastic musical numbers, solid cast, and impeccable finale really help to put it over the top. Please do yourself a favor and seek this gem out on Netflix. And while you’re at it, go ahead and watch any other Bollywood movies in its catalogue.

“Avengers: Endgame” Movie Review

**While this review will be completely spoiler-free, I’m going to be under the assumption that everyone reading it has already seen Infinity War. Proceed at your own discretion.**

And to think, 11 years ago, this entire saga started in a cave, with a box of scraps. It’s truly jaw-dropping to see how far it’s come since then. But I’m extremely glad to have seen it all the way through. This epic superhero film was released in theaters around the world on April 26th, 2019, a week ahead of its previously scheduled release date. Within its first couple of weeks, it has already grossed over $2.189 billion at the global box office, and is very likely to make it as the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s broken a handful of box office records and is sure on its way to shatter some more in the coming weeks. Numerous movie ticket websites such as Fandango and Atom Tickets consistently struggled to keep their servers operating, and ended up selling the most amount of pre-release tickets for a film within a few hours. Once again directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film was shot back-to-back with its predecessor Infinity War. This marks the 22nd overall installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has been promised to be even more of a culmination than its predecessors. While most all of the MCU films have maintained a certain level of secrecy about the plot, the producers and marketing team for this one went extremely far out of their way to ensure nothing got out. This included filming fake scenes that were purely used for trailers, a practice which some took issue with. According to numerous sources, only one member of the principal cast was given the entire screenplay to read. Picking up 23 days after the end of Infinity War, the remaining heroes of the Avengers are still reeling from the destructive victory of Thanos. Soon, they realize that they might have a legitimate chance to undo the damage done by his snap, which ended half of all life across the known universe. So they set out on a quest to recover the Infinity Stones to hopefully bring their loved ones back. And… that’s it. That’s quite literally all I can get into here without spoiling anything else about the plot. The Russo Brothers actually sent out a joint letter on Instagram asking fans to ruin anything for the people who haven’t seen the movie and out of respect for them, I won’t say another word about the actual plot. Obviously, like so many other fans and cinephiles, I was wondering how Marvel and the Russos could possibly follow up Infinity War, a film I found highly entertaining despite feeling a little unsatisfying. This would arguably become an even bigger culmination than that film, the sum of 22 films over the past 11 years. No other film in history has had such a Herculean task to achieve, let alone take on. Would it reach the stars or crumble in our hands? The simple answer is yes, yes it can; Avengers: Endgame exceeds all expectations one could possibly hold for it. The best way I can describe it is that this feels like the series finale for a T.V. show that I’ve been watching for the last decade. It has a certain sense of finality that most superhero films don’t have, really bringing a lot of character arcs to a strong thematic close. If I were given the job of writing the screenplay, I couldn’t possibly have done a better job at wrapping it all up. Of course, Disney and Marvel still have numerous projects coming down the pipe in the coming years. But as the wrap-up to 11 years worth of stories and characters, Endgame couldn’t have been more fulfilling and awesome. The Marvel mountain will never peak this high ever again. Quite literally everyone