Movie of the Week: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Three years ago, Denis Villenueve and Taylor Sheridan took audiences to the border in a film that took audiences to the edge in one of the best pictures of the year. The drug war along the Mexico-U.S. border is brutal and without rules and to fight that war, soldiers are needed; soldiers who don’t exactly adhere to the same rules and controls that our men and women in combat answer to. This week, we’re going back to the land of wolves in the follow-up to the relentless and brilliant Sicario, in Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

Director: Stefano Sollima

Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jeffery Donovan, Isabella Moner, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Elijah Rodriguez, Jacqueline Torres and Shea Wigham

What am I expecting to see?: I thought Sicario was the third best film to come out in 2015! That being said, I did NOT expect or want a sequel, let alone one without Denis Villenueve or Emily Blunt, two figures who played a big part in the first film’s success because I felt that the film was strong enough to stand on its own without any future installments. I am going into Sicario: Day of the Soldado with a great degree of skepticism because I have doubts that I will enjoy this sequel as much as I enjoyed the first one. Still, Sheridan is a strong storyteller and I believe he’ll craft a formidable story for director Stefano Sollima to work with.

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Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

You would think that they would have learned. After 25 years, after all of the carnage, the savagery born from idle splendor, the lesson would have been learned that mankind and the great beasts that roamed the Earth almost 65 million years ago were not meant to coexist, but NO!!!!! The fallout from the Jurassic World three years ago bears fruit in the form of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

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Image by Universal Pictures

Isla Nublar is ready to blow; the island’s volcano has become active and the island’s prehistoric inhabitants are in danger of going extinct once more. The government is grappling whether or not to intervene and save these creatures or leave them to die and while debates are ongoing, Claire Dearing is approached by Eli Mills, an associate of a former colleague of the late John Hammond, to mount an expedition to save the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar’s fate.

Claire must enlist the aid of her ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady, the raptor-trainer, to return to the now ruined Jurassic World site, track the dinosaurs down and spare them from Isla Nublar’s fate but does anything run according to plan when dinosaurs and the people who have an interest in exploiting them are involved? Of course not!

I recall being remarkably lukewarm/indifferent to the original Jurassic World three years back. I felt that writer/director Colin Trevorrow was beating an extinct horse trying to pay homage to the Spielberg’s groundbreaking sci-fi/disaster flick. Now J.A. Bayona is in the director’s chair working with a script penned by Trevorrow and Derek Connelly and they take the franchise into new territory with Fallen Kingdom while still holding tight to the familiar traits and tropes of the original Jurassic Park features.

Yes mankind is depicted as the stupidest animals in the feature but I honestly found a higher degree of fun watching this installment of the franchise than the last one. The craftsmanship is more sturdy with Bayona at the helm but it is still discernably flawed in its makeup.

The film is more exciting and does have a greater degree of suspense but I felt that it was too focused on the central human characters like Owen, Claire, Eli Mills, Maisie, while other characters are just relegated to background or insufficient noise.

Do I like how Trevorrow and Connelly wrote this story for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom? For the most part, I do because I felt that the film was a step-up from the last film. Do I like what Bayona brought to the film as a director? Yes because the tone of the picture is more of what I was hoping for.

I thought Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were more engaging in this film compared to the last one. The cast as a whole, could be categorized anywhere between decent, misused and completely underutilized. Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Isabella Sermon ranked as decent, didn’t care much for Justice Smith’s character or Ted Levine, Daniella Pineda, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin were among the underutilized.

The visual effects and Michael Giacchino’s music were excellent, Oscar Faura’s cinematography and Bernat Vilaplana’s editing was good, Andy Nicholson’s production design was solid, as was the art decoration and the set decoration of Tina Jones and Carolyn Loucks, and Sammy Sheldon’s costumes were alright.

What do I take out of this? Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is built atop the fossils of its predecessor and it is an improvement but while it does take the franchise in new territory, it still offers the usual in what you’ve seen out of Jurassic Park; frights, head-scratching examples of human catharsis and great visuals. It’s like a new attraction in a theme park that is known for only one thing.

Movie of the Week: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Can you believe that the original Jurassic Park roared into theaters a quarter of a century ago? If I can take away anything from Steven Spielberg’s classic is the moral that man cannot play God and suffer no consequences; bringing mankind and dinosaurs together? Bad idea with very bad results but still great material to watch as you consume popcorn. Anyway, we’re on the cusp of another feature that explores why mankind should not be allowed to play God. The dinosaurs are back and they are hungry but this time, the park is as extinct as the dinosaurs should be. This week, we’re going to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Directed by: J.A. Bayona

Written by: Derek Connelly and Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon and Jeff Goldblum

What am I expecting to see?: I recall the last Jurassic World feature and I was a bit indifferent towards it. The big bad dinosaur was menacing but it had the all-too-familiar feel of a sequel of a franchise that was better off extinct. This feature, we have a change in director and from what I see, this appears to have a more amplified level of suspense and fright that may work well in its favor. I’m giving Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a watch because I’m curious about where Bayona wants to take this franchise.

