Category Archives: Fantasy

“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.


“Black Panther” Movie Review

Give more power to the people. Or to filmmakers. Or to filmmakers who are from a people that aren’t nearly as represented as they should be. That’s the biggest takeaway from Black Panther. This superhero/sci-fi picture hybrid, the eighteenth (!) overall in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released on February 16th, 2018. Produced on a budget of nearly $200 million, the film is projected to earn all of that back and break a number of other records within the first weekend alone. Several celebrities and local charities have partaken in a challenge to give disadvantaged children of color around the world a chance to see the movie, which could set a new precedent in moviegoing attendance. The first-ever major black superhero in comic books, Blade actor Wesley Snipes attempted to get an adaptation off of the ground as early as 1992, but all potential iterations ended in turnaround. John Singleton seemed poised for the director’s chair at one point, but it eventually went to Ryan Coogler of Fruitvale Station and Creed. Set after the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda, his home country in Africa which is isolated from the rest of the world. Following the death of his father, he is crowned the new king and also inherits the persona of the Black Panther warrior, infused with high-tech gear from an extremely rare metal called vibranium. However, his sovereignty is challenged by a new mercenary named Erik Killmonger, aided by an enemy of the state Ulysses Klaue, and must now become involved in a potential global conflict. To say that this movie was a long time coming would be an understatement. Black Panther, no relation to the political party from the early 1970’s, is an important symbol for many reasons. And the Black Panther Challenge, started by a local from Harlem, is a beautiful opportunity for expanding this movie to people that need to be represented. I remember in the weeks before watching it seeing a viral video of an economically underserved school’s ecstatic reaction to the news that they were all going to see the movie together. I was already excited for the movie because I adored Creed from 2015, but that video only amped up the excitement. And I can say positively that this is one of the best MCU movies yet, as well as one of the boldest. There was a story not too long ago that said an alt-right Facebook group planned on bombing the movie with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Those are nothing more than a collection of fools scared that they’re moving from a majority to a minority. Indeed, there will inevitably be a crowd of folks who decry this movie for being “too political.” There is some truth to that charge; not all movies released have to tackle relevant issues. But on the flip side, there’s also the baffling belief that art wasn’t inherently political, to begin with. And a movie like this, written by, directed by, and largely starring black artists, deserves to have a message that the world can hear. Is it flawless? No. But there’s still so much to chew down on here. I feel like I don’t harp on how amazing it is that a big-budget studio film gets to have an almost all-black cast. Chadwick