Archive for Movies

Blade Runner 2049

I have seen Blade Runner 2049.

I had seen the trailers and I was intrigued by the imagery that they presented.

I love Blade Runner. The blend of old and new to create a gritty futuristic look. The noir aesthetic blended with the burgeoning genre of cyberpunk.

I wanted to see what this world would look like with the benefit of new technology and a different hand guiding the project.

I was highly disappointed.

It felt very much to me like Denis Villeneuve understood as much about emotions as the Replicants. Where Blade Runner was a symphony playing with ideas and questions while embracing the laconic feel of a noir mystery. Blade Runner 2049 has the shimmer of a diamond only to have the reality of a costume jewelry revealed upon closer examination.

This can be seen in the character of K, played by Ryan Gosling. K is a Blade Runner tasked with retiring the Replicants that are still at large despite the 30 years of hunts. In the opening scenes, K finds an older model Replicant hiding out on a farm in the wilds near Los Angeles. The conversation and fight reveals that there is something happening in the background that could shake the world to it’s foundations. Through the violence and revelations, K appears to be little more than a cardboard cutout who is taking up space on the screen. Gosling’s performance portrays someone little interested in the world around himself save to move on to the next thing. There are no hints to restrained emotion or hiding things to get by. Justa deep ennui that leads one to wonder why K is following any of these threads at all.

further disappointment is provided by this film in the characters of Love and Joi. These two characters are outstanding in an otherwise drab and emotionless expanse. Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks, is the quintessential Femme Fatale of noir fiction. She is all smoldering emotions reined in to a greater cause. She steals every scene she is in even when she is just standing in the background. She is the villain of the piece, but as the story unfolds it becomes much easier to see her motivations and actually care about them and her. Joi, played by Ana De Aramas, is a companion program that keeps K company. She is the iconic damsel in distress in noir fiction with the twist that she has much more agency than those characters did. She provides the opposite end of the spectrum to Luv in that she actually cares for K and is willing to risk it all to stay with him. 

Luv and Joi provide well rounded, believable characters in an otherwise sterile and derivative world. They provide sharp emotional counterpoints to an otherwise empty and listless narrative. These two characters are also ill used in the climax of the movie; thus leaving the audience without either love or joy.

Couple this with the cinematography of film. The screen is filled with gorgeous scenes presenting a vision of this overpopulated future. The shots are gorgeous but create the feeling a barren and empty when we are led to believe that the world is suffering from overpopulation and a lack of living space. It is a ham-handed way of trying to comment on how people get lost as individuals in the great wash of humanity. Instead of showing us this in a new and unique manner, we are given a sanitized future that leaves me really just be watching the original.

Overall, Blade Runner 2049, is very poor substitute for the original. If the director had committed more to the characters of Luv and Joi, this vision of a dystopian future would have been a much better movie. Instead, I am saddened by the loss of Luv and Joi and wish I could get my three hours back.

One bear paw out of four. If you must see this movie, borrow someone’s Netflix so that you are not spending your money on it.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

I had heard about the new King Arthur movie a few months back. I knew I would be seeing it in the theater regardless of how good it actually appeared.

I am a fan of the King Arthur legend. It went hand in hand with my dive into mythology when I was in grade school. I remember reading the translation of Le’ Morte D’Arthur and being lost in the grandeur of the story. I also remember watching Excalibur way before I should have and loving every minute. Seeing a new interpretation of this beloved favorite is something I always look forward too.

In addition to being a story of King Arthur, this movie had two other things that made me want to see it. I am a fan of Guy Ritchie . I love the aesthetic he brings to a movie. It will not be conventional and will be full of frenetic energy that captures the attention. I looked forward to seeing his interpretation of the legend. Then their is Charlie Hunnam. OMG! Those eyes and that presence. I had to see him as King Arthur.

Spoiler Warnings On!

This is not your standard King Arthur Legend. Mages, including Merlin, stand apart from humans and have lived in peace with the humans until the rise of Mordred. He rises up against the humans and begins to assault the shinning city of Camelot. He assaults the city with magical fire and giant elephants of great destructive power. His assault seems unstoppable as the city walls are breached and her soldiers are disintegrated. Uther Pendragon, ably played by Eric Bana, suits up and draws Excalibur and runs head-long at the elephant carrying Mordred.

In true action hero style, Uther scales the giant elephant and climbs into the howdah to confront Mordred. In a quintessential slow motion fight, we get to watch as magic and an artifact clash. Where this is never shown in previous movies, Excalibur is shown to be the artifact that it is touted to be as it shrugs off the assault of Mordred and allowing the forces of darkness to be routed.

It is with the clean up from the attempted coup that the true shadow over Camelot is revealed. Vortigern begins purging the land of mages. In secret, he strikes deals with dark forces and undertakes regicide. It is Uther’s final battle that seals the fate of a young Arthur. He is placed in a boat as his father strives to keep his son from facing the same fate as he. It is Arthur’s fate to be taken in by the ladies of a house of ill repute. We get to watch as he learns to survive the mean streets of Londinium and create his own shadow kingdom right under the nose of the false king.

