Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a superhero space movie and the third installment of Marvel Phase 3.

Back in the early 80s, Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) drives with her boyfriend (Kurt Russell) to a secluded place. She is shown a special plant by her boyfriend as they confess their love for each other. The film then cuts to the Guardians of the Galaxy a few months after the events of the first movie. Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) leads the group as they defend high-quality batteries from some eldritch monster. Peter and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) approach their employers, the Soveriegn, for their reward: the captured Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s sister through adoption. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals some of the Sovereign’s batteries in an attempt to make more money. Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign, is made aware of the theft and orders they be captured. Their attempts are foiled by a lone spaceship piloted by Peter’s father, who reveals himself as Ego.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his band of Ravagers are confronted by the high-ranking Ravager Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) for trafficking children, a call-back to Yondu taking Peter Quill in the previous film, ultimately sowing discontent among Yondu’s team. Ayesha approaches Yondu to capture the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Ravagers are able to capture half the crew, but the crew ultimately mutinies and throws Yondu in a holding cell with the captured Guardians.

Plot

The movie has a main plot and a smaller plot that converge together in the middle of the second act. The film sets up for a generic hero plot of the heroes being pursued by the villains until unlikely allies team up and save the day, but this movie takes a different and much appreciated approach. The pacing is well done, making it so the film does not get too dramatic or over-the-top comedic. It pushes against the edge of absurd and realistically sad, but pulls back at the right times.

8/10

Characters

With this being a sequel, much of the broad character development is already known to the audience, leaving time to finely tune their personalities or to introduce new characters. The movie does well to do both with the interactions of new characters to the already established, such as Ego with Peter Quill or Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). The relationship between Nebula and Gamora is also expanded, detailing their troubled childhood adopted and raised by Thanos. Among the new characters is Mantis, an empath working with Ego that channels emotions but largely unable to feel any by herself. She ends up spending a lot of time with the Guardians and discovers her own personality through them.

9/10

Language

Keeping with space and planets largely unfamiliar with the audience, the movie will reference places and aliens without much context, though they do reference previous places like Xandar from the previous film. Also, though not as prevalent as I would have hoped, Groot (Vin Diesel) has spoken lines in the film, but have to be derived from the context of the situation or translated by Rocket.

7/10

Theme

The primary theme of the movie revolves around family, genetic or found. Star Lord is immediately questioned about his genealogy after speaking with the Sovereign. A moment later, Gamora is questioned about her relationship with Nebula, to which Gamora says that she’s more interested in Nebula’s bounty instead of being sisters. Ego is eager to reunite with Peter and Peter needs to adjust to meeting his father and catching up for lost time.  The idea of family is touched on almost every level: those who are missing, those who are present, those we don’t want present, and making a family out of our closest associates.

9/10

Music

The music is easily my favorite part about the movie. Much like the previous installment, the soundtrack features songs from the 70s and 80s. The songs not only help with the pacing of the movie, some of them are addressed directly in the film. Ego and Peter discuss the lyrics of “Brandy,” the song Ego and Meredith listen to at the top of the movie. Peter also has the opportunity to listen to “Father and Son” at one of the most emotionally invested moments of the film.

However, my absolute favorite use of  music comes during the opening title crawl. While the rest of the Guardians fight the giant space squid, Groot takes advantage of the speaker system Rocket set up to dance to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” The song itself has a way to make people happy, but mixed with baby Groot and his interactions with his environment, I found it impossible to be sad during that scene.

10/10

Spectacle

Since the majority of the movie takes place on alien planets, extravagant scenes and makeup were used to capture the setting of the moment. The Sovereign’s intense presence of opulence is capped off by their skin and their world covered in gold. Ego’s planet is bright and colorful, with the only limits being his imagination. Contained sets, like taking place on spaceships, gave a claustrophobic feeling of everything closing in on the characters. The worlds built and rebuilt in this film are something to admire.

10/10

Star Power

All of the previous main cast return for the movie, while the special guest stars are big 80s icons. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, and Michael Rooker return for their roles, while Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell each play significant roles throughout the film.

9/10

Audience Demographic

As a sequel, it’s very hard to get people interested halfway through the film franchise without the context of the previous film, or perhaps a general understanding of the 2008 run of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic books. Also, being the 15th film overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a lot of it is counting on the momentum of returning fans and audience members instead of new ones.

6/10

Post-movie Thoughts

As with the rest of the MCU films, this movie has extra footage during and after the credits. This movie is special, having 5 post-film scenes throughout the credits instead of one or two as is the norm. These scenes prep the audience for future interactions with the Guardians of the Galaxy (a third movie has been confirmed and the Guardians are planned on being involved with the Infinity War). My biggest take-aways from the film on its own is the message about family and Groot dancing to Mr. Blue Sky, now being one of the most memorable movie openings that I’ve ever seen.

