Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest installment in the most popular film franchise of all time, and I can’t tell you anything else about this one, because if you’re a huge fan like me and most of the world’s population, you don’t need a plot description to get you to go see it. This movie picks up right after The Force Awakens left off, and as soon as the movie begins, the return to the galaxy which the world has grown to love over the last 40 years feels intriguing from the first scene. Like its predecessor, The Last Jedi is completely unpredictable and this one is even more different than the last film.

The cast once again knocks it out of the park, from the original characters portrayed by Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, the returning characters from the previous sequel including Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, and new additions to the universe played by Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Hamill is as terrific as he’s ever been as Luke Skywalker, the most beloved hero in the history of cinema. His performance and his character’s arc over the last forty years has been tremendous, and the addition to his arc here is an unexpected turn which Hamill portrays so well, as he expresses the loss of heroism and his giving up of hope after a mistake he made prior to the events of the trilogy. Fisher’s scenes are great as well, and her final film performance that was shot before her tragic death last year is poignant and the film does her justice, paying tribute to her like it should. If you loved Daisy Ridley as our new protagonist Rey, you won’t be disappointed in the path she takes in this movie, as her journey through the ways of the Force continues under Luke’s guidance. Ridley does a terrific job conveying the emotional conflict her character experiences and how she finds her place in the battle of good against evil. Driver is back as the menacing and superb antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is a complicated villain but perfectly developed, and experiences changes after he did something in the last movie that shocked us all. We root for the good guys and against him but we feel that he isn’t all-evil like his master Snoke, speaking of whom is very intimidating and well-acted by Andy Serkis. John Boyega as defected stormtrooper Finn is another one of my favorite members of the cast, and although the storyline he has with new character Rose isn’t as compelling as the rest of the film, Finn is still a character we enjoy going on an adventure with thanks to his great writing and acting from the awesome Boyega who had his breakout when he first played the character two years ago. Isaac as Poe Dameron has more to do this time around, and his clashes with authority and his morals are interesting to explore. Of course, expect appearances from your favorite creatures like the lovable wookie Chewbacca, droids such as C3P0, R2-D2, and BB-8, the adorable new birds from Luke’s planet known as the Porgs, and a shocking appearance from one of everyone’s favorite Star Wars characters.

As a middle installment that has the expectations as many set as high as Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi definitely reaches those standards for what has been set with The Force Awakens, which introduced us to this magnificent new setting within the universe we already love, and here we dive deeper into those characters and experience some dark twists and turns on the way. Many fan theories have been developed ever since everyone saw the first film in this new trilogy two years ago, but no theory was able to predict the events that happen in this movie. I loved J.J. Abrams’ direction of Episode VII, and although he will return for the last installment in the trilogy, this one is directed by Rian Johnson, who previously directed the high school mystery Brick and the sci-fi thriller Looper. Johnson does a very impressive job building on what’s already happened and bringing to life the new planets and settings. The cinematography is beautiful and so are the visual effects, capturing the memorable action scenes and sets magnificently, just like a Star Wars movie should. Reception from fans has been mixed, but I can’t see why. I was on the very edge of my seat for the entire movie, and stunned at what this had to offer. It’s risk-taking, unpredictable, and deprived of the familiar 3-act story structure, making it even more suspenseful, and it’s got plenty of originality for the eighth film in a franchise. It holds onto what people have loved about the series since 1977, but it still has room for lots of creativity and trust me, I was quite shocked by what happened in this film. It’s not the cheerful blockbuster that most big studio sequels are nowadays, but it’s a dark, thrilling epic that will have everyone, Star Wars fan or not, cheering throughout.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the movie everyone will be going crazy about, and whether or not you like these films, you really should see the definitive blockbuster of the year. As an enormous fan of the series, I was not let down by the amazement I got here. Star Wars has brought people together all around the world since the first film was released 40 years ago, and this movie brings back what fans have loved since then but also lots of surprises. Although a few minor moments/plot points were weaker than others, the cast, visuals, story, writing, and emotion redeem the film, and at best this is an epic and marvelous sequel that is strong with the force.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker returns to New York and, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture, emerges.

After 6 films and 3 franchises, Spider-Man has finally gotten the big-screen treatment he and fans deserved, in the hands of Marvel Studios. Spidey is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he also appeared last year in Civil War, and Tom Holland easily portrays the best incarnation of him yet. This time, Parker is 15 and still in high school, and his youth  and sense of adventure and humor brings so much fun to the film. I’m not a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and the Amazing Spider-Man films left us all wanting more, but Homecoming is the perfect big screen treatment for the character. It’s got all the spirit, humor, and entertainment you would expect from a film like this. Every scene in this movie is tons of fun to watch and the action is very exciting as well. The cast, which includes Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., and many other familiar faces, is really well balanced and every cast member gives it their all. Downey’s presence is delightful, and thankfully doesn’t overstay his welcome yet still has some memorable moments. Keaton gives a good performance like always, and was a great choice to play the villain of the Vulture, but his character’s writing and presence are weak, which is disappointing because he is the main villain of the film. However, his character has a few good moments fighting Spider-Man.

