Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The final chapter of the legendary story that’s spanned generations, The Rise of Skywalker follows the Resistance taking a final stand against the First Order, as Rey, the last of the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, prepares to face off against the Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker takes the challenge of concluding a culturally treasured story that’s spanned four decades head-on, yet sacrifices something important in the process. Part of Star Wars is taking you away from reality and over to a galaxy far, far away, and this film succeeds at making the eye-popping visuals stand out in every shot, especially if you watch it in 3D, as you should for every Star Wars movie considering the grand scale they have to offer. John Williams, one of the real MVPs of the franchise, has composed every film in this saga and once again stuns with his beautiful musical scores. The cast still has plenty of energy and heart, especially the trio of protagonists — Daisy Ridley’s Rey shows plenty of emotion and energy and it’s hard not to love her character as she embarks on the final chapter of her adventure, and John Boyega’s Finn, as well as Oscar Isaac’s Poe, are very lovable as the daring fighters who are eager to lead and defeat the First Order for the greater good of the galaxy. It’s difficult not to enjoy whenever the lovable Chewbacca, C3P0, or BB-8 are on-screen either. The late Carrie Fisher also appears as General Leia, and although her appearance is very small, it’s a welcome and bittersweet one. Also returning from the original trilogy are Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams as galactic legends Luke and Lando — if only they had a bit more to do on screen, though. Unfortunately, nobody really gets a meaningful arc this time except Rey, but even her arc gets muddled and confusing by a decision that harms the emotional weight of the previous two installments. Not even Adam Driver, who plays the main antagonist in Episodes VII and VIII, gets much to do. In the last film, Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader of the First Order, but instead of utilizing that brilliant and original idea of having a young, conflicted boy become the head of the evil, tyrannical organization, he ends up answering to Palpatine for most of the film, and I’m not sure if Palpatine’s role in the film was even warranted. Finn’s a deserter of the First Order who’s become a sign of heroism and bravery for the Resistance, but that isn’t explored as an important character trait anymore — hell, he’s no longer a multi-dimensional character anymore, barely anyone is in this movie. Naomi Ackie is introduced as a new character named Jannah. Her character seems fantastic, yet they do absolutely nothing with her character other than make her stand next to Finn for the film’s entire second half, so unfortunately we’ll never know anything about her or if she was really as great of a character as she could’ve been.

The runtime is stuffed with so many ideas that either don’t make sense or are rushed past in the blink of an eye; it felt so rushed that it was almost like Disney mandated them to not make it a minute longer. The editing in The Force Awakens was so excellent it even received an Oscar nomination, but here the cuts are so fast and occasionally feel unnatural. In the other films, the action scenes feel nuanced but the ones here are so quick that it’s going to be hard to look at them as “scenes” for their filmmaking and purpose. In a movie with so much fighting, I ironically can’t remember a specific moment where the action is notably impressive, although it’s thankfully loud and colorful enough to be engaging, yet not resonant. In the predecessor The Last Jedi, I was shaking in suspense for a lot of the film, but unfortunately in The Rise of Skywalker, there isn’t really a moment where I had that same feeling. Maybe it’s because although there’s so much plot, the script never gives us a moment to breathe or just develop the characters emotionally. Without any emotional arcs being set up, we can’t be concerned about what’ll happen to them later in the film. There’s also a few iffy lines of dialogue that either felt like placeholders or sub-par ways to convey ideas that could’ve come off as stronger. The movie also has plenty of moments that allude to the previous films, such as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and these moments will work well because how much of an impact this saga has had throughout the audience’s lifetimes. Some moments will make you applaud and smile, and my theater experience with this film only reminds me how beautiful these Star Wars films bring people together, even after 42 years. However, by the end The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t feel like the natural continuation of the trilogy’s story, but rather like it’s trying to be the antithesis of The Last Jedi. Many of the powerful decisions Rian Johnson made in VIII feel undermined by what J.J. Abrams chooses to do in some scenes, and instead of going with the flow of the story, it feels like he disregarded the tone and value of the previous film, and even his own film The Force Awakens (I’m not even sure what the tone of this movie is, if I’m being honest). Abrams is a filmmaker I regard with lots of talent towards bringing a sense of wonder and imagination towards the screen, and it’s unfortunate because there so many moments of greatness throughout that are harmed by the light-speed runtime (which although, at 142 minutes, is longer than most other SW films, still feels incredibly rushed and overcrowded), and the director’s working against the story that he and Johnson established so well before. Although the actual ending of the film and the Skywalker Saga is nicely done, the final chapter of the journey there should’ve hit home as well. Regrettably though, it’s the least risky and exhilarating film of the bunch (although it’s arguably better than the prequels, which to me don’t capture the true meaning of Star Wars that well).

