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Movie Pitch: The He-Man and The Masters of the Universe Live-action Reboot

Sony Pictures is currently in pre-production (hell) for the live action reboot of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe property. There have likely already been major choices made and machinations in place by now, but for the fun of it all here’s some of the major ideas I would pursue if given the reigns to a project such as this.

1. Cast Terry Crews as He-Man

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First and foremost, I would immediately seek out Terry Crews for the lead role in this film. From The Expendables to Brooklyn Nine-Nine Crews has the acting experience behind him to advance onto a leading role, and this property is one where I think he would excel in, not only for the look of the character, but also in the nature of the content. This is a fantasy/sci-fi adaption that can hardly be taken seriously, so why do so? I would expect a certain amount of serious threat to raise the stakes and conflict in the story, but there has to be levity here. Much like the recent Thor Ragnarok film from Marvel Studios, this should be a property that embraces the weird and hilarious nature of what’s happening onscreen, and I believe Terry Crews has what it takes to provide us with a compelling hero, but also, can you imagine him screaming “I HAVE THE POOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWEEEEERRRRRR!” in a big budget Hollywood movie? I want that more than I should.

2. Cast Bryan Cranston as Skelator

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Bryan Cranston has the perfect blend of gut-busting comedy chops paired with deadly serious threats. Just look at Malcom in the Middle and Breaking Bad if you have any illusions as to his ability to perform in either category. Cranston has experience in major Hollywood blockbusters and television alike that hearken all the way back to his days voicing costumed villains in Saban’s Power Rangers. I strongly believe that Bryan Cranston would be the perfect Skeletor in this adaption, he’s funny, he can be immeasurably menacing when he needs to, and he can pull off the specific kind of goofy interplay that could work in a film such as this.

3. Get Taika Waititi to direct

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Now that he’s proven himself as a capable big budget filmmaker with Thor Ragnarok, after his smaller but seriously grand films What we do in the shadows, Hunt for the wilderpeople, and Boy– Waititi should get more opportunities to handle larger productions if he so chooses. I think this property presents a great opportunity for the kiwi director as it’s similarly a blend of fantasy and sci-fi genres like his recent success, but also because he might have even greater control with He-Man. I doubt there would be riots over departures from the source material here and he could take the ideas in play to greater rewards thematically and financially, he’s got the Marvel (magic) touch right now and a great sense for what works in good storytelling.

4. Be self aware of the inherent silliness of such a property

My last suggestion for this adaption is one that can be applied to the film as a whole. If you’re going to craft a film about a character that’s the most powerful man in the universe and have him battle a skeleton sorcerer with his giant green-striped battle tiger at his side, well, you should have fun with it. Embrace the oddities that made the cartoon ridiculous but fun in the first place. Also, as always, I would hope for practical effects, real costumes, shooting on location etc you’re making a movie not a video game- embrace it!

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Review: Grabbers

Written by Kevin Lehane and directed by Jon Wright, “Grabbers” is an Irish horror comedy about a small Irish Isle besieged by tentacled aliens that harbor a thirst for blood. I didn’t watch this film with the aim to write a review about it, but I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be good to spread this title around and get more eyeballs on it. The premise of the film is simple enough, the small island has a police force of two and when the captain goes on holiday for two weeks a rookie from Dublin signs up to fill his shoes for the duration of his vacation while the second in command, Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), is a washed up  drunk who doesn’t take kindly to the newcomer. Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is the workaholic to O’Shea’s alcoholic and they awkwardly go about their duties once she’s settled on the isle. They quickly come across a bunch of beached whales with strange deep cuts all over them, the local scientist Smith (Russell Tovey) notes that they died at sea, curiously.

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One of the local fishermen, Paddy (Lalor Roddy) traps one of the strange creatures while out on a trawling run and brags about it to O’Shea while at the pub. One thing leads to another and the odd couple police force brings the captured squid-like creature to the local doctor (Pascal Scott) to find out what it might be, but even he has no idea forcing a return to Smith’s laboratory where they discover the creature’s weakness despite its unknown origin. Alcohol. Since the creatures need water and blood to thrive a victim with a high enough blood alcohol concentration causes the aliens to foam at the beak and writhe to death. With a particularly nasty storm coming making evacuation off the island impossible til the morning the ragtag group assembles the island residents to the pub to last through the night.

