Category Archives: Blockbuster

“Tag” Movie Review

If playing a simple game of tag was all I had to do to stay in touch with my friends for the next few decades, I would have started playing that long ago. Probably not nearly as intensely as these guys, but still, it’d be a lot of fun. Produced on a budget of $28 million, this high-concept comedy was released on June 15th, 2018. Despite facing some tough competition from Incredibles 2, it has done surprisingly well so far by raking in over $48 million worldwide. Directed by first-timer Jeff Tomsic, previously helming episodes for the Comedy Central show Broad City, the wacky story takes its inspiration from an unbelievable article in The Wall Street Journal. The film was originally written with Jack Black and Will Ferrell in mind to star before scheduling conflicts got in the way. Having reduced the number of players from around 10 to just 5, one of the stars ended up breaking both his arms during filming; they had to be recreated with CGI. Based on an absurd true story, (No, I’m not kidding) the movie follows 5 life-long friends from the state of Washington. For the past 30 years, they have all played the same game of tag in the month of May, going to ridiculous lengths and spending enormous amounts of money to not be “it.” One of their friends Jerry, who has never been tagged, is about to retire from the game and marry at the end of the month. The remaining 4 team up to do everything in their power to try and tag him before it’s too late. I love myself a fun, broad comedy every now and again. While studio comedies in recent years have floundered, special gems like The Big Sick or, more recently, Game Night have succeeded in making me laugh my ass off while still giving an engaging story to bite down on. For this reason, I was pretty excited to see Tag in theaters. Hearing the premise of the movie, alone, was crazy enough, but the added fact of it being based on a real-life story (For the most part) gave me even more incentive to watch it. And while Tag isn’t quite on the level of other aforementioned comedies, and certainly isn’t a genre masterpiece, it can still be a pretty fun time watching. It seems weird to say, but I think that the comedic aspects of the movie might be the thing ultimately holding it back. At its core, this is a genuinely heartwarming story about a group of buddies who play tag as a way of sticking together throughout multiple decades. It’s something very special to these men, repeatedly quoting Benjamin Franklin by saying, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” There are certainly moments that perpetuate that sentimentality throughout the movie, especially in the back half. But it feels as though more effort was put into watching these men humiliate themselves trying to tag each other. Granted, the source material does lend itself well to comedy and there were definitely more instances of me laughing pretty hard than not laughing at all. But still, it felt like that extra bit of cynicism wasn’t really needed to begin with. For what it’s worth, the 5 lead actors do a solid job and share believable chemistry enough to carry the movie through. Played by Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnston, Ed Helms, and Jeremy Renner, the men all bring unique quirks to the group. Renner is the one playing Jerry, and seeing his charm and wide smile seep through his pride is really fun, relying more on physical comedy than expected. Helms, whom I’m not typically a fan of, is definitely the heart of the group, bringing them all back together and suffering multiple injuries in a deadpan manner. The other 3, while really funny, are pretty exactly what you’d expect from the actors. Other supporting players like Isla Fisher as the hyper-competitive wife to Helms’ character, Rashida Jones as a long-lost love to Hamm and Johnston, Anabelle Wallis as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal following these friends, and Verizon’s Thomas Middleditch as the unsuspecting owner of a fitness center all provide their own funny moments that help propel the ridiculous plot. Meanwhile, similar to this year’s Game Night, the technical aspects do a nice effort to distinguish Tag from other studio comedies. Larry Blanford’s widescreen cinematography is smooth, steady, and slick, moving from one attempt at tagging Jerry to another with ease. The balanced lighting and shadows make for an intriguing suspense, as the friends could sprout up from nearly anywhere and take each other by surprise. This pairs rather well with the editing job by Josh Crockett, which is smart enough to show everything that happens just enough to keep us in stitches. The coolest aspect of the film by far is when it takes inspiration from the hyper-stylized fights in Guy Ritchie’s rendition of Sherlock Holmes. By this, I mean that certain scenes where the crew is trying to tag Jerry are undercut by Renner’s narration of what’s going to happen, followed by slow-fast-slow moves of the attempts. Normally, something like this would be distracting to me, but I found it rather engaging and different. With a capable cast, unique filmmaking techniques, and just enough substance to overcome its style, Tag is a funny, undemanding diversion of comedy. It’s nothing special or groundbreaking at all, but if you just want something sweet and funny to watch, you could certainly do worse. It’s quick, harmless, but also unambitious. And frankly, with this absurd story driving forward, it doesn’t really need to be.

