Category Archives: Action-adventure

STAR WARS—THE LAST JEDI

Last Jedi 1 Early reports on this film (which opened tonight [Dec. 15] nationwide was glowing in its praises. I came, I saw, I concur. Yes, the novice Star Wars fan will be lost if he hasn’t seen at least the last three films in the series (not counting last year’s “Rogue One”), but that’s the beauty of these films—fans have seen them all, probably several times (I own the first 6 on tape), and know what’s going on. There are some out there who think that since Lucasfilm sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney, only young people will be interested. At tonight’s showing, I can safely say the average age must have been around 45.

When we last saw the gang, there were some new rumblings going on as Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) took over from the Emperor and is grooming Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to take over Darth Vader’s spot . Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are the two main new characters around which this tale evolves.

Last Jedi 3 Rey has gone to the highly isolated planet Ahch-To, where Luke has gone into seclusion on an island, hoping to convey Leia’s (Carrie Fisher, in her last appearance) wish for Luke to rejoin in the fight. At first, Luke refuses, but as he senses she is indeed “one with The Force”, he relents and agrees to train her. As the two get closer, their powers co-mingle as Rey makes mental contact with Kylo, which sends crossed signals and leads to a brief exchange between Luke and Rey.

Last Jedi 2 Meanwhile, the First Order (which has taken over for the Empire) has the rebellion just about finished as they force the Resistance fighters, led by Leia, off their base world and chase them through space, decimating the Resistance fleet in the process. Rey is now in charge of the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo’s old ship, with Chewbacca still the co-pilot. Finn is en route with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to the casino on Canto Bight to find a hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) who can disable the First Order tracking device use to trail the Resistance. Del Toro is not the only “big name” appearing as a secondary character. Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, a part that creates friction but ultimately redemption.

Last Jedi 4 Near the end, the Resistance lands on an old base world called Crait and braces for a final assault being led by Kylo Ren, who has taken over as Supreme Leader after killing Snoke. Just when things look darkest, Luke arrives on Crait to confront Kylo alone, after giving him the same warning Obi-Wan gave Darth Vader back in Episode 4—“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine, and will be with you always”. Of course, Kylo ignores the warning, and puts Luke down.

The film makes impressive use of CGI, and despite cutting back and forth between scenes and plot lines, the action remains easy to follow (for the true fans). We still have one film to go in the current trilogy, and one wonders how Leia’s character will be handled since Miss Fisher’s untimely death. Tom Hardy, British Princes William and Harry all had cameos as Storm Troopers in Last Jedi, which runs two and a half hours.

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Justice League Almost Great

Justice League 4

First off, let me say that for us JL purists, this is not exactly a Justice League film. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) didn’t get involved with the league until near the onset of the 21st century. Where are Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter (both scheduled for the sequel), Hawkman and The Atom? The villain here, Steppenwolf, was basterdised from a fairly new JL storyline, but was defeated thousands of years ago by a combined army of Amazons, Atlanteans, humans, and gods (who appear to have included at least one Green Lantern Corps member).

Justice League 6

Batman (Ben Affleck) knows this from Lex Luthor’s notes left behind in “Batman vs Superman”, and he tries to put a team together with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to defeat the villain. He goes to Iceland to track down Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who says he works better alone and turns him down. We later get reintroduced to Aquaman when Steppenwolf steals the Atlantean box. The three boxes are a source of pure energy that will allow the demonic villain to reshape Earth and replace humanity with his parademons.

Justice League 7

Barry Allen/Flash (Ezra Miller) is more receptive. He is brilliantly cast here as a bit of a nerd. He tells Bruce he “needs friends” because he doesn’t quite get people. Also, he hates bugs , finds taller people intimidating, and has never been in a real fight, having mostly pushed people around. He becomes the film’s comedy relief.

There are plenty of violent but bloodless fight scenes, highlighted by crisp CGI effects and action that rivals any of the Marvel films. The script also is helped by a healthy dose of levity, such as when Barry asks Bruce what his super power is and Bruce replies “I’m rich”. After the villain is defeated with the help of the revived Superman, we cut to a shot of Bruce showing Alfred and Diana where the new League headquarters will be and end on a light note as Flash has challenged Superman to a race  If this is the future of the DC universe, bring it on.