who’s ever been in an MCU film to date appears in this movie one way or another. All of them have grown immensely comfortable in their roles to the point where it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing them. Of particular note are the Original Six Avengers- Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner. All of them have gone through incredible journeys since the first installment and getting to see them all reunited is so emotional. The end credits even include the actors’ signatures next to their names. Downey Jr. and Evans are especially amazing as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, respectively. As the defacto leaders of the team, both feel a deep shame from having failed the people they love and struggle to reconcile with the new world. And despite the faith-shattering fallout the two of them had in Civil War, they realize that their mission goes beyond any hard feelings they harbor for one another. Also noteworthy is Karen Gillan as Thanos’ cyborg daughter Nebula. In the previous films, she had never really impressed me or stood out as a character very much. But here, she’s given a full, interesting arc where we get to witness her reckon with past misdeeds and how to try and redeem herself. And at this point, there’s no real need to espouse how Avengers: Endgame is because all parties involved know exactly what they’re doing. Whether it’s lighting, sound design, art direction, or costumes, quite literally everything here works. The visual effects especially, as it took nearly 10 different companies- from Industrial Lights & Magic to Framestore -to bring the complex visuals to life. They’ve already accomplished making a fully CG character like Thanos look photorealistic, but adding more to that and keeping all of the realistic detail is unparalleled. It also has some of the best editing in the franchise done by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt. When the mission becomes split up, we are able to cut between multiple scenes of the heroes working on their parts. This keeps the pacing aloft without having to getting muddled by exposition or constant action scenes. But when there are action scenes, they are so beautifully crafted and fluid that you can tell everything that’s happening. Without any. Rapid. Cuts. Once again reprising duties from Infinity War, Alan Silvestri provides perhaps one of the best superhero scores of the last to decades. By calling back to various themes and motifs from throughout the MCU, it feels like it’s really bringing everything full circle. The use of massive choirs, brass, and strings for new tracks is enough to induce goosebumps in any viewer. Of particular mention is the track titled “Portals,” which blends the classic Avengers theme song from the first movie with an exciting intro and outro. I’ve given the MCU heat for not having lots of memorable music, but this soundtrack truly feels like a fitting culmination to everything that’s come before in this franchise. In all seriousness, there is so much more I could write about this movie, that I WANT to write about this movie. But for now, this spoiler-free take is all that’s going to out right now. I’ll wait a little bit longer to write a spoilery review with my thoughts on various scenes or things that happened. Somehow bringing together 11 years and 22 movies worth of stories and making it all meaningful, Avengers: Endgame is an emotionally resonant journey, and one of the most satisfying feature films I have ever seen. This was the epic payoff to an unprecedented cinematic gamble that will rarely, if ever, find its equal. The Russo Brothers truly did the impossible and brought Stan Lee’s unbridled vision to life on the big screen. My only wish is that he had stayed alive long enough for it to come before his eyes like the rest of us. If this truly the endgame for most of this universe, than I am so happy to have taken this road, even through the bumpier installments. I love it, 3000.