 

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The film gleefully embraces the cliches of its setting and the genre mashup tropes of Irish drunkenness, small town life, and the briny fishermen known to own their rebellious spirits while enjoying a pint or two more than is recommended. The film may be somewhat predictable but the actors leading the charge are effectively charming enough that I personally was having enough of a good time that this was less of an issue for me. The CGI for the creatures was effective in that they never seemed too goofy looking and once they start to grow, they’re malice enlarges with them. If you enjoy a good horror comedy, I suggest seeking this one out, it playfully acknowledges itself and the common tropes of similar movies, but it’s unique enough to stand out from the crowd.

 

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Final Score: Two cops, a scientist, a doctor, and a pub

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Review: Logan Lucky

Written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky is a comedy heist film in which the Logan brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) & Clyde (Adam Driver) aim to break the Logan family curse by robbing a high-stakes NASCAR raceway during the busiest weekend of the year. This film brought Soderbergh out of retirement to direct as he was initially sought out to give a recommendation for applicable directors, but he ended up enjoying the script so much that he chose to direct it and simultaneously use it as a test subject for an independent distribution model of his own design, “Fingerprint Releasing”. Which turned out to be the right choice as Logan Lucky is a no frills, charming, and surprisingly intelligent redneck MacGyver version of Soderbergh’s past heist films like Ocean’s Eleven.

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Jimmy Logan works construction at the Charlotte Motor Speedway- that is until he’s fired by unseen insurance bureaucrats who spotted his limp and found him to be a liability. Choosing to find solace in brotherhood Jimmy soon makes his way to his brother Clyde’s bar where we first hear Clyde rambling off superstitions about the family curse. Given the brothers’ apt nature towards bad luck, with Clyde missing an arm- sorry- a hand, in the Iraq war and Jimmy’s leg injury keeping him from his youthful ambitions at national level football, the curse could have merit from this perspective. We soon meet Jimmy’s daughter Sadie who’s working hard to win a local beauty pageant, and through Jimmy’s estranged ex-wife we learn of her plans to move with her new husband out of state and away from Jimmy. Thus, our motivation inherent. From here the movie picks up its pace as the pieces begin to fall into place for the eventual heist. The Logans know of an infamous local safecracker named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) whose been imprisoned. They go meet him and they unveil their plan to entice him into helping them break into the vault under the speedway. He isn’t too keen on the idea as he only has five months to go until his release, that is until they tell him that they plan on sneaking him out for the job, but then also sneaking him back into the prison without anyone knowing he was gone in the first place. Bang only has one condition, the Logan brothers must enlist his own two brothers to insure his interests until his sentence is up. The Logans’ also enlist the help of their sister (Riley Keough) as a transport driver during the shuffle of retrieving Joe and Clyde (his incarceration is also part of the plan) from the prison during a planned riot.

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This film was an absolute joy from start to finish. The characters are never portrayed in a demeaning light and they all have an earnest sensibility about them as they go about their illegalities. Soderbergh brings a specific framing and polish to the film that may have been mishandled in another’s stead, while also crafting an edit that fills in the details as soon as you begin to question the choices certain characters make. It seems the director has cemented his return to filmmaking through this release and his upcoming film titled Unsane, Soderbergh’s first dip into the horror/thriller genre, which he also plans to release independently through Fingerprint Releasing and Bleecker Street once again. I know I’ll be looking forward to it based on how good Logan Lucky turned out. Soderbergh and his crew brought together an excellent cast and drew out some truly memorable performances from his actors while keeping everything light and fun. We can only hope for the success of more independent features like this!

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(Adam Driver & Daniel Craig pose with director Steven Soderbergh while on production)

Final Score: Three Lucky Logans & One infamous Joe Bang!

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My favorite films of 2017

Say what you will about 2017 as a whole, but the films released this last year were a good harvest of cinematic entertainment. I’ll refrain from any sort of top ten lists of the best or worst variety and simply talk about the movies that I saw and enjoyed. Below are the films that evoked the most powerful responses from me, be it slow and meditative science fiction, excellently choreographed action and fight sequences, or simply the films that gave me the largest laughs and the most to dwell on afterwards. As most years there are almost as many, or more, films that I missed due to one reason or another and will likely catch up on later. So if you see a popular film missing I either didn’t think it did enough to merit being on the list, or I didn’t see it. Here’s to hoping that 2018 continues this trend and gives us more quality films to soak up and revel in.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