Review: Incredibles 2

After a 14 year stretch between films, the Parr family is back and they didn’t skip a beat. Writer and director Brad Bird finally delivered on a follow-up to Disney-Pixar’s celebrated superhero adventure with Incredibles 2!

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Image by Disney-Pixar

The Parr family springs back into action which picks up right where the first film left off: in a scramble to thwart the actions of the Underminer but the clan of supers are still operating in a world where costumed crusaders are outlawed by the governments of the world but business big shot and superhero sympathizer Winston Deavor sees an opportunity to change the political landscape for supers everywhere!

Deavor and his sister Evelyn, recruit Elastigirl to act as a superhero advocate and operate in a city where crime is high to change public perception on supers, while Mr. Incredible takes on a mission he is not prepared for: a stay at home dad.

While Bob and Helen adjust to their new roles, with Dash and Violet expressing their desires to go out and become heroes like their parents and Jack-Jack growing into his many powers, a new adversary dubbed The Screenslaver seeks to keep supers outlawed forever; The Parrs, Frozone and a new generation of supers must jump into action before the Screenslaver’s mesmerizing and mad visions become reality.

I was 13 when The Incredibles came out and I loved it. Looking back, I could see why it is considered a landmark feature for Disney-Pixar and it is certainly one of the great all-time animated adventures. Now, 14 years later, we finally get a sequel that picks up where the first film left off and when the end-credits started rolling, I applauded! Incredibles 2 is a triumph!

Brad Bird, my hat is off to you! Fourteen years and these characters and the world you have created for them are just a super as ever! The plot is engaging and zippy but it still feels so remarkably fresh, vibrant, relevant; the way this movie is written to put Elastigirl/Helen’s character in the lead, saving the world, while Mr. Incredible is relegated to staying home and watching the kids, while Jack-Jack is freaking everyone out with his abilities and we see Frozone and Edna again, while introduced to new characters, I could not be more impressed with the dedication and precision Bird put into this movie after all of these years!

The vocal talents of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Millner, Eli Fucile, Brad Bird, Michael Bird, Jonathan Banks, are still aces! The personality they brought to these characters is just as rich as they were when The Incredibles arrived in theaters! The new additions of Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini and Paul Eiding also added spark to this picture.

Once again, the magic of Disney-Pixar never fails to impress! The animation is lush, dazzling and I don’t think I’ve ever been more spellbound by an animated sequence than the round of fisticuffs between the Screenslaver and Elastigirl! That was practically perfect to behold!

Michael Giacchino’s score is superb; the body of work he has building in career is only growing higher and higher and he is truly becoming one of the greats. I just have to say that if it isn’t already apparent.

Mahyar Abousaeedi’s cinematography exhilaratingly captures the action, Stephen Schaffer’s editing is outstanding, the production design is Ralph Eggleston is sublime, Josh Holtsclaw’s art direction is precise and prodigious! The technical acumen of this picture is nothing short of extraordinary!

I have a strong hunch that there will be a follow-up to Incredibles 2 and I hope Brad Bird and Disney-Pixar don’t put us through another 14 year hiatus before it happens! This raises the bar for animated films to come and we’re not done with animated features for this year!

Take a bow Disney-Pixar! Incredibles 2 swoops in, goes for the win and instead pulls off an incredible triumph!👏👏👏

Movie of the Week: Incredibles 2

Before Disney took ownership of Marvel, before Iron Man, before the Dark Knight trilogy, there was a formidable family of superheroes everyone couldn’t help but love! Times were simpler then; there were no comic book universes, no warring fandoms, just a movie for everyone to love no matter how old you were. After 14 years, Disney and Pixar are dusting off one of their many animated achievements and giving the Parr family a brand new adventure and audiences may be in store for something more incredible than ever! Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash, Violet, Jack-Jack and Frozone are making a comeback! Incredibles 2 finally arrives in theaters!

Director: Brad Bird

Written by: Brad Bird

Featuring the voices of: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Huck Millner, Sarah Vowell, Eli Fucile, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird, Isabella Rossellini, Michael Bird and Phil LaMarr.

