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Review Catch-Up: Fast and Furious presents, Hobbs and Shaw

Written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce and directed by David Leitch, “Hobbs and Shaw” is an action film spinoff from the Fast and Furious films chronicling the over-the-top antics of the Fast franchise’s two most memorable antagonists. Forced to work together to save the world from a MacGuffin that could inexplicably kill us all, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) must put their differences aside to track down the deadly super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba) and stop him from implementing this nefarious plan. Once the duo are on the hunt they run into Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent on the trail of the very same viral MacGuffin and ends up injecting it in her own body to get away with the super-weapon. As you might expect, the movie is a loud, dumb, and highly entertaining series of action set-pieces with some vehicular mayhem thrown in for good measure.

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are the reason to see this movie. Period. Their charisma, banter, and one-liners are pitch perfect and thoroughly entertaining throughout the whole runtime, no matter how massively stupid the plot or action sequences get (and trust me, they get VERY stupid). Vanessa Kirby was a pleasantly surprising addition to the cast offering, providing some solid action performing and that touch of heart you may need to remind you that you’re still human while watching this one. Though, admittedly, Hobbs’ scenes with his daughter (Eliana Sua) are damn cute, if fleeting. Charisma and Machismo are the fuel for this movie and everybody knows that, which is why I was overjoyed that Idris Elba let his performance as Brixton go so far over the top that it seemed appropriately cartoonish at times. Which is apt- this movie is an adult cartoon essentially, these super spies and international security agents are not men- but super heroes in suits and leather jackets. At least the movie is evidently self aware of it’s own absurdity- which forgives a LOT of it’s flaws and faults, for me anyways.

While the paper-thin (what are they doing again?) plot to save the world from imminent destruction may not be the most engaging, that’s not why anyone came to see this movie- at least it shouldn’t be. It’s all about the spectacle, set-pieces, and humor. If you enjoyed the older, but equally absurd, action movies of the 1980’s like “Commando”, “Rambo: First Blood Part 2”, “Robocop”, or “Top Gun” then you’ll likely get a kick out of this one. However, I must note that even a few of those movies I referenced have plotlines that are smarter than this one. There’s also a few fun surprise cameos that I won’t ruin for you, but they were delightful and perfect additions to this series.

The final act is a a complete mess when it comes to any kind of continuity. The final fight in Samoa has sequences of abject darkness in the early morning, to a raging storm, or a sunny day depending on the emotion they’re trying to convey for the shot. I have to say it’s absolutely ridiculous, but by this point they’ve earned the complete disregard of all reality. Whatever, I have no expectations of logic or physics at this point in the film series, I just want to be entertained with this completely fun and dumb guilty pleasure. While this film resides within the larger framework of “The Fast and Furious” world, I wouldn’t be surprised if this pairing became a franchise itself- I’d certainly go see a few more outings with these two powerhouse stars. There’s even rumors that Keanu Reeves may join a sequel if one musters up enough interest, and to that possibility I say, bring it on.

Final Score: 1,000 punches and 1 fist bump

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Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.

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So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”

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Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.

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The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.

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With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.

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Final Score: Infinite Avengers

THE CAST:
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull

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Review: Thor Ragnarok

*There are some mild spoilers in this review, but nothing too revealing*

Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost and directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor Ragnarok” is the third installment in the “Thor” franchise and easily one of the finest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming hot off the heels of Waititi’s last film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Ragnarok retains several actors from the kiwi adventure-comedy. Sam Neill shows up in a play on Asgard portraying Odin in a fun cameo while Waititi’s longtime collaborator Rima Te Wiata plays the role of the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) security guard on the trash planet of Sakaar. This is a Thor film that sheds the weight of past films while embracing the greater cosmic scale that earlier films like “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” had already accelerated. But how did we get to this place? Let’s rewind a second and take a look at the franchise as a whole.