While this was a good year at the theater, for myself there was no film that surpassed the cinematic glory that was Blade Runner 2049. A sequel releasing thirty-five years after the original film might seem like a detractor for most films, but not here. Director Denis Villeneuve and Cinematographer Roger Deakins (along with cast and crew) have spun a transfixing web of powerful and immense sights and sounds across this science fiction epic. Harrison Ford returns to his lesser known sci-fi icon Rick Deckard and gives us one of his best performances in the last ten to twenty years. Meanwhile Ryan Gosling’s K, the new Blade Runner of 2049, sets out to track down the crimes and mysteries left behind in Deckard’s wake. This film is a slow burning science fiction epic that rapidly escalates the scale apart from the first film’s relatively smaller set of events in the best ways possible. I cannot recommend this film enough, though I know it won’t be every audience’s favorite flavor.

 

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John Wick Chapter 2

Forced back into the world of cordial killers that he left behind ages ago, this sequel brings back Keanu Reeves’ latest hit character John Wick and throws him into a gauntlet of violence and feigned civility. Rarely giving the audience time to soak into Wick’s brooding life after his successful revenge in the first flick, Chapter 2 quickly forces Wick’s hand into fulfilling a blood oath after blowing up his house a few scenes in. This film is a continuation of the surprise success of the first film by allowing what worked there to be thoughtfully expanded upon here. The legend of John Wick hinted at in the first film is realized here by having Wick operate in Italy for his mission, thereby having many people quickly recognizing, and fearing, him. This film cracks open the doors to his old community of killers that was merely peeked at before and it’s a joy to watch Wick do what he does best. If you’re looking for near relentless and creative gunplay in a refined atmosphere then you can do no better than John Wick Chapter 2.

 

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Kong: Skull Island

As a fan of the giant monster movie sub-genre, I always look forward to new and evolving versions of old favorites, and this interpretation of cinema’s most well known giant ape may well be my favorite. The largest Kong yet towers above the rivers and peaks of Skull Island set during the waning days of the Vietnam war in which a few madcap scientists talk their way into a military escort onto the isolated and volatile isle of legend. Once they arrive their suspicions of the giant ape are confirmed as Kong is quick to prove who is King in this untamed land. I love the adoration this film has for it’s monstrous locales and unique creations-this is a film that knows it is first a foremost a creature feature. It doesn’t hurt that the cast involved knew how to embrace the tone, some particularly fun additions were John Goodman as the conspiratorial lead scientist, Samuel L. Jackson’s cynical and bombastic Major Packard leading the military support, and John C. Reilly’s wary but good-hearted WW2 fighter pilot who crash-landed on the island when an aerial dogfight went awry. It’s also worth mentioning that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts maintained his sense of style and kept his cinematic voice intact in a major studio release, that’s no small feat and deserves some recognition.

 

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Get Out

As someone who isn’t all that in love with horror movies, this year gave us two absolutely stellar additions to the genre. The first of which was the outstanding directorial debut of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What makes this film so magnetic is the way it plays on the real world anxieties that still thread through American racial relationships to this day. Peele slowly settles the audience into unease with his clever use of pacing and throwbacks to some of his most adored film inspirations from the likes of Guess who’s coming to dinner?, The Stepford Wives, and The Shining. This is my preferred style of horror, it never relies on jump-scares or cheap thrills, instead the film unnerves you with each passing minute until the spellbinding hypnosis scenes begin-then the film accelerates the madness only hinted at before. This psychological thriller will likely be among many favorites lists for years to come, and Peele has earned every second of adoration for it.

 

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IT Chapter 1

The other surprise horror hit last year was IT Chapter 1. This latest rendition of a Stephen King classic rose to legendary horror movie heights as the highest grossing R rated movie of all time earning close to 700 million worldwide on a budget of only 35 million. With only another lackluster Saw comeback to challenge it’s box office reign roughly a month after it’s release, the film about a killer clown dominated the silver screen for weeks on end. What really made the film stand out from the crowd though wasn’t the scares-which were plentiful and effective, but rather the chemistry of the Losers Club and how they not only interacted with each other, but how they dealt with the overwhelming presence of Pennywise the evil shape-shifting clown. The film was funny, charming, creepy, and intense. If you (somehow) missed this one at the theater, then check out the video release-it’s definitely worth your time!

