Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok (8.5 / 10)

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In the third and best installment of the “Thor” franchise, “Ragnarok” gives us solid 2-hour popcorn entertainment while further expanding the lore of “Thor” and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Compared to the rest of the MCU’s filmography, this is a fairly light hearted film that focuses more on character development and witty, funny dialogue, and (once again) less on the villain and the dark tone that some might have been looking forward to seeing.

Lets get the minor criticisms out of the way first since they are few and far in between.  Similar to every single MCU film up until now with the exception of “Spiderman: Homecoming”, “Ragnarok” did a decent job utilizing the always-amazing Cate Blanchett playing Hela, the Goddess of Death, but it still wasn’t quite enough; with someone of Blanchett’s caliber, the filmmakers could have given her more screen time and further develop the tone of the Thor universe, for this film and subsequent film.

Secondly, as a result of the filmmakers’ desire to create a film packed with witty jokes, some delivered by director Taika Waititi himself as the hilarious Korg, the film does sometimes suffer from jarring shifts in tone;  one scene we’d have Hela talking about revenge upon her father, taking over Asgard and conquering beyond the Nine Realms; the next scene we’d have Thor trying to consult a whining Hulk, who acts like a 5 year-old when in Hulk form.

Despite these minor criticisms, the film soars with charismatic and performances from Chris Hemsworth, who is so good as Thor, and Tessa Thompson, who commands the screen every time appears, as Valkyrie.  Hemsworth’s chemistry with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki reaches new highs, and it is in this particular relationship that provides viewers with the biggest link to “The Avengers: Infinity War”.

Finally, the addition of Bruce Banner / Hulk was perfect for the Thor universe.  Mark Ruffalo was great as Banner and Hulk provides awesome action scenes were great.

“Thor Ragnarok” doesn’t quite crack my list of top 5 favorite MCU films, but does have a really good shot at making the top 10.

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Duo Review + Rant: Atomic Blonde, King Arthur, and Rotten Tomatoes Scores

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I missed Guy Richie’s latest action flick “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” when it came out in theaters.  Having finally watched it last night and thoroughly enjoying it, it brought to light this idea of movie critics grading on a curve as being shown on the film score aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.  That another action flick, “Atomic Blonde”, attained a surprising 75% rating while “King Arthur” managed a measly 28% shows that critics not only judge the film by itself, but also by trends in genre, and the filmography of the director.

I am not claiming “King Arthur” is a masterpiece, or even a much superior film to “Atomic Blonde”, but reading the tidbits from RT shows that those who reviewed “King Arthur” factored in the fact that there have been numerous films made about the medieval character in years past, and that Guy Ritchie, known for his manic pacing and stylish shots and editing, and crisp British dialogue, did not bring much to the (round) table.

If you look at (period) action films in the past ten to fifteen years, “300” stood out as a film loaded with stylized action and which many filmmakers tried to emulate since but failed.  Snyder took a comic book interpretation of history and made it his own, loaded with magical elements that clearly were not historically accurate but nevertheless fun.

Ritchie’s “King Arthur” is a slice of the same pie: it does not pretend to be historically accurate nor does it take itself seriously, what with a plot containing mystical mages and a character turning into essentially the Grim Reaper, but above all, the film was fun.  With a solid performance by Charlie Hunnam and good chemistry among the supporting cast, including a Jude Law who was clearly basking in fun playing Vortigen, without comparing it to previous iterations of King Arthur movies, “Legend of the Sword” is good popcorn entertainment.  The film probably would have received much better reviews if it came out a few years earlier, when this type of stylized action was all the rave.

In contrast, the action genre rave now lies with the hard-hitting, gritty martial arts action films such ala. the John Wick franchise, and “Atomic Blonde”, helmed by one of the co-directors of Wick, David Leitch, rode the popularity of the genre and made a film that contained John Wick-esque action scenes but an incredibly messy and unsatisfying plot.  The success of the film lied with Charlize Theron, who satisfied audiences by playing a dangerous assassin kicking some serious ass and looking super hot while doing it.

The upshot of my rant is this: When deciding whether you want to see a film, take not only the RT score but many sources into consideration, such the trailers.  And don’t be dissuaded from watching a film just because of the change in trends.  Against “consensus”, I will admit unashamedly that I enjoyed “Legend of the Sword” more than “Atomic Blonde”.

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – 6.9 / 10

“Atomic Blonde” – 6.5 / 10

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (9 / 10)

 

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One of the best comic book movies in recent years, as well as one of the best film of 2017 so far, “Wonder Woman” is a much-needed home run for the DC cinematic universe, after the critically-polarizing “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”

The plot is nothing ground-breaking; it’s an origin story of a superhero who overcomes adversity, adapts to the new world she encounters, and overcomes her first adversaries.  But the execution of the story was near perfection, and, most note-worthy of all, was the female-driven elements throughout the film.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” elevates the female superhero, and female roles in films, to new heights..  Gadot portrays Princess Diana as an enigmatic and confused heroine as she struggled to comprehend the complexities of modern warfare during World War I.  Some of the best scenes of the film were those of when Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) explains the Great War to Diana.

The action sequences, many of which utilize the ultra-slo-mo methods made famous by “300”, takes the technique and improves upon it, making some of the most entertaining comic book fight scenes I’ve seen.  Note to “Man of Steel”: do you know make “having superheroes and villains throw and punch each other, and throwing large objects around while things explode” interesting? Watch “Wonder Woman.”

The film isn’t perfect: there are some plot elements that could have been explored further, as well as a villain that was fairly undeveloped.  But overall, “Wonder Woman” is an excellent film, and a must-watch for all comic book movie fans, as well as fans of entertaining films.

