The Dark Tower (2017): They Should Have Just Adapted the First Book

    It is possible to have a good or even great adaptation of a book or book series. This sadly is not one of them. I haven’t been this bored and dissapointed in a film since “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as that film as well had so much potential and so much amazing source material it was pulling from, only to end up on a list of films that I can’t stand and will offer ways to fix later (much like how I approached “Twilight”).

I have a bias (I loved the first book and am reading the rest of the series currently), but like I said before in regards to adaptations…it is possible to make a great adaptation of source material…”Atonement” succeeded, Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” succeeded and countless others. This one does not and for the non-spoiler reasons why, it had a bland protagonist, the world is boring and we aren’t given a chance to really know the leads, so even great performances by Elba and McConaughey can’t save the poorly written characters they are given. I’ll elaborate on my points further down in the review, suffice to say, save your money and go see something better.

“The Dark Tower” was directed by Nicolej Arcel who co-wrote it with a committee (4 writers wrote this script – Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and of Arcel himself).

The story follows Jake (Tom Taylor), a psychic boy who dreams about the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to tear down the Dark Tower and bring hell upon all worlds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Main Leads – The best part of this film is Idris Elba as the Gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black Walter. Now the characters don’t have the complexity that they have in the first book, there isn’t the weight or history behind their actions and we never really know it. The story is from Jake’s perspective and that was the biggest mistakes this film could have made. Our leads are wonderful at working with what they are given, Elba is hardened and distant and McConaughey has a lot of fun hamming it up as the villain. He’s wonderfully sly and oily and it works well when he is on screen. Sadly they are trapped in a dull universe where neither character feels fully realized.

The Cons: Presentation of the World – The world is presented through our protagonists Jake’s eyes. He sees the Gunslinger’s dimension and the Man in Black in dreams before they finally arrive into his life when he is running from the Man in Black’s minions who want to use him as a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower. The special effects aren’t all that good and we hardly spend anytime in the Gunslinger’s post-apocalyptic world and instead spend most of it in our New York. Given how rich the Gunslinger’s world is and all the stories in it, this was a mistake. There is nothing special about New York in this beyond it having ways to dimension hop between worlds.

In the first book we only follow the Gunslinger and we get to know Roland’s past and how he lost everything as well as how his following the Man in Black has lead to him losing so many others, and that to defeat the Man in Black he’ll have to give up everything again. The book is a powerful story of loss and the Man in Black is more a subtle agent of chaos (resurrecting the dead, giving people riddles to drive them mad) and sadly you don’t get any of that in this. This world isn’t even apparent in this film, the only thing from the first book that is in any way similar is the wasteland being largely empty…but the mutants and mad people who make up the landscape are nowhere to be found in this film. Seriously, they should have adapted the first book and it could have been at least good. There is more than enough material to make it happen.

The Protagonist – Jake is such a worthless protagonist. Sadly the actor can’t act and his cliched family life is really uninteresting. His dad died and him mom got into another relationship but by the time the supernatural catches up with her Jake has moved on and adopted the Gunslinger as his new parent. I don’t remember him ever caring about her being at risk or what happened to her after the Man in Black is defeated. Apparently the writers couldn’t even care enough about their main character to care about mattered to him. Having a young protagonist is hard to do, “Harry Potter” pulled it off but it is one of the few stories outside of “Stranger Things” that has well written kids who drive the story. The protagonist should have been Roland the Gunslinger like in the first book. What a waste of a main character.

Story Structure – We get flashbacks through Jake’s dreams and after that is him running from the Man in Black and his forces through the film before the Gunslinger has to rescue him and after the story ends when he is saved. It is simple but surprisingly incoherent, thanks largely to how the dreams are interspersed through the story. This hurt any chance we had to care about any of the characters which is in the end the biggest reason why this film fails. We are never given a reason to care about anyone in this film.

As you can tell I didn’t enjoy this film. This is film I plan to come back to in the future and in it go over ways that could have saved this film and made it at least good…Just like what I plan to do with “Batman v Superman” when I eventually suffer through a re-watch. The actors in this deserved a so much better script as they are good with what little they are given, but good actors can’t save a poorly told story, and at the end of the day that is exactly what this is. Unless you want to do a hate-watch, don’t check out this film.

Final Score: 4 / 10.  2 points for Elba and 2 points for McConaughey.

 

The Jungle Book (2016): Great Cinematography But Extremely Boring and Slow

The Jungle Book

     As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original animated “The Jungle Book,” I think this was a movie that wasn’t made for me. The original is better though by leaps and bounds…as this at the end of the day this was a film that bored me so much I fell asleep during part of it. That hardly ever happens to me during films. So before non-spoiler thoughts, the amazing voice cast can’t save this boring film that would only really work as a movie playing in the background for kids…I don’t know how much of their attention it would be able hold of it is the core focus.

      “The Jungle Book” was directed by Jon Favreau who was also one of the producers while being written by Justin Marks. The other producer was Brigham Taylor and the film is based off the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

    The story involves Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) telling the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and how his arrival changed everything in the Jungle while he and the other animals must deal with the threat of Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who wants Mowgli and any who support him dead.

     The film is beautiful, but that is about the only thing positive I can say about it. The Special Effects look great and manage to make some of the action meaningful, but there isn’t much to say beyond that.

