Movie Review: Justice League (7.2 / 10)

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It’s not terrible; at no point does it reach the lows of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.  It’s not great, either; the film never reaches the highs on par with Marvel’s best films.  It was… pretty good!

Despite the success of DCEU’s “Wonder Woman”, “Justice League” wasn’t quite able to follow it up with another film that connects with the audience.  The main issue of the film is that it feels disjointed, with some sudden shifts in town, and underdeveloped characters.

The shifts in tone can be attributed to a substantial portion of the film having been shot by Joss Whedon, who filled in for director Zack Snyder, who had to drop out six months before the film’s completion due to a family tragedy.  There were distinct moments where anyone who is familiar with the two directors’ work would go “oh, that’s got to be a Snyder shot”, or “oh that’s a signature Whedon” moment.  And while that would be fun to do for the audience, it doesn’t really help with the film’s storytelling.

The film also suffers from a short (yes, short!) run time, as the studio demanded that the film be no longer than two hours, mostly for financial reasons.  For the “Avengers” equivalent of the DCEU, and not having introduced a few of the main characters in previous films as Marvel did, two hours was definitely not enough to introduce new characters AND tell a coherent and entertaining story.  I don’t mind a film being long as long as it’s good;  “BvS” was long but it was not good.  If Justice League had to be 2.5 hours but we got a better film, I’d be totally down for it.

As a result of its relatively* short run time, newcomers The Flash (played masterfully by Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (played by the fierce Jason Mamoa) come off as thin characters, and the developments of Batman and Wonder Woman come off as incomplete.

Yet, although the film suffered from the aforementioned flaws, it’s still a fun ride at the theater.   I had a decent time watching it; there were certainly a few standout moments that made the experience worth it.

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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.

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: Kong: Skull Island

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An action-fest that, for better or for worse, sets up its MonsterVerse much better than “The Mummy” did for the Dark Universe.

Given the material, I wasn’t expecting too much acting chops out of the all-star cast, including the newest Academy Award winner for Best Actress, Brie Larson, who had little to work with besides looking shocked and jaw-dropped 90 percent the time.  The rest, including Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, are serviceable.  The lone shout out goes out to John C. Reilly, who was perfect as the quirky, oddball pilot.

The action scenes were exhilarating, especially those featuring Kong.  The CGI blended well with the characters and, similar to the fights in “Pacific Rim”, I felt the power of each throw down and punch.

The more you think about the plot, the less sense it makes.  So I’d suggest not thinking about it too much.  There are also tonal inconsistencies and character developments that feel cheated.

It’s worth a watch if you are looking for some epic action sequences and a decent kick off to the MonsterVerse.

6.8 / 10

Movie Review: Dunkirk (8.4 / 10)

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A very anxiety-driven film that honed in on the despair that allied soldiers experienced when they were stuck on the beachheads of Dunkirk during World War II. Director Christopher Nolan has delivered us another technical masterpiece focusing on depicting the even itself while sacrificing a bit of the character narrative.

The lack of character development, however, does not mean that the film was devoid of great performances.  Everyone in the assemble cast, including Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branaugh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy, were excellent, disappearing into their roles as soldiers of war.

While this was an entertaining film and a cinematic achievement in its own right, I would not rank it as one of Nolan’s best films.  The attempt to keep the film somewhat historically accurate and realistic meant that it was generally low on action.  Having said that, what action sequences we did get were jaw-dropping, particularly the aerial dogfights (even better when watched in IMAX).

Much attention has been paid to the scoring of the film.  While composer Hans Zimmer did create a score that aided Nolan in conveying the sense of dread and desperation of the situation, to me, it felt like they over did it; many of the scenes would have been better if they ditched the score and just use the natural sounds of the environment (mostly, the waves and occasional vehicles and birds).  This would have added a sense of empty and eeriness to the scenes.

That was a bit of nit-picking.  Overall, “Dunkirk” was a cinematic achievement with numerous intense scenes and excellent acting.

Series Review: True Detective Season 1

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Richly-developed, eerily-haunting, and at times edge-of-your-seat gripping, the first season of “True Detective” was definitely a breath of fresh air, a near genre-breaking achievement in cinematic television with terrific performances and a slow-burning plot that contains a handful of effective plot twists.

From the opening sequence, paired to perfection with the Handsome Family’s “Far from Any Road”, we knew that the series would be dark with very little humor.  But the show never crossed the line from darkness into dullness, as the main characters, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, carried the darkness of the show with an enigmatic charisma that was always intriguing.

Cary Fukunaga directed the entire first season and did not return for the second (although Nic Pizzolatto did write both seasons) and it showed.  Season 1 was a showcase of excellent direction and cinematography.

The biggest regret I had with regards to watching this series was how much time it took me to finish it.  Not that the series was bad, just that I never got around to it.  The eight episodes probably took me about 6 months to finish.  I’m glad I did, though.  I’m sure if I had binged watched it, or at least watched it over a span of 3-4 weeks, that I might have enjoyed the show even more, particularly for its tone and atmosphere.  As it stands, “True Detective” Season 1 sits as one of my top 5 favorite television shows.

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.