“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” Movie Review

Alright, I’m going to be completely honest with everybody reading this review. It is May the 4th, and this is not really the Star Wars movie I want to be talking about right now. However, I promised the review for a while and it’s appropriate for the 20th anniversary, so let’s do this. This epic space opera was originally released in theaters worldwide on May 16th, 1999, almost 16 years to the day from the premiere of Return of the Jedi. Widely anticipated from fans and the general public, the film managed to gross over $924.3 million at the global box office. This made it the highest grossing film in the Star Wars saga and the second-highest grossing film of all time at that point. It was also rereleased in 3D in 2012, bringing its total to over $1 billion. Despite this, it had an incredibly mixed reception, with fans and critics saying it was either just fine or a hot pile of garbage. Written and directed by George Lucas, the director had long expressed no interest in continuing the Star Wars saga as he felt it would fade out, even cancelling a planned sequel trilogy. However, after seeing the franchise’s sustained popularity through the Expanded Universe comic books and novels, he decided to move forward. He apparently adapted the screenplay from a 15-page outline he wrote way back in 1976, and took advantage of the then-burgeoning innovations of CGI. It’s also been confirmed that he tried to hand the reigns over to Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg, all of whom insisted he be the one to helm it. Set 32 years before the events of A New Hope, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor star as master Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, two Jedi Knights sent to try and end a dispute between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic. Barely escaping an attempt on their lives, they soon abscond with Queen Amidala just as the Federation launches a full-scale invasion of the planet Naboo. While on the run and trying to make it home, they come across a nine-year-old boy named Anakin Skywalker, played by Jake Lloyd, who has unusually strong powers with the Force. They ultimately decide to take him and a misfit alien named Jar Jar Binks on a quest to prove that the Trade Federation’s actions are completely illegal and under the influence of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. This is one of those films that’s hard for me to review fairly because it’s such a divisive film among fans and critics. I myself have had conflicted feelings over it for many years. I used to really like it and defend it to death as a kid, along with the other two prequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Now that I’m older, I can definitely understand why so many fans felt burned by it when it was originally released. But is it the intergalactic dumpster fire that a lot of people have continually proclaimed it as? While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace may be extremely disappointing and subpar compared to the rest of the saga, there are still a handful of things I like about it. I think George Lucas is a very creative person, with tons of different ideas that he wants to get out on the canvas. He wants to make a film about the political and economic machinations behind a galactic civil war? That is perfectly fine by me. What’s so bothersome about The Phantom Menace is that it never really weaves all of these ideas into the story in a compelling or organic way. Sure, we get to see that slavery exists in the Outer Rim and the lightsaber battles are glorious, but it doesn’t really matter when the direction and characterization are so choppy that it feels like they might have been sleepwalking. And I’m not even going to dive into the problematic nature of “midichlorians” and how that alters the Force. The performances, across the board, are an incredibly mixed bag. The impressive ensemble, including everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to Ian McDiarmid, try their hardest with the material given and are occasionally able to power through the wooden dialogue. Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, as Quin-Gon Jinn and Padmé, seem particularly stiff and uncomfortable, not quite able to make out what to do with their characters. Ray Park and Ewan McGregor are by far the best of the bunch as Darth Maul and young Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively. McGregor’s interpretation as a somewhat hotheaded Padawan is a neat foil for his later role in the franchise, and while Maul has few lines of dialogue, he left an impression as one of the coolest villains in the saga. Now we come to Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd. I have no problems with these two personally, and the career-hurting hate they received is wholly unfair. But it’s hard for me to deny that Jar Jar Binks is an annoying character, even though Best is clearly have the most fun out of any of the cast members. And Lloyd does some decent work as young Anakin, setting the groundwork for the character’s tragic arc to come. But because the characterization is all over the place, there isn’t much of an angle that he gets from it. Even when it comes to the technical aspects, The Phantom Menace is still a hit-or-miss. David Tattersall’s cinematography is usually quite flat and uninteresting, opting for dull camera angles and zooms. Occasionally it starts to pick up when something exciting happens, but the film is so focused on expository dialogue that they’re few and far between. It also has a weird and confusing color palette, being bright and gorgeous one moment and absolutely dull the next. For better and worse, it goes hand-hand-hand for the editing by Paul Martin Smith and Ben Burtt. Using classic screen-swipes for transitions, the disparity between what’s convincing practical effects and obvious CGI is too often. While some of the effects still look fine and were probably fantastic for their day, others just have me scratching my head. But it does shine during the pod-racings sequence and the lightsaber duels, which are now much more elegant and choreographed. As is tradition, the musical score is provided here by franchise veteran John Williams. He brings a number of brand new themes to appreciate here, particularly “Duel of the Fates,” which plays during one of the most exciting lightsaber battles in the series. Using a full choir that sings in Sanskrit and backed by a full orchestra, the 4-minute track is beautiful and majestic all the same. Of course, the rest of the soundtrack utilizes Williams’ signature brass horn line, but also incorporates strings in a rather unique way. If for not the sake of continuity, this film is worth watching for Williams’ iconic score, which makes it at least FEEL like a Star Wars movie. I would definitely recommend watching the 2008 CG cartoon Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Not only is it a great series on its own but it also retroactively improves the prequel trilogy and provides even more context to what happens. In that, I can definitely appreciate what they’re going for here even more now and can see its potential. Unfortunately, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is still a frustrating mishmash of confusing lore and uncertain characterization. I have no doubt that George Lucas tried his hardest to make this film great, and you can definitely see little moments that hint at it. But I truly feel like it would have been a lot better if he had handed the helming duties over to another director. And yet, it’s still not the worst film in the saga; that title still belongs to the Christmas Special and Attack of the Clones. Whether we like it or not, this movie introduced a whole new sect of the universe to explore and devour. And it’s definitely an interesting sect, but the execution of it all is still extremely underwhelming, even watching it now as an adult. May the 4th Be With You, fellow geeks!

