Category Archives: Fantasy

“Stranger Things” Season 3 T.V. Show Review

**This review of Stranger Things 3 will remain spoiler-free, but I will be talking about the broad strokes of what happened in season 2.**

Most people in America use the Fourth of July to celebrate the birthday of the U.S. with fireworks and red-white-and-blue regalia. I use this time to binge watch a Netflix show in a different country. I won’t judge your personal forms of celebration if you won’t judge mine. The third season of this coming-of-age sci-fi horror show was released on the streaming service Netflix on July 4th, 2019. Highly anticipated, the streaming service claims to have scored astronomical views from customers all over the world. However, since the company never publicly discloses their numbers, there’s no telling how well it’s actually doing. But given the huge established fanbase and the positive critical reviews that it’s received from major outlets, it’s safe to say that a fourth season is all but guaranteed. After the big, if somewhat cool success of the second season in 2017, creators Matt and Ross Duffer took a brief break to figure out the next few steps for the show. Netflix had originally desired for the third and fourth seasons to be written and shot back-to-back, but the brothers opted to just focus solely on this next chapter instead. Although initial reports have suggested that this is the penultimate season for the hit show, Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have been mum on whether the next season will be the last or not. Set about six months after the last confrontation, the main kids in Hawkins, Indiana have settled back into normality once more, with Milly Bobby Brown’s Eleven fully integrated into normal civilian life. Many of the characters are indulging much of their summer vacation in the newly opened Starcourt Mall, which has also stirred up controversy with the town’s self-righteous mayor. Soon, it becomes clear that the Mind-Flayer, the primary antagonist from last season is still alive and well, hoping to slowly indoctrinate humanity into their will. On top of all that, a handful of residents stumble upon a conspiracy involving the Russian government wanting to reopen a gateway to The Upside Down. It’s been kind of incredible to see the sheer self-made phenomenon that Stranger Things has become. Like many who got hooked on the show, I’d hardly heard anything about it before finding it on Netflix, and immediately told everyone I knew to start watching it as well. And now, it’s become arguably the streaming service’s biggest flagship show. Because of this, seasons 2 and 3 have a bit of an unfair obstacle to overcome, as fan expectations were sky-high for both of them. The second one was mostly able to meet them, even with a few stumbles in the road that didn’t quite work in the way the showrunners wanted. And now with season 3, Stranger Things has focused up on what works best and gives use easily my favorite season yet. With just 8 episodes now instead of 9, there is less room for unnecessary fat, allowing them to keep the action on the central characters and relationships. With new developments for the ones from last season and spotlights on the brand new ones, the characters all feel the most nuanced, most relevant, and most human they’ve ever been. And even though the mythology and lore surrounding is expanded upon in really intriguing ways, the relationships almost always come first. That has always been one of the biggest strengths of Stranger Things, not just all of the nostalgia-inducing references