 

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Wonder Woman

Ladies and gentlemen, they did it! DC films finally made a great superhero movie. Wonder Woman did what neither Batman, Superman, or Will Smith could accomplish- a truly wonderful superhero story. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins deserve a hell of a lot of credit for infusing some heart and empathy into this dour and sour universe of grisly and uninspiring superheroes. Gadot and Chris Pine shared an excellent onscreen chemistry on their journey through worn torn Europe, they evolved as characters and weren’t used for glamour shots or crude humor. Wonder Woman is the shining light of the DC film universe and I can’t wait to see how Jenkins and crew return to the character in her untitled sequel, best of all though, we can rest assured that she’s in good hands until then!

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I wasn’t sure how the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy would fare for me, the first was a surprise hit and became an instant pop culture icon. How would James Gunn handle these characters’ evolution and what kind of madcap adventures would they tumble into next? They may not have been chasing a macguffin stone this time around, but we did get a compelling story that dug into some deeper character work for a few of the characters on the team, and they had a far more interesting villain this time around in Ego the Living Planet, who just so happens to be Star Lord’s father.. Kurt Russell, because of course he is. Everything about this film was amped up from the last installment and the world building for the greater cosmic side of the Marvel universe was stepped up in scale as well. This was a visual feast of colors and special effects and the comedy (a detractor for some this time around) worked for me just as much if not more this time around. This was an excellent addition to not only the Guardians story but the greater web of MCU storylines as well!

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was my favorite superhero movie of the year, and that’s saying something because this year had some of the best offerings from Marvel and DC yet! Even the Justice League was an improvement overall (though it’s not on this list as it didn’t quite reach the mark for me). Introduced in Captain America Civil War this newest incarnation of the web slinger may be my favorite version yet! Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the youngest web-head thus far and he’s got an innate natural sense of the big-eyed wonder that a younger Parker would have, especially since he’s the rookie in a world of Avengers now. Placing Spider-Man into the MCU allows him to be positioned into storylines and arcs that would have been impossible before now, a feat realized through the perfect use of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark as the guiding hero and moral compass (Something Stark could only accomplish after years of being Iron Man). This was a wonderfully small scale super hero movie and I loved it all the more for keeping things grounded, lighthearted, and funny. There’s also the great benefit of having Michael Keaton playing the Vulture, a C-class villain from the comics that he made all his own resulting in one of the best villains of the MCU since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I can’t wait to see how this latest version of the Wallcrawler’s story evolves after this!

 

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Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi threw out the rulebook with his Thor film and it was all the better for it! I was incredibly excited for this movie since hearing the rumors surrounding the creative team involved and the stories that they were going to adapt with Thor’s third MCU film. Soaked in neon colors, a synthy score crafted by Mark Mothersbaugh harkening back to his Devo days, and paired up with Mark Ruffalo’s Incredible Hulk, with a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange-this film had a lot going for it, and everything worked beautifully! Plus, Jeff Goldblum! My ticket was sold to this film the moment I saw that first trailer (Although truthfully I would have seen it without the extra hype anyways). Waititi combined elements of the Planet Hulk storyline with Asgard’s apocalyptic Ragnarok event, all while serving up jokes and surprising character development from our recognizable favorites. This might be Marvel Studios’ strongest year yet, these three entries were the hat-trick of risky features and each of them paid off marvelously!

 

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Baby Driver

As a fan of every film that Edgar Wright has directed I was ecstatic about his next release after his fallout with Marvel Studios over creative differences on the Ant-Man film. This choice ended up being beneficial for everyone involved anyways. The Ant-Man film we got was a small (pun intended) and charming heist film with lovable characters introduced into the constantly growing Marvel movie machine. However, while Edgar Wright’s next project would also be a heist film, that’s where the similarities end. Baby Driver is a fast paced crime flick with music in it’s soul, but more than that the film is intelligently written and Wright’s whiplash editing is as fresh as ever and particularly important to this film. Each scene is dictated by the music that Baby’s listening to at that time resulting in eclectic shootouts set to everything from Run the Jewels to Brighton Rock by Queen. Full of blink-and-you-miss-it easter eggs and populated by an excellent cast firing on all cylinders, Baby Driver stole the summer for me.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

The final installment in the prequel trilogy of The Planet of the Apes franchise follows our main ape Caesar as he leads his clan of apes towards finding a peaceful territory all their own. However the ghost of Koba still haunts Caesar as the remainders of Koba’s faction work for the remnants of the humans’ military forces. This is my favorite of the Apes newest series of movies, the film showcases the most impressive visual effects I have ever seen onscreen with the performance capture of the apes- who we spend a majority of our time with this time around. The story simmers in a sense of ever present dread and tension as the apes must strive against the paranoid and ramshackle remains of humanity. This story depicts more of the brutality of war than an all out assault, though in a delightful turn of events this film accomplishes more in its quietest moments than most blockbusters ever do throughout their run-times. This completes an incredibly strong trilogy that every cinephile should watch at some point, especially if you have a fondness for thought provoking science fiction.