I will admit that I love this movie. It gives me everything I want from a King Arthur Movie.

First, I love the new take on Arthur. Instead of being the son of a lesser night we are given a Arthur that had to learn to survive abuse at the hands of those stronger than him. We get to see this in the montage of him growing up. Instead of it creating a monster, it solidifies the core of chivalry in a very different manner. Instead of courtly love, it makes it about caring for those that you care about and doing all you can to protect them. This speaks to me.

I like that instead of Merlin, we have a female mage. Astrid Berges-Frisby does an excellent job of playing the enigmatic grey eminence that dances around answers and yet still needs Arthur to embrace whom he is. She brings a different energy to the part that was refreshing. I also liked that the take on the mages was much more elemental and druidic than presented in some of the previous movies.

The thing that was by far my favorite thing of this movie is Excalibur. In most every telling of this tale, it is a magical sword that determines to whom the crown will fall. Beyond that, it is just a piece of metal with a bit of provenance. Here, Excalibur is a mother fucking Artifact. Notice I used a capital A there. The sword when in use displays runes of power which is a trope, but I fucking love it. When Uther faces Mordred and Excalibur lights up displaying the runes lining the blade, I wanted to cheer. There is a scene where Arthur is cornered in the dojo in Londinium. His friends and supporters are about to be slaughtered by the King’s men. Arthur Steels himself and puts both hands on the hilt of the storm. He then becomes the eye of the storm that descends upon his enemies and devastates them. He then collapses as he is unable to fully handle the power that he holds.

It gets better! In greek mythological fashion, he has to undertake a katabasis! To wield Excalibur, He has to let go of the things that are holding him back. He must travel into the shadow lands and see that which he doesn’t want to see. He has to see the death of his father. See the nightmare that haunts his dreams ever night and causes him to shy from the touch of Excalibur.

To top it off, the design of the villain in the final fight is a wonderful homage to Frazzetta’s Slayer. So good!

King Arthur: Legend of the sword delivers everything I want from a King Arthur Movie. It has action, magic, intrigue, and drama. It presents a different view on Arthur that is a refreshing perspective. The acting is solid and the casting does a bit better to give a little more diversity to the legend. I love Djimon Hounsou as Bedivere. It qualifies for me as an excellent gamer movie. If you like table top RPGs, you will enjoy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Three bear paws out of four. I bearly recommend this movie!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

I was very excited for the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. The first movie had done such an excellent job of introducing us to these characters and to the Marvel Cinematic Universe cosmic setting. It had the right blend of comedy, action, and character beats that it was within my top five of Marvel movies.

My high level thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 are that I really enjoyed the movie but it had some flaws. None of these flaws are enough for me to say not to see this movie in the theater, but did make me pause and think about it afterwards.

Spoiler Warnings On!

There are lots of things to like about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.

We are once again given a space opera. The action is big, loud, and gorgeous. There is no reference to a hive of scum and villainy but there is a chase scene through an asteroid belt. The effects are wonderful as always. In particular, I liked the design choices in how Ego told his story to Peter and the rest of the crew. It took an intimate moment between father and son and made it creepy and distancing.

Volume 2 does not disappoint on the character beats either. Each member of the team had been given backgrounds in the first movie that had many loose ends. These are pieces of the puzzle that help flesh out the movie as well as being one of my favorite things in comics. Volume 2 takes the time to find these threads and explore them so that we get a better understanding of the Guardians themselves. one of my favorites is Yondu. It is a consistent story point that Yondu makes such a big deal of being hard on Peter and yet never doing any of the horrible things that he said he would do. This thread leads to a poignant moment between Yondu and Rocket as things look bleak. We also get to revisit the relationship between Gamora and Nebula. Though the idea of child soldiers is dropped, we do get to see what life was like from the perspective of the less successful of Thanos’ daughters.

These character beats highlight the underlying theme of family. In the first movie, we get to watch as this group of misfits come together to form their own family in the end. In volume 2, we get to watch as this idea is explored a bit more in depth. The same interplay between Rocket and Peter can be seen on display. But instead of letting the sharp sarcastic barbs fly fast and furious, there are consequences. The movie takes the time to illustrate that once you care for someone that those barbs you toss about without thinking take on a much greater power. Peter’s playful quip about Trash Pandas becomes a dagger with out thought and the damage is much harder to repair.

The flaws are neither glaring nor numerous. They are just enough to take me out of the movie and wonder why these choices were made.

I will admit that I love baby Groot. He is adorable. But, did we need so much of him? He dominates the opening credit scene as he dances around and we get glimpses of the action in the background. It is a unique way of showing us the action but it felt like a waste of time as Groot himself never takes part in the battle. In addition, Groot is used as a sledge hammer to drive home the the theme of family in this film. The guardians are immersed in a powerful conversation. Throughout the conversation Groot is passed around and cradled by each member in turn.

