Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk

Spoiler-free.

That Dunkirk is a great piece of filmmaking is no surprise. That it is immaculately crafted in Nolan's palpable style, that it's a beautiful and loud, that it's an intense and visceral experience; all things expected. I honestly expected that it would be every bit as well-made a film as it truly is, and from a technical aspect, as flawless as they come. I expected to feel and appreciate it's worth, but, as with so many other films of its type, to not be able to form a personal attachment to it; its story or its characters. That I would be impressed and pleased, but untouched; approving and satisfied, but aloof. As the movie continues to sink in, my surprise continues to grow, because this wartime epic is sinking straight into my heart.

"You can practically see it from here." "What?" "Home."


Unconventional in style, Dunkirk gets a non-linear timeline from writer/director that evokes a similar reaction to what we got with his sci-fi movies like Inception. The "what's going on?"'s and the quiet gasps of realization as pieces fall into place are unexpected in a true-event war film, but the three overlapping timelines made pacing a breeze, and the film feel like a concise and stand-alone story, instead of a small piece of the giant big-picture that is WWII. Executing the story with precision and minimal exposition, Nolan counts on the intelligence of his audience, and that feeling of confidence, all too lacking in all too many movies, is most welcome.

The oddest thing about this film is its characters. While labeling 's character of Tommy (so named in the credits but never mentioned in the film) as the lead is the most accurate thing to do, really the movie declines to adhere to traditional film-character guidelines such as lead or secondaries, heroes or villains, revealing names, or even conducting well-rounded character arcs. Characters come and go and we are served a brief glimpse into their lives within this crisis. Tommy gets lead status from me not simply because he's most present throughout the film, but more because his essence reflects the movie's tone, so even in the corners of the story the character doesn't literally observe, the film consistently feels as though it's shown through his eyes. If any character is important to the film, even as it doesn't rely on character, it's him.

His face is striking, and gorgeous in the cinematography, but, that's not what makes him the best pick to be the film's poster-child.

The timeline he belongs to is the longest and most filled with familiar faces. and are often by his side, and and are in command on the beach. In the second timeline civilian captains a yacht to the rescue. He is wonderful, and the two boys assisting him ( and ) are excellent. 's harrowing character is just called "shivering soldier." The third timeline is in the sky with heroic and his wing-man . Performances are all-around excellent; subtle and exceptionally real. And characterization is such as each soldier who wanders through the frame bestows that feeling you get when you pass a stranger on the street, and are suddenly acutely aware that they have a life of their own that you'll never understand. Though we often don't get to see it, we know there's more to them.

Visually the film is spectacular and intimate, giving an epic, raw experience that has that "like you're really there" feeling like nothing else I've seen. Shots from the air, showing off the distant ocean as planes chase each other down, took my breath away. And my ears are still stinging from the explosions of gunfire. I hated watching people drown, and I felt like cheering out loud in the moments of elation, relief and success. And importantly, I never felt prodded to feel those things. Nolan had no underlying agenda here; he just told his story and made it something worth witnessing, leaving us to understand, judge and love characters, and come to conclusions on our own. Hand-holding has no place in this film's style, and point-making within such complexity is arrogant and cheapening.

The emotions in this movie are as un-fabricated and honest as fiction can be.

Sweeping and intimate, deafening and still, distant and involving, Nolan has again broken convention to tell a story, and the result is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind piece of art. Tense, suspenseful, terrifying; everything it's expected to be. Poignant, complex, and sincere; everything it needed to be. A beautiful assault on the senses. Dunkirk defies the odds, breaks the rules, and becomes something extraordinarily special and magnificently rare; but is, at the end of the day, simple to define: an outstanding war film.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Mild Spoilers.

Though we may be sick of all the rebooting this character has been subjected to, Sony has buckled down and teamed up with Marvel to prove that everyone's favorite web-slinger is far from being used up. It's easy to say Marvel is saving Sony here, giving Spidey a ready-made world to inhabit, but it's just as true that Sony is helping Marvel, lending them a ready-made lovable character that fits into their world like a webbed glove.

Spider-Man is pretty much the best thing ever, isn't he? It certainly seems like it right now!

is our Friendly Neighborhood You Know What, and after our sneak preview via Civil War, it's no surprise that he's this movie's most valuable commodity. He has that genuine but kinda awkward quality that Maguire had, and the nervous energy of Garfield without overdoing it to the point of (too much) pain, plus adding a new element of actually being believable as a teenager. Holland settles into the role with ease and confidence, delivers the cheesy lines when it's called for, and lets loose on the drama in impressive fashion. I hoped but hardly expected this to be a role for him to show off acting chops; turns out it was, and the opportunities were neither wasted nor overdone. In short, Holland's Peter is a well-meaning sweetheart and impossible not to love.