 

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets

Despite having a vague science fiction subtitle and lacking some chemistry between the two leads, Valerian and the city of a thousand planets is a colorful and fast paced sci-fi flick that dazzles with spectacle. Directed by Luc Besson, of The Fifth Element and Leon The Professional fame, Valerian (and Laureline) stumble upon a conspiratorial plot aboard the infamous space station “Alpha” and have to traverse it’s many layers, regions, and sectors to find the answers they seek. While this film may be no Star Wars or Star Trek it is a unique enough offering to engage and entertain with its effective world building and absurdly fun technologies in play. If you’re looking for some science fiction fun but don’t want to go see The Last Jedi another time, Valerian should be able to sate your sci-fi needs this winter.

 

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A Ghost Story

This one caught me off-guard. Nearly devoid of dialogue and cosmically melancholy, A Ghost Story is about a young couple in love when tragedy suddenly strikes the man and he dies. We spend the rest of the film with the departed musician as he wanders the earth incomplete in the, literal, sheets of his ghostly form. The film’s aspect ratio, a squared 1.33 Academy ratio with curved corners, add to the nostalgic and intimate nature of the film as the ghost experiences time and space becoming slippery and unrecognizable. This is the shortest film on the list and if you have the patience for it’s slower parts I would highly recommend giving this unique film a chance.

 

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Fast and Furious 8

The Fate of the Furious is on this list because of the pure enjoyment I had with this movie. At this point, I know what I’m getting with this series- cars, explosions, heists, one-liners, punching, and a set-piece that’s slightly more ridiculous than the last installment in the series. It’s a long running series of Saturday morning cartoons for adults, and I’m okay with that. I had a theory with these movies that every other one was going to be not quite as good as the one that preceded it. For example: the first film was (and probably still is the best of the bunch as far as films go) pretty good entertainment, the second I enjoyed but it wasn’t quite as good. Tokyo Drift was excellent- but I wasn’t as impressed with Fast 4 the reboot of the series, while Fast Five was my personal favorite of the series. The sixth was a let down for me while the seventh was pretty good dumb fun. However, this eighth movie in the franchise was another solid entry for me-the curse of the even numbered Fast and Furious films was broken! I quite enjoyed the prison escape sequence between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, the spy stuff with Kurt Russell and Scott Eastwood as the newbie was jovial, and the twist with Vin Diesel being the villain this time around wasn’t as cheesy as I expected. I don’t know if each new episode will stay as fresh or exciting as the best of the series, but hey, I never expected perfection from my guilty pleasures before-why start now?

 

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Logan

Finally unleashing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for his final performance, Logan was a different kind of superhero movie. I’ll admit, while I did enjoy this film, it never quite reached the heights for me as it did for so many audience members out there, though the opening and closing scenes were near perfection in execution. Years in the future an old and battered Logan strives to make money as a chauffeur for young rich assholes as he secretly cares for an increasingly unstable Professor X. Things go awry once Laura, his biological daughter created in a lab, comes into the picture. The performances were solid and the action was grisly and entertaining, although personally there were a few too many adamantium claws lodged into people’s faces for my liking. It was a solid film, an ode to Westerns and the Wolverine alike, and a good finale to one of the longest running character performances from comic book adaptions.

 

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This was the last film I saw in 2017 and it was surprisingly good! This film is a sequel to the Robin Williams led original film from 1995 and I enjoyed the fact that this film didn’t bulldoze over the original but took cues and inspiration from it while crafting a new adventure to enjoy. This time around it is four teenagers that all end up in detention with each other a la The Breakfast Club but instead of talking through their problems together they get sucked into the game reassembled as a cartridge based video game from the mid 1990’s. Each character is put into the body of their chosen avatars, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Each has three lives and they must solve riddles and best challenges in the jungle to win the game. It was a joy to watch Johnson and Black play against their type while Gillan and Hart were solid in their roles they didn’t have personas quite as large as the other two, though there is some great character work between Hart as the former football quarterback quarreling with the studious nerd within the hulking body of Johnson. This was a welcome surprise and a fun way to end the year at the theaters.