8/10

Universe Galaxy Building

One of the most difficult parts of the film is carrying the momentum of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film is set off of Earth, separating it from the Avengers. It’s also not tied with Thor, who also resides off of Earth, making their connection to the rest of the MCU very tenuous. The previous film briefly features Thanos, giving it a connection to the Phase 3 villain of the franchise. The connection is much less secure in this film, as Thanos’s presence isn’t at the capacity that it was for the previous film.

5/10

Overall: 81/100

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Movie Review: Rogue One

Rogue One is an epic space opera and spinoff of the Star Wars franchise.

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Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is an Imperial scientist living largely in seclusion with his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) and daughter Jyn. He is found by Imperial director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and is recruited to return to the Empire to work on a super weapon. When Galen resists, Krennic and Imperial troops forcibly take him and kill Lyra, leaving Jyn to the care of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Approximately 15 years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is left to her own devices, getting in and out of trouble with Imperial troops.

Meanwhile, Rebel Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) receives word that a super weapon is ready to begin testing. The weapon can level cities with ease and has the potential to be a “planet killer.” His report back to the Rebellion leads to a search for Saw Gerrera, now a disbanded member of the Rebellion, to ultimately find the creator of this super weapon, Galen Erso. Jyn is rescued from Imperial capture and taken to Jedha, a moon containing Saw’s headquarters, with Cassian Andor and his reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). While searching for him, they come across Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind monk with a strong belief in the Force, his heavily-armed friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). When a transmission is received relaying details of the super weapon, called the Death Star, a frantic new mission starts to find the details of the weapon in a hope to stop it and turn the tide of battle against the Empire.

Plot

The movie starts without the exposition crawl of the other Star Wars movies. While the plot points are easy enough to pick up, it’s a nice change of pace of not being front-loaded with information regarding the movie. It takes place before the events of A New Hope, which should be obvious to the moviegoers about the success of the mission. It’s reminiscent of movies like All the President’s Men, where a movie with an obvious outcome can still be entertaining. We know where the journey ends with the Rebellion, but how did they get there?

8/10

Characters

rogue-one-star-wars

The movie casts a wide net to establish some key characters, giving them their own spot in the first act of the movie. The other main characters show up at the top of the second act and have their character develop through the context of the people around them. Chirrut Imwe, for example, is seen “praying” to the Force while other characters seem to deal only with the things that are seen rather than felt. Baze, Chirrut’s friend, is much more pragmatic and to-the-point. While both are foils for each other’s character, their personalities become even more interesting with the dynamics of the group. Cassian Andor is very much a Han Solo character of the movie, minus Solo’s neutrality to the Empire at the introduction to his character. The character I found the most entertaining and interesting was K-2SO, an Imperial droid reprogrammed to side with the Rebel Alliance. He has the sassy attitude of R2-D2 but can be understood like C-3PO. While droids are characteristically devoid of emotion, it’s hard not to like him for his delivery.

On the antagonist side, Director Krennic aspires to be a legend among the Empire, approving and overseeing the development of what will be the Death Star. He faces opposition among his higher ups as his reach exceeds his grasp.

9/10

Language

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“I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.”

The movie carries over established properties from other Star Wars films in the franchise. However, with the exception of Chirrut Imwe, mentions of the Force are few and far between. There are references to the prequel movies, particularly Revenge of the Sith, addressing why there are no Jedi to be found.

In one of the first trailers for this movie, there was a line spoken by Saw Gerrera that stood out.

What will you do when they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?

Notice that he used the word “when” and not “if.” That level of certainty, or lack of faith in success, really puts a strain on the confidence of the mission.

Chirrut Imwe’s devotion to the Force stood out the most for me in this movie, with him repeating the mantra to himself. It’s not complex, but it gave him the confidence to drive forward. This, when put in the context of Saw’s warning given in the trailers, put up an interesting spectrum.

9/10

Theme

“Rebellions are built on hope.”

One of the most obvious themes of the movie is the hope of success in the face of a daunting obstacle. The Rebellion, throughout this movie and original trilogy as a whole, hinges on a hope that they will overcome the oppressive Galactic Empire.

One of the less apparent themes of the movie is a foil of A New Hope. Luke Skywalker is a young man living peacefully with aspirations to be a part of the war effort. Jyn Erso is a young woman living in the turmoil of war with aspirations to return to peaceful living.

Finally, and more in a meta sense than being directly addressed in this or other films, the idea that the Rebellion are painted as heroes and the Empire as villains. But if you look at the actions of the Rebellion, they can easily be labeled as terrorists on an interplanetary scale. Saw Gerrera was a Rebellion-aligned fighter before splitting and forming his own military faction against the Empire. Both his faction and the Rebellion have the same goals: stop the reach of the Empire. But their methods are the ones that separate “freedom fighters” from “terrorists.”