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“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” Movie Review

Watching this movie as a grown man in a theater full of young boys and girls is roughly equivalent to my inner child fighting my older self for dominant opinion mindset. And trust me, that is a sight I would not like to visualize for my readers. This sci-fi actioner was released worldwide on June 22nd, 2018, almost exactly 3 years after the first Jurassic World. Despite dropping nearly 60% at the box office in its second weekend, the sequel has already accumulated north of $935 million worldwide. After massive success with the first film, Collin Trevorrow decided not to return for the second go-around, and instead developing his doomed vision for Star Wars Episode IX. Juan Antonio Bayona, director of acclaimed movies such as A Monster Calls and The Impossible, stepped into the director’s chair in his place. Interestingly, Bayona was executive producer Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the original film in the new series but declined. Trevorrow and Derek Connolly are still involved as co-writers, though. Set 3 years after the catastrophic events of the first Jurassic World, the world governments have all elected to let the cloned dinosaurs on Isla Nubar die on their own. When a massive volcanic eruption is imminent, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing team up with Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner, to try and save as many species as possible. From there, it becomes a race against time as the dinosaurs reach their second extinction, and it becomes a mystery who’s meeting whose ends. The first Jurassic Park, released back in 1993, is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. No matter how many times I watch it, nothing will ever be able to wash out the awe, terror, and magic of that Spielberg classic. 25 years later, and it’s kind of hard for me to believe it’s become such a big franchise. The first three attempts at following it up were fun in parts but felt uninspired and unnecessary. When I read that they were trying to approach this sequel as more or a horror movie or thriller, I got a little more excited as that was the foundation of the original film. And while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is arguably the closest in spirit to the first one, there’s still almost no justification to keep this thing going. However, I will grant that there was one particular scene that showed there’s still a bit of power left in the gas tank. I don’t really consider it to be a spoiler, so take it as you will. But when the human characters are leaving Isla Nubar, there’s a lone Brachiosaurus standing on the pier watching them. And we watch helplessly as this creature succumbs to the volcanic fumes and lava, hearing its horrible cries of agony and dying loneliness. That moment was unexpectedly dark, haunting, and brilliantly directed, showing a small ounce of human empathy in a series primarily focused on animals long gone. Aside from that though, what’s left are thinly-veiled, underdeveloped threads about the ethics of cloning, animal rights, and the right to die. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first movie, and they’re still mostly charming. Although it feels like phoning it in, they do share some nice chemistry in a few moments. The new characters were an incredibly mixed bag for me. Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine never evolve out of there archetypes: a thankless nerd, an attractive doctor, a scheming businessman, and a grizzled mercenary, respectively. I’ll give credit to James Cromwell as the old, dying Benjamin Lockwood and newcomer Isabella Sermon as his granddaughter Maisie. Both did their best to contribute something new to the series, even if it didn’t always work out. And don’t get excited about Jeff Goldblum returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm; he only appears in 2 scenes, max. Meanwhile, the technical aspects are perhaps the only thing about this franchise that has consistently evolved or improved. While this film is heavy on using CGI, with somewhere over 2000 VFX shots total, the cinematography by Bayona’s regular collaborator Óscar Faura provides some lowkey backlighting in practical shots. These are directly contrasted by epic, swooping shots when we’re on the island, successfully capturing the scope and scale of the chaos. Combined with Bernat Vilaplana’s frantic but mostly smooth editing, there are a handful of entertaining action or chase scenes. The moment when our characters are running side-by-side with the dinosaurs to the shoreline utilizes both of the aforementioned tools to great effect. It is easily the most thrilling moment and second-best in the whole movie. To his credit, Bayona actually does show some skill behind the camera, ultimately feeling like his own style. Michael Giacchino, one of the most prolific and in-demand composers in Hollywood, returns to write and conduct the musical score for this sequel. Like its predecessor, he inverts many of John Williams’ classic themes from Jurassic Park to some success. Stirring strings and rousing low horns are often undercut by a large vocal chorus, giving a grand feeling to this adventure. And yet, he’s still somehow able to find a bit of the magic from that original by doing his damnedest to inspire awe in the ears. Outside of the soundtrack and fun effects, though, there’s little to no reason to watch this movie. Despite the promise of a new director at the helm, this comes off as a neutered, cold sequel that studios push out of the gate with zero motivation except for profit. There are kernels of good ideas in here; with recent advancements in cloning science, the ethics of bringing back an extinct species feels ripe with potential. But sadly, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom serves as a reminder why this series should have died long ago. Just come to terms with why it should have never become a franchise and give J.A. Bayona a project worth spending money to see. The humans in charge of this should have quit while they were ahead, 65 million years ago. Ironically, Universal Pictures has become to this franchise what John Hammond was like with the attraction in Jurassic Park. Quoth Jeff Goldblum in the original movie, “You were so busy thinking about if you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”