“Captain Marvel” Movie Review

Hands down, this film features one of the greatest fictional cats ever put to film. However the rest of the film turns out, I’m just really happy that I got to fall in love with a cat on-screen for the first time ever. This sci-fi superhero adventure was released in theaters around the world on March 8th, 2019. Despite being the 21st overall installment in the rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has grossed over $990.6 million at the worldwide box office, including a massive haul from overseas markets. This makes it the fastest and highest grossing film led by a female actress and the second-highest global debut for a superhero film yet. And while it has received mostly positive responses from critics and audiences, it initially suffered an attempted pre-release review bomb on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb from male users. This forced both websites to change their policies for the future. Co-written and co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, makers of Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, Marvel Studios had been trying for many years to get a female-fronted superhero movie off the ground, with multiple characters tossed around as possibilities. Nicole Perlman and Meg LaFauve were initially hired to write the screenplay, but producer Kevin Feige eventually brought on Geneva Robertson-Dworet to overhaul it as it started to take definite form in 2017. In addition, this is the first prequel in the franchise, and two principle actors had their faces digitally de-aged by nearly two and a half decades. Set in 1995, Brie Larson stars as Vers, an extremely powerful member of an elite intergalactic team called Starforce working for the Kree Empire. In the midst of their ongoing war with shapeshifting aliens called the Skrulls, Vers accidentally gets separated and lands on Earth. There, she begins to realize that she might have had a past life as an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers, and quickly becomes acquainted with low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played once again by Samuel L. Jackson. Soon, they discover that the Skrull are planning to potentially blend in with and take over the planet and try to find them before it’s too late. Watching and anticipating this film, I couldn’t help but feel reminded of last year’s Black Panther. After spending over 10 years and nearly two dozen superhero films starring a white guy named Chris, Marvel finally passed the baton to a demographic that is sorely overlooked in the genre. Also like Black Panther, this was the unfair victim of pre-release bashing by extremely fragile people (Re: men) who felt threatened by something like this. Although I haven’t yet seen Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s acclaimed indie Half Nelson, I did enjoy their Southern gambling movie Mississippi Grind. And the stellar casting and 1990’s setting made it sound even more intriguing, even if the some of the marketing material wasn’t very impressive. Overall, Captain Marvel doesn’t rank quite as highly with the other MCU films for me, but it’s still undeniably entertaining and a great step forward for inclusion. Something I appreciate about the latest slew of films in this franchise is how thematically ambitious they’ve gotten. I’ve seen this film in theaters twice now and both times, I noticed different things in the story that resonated. No, it’s not the ’90s references, (Which, thankfully, avoid nostalgia porn) but how it explores the day-to-day sexism that women have to deal with. Whether it’s some random guy asking her to smile or her own superiors saying she’s too emotional for the job, there’s a certain connection to the real world that was previously missing in the MCU. Even though the story itself is a familiar origin story we’ve seen dozens of times over, its the specificity given to the characters that counts. Following an Oscar win and numerous impressive roles in various films, Brie Larson is perfectly cast as Carol Danvers/Vers/Captain Marvel. It’s previously been stated that she is the most powerful character in the MCU, and it’s easy to see why. She’s incredibly headstrong and fierce with both her powers and mind, frequently torn between following orders and doing what’s right. The digital de-aging for Samuel L. Jackson is no joke, as he looks uncanny to his appearance in films from the same decade it’s set in. While he is more idealistic in this era, he still is able to see the bigger picture and is willing to bend rules to get the job done. On the more cosmic end of things, Jude Law knocks it out of the park as Yon-Rogg while Ben Mendelsohn is great as the Skrull general Talos. Both eschew typical elements of the tough mentor and villain archetypes, respectively, bringing something a little unexpected to the film. Other roles are taken up by Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Rune Temte, Algenis Pérez Soto, a de-aged Clark Gregg, and both Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace reprising their roles from Guardians of the Galaxy. Some fair better than others, (Bening feels particularly disinterested) but Lynch particularly impresses as Maria Rambeau, Danvers’ best friend in the Air Force. I’m not sure if she’ll return for future installments but I hope she does because she was so compassionate yet badass. And even though this is their first studio blockbuster, Captain Marvel shows that Boden and Fleck are still able to retain a somewhat personal touch behind the camera. This is the 4th MCU film to be shot by Ben Davis, who’s been more into the cosmic sensibilities of the franchise. The cinematography is very clean and slick with a wide-ranging color palette that encompasses the diverse creatures and worlds that the story visits. Elliot Graham and Debbie Berman also edit the film’s action scenes rather nice. Although it gets in danger of being too choppy, for the most part it keeps everything comprehensive and easy to follow. There is a musical score that goes along with the film that’s composed by Pinar Toprak, the first woman to compose for the franchise. Like many of the recent Marvel films, this score is actually memorable and noteworthy in many different tracks. The main theme is distinctive in its fusion of classic “hero” music and more contemporary riffs with other instruments. One of the most noteworthy instruments is the synthesizer, which plays chaotic melodies over numerous tracks and creates a real sci-fi atmosphere. The soundtrack also licenses a number of female-centric songs from the 1990’s many of which are played appropriately with their respective scenes. The best one used is “Just a Girl” by the ska-punk band No Doubt, which plays at a pivotal point in the climax. The second time I watched it, I could hear a woman in my theater softly singing along to it, which made it even more of a joy. Utilizing its setting to its advantage, Captain Marvel is an enjoyable intergalactic romp with an extremely powerful lead character. They have more work to do on their handling of action scenes, but Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have successfully transitioned over to studio blockbuster territory with this movie. While it may not be as involving or fresh as other entries in the MCU, it still manages to keep you entertained for 2 hours and has great setup for Brie Larson’s future with the series.