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion to one of the most beloved stories in the history of not only film, but also the art of fiction itself. Unfortunately, as an enormous fan myself, I found myself disappointed. the overabundance of ideas Abrams tries to fit into a crammed runtime (if you ask me, they should’ve taken a page out of Marvel’s book and made the movie 3 hours in order to give this saga the fitting send-off it deserved), and the choice to emphasize too much fan service over a sufficient amount of character/emotional payoff end up harming the story that was so beautifully constructed in the past outings of this trilogy. This feels like a great film that was cut in half and then made some frustrating last-minute decisions that don’t even impact the later events of the film, and the main characters’ arcs would’ve been much stronger without these decisions. While there were definitely some plot points I enjoyed and the vibrant visuals and world-building, as well as the film’s role in concluding the franchise, will excite most audiences and incite instances of applause, the lack of boldness and spirit makes this the least gripping and rewarding film in the sequel trilogy, despite the satisfying nostalgia that makes for an awesome theater experience when you’re watching it with other Star Wars-loving audience members.

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker poster.jpg

The Lion King (2019)

Disney has been dominating the decade with Marvel, Star Wars, animation (both Pixar and their titular studio), but their series that has divided people the most is their live-action remakes of animated classics. So people were most excited but also nervous when it came to the photoreal-but-actually-still-animated remake of their defining animated feature from the 20th century, The Lion King. First off, on a visual standpoint, this movie is an achievement. It follows the same reign of The Jungle Book in recreating iconic characters and setting to look as real as possible, and it really delivers. All the animals and sets look like an actual picture, even though not a single frame was actually there. It’s amazing to see how far visuals have gone these days, and Disney has been headliner these last few years in consistently breaking the boundaries of what can be done with a computer, whether it’s the amazing action in Avengers and Star Wars films or breathtaking animation in films like Toy Story and Incredibles — but the feats of the CGI completely pay off here in making the illusion unnoticable and making it feel like a more immersive journey. The film is perfectly casted with Donald Glover shining and making something of his own out of Simba’s role here, and it helps that he’s experienced in both acting and singing. Also huge standouts are Timon and Pumbaa, who are scene-stealing and Seth Rogen’s voice espeically fit for Pumbaa. Also worth pointing out is John Oliver who is hysterical as Zazu. However, for some characters, like Scar for example, it’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons to superior versions, like Jeremy Irons who was perfect in the 1994 version. Perhaps neither he nor James Earl Jones needed recasting (the latter of which was thankfully able to return as Mufasa). Speaking of roles from the original, Rafiki’s role was unfortuantely reduced this time around so he feels like less of a mentor to Simba and barely even has dialogue.

The musical numbers are still very fun, espeically the classic “Hakuna Matata”, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” gag is extended and made even funnier. The shame is that they shortened the Scar’s menacing anthem “Be Prepared” to be much slower but as a result feels more like a whispered spoken word poem than a song. The Lion King is stuck in a loophole in terms of delivering for fans because people want a remake to somehow reinvent the story but at the same time poeple get angry as soon as something major is changed. Unfortuantely, some of the changes made in this remake are for the worse, and other than that, a lot of sequences in the film or a shot-for-shot copy-paste of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the dialogue is the same as well, and I just wish they had added some more story to what we already know because the fact that we recognize every scene and line so well will eventually make things boring. On the bright side, it manages to retain some of the soul that reminds us why we love the original so much (themes like confronting your past or lines from Mufasa about the truth of being a wise king). The problem is that once these characters are animated to look photorealistic, they can no longer exaggerate emotions like the original iterations do — Scar is no longer a charismatic Shakespearean character, and every character just looks like an animal talking. This movie has incredible visual technology that deserves plenty of praise for Jon Favreau, maybe next time he could have used it to make original content rather than remaking known stories, or just added a little more that we haven’t seen before to do something new with the story.

The Lion King is a visual marvel and filled with nostaliga, but it’s greatest strength and weakness is that it’s almost exactly the same as the original. If the original Lion King was so perfect, why change anything? But why do we want to see the same movie over again? That’s the problem that this new remake finds itself in which is why despite being nice to look at, the script is beat for beat the same, which is why the only way this movie can really be appreciated is in 3D and on the biggest movie screen you can find. Does it offer much new? Not really, or even at all to be honest. But in terms of recommendation for the theaters I have to say go for the visuals and for the story which still stays strong, but the emotional expressions that came through the original versions of the characters (which didn’t need to feel photoreal and therefore could be exaggerated for animals) is exactly what will make the original Lion King forever superior.