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“Deadpool 2” Movie Review

Just reading the synopsis that 20th Century Fox put for this movie reaffirmed my faith in the project overall. Seriously, before even seeing a single frame of any of the trailers, I laughed my ass off so hard from just a few lines of description for “plot.” That is definitely a first for me. This *extremely* self-aware superhero comedy was released nationwide on May 18th, 2018. Originally scheduled for release on June 1st, the unexpected push-up for Avengers: Infinity War allowed it to have the more traditional early summer breakout. And thus far, it’s paid off; the film has grossed over $709 million worldwide and some of the better reviews for a superhero film this year. Following the humongous success of the first film from 2016, director Tim Miller dropped out early on due to “creative differences.” In his stead, former stuntman and John Wick co-director David Leitch makes his second solo round after last year’s Atomic Blonde. And in addition to starring in and producing the movie, Ryan Reynolds also receives his first official screenwriting credit on this film. Reynolds returns once again as Wade Wilson, a mercenary-turned costumed anti-hero with a love for chimichangas. Following an unexpected turn of events, Wilson finds himself in the company and (Initially unwanted) friendship of a young, powerful mutant runaway named Russell, played by Julian Dennison. Unfortunately, Russell is being hunted down by a grizzled mutant soldier from the future named Cable, played by Josh Brolin, who claims that the child is destined to become a mass murderer. Seeking to redeem himself, Deadpool must confront his own demons by assembling a niche superhero team of his own and save Russell from certain death. The original Deadpool, when it first came out, was one of my favorite superhero films I had seen in a very long while. It was hilarious, self-referential, and a breath of fresh, R-rated air in a dominant, almost exhausting genre. Upon further rewatches, I still really like it, but can appreciate why a lot of people were not fans of it. I was always excited for the sequel no matter what, even though the hiccup in early production seemed to indicate nothing good. Especially because, while I loved John Wick, I didn’t care for Atomic Blonde. What made it even more sensational was the fact that Joi “SJ” Harris, a motorcycle stuntwoman, accidentally died while filming. Now expectations were mounting, and the marketing team specifically poked fun at that. And personally, I’m not as big a fan as the first one, but it’s definitely just as fun and arguably more accessible for more audiences. Once again, you can expect a nice, healthy dose of self-aware humor to populate the majority of the film. For those unfamiliar with the titular character, Deadpool is actually aware that he is inside a comic book or movie or video game. His ability to break the fourth wall provides some hilarious moments of genre mockery. “We need ’em tough, morally flexible, and young enough so they can carry this franchise for 10 to 12 years,” he says after deciding to build the X-Force team from scratch. That being said, the tonal shift between these moments and the character’s serious story arc feel jarring and almost conflicting. It’s always a bit odd, if not frustrating, to see a movie conceding to the tropes that it so openly makes fun of for most of its 119 minute-long runtime. The movie is also bafflingly cynical in many