Boseman did a great job in Civil War, but now that he’s front and center, we get to see all his charisma and majesty in full display. With an authentic African accent and a calm demeanor, he gives us a royal figure who has to prove himself a man first, juggling all sorts of responsibilities and weight on his shoulders. The female characters were completely badass, thanks in no small part to the all-women king’s guard Dora Milaje. The Walking Dead‘s Danai Gurira shines as the general Okoye, who particularly stands out in a casino brawl where she goes to town on men in a striking red dress. Lupita N’Yongo also does great work as Nakia, a love interest who’s not just a love interest. She’s capable in a fight and extremely resourceful. The standout for the ladies is Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s teenage sister who’s one of the smartest people in the world. But the true scene-stealer in this crowd is Coogler’s regular collaborator Michael B. Jordan as the main antagonist Erik Killmonger, who finally breaks the mold of bad Marvel villains. Though it can become clear early on what his motivations are, they’re no less impactful and sympathetic. When he finally makes his beliefs and intents be known to his adversaries, you immediately understand where he’s coming from. It’s easy to say that an MCU movie looks stunning, but the technical aspects of Black Panther are simply stellar. Mudbound nominee Rachel Morrison gives Wakanda a distinctly alien yet human feel like it belongs in the real world. She captures in every frame the beauty and vastness of Wakanda, a welcome departure from the war-torn continent we’re used to seeing. One sequence that stands tall is when our heroes take on mercenaries in a Korean casino and it’s all filmed on a single take. Though, the editing by Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Costello can admittedly get jerky and borders on cut-to-shit sometimes. However, that’s completely made up for with the outstanding production design and costumes, which are beautifully exotic. And of course, the visual effects are awesome. Ludwig Goransson composes the musical score for this film, and it’s by far Marvel’s best one. Yes, it does feature tracks of sweeping orchestral beats common in these blockbusters, which could be forgettable. But what really makes it stand out is its creative fusion with African percussion and drums along with a beautiful vocal chorus. On top of that, rapper Kendrick Lamar curates some original songs for the soundtrack. Of particular note are “All the Stars,” which plays over the end credits, and “Pray for Me” during the casino scene. In fact, it could be argued that the movie is a cinematic version of a new Kendrick Lamar album. The movie does ultimately succumb to some of Marvel’s tired template rules. Namely, the ending felt a tad cliche and the film ran for about 20 minutes longer than it should have. And while it did lean a little too heavily into the Lexa product placement, Black Panther is a socially conscious superhero adventure that shows the power and importance of representation. Ryan Coogler has crafted a new kind of superhero story with the scars of colonialism and black culture well on its mind. Here’s hoping this paves the way for more inclusion in Hollywood in the future.