Disney The Lion King 2019.jpg

Yesterday

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, until a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, after which Jack wakes up to discover that nobody except him can remember The Beatles. Soon Jack makes a life-altering decision that sends him to fame as he starts taking credit for the band’s forgotten songs.

Yesterday is a movie with a fantastically original premise, compared to the same recycled formulas in a lot of genres. Though it does sometimes get stuck in mediocre rom-com tropes, like a cheesy romance in the second act that doesn’t know where it’s going until the very end, this movie takes advantage of its genius idea and makes for a fun, humorous, and interesting two hours. Himesh Patel is not only fun and charming but also sings really well and was well-cast — he hasn’t been in much before but may soon make a name for himself after his starring role here — and also entertaining are Lily James as his best friend, and Ed Sheeran as himself — the singer who helps Jack skyrocket to stardom. However, one character I found to be annoying was his manager played by Kate McKinnon, whose comedic turns I usually enjoy on Saturday Night Live, but here her character was simply irritating and unlikable. It’s no surprise the music is so enjoyable — they chose the best band to make this movie about, and as a huge Beatles fan myself, it’s great to hear them all through the film, and luckily they cast a great actor who can sing as well. There’s also plenty of humorous moments I didn’t expect and the jokes almost always land. Like I said, the second half does lose a little bit of steam but once you see where it all ends up, you get to take in some of the themes the movie is going for. There’s also another sweet theme about how the most iconic of pop culture is what touches people’s hearts and should be kept alive. As one character says, “A world without the Beatles is a world infinitely worse.” So I have to applaud director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curits for creating one of the most original films of the year that sometimes doesn’t avoid genre tropes but the fresh plotline makes for some truly great moments, and there’s also plenty of excellent musical moments as well. When everything that’s out has to do with killer toys, superheroes, and animated animals, why not try something new for a change and support this one-of-a-kind film I bet you won’t regret seeing in theaters.

Yesterday film.jpg

A Wrinkle in Time

ratings2

Meg Murry is a young girl whose astrophysicist father disappeared four years ago. One day she learns from three magical travelers that she can find her father if she embarks on a journey of self-discovery across the universe, accompanied by her brother and her classmate.

A Wrinkle in Time had some big names in its cast, a popular source material, and lots of ambition which was evident from the intriguing trailers — so why did Disney go ahead and make a safe children’s movie with the same plot they always use instead of something that families can love too? Ava Duvernay is not a bad filmmaker, she did a fantastic job directing Selma so I had faith that I could really enjoy this film. However, the overuse of visuals, waste of great cast members, and 100% familiarity and predictability of the plot offer nothing new that will resonate. Storm Reid is great as the young Meg who is curious, rebellious, and learns to embrace who she is. However, the rest of the actors, while great, aren’t used to the movie’s advantage. With names like Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, we’d surely get some great leading faces, but not only are they not present for a good amount of the film, but the actors are just being the typical persona of how they usually portray their characters. Oprah is of course just there to inspire people, Witherspoon is funny but really just there to charm, and Kaling is extremely annoying as a character whose only dialogue is famous quotes from historical figures or celebrities. The cast’s (and the film’s) greatest strengths are Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who have been promising in nearly everything they’ve done. We’ve come to know Pine as Captain Kirk and more recently, Wonder Woman’s love interest, and Mbatha-Raw is a rising talent most notably in her role in Black Mirror. Here they play the most remarkable parts of the film; an ambitious scientist who loves nothing more than his family, and the wife and mother whose life is left with a void after her husband’s disappearance. They are both terrific to watch on-screen, yet so underused, and this part of the story could have been used more dominantly but in the middle of the film it’s ditched for the classic formula we see in nearly every film. Other familiar faces include Zach Galifiankis and Michael Pena, but they too are forgotten and we spend more time with the generic love interest played by Levi Miller and the irritating younger brother by the name of Charles Wallace.