One thing that I have noticed in recent superhero films, most notably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is that, unlike most superhero films, that film wasn’t just driven by its action sequences and visual effects. That movie was driven by its characters and the script, as well as the emotion, development. and interactions between the characters. Marvel also gave me this sense with Logan, and here, it’s pretty clear that was the main focus as well. There is plenty of terrific action here, but the core of the film is the friendship between Peter and his best friend Ned, the mentorship he receives from Tony Stark, his crush for a girl named Liz, and his connection with his Aunt May. We see Peter’s internal conflicts as he’s facing issues every high school student goes through, but also his dedication to protecting New York and those he cares about. This film feels more human and fresh than the rest of the Spider-Man movies, and that’s why I was able to enjoy it so much. There’s also tons of Marvel references and easter eggs for fans of Spidey and the MCU, as well as some cameos from familiar faces, and these appearances include more than just Stan Lee. Spider-Man: Homecoming somewhat still follows the established MCU formula, but as I was watching it, I wasn’t reminded about the formula too much, and remember that this is not an origin story, allowing the plot to move more freely and feel less restrained. Michael Giacchino’s score is surprisingly fun and has some nods to other Spider-Man incarnations, but wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or extremely memorable. Director Jon Watts has never directed anything beyond a very low-budget indie, and he was able to handle the transition to an incredibly expensive and anticipated superhero blockbuster well. He was able to direct action, character interactions, and conflict very well, and I had an absolute blast watching another awesome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is anything but disappointing. The cast, writing, directing, and characters are very enjoyable and superbly executed. The action, humor, and story will definitely entertain audiences of all ages, especially fans of the source material. This is definitely the perfect Spidey film to be made today and released to this generation, and a great way to kick off the month.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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In the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old rival, Captain Salazar, who along with his crew of ghost pirates has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle, and is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack seeks the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.

Disney has benefited with billions of dollars from this popular franchise based on the famous Disneyland ride, so it’s no surprise that they’ve gone and made a fifth one. Dead Men Tell No Tales is not the worst of the series but it’s not the return to form that many fans were hoping for. I did not walk in with high expectations so I can’t say I was disappointed, but I was not impressed either. Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, one of the most popular live action heroes of our time, and he’s still entertaining in the role, but his character barely serves a point in the plot this time around. He has lots of screen time and makes lots of jokes throughout but he’s never developed at all or given a reason to be there other than the fact that the villain wants revenge on him. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario play two new protagonists to the series, and they both deliver solid performances, but their character arcs aren’t interesting enough to carry the film along. Javier Bardem stars as a frightening villain who starts out interesting but the dialogue and CGI make his character feel more comedic then threatening. Geoffrey Rush is also back as Hector Barbossa and is made a big part of the plot but his character’s writing failed to interest me.

I was never a huge fan of the series, but even those who loved the first few films won’t get much that they’re hoping for besides entertainment. The plot that drives the characters and the film forward are nothing near as compelling as the first film offered. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley didn’t reprise their roles in the last film, and here, they don’t appear much, either. The new young protagonists and the story that revolves around them just couldn’t fill that void or push the story forward well enough. There are some entertaining action scenes, such as a scene in which a bank is being robbed (not just the money, but the entire building is being dragged away), as well as one in which an execution is thwarted. There are moments that managed to entertain me and make me laugh, and shots that are done well, but the writers couldn’t come up with a story and character arcs that the audience could also enjoy. There are many magical concepts and backstories that were introduced but none of them made much sense or excited me at all. The movie doesn’t conclude terribly, but the post-credits scene sets up the potential sequel that I won’t be looking forward to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t the sequel many were hoping for, and although it will manage to entertain viewers, especially younger audiences and fans of the previous films, but the uninspired and boring storyline and character arcs make this film far from the saga’s best use of its potential. You may like it for its action, but there are films in theaters right now that you’ll probably like much better, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, and the new DC film Wonder Woman, which hits theaters this Friday.