areas, which could, yet again, understandably push some people away. But there is still enough in here, humor and storywise, to keep me interested until the end. Ryan Reynolds owns the persona of Wade Wilson, short and simple. Vulgar, whiny, sex-obsessed, and totally unpredictable, watching this well-trained assassin deliver kills while still cracking jokes is pretty funny and meta beyond comprehension. Also worth noting is Julain Dennison’s performance as Russell. I loved Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he shows a lot of the same characteristics here; a lost kid with the need for a family.  Josh Brolin appears in his second Marvel this year as Cable. This time, unlike Thanos, he’s practical, mean-spirited, and ready to kill with a Terminator-like determination. Meanwhile, Atlanta veteran star Zazie Beetz is simply delightful and fun to watch as the mutant Domino. With Luck as her superpower, there are some really creative ways in which the writers are able to show off her marksman abilities. With a bigger budget this time around, Deadpool 2 is now able to show off a lot of its fancy filmmaking techniques. David Leitch brings a lot of his regular collaborators from Atomic Blonde and John Wick onboard, which allows his skill for directing action scenes to come through above all else. One of them is cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who gives the screen a slightly dark shade to illustrate the moral ambiguity of many of the characters. He comes up with some pretty creative shots throughout the film, and each scene is given a unique color palette, whether it was the moody future Cable hails from or the relatively bright red blood of bad guys during fight sequences. Meanwhile, the editing is done quite well by Dirk Westervelt, Craig Alpert, and Elizabet Ronaldsdóttir. None of the action scenes are cut to shit, allowing the audience to clearly register what’s going on. It also cuts abruptly in certain moments to elicit sudden, serious laughter, which worked a few times. With Tom Holkenborg, AKA Junkie XL, sitting this sequel out, action movie man Tyler Bates steps in to compose the musical score. While most of the tracks are your typical bits of big orchestral strings, the best and most memorable ones come in as distorted guitar melodies. This works surprisingly well to help create a feeling of unease and relentlessness as if Cable just can’t be stopped. There’s also an original song composed for the film called “Ashes” by Céline Dion, which provides a nice emotional through-line for the story. Other songs used on the soundtrack include a hilarious opening montage with Dolly Parton’s “9-to-5,” Electronica DJ Skrillex’s “Bangarang” during an exciting highway chase sequence, and an acoustic rendition of “Take on Me” by a-Ha. The latter may be my favorite, but none compare to the brilliant James Bond-style opening credits with an overly dramatic song setting the mood. With just enough jokes and fun moments to overcome its flaws, Deadpool 2 is an endlessly meta romp that takes no prisoners. It may take me another rewatch to really love it as much as the original, but as it is, this sequel is pretty entertaining and filled to the brim with references for fans to catch. While it certainly may not be a family movie like the title character says, beneath all of its cynicism, there is a heart to the story about family and loved ones looking after one another. P.S. It might just have the great post-credit scene of any film that I’ve ever seen.