Listed below are the films that I wanted to catch at the theater, but never got around to:

Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, It comes at Night, The Florida Project, Colossal, Good Time, Logan Lucky, Detroit, Lucky, Phantom Thread, The Post, Dave made a Maze, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Call me by your name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, & Wind River

P.S. Yes, I too saw Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi, but I felt that this wasn’t the proper place to pile onto that film as it was/is one of the most talked about films of the year. This post is more about the year as a whole and Star Wars gets most of the limelight when it is released anyways. If you want to know my thoughts on that film I have posted a review on the blog as well. Enjoy!

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Review: Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi

*This is your warning- THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW*

   -SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!-

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson, the eighth episode of the Star Wars saga, “The Last Jedi” is upon us. Thus I and countless other nerds and movie critics across the internet and on opposite sides of the lunch table will be debating, praising, cursing, and analyzing this latest episode of the decade spanning space opera. After the seventh episode left the Resistance (Rebels) triumphant with the Starkiller Base (Death Star) destroyed after the loss of one of our heroes in Han Solo (Obi-Wan Kenobi) we had several new heroes in Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron to pick up the pieces of the fallen republic and continue the fight against the dark side. So what happened after that cliffhanger ending of Rey seeking out Luke Skywalker and holding out his father’s lightsaber? Subverted expectations, that’s what.

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So, let’s dive into it. First, since I have less negative things to say about the film overall, we’ll address the things that didn’t work for me in the film. 1) The humor (in parts). Personally, I am okay with a film that subverts your expectations, I would rather be surprised than being able to predict every beat and scene before they happen, however when Rey finally hands over the Lightsaber that has transitioned all three sagas- Luke nonchalantly tosses it over his shoulder as it’s played for a laugh- this did not work for me. I understand where Luke is at that point after seeing the movie, but I just didn’t care for the tone of the moment, he could have discarded it without playing the scene for a laugh. The only other major play for humor that didn’t work for me was Poe’s jokey attempt to buy time in the opening scene with General Hux, granted, that style of humor has already been built into Poe’s character like when he was captured by Kylo-Ren on Jakku in The Force Awakens, but that specific style of comedy doesn’t exactly work for me. 2) Holdo withholding info from Poe. I have mixed feelings about this aspect of Poe’s story arc. Overall I really enjoyed the ace pilot’s story in The Last Jedi, he learned that you can’t always “Jump in an X-Wing and blow something up” to solve your problems and that leadership can be cumbersome at times. The part I take issue with is Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s decision to withhold her plan to save the Resistance from total destruction. I understand that this was a story technique and it helped to further the film’s style of subverting the audience’s expectations by allowing us to side with Poe but then realizing that both he and we were wrong- but what did she gain from not informing the few people that were left alive? Alas, this is one small pet peeve surrounding this story arc. 3) Finn and Rose’s Canto Bight adventure. This part of the film, while being important in the larger scheme of the story, was a tad overlong in my opinion. I wasn’t as bothered as some critics have been with this segment of the film, but this does hurt the pacing of the film a bit. I feel that there were more efficient ways to get those story beats across without using up as much time as they did, they could have kept the main point of the story intact without sacrificing the mood of the film as a whole. Moving onward however, there is much more of the film that I enjoyed than what I did not.

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The opening space battle between the Resistance’s bombers against the Dreadnought Starship was exhilarating! Poe Dameron may have made poor leadership choices that led to massive Resistance losses, but damn was it an enjoyable and effective edge-of-your-seat sequence. From the overly red lit deck of the Dreadnought with a First Order Captain barking orders to the last second success of Rose’s sister, this scene was ecstatic and I loved it. From there we’re introduced to Luke Skywalker and his life on Ahch-To, the ocean planet with several islands dotting the surface. We’re greeted by an older and far more cynical Luke Skywalker that wants nothing to do with the Empire, Sith, the First Order or even Jedi newcomer Rey. Rey follows him around begging for direction and training but it isn’t until Luke boards the Millennium Falcon once more and finds R2-D2 waiting there that he finds a spark of hope. There are flashes of the old Luke Skywalker in this scene as he happily rejoices at seeing his old droid, but when R2 shows the hologram of Leia from a New Hope he chides his robot friend for pulling a “A cheap move”. This gets Luke to begin to guide Rey, though he isn’t exactly a cheery mentor.