9/10

Music

I was honestly frustrated with the score of the movie and I had little reason to be. John Williams did not return for the composition of this movie’s score, instead going to Michael Giacchino. The music hits the same beats of the other movies, but there are intentional shifts before a theme becomes too familiar. Character themes and other songs were engaging and exciting, but I was immediately pulled out of it with a change to the established themes of the franchise.

8/10

Spectacle

The most exciting sights of the movie are the close-ups of the developing Death Star. In the past, the sights were mostly far away glances of the completed product. Star Wars films as a whole set a high bar when it comes to graphics in movies. This movie doesn’t stop at the close-ups of the Death Star, but of other Imperial vehicles like AT-ATs, focusing on their firepower instead of their slow walking. Fire fights and close combat are very fast-paced and exciting.

10/10

Star Power

D23 EXPO 2015 - D23 EXPO, the ultimate Disney fan event, brings together all the past, present and future of Disney entertainment under one roof. Taking place August 14-16, this year marks the fourth D23 EXPO at the Anaheim Convention Center and promises to be the biggest and most spectacular yet. (Disney/Image Group LA) ALAN HORN (Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios)

Felicity Jones and Mads Mikkelsen, two of the central actors of the film, have both been nominated for Academy Awards. Diego Luna was recently involved in the films Book of Life and Elysium. Ben Mendelsohn has a long list of film and television appearances, most recently being involved in the Netflix series Bloodline. Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award for his role in The Last King of Scotland. Most impressive among the cast is Donnie Yen, an actor from Hong Kong. He has extensive knowledge of several practices of martial arts and expresses them in films, particularly the Ip Man films. For his role in the film, he toned down his physique and refined a martial art to portray Chirrut Imwe.

9/10

Audience Demographic

Fans of the franchise will naturally gravitate toward this movie, filling in gap between the prequel trilogy and the original films. With the collapse of the extended universe and tightening of the Star Wars canon, a lot is left to be desired and has to be sated with the comic books and spin-off films. Outside of the fans, the film will have many pockets of context that isn’t explained because it’s meant to be understood by the audience, potentially alienating newcomers.

7/10

Post-movie Thoughts

This movie was very satisfying for what it put forward. The dramatic irony forced me to come into this movie with a shifted perspective: much less “what’s going to happen?” and more “how is it going to happen?” The presence of Darth Vader, as it’s seen in the trailer, really tied this movie in with the main entries to the franchise instead of “we’re important because of the Death Star.”

8/10

Spin-off Series

This movie is the first of two or three movies that focus on events in between the prequel and original movies. With movies that focus on singular characters like Han Solo, this was an important bellwether to find out if this is what moviegoers want to watch. The infiltration to find plans for the Death Star is compelling despite knowing how it will end.

8/10

Overall: 85/100

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Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is fantasy superhero film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title role. It is the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 14th of the franchise.

doctor_strange_poster

The film opens in Kamar-Taj, a compound found in Kathmandu. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and a group of his followers infiltrate the compound’s library and steals pages from one of the books. The group is forced to flee after encountering The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in an attempt to take back the stolen pages.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is introduced as a stellar neurosurgeon with a spotless record. Immediately following a surgery, he is pulled aside by fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to address another patient who was considered brain dead by another doctor. Strange performs the surgery successfully, mildly rubbing it in his colleagues’ faces. After a car accident involving rain, high speeds, and distracted driving, Strange is left alive, but unable to steady his hands; effectively ending his career. He drives himself into debt to fix his hands and pushes away Christine, leaving him largely alone. During a physical therapy session, he is introduced to Jon Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a paraplegic that found his cure in Kamar-Taj. Strange spends the last of his money hoping to find the place, and is saved from a mugging by Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Mordo introduces Strange to The Ancient One, who introduces Strange to other dimensions. Strange humbles himself and begs to learn about the Mystic Arts.

Kaecilius and his zealots use the stolen pages to conjure a portal into the Dark Dimension. The dimension consists of a reality without time, and by extension, mortality. They plan to phase Earth into the Dark Dimension to prevent death.

Plot

This movie, similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, departs from the Earth-centered stories of the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in favor of one that spans several dimensions. Settings bounce from New York, London, Hong Kong, and at least two dimensions, but are all streamlined to be more-or-less connected to Kamar-Taj. Despite this, I didn’t find the movie to be disjointed or lacking in explanation.