    This is a film with an amazing voice cast…Murray as Baloo, Kinglsey as Bagheera Nyong’O as Raksha and Elba as Shere Khan is brilliant casting…but the writing is so bland and the characters are so one dimensional that none of it matters. Mowgli has a few chase scenes but they hold no power since he starts out doing a fake chase and the action is so slow…it doesn’t matter if there is an amazing voice cast since they just seem to exist. Nothing meaningful really happens beyond Mowgli making new friends.

    This was an uninspired film and it doesn’t give me much hope for the other films that Disney turned live action from what were originally their animated films. I hope “Beauty and the Beast” is good, but if it is like this film it is going to be really boring and not worth anyone’s time. A story has to have meaningful action and change and I didn’t see that in Mowgli’s story or in relation to the characters around him, they are all just kind of there and there isn’t any music to give it more life like the animated film where at least music can keep a boring or simple story interesting.

    If you have kids, they might enjoy it…but honestly just take them to “Finding Dory” or get them a Pixar film or “Zootopia.” That is a much better use of their time and your time and you’ll be a lot more entertained and experience a film that would actually have purpose.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Star Trek Beyond (2016): The Reboot Series Finally Captures Classic “Star Trek”

Star Trek Beyond

    “Star Trek Beyond,” is a film that best captures the spirit of the Star Trek Franchise than probably “The Undiscovered Country.” That film has a better story and is one of my all time favorite Star Trek Films but this film is still really good and I enjoyed it a lot more than “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which at the end of the day depended way too much on conspiracy and fan service rather than showing the spirit and cost of adventure the way this film does. Non-spoiler thoughts…this film has great action, comedy and characters and is well worth your time to see it on the big screen.

    “Star Trek Beyond” was directed by Justin Lin, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and produced by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Bryan Burk.

     The story takes place 3 years into the 5 year mission and Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself at a crossroads with the possibility of promotion and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is pulled back into Vulcan after a major death.  They and the crew are put to the test though when they are lead into a trap and must face Krall (Idris Elba) who destroys their ship, forcing them to adapt to the planet and keep him from getting the superweapon he seeks.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – This movie captures the wonder of the World of Star Trek. We get the Utopia of Yorktown, the horrors of war via Krall and tons of alien species and first contact opportunities.

Yorktown – Yorktown is a like a giant snowglobe in space and looks like how I always imagined a advanced space station actually looking (in the tv shows they never were able to capture it like it is on film, they are just stations, this is a city). I loved this area and I like that we spent time here to humanize our crew and see how the Federation has achieved Utopia.

The Writing – Minus the writing of Krall, the writing is a major pro. Every character is given things to do, characters change and aren’t just rehashing the same story (Kirk, Spock and Uhura had the same story twice in the last two reboot films). Simon Pegg being a Trekkie and one of the writers is one reason I think why this worked so much.

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and stunning and captures the old look of the show while modernizing it for the screen. It feels dreamlike and from it the adventure of this great series.

The Comedy – The comedy is gold, especially anything with Jaylah and Scotty and McCoy and Spock. The dialogue is quick and witty and always moves the action forward.

Use of Ensemble Cast – The cast all has things to do and it keeps the story strong! Uhura and Sulu are protecting the hostages and the device, Chekov is with Kirk, McCoy is Spock and Scotty is with Jaylah. Each of them are working to find one another and defeat Krall and it leads to great comedic and dramatic moments.

The Cast – The cast is the strongest part of this film, these actors have come to inhabit these characters.

Chekov – R. I. P. Anton Yelchin…you really inhabited this role. This is a film where Chekov is with Kirk for a lot of it and later teams up with Scotty since he knows tech. almost as well. We see him be the hero and the problem solver and his relationship with Kirk is pretty great. You’ll be missed Anton…

Sulu – John Cho is fantastic as Sulu and in this we get to meet his husband and daughter at Yorktown and from there see the reason why he is fighting so hard to defend it. In this he get to see him fly the Franklin, fight with the Enterprise until Krall’s drones destroy it. It is great seeing him and Uhura team up.

Uhura – Uhura is the primary protector of the hostages and the device that Krall is trying to get. She only loses when Krall threatens a crew member forcing the crewman to reveal her hand and where she’s kid the device. Uhura is ready to die to protect it though. We also see that her and Spock still have a great relationship even though they may or may not have broken up. Zoe Saldana is fantastic.

Scotty – Simon Pegg is really great in the role of Scotty and in this we see him as the major problem solver, whether it is fixing the Franklin, finding the crew and Krall or working with Jaylah on traps.

McCoy – Karl Urban really owns the role of McCoy and in this we get to see his friendship with Spock grow as they are stuck together for most of the film. It is great seeing their dynamic as McCoy’s cynical optimism is contrasted beautifully with Spock’s cold clear logic and duty driven decisions. This eventually leads to them taking on Krall by kidnapping one of the drone ships since Spock needs someone to monitor his injury he received when the Enterprise was destroyed and McCoy is the only one who knows about it.

Spock – Spock is faced with a decision in this…to stay with the crew or to return to Vulcan to help create more Vulcans. Ambassador Spock has died and no Vulcan is once more lacking limited leaders and there still aren’t very many of them. Over the course of the film he decides to stay for the crew though, not because of future Spock and I really like that. He discovers that it is out on the frontier he can protect Vulcan best and the realization that the entire crew is his family now and will be (he sees a picture of the crew when they are older that Ambassador Spock was keeping).