The first two “Thor” films, while having their fair share of fans and being generally well received, aren’t always near the top of the average moviegoers personal favorites of the MCU thus far. I believe one of the main reasons that’s led to this film being such a drastic departure from Thor’s past films was that Marvel Studios now has the confidence to embrace the more obscure aspects of their material after the successes of “The Guardians of the Galaxy” and it’s sequel. Marvel seems to know the conversation surrounding their brand of movies and taken some criticisms to heart. The studio now seems to embrace the expectations that their logo inspires as they’ve turned the tables on the audience by playing against these expectations. Which only reinforces my opinion that if you’re going to go make a sci-fi fantasy film, just go for it. Be unique, go for the weird and the unknown and see what works and what doesn’t. As it turns out, throwing the incredible Hulk into the far reaches of outer-space to fight aliens in a gladiator arena, while also having Thor attempting to stop the mythical end of Asgard called ‘Ragnarok’, is a pretty damn good idea.

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Since we’re playing in the sandbox of gods and kings, mythology and science fiction, it makes sense to acknowledge just how silly all of this really is. Taika Waititi never discredits the past or tosses around cruel or barbed comedy though- it’s all in good fun and is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise. In fact this year’s three releases from Marvel have been increasingly better at pairing comedy with their films. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, “Spider-man Homecoming”, and this film all deftly weave comedy into their storylines without sacrificing quality or softening the threat of the villains of each story. I think it’s immensely important that neither James Gunn nor Taiki Waititi lost their comedic voices while engaging in the Marvel movie machine, Jon Watts might have also kept his comedic touches intact with the newest iteration of “Spider-Man” but I’m less familiar with his work. Though I’d be remiss not to mention the comedy gold in this film that is Korg, an alien gladiator made of rocks who also happens to be trapped on Sakaar-and portrayed by the director himself. If you’ve seen “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” imagine Ricky Baker as an alien rock gladiator- but with manners, and there you have it.

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So, there are essentially two things that made this film work as well as it did for me, the performances and the visuals. In various films throughout history there have been scene stealing actors or characters that charm us, fill our lungs with laughter, or terrify our very hearts-but this film is loaded those moments. There wasn’t a single character that overshadowed the rest of the cast. Each seemed to have something to contribute to the story or to keep the pace swiftly bouncing along with a joke or an escalation of violence that underlined the characters’ need to keep moving in the right direction. Taika Waititi has said that one of his chief intentions with the property was to make Thor the most interesting character in his own movie. This is something he succeeds in doing by stripping the character down, removing his hammer, forcing a new look upon the character, and dropping him in new environments with an earned confidence. The additions of Doctor Strange and Bruce Banner’s Hulk also have merit as they remain consistent while moving the various characters forward in development. Strange immediately whisks Loki away after the brothers arrive on Earth looking for Odin-a sign that he’s been studying and honing his craft of Sorcerer Supreme since his film’s end. Just as the Hulk has become a fully formed character after staying in his green form for two years while fighting, and winning, battles on Sakaar. New additions to the franchise weren’t ignored or phoned in either as Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has a fully formed story arc that builds on Asgard’s past and towards it’s future. Cate Blanchett’s Hela was a fun creation of dangerous and menacing, though while there was some chewing some of the scenery at times, she remained a threat and clearly had fun on the production. Even Karl Urban’s Skurge, mostly a comedic relief character, has a complete arc across the film. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster was a joy to watch though, perfectly becoming an amalgamation of the audience’s perception of Goldblum, a playful nod to his own film past, while also becoming the character as opposed to the character becoming a riff on Goldblum’s own tendencies. Idris Elba also returned as Heimdall, everyone’s favorite all seeing Asgardian. This time around he’s been an outcast of Loki’s rule on Asgard and leads a secret resistance against Hela’s invasion while sporting a costume fit for Aragorn’s Strider from “Fellowship of the Ring”.

