Movie of the Week: Avengers: Infinity War

There was an idea. This idea may have sounded unfathomable upon its initial stages but now that it has reached its zenith, the culmination of this idea is poised to change the world as we know it. This idea involved assembling not only remarkable characters but the universes they hail from and pit them against a force of evil so titanic, the universe will tremble when they clash! It has taken a decade in the making but the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s finest hour is upon us! The Avengers have fought against gods, machines and each other in the past but the Mad Titan is ready to strike in Avengers: Infinity War.

Directed by: The Russo Brothers

Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Starring: Let’s just save ourselves the time and just say “everyone!

What am I expecting to see?: The superhero movie to end all superhero movies! This movie is the culmination of a decade of creativity, dedication, conviction and pure fantasy. I’ve been on the ride that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning since Iron Man dropped and the MCU has had their share of highs and lows but if I were to say that I was ready for what’s coming, would be a lie because I have no idea what’s coming, there is a galaxy of stars in this movie with excellent storytellers behind it and I’m oozing excitement. Avengers: Infinity War is my most anticipated film of the year and my expectations could not be higher!

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Review: Ready Player One

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Image by Warner Bros. & Amblin Entertainment

Steven Spielberg has seen it all, done it all and everything he touches, bares his cinematic storytelling signature. His adaptation of Ernest Cline’s celebrated literary ode to pop-culture and the 1980s is no different; Spielberg is at the controller of Ready Player One.

The central character is Wade Watts, a youth residing in The Stacks, a neighborhood of towering trailer homes in 2045 Columbus Ohio. Wade, like the rest of the world after the real world disintegrated into barely inhabitable conditions, spends his days escaping the “suckiness” of the real world to partake in the adventures of The Oasis, a virtual reality constructed by his personal hero James Halliday, where anything you can dream of is possible.

The story of Ready Player One, is essentially a quest. Before Halliday left the world of the living, he created three impossible challenges inside the Oasis. Whoever completes the challenges will receive keys, which lead to an “Easter Egg” that will give whoever finds it, complete control of The Oasis and a vast fortune; Wade and his friends embark on finding the Egg before the wickedly greedy Nolan Sorrento gets to it first.

Ready Player One is visually dazzling and while it is a little overkill in narrative, it’s fun to keep up with. I can definitely admit that I enjoyed watching this spectacle of a film.

I found the writing of the picture entertaining and whimsical. Cline and Zak Penn did an admirable job in laying down the framework of the world Cline created in his book for Spielberg to work with and Spielberg himself was in the right neighborhood in locating the proper balance between the spectacle and the plot; meaning that I wasn’t entirely drowning in the mesmerizing splendor of the visual effects and I could follow the film well enough due to the proper amount of pace in the plot.

To be completely honest, once the climax of the film kicked in, the film lost a little bit of credibility and the final act was rather drawn out to the point where I wanted it to just end already, but I was satisfied by the final product of Ready Player One and I believe it is worth seeing in theaters.

I thought the cast was pretty solid altogether. Tye Sheridan is a capable protagonist, Olivia Cooke is a good female lead, Ben Mendelsohn makes his money as the villain and the supporting cast including Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Phillip Zhao, Win Morisaki, T.J. Miller, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Inesson, Susan Lynch and Mark Rylance all do a good job in their roles.

Alan Silvestri’s score is well-done, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is great, Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn’s editing is fine, Adam Stockhausen’s production design is great, Anna Pinnock’s set decoration is good and the costumes of Kasia Walicka-Maimone are very elaborate. This movie is very rock-solid on a technical level and if there are those in the audience who have read the novel, I think that this could be passable enough to enjoy as a cinematic experience.

Ready Player One is an escape worth exploring. It’s brimming with imagination, thrilling twists and turns, keen craftsmanship and a surprise in every corner; this is a very wild adventure courtesy of Steven Spielberg and I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Movie of the Week: Ready Player One

At the heart of all films and the film-going experience, is the idea and magic of escapism. People go to the movies to escape their issues from the real world for a short period of time. The same can be said for video games, which also provide a convenient sense of escape and wonder into another world. This week, I’m seeing a film about a video game that is based on a book, which can be best described as a love letter to escapism and pop culture in general. Steven Spielberg, perhaps the greatest cinematic storyteller of his time, is at the controller for Ready Player One.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Ernest Cline and Zak Penn (based on the novel by Ernest Cline)

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Ben Mendelsohn, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Phillip Zhao, Hannah John-Kamen, Letitia Wright and Mark Rylance.

What am I expecting to see?: To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m in for but I have a feeling that this is going to be a wild ride! This looks visually outstanding with surprises strategically poised at every corner and from what I’ve gleaned regarding the plot, this looks like it’s going to be a grand adventure for both the eyes and the mind. I have no doubt that Spielberg will do justice by Cline’s celebrated novel and deliver a box-office and critical smash of a sci-fi epic in Ready Player One.

Review: Isle of Dogs

I may be in my late 20s, but I’m still a sucker for a good animated feature. Growing up, I was raised around cats but I’m friendly to both cats and dogs, as long as they are friendly to me in return. Anyway, it’s been nine years since the visionary storyteller Wes Anderson has made an animated feature, so when Isle of Dogs caught my attention, I had to travel a great distance to see it. It was worth it!