Kirk – Kirk like Spock is faced with a decision to stay or get a promotion and go as when we first meet him his life on the ship has become mundane and he expresses how trapped everyone feels out in space for so long. It is powerful as he is really talking about himself. Krall reminds him of why he is out there too and even though he loses the Enterprise he decides to stay to Captain and because the Captain of the newly built Enterprise-A we see being built at the end of the film.

Jaylah -Sofia Boutella is awesome as Jaylah and I hope she becomes part of the main crew. She is the one who helps them all team up as her home is Krall’s old Federation ship the Franklin. It is thanks to her and Scotty that they get it running and are able to use it as a base to free the hostages and to confront Krall and his drone forces. She also has a somewhat romantic thing with Scotty and is an orphan whose been fighting Krall all her life. Suffice to say she is awesome.

The Idea of Krall – The idea of Krall as a former Space Marine turned alien warlord is cool. Peace doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who gain honor from combat and live from it (one reason the Federation fights the Klingons every generation even after the treaties). There was so much more that could have been done with this idea if he had just been fleshed out more as a character.

Remembering the Dead – R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Both of them were given time to be remembered as Spock remembered Ambassador Spock and the final scene was fade to black with “For Anton” in memory of Anton Yelchin. The two of them were amazing and have left a legacy on this universe and the world.

Okay: Krall/Balthazar Edison – Idris Elba is good at humanizing this ex-marine turned alien Warlord and his acting is great, it is just the writing for Krall is only so-so so I’m putting him at okay. We never get explanations of why he turned into an alien or how using people turned him back into a person.

The Cons: Villain plan – The villain plan is to destroy Yorktown, which if Krall want the Federation at war, that isn’t going to help…since there is no way could escape, it was do the most damage and die…which I expected more from a man who had lived hundreds of years. He should have had a better plan.

How did Balthazar become Krall and Revert Back? – Balthazar was a M.A.C.O. (Pre-Federation Marine) who is maid captain after the Xindi and Romulan wars and finds himself abandoned on the planet. Something happens that causes him to become the alien Krall and he is using people to turn back into a person. This is never explained.

Pacing – The pacing can be a bit jarring at times. Sometimes everything is going too fast and we have no time to really soak in what our characters are going through, and other times we linger too long. This is most true at the beginning but by about a third of the way through the film this isn’t as much of an issue.

   The villain isn’t bad but he is where most of the holes in the plot are. Sometimes the pacing can be a little jarring, and I was bored at one point because of it…but the payoff when they arrive on Krall’s world is fantastic and almost everything after that works. This is a film that reminded me why I’m a Trekkie and I can’t wait to go back and review the other films so I can rate them all against one another. This a film well deserving of it’s place in the Franchise and some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Zootopia (2016): A Masterpiece Exploring Prejudice and Communities

Zootopia Poster

   “Disney Animated Stuios” is pretty much the new Pixar in regards to quality animated storytelling. “Pixar” is now where old Disney used to be as they are releasing tons of sequels and it isn’t ‘garutneed they’ll make a hit (unlike “Disney Studios”). Seriously, “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” “Wreck-it-Ralph.” These are films this studio has put out and now “Zootopia” is up there among them as one of the best animated films I have ever watched. Much like those this film is intelligent with characters, comedy and themes and gives us a lived in world without a powerful story we can relate to our own world and ourselves. Before I get further and into spoiler territory, go see this film.

    “Zootopia” was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore while being written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and was produced by Clark Spencer.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to Zootopia to become a cop and finding out that the ideal world of animals that were once Predators and Prey isn’t the peaceful utopia she believed it to be. Together she must work with a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case on why certain predators are going feral and help save the city.

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! It has a bunch of anthropomorphic animals and unlike a lot of “Dreamworks” films they don’t exist as jokes. There are fully fleshed out cultures and societies (of the the carnivore and herbivore variety) made to reflect our own, rather than satire pop culture…but that is the quality I’ve come to expect from Disney Studios.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful as Zootopia is split into different regions…from the Metropolis at the center, desert, rain forest, etc. It all flows together beautifully and I love how they show when animals go feral with the red eyes.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film as their histories are what inform the film, especially between Hopps and Wilde, who really carry the film. This is a film that is honest about it’s characters and in turn honest about our own basic humanity, with all of the pros and cons that come with it.

Mr. Big – Mr. Big is the gang lord of the Arctic region. He is an Arctic shrew who is pretty amazing as he helps our heroes once he learns that Hopps saved his daughter and in turn he makes her family and forgives Wilde for conning him.

Chief Bogo – Idris Elba is awesome in this! He plays a giant Water Buffalo who is the police chief of Zootopia. He has his own issues to work through as he doesn’t take Hopps seriously until Wilde calls him out for his prejudice against smaller animals and his belief they can’t be cops. He grows a lot and becomes of the few characters who remains a hero throughout the film.

Nick Wilde – Jason Bateman is fantastic as Nick, who is a tragic figure who had gotten beaten up by some herbivores as a kid because he was a carnivore, as they beat him up and muzzled him. From this we get why he doesn’t trust people and why he lives the sly fox stereotype. His friendship with Hopps is awesome as he helps her grow and she helps him grow as he becomes someone serious and stops conning others.