A Wrinkle in Time had a lot going for it, and though lots of it feels like a missed opportunity, there are some things it gets right. We’re ultimately left with a theme about being your best and embracing your faults, because in the end, we can all do great things. Kids will love this message and be empowered by this theme, but to everyone who’s seen a movie before, it’s all the same. An ordinary kid who feels isolated from everyone else is pulled into a magical journey and learns to be a hero and a better version of themselves, and falls in love and the way. Sound familiar, right? It feels like this could’ve been something unique but instead used the same recycled formula for a new generation. Even Star Wars has a significantly similar plot to this one. The CGI and green-screen don’t feel real and intimate enough either, and at the end, it doesn’t seem like much of the story had a point either, just a bunch of names and concepts thrown at you that don’t have some sort of resonance and thrills to offer. Some may argue this movie celebrates female empowerment and diversity, but is that enough to make a good movie? That part should be the icing on the cake that can be added to something great.

Your kids may be enamored and entertained by the messages this film has to offer, but if you’re over 10 years old, A Wrinkle in Time will leave you thinking about nothing but the potential that was missed here. This should’ve been something families will talk to their kids about and recommend to friends, but in the end, we’re left with a familiar story accompanied with forgettable execution. Ava Duvernay and Disney should’ve learned, like their protagonist, to embrace their faults and improve upon what’s done before, and trust me, I’ve seen lots of great Disney movies, but this one just doesn’t add up to something I’d recommend to anyone going to the movies with friends or a date. On the bright side, there’s still Black Panther and Annihilation out there for whoever hasn’t seen those yet.

AWrinkleInTimeTeaser.jpg

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

ratings5

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.

Star Wars The Last Jedi.jpg

Detroit

ratings4

In Kathryn Bieglow’s latest film, she takes on the 1967 Detroit riot that shook the city forever. Bigelow has done a great job taking on true stories before, like the Iraq War in The Hurt Locker and the assassination of bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, both of which are great films that had me excited for this one. Here, Bigelow’s directing does not fail to stand out. She’s the most successful female director in Hollywood and it’s not hard to see why. The story is depicted mostly in the events of one night, in which the police raid of a motel generates horrible results. Although the setting is mostly small, these scenes are powerful and have lots of meaning in them. The cast is great, including Star Wars‘ John Boyega and especially Will Poulter as a ruthlessly racist white cop, but the real star is newcomer Algee Smith, who plays a musician who is emotionally scarred after the horrifying events of the film. He demonstrates lots of talent through his expression of fear and humanity in the movie. The first 45 minutes are slow and messy, as the historical concept is first introduced, and then we are given many characters to follow without any plot being brought forward until after this long first act. The directing was always great, but the writing in this first part could have been improved, and Barry Ackroyd’s style of quick cuts and handheld cam doesn’t quite work here. However, once the intensity kicked in, the writing became much more interesting and I was on the edge of my seat. The depiction of the excessive violence that the police unnecessarily used on the blacks in this time is painful to watch, and not just because you know it really happened, but because these situations still happen today and nothing his really changed since those violent and awful times. The scariest thing about Detroit is that the theme in the movie not only stands for the time period and the city it takes place in, but what is happening all over the country even today, and that change must be made. The ending is frustratingly realistic but has a point to prove and a state to make, one that will stay with you and hopefully inspire us all to move toward peace.

Kathryn Bigelow has made another great true story with Detroit, a difficult and realistic but moving feature that although not one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the most necessary. It takes on important themes like racism and violence, and is a moving history lesson that has a relevant message to both the past and the present.

Detroit teaser poster.jpg

Wind River

ratings4

In Wind River, the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) teams with a town’s veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Both the past films written by Sheridan did not fail to impress me, as both were masterfully written and very engaging.  Wind River sees Sheridan in the director’s chair and he delivers yet another excellent screenplay, this time set in a snowy reservation in Wyoming. Sheridan develops his settings and main characters very well in all three of his scripts, and here it doesn’t fail as well. Jeremy Renner delivers one of his best performances as the main character, who has a tragic past and an estranged family, and you feel for the emotion Renner provides in every scene, and his character is superbly written. As much as I love him as Hawkeye in the Marvel universe, his best roles are the ones in smaller films, those that go into emotional depth, even like in last year’s Arrival. This is definitely up there with his performances in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner The Hurt Locker and Ben Affleck’s heist thriller The Town as one of his greatest roles. Elizabeth Olsen has a few good moments in the film, but it mostly felt like she was just reading lines off a script and barely brought much depth into her character, and it was ultimately hard to care for her role.