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My Top 10 Comic Book Superhero Movies of All Time

In recent cinematic history, there is perhaps no genre of film as popular or lucrative as the comic book superhero adaptation. Not even the Westerns of the Golden Age of Hollywood could match the critical, let alone commercial, success of the many franchises that have begun, died, grown, and been revived in the last two decades. And with Avengers: Infinity War fast approaching theaters, I felt that now was as good a time as ever to look back on my favorites of the genre. Barring anything miraculous happening, like Aquaman or Ant-Man and the Wasp blowing me away, this list of ten will not change. However, I’d like to emphasize that all of the films on this list are based on an existing source material. I LOVE Brad Bird’s The Incredibles and am completely excited for the upcoming sequel, but that’s going to have to be some other list for another day. That being said, here are a few films that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Lego Batman Movie, Spider-Man, Thor: Ragnarok, Blade II, Batman

Setting aside all potential controversy and fanboy outrage, here we go:

#10: “Xmen: Days of Future Past” (2014)

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“Please… We need you to hope again.” It’s the conversation depicted in the image above, but it’s also the film’s plea for human kind’s optimism. Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair to unite the cast of the franchise he started with the players of the First Class generation in an emotionally fulfilling time-travel epic about legacy and regret. The plot may borrow elements from the Terminator franchise, but it’s the rich characters and thrilling action sequences that set it apart. Unlike previous films that mainly deal with the mutant perspective on prejudice, this story shows the effects (or lack thereof) of worthless fighting and speciesism. Also, the kitchen scene with Quicksilver is nothing short of badass and one of my favorite superhero moments in general.

#9: “Wonder Woman” (2017)

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Yeah, it may have only come out last year, but the impact and importance of director Patty Jenkins’ female-led superhero film cannot be understated. In a genre and industry dominated by masculinity and “boys with their toys” mentality, both she and star Gal Gadot show us the power of women, a sentiment much needed in this age. Also needed in this age is its fierce rejection of any cynicism, looking hard and critically at the flaws of man while celebrating their most redeemable qualities. The DC Extended Universe has been fumbling as of late, but hopefully, the masterminds get the lesson from this film to work in more optimistic fields where their directors have total freedom.

#8: “Iron Man” (2008)

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Here it is, folks. The film that started it all. The movie that defied everyone’s negative expectations and started an unprecedented, impossibly successful new model for franchise filmmaking. It was only in the early 2000’s that Marvel Entertainment managed to assemble the rights to many of their major characters, and realized that they had a great opportunity on their hands. Jon Favreau’s partially-improvised Iron Man was the first one in that plan, and they couldn’t have picked a better running start. Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark/Iron Man with his sarcastic wit and beautiful ability to read lines at a fast pace. Endlessly rewatchable, especially because many of the effects are practical.