Ego was…disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kurt Russell as the living planet. He did an excellent job as a manipulative yet uncaring cosmic being. I just had hopped that he would have been allowed to be the living planet as opposed to being made a celestial. This is a deep cut for me but the celestials in the marvel universe are sort of the creator race. Their powers are vast and unfathomable. I had hoped that Marvel had learned from the first movie in this series that they could just go with the craziness that is the cosmic marvel universe and run. The audience had accepted a talking racoon and a plant. A living planet that was tired of being alone would have fit in just fine.

The initial plot that starts the movie is very thin. We get to watch as the team guards batteries from an interdimensional beast. This seems very low rent for a team that has successfully defeated Ronan the Accuser. It further thins as this empire is willing to throw all its resources against the Guardians even after a good portion of their fleet is destroyed by a single creature without a ship. There is no pause to contemplate that this might be a poor life decision and that whatever those people have stumbled into might better be left undisturbed.

The last bit that bugged me was Yondu. We learn that Yondu broke the Ravager code in regards to children and that he was allowed to continue to wear the colors but was not given any of the support that this would normally entail. We learn as the story unfolds the true horror of what Yondu has done appears. In the end, The Ravagers end up giving Yondu what he hoped for but there is no reason for this. Rocket admits that he broadcast the last moments between Peter and Yondu. This is enough to give Yondu a personal redemption but does nothing to explain why the Ravagers would now consider him a member of the group once again.

Overall, Marvel has still done a good job with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. It gives me more space opera that I enjoy as well as character moments that provide a connection for me with a movie. A little less baby Groot and a little more on in regards to plot would have made this an excellent movie.

Three bear paws out of four. Well worth watching on the big screen to enjoy space opera in it’s natural habitat.

Passengers

Spoiler Warnings On!

 

The trailer for Passengers sucked me.

The idea of a generation ship suffering some mishap in space and two people being left to face the darkness and the catastrophe alone is an intriguing idea to me. I have read many stories with this premise. I wanted to see Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence walk around in this type of story.

Passengers provides this story as a backdrop but not the central idea. Pratt and Lawrence are passengers on a generation ship that has suffered catastrophe. The question that is asked is not how do you repair a ship with limited tools but what would you do when you are faced with dying alone out in the darkness.

So, going into Passengers, you are expecting sci-fi action and adventure and are given romance with a touch of soul searching. I am not averse to romance but was not expecting it here.

Pratt and Lawrence, as usual, give excellent performances. Pratt plays Jim Preston. Preston is a mechanic and an engineer who has left earth to find something that he can fix and build. Lawrence plays Aurora Lane, a write seeking to leave the shadow of a famous father and tell her own story. There is no way for these two to not have chemistry on the screen. They move with ease through the simple story they are given and allow the few times that the scripts tries to transcend to shine through.

The cinematography and effects are solid as well. The way that shots are handled both capture the futuristic feeling of the setting while also highlighting the isolation and alienation that such a trip would entail. There are points in the story where Preston is truding through a year alone on the ship and the shots and how they are woven together illustrates the descending madness of facing one’s demise alone and and unmarked can do to someone.

The movie is problematic for me when it comes to this choice moment. Preston is contemplating suicide rather than die alone. He makes a choice and begins researching other passengers. He chooses Aurora and then takes the time to choose whether to consign her to the same fate or live alone.

He makes the choice to have her join him. Thus begins the romance. Pratt is an excellent awkward lothario and the wooing is worth watching on the screen. The problem for me is that this is a horrible choice and Lane’s death is sealed without her consent. the secret comes out and the consequences are there but are impermanent. The ship must be repaired with death on the line. In that moment where Lane could lose Preston, she chooses to want him with all her heart. Lane chooses her murderer/lover and chooses to not die estranged from another human.

Passengers chooses to make normal this horrible decision. It follows the standard romance trope of love conquering all and the woman choosing to take the man back to not feel unfulfilled. It makes my skin crawl.

The writer, Jon Spaihts, could have done better. At minimum, the roles could have been gender flipped. Lane could have been the mechanic that was accidentally awoken by the accident that befell the ship. This would not make the choice any less icky but would have definitely flipped the power dynamic and making for a more interesting exploration of this moral dilemma. The moral dilemma could have been explored more as well. We get a montage of Preston working up to making the decision but the weight of the decision never settles. I wanted to see the weight of that secret come to bear as it was a beat that was left unheard.

We also get a brief flash of another person on the ship as Gus Mancuso, played by Laurence Fishburne, is awoken. He is underutilized as he serves as a tool to give the two a way to survive the ship’s problems as well to highlight what it means to die on this ship with others around you. He even has a line for Lane when she brings up that Preston consigned her to death to make it easier to forgive him. “The drowning man doesn’t mean to drowned you, he just doesn’t want to drowned.”