One of the most pleasant choices this film made was to limit the role of Tony Stark (). They needed conflict between him and Peter as Peter wants to become a full-time Avenger but Stark doesn't have the time or the confidence in his maturity to comply. I was fittingly very happy to see Happy Hogan () cast as a intermediary for this conflict, babysitting Peter and ignoring his texts and calls for an even lower blow to the kid's morale. Then it's all the more devastating when the big man does show up to deal out punishment when Peter messes up. It's a scary and effective absent-father and son type dynamic.

It was nice actually, because May didn't have to be the antagonistic parent-type. Stark fit the part perfectly.

Aunt May () then takes a parental backseat, though she and Peter have a handful of sweet scenes together that help ground the film. Peter's best friend is Ned () who works foremost and most effectively as a sounding board for Peter, and only secondarily has a few fun things to do for himself. Peter's crush is Liz () and my pants would spontaneously combust if I said I didn't enjoy the mess out of the teen-flick rom-com elements her character created. No glorious cliche was left un-reveled in, and every irritating cliche was left undisturbed. But don't forget Michelle () who was a darkly sarcastic cynic on par with April Ludgate, and as such I loved her immediately with zero inhibitions. She was underused plot-wise, but has a promising future. even gets a fun cameo role for the fans.

is the film's villain, Toomes, and the movie started out boldly giving its entire opening to him. It established him as a man in a sympathetic situation who makes the not heroic choice, falling down the slippery slope of immorality into villainy. It's typical of Marvel, but their best villain formula and done particularly well in the capable hands of Keaton. He finds an excellent balance of sympathy and evil, and digs in deep for plenty of content fantastically disturbing and conflictingly sad. In the Vulture costume there's not much besides the menace, and the physical fights between him and Spider-Man are only great when grounded by their emotional and moral conflict. The scenes of mere conversation between them were much more compelling, and fortunately were heavily featured.

About as good a Marvel villain as one could hope for. He gets the job done memorably.

One of my favorite things this movie did, and the lead-in for my least favorite thing is how Homecoming felt like a behind-the-scenes Avenger type film. It starts it pointedly with Peter's phone-video Civil War experience, and does a great job keeping it up throughout. Toomes begins the film cleaning up after the Chitari. We see Peter in school before we see him as Spider-Man, and before we get to watch him stop petty crimes, he takes a minute to change clothes for his "after school job" in a back alley, and the real-life element this (and other similar moments) lends is brilliant; amusing comedy plus a solid foundation, making the fantastical elements easy to swallow.

Classic Spider-Man cliches have fun poked at them in winking good humor (upside down kiss?), or are used in such a straightforward way that they lose their contrivance. Spidey must fight the climactic battle sans mask, but instead of contriving some complicated reason or way for it to come off, he just takes it off! And most reliving to me, his ditching friends and school to fight crime without explanation doesn't cause undue repercussions. People get mad at him, but his absence never ruins anything but his reliability. When the movie was in this space, I was on cloud nine, watching it dodge every oncoming bullet so nimbly and cheekily. But once or twice it shoots itself in the foot out of nowhere.

The movie is directed by Jon Watts and was written by him and five other writers. Disconnect makes sense.

The first time was in a no-man's-land section of act two, where after disabling Stark's "training wheel" program in Peter's suit he is overwhelmed with too many new features right before a fight. It's played for comedy and tries to squeeze fifteen laughs out of what should have been two. Irritatingly, Peter is deprived of all common sense to let it happen. Later he takes a few minutes to learn about the new features, and from there it's actually cool. The second time is in the ending. Right after a wonderfully small-scale and character-driven battle, we and Peter are introduced to the new Avengers facility and are supposed to be wowed by Tony's wit and gadgets when all we want and need is a resolution for Peter's character arc. We get it, but it feels distracted and too frivolous. It could have been done much more effectively in a grounded and quiet scene between Peter and Tony, but sadly the need to refer to Marvel! and The Avengers! overruled.

Spider-Man does fall victim to the classic Marvel-production-line-blockbuster problem, but even considering the couple of blatant missteps and sporadic minor stumbles it hardly seems fair to say "fall victim" because few movies have handled the cut-and-paste formula so comfortably. Jokes land at an average Marvel ratio, but failed jokes don't irritate; lively performances breathe life into the tired script; and the assembly-line action sequences are yet again responsible for turning in fun, if generic, visual thrills. The plot formula is at home here, successfully creating a story that builds interest and is better at the end than it is at the beginning. And the third act is the most spectacular wish-fulfilling thing I've seen in a superhero flick in a terribly long time.

Sixteen Candles with a superhero lead? If it had stuck closer to that it might have been incredible.