#7: “Batman Begins” (2005)

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Spoiler Alert: This may not be the last time you see a movie starring the Caped Crusader on this list. Following the atrocity of Batman & Robin, it’s truly a wonder that Christopher Nolan got to make this movie the way that he did. Not only did it revive and change the landscape of superhero movies, but cinema in general. From Christian Bale’s throat cancer-laden interpretation of the titular crime fighter to the seedy underbelly of Gotham City, this felt both realistic and right. For the first time, I actually cared about both Bruce Wayne and Batman. The 2000’s saw a lot of gritty reboots of beloved or lighthearted franchises, but Batman Begins stood head and shoulders above the rest of them.

#6: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

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In contrast to the previous film, how about we move and look at a movie filled with innocence and earnestness? While Sam Raimi’s first foray into everyone’s Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger was a joyous ride, the sequel ramped up both the stakes and the emotional involvement. By wisely putting character development at the heart of the narrative rather than action spectacle, Toby Maguire is given a chance to flex his muscles as Peter Parker AND Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 also gave us a great villain in Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus, who borders on misunderstood tragedy. And its message couldn’t be more uplifting: There’s a hero in all of us.

#5: “Deadpool” (2016)

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Now we’ve come into the first R-rated entry in the superhero genre, and my goodness does it earn it. We all knew that Ryan Reynolds was a good choice for the titular role of the Merc with a Mouth, even if that mouth was sewn shut the first time around. But one reel of leaked test footage later, and both 20th Century Fox and Tim Miller gave us a raunchy, self-deprecating round of profane glory. Deadpool may lean heavily into dick jokes, but in a genre where most movies are seemingly following the same template over and over again, it’s both refreshing and hilarious to see some filmmakers push the boundaries with their knowledge of the source material.

#4: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

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I am Groot. This movie, if for nothing else, is proof positive that audiences will watch literally anything if you slap the word MARVEL in front of it. By taking a Z-list comic book team whom very few people were familiar with and turning it into an action buddy sci-fi comedy, James Gunn lifted everyone’s fears that this would be the MCU’s first big bomb. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista basically cemented their names with this movie, full of vibrant colors and a killer soundtrack. Who knew a CGI raccoon and a talking tree would make me laugh? Guardians of the Galaxy, apparently.

#3: “Logan” (2017)

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Shh. Do you hear that? That soft, wordless sound? That’s me crying my eyes out in the theater during Logan. Less a superhero movie and more a like a sober, powerful examination of the violent legacy of an iconic character, director James Mangold foregoes the need to save the world or get the girl at the end. He presents Logan, formally Wolverine, as an old, bitter, tired mutant who’s seen enough of the world to want to drink himself to death. Both Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart are honestly Oscar-worthy in their performances as two lost souls sticking together as an obligation rather than a wish. A hard-R, intimately human portrayal of nobility in a terrible world.

#2: “The Avengers” (2012)

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Sneaking out of school to catch The Avengers on opening day is one of the most fun experiences I had at a movie theater. What Joss Whedon managed here should have, by all accounts, been a complete and utter disaster. But not only did he manage to cap off Marvel’s 5-year plan, he did it in an extremely satisfying and entertaining way. All of the characters were juggled around in relevant ways while Tom Hiddleston gives us the best Marvel villain by an ocean length with Loki. In terms of pure and unadulterated fun, The Avengers may be my favorite movie on this list. And yet, it’s still not the best…

#1: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

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Honestly, what else were you expecting to top this list? Don’t let anyone convince you that director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is just a “comic book superhero movie.” That would a gross simplification of what actually amounts to a gritty, complex, unpredictable crime epic that deconstructs the mythology of vigilantism. Where should a hero draw a line in the sand? They either die a hero or live long enough to see themselves become a villain. Speaking of villains, Heath Ledger genuinely gives one of the best performances in cinematic history as The Joker. It’s not just because of his death everyone thinks he’s good; he’s really THAT good. The Dark Knight isn’t just the best superhero movie ever made, not just one of the greatest sequels ever made, but one of the greatest films of all time.