What am I expecting to see?: I remember The Incredibles being damn good 14 years ago. New refreshing characters, an intriguing plot to wrap my head around “what if superheroes were outlawed?”, beautiful animation, great pacing, great score; a truly remarkable piece of work from Disney-Pixar and now we finally get to know what happens when and after the Underminer surfaces. This is actually a sequel I’ve been waiting for and I believe that it has the clout to hold up with the original.

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The events of this movie take place long before Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi sit down in a bar at Mos Isley to discuss passage and payment to the Alderaan system. The events of this movie take place prior to the daring undertaking of Jyn Erso and a band of rebels to steal the battle plans of the Empire’s most powerful weapon. Before he shot Greedo, before he was in the employ of Jabba the Hut, the story of Han Solo started with a young bandit on the streets of Corellia who looked up at the sky and dreamed of flying away from it all with his girl and never looked back.

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Image by Lucasfilm

Solo: A Star Wars Story follows a young adult Han Solo and traces his path from a Scrumrat thief who had to steal to survive, to washout pilot in the Imperial Navy, fugitive, aspiring outlaw, to the smuggler he will one day be and sheds light on the characters who will aid him in his origin adventure. This movie tells the story of why Han dared to dream to fly, to how he met his friend and wingman Chewbacca, the figures who taught him the tricks and trades of the outlaw, how he crossed paths with his friend/swindler Lando Calrissian, and how he came to be in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon.

I’ve kept my eye on this film for a long time and followed the reports of this production as best I could. I recalled hearing at some point that the executives claimed that this film was unwatchable, that the leading man Alden Ehrenreich was doomed to fail in this role, how then-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were leading this film to disaster and there had to be extensive reshoots, which led to Lord and Miller out and Ron Howard taking over as director.

I feared the worst for Solo: A Star Wars Story but I was surprised by how smooth and solid the finished product of this movie was. I felt that this movie took a practical and straightforward approach to the origin story of one of Star Wars’ most pivotal characters, answering any questions I had with grounded and nuanced approach by adding some dash of surprise every now and then and I must say that this film is a success!

I’m not sure what direction Phil Lord and Chris Miller wanted to take this movie but I think Ron Howard was the right choice to pilot this picture. Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan crafted a story for Han Solo’s origins that is well put together, funny, smart, exciting and appealing for audiences who love the Star Wars franchise.

Alden Ehrenreich may have been a surprise choice for this role and he will never truly replace Harrison Ford as Han Solo, but he does a very good job by this character. At times, you can see that he just embodies the scoundrel Han Solo is and I think he may make Harrison Ford proud! The guy who really steals the show is Donald Glover, who steps into the skin of Lando Calrissian and knocks it out of the park; Billy Dee Williams must be as equally proud of Glover for doing his character justice.

Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, the voices of Jon Favreau and Linda Hunt, Ian Kenny, John Tui, the cast across the board are very good in their roles.

John Powell’s score was very refreshed and exciting, Bradford Young cinematography is excellent, Pietro Scalia’s editing is impeccable, Neil Lamont’s production design was solid, the art direction is vivid, the costumes designed by David Crossman and Glyn Dillon are very smart, the makeup is high caliber and the visual effects are about as good as it gets for a Star Wars feature.

Going into Solo: A Star Wars Story, I thought we were getting into a junkpile that had no chance of liftoff but what made this movie soar was the love and determination necessary to not only get it airborne and space worthy but to really make it soar through the stars! There’s no mistake that this movie hits its mark!

Movie of the Week: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The second film in the Star Wars anthology series centers around one of the most pivotal characters in the franchise. Not much is known about this character before he met Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and agreed to charter them to Alderaan. We’ve seen and heard snippets of his past before he was reluctantly entangled with the Rebellion, but this film will attempt to fill in the blanks. Before he was the renowned Rebellion general, before he won the heart of a princess, before the events of A New Hope, Han Solo aimed to write his name down in history as the best pilot in the galaxy and Solo: A Star Wars Story will tell his story from the beginning.

Director: Ron Howard

Written by: Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt, Warwick Davis, John Tui and Ian Kenny.

What am I expecting to see?: What really fascinates me about these anthology films is that they fill in so many blank spaces in the almost 20 year void between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and Han Solo plays such a prominent part in the original trilogy that he does constitute his own origin feature because he is a character with a backstory some fans would like to see. I’m looking forward to seeing how Ron Howard salvaged this production due to early reports about how this film was trending towards disaster under then-directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and to see if Alden Ehrenreich can do justice by the role Harrison Ford made legendary. A lot is riding on Solo: A Star Wars Story.