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“The Incredibles” Movie Review

I’m seriously considering extending this New Year’s resolution over to next year because it lets me rewatch movies I love and then gives me an excuse to review them. Well, that and the long-awaited sequel is finally out in theaters so there’s little point in resisting the urge any longer. This computer-animated superhero film, the 6th overall feature produced by Pixar Animation Studios, was the closing night selection for the 2004 BFI London Film Festival before releasing in theaters on November 5th of that year. It proved a massive critical and commercial success, grossing nearly 7 times its $92 million budget worldwide along with 2 Academy Awards and 2 further nominations. This makes it the studio’s first animated feature to win 2 awards for one movie, soon to be followed in the years afterward. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the concept for the film first came up in the mid-90’s when he was struggling to break into the business after the commercial failure of his underrated The Iron Giant. The filmmaker was the first one not in Pixar’s initial core creative group to break into making an animated movie, only getting by on an old college friend named John Lasseter. This meant he had to hire his own team from scratch, which arguably gave him more artistic freedom. During the animation process, Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki made a visit and voiced his support, as it was something he had never seen in an American animated film. Taking place in an alternate 1962, the story centers on a dysfunctional family of superpowered individuals named the Parrs. Following a number of lawsuits resulting from the collateral damage caused by their work, all of the living “supers” in the world are forced into retirement or hiding. The patriarch of the Parr family, Bob, formally the incredibly strong Mr. Incredible, is bored by his new life as an insurance adjuster and becomes excited when a mysterious woman named Mirage comes to him with an offer to use his powers again. But something doesn’t sit right with his housewife Helen, formerly the wide-stretching Elastigirl, and soon both she and her children are drawn into the job. If there are just 2 things I love watching consistently, it’s superheroes and Pixar. Put the both of them together, and you already have a recipe to make me at least moderately interested or entertained. I have seen The Incredibles more times than I can count over the years. In fact, I’m fairly positive that it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Depending on my mood, this usually switches places with the first Toy Story as my all-time favorite Pixar movie. And now that long-awaited and demanded sequel is FINALLY coming out, it seemed like a prime opportunity to give this modern classic a proper review. And once again, doing so has reaffirmed my love for it. Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about this film, more so than the extravagant action scenes, is the loving homages. Whilst the film was released right before the big boom of superhero movies, it functions more like a combination of old 1960’s spy thrillers and serial comic book adaptations from the 1940’s. Case in point, the heroes can only be recognized if they wear their secretive masks, not just their costumes. The fascinating thing is just how prescient Brad Bird was about superhero movie tropes, and how they would go on  in future genre films. Edna, the Incredibles’ main costume designer, constantly berates them on why it’s terrible to swear capes on the job. And the villain mocks his adversary, “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” Bird may not have made a genre film before, but he understands it so well, giving him n edge over most live-action superhero operas. Let’s talk about the voice acting; everyone involved gives it their A-game and feels natural in their roles. Without Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl being as relatable as they are. Their chemistry is on point, from the overt sexual attraction they share to the nasty parental fights that their children are witnesses to. Speaking of children, Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox do great work as Dash and Violet, respectively. One is an insecure teenage girl with the ability to turn invisible and create force fields while the other is a young boy with the gift of super-speed. My favorite of the bunch might be Samuel L. Jackson as the ice-powered Lucius Best/Frozone. A far cry from his more vulgar live-action roles, the actor still gets to show off his effortless charisma through expert delivery of the fantastic dialogue. And then, there’s Jason Lee as the main villain Syndrome. We learn his motivations early on, and are able to inkle the slightest bit of sympathy for his ultimate game plan. And as far as the technical aspects go, The Incredibles is just such delightful pleasure to the eyes. This was the first Pixar film where all of the primary characters were human beings, as opposed to toys or underwater fish or extra-dimensional monsters. So there was a bit of challenge to adapting the computer-animated elements to something more tangible. Thankfully, the new technology they developed worked with flying colors, capturing the subtle dynamics in facial expressions and hair movements. The animation is also able to capture the diverse environments that the story takes us to. Whether it’s the dull color palette of the suburbs or the lush forest and shoreline of a mysterious island, nothing looks out of place. The way camera is able to fluidly follow moving bodies during the exciting action scenes is really marvelous. Capping it all off is Michael Giacchino’s amazing musical score, one of the best from cinema in the 2000’s. His first of 7 collaborations with the studio, the film was mostly recorded using old-fashioned analogue tapes, the same used back in the 1960’s. Utilizing a full symphonic orchestra, the brass section, especially the trumpet, is given main priority on the title tracks. The way they pierce sounds like an improvisational riff, made up as the adventure goes along. As chaotic as that may sound, it actually fits perfectly into the dynamic, near-unpredictable story that has been constructed. Also accompanying it is jazzy saxophones, which allow the two to feed off each other’s energy like the title superhero team. With an actual family at the heart and center of the film, there’s plenty to enjoy on both ends of the genetic spectrum. Kids will be entertained by all of the action and visuals, while adults will find appeal in its clever jokes and jabs at genre conventions. The Incredibles is matched in gorgeous animation only by its blazing originality. The more times I watch this movie, the more I’m convinced that it might be Pixar’s magnum opus. It’s so complete and breezily lightfooted that one can’t help but fall in love with the world that Brad Bird has created. 14 years onward and very few superhero movies I can think of have even come close to touching it. And it’s not even based on a comic book.