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There are scenes and sequences throughout the remainder of the film that hint at, and sometimes outright say, what the theme of this film is- failure. Every arc or main character experiences failure in this film. From Rey leaving Ahch-To to heading straight to Kylo-Ren in order to attempt to turn him to the light side, to Finn and Poe being sent to Canto-Bight to retrieve a master code breaker but ultimately escaping with another code breaker that has no allegiances to the light side or the dark, there are massive failures throughout but as force-ghost Yoda pointedly tells Luke at one point (which may be my favorite scene in the film) “Failure, the best teacher is..”. It is what these characters learn from their failures that propels them through the third act. Luke’s part in the third act was right on point for me, he displayed new and mesmerizing powers of the force and had his cinematic journey book-ended with his first appearance in A New Hope. Luke Skywalker is again shown in a wide shot with two setting suns before vanishing to become one with the force.

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While there are no lightsaber on lightsaber fight scenes in this episode of the never-ending saga, a first for the series, there is one amazingly directed fight scene between Kylo-Ren, Rey, and Snoke’s Elite Praetorian guard (pictured above in the red) and it was a visual spectacle. The fight scene was also punctuated by the story elements surrounding it in which neither Rey or the audience know if Kylo-Ren has turned to the Light Side or merely seeking more power among the remains of the First Order. This takes place roughly about the same time in the film as Amilyn Holdo’s sacrifice which was another spellbinding moment of shear fantasy science fiction as she aimed the Resistance’s last major Starship directly at Snoke’s behemoth Star Destroyer. I have rarely been in a theater where a scene goes silent to the point of being able to hear audible jaws dropping at the spectacle of it all.

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While Finn was relegated to the back of this film’s attention he did get several moments to shine in. I honestly loved the short moment of Captain Phasma’s return and Finn’s subsequent victory against her. I say bring her back for the third one, why not? She got out of the Trash compacter of a planet sized base that was blown to smithereens- she can escape this death too!

Carrie Fisher’s scenes in this film were handled quite well. I believe she had finished all of her scenes by the time she had passed, which in itself was tragic and disheartening for all of us, but this film truly places her iconic character’s end in the hands of JJ Abrams’ ninth (and final?) installment in the episodic saga. She had a lot more to do in this film and personally, I wasn’t really bothered by her use of the force in this film, it was a unique scene and it added another layer to her silver screen legacy. Speaking of the force, personally, I found Kylo-Ren, Rey, and Luke’s evolution of using the force to be mysterious and exciting. I love that this film has made the force more mystical and magical once again, I am okay with an evolving interpretation of the force. Cue all the GIFs of Han Solo telling Finn “That’s not how the force works!” you want, I enjoyed this idea and hope it’s expanded on in episode nine.

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In the end, this is a film that has moments of greatness spattered amongst a decent Star Wars backdrop. This film is a little too long, a shade or two more uneven than The Force Awakens, and the humor doesn’t always mesh with the tone at hand or the spirit/feel of Star Wars- however, this film took chances and I like how the material was handled for the most part. Let’s face it, making a perfect Star Wars film is nearly impossible these days with the range of expectations that fans new and old bring to the theater with them, but this film was a damn good effort.

Final Score: 8 Episodes

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Review: The Singing Detective

Written by Dennis Potter and directed by Keith Gordon, “The Singing Detective” is an adaption of the television mini-series of the same name in the late 1980’s. This was Robert Downey Jr’s initial starring role after his drug rehab issues in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In fact Mel Gibson, who also stars in this film, helped to finance Downey’s involvement with “The Singing Detective” which follows Downey as Dan Dark, a pulp fiction author with a severe case of psoriatic arthropathy, a crippling disease of the skin and bones. During this latest flare-up of his disease Dark lays in his hospital bed in crippling pain dashing out mean spirited insults as fast as he can unleash them. He’s not in a good place physically, mentally, or emotionally. He frequently has feverish daydreams and hallucinations wherein his mind mixes reality with plot points and characters from his first novel, The Singing Detective. He has lost his anchor to his own past and sometimes misrepresents his past as one involving characters of his own creation, and other more recent events as a mixture of casting himself in the lead role of his story as a gumshoe detective that doubles as the lead singer of a 1940’s styled swing band.