Well, there it is. Do you agree with my picks? What’s your favorite superhero movie of all time? Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to like this Post and Follow my Blog.


“The Princess Bride” Movie Review

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year than by rejoicing in one of my favorite romance movies of all time? Seriously, is there any other way to go about it? For cinephiles like this one, certainly not. Rob Reiner’s fantasy rom-com initially saw a release on September 25th, 1987, where it received positive responses from audiences. However, the film was surprisingly dry at the box office, only managing to bring in about $30 million against a $16 million budget. Fortunately, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the expansion of the home media market, the film has found an enormous cult following around the world, including from this reviewer here. Adapted from the William Goldman novel of the same name, who also wrote the screenplay, the film is a rarity in the art in how much it cuts off. Goldman apparently wrote the treatment as one for his relatives and cut out various longer sequences, such as war room discussions. Frankly, that’s a miracle. The movie creatively uses a sick-in-bed preteen boy as the framing device for the entire story, which his grandfather reads in a storybook. In a fictional medieval country of Florin, a farm boy named Westley is willing to do anything to win the hand of the girl of his dreams, Buttercup. Since she’s engaged to marry the sadistic Prince Humperdinck, there’s only so much time to get her back from a forced bond. He recruits the help of various colorful characters, including Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, to go on this perilous adventure to rescue true love. I’m going to be completely honest with everyone here: there’s almost no real point in me writing a full-length review for The Princess Bride. I’m serious, it’s extremely hard, second only Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz in terms of movies that are hard to review objectively. If I were to do that, it would ultimately turn into a long-winded, misty-eyed essay rife with nostalgia on why it’s so foundational to the memories of my childhood. However, I’m under obligation from my New Year’s Resolution to actually go through with this, so why not? One thing I would like to focus on in this “review” is how the film blends a variety of genres together. A sweeping romance story? Check. Swashbuckling adventure epic? Check. Hilarious and self-referential comedy with memorable jokes? Double Check. And yet what Rob Reiner does is that he brings all of these seemingly disparate genres together so effortlessly in a way that still works out for the story. Interestingly, the end result turns out to be something of a loving satire of them all, producing possibly one of the best Frankenstein scripts ever written. And the most impressive part? The movie only runs at 98 minutes, yet everything packed into it feels so like it’s so natural or flows so well. The entire cast is perfect with their deadpan delivery of idiosyncratic lines of dialogue. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes are especially terrific as Inigo Montoya and Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts, respectively. Patinkin shares a story of his longing for revenge early on and constantly tells how he plans to introduce himself to his future victim: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Lines like that, as well as Wallace Shawn’s delivery of “Inconceivable!” have become permanently ingrained into pop culture status. For me, though the best performer is the late wrestler Andre the Giant as the huge muscle man Fezzik. He uses surprisingly great comedic timing blended well with physical humor to great avail. Though he’s definitely not the brightest of the bunch, you can’t help but love the big guy as he tumbles through the land. On the technical side of things, Reiner does enough stuff that’s interesting to warrant your attention. The various locations in obscure parts of England and Ireland make for beautiful backdrops in the story, such as the Cliffs of Insanity or the Fire Swamp. The camerawork by Adrian Biddle is simplistic and uses many instances of sweeping pans, which is appropriate for the sweeping tale of true love. All of the gorgeous costumes and outstanding production design are brought to life in glorious colors. I shudder to imagine how much time was spent to build that many sets and seams, especially with the complete lack of CGI or even blue screen. The editing job by Robert Leighton also deserves some commentary, as it breathlessly moves between the layers of the story. It goes from the boy in his bed to the kingdom of Florin, over to the green countryside, and back to the sick boy and his grandfather. This was perhaps the most important aspect to keep the film from collapsing in on itself. Meanwhile, Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits gives us a musical score worthy of a classical romance. The composition is actually quite simple, mostly consisting of plucked guitar strings or mushy strings. This ironically stands in direct contrast to the satirical nature of the film but works all the better for it. Knopfler also wrote an original theme song called “Storybook Love,” which plays over the ending credits. It sounds just like any love ballad you’ve heard from the 80’s but is no less appropriate for the story. It truly is a storybook romance. Timeless, warm-hearted, comforting, sweet, and endlessly appealing, The Princess Bride is a wondrous adventure that leaves the rest of the genre all behind. This really was Rob Reiner in his peak, and I’m so glad that this movie has found appreciation over the years. If you saw me quote this movie word for word, you’d more than likely be scared. If your desire is for me to keep reviewing movies, to that I say “As you wish.”