Judy Hopps – Hopps was beat up by a fox when she was little and her family hates foxes due to their experience in the countryside. That all changes when she goes to the city and befriends Nick. It is from there that she has to face herself when she helps the Assistant Mayor target predators when she blames their going feral on their DNA. From here there is one of the most touching scenes when she apologizes to Nick for all she’s done and they go to takeout the Assistant Mayor.

Prejudice and Communities – The main prejudices explored here are those based on body (Hopps ignored by the Police Chief and force) and carnivore vs. herbivore as the herbivores fear the Predators and vice versa due to times fear and hatred have been acted upon characters. We see this in how the Assistant Mayor uses the fear to limit predator opportunities and making Hopps a hero. It is when Nick and Judy get past their prejudices and Chief Bogo does too that they are able to take out the Assistant Mayor and her sheep who want revenge for being used and oppressed and wants to end the existent of carnivores.

The Cons: The Mayor and Assistant Mayor – I felt that these two were never fully explored. The Mayor was just someone taking advantage of the media to be better liked while the Assistant Mayor preyed on fear. There was so much more that could have been done with all of them. The mayor being a bully didn’t seem like a logical reason to target all carnivores.

Too Much Shakira – She is in this as Gazelle and she is everywhere. Seriously, at times this film feels like a Shakira commercial. I hated it as this city should listen to more people both in the news and music. This was the one thing that really took me out of the film.

  This was an amazing movie even if the Mayor and Assistant Mayor didn’t feel fully developed as characters, and there was way too much Shakira (and I like Shakira) as at times it felt like one giant music video selling her, especially at the end. These cons are overwhelmed by the positive though as the world is amazing and the core characters all go through character arcs that humanizes them and gives them depth. There is a lot to like about this film and I would not be surprised if it ends up making my Top 5 Films this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Beasts of No Nation (2015): The Horrors of War and the Life of a Child Soldier

Beasts of No Nation

   “Beasts of No Nation,” is a great film that continues Netflix’s streak of putting out quality productions. It’s a favorite though it does have some issues, largely related to how it handles some of the things in it’s narrative, which maybe problems the book it is based on may have as well. These issues do not change how powerful the film is though.

    The film was written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was also one of the producers. The other producers were Amy Kaufman, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Riva Marker, Jeffrey Skoll, Daniel Crown, Idris Elba and Uzodinma Iweala who also wrote the novel of the same name.

   The story involves Agu (Abraham Attah) a villager who loses his brother and father to corrupt government forces and finds himself a part of the rebel NDF movement as he is conscripted as a soldier by the Commandant (Idris Elba). His life as a child soldier is explored as well as the politics of his country.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of exploring war torn Central Africa is a really good idea as well as taking it from a novel from a man from the region. It gives power to the story and shows just how aware the author is of his subject material.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! Fukunaga did an amazing job on the screenplay as well as directing. This truly was his project.

The Soundtrack – Dan Romer did a fantastic job on the soundtrack. It has a very raw and reflective to feel to it and really lets you get into Agu’s head and the isolation of the child soldiers.

The Acting – The acting is amazing, though sadly the script doesn’t give a lot of the characters the justice they deserve. We never get to know most of them, even though they are presented really well by the actors.

The Commandant – Idris Elba makes a very good bad guy. In this he is the Warlord and Commandant of the Supreme Leader and we see how twisted he is as molests his soldiers (including Agu) and takes advantage of their need for revenge and makes them his weapons with a near worship of him. In the end his second-in-command leaves him though when he turns on the Supreme Commander Dada Goodblood turning them into beasts of no nation. He promises that he’ll call upon Agu later at the end as he is left isolated and alone with only his ego.

Agu – This is Agu’s story as we see him turn to revenge that the Commandant offers him as he feels only hate for the corrupt government soldiers who killed his brother and father. He never finds his mother and his arc is leaving the Commandant when I-C gives him the chance as we see him realize that he is alone and needs to be cared for after his friend Strika (another soldier molested by the Commandant) dies when they are on the run from the Supreme Commander and government forces. Abraham Attah does a fantastic job.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Whether it is Agu’s mother or the Supreme Commander or any of the other child soldiers…we never get their motivation or why they do what they do. This is a shame as they are all acted really well and that’s why I’m not putting them down as a con, they just weren’t given much to work with.

The Con: Lack of Arc Payoff – The ending is Agu as a camp for recovering child soldiers saying he just wants to forget about the horrible things he’s done and his being a monster but we never have the Commandant call upon any of them again and we never see Agu’s mother…when so much of his original arc was finding his way back to her.

  This was a great film and even though the character payoff isn’t all that great in the end, the journey of it all and seeing Agu face everything he goes through and find agency again is powerful in it’s own right. This was a story that needed to be told and I look forward to reading the book and learning more about these conflicts.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012): Enjoyable Crazy

Ghost-Rider_Spirit-of-Vengeance_031

       This movie wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t really call it good. It was enjoyable though and there quite a few things I liked about it. For one Nicolas Cage does crazy really well and seeing him emote was a treat as he was acting like he had a dark spirit inside of him, which was his job. Most of my issues with this were that the villain and supporting cast, minus Idris Elba were pretty weak and I had no reason to care about them….which I blame partially on the acting and partially on the writing. But I’ll get more in that later on.

    “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” was directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, written by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer, who also wrote the story. The film was produced by Steven Paul, Ashok Amritraj, Michael De Luca and Avi Arad.