I remember reading that the idea was to make a John Hughes-esque flick, and the moments where that came across on screen were by far the best -- quiet, heartfelt moments, that never seemed to last long enough, and subtle details presented with tact. Distractions occurred, so it's half a Marvel flick and half an every-teen dramedy, and somehow it finds a semblance of balance, and the combo holds together, say, 97% of the way. At times exactly and miraculously what it should be, at times falling to temptation; one thing at least is sure: missteps and mistakes may happen, but Spider-Man has a big heart, and Spider-Man put it in the right place.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - July

Well -- June was a fantastic month! Firstly Wonder Woman (review!) came and raised the bar for DC superhero films which was lovely and refreshing. Then I got Logan (review!) on Bluray and it made me forget that I was tired of superhero movies by being a superhero movie that felt nothing like a superhero movie. It became my pick for best film of the year, but then lost the spot again a couple weeks later. To Baby Driver (review!), from which I am still rocking and reeling! It was not only the highlight of June as I predicted, but also the highlight of the year. If anything manages to top it, 2017 will be a seriously impressive movie-year.

After Baby Driver, it feels like the summer can finally get started, but now, July is looking almost skimpy. There's two films that I'm definitely interested in, but not much else worth mentioning. First things first: I gotta get another view of Baby Driver taken care of, and then we'll see if anything can turn my head for a significant amount of time!

What's your favorite film of the year so far? And what's in your movie plans for July? I hope you're all having a great summer!



Spider-Man: Homecoming
July 7th; PG-13
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man! We already know that Tom Holland is perfect for Spidey and Peter Parker from Civil War, so up to a certain point, there's no need to worry. Characterization is all but guaranteed to be spot-on, and that is a huge confidence boost. If this flick is anything like the Spidey scenes from Civil War it'll be better than Civil War! And still, I worry. Mostly about the plot, because that is the part that currently looks ambiguous and possibly a bit too generic. And from this trailer, I worry that Tony Stark has too big a role. I'd really hate for him to distract, and I'd really like it if this movie (being only half-Marvel) could distance itself just a tad from the "MARVEL!" genre, which is growing ever-more tired with every rehashing film release. Early reviews are significantly positive, but if you don't mind, I'm gonna be nervous about this one. There's a lot riding on those narrow shoulders, and I want the kid to do a good job!




A Ghost Story
July 7th(limited); R
So this is pretty weird. A romantic drama about a husband who dies and haunts his grieving and unaware wife as a sheet-ghost. Complete with black holes over the eyes and everything. Did I say "pretty weird"? I meant "very extremely weird and actually very creepy, why is this film a romance and not a horror?" Really, the trailer to me is scarier than most horror film trailers. I don't get it. It's an art house type thing, and supposedly is about love and loss and similar abstract, existential things. I guess it gets points for being creative, but as to convincing me to watch it, I'm less likely to go for it now than I was when I didn't know it existed! Still it's so odd I had to mention it.




War for the Planet of the Apes
July 14th; PG-13
I could say that with where the plot of this movie is, the last movie wasn't really necessary, but that's kinda silly because the whole series is pretty unnecessary -- plus I get a feeling that Dawn will be my favorite installment in the end... such as it is. On a technical level these movies are actually interesting and pretty impressive, but that's it. On a story-telling, entertaining level it's laughable how unaware these movies are of their own ridiculousness. It's camp-central. Yet the movies only get more and more serious as their head gets further and further in the sand. A spark of life or even a tiny hint of joy would do wonders, but the bloated, self-important seriousness is obvious, and not even in the same universe as my cup of tea. I suppose these movie were meant for a person who is not me, and to whoever that might be, I'll leave you to it!




Dunkirk
July 21st; PG-13
I think this is an excellent story for Christopher Nolan to tell; a true story that his style can add cinematic intensity to. After Interstellar it should be nice for him to be held back a bit by reality. This also looks to be an excellent film to play "Spot that British Actor" with! One of my favorite games. Just from the trailer we have Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Those I expect will be the easy ones. Also I know Harry Styles is in this, but to be honest I don't know what he looks like enough to recognize him, and I'm thinking maybe I should keep it that way. Anyway, the movie has a lot of hype, it's an interesting story I've never seen before, and there doesn't seem to be much question of whether or not it'll be good. I'm not much worried, and won't be surprised to find myself in a theater in a few weeks watching it! Although, as a girl going to a war movie, maybe I should make myself a t-shirt that says "I'm NOT here for Harry."




Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
July 21st; PG-13
Please tell me -- am I the only one who reads this title as if I'm Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy? "A City of A THOUSAND PLANETS." It makes it sound super epic. Look, I've said it before, I'll say it in the future, and I'm saying it now -- I'm a sucker for scifi movies. And this movie is definitely a scifi movie. However I must admit that I have no expectation of it actually being a great movie. I'd love to be proved wrong, but for now, it's good enough for me that it's of the genre it is of, plus Dane DeHaan is pretty cool. I very strongly dislike Cara Delevingne though, to put it nicely. But if the movie turns out how I expect, then being irritated by her will be part of the charm. Prediction: visually spectacular; otherwise spectacularly short. If my expectations are correct I will look forward to seeing this -- not in theaters.




The Emoji Movie
July 21st; PG
Haha, just kidding.

Happy July everyone!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Baby Driver

Spoiler-free!

is Baby. Baby likes two things and dislikes one -- music and driving, and talking. He's a getaway driver for Doc () a mastermind of bank heists. Doc likes to switch up his teams, but he's been working with Baby for a long time. Some of the hired thieves are unnerved by their driver's penchant for silence filled with groovy tunes. Like Griff (), he's a little gruff, and Bats (), he's crazy. But others, like the married couple Darling and Buddy ( and ) get it -- sometimes you need to have that killer track. is a diner waitress named Debora. She likes Baby, and he likes her. Now he likes three things, and that's when the trouble begins.

B-A-B-Y, Baby.

The movie is written and directed by . He likes music too, and stylish movies, so he made a movie to the beat of some cool music. He called it "Baby Driver," and set it once upon a pair of wheels.

Only Edgar Wright can make a film with hype this big and still deliver a movie so charmingly aloof from the pressures of expectations. The enlightened few who have seen his Cornetto Trilogy are a people crazy for exceptional movies, and expected no less from Wright's latest experimental effort. Wright is not in the business of fan service, and thank goodness, because making movies he thinks are good inconsiderate of others' potential opinions is the best way for him to serve his fans and uninitiated viewers alike.

Wright cuts off potential doubts and criticisms at the pass by opening the film with firm establishment of the film's tone, style, and character of its lead in the first five minutes, saying, "this is how this movie is gonna be." And with a smile on our slack-jawed expression and our toe tapping to the beat, we adjust our expectations accordingly. Then he does it again in the next three minutes. The rest of the movie, so perfectly grounded by the cold open could have gone in any direction with me happily in tow, but in the end the direction it takes is one of, well, direction.

The plot isn't at all complex, but it takes us where we want to go.

Comedy is put into the details as a highlight, and fun is a constant because what's a film that isn't entertaining, but then the underlying base of this film is high-stakes, important, and often intense. It has heart, it has meaning, and there are smart themes to appreciate. This is mostly due to writing that is brilliantly aware of the movie as whole even in the midst of smaller scenes, able to thoughtfully connect it all in ways invisible until the conclusion of the picture. Sure the film might only exist because someone was inspired to set a movie to music instead of the usual reverse, but then effort was put into making the story worth telling even beyond the wacky gimmick. The result is a flick that confidently stands alone, supporting its elements instead of leaning on them.

Another important conductor of the film's compelling nature is Ansel Elgort. In true form for Baby, Elgort wins us over without having to say a word. He immediately proves he's capable of handling the film's action and cheekily comedic elements, and performs precisely timed choreography to the music with gleeful aplomb. In short, the kid is adorable, and the movie is better for his presence. On the dramatic and dialogued side of Baby, he takes on a stoic demeanor and gets to underplay with just enough subtlety. Lily James is also adorable, and the two were probably incapable of not being cute together. Debora is less of a player in plot as she is a motivator of it, with not a lot of screen time, but certainly makes the best of what she has.

A simplistic but extraordinarily charming romance.

Other supporters feel no less characterized and caricatured. Kevin Spacey is cool and confident with a splash of complexity. Jamie Foxx is fun and always unexpected with his unstable and batty Bats. Jon Hamm becomes surprisingly sympathetic, perhaps because of his innate charm. And Eiza González's Darling is an insanely likeable chick. Details like tattoos on Darling and Buddy that read "his" and "hers" are present for gleaning more out of the characters if you so desire. It adds an implied history, enriching the characters, even if specifics are left out. Everyone involved plays comedy and drama inseparably in classic Wright fashion -- the way humor and light charm can enhance seriousness is not lost on him, and it is applied with complete disregard to screen time, making even side characters full and compelling.

But good characters or not, this movie's full focus is on action. Obviously, there are car chases, and there are gun fights, and other things you'd expect from a movie about bank robbers, but there's also some unconventional action, in the form of scene business done in rhythm with the music. As exciting as the car stunts and shootouts are -- always set memorable locations and performed and shot for maximum entertainment -- it's those precise scenes of specific and casual movement done in difficult long takes that impress with their style and the ease with which they come off on screen. The true shoot-'em-up action never forgets the music either, and while it's more sporadically synchronized, synchronized it still is. It is a thing glorious to behold and thrilling to experience.