I was entertained by Passengers despite the problems. I wish it had made some effort to be something other than a standard romance. Exploring the central question and avoiding the common tropes of the genre would have made this a much better movie.

Two bear paws out of four. Worth watching when it comes to Netflix.

 

Rogue One

Spoiler warnings on.

 

I loved Rogue One.

It hits the same beats for me that made Empire Strikes Back my favorite Star Wars movie.

First off, the movie is gorgeous. It blends practical effects with CGI in a way that draws you into the movie. The opening scenes are just one example. We jump to the planet that is the home of Erso’s. The CGI of the planet from space is breathtaking as one would expect. When the camera brings us the the planet’s surface, the choice of location provides us with setting that is both familiar and alien all at once. The added effects of the farm that Galen Erso has constructed are sparse but build up this idea of an alien sanctuary far from the battles raging across the stars. The Imperial shuttle cuts the sky like an implacable shark intent on it’s prey.

This type of scene is repeated throughout the movie as we follow our erstwhile heroes. The vistas presented are varied and each adds another layer to the scope of tapestry that is the war for the soul of the galaxy. I liked that we are given so many different places. It gives the story both the room to move around as well as lending an grand scale to a story of just a few people.

I love the characters that we are given in Rogue One as well.

Four stood out for me in particular. First was Cassian Andor. In Cassian, we are given an agent of the rebellion that has done many dark things in the name of what he believes in. These things aren’t just stories that he tells us, as we get to see him sacrifice a contact in cold blood to ensure his escape to pursue a lead on Galen Erso. The audience gets to watch as he struggles with executing orders that would have him kill again in order to try and protect the rebellion from the weapon that has been created.

Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus are a pair that are found by the heroes on Jedha. These two are the last defenders of a temple that has long since fallen. They are like paladins adrift with nothing to defend and no cause to champion. They are adherents of the force yet not jedi themselves. One still firmly believes in the force while the other trusts in his weapons and his friend. Despite not being a jedi, Chirrut’s expertise with the staff despite his blindness provides us with a character that is force sensitive without needing a jedi. His mantra, “I am one with with force and the force is with me.” is an immediate classic for me. The relationship between the two is also an interesting aside. They present a close relationship between two men without it feeling forced, stereotypical, or sexual. They are just two men whom are best friends and normalizes this type of relationship without any of the macho overtones one would expect.

Finally, there is K-2SO. He is a reprogrammed imperial droid voice by Alan Tudyk. He provides a dose of comedy in what could easily be a dark and brooding movie. Unlike C-3PO, his statements are plucked from the minds of the audience and given voice on the screen. In once scene, Jyn has “acquired” a blaster. K-2SO’s response to this is succinct. “Why is she allowed to have a blaster?” When the decision is made to allow her to keep the blaster, K2 quips, “Would you like to know the odds of her using the blaster on you? They’re high…very high.” Hilarious! and yet, despite being a droid, K-2SO sucks you in with that cutting personality and a soul housed in the machine.

The wonderful and horrible thing about these characters is that they suck you in and make you care about them. You connect with them despite knowing how this ends. And even knowing where this movie goes, Each death is a punch in the gut that leaves you misty-eyed and sad to watch their passing. When K-2SO locked Cassian and Jyn inside the vault so they could continue searching for the plans as his systems failed under the assault, I had tears in my eyes.

I also enjoyed the two appearances of Lord Vader in Rogue One. Both are short but highlight the malevolence and power that is Darth Vader. First we meet Vader in his fortress. The Administrator of the the death star has come in search of his lost power. He provides a report on the capabilities of the weapon and asks to be given control of the station as Vader leaves. The audience gets to watch as the iconic force choke begins and vader states that administrator should, “Be careful not to choke on his aspirations.” The next we see of vader is at the end of the movie cutting his way through rebel soldiers to get to the plans on the flagship of the rebel fleet. He is too late and we get to see him watch as leia’s ship streaks off into the darkness.

Badass!

I am not blind though. I know the movie has problems. The plot is straightforward and ending is telegraphed. There are bits that were wonderful in the trailer but are never seen on the screen, such as the iconic, “This is a Rebellion, I rebel.” The CGI Tarkin quickly descends into the uncanny valley, especially given how much screen time this character gets in Rogue One. This character is only outdone by the CGI princess leia that just looked weird and felt even more wrong.

Despite these things, Rogue One takes it’s place as my second favorite Star Wars movie. It echoes the things I loved in Empire Strikes back and gives me characters that I come to love and mourn their passing each time I see it on the screen. Definitely four bear paws out of four!

I bearly recommend it!

 

Moana

moanaWhen I learned about Disney’s new movie releasing over the Thanksgiving Holiday, I was sold. Moana was based on Polynesian mythology and features songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Nothing else need be said.