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“Aliens” Movie Review

Last time, we had to deal with the “perfect organism,” and now we must contend with an army of predatory bugs. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to tell which one would be the better one to face. This sci-fi action horror film was released in mid-July of 1986, grossing over $183 million worldwide. Despite the hype and acclaim of the original 7 years earlier, the film managed to garner some of the best reviews of the 1980’s, including 7 Academy Award nominations. With Ridley Scott out of the picture, the producers approached Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron to write and direct the sequel, having been impressed with The Terminator. Initially, it seemed as though 20th Century Fox was going to butcher it due to the proposed exclusion of Sigourney Weaver’s character. But Cameron pushed onward, and despite having a troubled shoot that caused most of the crew members to walk out, he managed to deliver the final product on time to Fox. Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the flight officer who awakes from stasis 57 years after the events of the original film. Doubtful of her alleged experiences on the Nostromo, the dominant Weyland-Yutani Corporation orders her back to the exomoon LV-426, which is now becoming a terraforming colony. With a company representative and a unit of space marines, they are tasked with investigating a disturbance on the colony, which turns out to have been overrun by a horde of Xenomorphs, the creatures from the last movie. Now Ripley, the marines, and a surviving girl named Newt must fight the extraterrestrials and find a way off of the planet. Rule of thumb in cinema: Doubting either James Cameron or Steven Spielberg makes you look stupid, no matter how off-putting or unappealing the product may seem in marketing. Doesn’t really matter how cold or distant you may be from any of their films, but the fact that they can defy expectations among film lovers time and again is worth their career reputations alone. In this case, Cameron had the heavy duty of following up on Ridley Scott’s original classic, which is nearly perfect in many aspects. Why bother making a sequel to Alien when the first one is amazing as it is? And yet, as has been proven with most of his career, the director proved everyone wrong and made a movie that was just as fantastic and exciting as the original. In fact, I love it even more than the first one. In cinema, there are really only a handful of sequels or prequels or spinoffs that can prove to be at least half as great as the first go-round. There are less in existence that can actually fully live up to the standards of that first installment and even less that manage to ever surpass or improve upon it. Depending on who you ask, Aliens is either just as good as the original film, falls short of it, or is simply better in almost every way. Consider me to be in the camp of the latter. Granted, it’s hard to compare the two since they have very different tones and styles. While Alien was firmly a horror picture, this one leans more heavily into action territory. That’s not to say that it’s totally devoid of the darkness; the idea of soldiers blindly going to battle in an unfamiliar terrain is a melancholy reminder of the Vietnam War. In the midst of this war, Sigourney Weaver still comes through as the heart and soul of the series. Now more world-weary and intelligent than she was before, she is by far the only one in the crew who understands the true threat of the Xenomorphs and is especially distrusting of androids. Weaver also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, a landmark moment in science-fiction films gaining serious recognition in the industry. Also great are Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop and the late Bill Paxton as Private Hudson. They honestly might be my favorite characters in the whole series and provide an interesting Star Trek-like dichotomy to the situation. One is logical and thinks of all the best options, the other is highly emotional and fueled by testosterone. And then there’s actress-turned teacher Carrie Henn as Newt, the sole human survivor from the colony. Despite her small stature, there’s a courage and wisdom found in her that just resonates deeply. And from a technical standpoint, like its predecessor, Aliens is superbly crafted and handsomely produced. In his first credited work as a cinematographer, the late Adrian Biddle helps create a sustained atmosphere on LV-426, whether out in the open or inside the colony corridors. We get a lot of shots tracking the soldiers down dark passages, without a whole lot of cuts between angles. Combined with the expert backlighting and production design, this only further increased the amount of dread felt while still keeping things fun and exciting. Meanwhile, the editing by Ray Lovejoy, most famous for 2001: A Space Odyssey, is very deliberate yet enthralling. He knows exactly when to turn away from the bug army to keep a fear running through and also when to show us their brute numbers. The action scenes are particularly well-crafted, combining all of the aforementioned techniques with slick writing and strong direction. The musical score is written and conducted by the late, great James Horner, who would go on to collaborate with Cameron on two more films. (Titanic and Avatar) The score appropriately employs military-style drum beats on the snare, which drive the action tone pretty hard. Other bits of percussion includes a metallic slap that punctuates the urgency along with highly dynamic strings and horns that feel perfectly married together. Fragmented crescendos and truncated sections make the scenes it is used to feel all the more engrossing. Interestingly, the composer had such a hard time during production that he was convinced he would never work with the director again. Considering Horner only had 6 weeks to put the whole soundtrack together, it is highly impressive and certainly one of the more memorable ones for a sci-fi action movie. Practically nothing beats this movie nowadays. Sure, there are a couple issues with pacing, mostly with the intense final act. But when measured against nearly all other films of its genre that have come out since then, it really does stand head-and-shoulders above the normal fare. Aliens is a highly satisfying and enthralling example of masterful genre-blending. James Cameron is a cinematic genius and I’m thoroughly convinced that not everyone will be able to realize that until long after he’s gone. He’s made not one but TWO of the best sequels ever made in the span of 5 years. There’s plenty to enjoy here on multiple repeat viewings and I can’t wait for more to experience and appreciate it the same way that I did.