10/10

Characters

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The title character has the most deliberate character development, starting as a successful and very arrogant neurosurgeon. He initially views the injury to his hands as the loss of his life, being unable to perform the tasks that made him wealthy and famous. Using any means necessary to get back, he shows he’s not afraid to bend rules to get results. He eventually humbles himself when introduced to The Ancient One, but his stubbornness is still very present. Karl Mordo is largely a foil to Strange, abiding by a strict moral code and accepting his position in the world. Kaecilius, the antagonist, starts as a student of The Ancient One after losing his family. His ambition eventually makes him turn on The Ancient One and find the portal to the Dark Dimension to prevent the deaths of others. This in mind, Kaecilius can be interpreted as a tragic villain instead of the straightforward villains of previous MCU films.

10/10

Language

A lot of dialogue in the movie involves magical realms and medical terms, but the movie puts them in a context that will make it easy for any moviegoer to understand. In addition, the movie addresses and lampshades a mnemonic technique used by Stan Lee when designing characters and events. Alliterative names where a staple for the early Marvel characters, which include but are not limited to Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Pepper Potts, Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson, and of course Stephen Strange.

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“Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?” – Stephen Strange to Wong (Benedict Wong)

9/10

Theme

The most prominent theme of the movie, which shows up several times in each act, is the balance of arrogance and humility. Stephen Strange is incredibly arrogant as a surgeon and has to humble himself before unlocking his potential in Kamar-Taj. Kaecilius becomes deluded once he’s introduced to the darker Mystic Arts and commits to something he believes is bigger than himself. The other primary theme is accepting (or not accepting) the world as it’s perceived and the power of belief. Strange initially rebuffs the idea of chakras and the power of belief, only for these things to be central to the plot later.

8/10

Music

Early in the movie, Dr. Stephen Strange plays some music when performing an important surgery, which seems to be common in doctor portrayals (though I can’t say for sure that’s what happens in real life). What makes this one particularly interesting is Strange’s personal challenge to name the song, artist, and year of release while he operates. This is brought up at least twice in the movie. In addition, a humorous exchange with Strange and Wong in the Kamar-Taj library occurs when they are introduced to each other. Wong is a mononym, which Strange tries to relate to at least half a dozen singers that also use mononyms. Among the names is Beyonce, which Wong doesn’t confirm to knowing. But in the following scene, it’s clear he knows who she is.

9/10

Spectacle

This movie was the most graphically ambitious film I’ve ever seen. Warping scenes and city backdrops puts universe-shaping film Inception to shame. While I normally don’t recommend that movies be watched in 3-D for extended periods of time, this movie practically begs for it to be viewed this way. The most important examples are the introduction to different dimensions that The Ancient Ones gives to Stephen Strange and the battle in New York with Kaecilius.

10/10

Star Power

Dr. Strange Clockwise from Top Left: Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen Comic-Con 2016 Day 3 - July 23, 2016 – San Diego, CA Photograph by Matthias Clamer

Photograph by Matthias Clamer

Benedict Cumberbatch is the title character and known for a plethora of roles, most notably Sherlock Holmes and Smaug of The Hobbit films. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the antagonist Kaecilius, is no stranger to villain roles, playing Hannibal Lecter in the TV show Hannibal and Le Chiffre in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Chiwetel Ejiofor is perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated performance of Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave. Rachel McAdams portrays Irene Adler in the Sherlock Holmes films alongside MCU alum Robert Downey Jr. and more recently was nominated for an Oscar in the movie Spotlight. Benedict Wong starred alongside Ejiofor in The Martian last year and has also starred in Prometheus. Finally, Tilda Swinton has perhaps the longest film career of the cast, starring in films since 1986.

10/10

Audience Demographic

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Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch seem to be flocking to this movie, citing his performances in previous fantasy films and TV shows. The comic book film community is also a set demographic, continuing to build as more movies come out.

9/10

Post Movie Thoughts

I feel that this movie definitely warrants a second viewing, if nothing else to try and catch all of the Marvel easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film as they’ve done with others. This film is very similar to Inception, one of my favorite films, in terms of world building and perception-bending, but has several years of development to improve on what they started. The tie-ins to the rest of the MCU comes in at the end of the film.

8/10

Source Material

The origin of Doctor Strange for the films is largely kept to the source material. Originally, The Ancient One is Tibetan and male in the comic books. In this film, The Ancient One is Celtic and female. Critics were quick to jump on the film for white-washing the character, a common occurrence in films as of late. However, the change was a little more complicated. International film releases hinge on the response for the Chinese market. China has a long-standing feud with Tibet, which would not bode well for the film’s box office returns. Tilda Swinton played the role with the intention of being androgynous, though she’s referred to with female pronouns. Other source material changes are in reference to Kaecilius’s original alliances, but for the sake of spoilers I can’t elaborate further.