      The story begins with The Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) recounting his story about the deal he made 8 years ago with the Devil Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) in order to save his Father which lead to him being inhabited by the Ghost Rider which feeds on the evil of others’ souls. Prior to this we see Moreau (Idris Elba) going to a Monestary that soon comes under attack as Roarke’s forces try to get Nadya (Violante Placido) and her son Danny (Fergus Riordan) who is connected to Roarke. When Moreau offers to help free Johnny Blaze from the Ghost Rider he fights to protect Nadya and Danny from Roarke and his forces as the endgame approaches.

The Pros: Nicolas Cage – I’m not going to say Johnny Blaze or Ghost Rider because I don’t know the characters well enough, but Cage is fantastic! He manages to be both crazy, strange and even empathetic at times. This is hard to pull off given how he’s written or just how Cage acts in general in his films but I really appreciated his performance here. I wish he’d honestly been given more to do besides be insane or sad, those were the only two emotions his character was allowed to feel, which got borrowing after a while, so point goes to Cage. We see his kindness when the Spirit of Vengeance is found at the end to heal Danny after Danny turns him back into the Rider after the Order had made him human again. So some decent acting range there, revenge to joy.

Nadya – Her character wasn’t bad and was enjoyable at times. She’d run with a bad crowd and made a deal with the Devil for her life, the price had been pregnancy and her child who she came to love, even knowing where he came from. Her character is really strong and we see her fight, even when outnumbered. Placido does a good job too.

Moreau – It’s Idris Elba, you can’t go wrong there. He does an amazing job as the drunk priest who lives life laughing. He’s great to see and when he realizes he’s betrayed he stands with Blaze against the order. His character is eventually killed by Roarke’s current Emissary Blackout, but not before Moreau headbutts him. Bad ass until the end. Elba elevates any role and this role could have been a waste if not for Elba.

Okay/Pro: The Cinematography – At times the cinematography was choppy but I really liked how the color scheme was like a comic book, including how they did Blackout’s Kill and some of the fight sequences. They were filmed like a comic book and it actually added something more to the film.

Okay: Blackout – The guy is just a creep, but when he becomes Blackout he has a cool kill affect at least. It is only him and the person he is decaying behind black, it really captures the nature of his power. Also to his credit he does defeat Moreau and put up a good fight against the Ghost Rider, which is more than can be said for Roarke.

The Cons: The Religious Orders – So many orders wasted, there is the one the beginning which gets killed by Blackout and we don’t even get to know them or their relationship to Nadya and Danny…there are the creepy ones with writing on their faces who want to kill Danny it turns out and we get none of their motivations, they are just creepy for the sake of creepy…also the Devil’s cultists who are mindless drones. All these orders are wasted and receive no development.

Danny – Danny likes Blaze because he isn’t as bad as the people his mom usually dates, that’s all we get for his relationship to Blaze besides them riding Blaze’s motorcycle. Wasn’t impressed with his development to Roarke his father or to Blaze…only relationship that felt real was the one with his mother and I don’t know if that’s the fault of the actor or the writing.

Roarke – Mephisto, the Devil, etc…what a wasted villain. The guy was never scary or threatening and for the deal maker he really made crappy deals. The Ghost Rider was so much more powerful than him he spelled his own doom in making that deal. Is the Devil really that stupid? Really wasn’t impressed, one of the worst villains in a Marvel film, and I’m including “Spider-man 3” and “Daredevil.”

    This movie was fun. I don’t think it’s as terrible as some people on Rotten Tomatoes make it out to be or as good as IGN thinks it is. For me it was enjoyable fun and a film I probably wouldn’t watch again unless it was with friends. I do hope we see the “Ghost Rider” come to the Marvel Cinematic Universe though, there is so much story potential that it would be a shame if he never arrives or is used again on screen. A spirit inhabiting a person that has it’s own agenda is a pretty cool idea, as is the Ghost Rider’s ability to turn any vehicle into a weapon of revenge.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10.

Pacific Rim (2013): Giant Robots, Monsters and a Fantastic World

Pacific Rim Poster

     What a way to kick off the new year with one of my favorite films, that still holds up now, even after 3 viewings. This was an interesting time to watch it as the first time I missed a lot of what was great about it but only enjoyed on a viserol level versus the second time where I caught the little details Del Toro put in that made his world spectacular and on the third viewing the issues I had through the first two really came up to the surface. This is still a favorite movie mind you, and I’ll explain why in the review, but though it is a favorite, it is in no way perfect.

   “Pacific Rim” was directed by Guillermo del Toro who also was one of the writers of the screenplay and a producer. The other writer was Travis Beachan who wrote the original story and the other producers were Thomas Tull, Mary Parent and John Jashni.

    The story begins with setting the stage. We expected alien life to come from the stars, but instead it came from a rift beneath the ocean. The creatures were the Kaiju and the only way humanity figured out how to fight them was constructing giant Jaegers (Robots) to defeat them. Humanity begins winning but things change when Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother fight a Kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed. This leads to him going into hiding and the Jaeger program declining, to the point that when Raleigh is pulled back into the war against the Kaiju, the Jaigers and their pilots lead by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are nothing more than a resistance.