I love mythology. It was my one of the first kind of books I checked out of the school library as a child. I am woefully uneducated on the mythology of the polynesian cultures and Moana provides an good introduction to the subject.

I have also become a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I listen to the soundtrack several times a week, if not more. The songs he crafted for this show are just wonderful and echo in my head long after I have stopped listening to them physically.

The combination of these things I love is just priceless.

I had my concerns going into Moana, as Disney does not have the best track record at handling these types stories with sensitivity. Pocahontas being the case in point. I can not claim to be fully aware of complaints regarding the sensitivity to the cultural issues that are presented in Moana. If you hear of concerns from polynesian people, make sure to listen as they are better informed than I.  If you stay through to the end credits you will notice a long line of cultural references that Disney utilized to do better in Moana, and it appears to me to show on screen.

Outside of being predisposed to loving this movie for the subject matter and the musical pedigree, Moana is wonderful.

Moana is the daughter of the chief. Moana is supposed to take up her father’s position and lead her people into the future. We quickly learn that her what she is supposed to do and what is necessary are two different things. As a toddler, Moana’s grandmother shares with her the creation myth of the islands. She tells of how the mother island created all the things in the sea and then settle down to sleep. She tells of how Maui sought the mother’s heart to take the powers of creation for himself and in so doing, unleashed a darkness upon the sea.

We get to watch as Moana grows up striving to embrace the role that is set out for her yet still enraptured by the call of the ocean. She struggles to live up to the expectations of her parents while still listening to the songs and teachings of her grandmother. When the effects of the darkness finally encroach upon her island, Moana questions her grandmother and is shown the history of her people that has been hidden. Moana learns that they had been a people that had explored the ocean at great length but had stopped once the voyagers stopped returning. To save her family, and her people, Moana trusts in herself and takes to the sea to find Maui and return the heart to the mother island.

I love that we get a Disney Princess that sets out upon the hero’s journey. I love that Moana keeps moving forward despite the pressure from her father, her people, and Maui telling her that this is something that she can not do. I love that we get to watch as Moana learns the art of Wayfinding from Maui and then use that mastery to overcome the last guardian on her journey. One of the funniest moments for me is when Moana is arguing with Maui on her canoe and he calls her a princess. He walks through a checklist of things that make this so and it is hilarious yet accurate for a Disney Princess.

I mentioned the Lin-Manuel Miranda earlier and would be remiss in talking about the songs. I can hear his hand in each song that is given voice. These songs range from the pop style of “Shiny” sung by the villainous crab to the rap done by Dwayne Johnson entitled “You’re welcome.” Mix into these excellent pieces songs that blend english and Tokelauan language lyrics to create wondrous soundscapes that flow with the animation. A veritable treasure trove of songs that kids and adults alike will be singing for a long time to come.

There were a few things that stood out for me in particular in Moana. I loved that Maui’s tattoos told a story and were themselves alive. They both showed the story of Maui and held him to a higher standard than he himself sometimes adhered too. This was a unique approach to the tattoos and held up the idea that they were badges of honor that sometimes the wearer may fall short of. I also loved that one of the bosses that Moan faced were coconut pirates. They were both cute and fierce and allowed Moana to show her capabilities to their full extent fairly quickly in the movie. They are memorable without overshadowing the main characters which is a delicate balance to achieve. I also loves Hei Hei, the chicken. This is the animal sidekick that Maui talks about and is one of the funniest yet dumbest animal sidekicks in Disney history.

you should definitely see Moana in the theater. The music is wonderful, the action is entertaining, and the story will introduce you to a culture that everyone should know more about.

Four bear paws out of four! I can not wait to see this movie again.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_ver15As I mentioned in my review of Doctor Strange, I love magic.

I love reading stories that have it and watching movies that embrace it.

I came late to the Harry Potter books. I started reading them after the first movie came out and a friend bought me a collection of the first five books.

I was enraptured. I read through them quickly and awaited each new addition to the story with much excitement. I awaited each movie with the same excitement.

After the series ended, I was sad that there would be no more.

When I heard that there would be a new movie based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was conflicted. I was overjoyed that I would be getting back into this world that fit me like a pair of comfortable socks. I was disappointed that the characters I had come to love would not be taking the stage yet again. I was worried that the magic that I had come to love in the previous movies would be absent.

My worries were unfounded and disappointment overwhelmed with joy at this new entry into the Harry Potter universe.

Fantastic Beasts takes the audience to 1926 America. Newt Scamander has arrived via steamer to complete some unfinished business. He has been traveling the world cataloging the varied magical beasts to better educate the wizarding world about their value and the need to not exterminate them. Newt has come searching for information of creatures here in america as well as to travel further into the country. In his short time here, he runs across a street preacher that speaks out against the witches that hide among the populace.

He runs across an affable no-mag, american for muggle, Kowalski at the bank. Kowalski is looking to get a loan to open a bakery. While Kowalski is speaking with the bank manager, Newt must find a creature that has escaped from his luggage. It is this frantic search that leads to Kowalski becoming entangled with Newt and bringing Newt to the attention of the congress of magic for America.