I loved it at ten seconds in. What's really impressive is that the longer it ran the more I loved it.

I sometimes despair that the art of filmmaking has reached its limit and nothing will be original anymore, and then a movie like this gem will come along and restore my hope. Masterfully crafted out of a spectacular passion for filmmaking, and using all the elements of the art to push the limit to groundbreaking places, Edgar Wright and Baby Driver puts music in our ears, spectacle before our eyes, and a love affair in our hearts. My love of music and movies is refueled.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Host

Sometimes I watch movies and don't review them. I'm unsure why I'm not doing that in this case, because to be perfectly honest I'm not exactly proud that I watched this one. That is to say, it's downright embarrassing, and one of my more shameful movie choices. I knew what I was getting into, yet here we are. Why did I watch it, you ask? Let me paint you a picture:

It was the night after I watched Logan for the first time, and the rest of my family was not ready to watch it again. I was (and for the record still am) freshly enamored with the easy to love and fun to hate snide chatterbox of a villain of Logan, and the actor who played him, Boyd Holbrook. A quick perusal of his IMDb page informed me that I had only seen him in one movie previously, (A Walk Among the Tombstones, where he had a small role I barely noticed) and was in three more movies I immediately knew I had easy access to. And one, as you've probably guessed by now, was The Host, which I had casually plopped into my Netflix cue on the excuse that it was an film, with a vague inclination to watch it if I had nothing better to do and was in the mood to kill some brain cells. It's amazing how fast a vague inclination can turn into a legit interest with the proper incentive. I was like, "hey, let's watch this," and in my defense, no one protested.

And in their defense they liked this guy in Logan as much as I did.

But enough of the disclaimers. Movie review. The Host. I feel like the most accurate review I can make is to give a hearty laugh while waving my hand dismissively, but I'm a writer, so I suppose I should try and put it in words.

Spoilers beyond!

In the movie, Earth has been invaded by parasitic aliens who posses humans and take over their lives. At the very beginning, our heroine Melanie (), a human rebel is caught and possessed by an alien called Wanderer, who, it turns out is nice -- unlike the villain () -- and when Melanie's mind refuses to leave the body to the invader, the two form an unconventional friendship. Wanderer gets to control the body, and Melanie yells things in her head. Wanderer turns to Melanie's side and runs away in search of Melanie's brother () and hunk boyfriend (). She finds them along with her uncle () and other human survivors -- including a good looking dude named , I mean Ian, and his brother Kyle AKA (AKA "oh yeah, that's why I'm watching this") -- who have a cute little community going on in some caves in the desert. Melanie's family assumes that she is dead, but conveniently decides not to kill the alien possessing her. Meanwhile Melanie inconveniently decides that telling them she's still inside is a bad idea, so Wanderer keeps quiet about it, causing some very convenient drama.

You can tell the possessed because the alien parasite makes their eyes glow blue. Also probably worth mentioning; wrote the novel.

If you're thinking this doesn't make any sense, that's because you're right, it doesn't. The aliens are pacifists, trying to make the worlds they conquer peaceful, yet more often than not possession kills the host. (Hey, that's the name of the movie!) They're so "pure" we're told, they are incapable of picking up a gun. The villain is, however, conveniently able to for some magical reason, and shoots and kills people which in the movie's eyes make her infinitely worse than every other alien who kills by kicking souls out of bodies. This issue is brought up by "antagonistic" human characters to create conflict, but is never resolved.

For their part, the humans will go out, kidnap aliens, and forcibly remove the alien soul, which has a 100% fatality rate for both parties. They don't know how to remove the soul properly, but don't know what else to do, so they keep trying. This I suppose could balance the morality of both sides, making them equally wrong, but instead what the humans are doing is presented as barbaric. It never seems to dawn on Wanderer (Wanda for short, who's really the main character) that what her people are doing is at least equally terrible. Anyway the movie uses the conflict for drama when it wants and ignores it when it wants. On to lighter, sillier things.

Ship ship ship ship ship ship ship ship ship ship ship ship...

Love triangles! Yay. Actually it isn't quite. Melanie and Jared are consistently in love, but it's super awkward for him seeing "Melanie" walking around not being Melanie... especially when something starts growing between Wanda and Ian. The more you think about this the weirder it gets, because Wanda is literally just a parasite that is thousands of years old. Ian insists that he fell in love with her mind, but why in the world should their minds be compatible? And she could have fallen in love with anyone, why the guy who is a good physical match for her? Also he tried to kill her, but bygones I guess, or, whatever.