7/10

Overall: 90/100

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Movie Review: The Girl On The Train

The Girl on the Train is a mystery thriller directed by Tate Taylor. The movie is an adaptation of the 2015 novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. the_girl_on_the_train Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) rides the train into town in the same section every day. While watching out the train window, she comes across a particular house with a loving couple. Enough times go by and she develops a story about their lives. Also nearby she sees her old house, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife and infant child. Rachel laments the breaking down of their marriage and the idea that someone else has taken her place. Rachel copes with this by drinking and living vicariously through the couple she sees from the train. She now lives with her roommate and landlord Cathy (Laura Prepon), who doesn’t like her drinking habits and urges her to get help before she loses her job or worse. Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson), Tom’s new wife, is a stay at home mother with a nanny to help her through the day-to-day tasks of caring for her child and maintaining the home. She originally got together with Tom behind Rachel’s back, but is occasionally frightened by Rachel contacting Tom several times a day and invading their home, including taking their child Evie from the house to the front yard. Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennet) is a nanny living down the street from Anna and Tom. She decides to quit her job as nanny suddenly, feeling that the profession is not what she had hoped it would be. She talks with her psychiatrist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) about her home life and, on occasion, situations from her past. Her husband Scott (Luke Evans) usually spend their mornings on the patio within sight of the passing trains. On a particular Friday, Rachel watches from the train to find an unusual site, the woman she watches from the train is on her patio with someone who isn’t her husband. She is reminded of her husband’s infidelity and how it has now crept into her fantasy life. Her devastation is further fueled by alcohol as she decides to confront the woman. As the woman goes under a tunnel, Rachel calls out to her. Rachel wakes up the next morning with bruises and blood caked on her shirt, hands, and forehead. She can’t remember the events from last night. Cathy stops Rachel from coming in the house to tell her that the police are in the house. Detective Riley (Allison Janney) questions Rachel about Megan Hipwell, the woman on the patio Rachel idolized. Plot The plot of this movie is incredibly intricate. All of the main characters are very closely knit. It would be assumed that the movie would take time to develop those relationships, but instead speeds through them, leaving the audience to try and piece them together while the rest of the plot pushes forward. By the time the movie slows down, it’s the third act of the movie where everything is supposed to pay off. Most exposition seems to be brought up in short spurts before immediately moving on to the next character, leaving no time to it everything into context. 4/10 Characters rachel As I’ve mentioned before, the three main female characters have a good deal of depth to them. They’re all closely linked: Rachel watches Megan from the train and lost her husband to Anna; where Anna feels terrorized by Rachel and hired Megan as a nanny. While their relationship is made fairly clear at the start of the movie, many other aspects of their character is briefly touched on and not brought up again. Having the context from the novel helps, but if the audience has no point of reference, it leaves a lot of their characterization confusing and sometimes unnecessary. 6/10 Language Emily Blunt and Edgar Ramirez are the only actors with accents portrayed in the film, which is briefly touched on in the movie. Everyone else has an American accent and actually takes place in the New York area. While the psychiatrist Megan speaks to is supposed to be foreign, Rachel’s accent in the movie is not explained. All else is pretty standard for a police procedural and women who are at each other’s throats. 7/10 Theme As the title suggests, there are trains everywhere in this movie, moving from one place to the next and back again. Another prevalent theme is alcohol as a coping mechanism. Each of the main characters drink to become more comfortable with their situation. The theme is particularly aimed at Rachel, who at one point makes an attempt to stop drinking so she can remember the night Megan went missing. Finally, a theme I noticed with all of the main characters is transference, or projecting what that character wants onto someone else. 8/10 Music The score is composed by Danny Elfman. The music accentuates any moment of uncertainty or fear, but is low key enough that many moviegoers won’t notice the music influencing the scene. 8/10 Spectacle I feel that the movie was going to be this year’s Gone Girl in terms of a female-led thriller, but unfortunately the most intense moments of the movie fell short. Rachel’s breakdown at the start of the movie, while intending to be a heart-breaking kind of sad, ends up being unintentionally funny. The movie spills over into melodrama instead of being a compelling mystery. 4/10 Star Power the-girl-on-the-train-cast Emily Blunt is the draw here when it comes to casting. Haley Bennett, who is coming off the heels of The Magnificent Seven, maintains her presence in the movie theaters. Luke Evans, one of the three important male characters, is perhaps best recognized in The Hobbit film series and Dracula Untold. Justin Theroux’s involvement in this film isn’t typical of his previous filmography of comedies. But the performances of the actors and actresses are sub-par to what’s expected. 6/10 Audience Demographic The biggest pull to the movie are the people that read the book, perhaps to see the book acted in the visual medium instead of just in the readers’ heads. The next biggest pull are audiences that go to thrillers. With the movie coming off the very successful Gone Girl, many will think use that film as a bellwether for this one, with several points of view to advance the plot and a female-driven story. 7/10 Post-movie Thought The movie moves far too fast to gather a lot of interest for the characters. Even so much as a 15 or 20 minute extension of the movie would have allowed it to move at a reasonable pace to incorporate different events with all of the characters instead of just the focal character for that scene. 5/10 Source Material The movie was adapted from the novel by Paula Hawkins. The setting was changed from London to New York, which explains the American accents in the movie. However, it makes Rachel’s English accent stand out without any explanation. There are also a lot of points in the novel that make a revelation from the point of view of one of the characters, then follows it up with a reaction from a different main character. While the medium of film wouldn’t allow a smooth transition as reading it would, the film props up a scene and gives no follow up at all, leaving loose ends or unsatisfied subplots. 5/10 Overall: 60/100