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (7.9/10)

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A thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish, “The Secret Life of Pets” boasts an interesting premise, exploring a question many of us asked as children, which was “what do our pets do when we’re not home?”  While interesting, I did wonder if the premise can sustain a feature length film.  The filmmakers succeeded in doing so by adding an adventure element for the two main characters,   Max and Duke, as they dash and tumble through New York City being chased by an array of sort-of villains including stray cats, anti-human animals, and animal control.

The film had plenty of laughs, and some of the visuals not necessarily the action animation, but the still frames, namely of the city skyline, were stunning.  I just might find a poster of it and make it my wallpaper.

The voice cast was very solid, with the main characters voiced by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, and a stand-out performance by Kevin Hart, who voices one of the support characters.

The film doesn’t have quite the social relevance / commentary displayed by  “Zootopia” or “Inside Out”, but I think adults could still enjoy watching this film.  One thing that did catch my attention as the film’s soundtrack and score, composed y the prolific Alexandre Desplat, which elevated the film up a notch with dashes of liveliness.

A brief mention should  be given to the opening Minions short film.  Perhaps the makers of this short discovered what was wrong with the feature-length “Minions” film and rediscovered what worked for the minions in the “Despicable Me” films, but this was pretty much what I would’ve wanted the feature-length film to be.  I know it’s hard to turn this goofy and hilarious short into something that’s 90 minutes long, but I think it’s doable.

For those living in the U.S. / Canada, I haven’t see “Finding Dory” yet as it is not out here in Hong Kong, but I would still definitely recommend it!

Short Spoiler Review: Game of Thrones S06E10 “The Winds of Winter”

As many have already provided in-depth reviews this very fan-service-filled, feel-good episode where one feel-good moment happens after the next, I’m just going to provide some general thoughts.

I really loved this episode, as it finally progresses the grander story line of the battle of Westeros.  Almost every story line showed progress, and many were linked together.  For example, the scattered story lines of the Tyrells, the Martells in Dorne, the Greyjoys were linked with the grand story line of Daenrys Targaryen and her quest to claim the Iron Throne.  The quips between all these characters, led by Tyrion, is definitely something to look forward to.

This episode, along with the previous one (as I mentioned last review), were both incredibly well shot, utilizing so many techniques to create suspense and pay off, from holding the shot of the window to witness Tommen’s suicide, to the cut from baby Jon Snow to the now-revealed Jon Snow-Targaryen, it was all very well made.

There are for sure many things to look forward to for season 7.  The Night King and his white walkers did not make an appearance the last few episodes.  Also, how will Bran contribute to the story arcs of Jon and Sansa to Daenrys? How will King’s landing function under the reign of Cersei? What of the Hound and the servants of the Lord of Light? How about Arya?

Wish season 7 would start today!

Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (3.5/10)

I went in hoping with extremely low expectations, hoping for just some silly Roland Emmerich signature disaster movie fun.  He’s done good (entertaining, at least) work before, including the first “Independence Day” and “The Patriot”, the latter of which I did not know was directed by him until I looked him up.

However, “Independence Day: Resurgence” definitely did not indicate a resurging Emmerich, but a perpetuation of the Emmerich of late, the Emmerich who directed corny cheesy disaster-fests such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.”, “2012,” and “White House Down.” All of these films, “Resurgence” included, suffer from the same Emmerich-isms, as I like to call them, such as one-dimensional characters, horrible dialogue, weak plot development, and a general lack of concern for detail.

But whereas “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012,” and “White House Down” were at least entertaining in the silliest sense, “Resurgence” just couldn’t even reach that point.

There were several moments during the big set pieces which were enjoyable, but they were few and far in between in this overlong movie.  There’s really not much to recommend about this film.

Spoilers Review: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 9 “Battle of the Bastards”

Call me a nerd.  I’m actually upset at myself sometimes for being able to predict movie plots and twists.  When I saw Aidan Gillen listed in the opening credits, I connected this with the knowledge that Sansa Stark wrote to the Vale to ask Peter Baelish (ie. Littlefinger) for help in the previous episode.  I knew that the knights of the Vale would come in at some point to turn the tides in the battle of the bastards.  The question was how late.

As late as possible, pretty much.

That aside, the episode itself was nothing short of incredible.  With a reported budget of over 10 million (I got the feeling that the producers saved much of the season’s budget for this episode, hence the dullness in some of the earlier episodes), the episode was well-shot, with almost-seamless CGI, greatly choreographed, and intense.  The moments when Jon Snow was being trampled felt incredibly claustrophobic, very well done by the cinematographer.

The battle at Mereen was entertaining, as well, with strong dragon CGI, and witty dialogue that were to the point.

One more thing about the Bastard’s downfall.  While other reviewers were expressing their enjoyment of watching Ramsey getting the shit punched out of him by Jon and the subsequent doggy death, I was clenching my fists thinking “stop! you’re killing him too fast! Don’t give him a quick death!”  Ramsey’s psychotic, murderous, raping, and ravaging path spanned over seasons, starting with the torture of Theon.  To have him die within a day was way too easy for him.  I would have liked to have seen them keep him prisoner and do to him some of the things he’s done to people.

Some are labeling this their favorite Game of Thrones episode ever.  I’m not too sure about that.  The episode lacked the emotional gravitas compared to the episode where Tyrion gave his epic speech at his murder trial, or when he kills his own father, or the one where Jon kills the whitewalker.  I’d certainly place “Battle of the Bastards” in my top 5.