The Pros: The Premise and World – The idea of giant monsters coming from an alternate dimension and choosing to fight them with giant robots is a cool one. What is especially cool is how desperate and lived in the world feels like. We see tons of people from all over the world forced to live in cramped spaces because all along the coasts Kaiju are forcing people to run and move and when rebuilding happens it is usually around the remains of a Kaiju. This world feels lived in and it’s all the better for it.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi did a fantastic job with this soundtrack. It has a large epic feel and is great at adding tension and action to the fight sequences between the Kaiju and Jaegers, as well as being reflective when it has to be as well. I hope he does the soundtrack in the sequel.

Cinematography – Visually this movie is a beautiful and has some of the best CGI I have seen in any film. You tell how much Del Toro is a fan boy of giant monsters and robots and it comes out in the designs of both the Jaegers and Kaiju are unique and a joy to see on screen.

The Kaiju – The Kaiju are like the Zerg in that they are a hive mind that adapt and shape themselves to deal with whatever weapons the Jaegers and humanity has. We see this when Otachi can fly and has a long tale that functions as an arm, as well as Leatherback having an EMP charge to shut down Jaegers too. They are a great threat and I really liked their designs which were aquatic and at the same time reptilian.

The Jaeger Teams – There is the Crimson Typhoon with a team of Chinese triplets, a Father and son Australian Team with Striker Eureka, a Russian Married Couple Team with their jaeger Cherno Alpha and Mako and Raleigh in Gipsy Danger. Sadly Otachi and Leatherback destroy most of them in the coolest battle in the film. We do see them all get a chance to shine though, even if it is only briefly. Of the Jaeger’s outside of Gipsy Danger, my favorite one is Crimson Typhoon.

Hercules Hansen – This guy is a minor character who is actually pretty cool. He served with Raleigh and Pentecost and is constantly dealing with his angry and unstable son. They have a pretty strong connection though, which in the EU exists because they are survivors of a Kaiju attack where Hercules lost his wife and Chuck lost his mother. They have some great moments, though I attribute that more to Herc who is truly an interesting character who should have got more screentime. Max Martini  did a great job.

Hannibal Chau – It’s one-eyed Ron Pearlman wearing sunglasses, a red suit and golden shoes while running Hong Kong’s blackmarket. There is nothing not to like here.

Stacker Pentecost – If this movie had only had Idris Elba to carry it, it would have been a good film. Not a great film since so much of everything else elevates the rather poor script further but Elba is by far the best actor on the screen. His character is complex having adopted the orphan Mako when she lost her parents in a Kaiju attack and he never stops fighting for the survival of humanity. He is the character who make Raleigh finally give a damn and is the one who fights off the Kaiju in order so that Raleigh and Mako can close the rift. He never stops being a compelling character and I wish he’d been the one going through an arc rather than Raleigh who is really forgettable. He goes out fighting though and is my favorite character in the film.

Mako Mori – Mako is the rookie pilot who deals with the trauma she faced as an orphan both in her mentorship and adopted by Pentecost and through her becoming partner with Raleigh. She has a great arc and personalized Gipsy Danger in great ways, giving it a sword for example, which it never had before. You can tell she loves the Jaegers and revenge is a great drive for her against the Kaiju. She is also one of the more reserved characters and much of her action is watching or in subtle ways advocating for herself. I’m really curious where they’re going to take her arc in the sequel, cause I hope she returns. Rinku Kikuchi is wonderful and her character is one of the more compelling characters in the film.

Gipsy Danger AI – Ellen McLain who you may know as the voice of GLADos from the “Portal” videogame series voices the AI! What an awesome decision. She does a great job and adds elements of humor to things as especially early on, Mako and Raleigh are messing up big time on drifting together. I hope she returns for the sequel.

Newton and Hermann – These two together have some great banter as Hermann is the scientist obsessed with numbers and theory while Newton is obsessed with Kaiju. Over the course of the film they come together and end up drifting with the Kaiju which in turn helps humanity defeat the Kaiju. Charlie Day as Newton is one of my favorite characters in the film and Burn Gorman owns it as the prim and proper British gentleman scientist who is opposite in personality to Newt.

Okay: Raleigh – The main character is pretty forgettable and could have been played by anyone. He isn’t a bad actor but I can’t really mention anything unique about the actors performance or what defined the character. This is a shame as even some of the minor Jaeger teams have more personality going on.

The Script – There is quite a lot of telling and some lines are pretty simple. It’s okay though since it reads like a comic book, but it’s not great dialogue.

The Cons: Chuck Hansen – This guy was an unstable prick for most of the series and I could never care about his story. It took learning about the loss of his mother after the film to give any sort of damn about this guy.

The Council of World Leaders – These guy are idiots and once they shutdown the Jaeger program and go for the wall that is useless at keeping back Kaiju, we never hear from them again. So much for humanity’s resistance being lead by the world’s leaders.

        “Pacific Rim” remains a favorite and a movie I’d recommend to anyone who appreciates Giant Monster movies and robot mechs in television or cinema. This film is solid all the way through, with a diverse cast and character arcs and a genuine love of what is being done with the story. There is hope and loss, there battles that mean something, and it is all presented in a visually stunning way to boot. If Michael Bay’s “Transformers” or “Ninja Turtles” franchises were like this film in any way they’d actually be elevated to the level of good. Sadly, you will not find that quality there that Del Toro brings to his projects and the passions of his childhood. Definitely check it out.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. Not higher because of script issues and how forgettable the main character is.