to 80s pop culture. Sure, there is LOTS of product placement for Coca-Cola throughout and greatly improved visual effects, but that’s not the point of the show. And seeing that the Duffers haven’t lost sight of that is very encouraging for what the future may hold. All of the kids have grown up and evolved with this show in beautiful ways. Just look at how far Lucas, Eleven, Mike, Dustin, and Will have come since the first season; the actors have all grown naturally with their characters. Of particular mention is Joe Keery as bad boy-turned caring pseudo-adoptive father Steve Harrington. His character arc has always been one of the most engaging, as we watch him gradually evolve throughout the show in a positive way. Case in point, his new partner this season is Maya Hawke’s Robin, easily my favorite character of the new season. She’s funny, quick-witted, thinks on her feet, and never misses an opportunity to poke fun at her co-worker. But as the season progresses, she gradually lets her guard down, culminating in a revelation of a bathroom scene that virtually everyone has been talking about. The other big scene-stealer of the season is Priah Ferguson as Lucas’ little sister Erica, upgraded from the previous season. Although she clearly holds her brother’s friends in contempt, her bouncing off of Dustin is one of the most beautiful things the showrunners have come up with. She’s sassy, but also smart and resourceful and always manages to get some clever jabs at her companions every chance she gets. And technically speaking, Stranger Things has never looked so good or polished than here. The trademark cinematography is back with all the controlled movements and expert blending of practical and special effects. For this season, however, they’ve added brighter, more neon-tinged colors that really go well with the 4th of July setting. Whether it’s inside the Starcourt Mall or at the town’s Independence Day fair, there are many colors meshed together in a really cool way. And the pacing of this season is elevated by the editing department, which bounces from one storyline to the next. I was worried that one character or arc would overtake the rest, but I was thankfully wrong; they’re all intercut very well. As always, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the band Survive provide the musical score, and as always, they deliver a great soundtrack. Like the last two times, the soundtrack is composed largely of synthesizers and Theremins as an homage to old-school sci-fi flicks. But the most memorable track comes for the third episode, which mixes the Upside Down’s leitmotif with unique sound effects. With a heartbeat keeping tempo and noises that sound like squishing meat, it sounds deeply terrifying and disgusting. Other notable songs from the era used include an excerpt from Philip Glass’s Satyagraha Act II: Tagore for the end of the sixth episode and a wholly unexpected sequence involving the theme from The Neverending Story. Whereas the former created an extreme amount of tension as the villain’s plan comes into play, the latter is joyous and puts a smile on my face. Stranger Things 3 is a highly entertaining and neon-soaked continuation that pushes the series ever forward. By focusing and improving on what’s made the show great in the past and changing the formula up a little, the Duffer Brothers have delivered the best season of the show yet. And after finishing it all, I can honestly say that I hope rumors about it only lasting four or five seasons is true. Better to go out in a blaze of glory than fizzle out for decades.