So with Jared being possessive of the girl who looks like and is possessing his girl, and the girl who looks like his girl liking someone else, but being hesitant to do anything about it because the real girl is in her head yelling at her not to, things really do feel like a love triangle; only, one that was created to have a happy ending for all involved. Yes, this scifi plot exists for the sole (soul!) purpose of enabling ideal romantic situations for its characters. It's truly amazing how many situations are contrived to bring about kissing too. I am actually impressed. It was as if that, and not the plot or the characters were the point of the movie or something. Odd, but that couldn't be, right?

Hahahaha... ha... RIGHT??

Now I'm going to talk about Kyle even though he's pretty insignificant to the plot and the entire point of the movie, because, I want to. He's the main human antagonist, which is an unnecessary and therefore small part, but I watched this movie because of him, and danged if he wasn't the best part. At one point he tries to kill Wanda, but plagued by the convenient writing, almost dies himself instead. Wanda saves him (against Melanie's protests) and then even lies about what happened to protect him from punishment. This is a good moment for Wanda, and also for him, and I enjoyed Holbrook's performance in that scene as the bad guy who suddenly finds he has to rethink everything after being given some unexpected and very undeserved grace.

Overall the entire cast isn't bad either, but campy writing can bring a bad performance out of anyone. Saoirse Ronan's Wanda was a good lead, but Melanie is underdeveloped. Being a disembodied voice for the majority of the movie did her no favors. She has decent chemistry with her two co-stars, which was important for what the film wanted to be. Jake Abel's Ian was much more interesting than Max Irons' Jared, who was about as blank as Melanie, even with screen time. Ian and Wanda were fundamentally more interesting because of the way we get to see their relationship develop. It ends with a bit of a cringe though, because while Ronan and Abel had chemistry, Abel and did not -- she being the empty body that Wanda is transferred to in the twist ending, giving Melanie hers back. Browning was only there a couple minutes, but was spectacularly incapable of convincing that she was the most developed character in the film once she took over.

That twist ending should have won an award for Most Obvious Twist Ending Ever.

This review is already way longer than it deserves to be, so I guess I'll wrap up. The movie succeeds in being what it was conceived and designed to be. Oxymoronic connoisseurs of YA romance are perfectly catered to, and as long as they have no perception of what actual good, artistic filmmaking looks like, satisfaction is guaranteed. The small part of me that enjoys teenage romance flicks was mildly amused. The scifi fan in me was both intrigued (by the premise) and irritated (by the lazy and one-note direction it took). And the movie reviewer-me is absolutely appalled at the senseless plotting and cheap scripting used to contrive laughable romance, but still had fun cracking up at all those unintentionally hilarious moments this movie deals out like glowing blue eyes and pointless make-out sessions. In conclusion: It was a terrible movie, and time well spent!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Logan

Spoiler-free.

I finally got the Blu-ray and watched Hugh Jackman's last run as The Wolverine, and I am here to confirm that it is indeed an R-rated superhero film. I also believe that it is an ideal R-rated superhero film. Mainly because it doesn't stop at being R-rated, and it doesn't stop at being a superhero film. It understands that those things alone cannot a great film make, and like its hero, it does not stop.

My copy also came with a black and white "noir" version. Looking forward to watching that.

I always find that the best superhero flicks are what you might call "superhero plus." Examples: Guardians of the Galaxy; superheroes plus space opera. Ant-Man; superhero plus heist film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier; superhero, spy film. It's a good way to make your comic book film stand out in this tired and over-saturated market, and the further you veer from "superhero" to "plus" the more naturally original the film appears to be. And now, here's Logan -- a western film, in everything except the almost throwaway fact that Logan is a superhuman mutant.

He's not even invulnerable anymore as the Adamantium that makes up his skeleton is leeching into his body and poisoning him, slowing his healing abilities and sticking him with a bad cough to boot. Now he limps through the film, scarred, weary, and haggard. Almost not even recognizable anymore -- almost. Logan is so different from what we've seen of him before, but truly it's more as if we've never seen him accurately before now, and this bitter, grimacing old man with bloodshot eyes is the true and honest version of Logan -- one the PG-13 movies were forced to hide from us. Even in those toned-down flicks has never taken a misstep playing his iconic character, and with his dedication everything he does as Logan is guaranteed to be optimal; here, even going so much darker and deeper and pushing the boundaries further than ever, it is no different. He is Logan, through and through. Maybe I should feel more impressed as it is an impressive performance, but it is also no surprise.

With the realistic futuristic tech and the fantastic aging makeup, it truly feels like a film from the near future.