Isle of Dogs is essentially about a boy and his dog. What makes it different? This story takes place in Megasaki City, Japan two decades into the future, where canines are besieged by illnesses and afflictions that are threatening to cross over into the human population. Mayor Kobayashi, has decreed that all dogs, both stray and domesticated, are to be exiled onto Trash Island for the good of the human population but the mayor’s young ward, Atari, commandeers a plane to travel to the island and bring home his canine bodyguard Spots.

Atari crash lands on the island and is aided by a pack of “alpha dogs” who assist in his search. Rex, King, Boss, Duke and their pack-leader Chief accompany Atari across the island to find Spots and get them back to Megasaki City before the Mayor progresses with his anti-canine agenda.

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Image by Fox Searchlight

Isle of Dogs barks, bites, is well-trained, does tricks, howls, rolls over, let’s you scratch its belly, is well-groomed, wags its tail; this movie features the hallmarks of why mankind is so fond of dogs and one can tell that Wes Anderson, being the amazing storyteller that he is, has crafted and shaped this delightful stop-motion animated achievement with love, amazing attention to detail and imaginative wit from start to finish.

I had high hopes for this film and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura put their heads together and turned in an idea that was creative, socially relevant to today, engaging, thought-provoking but a little wacky but beautiful as well.

From start to finish, I was mesmerized by the stop-motion animation and Anderson’s storytelling style complimented the animation style perfectly. From prologue to the final credits, this was a playful experience to witness.

The vocal talents were as diverse as they were superb. Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, Ken Watanabe, Kara Hayward, Liev Schrieber, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens and Mari Natsuki, all did fine work giving personality to their characters.

Alexandre Desplat’s music is as terrific as always, Tristan Oliver’s cinematography was superb, Edward Bursch, Ralph Foster and Andrew Weisblum’s editing moved seamlessly between the subplots, Paul Herrod and Adam Stockhausen’s production design was pristine and Curt Enderle’s art direction was fantastic. The entire crew of this film put in so much work and dedication to really elevate the appeal of Isle of Dogs and they should be commended.

2018 will see many animated features come through theaters but Isle of Dogs raised the bar very high for the animated features to come. In my opinion, this movie is probably as good as Zootopia; I was very impressed.

Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Five years ago, Guillermo Del Toro crafted a visually stunning slap-fight between monsters from another world and monstrosities from the world of men. Pacific Rim not only featured visual effects of the highest caliber but a plot that was easy enough to understand and really made the tension of the plot palpable and the balance between the film’s aesthetics and the narrative was enough for me to call Pacific Rim a success.

The way Pacific Rim ended, I thought that was a suitable end to the story but does anything made in Hollywood really end? I didn’t think so, hence Pacific Rim: Uprising was born. Steven S. DeKnight takes over for Del Toro in the sequel which takes place 10 years after the events of the first film.

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Image by Universal and Legendary

Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary Stacker Pentecost, as he is wrangled back into the Jaeger Program after a run-in with the law. With the time of war with the Kaiju in the rearview, the Jaeger Program may be experiencing changes from the up-and-coming Shao Corporation but a new threat in a rogue Jaeger may throw the peace which the previous generation of Jaeger pilots fought and died for, out of the window and Jake must finally live-up to his father’s legacy and stand on the front lines to face this coming storm.

In the opening minutes of Pacific Rim: Uprising, Jakes makes it perfectly clear that he is no Stacker Pentecost. By the time the film is over, it is abundantly clear that Pacific Rim: Uprising is nothing like the first film. Suffice to say that the Jaeger Uprising ends in nothing but unmitigated disaster.

Going into this movie, I tried to hold out hope that this could reinvigorate my admiration for the first film and not be another unnecessary Hollywood sequel with no purpose whatsoever but as the film progressed and I was eagerly waiting for it to end, I felt whatever hope I had for this film die, minute by minute.

I was subjected to a boring and shoddily constructed plot that was devoid of humor, wit or originality, visual effects that paled in comparison to the first film and the fact that Pacific Rim did not need a sequel.

Steven S. DeKnight and his writing team, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin, tried (and failed) to spark a franchise from a solid sci-fi action flick. As Jake is no Stacker Pentecost, Steven S. DeKnight is no Guillermo Del Toro; DeKnight just perverts and degrades an original story with appeal and turns it into something pitiful.

The cast is made of good performers but they suffer from this weak story. John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Tian Jing, Jin Zhang, Adria Ajorna, Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Ivanna Sakhno, Mackenyu, Lily Ji all come together to infuse some new life in the world of this film and it is nice to see Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day return but their talents are just utterly wasted in this film.

There isn’t much to say about Dan Mindel’s cinematography, Dylan Highsmith, Josh Schaeffer and Zach Staenberg’s editing, Stefan Dechant’s production design, Lorne Balfe’s music, Lizz Wolf’s costume design, the art direction or the set decoration. The overall production just felt so cheap compared to the original film.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was dead on arrival for me. I tried and really wanted it to succeed but I just knew that there was no way this movie could cancel the apocalypse again.