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It’s definitely a strange combination of storylines and ideas, but in an odd and hallucinatory way, it kinda works. Dark can go from listening to his doctors discuss his illness and various procedures to imagining the various health experts bursting into song and dance as he’s whisked away on his wheeled bed through a heavily choreographed musical number ripped right from Hollywood’s golden age. His imagination knows no bounds though and his mind can bounce from overly sexualized dance numbers to himself dancing and singing onstage to a shootout between himself and the two criminal henchmen portrayed comedically and threateningly by Adrien Brody and Jon Polito. The weight of the story comes into play once Mel Gibson’s Dr. Gibbon is introduced, a psychiatrist known to play to the eccentricities of his patients. It is through his eventual work with Dr. Gibbon that Dark realizes that the inciting event of his childhood was witnessing his mother have sex with his father’s business partner, forever forging a deep mistrust and fervent paranoia of love and sexual connection.

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Dark’s main interests lie in his assumption that his ex-wife Nicola, played by the always brilliant Robin Wright, has had affairs with a man that Dark imagines as looking exactly like his father’s cheating business partner (Some actors play different roles throughout the film). She visits Dark in the hospital to bring up the news that his old screenplay adaption for The Singing Detective has attracted attention from a producer in Hollywood, but Dark only assumes the worst at first, she’s clearly looking for information from him so that she might steal his work and reap the dividends. Slowly, and after much prodding, Dark begins to lessen the sting of his verbal venom and ease into healing from the work with Dr. Gibbons. His body begins to gain strength and his lesions begin to recede. Not before his hallucinations all begin to combine and further warp his own interpretation of reality though. This film is an interesting exercise in telling a story through the perception of one character as his imagination informs his world and therefore shapes how he interacts with the people in the real world around him. Robert Downey Jr. steals the show for the most part, his cantankerous spirit here is most likely pulling from some of his own self discovery through rehab, lashing out at first before coming to peace in understanding himself and the process of healing. Though that’s pure speculation on my part. Mel Gibson hides in plain sight here as Dr. Gibbons in heavy make-up with a calm and guiding demeanor, differentiating this performance from most of his previous work.

There can be some painfully apparent lip-syncing for the musical numbers, but again, as most of the film is from Dark’s paranoid and warped perspective I can give that aspect some slack as oddities play into a lot of the scenes. Part homage to Noir crime films, part musical embracing a pastiche of classic Americana, and part self discovery through medical rehabilitation, “The Singing Detective” can be an array of jumbling tones and ideas at times, but shown through the prism of our wounded author Dan Dark, we get a unique if somewhat underwhelming film that’s worth a watch at the very least.

Final Score: 1 vocal gumshoe and 1 bedridden writer 

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Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram and directed by Ritchie, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a genre throwback to the bygone Bond era of spy films- to a time when characters like Bond made the most sense, the height of the Cold War. However this film, based on the popular television show of the same name airing in the 1960’s, has a twist on the suave American spy trope, pairing Henry Cavill’s C.I.A. agent Napoleon Solo with Armie Hammer’s Russian KGB muscle Illya Kuryakin to stop a threat greater than they pose to each other. Which is, of course, Nazis.

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The plot is simple enough, former Nazi scientists were not only scooped up by American intelligence after the war, but also by more sinister forces that seek an atomic bomb and the plans to create thousands more. This puts iron curtain enemies like the CIA and the KGB into a prickly situation, working together to thwart a greater evil for the greater good. The movie unfolds with a great opening action set-piece that showcases both Armie Hammer’s Illya and Cavill’s Solo quite well while providing a snappy sense of movement, Guy Ritchie’s sense of style shines in this scene and others like it later on. Which brings us to the potential negatives of the film. The characters and the plot are fairly serviceable but they don’t outright stun or awe. The performances, not to forget Alicia Vikander’s charming role as Gabby Teller the mechanic in West Berlin who gets wrapped up in these international spy-games, and the style of the direction are what makes this movie work. Particularly entertaining is the chemistry between the two leads Hammer and Cavill, if they had more time to flesh out the characters that they inhabit here these two could become more than they are, but I had fun with what we did get.

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I suppose it all depends on your level of expectation going into a film like this. I was looking for an entertaining spy genre flick. One with action, humor, thrills, maybe even a bit of wit and charm thrown in for good measure and for the most part, that’s what I got. This film worked for me. I’d even be ready to throw down some cold hard cash to see a sequel if another one came along. Who knows if that will happen, but I would gladly welcome another adventure with these characters.

Final Score: 2 spies, a couple nazis, and 1 atomic bomb