I was impressed, however, by Sir 's equally aged and reshaped Charles Xavier. My logical mind knows he is a superbly talented actor perfectly capable of complex performances. The rest of me completely bought that there was a feeble old man with dementia on the screen. With the combination of the performance with the makeup Charles is suddenly so much more than the honestly flat and uninteresting straightforward mentor he used to be. Now he is sad and complicated and a magnificent mixture of harrowing and funny. The all-important make-or-break element of the film was the little girl Laura, played by . With great screen presence she pulls off the part from the beginning, and from there only continues to add to the impressiveness as more about the character is continually revealed. The animalistic intensity of her fighting -- on par with Wolverine's -- is excellent and sells the risky character.

And with how reliable Jackman is, and how necessary the R was, she was probably the film's only risk. Paid off.

The dark horse for favorite character is the villain, Pierce, played by . In such a hard and intense film is nice to have that one character who's determined to enjoy himself, and that's what this guy is. He likes the sound of his voice, and he likes his mechanical hand, and he likes his villainous position, and he's out there to make the most of it all. This might be an apt description of the actor as well -- and I'd say they both succeed. At any rate he's an easy-going, casually antagonistic kind of character that finds a delightful balance between charming and sinister. I found myself looking forward to his appearances and growing happier whenever he survived another scene. When showed up playing his superior, I was afraid he'd be replaced as the main villain and forgotten, but that doesn't happen, though Grant gets his time to shine creepily as well. Also worth a mention is as Caliban. I imagine I'd appreciate the part more if I knew the character previously, but the value of his inclusion was not lost on me.

Just keep on rockin' that neck tattoo, bud! (between starting this review and finishing it, I've seen him in two more movies, but no I'm not obsessed why would you think that.)

With no rating holding back the filmmakers from exploring the deep recesses of these characters and shaping a unique heart out of the mature fodder, the film's themes and emotional focus take on unusual shape. It is, again, much more western than anything else, and the issues at hand follow that theme. Though in our world the story wouldn't make news, the stakes -- personal, fleshed out, and tightly focused on -- seem huge. Bigger and more important even, than the traditional end-of-the-world plots of the X-Men of yore. The destruction is small but the impact is massive. And you don't need an R-rating to get that, but it certainly does seem to come naturally with it. Kudos to the writers and director for knowing what the movie needed to be, and sticking with it to the end.

The easiest way the film could have been distracted was in the action. Instead, it may have been its greatest strength. Firstly they really make up for the seven movies where Wolverine wasn't allowed to stab people in the head. I never knew how much he needed to do that until now. Then they also remember to match the action with film's scale and emotional center. Small destruction; massive impact. Check. Also not forgotten is the film's most basic roots -- superhero film; western film. With those genres it's the action that sells and they deliver on those promises. It's something they needed to do, but it's also obviously something they wanted to do. The action sequences and fighting -- while always connected to the plot in significant ways -- are hugely important elements, and great care and attention was given to them. Each sequence was unique. The choreography was spectacular. And the filming captured it deftly for maximum entertainment.

Visually unique and beautiful, but perhaps more importantly, visually memorable.

That goes for the whole movie in fact; the cinematography added beautiful interest to a story that on paper might give the impression of being boring. But with the characters there's always something to think about, with the cinematography there's always something to look at, and with the action there's always something to be wowed by. I have one grievance and that was the brief nudity -- in a movie that was otherwise refreshingly R out of necessity, it was irritatingly unnecessary. Otherwise the filmmakers stayed on target to keep the movie focused on what was important, and the result is a structured and concise work of art, moody, gritty, and full of heart -- with a massive impact. Logan and Hugh finally get the movie they deserve. Our happy fate is that we get to watch it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wonder Woman

Spoilers are marked.

Diana, () the only child on a hidden island Themyscira, grows up in a cheerful and innocent state of warmongering. Her mother the Queen () tries to keep her a safe distance away from fighting, but, driven by awed love for her kin's history (in which they helped Zeus defeat the evil god of war, Ares when he tried to corrupt mankind) Diana wishes to be a warrior. Prophesy says that Ares lives, will return, and can only be defeated by a weapon that Zeus made as he died. Diana wishes to wield that sword, and her aunt () trains her until she can. Then a stray pilot crashes in the ocean. A man. () (Cue a cheesy yet endearing grin!) He tells the Amazons of a terrible war to end all wars, and Diana knows this must be the return of Ares, so she takes the sword and goes off to save the world!

Charging a German trench. Why? In the words of my brother: "She can't not."