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The Orville May Not Be Enough Spoof

Orville 3  Seth McFarlane believes he has the perfect sci-fi spoof for us with The Orville. After the pilot episode, it looks like no one believes him—not even the Fox Network, which has only commissioned 3 more shows as of September 10. Here’s the lowdown:

Seth McFarlane returns home to find his wife in bed with a blue-skinned alien, after which he walks out on her. Fast-forward a year later and Seth’s Captain Ed Mercer character gets his own command—the exploration ship The  Orville. He meets with the crew and his officers—Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerrald), chief medical officer; Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), helmsman and his best friend; Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), second officer from a single-gendered species; John LaMarr (J Lee), navigator; and Isaac (Mark Jackson), a Kaylon artificial life form that considers humans inferior. He has no first officer but learns one will join him on his initial mission. Turns out that officer is his ex-wife. So far this sounds too much like my life to be comfortable.

Orville 4 There is a plethora of strained divorce one-liners here but a few funny moments, such as when Bortus informs Mercer that his race only excretes waste once a year. As the story moves on, Mercer’s crew has to secure a time-advance device that a scientist says can be used to solve the problem of feeding colonists but could also be used as a weapon.

Orville 1 This could be a good alternative as a comedic Star Trek parody, but it tries to be too serious while exploring for laughs where no man has gone before—except for Mel Brooks, who went there with more flair and aplomb in “Spaceballs” years ago. Overall, I don’t find McFarlane to be an adequate comic persona, and I don’t think America is ready for a Star Trek spoof—especially when it has so little to offer. At least the special effects are fairly good, but won’t be enough to save this travesty.

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Wonder Woman—DC Does Superhero Right

Wonder Woman 4 When DC decided we needed to see a totally new superhero for the Justice League films, they opted for Wonder Woman (portrayed by Gal Gadot, as seen in Batman vsSuperman) and decided to do it right. The tease we got in B vs S hit on all cylinders by giving us a lady who’s not a “where’s the guy who’ll save me” female, but rather a super powerful demigod. Then they gave the directing job to Patty Jenkins and gave her a dynamic co star in Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor.

Wonder Woman 3 Here, the story deviates a bit from the comics as the story is set during World War I rather than the Second World War. Tying in the story with the entire DC Universe  is the story’s opening in Paris’ Louvre Museum where a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to Diana Prince. The package contains the WWI photo we saw in B vs S, and a note from Wayne that he found the included original pic and hopes she’ll tell him the whole story about it. This gets Diana reminiscing about the past as we enter her thoughts as she relives her youth on Paradise Island (here called by the original name of Themyscira, the Greek name in mythology). The deftly handled banter between characters fleshes out the story about the origins of man, the Amazons, Zeus and Ares (Mars), the god of war, as well as how Diana secretly trains to become a warrior. Queen Hyppolita, who fashioned Diana from clay and is perhaps overly protective of her sculpted daughter, first refuses to have Diana learn to fight, but after Trevor crashes near the island in a German plane, Axis soldiers land on the island by boat and a vicious fight ensues which convinces Hyppolita that Diana is the one named in legend to defeat Ares and restore world peace, a job that will require her to enter the world of men.

Wonder Woman 2 Trevor and Diana wind up in London, the headquarters for the Allied forces, and here we get some light-hearted yet historically accurate flavour as Diana acquires “modern” clothes and complains “How does a woman fight in these clothes?”, then gets snubbed and practically gets thrown out of a “men only” war briefing. Trevor gets help from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) to sneak into Belgium and pull off a commando raid to neutralise the new weapon Mustard Gas (a real WWI biological weapon). Here follow several armed encounters, some on horseback, which is also historically accurate for WWI field combat.

Wonder Woman 1 Diana eventually goes one-on-one with Sir Morgan, who is actually the God of War who is using the War as a subplot to corrupt all of mankind. Trevor winds up giving his life for the cause, and we finish the story with Diana looking at the old WWI photo. This should hold us until later this year when the Justice League movie finally reaches us. This movie does a great job at story telling and is the best DC superhero film to date. Let’s hope it’s a springboard for better DC Universe films.