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“The Last Jedi” Spoilers- Where They’ll Go From Here

*For some supplementary reading, please check out Haleigh Foutch’s excellent article which provides some great insight into my points here.*

Alright, I think enough time has passed for me to get into the thick juicy meat of the new entry of the Skywalker Saga. Obviously, here’s a big fat spoiler warning. If you have not yet seen Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, rectify that situation quickly. Now, I’m not going to be able to cover everything in this movie, but I just wanted to go more in-depth in certain areas. Specifically, the Canto Bight storyline. A lot of fans are not happy with this arc for Finn and Rose, and I can see why. While Kelly Marie Tran does great work as Rose, I just didn’t really care about her character. Especially when she tried to express her love for Finn later on in the final battle. I get that there was some build-up with the death of her sister, and especially that she was super idealistic about the Resistance. She asks Finn some questions that would seem like legitimate ones for people who’ve grown up just hearing the stories of heroism. And while she and Finn do get to play around with Benicio del Toro’s character DJ, who feels a little shoehorned, again, I didn’t really care for her. Truth be told, the prospect of visiting a planet full of gamblers and intergalactic racketeers feels a bit like an opportunity wasted. But whatever shortcomings that plot thread brought about is almost wiped away by the arc involving Kylo Ren, Rey, and Luke. As I said in my review, Luke is not the whiny kids we first met on the moister farm back on Tatooine staring at the Binary Sunset. (More on that later) In fact, the reason he keeps pushing Rey away- as well as why he came to the island in the first place- is simple: he wants to die. And with him, the Jedi Order. As he tells Rey, the Jedi were overly romanticised by several generations as these untouchable guardian angels. When in reality, they were filled with hubris and hypocrisy and allowed their greatest pupil to destroy them from the inside out. And when he saw a great darkness in Kylo Ren, he almost killed him out of impulse- a mistake that led to the death of all of his other Jedi disciples. A lot of fans were unsatisfied with the way that Luke was portrayed, a gnarly and cynical old man. Even Mark Hamill publicly stated he had disagreements with Rian Johnson on the direction of the character. Honestly, who was actually expecting him to accept Rey with open arms upon first meeting? And remember, he went to this place because he was too ashamed to face his own problems. Plus the scene he had with ghost Yoda was aces. With Frank Oz returning with puppetry, everything felt right and funny. “Page turners, they were not.” And now onto Rey and Ren. First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, shirtless Adam Driver is one of the sexiest images in the Saga thus far. Joking aside, I absolutely loved the Force communication that these two used. Like every Star Wars movie before it, it expanded the Force in new, unseen ways and we may not have even seen its full potential. Can someone physically reach out from the Force and interact from far away? One thing’s for sure, though: Supreme Leader Snoke is dead. I kind of knew that Kylo Ren was going to help Rey in that scene, but slicing his own mentor in half with a lightsaber? And then taking his place? Not only did this lead to a beautifully done battle with the Praetorian Guard, but it also leads to the reveal we’ve been waiting for two years. Rey’s parents. Who are they? Han Solo and Princess Leia? Luke Skywalker? Nope, according to Kylo Ren, they’re nobodies. Junk traders who sold her for beer money. Yet again, this entire sequence angered a lot of fans, primarily because of how it dealt with the death of Snoke and Rey’s lineage. But the problem with that criticism is that fans somehow believe that Star Wars is a guessing game; whoever can get their half-baked theories proven correct is the king of online fandom. Why does it matter if Snoke is Darth Plagueis the Wise or Rey is the next Skywalker? It shouldn’t. In fact, that moment when Rey’s parents are revealed is important, but not for the reasons you’d expect. For better or worse, the Star Wars Saga has been built on the idea of “The Chosen One.” Unfortunately, that made the character of Anakin Skywalker much more distant from the audience. But with The Last Jedi, it’s out with the old and in with the new. In the words of Kylo Ren, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” After Rey refuses, we head down to the salt planet of Crait- following one of the most memorable moments of self-sacrifice in the series’ history -where the Resistance makes a hopeless last stand against the First Order. But Luke Skywalker comes to provide them time to escape- or does he? Through the use of Force visions, he projects himself and “faces” Kylo Ren before everyone gets off the planet on the Falcon. And after he disappears, we find him on the island, dying happy with his legacy. And the best part is that it was in front of a Binary Sunset, the image setting off his iconic journey. The last shot is a small kid looking up at the stars, implied that he is Force-sensitive. Now, I genuinely don’t know what Episode IX is going to do. With Carrie Fisher dead, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen with Princess Leia other than saying “She’s dead” in the opening crawl. We know by now that Kylo Ren is a lost cause but what’s his ultimate game plan? How is the Resistance going to rebuild itself? So many questions left for us to contemplate, so much time to speculate. And that’s The Last Jedi. A massively-scaled yet thoroughly entrancing indictment of the legacy one leaves behind and how that can affect those who follow. This movie will continue to be either loved or hated by fans for that, and I completely understand why. But regardless of your opinion, the Force is with all of us. And it will continue to be with us in the years to come.