Thor: The Dark World (2013) – The Legacy of the Throne of Asgard and the Gambit

Thor: The Dark World

After a second watching, I really like “Thor: The Dark World,” it has much more going on than the original and manages to get into the mythology of the Universe and offer us hints of things to come (as well as recognizing past events). But, before I go any further…the premise.

“Thor: The Dark World,” begins with narration by Odin telling of how his father Bor stood against the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith when he created the Aether in order to consume the Universe in darkness. After his father hid the Aether we are in the future with Thor and Sif and the Warriors bringing peace to the 9 Realms after Loki’s actions in “Thor.” After we see Jane investigating anomolies and getting possessed by the Aether. Thor brings her to Asgard…Malekith attacks Asgard and the story unfolds from there.

Spoilers ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The 9 Realms – We don’t get to see all of them, but we get to see the Dark Elf World of Svartalfheim, the Ice Giant World and glimpse the world of fire and the forest world that one of the warriors three makes his home. We even see a glimpse of the Fire Realm…these glimpses hint at just at how big the world is which make me excited to see what they do with Thor next.

The Dark Elves – I won’t put them in okay because they are actually a worthy foe. They kill Loki and Thor’s mother Frigga, destroy much of Asgard and manage to get the Aether back. Never do they feel like an unworthy foe.

Malekith – Not the best Marvel Antagonist (that still belongs to Loki), but he is a threat. His biggest problem is arrogance and shortsightedness. He is so set on getting the Aether he loses track of the threats beyond Asgard (the science team) around him. Congrats to the 9th Doctor Eccleston for pulling this role off.

Battle of Asgard – Is a battle of consequences and shows that the Dark Elves are a much greater threat than the Ice Giants ever were. They are the organization that is the biggest threat at this point in the films because of this battle and what goes down during it. Even Heimdall is blind before their threat.

Frigga – She gets killed during the Battle of Asgard but we see how her intelligence rubbed off on Loki and how she represents the good in Loki as he does care for her. She fights with the dagger well and it is only the arrival of Kurse, Malekith’s dragon that leads to her death. She is the one who counters Odin’s firmness with compassion and is a great co-leader with him. Her death also actually means something.

Odin – The father who wants his son to rule…Odin is disappointed dad for much of this film but pulls it off really well. We see how lost he is with Frigga’s death and how unforgiving he is of Loki. Anthony Hopkins does it again.

Loki’s Breakout – We see Thor recount the plan and it go down as planned. Also some great moments in it such as Loki taking the form of Captain America and satirizing the character.

Sif and the Warriors Three – They don’t do the Thor and Sif romance, which I’m happy about. There is enough in this film without a love triangle…and we see all the warriors present help Loki escape and bring Thor and Jane to the Dark Elf World. They fit the theme of the film of every character having a purpose and advancing the story. They later are in the reveal too setting up things in the universe for later.

Heimdall – Helps Jane escape and admits his inability to see the Dark Elves. Manages to take out one of the dark elf ships on his own too. Idris Elba is one of my favorite actors for a reason.

Science Team – Dr. Selvig discovers the Convergence and gets arrested (slightly mad after having Loki in his head during “The Avengers.”) Is happy when he hears from Thor that Loki is “dead.” Darcy discovers the anomaly where the Aether is and her and her intern and the whole team help place the Portal Devices to fight against the Dark Elves. There are some good comedy moments too, especially with Darcy per usual.

Jane – Jane is great in this. We see a character who is active and has agency and doesn’t put up with crap. She smacks Thor and Loki for what they did and is the reason Malekith is stopped since she finds out how to manipulate the scanning devices to create Portal Weapons.

Thor – Hemsworth owns this role. We see depth in his relationships with Jane, Loki, Odin and Heimdall. He has some create comedic moments too, like when he comments on the phone call Jane gets from the man she dated before the events started to unfold, and when he takes the train during the battle, and his banter with Loki.

Loki’s Gambit – I’m beginning to think he wanted to lose on Earth…or used his loss for gain. He got revenge for Frigga by killing Malekith’s “Dragon,” (strongest Dark Elf Warrior named Kurse), fakes his own death and takes Odin’s place on the throne as he pretends to be Odin and watches Thor abdicate. His intelligence is fantastic and we see his is a complicated character…we’re left wondering if he learned from events or is still an antagonist. Again, what happened to Odin?

The Legacy of the Throne of Asgard – Has Loki learned? What does Thor’s abdication mean for the 9 Realms? Where is Odin? Asgard has shown to no longer be impenetrable by the Dark Elf attack, what does this mean for the future? This movie has shown us just how important this legacy is…what this means for the future remains to be seen.

Okay: The Music – Isn’t super amazing, but it isn’t bad. Just not as great as the first film.

The Narrative – There is a lot going on and not everything is fully explored. For example, where is Odin? Did Loki actually change? Where did Malekith’s desire come from? These are things that keep it from being a perfect film. Answering any one of these would have made more than great.

The Reveals – The Collector is weird and I hope he gets good explanation in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” cause based off this film I have no reason to care about this character. The ending with Thor and Jane is cute though and the Ice Beast is scene at the end chasing birds too (he was portalled into our world during the battle).

This movie is superior to the first “Thor,” and better than a lot of Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure this was a film that was even better with the second viewing and sets things up in the Universe really well, as well as being a great stand alone story in it’s own right. Alan Taylor does a fantastic job directing and this is a film I highly recommend. It is worth it if only for Hemsworth and Hiddleson and the dynamic their characters have with each other.