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Which brings me to the visuals. Personally, I loved the blending of the science fiction and fantasy locales and vistas of the film. I never thought there would be a day when I would see the Incredible Hulk suplex-ing an undying giant wolf on the rainbow bridge of Asgard. That is something that’s outright amazing to me, and maybe that won’t do it for everyone, but I loved it nontheless. Everything from the barrage of colors on Sakaar to the fiery lava fields of Muspelheim from the opening scene to the vibrant earthy tones of Asgard were a dazzling visual feast. I also really loved the way Valkyrie’s backstory was shot with the Pegasus riding female warriors launching an attack against Hela years prior. It reminded me of the painting scene in Wonder Woman, but with more slow paced action taking place onscreen. Skurge also received this perspective while leaping from a spaceship into a crowd of undead Asgardians and wielding two AK-47s. The film as a whole was a joy to watch from beginning to end. This is the third film of Taika Waititi’s that I’ve seen and I will most assuredly be seeking out all that remains as soon as possible. This film was quite and enjoyable time and I highly recommend it. Though, if you’re not on the Marvel Studios bandwagon by now this one probably won’t sway you.

Final Score: Four Asgardian Gods and a Hulk

 

 

 

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Monday Movie Pitch [On a Tuesday]: Expendables 4

First of all apologies for the late Movie Pitch this week, occasionally life can take precedence, and this week it did just that. Enough with the speed bumps however because this week I have a tantalizing pitch that I’ve been stewing over for quite some time now: The next iteration of “The Expendables” Franchise.

On the whole I’ve enjoyed “The Expendables” movies but as they continue the movies have an increasingly cumbersome issue with each episodic adventure. Each movie feels like just like the other but with different palettes of actors or explosive situations. It could be said that Marvel Studios films are getting somewhat into this same issue of overly consistent tone, but that’s a whole other issue in itself. As far as I’m concerned Sly and the Gang need to up the ante and change things up big time in the next movie or the franchise will die, especially given the horrific box office of last year’s third entry in the action heavy series. Granted, the numbers were particularly low because of the movie being leaked online two weeks before the release date, but any way you slice it 6 million for an opening weekend with the amount of star power involved just doesn’t add up. That’s simply bad news for everyone involved.

What I would do to revitalize the series is to play to the crowd of the audience, pitting the older action stars up against impossible odds, odds of a particular magnitude. Introduce a superhero into the mix. It’s the perfect direction for the series to reassert itself among the crowded super-powered market with a unique perspective. The trick is to cast a powerhouse in this role, somebody that’s charismatic, able to do action/CGI sequences well, and bring audiences along with him. That man should be nobody other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

I can already see the general outline of the plot. Act one has the Expendables sent to take out a young dictator on the world stage that has gotten unwisely bombastic with his nuclear weapon potential. North Korean assumptions can obviously be made here. Have Stallone and the team knock the palace doors down only to be out-staged by this new incredible force. They’re all out of the job after this sequence of events as the “hero” attempts to do as much as possible for humankind in eradicating war and instituting world peace. Eventually he must become either mad with power or deduce that he should be the earth’s sole leader because multiple sovereign nations will only ever result in war and discord. This is where the Expendables become important once more. After multiple countries attempt to nuke the Superman-like hero, and fail, the secret agencies that have been hiring the Expendables since day one step in and introduce some plot device or perceived weakness etc whatever they can do to trick, reason with, or kill the hero.

We could play into the otherworldly alien hero raised among humanity to save/destroy us storyline but that Superman “skin” has been used countless times as is. I prefer a “radiation/accidental act that transforms the everyday man” sort of event for this central character’s origin. For international appeal, and to make more sense for the global scale of the story, including new additions to the Expendables team from other nations would only help the formation of the group.

My top choices for additions to shake up the core team are as follows:

Jackie Chan: I’ve personally wanted JC in this franchise from the beginning since his contemporary Jet Li has had a spot on each film, small as they may have been. I shouldn’t have to explain why this would be a great deal of fun. Especially if he is against the use of guns.