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“The Shape of Water” Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro has officially called his new movie “a fairytale for troubled times.” There is no better description to be found. Seriously, there is none. This fantasy romance drama won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Internation Film Festival when it premiered on August 31st of 2017. Following a lengthy festival run, it received a limited release on December 1st before expanding in the succeeding weeks. Made for the budget of just under $20 million, it has done considerably well in its limited run but it remains to be seen how successful it becomes when it goes wide. Primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s also believed that the full concept of the movie was conceived during a meal 6 whole years ago. 3 years were spent just trying to bring the updated Gil-Man to life, which means this was just as much of a passion project for the Mexican auteur as Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in Cold War America, (1962, to be exact) Sally Hawkins stars as a mute custodian named Eliza Esposito who has spent much of her life alone. While she’s working in a secretive government facility, she discovers that the authoritative Colonel Strickland is holding an ancient amphibian-humanoid captive for research. Out of pity and loneliness, Eliza befriends the creature, falls in love with it, and soon resolves to help it escape. Of all the movies that have been getting hyped up for awards season, none of them had me as excited as The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s work can usually be hit or miss for me, but he really hits it out of the park when he’s on top. And Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just his masterpiece but it’s also my favorite foreign-language film of all time. The fact that this new movie won top honors at Venice only boosted my anticipation for it. A Cold War, adult version of the myth of Beauty and the Beast? Who wouldn’t want to check that out? And I can happily say that I was blown away by del Toro’s newest film. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most hopeful movies of the year to come out. In the post-Obama era, several filmmakers have had no problem dealing out their feelings on the potential fallout from Trump’s presidency. Another film I’m looking forward to, The Post, addresses this rather directly. But most of these storytellers, no matter how good their intentions may be, come off as either stubbornly naive or relentlessly pessimistic. The Shape of Water addresses contemporary issues- such as prejudice against outsiders and trying to express yourself to people who won’t listen -but does it in a loving way. By avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, we’re given a whimsical tale that never loses sight of its maturity. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Sally Hawkins in much, but I hope that changes with her lead performance in this film. She does a lot without saying anything, her use of Sign Language and facial expressions being almost too real to think of as acting. Alongside Frances McDomand in Three Billboards, she gives perhaps the best female lead performance of the year, and it hopefully scores her a Best Actress nomination. Opposite her, in his sixth collaboration with the director, Doug Jones is fantastic as the god-like Amphibian Man. With spots on his skin that glow and moving gills, some viewers might be turned off by this type of romance. But the way that he moves around and expresses himself underneath the thick suit is so magnificent and even sexy. The supporting cast is filled out by Michael Shannon as the villainous Colonel in charge of operations, Octavia Spencer as the snappy work friend of Eliza, Michael Stuhlbarg as a reclusive yet brilliant lab scientist, and Richard Jenkins in his scene-stealing, career-best role as a closeted neighbor. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say that Guillermo del Toro is the real star of this picture. He brings his unique eye to the technical aspects without being clouded by a filmmaker’s ego. Dan Laustsen frames and moves the camera in ways that masters of old Hollywood would have been proud of. It’s steady, fluid, and several scenes are made as if they were shot on one take. There’s even a wipe scene transition, which cemented both its 1960’s setting and love-letter to cinema. Del Toro also flaunts his love of digital cinematography and specifically highlights the color green. Using it as its own character, it plays a factor in defining the future-obsessed setting and even contrasts with the ancient force of the Amphibian Man. Whether it’s the green Cadillac, the green walls of the facility, the green candy, or the green Jello, you’re gonna find a shade. One of the most criminally underrated film composers in the industry, Alexandre Desplat lends his unique talents to the musical score. And man oh man is it lovely to hear in a theater. Because this is still essentially a fairytale, there’s a whimsical quality to the sound, often incorporating plucked strings and soothing flutes. He also blends a French romanticism into the tracks with hints of the accordion and subtle bits of whistling. And the primary piano melody is so elegant that it makes it feel as though we’re floating through the sea. It’s sentimental for sure, but it’s not cheesy or manipulative. But again, there are bound to be people who will walk away from this film feeling cold because let’s face it: This is a story about a mute woman and a fish man falling in love during the Cold War. If that doesn’t scream “weird,” then I don’t know what does. For others like me, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, warm-hearted love story celebrating the outsiders. By far one of the most impressive fantasy films of recent years, it’s also Guillermo del Toro’s finest English-language work. Given time, I may even say that it’s his best, if not his most mature.