“The Curse of La Llorona” Movie Review

How exciting! This is my first ever review for a film I saw at a festival! I wish it were a better film, but hey I won’t complain too much. This supernatural horror thriller had its world premiere at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival. It is currently scheduled to be widely released in theaters on April 19th, 2019, by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Made for the budget $35 million, given the studio’s track record the last couple years, it should have little problem earning it all back by the end of its theatrical run. But whether its middling critical reception can improve with general audiences remains to be seen. Produced by James Wan and Gary Dauberman, this movie marks the feature-length debut of director Michael Chaves, who previously helmed a number of short films. The screenplay was written by partners Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry under the original title The Children. Wan and CO. were apparently so impressed by Chaves’ work on the film that they immediately hired him to take over the next Conjuring film, which is supposedly slated to begin production later this year. Set in Los Angeles in 1973, Linda Cardellini stars as Anna Tate-Garcia, a social worker and widow. She’s called to check in on the status of a single mother Patricia Alvarez, played by Patricia Velásquez, who claims to be protecting her two boys from La Llorona, a ghost in Latin American folklore. Also known as the Weeping Woman, the story goes that a young Mexican woman drowned her children in a river after discovering her husband’s infidelity and then drowned herself out of extreme guilt, cursed to wade through the waters for eternity. Now, Anna becomes convinced that La Llorona is coming after her family next and enlists the help of a disillusioned priest, played by Raymond Cruz, to stop the evil spirit. Let’s get this out of the way before going any further: The Curse of La Llorona is the newest film in The Conjuring Universe. While such rumors had persisted for a while, it was always marketed as its own standalone horror flick. I don’t really consider this to be a spoiler because the connection to the other films is extremely lowkey, but take it as you will. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really have that much familiarity with this franchise, other than hearing a lot of praise from horror fans. I enjoyed what Wan did with the first Saw movie, and I like how he’s giving opportunities to newer filmmakers in the genre like Chaves or David F. Sandberg. Being my first experience at a film festival, there was a unique sort of anticipation I had for this film. And while The Curse of La Llorona has its share of fun moments, it just can’t quite rise high enough to separate itself from the crowded deluge of ghost movies. I have no doubt that Michael Chaves has a great career in the genre ahead of him, and he certainly shows some great skill behind the camera. But the issue is that the script he’s working with is so rote that it often feels like he’s fighting off what begs to be a jump-scare fest and dumb character decisions. At the very least, it could have honestly used an overhaul by another writer to make it a lot better. Furthermore, similar to The Cloverfield Paradox last year, I don’t feel like this had to be connected to The Conjuring at all. It’s a very fleeting moment shown in the latter half that doesn’t bear any actual relevance to the plot itself. I understand the desire for brand recognition to increase box office potential, but this could have easily written that crossover out entirely and no one would be the wiser. Linda Cardellini’s built a pretty sweet resume over the last few years with roles in films like Green Book and the underrated A Simple Favor. For her first stab at the horror genre, she does a pretty great job as Anna and exudes a certain vulnerability and strength in a frightened mother. Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou play both of Anna’s children, Samantha and Chris, respectively. While horror films are often prone to terrible child actors, these two showed a decent range with what they were given. Patricia Velásquez is also pretty good as the petrified mother in Anna’s case while Breaking Bad‘s Raymond Cruz delivers some goods as a man of faith who may be the family’s best hope of survival. While they both did well with the material, their limited screen-time and development makes it hard to become invested in them. Cruz particularly feels underutilized and only really becomes important in the second half, and at that point he feels more like an archetype than an actual character. As continues to be tradition with New Line’s horror films, The Curse of La Llorona has some pretty polished and inspired moments from behind the camera. Wan’s regular cinematographer Don Burgess captures much of the action in darkness, often switching between tight Steadicam and handheld scenes. After a somewhat uneven prologue, the opening scene sees a single shot follow Anna and her children rushing around the house to get ready for school, setting the atmosphere. There are also a number of admittedly impressive bits where a shot seems like it’s following the titular ghost in one area, only for her to come back in the same shot. But the editing by Peter Gvozdas is pretty inconsistent and at times frustrating. While not necessarily choppy, it does feel in favor of creating jump scares with different shots following another. It can be clever sometimes in how it shows imagery, such as highlighting table cloths to imply that La Llorona is there. But the film is already wrestling with a meager script and editing it in such a ham-fisted way felt detrimental. Despite what the tone this review may make you think, I had a decent time with it. This is certainly a leap ahead of other horror movies like Wish Upon and The Bye Bye Man, but it still feels weighed down because of its obligation to the Conjuring Universe. Definitely a better viewing experience with a huge crowd, The Curse of La Llorona is a fleetingly scary flick that muddles a truly terrifying legend in favor of franchise connections. If for nothing else, this film shows that Michael Chaves clearly has a lot of talent and should enjoy a healthy career in Hollywood. His and Wan’s hearts are in the right place, but it just doesn’t make enough effort to distinguish itself from the genre. You’re most likely going to leave the theater having a fun time with all of the other patrons, but won’t remember much of it come the next day. But hey, it was super fun to watch at South By Southwest, so it’s great for that memory.