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review

After 3 movies in a row released during the Christmas season, the Star Wars Saga finally sees its return to the more traditional summer movie season. Whether or not that’s an especially great thing is entirely up for debate, my friends. This space-western, marking the 10th live-action feature in the iconic franchise, premiered out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival before releasing in theaters worldwide on May 25th. While it has made over $345 million at the box office, the film was still produced on a budget of $275 million. With a historic drop in attendance during the second weekend, it’s estimated to become the first Star Wars movie to lose money. Co-written by franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who announced that this would likely be his last gig with the long-running series, the film was first put under the directorial hands of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. However, two weeks before filming could finish, the two were fired due to Lucasfilms’ disapproval of their more comedic, improv-heavy style. Ron Howard, who had previously been offered the chair for The Phantom Menace, was brought in to finish it and pull off extensive reshoots in a stupidly quick time. It has been reported that 70% of the finished film is of his own doing. Set many years before the events of the original trilogy, the story- as the title suggests -follows Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, a cocky smuggler with no real allegiance. Following a series of unwanted circumstances, Han, his new Wookie partner Chewbacca, and newly found mentor Tobias Beckett find themselves in the debt of renowned Outer Rim crime lord Dryden Vos. The team soon become involved in an intergalactic heist where, along the way, they meet Lando Calrissian and the Corellian spacecraft the Millenium Falcon. Since this project was first announced a few years ago, I’ve had… mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was excited to see more new Star Wars stories from different angles to get away from the somewhat tiring Skywalker Saga. There are simply so many fascinating worlds and species and characters worth exploring outside of the main storyline that can add more intrigue to the still-burgeoning Disney canon. On the opposite side of that coin, though, there was the burning feeling that we didn’t need or want to know the origins of arguably the most beloved character in the whole franchise. That it would become the beginning of the House of Mouse turning something dearly, intensely loved into a corporate brand. (Those who tell you The Last Jedi started it are wrong) So how does Solo: A Star Wars Story turn out to be? Well, it’s… fine, I guess. To be fair, the production process was far more hellish and dreary than it should have been in the first place. Considering the fact that Ron Howard only had a few weeks to finish the job AND have it ready in time for a late May release is honestly astounding. One has to give Disney some stones for not simply pushing it back to the holidays like the previous 3 movies under their banner. With all of that taken into consideration, the movie actually turned out far better and more entertaining than had been anticipated. Yet at the same time, it just doesn’t feel like it’s trying hard enough to distinguish itself from other entries in the series. Howard is great with some of the more heartfelt, character-centric moments, but the action sequences feel almost void of personality or unique style. Alden Ehrenreich is certainly on his way to becoming a household name thanks to his performance in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and this film, and rightfully so. He has just the right amount of charisma and rugged charm to fit into the character’s shoes and shares great chemistry with Chewie on nearly every occasion. The standouts for me were Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion-capture turn as the droid companion L3-37 and, of course, Donald Glover as Lando. While she is a radical, free-thinking robot who wants to challenge her people’s place in the galaxy, he is a wildly charismatic smuggler who steals every scene of the movie. Other actors in the ensemble like Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, and Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke, aren’t given much to say or do to leave a lasting impression. As always with the series, if for nothing else, you can count on Solo to deliver a technically riveting experience. Cinematographer Bradford Young, fresh off his nomination for his amazing work for Arrival, does a fairly good job at shooting the seedy underbelly of the galaxy. However, it seems like it took him a little while to get comfortable with the style and texture of the inimitable world. Much of the first act is very dimly lit and, with the constant shift from steady to handheld shots, it can be hard to discern what’s going on. The sound design and CGI is impeccable (For the most part) as both come together for some gritty action sequences. One particular battle early on involving the Empire makes for some riveting stuff; it’s also the point in the movie when I really started getting interested in the movie. As was the case with Rogue One, veteran composer John Williams sat out on scoring the soundtrack for this spinoff. However, he did contribute to writing and composing the main theme, which combines two unused tracks from previous films into one song that does a fair job at capturing the adventurous tone. For the rest of it, John Powell takes over duties and actually produces some memorable pieces, all of which have that classic Star Wars tinge. From the beginning, the classic opening crawl and blasting theme music is instead replaced with fading text describing the galaxy’s state. This is accompanied by menacing strings that are soon joined by dynamic percussion and skipping horn beats. It just feels so weird reviewing this movie. Normally, I’m excited to get my opinion on the newest installment from one of my favorite franchises out into the world. But I saw this movie nearly a month ago, and have been struggling with how to properly approach it. I didn’t hate it, but there’s also just not enough about it that’s remarkable enough to count among the “great” entries of the Saga. Then again, I had never really expected it to and it didn’t seem like it wanted to be. While your viewing experiences may differ, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable, uninspired space adventure starring amazing heroes. If you go into this movie just wanting to watch a fun, loose Western in a fantastical version of space, then it’ll be a blast. Expect anything earth-shattering or nostalgia-inducing and you’re bound to be disappointed. Either way, this movie has witty quips and obscure fan service for days- for better or for worse.