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Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

 Another night has passed when you’re ultimately left to your own devices.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

You woke up this morning, despite what troubles you have.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

The pains of yesterday have not stopped you.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Physical ailments or mental illness plague your body and mind, yet you keep moving forward.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Yesterday left you with a heavy heart and blinding tears, but today starts with a lifted spirit and a clearer path.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Today’s opportunities aren’t attached to the previous day’s burdens.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

The day is yours to conquer.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014)

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Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is a “superhero” film and the third installment of the DC Extended Universe.

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In the wake of Batman v Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes a covert team of meta-humans and people with specialized skills who have been locked up for serious crimes. Among them are sharp-shooter and assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Bank thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Reptilian-like savage Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), former gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and psychiatrist-turned-criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Waller keeps close tabs on these individuals as well as an archaeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevigne), who became possessed by an ancient entity with powers including teleportation and energy manipulation. Dr. Moone is secured by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen) who eventually starts a relationship with her. Amanda Waller gets approval from the Pentagon after a brief exhibition of abilities. Shortly after, a calamity in Midway City forces the Pentagon and Waller to assemble her special team. After being briefed on the situation, the group is informed by Rick Flag that any deviation from the mission will result in an explosion from a chip installed in their necks. If the mission is a success, they get a lighter prison sentence. Any other result ends in their deaths. Deadshot refers to the group as a Suicide Squad. As they depart, Flag is joined by Katana (Karen Fukuhara) as an assistant to the mission and to keep the Suicide Squad on task. During this time, The Joker (Jared Leto) actively searches out Harley Quinn so they can be romantic partners in crime.

Plot

Introducing a lot of new characters for this movie, while necessary, hampered the pacing of the first act. Once the mission is stated, the main plot of the movie moves in a smooth, almost predictable manner. However, the secondary plot involving the Joker, is too spaced out and the scenes are very short, leaving a lot to be desired considering the amount of advertising of the character.

6/10

Characters

suicide-squad-cast-photo-a

Almost all of the members of the Suicide Squad have enough motivating interest to pay attention to them. Amanda Waller has a confidence and arrogance that doesn’t break at any point in the movie. Many of them are given enough backstory at the top of the first act, like Harley and Deadshot. Others are given more insight during the back half of the movie. Everyone else is either very straight-forward and don’t need further elaboration (like Killer Croc) or are not important enough to the plot. El Diablo is an interesting case, which hints at a few things at the start, elaborates in the second act, then has a build up with little payoff in the end. All that being said, the focus in terms of characters lie with Deadshot and Harley Quinn. The former has a daughter he wants to keep safe and financially stable, while the latter is almost bipolar (thematically, not clinically).

8/10

Language

There’s a lot of tie-in dialogue with this movie to the previous DCEU movies and easy to understand. My biggest complaint lies with Harley Quinn and her Brooklyn accent. In previous iterations of her character (the animated show and video games), she has a distinct accent, which is fine. The problem is Margot Robbie switches between having the accent and not. I tried to find a link to why this was happening, perhaps she only had the accent when she was with the Joker, but this is not the case. It may not be noticeable for an audience that isn’t looking out for it, but it was a bit annoying when I finally noticed it.

7/10

Theme

I suppose the main theme of the movie comes with the tagline “Worst Heroes Ever,” putting villains in a situation where they act against their self-interest. Another briefly touched on subject is the idea of redeeming yourself. Deadshot is trying to see his daughter again and actively wants custody of her, despite being a gun for hire. Katana has her own problems relating to her husband and maintaining a moral code. Finally, the subject I thought the most about was the relationship between Harley and Joker. At the top of the movie, one of the prison guards makes a pass at Harley, and she fires back, “I sleep how I want, however I want, and with who I want.” At first, it was an empowering message of her owning her sexuality, but makes a quick 180 when she’s shown with the Joker. For those familiar with the source material, Joker and Harley are cited as the DC villain power couple while at the same time being represented as a textbook (or I suppose technically comic book) case of an abusive and toxic relationship. The movie shows this in at least two flashbacks and a maybe, *maybe* justification for it. She is seen as being objectified, people watching her dress at the end of the first act. Her introducing music is “You Don’t Own Me,” originally performed by Lesley Gore in the 60s, which I thought was a nice touch implying Harley, in fact, doesn’t want to be objectified.

