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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Despicable Me 3

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Gru (Steve Carell) meets his long-lost twin brother Dru, and they set out to get back a diamond stolen by villain Balthazar Bratt.

The first Despicable Me film brought a new and original concept to the animated film genre, but by the time Minions came out it was clear the series was out of ideas. Despicable Me 3 had literally no potential and no good payoff in the end. Steve Carell gives it his all as Gru and Dru, but nobody else does. The animation is lifeless and the story brings nothing new to the table. Gru is developed well, but his brother, wife, children, or even the minions aren’t. The villlain Balthazar Bratt is at first entertaining but quickly becomes very annoying and horribly written. His motive and presence are weak, and his character barely poses a threat against the protagonists. The theme of brotherhood is depicted well but Gru’s brother Dru’s presence is annoying as well and his character wasn’t very interesting. The Minions make for the best comedic moments of the film, but they’re barely in the film and I was never able to laugh when they weren’t on screen. Besides an opening scene that makes great use of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and a scene featuring the Minions in prison, no scenes managed to catch my eye at all. The writers aren’t able to carry even a short 90-minute runtime well, with many subplots that had no effect on the plot and were extremely boring to watch. The first two films had good themes and vivid animation to bring the audiences in, but all this one has is uninspired comedy and predictable writing and characters. Instead of improving on the letdown of Minions, this one is even worse. This movie isn’t even a disappointment because I didn’t expect anything good out of it. The Despicable Me series used to be fun and engaging, but now it’s just a source of merchandising and money for Universal Pictures. Your young kids may be able to have fun with this movie, but even so I would recommend Cars 3 as a family film much more than this one. And if you’re looking for a good or funny film in general, you should just watch Baby Driver.

Despicable Me 3 may entertain your young ones or make you laugh a few times, but other than that this film falls completely flat and is not worth paying for. You won’t get anything new or even worth sitting through unless you’re with your family, and even if you are, you should just see Cars 3, which you’ll all be sure to enjoy. There are so many better films out right now than this unnecessary, uninspired, and unimaginative sequel.

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Wonder Woman

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Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons and trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

I’ve had much less faith in DC ever since the disappointments of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were released last year. The plot and development of the universe in both films were rushed and horribly written, yet one thing stood out to me from DC’s films last year – Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. She brought lots of heart into the character and didn’t let me down, so DC made a wise choice by making her the lead of their next film. Here, she’s even more impressive as one of the most surprising and entertaining superhero protagonists in a long time. Gadot showed us that she had talent in her minor role in the Fast and Furious films, but she does better when she carries the film in the leading role. Her charm, emotion, charisma, and determination build a fantastic heroine who kicks ass and brings hope to not only the discouraged and devastated soldiers of the war in the film, but to the DCEU franchise and its future. If it weren’t for Gadot’s outstanding performance, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much. I hope we see much more of her talent and her character in the future. Chris Pine is more than just the love interest, he’s also an interesting and well-written hero who has great chemistry with Gadot.

Wonder Woman not only has great leading roles but also very good directing and action scenes. If you liked seeing Wonder Woman fight alongside Batman and Superman last year, you’ll definitely enjoy seeing her beat up Germans as she deflects bullets and explosives and smashes through buildings with her shield. The action is very well-realized and although there is too much slow-motion at some points, it’s very exciting to watch how the action plays out in the film. Although the movie’s runtime isn’t too focused on action, plenty of the writing is there to develop the characters and give them interesting moments. The story of a god/goddess searching for their destiny outside of their home reminded me of Thor, and the WWI setting is reminiscent of the WWII set pieces in Captain America: The First Avenger. I loved the scenes in which Wonder Woman explores her motivation to fight, what she believes in, and her view on mankind, yet this time they made me care more about it than in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman because it isn’t delivered through slow montages and boring dialogue. Although it was produced by Zack Snyder, and he’s also credited for the story, which shows through the excessive use of slo-mo and some unbalanced pacing like in the other DC films, I’m sure glad he didn’t direct it, because Patty Jenkins was able to deliver a groundbreaking female superhero story in a much higher league than what Snyder has done. Thankfully this movie also doesn’t try to build on the universe and set up a sequel too much, it just left me wanting more films with Gadot in the main role in the future. There are villainous roles that are horribly written, including a villain reveal in the messy and CGI-heavy climactic battle that I really didn’t care about, and it took a while for me to really get into the story in the beginning, which starts with exposition and dialogue that could have used improvement. I’m glad that what follows is a fun and thrilling origin story for one of the most awesome and interesting female superheroes on the big screen.

Wonder Woman improves on DC’s underwhelming disappointments from last year, with a fantastic leading performance and well-shot action sequences. The writing could have used some improvement, but this film overall raises the bar for female superhero films and the DCEU’s potential. I can tell this won’t be the last of Gadot’s on-screen glory as the titular badass heroine.

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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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