Kurt Russell: Adding Kurt Russell to any movie is a wise decision in my opinion but he’s proven he’s ready to get back into the limelight with his “Furious 7” and “Hateful eight” roles and I’m sure any role they craft for him would be a blast.

Nicholas Cage: The franchise has gotten a bit ridiculous and if they want to be self aware and referential then adding in Nic Cage would be the just desserts. Especially if they need anyone to go crazy. He could be a conspiracy nut that knows everything on Dwayne Johnson’s character. Woody Harrelson would also fit this type of role… or Charlie Day, but that’s just because I love Charlie Day and will gladly advocate more roles for him.

Laurence Fishburne: The man that made Morpheus work has a certain gravitas to himself that would only help to bring balance to the team, plus he’s proven himself many times over the years for the type of work this film would likely entail.

Tom Cruise: Incredibly unlikely I know, but maybe they could squeeze an extended cameo sequence out of him similarly to how they utilized Chuck Norris in the second flick?

Charlie Hunnam: After “Pacific Rim” and “Sons of Anarchy” he could definitely be comfortable with a gun and growl, plus Stallone seems to enjoy the idea of “Young Blood” being added to the team.

Vin Diesel: Between saying “I am Groot” a hundred times and driving off of cliffs Diesel might be too busy to take on another franchise role anytime soon but no one can deny how much he could bring to the table in this sort of setting.

Idris Elba: Citing “Luther”, “Pacific Rim”, and his recurring “Thor” roles it comes to be seen that not only does Elba have a propensity for genre fair, but he’s a damn fine actor that can handle a one liner, or a monologue. Give that man a gun already!

Gerard Butler: “Shoot ’em up” alone has given this man enough action film cred to be involved in this series, let alone his glorious “300” role as King Leonidas. Give that man a sword, or a gun, or both- and let him have at it!

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I seriously doubt he would even want to take on this caliber of role, but his choice of the villain in the upcoming “Dr. Strange” film opens the conversation for more ridiculous options than the Oscar level work he’s currently being more associated with.

A few other recommendations for this film:

Make it a Hard “R” rating. All, or at least most of, the actors in the franchise come from action series where they are almost constantly killing hordes of bad guys in the process of achieving their goals, let them be who they want to be. Let the movie be what it wants to be too, going PG-13 for a wider audience only alienates the core audience that clamors for this type of movie anyways. Oh and cut the CGI blood splatter and terribly awful renderings of tanks and helicopters, we can all see how terrible it is and in the year 2015 we shouldn’t have to see blatant budget choices every time a bad guy bites the dust.

Put Stallone back in the director’s chair again. I stand by the fact that the original Expendables was the best in the series. While I enjoyed the second one there were clear losses of vision and expertise on several levels that Sly had covered in the first piece. Granted I know this series is not known for Oscar nominated performances or the world’s most stunning cinematography, but the first film excelled in areas where the sequels lacked. Having Stallone back in the saddle again might alleviate these issues and help to keep the tone and feel he wants consistent with what ends up being the wide release version.

Kill one of the main characters. They are called the Expendables after all, right? At this point in the game a death in the family, and I mean a meaningful death *SPOILERS* not what we got in two where a newcomer is introduced and killed two scenes later. It would be a good motivator for the team, but it only works emotionally for the audience if we’ve invested in the character. I nominate Dolph Lundgren’s character. He’s gone through a lot in the series and it would maker sense thematically to painfully cut that chord. Nothing against Lundgren though- he’s great.

All in all this could be a potentially huge game changer for this series if pulled off well. Obviously there needs to be a lot more thought put into Dwayne Johnson’s character to make sure he is overwhelming but not omnipotent as well as pacing issues, and having enough for the action guys to do what they do best, shoot, cut, blow up, and punches to the face! Hopefully Sly can make the next one work because I enjoy the series and love the talent involved, its because of this that I want each installment to be better than the last. That’s my movie pitch for this week!