8/10

Music

There’s a lot of licensed music in this movie, at least twice as many songs as I was expecting. When first introduced, it was almost as if each character had a theme song. In addition, there was a good amount of scored music that hyped up the action scenes or made the dramatic scenes more sad. As I mentioned before, “You Don’t Own Me” plays while Harley is seen in prison. Song age ranges from “Fortunate Son” by CCR to “Heathens,” a recently released single by Twenty One Pilots.

10/10

Spectacle

There are a lot of special effects in this movie, and at times overly so. Many of the effects were made with 3-D in mind, which is personally irritating because of the inconvenience and potential effects of overexposure to 3-D movies.  During the final fight scene, dust clouds and smoke billow everywhere, detracting from the action of the characters on camera. Speaking of which, the characters are more or less in silhouette in the scene, making them even harder to distinguish. The plus sides involve Enchantress’s transformations, El Diablo in the back half of the movie, and the sharpshooting from Deadshot.

7/10

Star Power

SDCC-2015-Suicide-Squad-cast

Cast choices were pretty good here. The obvious pulls for audiences are Will Smith, Oscar Award winner Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie. David Harbour, whom I know best from the HBO show The Newsroom, has only a few scenes throughout the film.

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I mean honestly, how many things can be stranger than supervillains?

Jared Leto also delivers a good performance for the amount of time he’s on screen. As a confirmed method actor, I can only imagine how he acted in between takes. Adam Beach, who plays Slipknot in the film, is largely underutilized for reasons that become apparent when you watch the movie. Overall, good casting choices.

8/10

Audience Demographic

DC comic book fans get a large benefit from knowing most of the characters coming into the film. As marketing started, it seemed to be a dramatic take on being desperate enough to hire supervillains to do good work. As time went on, they detracted from that and moved to EDM fever dreams, what with the amount of bright colors and candy in their posters, finally culminating in the poster at the top of the review which looks like some sort of Ed Hardy tattoo. Was this meant to bring in the tons of people who regularly shop at Hot Topic? They went from dark and dramatic to Deadpool levels of tongue-in-cheek representation.

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With…varying levels of success.

These movies, much like the Marvel superhero movies, more or less secure the comic book crowd but is all over the road with the rest of the audience it’s trying to take in.

6/10

Post-Movie Thoughts

I honestly didn’t hate the movie, I in fact enjoyed it. But the question remains if it’s enough to pull DC movies out of their rut to pull off things like Wonder Woman and Justice League down the road. While I know that Joker isn’t the point of the movie, there’s a lack of presence in context of Harley Quinn. The scenes are too few and far between. The mid-credits scene gives a bit of hope for the franchise’s future, so stick around a few minutes after the movie ends.

7/10

Continuity Nods

This movie does a lot to bring the loose ends of Batman v Superman closer together, directly referencing events in the movie and other goodies sprinkled throughout. For the fans of the animated show, a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo of Harley Quinn’s original outfit is featured in the movie. For the fans of the comics, a lot of attention is brought to Harley Quinn and Deadshot, referencing their time together in the New 52 comic series. I think it’s too soon to say if an extended edition will elaborate on more characters or add context to certain scenes, but the heads of the DCEU need to take what they have with Suicide Squad and improve on it in the next year so Justice League doesn’t end up a disaster.

8/10

Overall: 75/100

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Movie Review: The BFG

The BFG is a fantasy-adventure film based off of the Roald Dahl book of the same name. The film is directed by Steven Spielberg.

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Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) roams the halls of the orphanage where she resides. After organizing the mail and fixing the clock, she settles in bed with the house cat. Moments after scaring away drunkards, Sophie witnesses a giant (Mark Rylance) skulking through the streets. Knowing he’s been found, he takes Sophie with him to his home. Sophie pleads that the giant not eat her, with the giant heartily assuring her he is not a giant that eats “human beans.” Instead he has a special diet that includes snozzcumbers, a smelly vegetable and frobscottle, a special soda with downward-moving bubbles. Sophie insists she will run away, but after a bad dream provided by the giant, she decides to stay for the time being. The following morning, a much larger giant named Bloodblotter (Bill Hader) identifies the other giant as Runt. Bloodblotter almost takes Sophie away, but is tricked by Runt. The giant is further tormented by a group of giants including Bonecruncher (Daniel Bacon), Gizzardgulper (Chris Gibbs), Manhugger (Adam Godley), Childchewer (Jonathan Holmes), Meatdripper, Maidmasher, and led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). Runt does everything in his power to prevent the other giants from finding Sophie so she won’t be eaten. Sophie, moved by Runt’s kindness and capturing dreams for others, instead calls him the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG.