The best thing about this movie, time and time again, is Diana. Her heart is as pure as a baby lamb frolicking in untouched snow, and she's as innocent and naive as you'd expect of a girl who's lived a couple thousand years on a mystical island inhabited only by women. Yet she has confidence in her strength and in herself, and no petty need to advertise. My personal favorite characteristic though, is her joy. Even when she's not explicitly happy, she constantly exudes a joy for life; she relishes beauty and goodness, and you can see her eagerly soak in her surroundings, wide-eyed. She is also passionate and noble, and Gal Gadot gives her such life with a charismatic and confident performance. If more women could lead these kinds of movies with such unaffected grace, people wouldn't need to try and force it to happen.

I'm not one eager to go gaga over Chris Pine, so I was pleased to find that his Steve Trevor is a character who earns his worth. He, like Diana, is noble and passionate, but having lived through four years of the Great War, these traits have been repressed and replaced with hardened logic. He does what he can, and ignores what he cannot. He doesn't understand Diana or what she is capable of, thinking that her naivete could put her in more danger than she can handle. He tries to protect her and guide her through the unforgiving world, and as a result is continuously surprised by her unwillingness to see evil and do nothing about it, and her ability to do what he would never dream to be possible. Pine puts a damper on the swagger for the character (in comparison with Star Trek) and the result is an increase of heroic charm.

My favorite small moment was here, where she admires herself in the mirror without a hint of vanity.

Pine and Steve both are great supports for the film and its heroine. As a duo, Steve provides some great fodder for Diana's fish-out-of-water moments -- an element that can be hit or miss, and here was hit after hit, endearing her to us over and over. Their chemistry wasn't top-notch, but "good enough for a superhero flick" was all that was really required. In the end Steve's character is there to enhance Diana's, and that was done with aplomb. Conversely, none of the three rag-tags who follow them (, , and ) made much of an impression. I was simultaneously surprised at how little effort was put into them, and confused as to why they felt the need to put any effort towards them at all. They helped to move the plot, but their characters were mostly distractions, only.

Doctor Poison herself () also proved to be all but useless as a character, which was disappointing after she seemed well set up to be a formidable villain. In fact, speaking of the villain... (Spoilers!) Once 's Ludendorff is revealed to not be the main villain his being so underwhelming makes sense. Ares is really , and while he does a fantastic job making himself memorable after his reveal lets him loose to be villainous, it is unfortunate that he didn't get more time due to his identity being kept secret. It was a good twist for the movie, but let the character down a bit. That epic bit where he gets his armor does its best to make up for it, and if it doesn't completely, it was close enough, because woah. (End Spoilers) On the island, both Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright give great performances on some hardcore characters. And last but not at all least, as Etta, Steve's secretary makes herself a worthy addition by being charming and funny.

She's got super strength, but also has featured qualities common and befitting to femininity. Like compassion, for which she has no chill.

Obviously characters were what made the biggest overall impression on me here. Though the only truly outstanding one was Diana herself, I still appreciate that director set out to make this action blockbuster an equal-part character piece besides. Diana makes up about 50% of the movie's worth; everything else (Steve, the action, the style, visuals in general, themes, and writing (the value of a good one liner should never be overlooked) makes up about 40%, and there's 10% or less of want. So, action wise: There is no shortage of stylish action where the enjoyment hits levels of sheer glee that we haven't seen come out of DC since Nolan. It's great stuff, enhanced even further by how much fun Gadot is having performing it.

It does have two shortcomings however. The first is overuse of slow motion -- and this is coming from a movie where slow-mo is considerably more appropriate than average -- there's a lot of it. Often it works, but one or two fights could have used some restraint. The other is that the action is sometimes cut... safely. Probably to avoid awkwardness in the movement. It can be jarring and disjointed feeling. Both these problems can probably be traced back to a lacking in fight choreography; individual stunts are fantastic, but are sometimes strung together with awkward flow. Visually the film is nothing short of stunning, and when action sequences make use of visual appeal they are at their best. And with the insipid dullness of the recent past, I feel it's appropriate to praise this movie's bold use of vibrant color. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it.

Honestly I wish she'd served in the war longer. There could have been twice as much of the historical side of the war. And of her running into the fray bECAUSE INJUSTICE IS BEING DONE AND SHE MUST STOP IT. I love that about her so much.

Wonder Woman hardly feels like a DC film at all, only reminding us via short bookends. After all the murky sludge that has come from Snyder of late, a film that sets out to entertain and dazzle and have fun seems incredibly original and endlessly welcome. It's more like a Marvel, in fact, with obvious similarities with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger present in the plot, but not so much as to make the film feel redundant -- not even close. This film even exceeds Marvel's later efforts with its gleeful and unashamed joy. It seems thrilled to simply exist, and its greatness is a natural consequence of that joy and devotion. It doesn't conspire to prod or manipulate its audience, but to share its story with us, and let us share in the wonder; and maybe inspire or move us with some words of wisdom. In other words, Wonder Woman is everything she needed to be.