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“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

“Toy Story 4” Movie Review

Who could have predicted that an antique store could be so intimidating? I’ve only been to a couple in my lifetime, and they never seemed nearly this frightening or creepy. This computer-animated comedy was released in theaters around the world on June 21st, 2019, making it the 21st feature from Pixar Animation Studios. In its opening weekend alone, it managed to gross nearly $250 million, shattering records for an animated feature’s opening. It has gone on so far to gross over $917 million at the worldwide box office and could continue well into the $1 billion marker. Directed by Inside Out co-writer Josh Cooley, the sequel was originally announced back in 2014, much to the dismay of many fans and critics. John Lasseter, helmer of the first Toy Story movie, was originally set for the director’s chair with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, but all parties eventually left due to creative differences. From there, the Pixar team started from scratch and the story came organically, evolving from a planned romantic comedy to a full-on adventure. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few Pixar films without a short that plays at the beginning, and the two main stars have publicly said how difficult it was to finish recording their lines. Taking place two years after the events of the third film, we once again find Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, trying to lead the gang to take care of their new kid Bonnie. One day in kindergarten, Bonnie uses leftover materials in the trash to create a brand new toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. While on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, Forky begins to have an existential crisis, which leads him and Woody to an old antique store where they find Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Bo, who’s found solace in being nobody’s toy, agrees to help Forky get home, while Woody still has feelings for her. For all intents and purposes, this movie has no right to exist. None, at all. Toy Story 3 had already wrapped up the story in such a perfect bow back in 2010, so there was no possible way Pixar and CO. could continue it without milking it. Granted, many people had said the exact same thing about Toy Story 3 back in the day, so it could go either way. From the first trailer, I was worried that my fears had been confirmed and Pixar was officially losing their magical touch. Some sequels of theirs have proven worthwhile, but that still didn’t dissuade me from thinking that they would go down the same path as Cars 2. And thankfully, as soon as the movie started, all of my fears were unfounded because Toy Story 4 is an amazing follow-up and an even better conclusion than last time. After this installment, I’m now thoroughly convinced that the story of these sentient toys could not possibly continue any further.Andy’s tale is far done, but while Bonnie is an endearing new kid, I’m not sure that her story can carry much farther than here. If anything, this film is more about finality and moving on than getting new adventures with a younger kid. What I appreciate most about Toy Story 4 is that every single beat taken towards the finale feels natural and organic. Most of the voice cast from the previous movies return here, once again headed up by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Without these two, the journey of Buzz and Woody wouldn’t be nearly as involving as their vocal chemistry is so incredibly natural. Watching these two coming to terms with their age and growing irrelevance is both gripping heartbreaking, as they want to always stay attached to a kid. Returning to the series for the first time in nearly 20 years, Annie Potts hasn’t missed a beat as Bo Peep. With far more independence and agency than she’s ever had before, her story was really fascinating to see how she’s ended up after all this time. She still genuinely cares about Woody and the gang but has seen and done too much to want to go back to a life of ownership. The returning cast (Including archival recordings of Don Rickles) is joined and quite frankly outshined by the batch of newcomers. Chief among them are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as fluffy duck and bunny toys from a sprawling carnival, Tony Hale as the existentially confused and trash-loving Forky, Christina Hendricks as the deceptive doll who runs, and Keanu Reeves as a deeply insecure Canadian stuntman of a toy. Key and Peele are easily my favorite ones, with such amazing and hilarious lines that it often feels as though they improvised most of them. And technically speaking, Toy Story 4 might be the most visually impressive Pixar film to date, which is really saying something. Even though the style has become the norm nowadays, the computer animation in this film is hands down the most stunning and jaw-dropping I’ve ever seen. Just compare the animation in this film to that of Toy Story 2 20 years ago, and see how far both the studio and the medium have come; it’s not even close. Seriously, there were numerous shots and scenes throughout the film where it looked almost photoreal. Everything in the frame is filled with so much detail and so much color and personality, you’d swear they spent 10 years working on this. Even tiny little details like the fabric for Bo’s new purple cape or the fur on Forky’s clumsily built arms look so stupidly lifelike. It’s also able to capture more subtle aspects such as characters’ facial expressions and lighting beautifully. And the landscapes are all wide-ranging; the stuffy and archaic antique store is just as visually interesting as the highly colorful carnival outside. As with all three previous installments, the musical score is provided here by Randy Newman, who explores new avenues for the characters. Whereas in years past, he used more jazzy motifs for the aloof adventure, here it’s more melancholy. As the film is all about saying goodbye in many ways, the use of strings and oboes perfectly punctuates the sense of time passed with these characters. You can hear little leitmotifs of his old scores in various tracks, including a redone version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in the beginning. He also produces two new songs, the first one being “The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy” performed by country singer Chris Stapleton. The use of twangy guitars and Stapleton’s soulful voice make it a great lament for Woody’s aging. The other new song is “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” performed by Newman himself. With an upbeat tempo and universal lyrics that work perfectly in the context of the film, it’s an excellent way to close out the film. In a year chock full of final installments and series finales, I wasn’t expecting to be nearly as satisfied as I was here. I keep saying this over and over, but there’s literally no further avenue that they can take this story. The studio has already confirmed they’re gonna be committed to original projects for the foreseeable future and I couldn’t be happier about it. Bringing the studio’s oldest property to its natural conclusion, Toy Story 4 is a funny and poignant adventure with immense resolution to its characters. Despite the bumpy road to being made and the lingering feeling that it wasn’t necessary, Josh Cooley did the impossible here. He somehow managed to upend the seemingly perfect ending to Toy Story 3 and gives the franchise the ending it deserves. To infinity… and beyond.