My final score for this film is 9.2 / 10. Definitely a favorite.

Thor (2011): A Sci. Fi. Fantasy Adventure of the Man Who Would be King

Thor (2011)

“Thor,” is better with a second watching. Choosing Kenneth Branagh as a director with his experience acting and directing Shakespeare movies and plays was a smart move. Thor is an interesting character to cover, as well as most of the Norse Characters in this…since the myths were used as a template to create them…but they are still very much their own even though their names come from who inspired each of the characters (Loki, Odin, Thor and the location Asgard as examples). I love mythology and like seeing different pop. culture (Marvel Comics as an example) take on these interesting and fascinating characters and ideas.

Here is the premise of the film. The premise is Odin foolishly sets up a rivalry between his sons when they are younger, telling them one of them will someday be King. When his son Thor says he will destroy the Frost Giants as Odin did (what we see in a flashback narrated by Odin), Odin doesn’t stop this leading to Thor being reckless and put the kingdom at risk by nearly starting a war with the Frost Giants. Odin ashamed of his son’s arrogance and recklessness casts him down to Earth along with the Hammer Mjolnir with the promise of the one worthy to lift it will have the strength of Thor as a God. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Special Effects – This movie is beautiful. Especially Jotunheim the world of the Ice Giants and Asgard, the realm of the Gods. We see a great Ice World with giant beasts and giants and in Asgard we see the marriage of sci. fi. tech and magic.

The Frost Giants – Have a great look. They look like trolls or orcs but are much larger and have ice magic that they use to create weapons to fight with. I really liked their design, and that in this iteration they are the ones who take Odin’s eye. They have red tattoos and eyes on their dark blue bodies and faces.

Pros: Asgard – Asgard is fantastic. It is here that magic is technology and sci. fi. and fantasy mix. We see this in weapons that fire energy and the fact that Mjolnir was made from a dying star. Wish we could have seen more politics, but it is great being introduced to all the characters.

Odin – Hopkins as great as Odin…who is manipulative, angry but well intentioned…he reminds me of a King out of Game of Thrones. He takes in Loki as a child because he wants Loki to be a tool for peace between the Frost Giants and Asgard. This doesn’t go well because he lied to Loki about his origins.

Thor vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. – The fight to get his hammer Mjolner is a great one. We see Hawkeye watching him and sympathizing as he proceeds to beat up all the agents…as well as the failure to get the Hammer when he finally reaches it since he is unworthy.

Thor – Thor is great as a fish out of water and Chris Hemsworth is great as the well intentioned fool who grows up. He is the jock who becomes compassionate and finally becomes the worthy heir to Asgard. We see this in his sacrifice to protect humanity against Loki’s weapon the Destroyer.

Loki – Tom Hiddleson owns this role. We see a character who is conflicted based on being a member of Asgard but not of Asgard, of someone who is a tool of a King but no real power…he is the bastard who hopes to rule. This is done really well since you see his conflicted feelings for the people who are a part of his life but do not know the truth of him being a Frost Giant. This is the reason behind his mind games with Thor and his Gambit to wipe out the Frost Giants.

Heimdell – Idris Elba is one of the greatest actors and one of my favorites. This was the first role I saw him in years ago and he does a wonderful job in this as counselor and friend of Thor and the man outside of space able to see all. His telling Thor about the hope of Jane searching for him is powerful too after the Byfrost is destroyed by Thor in the fight with Loki in order to save the Frost Giants from Loki.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – They manage to capture Thor, build a facility over his Hammer and help in the final fight (as well as take all the science teams tech. and knowledge). They are a great presence in this and Coulson is fantastic as the leader.

The Humor – When the Destroyer arrives one of the agents asks if it is “Tony’s tech?” and Coulson says he doesn’t know because no one tells him anything. Also Thor being the fish out water has some great moments as his arrogance is brought down to level.

The Reveal – We see Nick Fury meeting Dr. Erik and the fact that Loki survives the final fight, setting up the Avengers since he is using Dr. Erik Selvig to research the Tesseract (and now we know he survived being lost floating in space).

Okay: Jane – She is generic love interest. She isn’t bad but Natalie Portman and the writing fail to elevate the role.

The Science Team – Dr. Selvig and the intern Darcy along with Jane just aren’t that interesting. They are there to advance Thor’s plot…all the interesting stuff is related to the Cosmos and Asgard.

Sif and the Warriors Three – They have some good moments on Earth but are pretty generic warriors too. Sif the Warrior Maiden, Hogun the calm warrior, Fandral the swashbuckler and Valstagg…the bearded one who loves to eat. They’d be better if we saw more politics in Asgard or conflict on Earth.

Laufey – The Frost Giant King and secondary antagonist…he is great as a taunter, but he doesn’t do much and is easily used in Loki’s gambit. He isn’t bad, he’s just like a giant orc in a Lord of the Rings movie. Looks impressive, but in the end hardly a threat compared to the Nazgul. He is okay as an enemy.

Thor was a good film and one I’d recommend. It is worth it just for Tom Hiddleson as Loki and Hemsworth as Thor, though Hiddleson does has the superior performance…also worth it to see S.H.I.E.L.D. in action. It shows us more of what they do and ties directly into the “Avengers” and the events that happen there. Not the strongest of the MCU and Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure, but a good one.

Final Score is 8.4 / 10.