Wind River has a Coen brothers vibe to it, as it feels like it drew great inspiration from Fargo, not just the development of the cold, isolated setting but also the way tension is built so well through small scenes. For those looking for a thrilling and interesting mystery thriller to watch, you’ll definitely be entertained, although I never felt like it brought anything new to the genre. The overall structure is entertaining but also feels very familiar and it didn’t offer much that was new or ground-breaking. Although the script is overall great, I was sometimes concerned by the directing before watching the movie, as this is Sheridan’s first time directing a film. I was mostly impressed by the directing, especially for a debut, but the use of handheld cam is often too shaky and sometimes distracting. Some shots are captured very well, but during the smaller, more conversational scenes, the camerawork could have used some improvement. There wasn’t the energy to it that Sicario and Hell or High Water had, as those films had more richness in their cinematography and directing, part of what made them both better films. This film could have used some more interesting and longer shots, as well as less noticeable handheld camera to make some scenes even stronger, but I overall was very pleased by what Sheridan was able to do as a director for the first time. He didn’t offer the incredible style brought by the directors of his previous scripts, but his work is still solid and appreciable, and I was still able to really enjoy the film. I hope to see Sheridan write and direct many more films in the future.

Wind River is a violent, engaging, and smart thriller with a great script and lead performance, and although the story is still somewhat familiar and the directing isn’t perfect, this is the type of film cinema should have more of to offer, and I’d definitely recommend this as a film to go watch when it’s released this August.

Wind River (2017 film).png

War for the Planet of the Apes

ratings4

After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. This conclusion to the reboot trilogy that began with Rise and became even more comeplling in 2014’s Dawn, so I was extremely looking forward to see what would happen next in War. Matt Reeves returns from the previous installment after receiving lots of praise and doing a terrific job, and here he carries enough of the emotion and brilliant visuals and action sequences that kept me so engaged in Dawn over to this one. Andy Serkis is one of the most dedicated and talented motion capture artists working today, if not the best in our time. He’s delivered some of the most impressive motion-capture performances in recent years, including Gollum in the Middle-Earth movies, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the new Star Wars movies. His performance in this trilgoy as Ceasar is at the top, with the depth and presence Serkis is able to deliver only through a motion capture suit is unbelieavble. The visual effects, like its predecessors, are some of the best in recent years, with the CGI used in the three films to turn actors wearing suits into apes being some of the best motion capture and visual effects work recently. In both the previous movies, there are main human characters being developed, with lots of the last films being told from the perspectives of the humans, most notably the leads James Franco or Jason Clarke. However, the humans are a much smaller emotional focus this time and the apes are the sole core of the film. Despite the humans playing a big role in the plot, only one human character is developed, and that is a ruthless army colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson’s menacing and terrific performance poses an excellent threat against Caesar, and we understand the Colonel’s motivation and fear, as well Caesar’s hate against him. Harrelson was a perfect casting choice and really impressed me in one of the best villanous performances this year.

If, like me, you were impressed by how much the previous installment surpassed your expectations with its incredible directing, storytelling, characters, and themes, then War will have more than enough to amuse you.  Matt Reeves once again delivers great themes about what we do when we act out of fear, and the relationship between mankind and nature. The editing is never too quick, and the action is stirkingly shot. Most of the scenes that provide intensity were very good at achieving their goal to the audience in the way that they did. The way Caesar’s emotional conflict is explored is  smart and carries the film very well, as well as the development of every other ape character in the film. The trailers hardly reveal anything about the overall plot of the film, other than the obvious fact that the humans and apes are at war.It was interesting to learn what would drive the characters throughout the movie and where the conflict was going. Some exposition is slightly confusing at first but eventually effective once you get it, and a few supporting characters that I wans’t too sold on, including a human character named Preacher who could have used a tad more development and an ape named Bad Ape who didn’t do much for me. However, War was what it needed to be and will definitely satisfy those looking for a strong conclusion to this epic trilogy. Many are calling this the best in the trilogy, but I personally feel that it is the weakest of the three. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time with it and or wans’t impressed or satisfied by the end, but I just believe that Rise and Dawn were stronger installments. At the end of the first two, it feels like a lot has changed from the beginning, and this one has less of that feeling of change by the time the climax has ended. Also, this definitely did not feel like the 2-hour and 20-minute movie, but the pacing is good for whatt he runtime felt like. War for the Planet of the Apes is as good as I hoped for it to be, with terrific visual work and directing, as well as thrilling action sequences and dialogue. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson did not let me down, and although Dawn is still my favorite of the trilogy, I was by the end amused by what I had watched and this is a very admirable and recommended sequel.

Caesar, with a shotgun and Nova behind his back, Maurice, and Luca on horses face a human army and turncoat apes with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

ratings4

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.

Spider-Man Homecoming poster.jpg

Despicable Me 3

ratings2

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.

Despicable Me 3 (2017) Teaser Poster.jpg