What follows is an adventure of magical proportions. Creatures run rampant, conspiracies are exposed, and villains thought escaped are captured and brought to justice.

I loved it!

The four main characters are solid. They are all likeable and give the audience an excellent entry into the story. Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Ben Fogler, Alison sudol all turn in solid performances. Each character has a heart that reaches off the screen and connects with the audience. They are far from the top levels of power but endearing in their own way. Newt is socially awkward yet intelligent, quick, and caring. He does not want to offend his american hosts but will not give up his search for his missing creatures. Kowalski is a the friendly muggle that is both in awe of the world that he has stumbled upon as well as providing a grounding for rest of the group as they pursue their various agenda. Tina Goldstein is a failed Auror desperate to get herself back into the good graces of the congress. She is earnest and eager with a heart full caring that sometimes overrides the need for discretion and circumspection. Queenie, Tina’s sister, works as a secretary and servant at the congress and dreams of doing more.

The effects on display in Fantastic Beasts are simply stunning. The magical combats that occur are fast and furious. They encapsulate what I imagine when wizards settle in for a good fight. The creatures that are on display range from the cute and cuddly to the awe-inspiring. Each is given a personality that jumps off the screen and makes you connect with the creature in almost the same way that you connect with the characters. I also loved the method in which the creatures were transported. It echoes Doctor Who and makes me love a piece of luggage as much as I love the Rincewind’s luggage.

I also appreciate that, despite a standard plot, Fantastic Beats avoid some common tropes. The expectations is for the heroes of the story is for them to transform across the breadth of the story into something approaching the standard cinematic hero. Newt remains his shy and awkward self, just a little more aware of those around him. Tina does not transform into a glamorous bon vivant that is the toast of the town but just get up the courage to show her affection for Newt. The changes the characters undergo are subtle yet powerful which was refreshing to see on the big screen.

My one quibble with the movie is the lack of diversity in the cast. If you look at the line up and compare it to The Cursed child, Fantastic Beasts is fairly disappointing on this point. the only major character to step outside the norm is Seraphina, played by Carmen Ejogo and her time on the screen is minimal. It is very disappointing and I hope this is something that the studio will aim to fix in future movies.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved Fantastic Beasts. It hits all the Harry Potter buttons that I want while providing an entertaining story. I easily lose myself in this world and love these four characters. My hope is that we get to revisit these characters while adding a bit more diversity to the cast.

Four bear paws out of four and well worth seeing a few times at the theater.

Doctor Strange

doctor-strange-2016-poster-impossibilitiesDoctor Strange was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me.

I love the mystic heroes of Marvel and DC. The movies of each universe have neatly sidestepped the concept of magic and kept it off of the screen. Doctor Strange takes this idea and places it center stage.

I will admit, my expectations for Doctor Strange were high. I wanted to see so much from his backstory make it up on to the screen that it made it nigh impossible for me to come out of the movie rapt in adoration.

I enjoyed the movie but it missed the mark at making me love it.

Doctor Strange does an excellent job of introducing the audience to another quirky character from the marvel universe. Benedict Cumberbatch takes up the mantle of Dr. Stephen Strange with ease. He captures the arrogance and mastery that is a hallmark of Doctor Strange before he begins his journey of discovery. Cumberbatch has no difficulty walking the line between arrogant asshole and master of his craft. He is able to embody a character that is both maddening in his self-absorption and likeable for the way he is willing to help out those that he cares about.

The movie does a great job of presenting Strange’s supporting cast as well. First, I liked that they change the Ancient One to a woman.  In the comic, The ancient One comes with a lot of baggage. These issues are sidestepped to give us a female character that is both powerful and relatable. Tilda Swinton does an excellent job being the enigmatic Ancient One. I also enjoyed the changes made to Wong. Wong suffered from the same treatment as the Ancient One in the comics. He was the long-suffering servant that placed the needs of his master above his own. Here, Wong is a Master of the Mystic arts and defender of the library. He is played ably by Benjamin Wong who provides a an excellent foil for our gifted soon to be sorcerer. Finally, The casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo was inspired. He carries himself with such strength and grace that he just radiates power. He dances the line between earnestness and melodrama with style and grace and avoids falling into the stereotypical villain-to-be.

The cloak of levitation was also a pleasant surprise. In the comics, it is just a magical artifact of minor consequence. In the movie, it is a sentient item that has definite ideas about whom should be wearing it and how they are best served. The scene where Strange is trying to retrieve an axe to defend himself and the cloak forces him to make a different choice is priceless. I also loved how it tried to clean his face when he was preparing to get back into the fray and had to be told to stop.

Hilarious!