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Valerian Visually Stunning Yet Comes Up Short

Valerian 3 First off, let’s put our cards on the table. French films do NOT play well in America, and French science fiction is a tough ball of wax, especially when it’s based on a little-known (in America) comic book. Not even the powerhouse duo of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg could work their magic back in 2011 with “The Adventures of Tintin” in spite of the fact that Tintin is known all over the world but a virtual unknown in America. Additionally, the French seem to have little knowledge about making sci-fi films—they are too quirky.You can go all the way back to 1902, when Georges Melies made “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (The Trip To The Moon). Decades later, in 1966, the Eddie Constantine movie “Alphaville” royally flopped in America.

At this point, enter Luc Besson, who in 1997 directed “The Fifth Element”. The redeeming value there was that Milla Jojovich and Bruce Willis were teamed with Gary Oldman in this French-made romp.  Here, Besson wrote and directed Valerian And The City of a Thousand Planets, and has Herbie Hancock, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna for flavour, but overall, this film asks the average American to process too much information.

Valerian 5 The opening starts off well, enhanced by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the background and a visually stunning, growing space station as we witness the different astronauts who met here in the past. The story tells us the station got too big, so much so that it became a threat to Earth and was set adrift in open space where it continues to be a roaming example of human technology and meeting place for space races.

Valerian 2 The French expect the viewer to connect all the dots on their own, so there ensues a series of unrelated adventures involving Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavigne), a couple of government agents who travel through time and space solving cases—which is the supposed foundation for a future film series with the characters. Think James Bond 500 years in the future, and you have the general idea.

The story loosely follows the history of a planet that was destroyed 30 years before Valerian’s events, involving the giant space station Alpha, and the various aliens who have made it their home.

Valerian 1 The commander on Alpha is not all he appears to be, and eventually gets his come-uppance as a secret hinted at near the movie’s beginning becomes known. Valerian has a desire to marry Laureline, and she appears receptive to the idea, yet that aspect is merely used for comic relief. Rihanna appears as a shape-shifting dancer who also has a secret.

The most expensive independent film ever produced, at well over 100 million Euros, the visual effects and grandeur of this movie are utterly outstanding, but the script gives the impression that three (maybe more) writers actually scrabbled a series of unrelated incidents together into one movie. Yes, there IS a story here, and the nimble-minded can manage to follow it, but a sci-fi “newbie” seeing his first film with Valerian will be turned off for life with the genre. At 2 hours and 17 minutes in length, it appears to go for hours without end and is chock full of action, aliens, weapons, and special effects. Unfortunately, not even Luc Besson had the glue to make this all stick together. I have little expectation of this movie breaking even in America. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if it wound up getting pulled from theatres within weeks.

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 A   If you’re looking for non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action with a twist, then this is your movie. All the original characters from the first film are back, along with a few “new” ones to enhance the experience. The movie opens in Missouri in 1980, as a young Kurt Russell is romancing a pretty young blonde. He turns out to be the father of Peter Quill, who came to be Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). This is a major reveal as we finally get to meet this previously mysterious figure. There are, however, a few wicked twists to this story.

Fast forward to the present, where Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign race, has hired the Guardians to protect some valuable batteries from a trans dimensional monster, agreeing to turn Nebula (Karen Gillan) over to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), her sister. Nebula was apprehended for attempting to steal the batteries herself.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 D The dimensional monster is defeated in a scenario both extremely violent and hilarious. Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) manages to steal a few of the batteries, which leads to the Sovereign race sending a fleet of drones to stop them. In the fight that ensues, we see that the Sovereign are a highly technical race who handle the drones like so many video games, yet they lose when a mystery ship helps out. The ship belongs to Ego, who is Quill’s real dad.

A subplot plays out the fact that Yondu (Michael Rooker), who initially captured Peter on Earth when he was just a boy, broke the code of the Ravagers by doing that and is confronted by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), leader of the Ravagers, who exiles Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 B

The story returns to the Guardians, who crashed on a nearby planet after the drone fight.  Ego takes Quill, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista)  to his world so he can explain everything to Peter. With Ego is the female Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath alien and “pet” to Ego. She explains that she can know people’s feelings and emotions by touching them.