Plot

The plot of the movie is incredibly straightforward to cater to the target audience: kids. The whole movie is just under 2 hours, and though it seems the movie could be shortened by 20 minutes, it’s moderately paced to keep everyone’s attention.

8/10

Characters

The BFG

Sophie’s character is revealed in two parts. Right at the beginning, she’s shown as a learned yet isolated girl with a sense of wonder. The BFG is also a loner in two respects: he’s committed to not eating children like his brethren and he’s the shortest of them by a considerable margin. He’s more intelligent than the other giants due to his interactions with regular people through the dreams he collects and gives to them. The other giants are all rather one-dimensional, with their characteristics limited to not liking vegetables nor being wet. In fact, the giants have distinctive names but are not on directly identified on screen enough times to keep track, save for Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater. Sophie briefly mentions the caretaker of the orphanage, whose shown twice in the film. She’s portrayed as, at best, absent-minded. Sophie insists that she’s also abusive, but the audience is left to just take her word for it. Without going too into detail for spoiling the second and third acts, the other humans portrayed in the film are all willing to accept the fact that giants are real without the least hint of skepticism. I’d like to see a bit of pushback from those humans and then be more willing to accept the fact when they see it for themselves.

7/10

Language

Perhaps my favorite part of this movie is it’s broken vocabulary. While Sophie and the other humans speak properly, the giants make use of several mispronounced or completely made up words. Expected grammatical errors like replacing “is” and “have” with “are” and “has” give the BFG a little bit of charm.

9/10

Theme

Both of the main characters feel like outsiders from the atmosphere they live in. Sophie’s insomnia and interest in reading makes her feel different in the orphanage where she resides, and the BFG’s want for intelligence and active interest in dreams make him very different from the other giants in Giant Country. These two outsiders stick together and accomplish something extraordinary. Also, while not blatant or in-your-face, the BFG insists on a vegetarian diet instead of his brethren, who only subsist on eating people, promoting a cruelty-free way of living. The film does go into a good detail about disappearances of people and the giants eating them, making for a dark tone for a film directed at kids.

8/10

Music

A Steven Spielberg film is usually complemented with a score by John Williams. This film is not an exception. The beautiful music pairs well with the fantastical scenery, particularly in Dream Country.

9/10

Spectacle

The film is largely composed through computer graphics, showing the giants in significant contrast to the actual humans in the film. There’s a brief compositing problem when Sophie and the BFG are in close proximity, like where Sophie stands on his shoulder and the camera focuses on their faces. Aside from that, the scenes are well-crafted. The closeness of British streets are made more apparent when the BFG sneaks through them in the first and second acts of the movie. Dream Country and the BFG’s workshop are the most colorful, each emotion of dream are given distinct colors. The facial movements of the giants were captured with mocap technology and closely reflects the actors portraying the characters.

9/10

Star Power

The BFG cast

I really enjoyed the performance of Mark Rylance, the actor playing the BFG. While several other recognizable stars are in this film, it mainly focuses on Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. Barnhill has been on TV before and this is her first feature film credit. Other actors include Bill Hader as one of the man-eating giants, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, and Rebecca Hall as Mary.

7/10

Audience Demographic

The film is an adaptation from a book written in 1982 by Roald Dahl. Primary audiences are kids, being a Disney-produced film, and the adults who grew up reading the book. I myself read the book back in third grade. The movie will not reach everyone like most other Disney films, but garners enough nostalgic feelings to make for a successful weekend.

7/10

Post Movie Thought

The movie was a good amount of fun, but it wasn’t as climactic or satisfying as I expected it to be. It could be that I haven’t read the book in so long, but the excitement of the final act was overshadowed by how funny I found the toast at the end of the second act. The toast won’t be received as well by every audience as I received, and without giving away the context, I know not everyone finds that kind of humor funny.

6/10

Source Material

As I mentioned before, the movie is based off a 34-year old book meant for children. I’m please to see that most of the material of the novel is maintained in the book. Among the altered scenes are any with Sophie’s caretaker in the orphanage, named Mrs. Clonkers in the book. Her appearances are limited to a brief moment of her picking up magazines in a pile of mail and her silhouette looking in on the children after Sophie goes to bed. She’s mentioned once more by Sophie as a terrible person, but the audience is told this instead of being shown.  The ending is also altered from the book, which I didn’t remember until referencing it for this review. While the tone of both endings are positive, I prefer the movie’s ending to the book’s ending. Everything else is kept pretty well intact, the language, dark elements, and happy notes.

9/10

Overall: 79/100

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