The movie fell short for me in how it treated magic. The many scenes where spells are being cast had beautiful mandala designs but put them to no use. The battles between sorcerers involved running a lot over an ever changing field of battle. The assumption was that this change of environment was caused by magic with the indicator that this was caused by a wizard was that he waved his hands. Why not have the sorcerer in question create an amazing mandala and then incorporate it into the environment? The magical battles were martial arts set pieces. This is fun to watch but why not have magical duels be similar to the things that we have seen in Harry Potter? The effects are beautiful and well done but just don’t seem to capture how magic would be done in the Marvel cinematic Universe, much less how it is portrayed in the comics.

The movie also falls a bit shot in acknowledging where it borrows. The mandalas abound yet and explanation of where they come from and why magic looks that way are in short supply. Taking the time to point out the significance of the symbols used would not have taken any time and been an excellent way of educating the audience.

Doctor Strange was an entertaining movie. It finally brings magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and gives us a hero that is trying to do no harm. The performances of all the players are solid and the effects are top notch. A definite three bear paws out of four from this geek bear. If you have a chance, get to the theater to see this movie. Also, well worth seeing in iMax 3D if they have it where you live.

Suicide Squad

Captain-Boomerang-Suicide-Squad-PosterI have seen Suicide Squad twice and have to say that I love it.

I went in with a bad attitude as I had not enjoyed Man of Steel or Batman Vs Superman. I knew very little about this title as I had read very few of them in my time with comics. Which made this a surprising movie when I ended up loving it.

If you don’t read comics, this may not make sense, but Suicide Squad is an excellent first issue. It provides a fully self-contained story. There is a broad introduction to all of the characters in play. The movie sets the stakes by which the game will be played and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. The questions are interesting and the answers have an emotional resonance that gives them some weight.

In addition, Suicide Squad makes good use of some of the stylistic elements that are present in other superhero media. The movie gives a nod of the head to the TV show Arrow in that the exposition is done in the form of flashbacks. We get to see how the members of the team are collected in this manner as well as learning the origin of Harley Quinn. The movie also takes a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and makes excellent use of music to highlight the action. In the same fashion as Guardians, the choices made are just perfect and created an instant connection for me with the movie.

The performances of the actors and actresses are all solid. Viola Davis and Margot Robbie are two of the standout performances of the movie. Viola Davis takes on the role of the Hard-nosed, Morally-ambiguous Amanda Waller and makes you fear this woman who would control this band of killers. Margot Robbie provides us with our first live action version of Harley Quinn and she knocks it out of the park. Unlike the versions we get in comics and cartoons, Harley is a fully participant in the madness and mayhem that surrounds her and the Joker. Robies performance is filled with emotion, cuteness, madness, and scary insights. Everything one would want from Harley Quinn.

There are things that you pick up throughout the movie that are small but powerful.

suicide-squad-cast-photo-costumesjpgOne of these is the theme of love that is threaded throughout. Amanda Waller is asked how she is going to control this band of misfits. Her answer is to apply leverage. This leverage is the love that each of the main characters exhibits. Deadshot loves his daughter. In the flashback to how he is captured we get to watch this love in action as he fights Batman in the streets of Gotham. Harley Quinn loves the Joker. We get to see this love develop and strengthen in the flashbacks to her origin. This drives her to cooperate in the hopes of being reunited with him while on the outside on the job for Waller. We also have the love that Flagg has for Dr. Moone. Really, there are few characters that aren’t touched by the this underlying theme in someway or another.

I also enjoy the not-so-subtle way that power disparities are pointed out in the movie. In the scene where we get to watch as Amanda Waller pitches the Suicide Squad to the Joint Chiefs, she is one of the few women in the the room and also one of the only persons of color in the room. Yet, she is the one holding the most powerful weapon in the room which is also one of the other women in the room. Another way this is pointed out is when Waller and Flagg enter into Belle Reve prison. The guard that greets them begins to provide all the information to Flagg. He interrupts to let the guard know that he should be directing his ass-kissing to Waller. This then gets flipped when Deadshot is naming his price for working for Flagg. He goes on at some length to only then point out that he wasn’t talking to Flagg, but to his boss, Waller.  The finally twist on power is played out by Diablo. He sits in a horrible cell as Waller makes her pitch. He knows the power he wields and that they just want to make a weapon out of him. He has played that game before and knows the price that is payed for that power and is terrified that the price could still go higher.

Despite my love for the movie, it does not blind me to it’s flaws. The story is simple with little meat on it save what is provided by the characters. The trope at it’s center is overdone and makes me wish that we will see less super weapon scenarios play out in future movies. I know this will not happen but one can hope. The large number of members of the squad makes it so that very few of the members get more than a cursory treatment. Killer Croc, Katana, and Captain Boomerang are all under explained and under utilized. The write provides a unicorn toy for Captain Boomerang which seems like a poor attempt at copying Deadpool. There also seem to be points where the editing was rushed as in where Captain Boomerang leaves when given the chance by Flagg and then later rejoins the team for the final assault. It feels like there was explanation in there but that it just didn’t get to the final cut.