“Rocketman” Movie Review

Any movie where the lead actor or actress is actually singing their part is already doing something right in my book. This musical biographical drama premiered out of competition at the 71st Cannes Film Festival to quite a rapturous response from those who attended. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on May 31st, 2019, to high anticipation. Made for the relatively small budget of $40 million, it has thus far grossed over $183.3 million at the box office. It’s R-rating should be no trouble for the film to turn a sizable profit in the long run- or to spur potential awards season consideration as well. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the central figure and his real-life husband and producer David Furnish had been trying to make a feature film out of his life since at least 2001. For the longest time, Tom Hardy was set for the lead role with Focus Features distributing, but clashes over its vision and rating made it languish for years in development hell. Unlike most films in the genre, the director and real-life protagonist insisted on making the film more of a fantasy musical than a straightforward cradle-to-grave biopic. This is also the first film from a major Hollywood studio to explicitly showcase a gay male sex scene, which has caused controversy in countries like Russia and Samoa. Beginning in 1950s England, Taron Egerton stars as Reginald Dwight, an unconfident yet talented piano player. Wanting to break out of his cold familial upbringing, he crosses paths with lyricist Bernie Taupin, played Jamie Bell, who’s looking for a musician to bring his songs to life. Although most other reviewers have done so, I’m not really interested in comparing this movie to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Although Dexter Fletcher was involved in both productions, (And apparently Rami Malek as Freddie almost had a cameo in this movie) they’re completely different in terms of style and personality. And for that reason, I’ve decided to just judge this film on its own terms. I actually didn’t really start loving Elton John and his music until high school and felt like an utter fool. I’ve come to love him both as an artist and a human being, and so I was curious to see how they would tell his story in a manner like this. And it works out near-flawlessly for Rocketman because it perfectly shows what Elton was going through during those years. What’s fascinating is how the structure of a fantasy musical allows the film to be as wild as it is while still being faithful to its central subject. Fletcher isn’t concerned so much with getting every minute detail of his personal life right as he is with capturing the spirit and tone of what he was going through at the time. One has to respect Elton John for allowing the filmmakers and lead actor such an amount of freedom to tell his story to such a wide audience the way they did. Then again, Rocketman‘s unorthodox approach to the genre might not float as well with everyone who sees it. Not to mention, the film really does earn its R-rating because it doesn’t shy away from the drugs, booze, or debauchery of Elton’s rock-and-roll lifestyle. But I definitely respect that Fletcher tried a very different method of telling the singer-songwriter’s life and career. Taron Egerton has been on the rise the last few years, and his performance here is absolutely the best I’ve seen from him so far. His transformation into Elton John is stunning, capturing all of the charisma, energy, and deep insecurities about his own talent. The fact that he also uses his own singing voice and does his own dances adds to the authenticity and may even score him a Best Actor nod in the coming months. Jamie Bell is also pretty remarkable as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s longtime musical partner and lyricist. Although he isn’t given a very deep characterization, the genuine care he shows to Elton is a welcome relief to all of the excess in his life. Richard Madden comes hot off of his excellent turn in the Netflix show Bodyguard as John Reid, the singer’s manager and brief lover. Portraying him with more layers and nuance than Bohemian Rhapsody‘s portrayal, he shows him off like a savvy and pragmatic businessman who puts the well-being of the singer second or even third. The supporting cast is rounded out by a number of impressive performers, some of whom standout more than others. These include Tate Donovan as a nightclub owner who gives Elton one of his first public performances, Bryce Dallas Howard as his unaffectionate mother, Stephen Graham and Charlie Rowe as music producers hesitant to publish the singer’s songs, Sharon D. Clarke as an empathetic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor, and Kit Connor as a young Elton John. Connor easily leaves the best impression of the bunch, as many of the supporting characters aren’t fully developed or interesting. And when it comes to the technical aspects, Rocketman is as dazzling and exciting as the central real-life figure. Cinematographer George Richmond, who’s worked 4 times with Fletcher in the past, uses an incredibly fluid and steady camera throughout the film. There are a number of long tracking shots, often through different time periods or in a fantastical sequence. It moves fast, but not too much for things to be incomprehensible for audiences. Various colors feel heightened in various sequences, such as blue and silver, adding to the dreamlike quality of the film. Chris Dickens’ editing job is also worth mentioning, as it blends different scenes together with near-effortless success. One particularly impressive bit is when the singer engages in a big orgy and multiple images layer on top of one another. It also blends the more fantastical elements in with reality rather seamlessly, and although it can be easy to spot which is which, it adds to the picture. This method is often used to create unique transitions from scene to scene, such as Elton falling into his pool with the intent to drown straight to a bedazzling concert. While there is an instrumental score composed by Matthew Margeson, it’s mostly forgettable. Instead, the film uses various songs by Elton and Taupin for various moments during his life, with the characters often breaking out into full-blown song and dance. Some sequences are highly choreographed or conceptual, others are more isolated and emotional. All of them are slightly different renditions of the singer’s catalogue, all of which use Taron Egerton’s singing voice. And the best part is that they are all appropriately chosen for the moment in the film and perfectly fit. My personal favorite is for “Crocodile Rock,” which adds a heavenly choir and a truly memorable sequence relatively early on. A close second would be the very last song “I’m Still Standing,” a great way to cap off a really unpredictable story. Rocketman has buckets of personality and catchy music anchored by an amazing central performance. By putting music and fantasy into a blender, Dexter Fletcher is able to add something new to a genre that’s becoming increasingly staid. Taron Egerton is definitely Oscar-worthy as Elton John and it’s gonna be a long, long time before another music biopic with this much energy touches down.