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Alien: Covenant

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After Ridley Scott tried to revive his franchise with a prequel series that started in 2012 with Prometheus, which was a huge disappointment, Scott redeems his franchise with this follow-up to Prometheus. The plot is similar to the other Alien films, with a crew of a spaceship traveling to an uncharted planet and then getting attacked by extraterrestrial life forms. However, this time, the characters are all developed well and Scott actaully gets you to care about them. I didn’t really care much about the characters in Prometheus, but here you actually are interested in them, and things like love and loss in these characters’ lives are handled well. Michael Fassbender reprises his role from the previous installment as David, and he also plays a new character named Walter, both of which are androids. Fassbender has never failed to impress me, and here he delivers such an impressive performance and he lives up to the responsibility of having to take on two roles. Katherine Waterson is also a great protagonist, and her emotion actually helps carry the film well. The ensemble supporting cast is also great, especially Danny McBride as the wise-cracking pilot of the Covenant.

The first act of this film builds up the conflict very well, from the opening scene which begins the story in an unexpected manner. When the intensity begins, I found myself thrilled during the very gruesome and bloody scenes of aliens breaking through bodies and chasing the human protagonists. The sequences are shot very well, and the CGI effects used to create aliens, planets, and spaceships are beautiful. The movie carries on some of the questions raised in Prometheus about life and existence, but this time the script actually makes you think about what the characters are talking about, and this helps the character arcs of David and Walter be even more compelling. There are also some twists that surprised me and made the film much more exciting. Scott inserts some of Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the original 1979 Alien which started it all, and tries to keep the feel of a ’70s science ficiton horror film in there, but it’s easy to notice that this film still follows the formula that Alien and Aliens established, and it’s easy to eventually get tired of seeing the same things so many times. However, the intense final act leading to a dark and unexpected ending promises that the next film will step away from that formula, and hopefully be just as great as this one.

Alien: Covenant is far from the franchise’s best but it uses what has made the saga great before to put it and Scott’s career back on a great track. The cast and writers try hard here, and their work definitely pays off and this disturbing and horrifying yet tense and exciting sci-fi horror film that will definitely amuse fans, as well as plot twists that will surprise many viewers. If you’re a teen or older, I’d suggest you help this film at the box office and give it a watch.

A black-and-white poster of a mass of people being surrounded/tortured by the aliens, not unlike the Renaissance depictions of Hell, with one alien at the center highlighted by a shaft of light from the upper-left.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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It’s been three years since Guardians of the Galaxy was released and became a huge hit for Marvel, and finally the Guardians have returned to the big screen in Vol. 2. This time, the Guardians travel throughout the cosmos as they help Peter Quill learn more about his true parentage. Thankfully, James Gunn knows how to make a standout superhero film for the second time. Vol. 2 doesn’t lose the charm, heart, and humor that made the first one so great. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel are all still so brilliant and hilarious as the dysfunctional family who must save the galaxy for the second time. There’s something so refreshing about their characters that brings a smile to my face. Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Karen Gillan also return from the first film, and their characters are explored much more interestingly this time. I was also impressed by newcomer Pom Klementieff as Mantis, a charming new member of the Guardians.

With a great visual style, script, and action sequences, James Gunn shows he can make a Marvel film that’s special and heartfelt. Guardians Vol. 2 feels somewhat distinct from the classic MCU formula, and isn’t too caught up with setting up a universe, but with bringing the best out of its characters and visuals. If you loved Awesome Mix Vol. 1, prepare for another great soundtrack in Awesome Mix Vol. 2, which includes some great songs that are used very well in the film. It’s been a while since the first film came out, and the first one felt so fresh and new when it was released, but by now the visuals and humorous style don’t feel as new and special as they did back then, but I can’t really blame the film for that. There are a few characters that are useless and I wish did more, and there’s a twist thrown in that was foreshadowed a little too much, but it feels different than what Marvel has done before. However, Gunn’s creative style makes this movie as entertaining and awesome as it should be. He knows how to make a great soundtrack and shoot action sequences very well, and he even pays homage to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in a certain scene. Also, stay during the credits for not one, but five post-credit scenes after the film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another great Marvel feature with a terrific cast, an excellent soundtrack, great action and visuals, and a script that doesn’t feel as well-realized and fresh as the first film, but this movie still demonstrates James Gunn’s great talent when it comes to making huge blockbusters, and leaves you excited for Vol. 3.