Movies of the Week: Pacific Rim Uprising & Isle of Dogs

It’s double feature Friday this week! This first film on this weekend’s double bill, is a return to a world at war between the monsters that rose from the sea and the monsters mankind created to stop them. Five years ago, Guillermo Del Toro delivered a dazzling smack down spectacle between terrifying demons from another world dubbed Kaiju and mankind’s monolithic response to the Kaiju threat called Jaegers. The war between them was thought to be over when the heroic feats of the Gypsy Danger crew sealed the breach to the Kaiju’s universe but the war is reignited, the Kaiju are stronger than ever and the son of the fallen Jaeger Marshall Stacker Pentecost is ready to pick up where his dad and the first generation of Jaeger pilots left off in Pacific Rim Uprising.

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Written by: Emily Carmichael, Steven S. DeKnight, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin

Starring: John Boyega, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Adria Ajorna, Tian Jing, Dustin Clare, Karan Brar, Nick E. Tarabay and Daniel Feuerriegel

What am I expecting to see?: Honestly, I’m trying to go into this picture as objectively as possible but I can’t help but wonder why? Why are we getting a sequel to Pacific Rim? The way the first film ended, ended the story just fine but I can’t find a rational reason why the studios would make this movie aside from the fact that because they can! I’m trying to be open minded when it comes to this film but I don’t believe this sequel will be as entertaining as its predecessor. Best case scenario? This movie exceeds my expectations but I’m doubtful.

The second film on this weekend’s double feature? The second animated venture from the man behind The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Two decades into the future, an outbreak of a rampant disease sends shockwaves throughout Japan and in effect, an island made of garbage becomes an internment camp for canines afflicted by this illness but a young boy travels to the island to be reunited with his canine companion and allies himself with five dogs to track his dog’s location. Wes Anderson’s newest feature is Isle of Dogs.

Director: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Featuring the voices of: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Liev Schrieber, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Kietel, Frances McDormand, Koyu Rankin, Ken Watanabe, Courtney B. Vance, Bob Balaban and Yoko Ono.

What am I expecting to see?: I think this is going to be a real treat! One of the first films I’ve seen from Wes Anderson was Fantastic Mr. Fox and I was awestruck by how the stop-motion animation worked wondrously well with Anderson’s prowess as a storyteller and I think Isle of Dogs is poised to follow suit as a film brimming with impeccable imagination, attention to detail and a story that is both heartwarming and unafraid to go to very dark places. I think this is a film that will set the mark very high for the animated features to come this year.

Review: Tomb Raider

I was going into this movie with low to no expectations whatsoever. I’m putting that on record.

A reboot, a film based on a video game, a director I’ve never heard of; films with these labels attached to them tend to require an open mind and since this incarnation of Tomb Raider falls under all three categories, I went in not expecting much.

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Image by Warner Bros. and MGM

Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft as her origins are explored by director Roar Uthaug and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons. Young Lady Croft discovers a clue to the reason behind her father’s disappearance seven years ago and sets out to find answers only to find trouble in the form of the menacing Mathias Vogel, whose ambitions to open a mythic tomb could put the entire world in peril.

I cannot say that this movie is perfect. Far from it; it is a run-of-the-mill action flick with the usual twists and turns one might expect to see from an origin story. Simultaneously, even though this movie features tropes and clich├ęs that you may see, this movie did hold my attention from start to finish. I’m in the camp that says Tomb Raider is pretty fun; not spectacular but safe and fun.

Ultimately, Vikander is this film’s biggest attraction and her performance demonstrates that she was 100% committed to the role of Lara Croft. She definitely delivered a physical performance that honored the spirit of the renowned video game character; I’m willing to go as far as say that Vikander made a badass Lara Croft.

Suffice to say that the rest of the players of the picture don’t exactly amount to much. Walton Goggins did alright as the antagonist, Dominic West is okay as Lara’s dad, Daniel Wu is relegated to something of a sidekick for Lara, Kristen Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Hannah John-Kamen, Alexandre Williaume and the rest of the cast are extras who are reduced to the point of practical nonexistence.

Ultimately, the fault in this movie lies with the screenplay. It does enough to honor the spirit the video games and the character but it doesn’t do or offer anything else and in effect, everything about the film is weighed down.

What’s more is that everything that went into the production of this film was very bland. Junkie XL’s score, George Richmond’s cinematography, the editing of Stuart Baird, Tom Harrison-Read and Michael Tronick, Gary Freeman’s production design, Colleen Atwood and Timothy A. Wosnik’s costumes, the art direction, the set decoration courtesy of Raffaella Giovannetti and Maria Labuschagne and even the visual effects were pretty meh.

Tomb Raider may not be spectacular but it is gritty and has the clout to be a fun film if you go in with a clear head. In fact, the framework is there for a potential sequel and if a sequel does happen, with the right writing and director, Vikander can allow this character, whom she has really dedicated her time and energy into a rock-solid portrayal, to truly reach her full potential. It’s not the greatest adventure you will have at the movies but I was entertained by the presence of a strong and grounded female protagonist.