Turns out that Ego has a few interesting skeletons in his closet that become known as he interacts with his “guests”, and Peter is more of a pawn than a “son”, which leads to a final battle between father and son even more intense than what Star Wars had. In the end, one character dies (I won’t tell you which, but several possibilities manifest themselves). Marvel head honcho Stan Lee makes his “required” cameo in a brief scene with characters known as Watchers, one of the few surprises in this film, which introduce some characters from other Marvel stories and some of the original comic book Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 C

After the closing credits (which are themselves filled with small funny pictures and “I am Groot” logos which chameleon themselves into credits) there are various short vignettes that set up some angles for the upcoming third installment. Be ready for an 80s TV icon to make an appearance near the end (and it’s NOT Stallone).

Overall, “Guardians Vol. 2” doesn’t disappoint and maintains a hectic pace from beginning to end with crisp action and fight scenes and clever banter between the characters. Rocket, Drax, and Gamora are well “fleshed out” as we find out some little-known things about their feelings for each other.

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84 Years Later, Kong is Still King

Kong Skull Island 1

In 1933, Merian C. Cooper astounded the world by bringing a fantastic version of Beauty and the Beast to the silver screen. It was the story of a giant ape revered as a God on a remote island where evolution paused millions of years ago and dinosaurs still roamed. It was hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and was brought to life by master technician Willis O’Brien, with help from Marcel Delgado and a young Ray Harryhausen, that last being uncredited, but he used the experience in 1948 to create Mighty Joe Young. But enough history, let’s dissect this story.

William Randa (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) wrangle a senator to fund a mission for his Monarch Corporation, a nebulous entity shrouded in secrecy which is hunting for “large, living monsters”. The mission gets piggybacked with a geologic trip to the area, but not before Randa secures a military escort in the person of Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Col. Preston Packard and his Sky Devils helicopter assault team.

Kong Skull Island 2

It should be noted that this story unfolds shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, and Packard and most of his men are eager for “one more tour of duty” in this adventure, which is laced with 1970s classic rock tunes the audience of a certain age will fondly remember. The target, “Skull Island” is continuously surrounded by violent storms that have kept it hidden for a long time, and has just recently been identified by satellite imagery.

As the helicopters break through the clouds, they disperse and release “helicopter bombs” to assess the geological makeup of the island. This act brings out a titanic gorilla which attacks the helicopters and knocks them all out of the sky. Among the ragtag crew is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an aspiring photojournalist and peace activist looking for that one picture that will make her famous. The soldiers and civilians get separated and try to get back together again. As they roam around they encounter a huge mutant water buffalo. Conrad is a former member of the British Special Forces in Vietnam and a jungle expert, so he’s a natural leader for his group, which winds up at some ancient ruins where they encounter fierce-appearing natives and Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Riley), who has been living on the island since crashing there during World War II. Marlow gives them the lowdown on the native life forms on the island, which include giant spiders and ants (although we never see the ants) and a large snakelike animal with front arms and a bony head which he refers to as “skull crawlers”, a word he just made up because it “sounds scary”.

Kong Skull Island 3

Also present is a species of large cephalopod, which makes a brief appearance as a giant, active sushi bar for Kong. The skull crawlers are definitely the main threat as they are fast and ferocious, and manage to decimate the troops a bit as they amble around. Just as nasty are “ugly birds” of some mutant variety which are actually some sort of pterosaur that account for a few more deaths. Preston wants Kong dead, but Marlow is against the idea because he points out that Kong is basically the only means of protection against the skull crawlers, especially one “big one”. One of the scientists adds to the argument by pointing out that in nature, when one species is wiped out, another steps up to fill in the void.

Kong_Skull_Island_poster  This is NOT your grandfather’s Kong, and parents should be made aware that the scenes of gore and monster violence are very intense, so you may want to consider leaving the kiddies home for this one. The ending of this film is slightly upbeat, but I must confess I didn’t stick around for all the end credits to see how they were going to tie this one up with the Godzilla legend in 2020, so I may have missed a big point. The lush jungle scenery of Hawaii, Vietnam, and Australia give this film a “travelogue” look—at least until the monsters show up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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