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“Alien” Movie Review

Whoever said that you should only be allowed to watch “scary movies” in October? This film (and its sequel) are perfectly enjoyable to watch around the summer time. After all, what could possibly be more worthy of the summer movie season than small aliens bursting violently out of the chest? The inaugural picture of this sci-fi horror franchise was released in the United States on May 25th, 1979, coming to the U.K. 3 months later. Although critics were slow to acknowledge its brilliance, the film made back over 10 times its $9 million budget worldwide. Over the years, it has spawned a franchise consisting of 7 more movies, in-depth novels, crossover comics, and numerous video games, some better than others. Directed by Ridley Scott, his second full-length feature, the screenplay was conceived by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed production of Dune. Many, many drafts later, and with the help of producer Walter Hill, the gears actually started turning. It was only after the monumental success of Star Wars that 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the science-fiction film, a dangerous genre in those days. Set in the early 22nd century, the story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship transporting 20 million tons of ore back to Earth. Under assignment from the intergalactic company Weyland-Yutani, they land on a planetoid called LV-426. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious and highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature sneaks onto their ship as they make the return journey. As the creature stalks and takes out members of the crew one by one, the survivors, led by warrant officer Ellen Ripley, must find a way to beat what is seemingly the perfect organism. Let’s make something abundantly clear here before going on: Alien is a horror film. You can be snobby about it and put it away in any other Blockbuster aisle that you want, but at its bleak core, Ridley Scott has made a horror movie through and through. This is one of many things that distinguish it from its sequel (Which you’ll absolutely see a review of later this month) and very little beats watching it in the middle of the night all on your own. It took a little bit for me to fully appreciate it, though. On my first watch, I felt a bit cold from the overwhelming atmosphere that seemingly clouded the emotional involvement. But now, having rewatched it as part of my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally seen its brilliance. Something that really struck me on this rewatch was the deliberate pacing the director moves the film along at. With an opening scene that slowly establishes the setup with just the slightest amount of on-screen exposition, we learn everything needed to be known about the mission. Scott is wise not to rush to the survival horror aspects of the film, instead carefully building up the world and motivations for the characters. Interestingly, the creature itself doesn’t really show up or take full form until at least halfway or maybe even two-thirds of the way through the movie. But much like Jurassic Park 14 years later, it does a really great job at sucking viewers in and engrossing them in a place where no one can hear you scream. One reason to get so invested is thanks to the capable ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver’s storied career was launched thanks to this franchise and for good reason. One of the most powerful female characters ever written for the big screen, watching her pretty much act as the only one aboard who is following orders is enticing, even if we don’t know much about her backstory. Interestingly, she isn’t even made the main character until around the time the creature finally shows up. We really get to know and get attached to her crew members before then. Tom Skerritt as the cowby-esque captain, Veronica Cartwright as a particularly emotional engineer, the late Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt as minor but vital members of the crew, Yaphet Kotto as a muscleman, and Ian Holm as corporate overseer Ash. While Ash arguably gets more screentime than anyone else, (And for good reason) you can’t help but care about everyone onboard and fear for their lives. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, it’s hard not to see the impact this film had on the sci-fi genre in the years to come. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint wisely chooses to expose shadows and dark corridors for our heroes to go down, tracking their every move with steady shots. The slow move-ins and unexpected pans or tilts only increase the amount of dread that each frame is filled with. It is combined with the editing work of Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther that adds up the intensity. Comprised almost like a wound-up guitar string, the movements and cuts work perfectly together to build up the dread and terror. A fine decision, as anything with a whip-fast pacing, could have put the story in danger of no longer being scary. But the big star here is the late, great art designer H.R. Giger. He brings his signature style of ghastly, gothic, and darkly sexual work and design to the eponymous creature as well as many other environments. Never before had a planetoid surface or a derelict spaceship looked so terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. There’s also something just immediately disturbing just by looking at the alien and thinking of all of the things it could do to someone. The famous chestbursting scene is one of the most unsettling momenbts in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to Giger’s practical handiwork. And the best part? None of the cast members were told what was going to happen when it was filmed; their reactions on-screen are real. Nearly 40 years onwards, and Ridley Scott’s breakthrough feature hasn’t lost an ounce of its horrifying touch. Not only did it set a standard for his own career buit also for sci-fi and horror in general. Alien is a frightening, suspense-filled classic of atmospheric terror. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this has inspired an entire generation of film lovers and filmmakers and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a very warm feeling in your chest as you watch it, but it’s not becuase some monster is about to burst out. It’s because you’ll be so petrified by what’s happening that no one will be able to hear you scream.

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