“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.

“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” Movie Review

If I had to make a choice, I would definitely want to live the rest of my life as a Bulbasaur. They’re cute, plump, can survive for days without eating, and absorb energy from the Sun. Of all the Pokémon, (At least the ones that I’m most familiar with) they seem the most docile and carefree, which make them ideal. This urban fantasy mystery film was released in theaters around the world on May 10th, 2019, a full week after it’s premiere in Japan. Made for the budget of $150 million, it made just over $20 million on its opening day alone, the highest ever for a live-action video game adaptation. Over the course of its theatrical run it has thus far grossed over $429.4 million at the box office, snatching the top spot in its opening weekend. It also managed to get pretty good reviews and is the highest rated video game adaptation ever according to numerous sources- which is already a pretty low bar to clear. Directed by Rob Letterman, the film began development immediately after the release of the 2016 game of the same name. The filmmakers primarily desired to tell a Pokémon story that wasn’t focused on franchise star Ash Ketchum, and spent nearly a year designing all the creatures to be as accurate as possible. While Toho was always in charge of distribution in Japan, Universal Pictures initially held the worldwide rights before eventually giving reigns over to Warner Bros., making it their first theatrical involvement with the series since 2000. It’s also the first film the franchise to receive an MPAA rating higher than G. Justice Smith star as Tim Goodman, an insurance salesman and former trainer. When his veteran detective father Harry apparently dies, he goes to Ryme City to collect his things, a metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side-by-side and bans underground fights. One night, he comes across an amnesiac deerstalker-wearing Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, who speaks. Tim is the only one who can understand him and since this Pikachu was with Harry as his partner, they decide to reopen the case and find out what really happened. No lie, when I first heard that Ryan Reynolds would be headlining this film, I legitimately thought they were joking. The Merc With a Mouth voicing one of the most iconic characters in pop culture for a family-friendly video game movie? Truth be told, I really only have a casual knowledge and history with Pokémon, so my expectations were never really high. But lo and behold, the marketing for this movie seemed absolutely tonally and stylistically perfect. It seemed like such a far cry from so many other self-serious video game movies from the past that it was so refreshing to see what this one could do. Make no mistake, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is no cinematic masterpiece, but it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of many family-friendly blockbusters today. Unlike most adaptations in the medium, it seems clear that the creators here have at least put forth some effort to honor the world of Pokémon. There’s a whole lot of clever worldbuilding in the film as we see how the various creatures fit into our society, such as Squirtles working as firefighters. Some of the best bits of humor come from little inspired moments like this or references to the franchise as a whole, such as a dejected Pikachu singing the iconic theme song. What’s holding Detective Pikachu back from actually being really good is its overreliance on a cliché mystery plot- which, if I understand, is the fault of the titular game itself. The twists and turns feel so convoluted, and certain creatures only feel like they were put in the movie as plot devices. Oh well, maybe the inevitable sequel will really get all of this down next time around. Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu was a casting choice that I never knew I needed in this day and age. His voice is absolutely perfect for the role of a confused, self-made detective who constantly is torn between two worlds. Justice Smith has been deserving of better roles lately and his turn as Tim Goodman here is… just fine. Not bad at all and you can clearly see he’s having fun with the material but he’s not quite great either. The chemistry between the two of them is palpable and highly watchable and is undoubtedly the bedrock of the whole movie. Kathryn Newton puts in a supporting role as Lucy Stevens, an aspiring and plucky reporter with a psyduck partner. She puts in some decent effort, but the character feels two-dimensional and we never really know her real motives beyond simply wanting the next scoop. Bill Nighy, Rita Ora, Suki Waterhouse, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Karan Soni and Omar Chapparo round out the rest of the supporting cast in various roles. Some of them definitely fell more fleshed out than others, but for the most part are able to provide different aspects of  this unique world. And from a technical perspective, Detective Pikachu is pretty impressive and distinctive from other summer blockbusters. Cinematographer John Mathieson makes the bod decision to shoot this on traditional 35mm film as opposed to digital photography. This is surprising considering all of the CGI, but it does make the Pokémon look more believable. It also makes a lot of primary colors pop out more, such as blue and yellow, which helps develop the personality for the film. Also, Mark Sanger and James Thomas’ editing work manages to move from scene to scene in a consistent way. It manages to cut between shots in action scenes fairly often but manages to keep things clear with the conflict. And during scenes where the main duo is investigating the mystery, it melds scenes with the present with scenes from the past to create more mystery. The most impressive part is, although the mystery itself is kind of predictable, it stays committed to not giving it away. Henry Jackman, one of the industry’s most prolific yet underrated composers, is in charge of the instrumental film score. It’s a surprisingly memorable score, using multiple different instruments for appropriate tracks. This includes the use of synths and chimes to introduce us to Ryme City or even during the final showdown scene. Other times, it uses lowkey brass and strings to help undercut the mystery at the center of it all. There are even little motifs where songs from the old cartoons are worked into the score, which is probably a delight for longtime fans. In addition to appearing in the film, Rita Ora also wrote and performs an original song called “Carry On,” which plays during the end credits. The lyrics are appropriate as they speak to the main duo learning to work together as the film goes along. It has a nice upbeat pop sound to it and Ora’s voice is a beauty, but I can’t say I would pick it up on Apple Music. I know this review sounds like I’ve been too nice to this film, but the truth is I really didn’t hate it. Granted, not everyone is going to respond to it as well, and I can’t speak for longtime fans of the Pokémon franchise. There are definitely a lot of problems to be found with pacing and the story and is by no means a great movie at all. Even so, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a solidly enjoyable diversion with fun visuals and a disappointing plot. I don’t know how, but Rob Letterman took what should be a terrible concept for a movie and somehow made it watchable. The fact of the matter is, regardless of the film’s overall quality, I need more Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu in my life. Case closed.