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The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The past few years have been packed with remakes and reboots of all sorts of classics, and not many of them have turned out to be very original. The Magnificent Seven, unfortunately, is lacking of the originality I expected from a similar yet distinct remake. This film feels a lot more like a re-imagination than a remake, as the only thing kept from the original is the concept. In The Magnificent Seven, a group of seven men (as the title suggests) are hired by a woman to avenge her husband’s death, so they set out against a corrupt industrialist and his ruthless army. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke lead the cast as mercenaries fighting for righteousness. Having seen the original Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, I can say I am satisfied in terms of a remake like this one. The directing is mostly on-point, with impressive cinematography and entertaining action. The score from the late James Horner, who was tragically killed last year in a plane crash, is a great one for his last. My main problem with the film is that despite the film’s efforts to take its concept to a new place, new isn’t the right word to describe this film. Everything feels to familiar and tacked on. The story feels cliched but it also loses itself in the third act. One thing I noticed was how over-the-top everything was, from the dialogue to the story to the performances. The dialogue is too obvious and the humor unsuccessful, and none of the jokes seem to hit their mark. Denzel Washington doesn’t get much to work with besides a handful of guns loaded with bullets. Chris Pratt delivers an underwhelming performance as a constantly joking character who seems to be the most over-the-top of the cast, as well as Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke who make jokes out of their performances. Some of the characters could have been more interesting, if only they had more development. One thing that isn’t surprising, as a film released in the 21st century, is that everything is too over-dramatized and it doesn’t flow as well as it did in the ’60s when it was directed by John Sturges. The final battle is an epic shootout between armies of heroes and villains but ultimately drags for too long. I’ve come to love the Western genre more every time I watch a Western film. Get a good story and script, and you can even make a perfect one today (see True Grit, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight). However, it’s difficult to work with one that lacks originality and reliability on anything but lengthy action sequences. Perhaps this film would have been better if it wasn’t limited to a strong PG-13 rating, and was written by someone more reliable in the world of Hollywood (yes, I’m thinking about Tarantino, even though he wouldn’t ever sign up for something even twice as original as this).

The Magnificent Seven is a fun Western action film directed solidly by Antoine Fuqua, but not much more. It tends to slow down, the attempts at comedy always miss, and everything feels way too over-the-top and out of place. I wouldn’t recommend this one for a watch in theaters, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it for most of its runtime, despite its major problems.

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Jason Bourne

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Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the CIA’s most dangerous former operative, is drawn out of hiding when old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds him, to uncover more explosive truths about his past.

Jason Bourne reminds us that the series it belongs to is still one of the greatest action franchises out there, especially with Paul Greengrass in the director’s chair, and Damon in the spotlight. In 2012, we got The Bourne Legacy, which starred Jeremy Renner instead of Damon and failed critically because it didn’t feel much like a Bourne movie because of Damon’s absence and the lack of everything that distinguishes a Bourne movie from a regular action movie. In this film, Greengrass shows us that this series can still return to form after a mistake like that. Jason Bourne follows the formula set by the first three films, with lots of impressive shaky-cam action while Bourne is running from the CIA. However, it gets even more personal this time around, as he starts to uncover a final secret from his past. The story isn’t very new but as a huge fan of the series, I never lost interest thanks to the pacing and intense action. Damon is still fantastic as the titular character, even fourteen years after portraying the character for the first time. He never loses character both physically and emotionally, and it’s so much fun to watch him constantly kick ass in all four of these films. Tommy Lee Jones portrays a ruthless CIA director who’s as perfectly written and developed as Chris Cooper’s antagonist in the first film, while Alicia Vikander is superb as a CIA agent that, in a way, resembles Joan Allen’s Pam Landy from the previous movies. Although both characters feel familiar, they are most skillfully portrayed by two excellent casting choices for their roles. Vincent Cassel is also a great villainous newcomer to the series, with an interesting backstory and great writing to his character. It’s so impressive that even though the main characters are part of the franchise’s formula, each one of them was written so profoundly, and I loved the way they were developed and portrayed.

If you’re hoping to get some spectacular action sequences from this movie, then you won’t be let down because there is plenty of intense bone-crunching and heart-racing action that’s just as great as what Greengrass gave us in Supremacy and Ultimatum. There’s an epic motorcycle chase during a riot that glued my eyes to the screen, as well as an enormous car chase in Vegas that kept me on the very edge of my seat. The incredible use of practical stunt and shaky camera work definitely hold up. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is more reliant on shaky cam than Oliver Wood, who shot the original trilogy; Ackroyd has however proved to be a master at capturing exquisite action and scenery with his style in films like The Hurt Locker and Captain Phillips. Here, his style may feel overdone to some, but I believe the camerawork was done impeccably, especially during the action scenes. A lot of critics have sadly been disappointed by this movie, saying it doesn’t live up to the previous work of Damon’s Bourne pictures, but let me tell you that skipping this movie is not the right move for fans of action movies and especially of the saga. Jason Bourne gave me everything I wanted and even more. It’s strikingly written, phenomenally acted, and stunningly shot and directed. It’s definitely on par with the first three films, probably even better than Supremacy. The Bourne movies have truly raised the bar for action movies, and I haven’t seen many others like them. Jason Bourne is another fantastic example that did not disappoint, so please, despite what many critics have said, go see this movie with an open mind like I did, and who knows how much you may end up liking it?

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