You also know whom on this Suicide Squad isn’t going to make it out of the movie alive without really trying.

Suicide Squad is definitely a four bear paws out of four movie. It is a look at a different type of relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn. This is a DC movie that presents villains as people without the angst and morality overwhelming the action and comedy of the situation. It tucks in some social commentary without it being noticeable to those who came to see a regular action movie. I hope that DC can take some lessons from this movie and incorporate them into future movies in the DC Cinematic Universe.

Star Trek Beyond

startrekbeyondposterAfter Star Trek: Into Darkness, I had reservations about this movie. My hopes were for a return to a movie more in line with the original Star Trek where the action was was used in service to the themes at play throughout the movie. I didn’t want the action to be the theme of the movie. The trailer showed a move that was action packed and left me with little hope for Beyond being the type of Star Trek movie that I want.

I was surprised to discover that I liked Star Trek Beyond much more than I expected. It has problems but comes closer to the Star Trek that I want than the previous two movies.

Let us begin with the good stuff.

First, we are given much more time with the characters in this story. Action abounds but the characters are given space to breath and interact which is priceless. The opening sequence is just small peek into the mind of Captain Kirk but it stands out as a unique view that was missing from the Star Trek Universe. We get Kirk’s log playing over a view of life on the Enterprise. The crew is three years into their five year mission. Kirk speaks about the small things that are normal business on a ship of this size. He speaks of the vastness of space and the small speck that he and his ship represent in this vast unknown and wonders at the reason behind the mission. Why seek to learn more when the unknown is seemingly infinite. A deep question from a Captain that has appeared to be uninterested in introspection.

I love that we get to watch as McCoy interacts with both Kirk and Spock at length. Urban embodies the role with heart and soul and ache at the loss of the Original bones due to his genuine performance. He comes across and gruff and irascible while still being caring and supportive. In particular, I loved the interaction between Spock and McCoy. They are given a large amount of time together in this movie and we get to watch their gruff exchanges and see the underlying friendship blossom. There is a point where Spock openly states that, despite the argumentative nature of their relationship, his esteem for McCoy was never in doubt.

This hit me right in the feels.

I also appreciate that Star Trek is attempting to give us a diverse future. Uhura is still allowed to retain agency. She does not wait around to be rescued and makes choices that influence the course of the movie. In addition, she is allowed to be out point of view several times throughout the movie which I like. On top of this, we quietly get a gay main member of the crew. In the sequence where Kirk is talking about the life of the crew on the ship, we get to see Sulu with a picture of his daughter at his station. A bit anachronistic, but still touching. When they arrive on Yorktown, we get to see Sulu run off into the crowd to embrace his husband and his child. No muss, no fuss, just like a normal family.

This is what I want to see in my media. I want to see myself and others presented just like everyone else. This is why these things in this movie are so important. They take place in a Franchise that is so big that it lifts us up out of the shadows and gives us the treatment we deserve.

All the feels.

Star Trek Beyond is not without it’s flaws though.

Did we really need to destroy the enterprise again? The United Federation Of Planets coffers must be overflowing since they do not seem to mind building a new ship for the the crew of the Enterprise. Especially since every time they get on a ship it ends up destroyed. don’t get me wrong, the battle that destroyed the ship was epic and fun to watch, just not necessary. It felt like a lazy way to show the ingenuity of the crew and overtly emotionally manipulative.

The villain of the piece is yet again a nihilist. He is on a quest to show the federation that conflict is not something to be avoided, but to be embraced. The villains motivations for this are shrouded in mystery until the around the end of the movie. Uhura catches a glimpse of Captain of the ship that is discovered hidden on this unknown planet. The crew learns that this man had been soldier whom had fought many battles before the beginning of the Federation. The captain and his crew crashed on this planet and only a few survived to live on as part of an ancient machine that changed them. It left them nothing but a thirst for revenge posited as a mission.

It makes little sense.

During the final battle between Kirk and this captain, we get more of an explanation. It sounds more of a man without a purpose. The reasoning behind wanting to watch the world burn is bad and doesn’t hold up to the dramatic weight that the movie tries to give it.

On top of this, the villain is played by Idris Elba. I knew he was in the movie but he was unrecognizable as the villain. He is layered in prosthetics and his voice is altered. Elba is given nothing that calls for his immense talents which means he gets not time to shine. his character murders crew members throughout the movie and the purpose is not easily evident. It requires Uhura to tell us that he kills people and changes as he absorbs something from them. Really? Did we spend so much on destroying the Enterprise that we didn’t have enough to make the effects clear on the villain to make him make more sense?

Disappointing.

I would give Star Trek Beyond three bear paws out of four. It gives me more of the Star trek that I want in movie form than I have gotten from the last two movie. It provides some diversity in the story line that plucked at my heart strings. If the flaws had been handled better, this would have been an even better movie. Still worth seeing at the theater for a matinee.