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“The Lion King” Movie Review

Okay, yes, I am writing a review for this movie because of the impending “live-action” remake next month. However, it also turns out that this movie is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. This beloved animated musical was originally released in theaters on June 15th, 1994, to overwhelming success. In its initial run, it managed to gross over $766 million at the worldwide box office, making it the most successful film of that year. It was later re-released in 3D in 2011, which brought its total intake to around $968 million. In addition, it remains the best-selling film of all time on home video and the highest-grossing film made from traditional animation. Co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the story was first conceived in 1988 while Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy E. Disney were in Europe promoting Oliver and Company. With no less than 17 people credited for the story, original director and producer George Scribner and Thomas Schumacher left the project after constantly clashing visions with Disney. Their departure led to the story being greatly rewritten and reimagined as a musical. Although William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a big inspiration for the story, it’s also worth noting that this was the first animated film under the Mouse House to be an entirely original property with no pre-existing source material. The classic story follows a young lion named Simba, voiced by Matthew Broderick, who’s destined to rule as King of the Pride Lands in Africa. After his father Mufasa is murdered by Simba’s paternal uncle Scar, he is manipulated and shamed into thinking that the death was his fault and runs away. Years later, Simba is all grownup, living with meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, and is completely divorced from any sort of responsibility. But when he gets word of the horrible conditions under Scar’s tyranny, he must rise up to the challenge and reclaim his rightful place as King. This is a film that has been ingratiated into the minds of so many childhoods over the last two-and-a-half decades. If you grew up in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, there is virtually no way that this movie wasn’t involved in your life. It’s very hard for me to remember a time in my early childhood when it wasn’t around; it just seemed like the movie was always being played in the house. All of that nostalgia initially had me a little hesitant to review the movie now as a fully grown adult. I was worried that it would cloud my judgement on seeing the film purely for its own merits; or worse, that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I remember it. And yet, even without any childhood bias, I can still confidently say that The Lion King is still the peak of the so-called Disney Renaissance. For those who don’t know, the Disney Renaissance was a period of time in which Walt Disney Animation Studios churned out one high-quality movie after another. Other films released during this time included Aladdin, Tarzan, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid, all of which allowed the studio to further establish its worldwide brand. And even since its conclusion, fans such as myself have constantly debated over which one was the best of the all. For me, as you may or not have figured out, it’s no competition; this film contains everything those other films had and more. Memorable musical numbers, awesome characters, fantastic animation, a great sense of humor and heart. If there’s a certain criteria you have for a capital “G” Great animated feature, The Lion King probably has all of it. Matthew Broderick may be best known for Ferris Bueller in the titular movie, but there’s a lot to like about him as Simba. While probably not the most nuanced or complex protagonist in the studio’s arsenal, his struggle to step up and take on a tremendous task is something nearly all viewers can relate to. Also, James Earl Jones is fantastic as Mufasa, Simba’s wise and stern father. A completely different father figure from his turn as Darth Vader, his deep voice resonates with audiences of any age with many sage monologues filled with wisdom. Jeremy Irons also impresses as the voice of Scar, hands down one of the best animated villains ever, Disney or otherwise. His regal voice is one that is built for chewing the scenery and the way his character’s movements are animated makes it seem like he’s acting it out in the recording booth. And of course, we have Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, Simba’s laidback mentors. The comedic timing and slight immaturity in their voices sounds completely naturalistic in their hands, and their timeless number, “Hakuna Matata,” is one for the ages. Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Madge Sinclair, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rowan Atkinson all provide their voices for various supporting roles. It’s quite hard to point out a real weak link in the cast here, as they all contribute something memorable. It’ll be interesting how the new version changes these characters, if at all. And as with most other films of its period, The Lion King still stands as a technical marvel in the genre. Like some of its peers, there are a handful of shots that seem to blend traditional animation with then-burgeoning CGI. And despite being released in 1994, this mixture is not obvious; quite the opposite. It makes for some truly cinematic shots in iconic scenes, such as the heart-stopping stampede scene relatively early on in the film. And even when it’s just purely traditional animation, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The use of colors like orange, yellow, and red is ingenious in creating the atmosphere for the Pride Lands. It helps to deepen the character of the setting and define the characters’ personalities. Every time I watch it, the visuals always pop out, right from the opening shot of the sunrise on the horizon. Hans Zimmer won an Oscar for a reason because his original score here is a true classic of cinema. The soundtrack is just as epic and exciting as the story, utilizing a wide range of instruments and vocals for different tracks. Whether it’s an exciting bit where characters are being chased by the hyenas or a moment where Simba realizes his destiny, Zimmer knows what to do. It goes from being filled with rapid percussion and strings to haunting vocals in an instant and somehow still feels organic. In addition, musician Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice composed several original songs together, many of which have earned a spot in the annals of Disney history. Whether it’s the attention-grabbing, nostalgia-inducing opening number “The Circle of Life” or the Oscar-winning ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” those two really know how to play it right. But who are we kidding? The best one is obviously the villain song, “Be Prepared,” in which Scar lavishly talks about his planned coup for the throne. There’s honestly WAY more that I could say about this film. About how it essentially defined a whole generation, how nearly every family had it playing in the house at some point growing up, and son on and so forth. But I have a feeling that everyone reading this already knows that and so, I’m gonna leave it off here. The Lion King remains the undisputed chief of traditional animation and the king of Disney proper. Even with a lean runtime of 88 minutes, there’s so much packed into this film that’s literally impossible to not fall in love with every viewing. I have limited expectations for Jon Favreau’s reimagining next month, but we’ll always have the original. If you ask me, this film was, is, and probably always will be the absolute pinnacle of animated cinema.

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