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“Bright” Movie Review

I have come up with the best summary imaginable for this movie: Imagine if the son of Bad Boys became best friends with Harry Potter, spent an entire afternoon vaping some Old Toby in a bong, and then proceeded to binge-play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before finishing up the night by writing some Warhammer fanfiction. That is probably the best (And most accurate) idea of how this movie came to be. This fantasy action crime thriller from director David Ayer was released on Netflix on December 22nd, 2017. Although the streaming service never reveals their viewership figures, it’s estimated to have been produced for a whopping $90 million. In fact, the media giant purchased the spec script from Max Landis for $3.5 million alone, on top of its big-ticket cast. Having gained traction at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, this is officially Netflix’ first original blockbuster film. And they’ve even greenlit a sequel already. Starring Will Smith, the story is set in an alternate present-day where humans and various mythical creatures have lived side-by-side forever. Daryl Ward, a tough-as-nails LAPD cop, is partnered up with Nick Jakoby, the world’s first-ever Orc police officer. Though they share social tensions, they must learn to put aside their differences to solve a crime involving a powerful Wand, a lot of corrupt parties, and potentially the end of the world at the hands of some renegade Elves. If you’ve been following my Blog for the past few months, you already know that Netflix has been steam-rolling a seemingly endless supply of original content. Some were smaller indies picked up at film festivals, others were produced by the company from the very beginning. And of the ones I’ve seen this year, I was perhaps most excited to see Bright. Not just because of its great cast of actors but also because I’m a gigantic fan of fantasy stories and was interested to see if Netflix could actually do a blockbuster. So you can conjure up the feeling of disappointment that I was left with after the credits rolled. Sadly, Bright represents two sides of the exact same coin. On the one hand, it’s an answer to the masses begging Hollywood to give more original screenplays a chance to have large budgets and total artistic freedom. But then on the flipside, it also represents the inherent problems which come when a director and writer have virtually no leash holding them back. Netflix can literally do whatever it wants right now. Letting their filmmakers have unprecedented control isn’t a problem for them, but the results are rather dull and, for the most part, uninteresting. It isn’t without compelling lore, but it appears that David Ayer loves bullets more than magic. Will Smith is Will Smith in this movie and there’s no changing that formula. He’s snarky, likable, and never ceases give street-wise commentary on the situation. His Orc partner, meanwhile, is far more noteworthy thanks to Joel Edgerton. Beneath the gruff voice and chipped-off teeth, we see a person who’s caught between two worlds as the LAPD’s “diversity hire.” The supporting cast is filled out with the likes of Edgar Ramirez and Happy Anderson as a secretive Elf and human both working for the FBI; Ike Barinholtz as a quirky corrupt human cop; Brad William Henke as the feisty leader of an underground Orc gang; and Noomi Rapace as the antagonistic dark elf stalking our protagonists. Meanwhile, Lucy Fry isn’t given much to say but less to do as the fearful Elf who sets the whole plot in motion. As a piece of technicality, there are a number of hands who try their best to make it worthwhile. Chief among them is the makeup and hairstyle crew, who go to some lengths exploring this oddball world. Although the designs for the individual species are what you would expect out of a typical film of this genre, for an urban fantasy set in LA, it was pretty nice. The Elves are lush and elegant while the Orcs and Faeries are ugly and unappealing to most people. Edgerton himself was unrecognizable as Jakoby with a skin color that rashed between green and yellow. And while the editing could have definitely used more fine tuning in the action scenes, the color palettes of the various races were interesting. Light blue teal for the Elves, murky grey for the humans and a mixture of everything for everyone else. The soundtrack is composed by David Sardy. While it consists of the big, sweeping orchestras typical for a fantasy epic, it’s entirely forgettable. Instead, the main draw of the soundtrack are the many different tunes from hip-hop or pop artists. This gave it a feeling of reality and placed the audience on the rough streets of LA. There are also heavy rock songs that apparently Orcs love to listen to. In a comical scene, Jakoby turns a death metal song on the radio and refers to it as “one of the greatest love songs ever written.” It was a clever moment that actually produced a good chuckle out of me. But aside from that, most of the worldbuilding consists of boilerplate “Chosen One” prophecies with verbal exposition out the wazoo. Despite the runtime of 117 minutes, Landis really tries to punch in a ton of material, like he’s practically begging to make sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. There’s a great opening title sequence that informs us of the world’s story simply through street graffiti. After that, much of the story, as well as the hamfisted social commentary, is given to us via conversations and monologues. I get where Landis and Ayer were going with the idea of racial discrimination with the placement of Orcs in place of minorities, but it was so obvious. Though it boasts some decent visuals and an interesting setting, Bright traps a fascinating world inside of a generic story. I’m interested to see where they go with a potential sequel on the future, but for now, I wouldn’t really recommend this. Easily the most disappointing film of the year, I hope Netflix takes cues from this reception. Probably not.

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