Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Creed Review

Normally boxing movies do not catch my interest, but the Rocky movies have always been the exception. While they all have had their ups and downs, the last Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, did end on a high note. However, it did not reach the height of the first Rocky movie. Surprisingly, Creed is the best Rocky movie since the 1976 original.

Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of famous boxing champion Apollo Creed, who never knew his father as Apollo died in a boxing match before he was born. Even though he never knew his father, he wants to follow in his footsteps. He seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who was Apollo’s friend and former rival. Although initially hesitant, Balboa agrees to train him as Adonis has a shot at the title shot against the world light heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew).

Even though the plot is similar to Rocky, Creed stands on its own, as it is an entertaining movie. Michael B. Jordan gives an outstanding lead performance as the driven boxer Adonis Johnson, but the standout performance is Sylvester Stallone. Stallone easily jumps back into one of his most iconic roles and is arguably the heart of the film.

Ryan Coogler steps into the director’s chair for the seventh Rocky film, and does a spectacular job. Coogler previously collaborated with Jordan in the marvelous “Fruitvale Station”, and does another marvelous job with this movie. Coogler does an excellent job with all of the boxing scenes as they are masterfully directed. He also captures the spirit of the first film so well that it is truly a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise.

Creed is no doubt the best entry in the Rocky franchise since the first one. It may be a bit formulaic as most boxing movies are, but strong performances, masterful direction, and heart make Creed a worthy successor to the Rocky legacy.

Creed - 4.4/5

Brooklyn Review

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman from a small town who follows her sister’s plan to immigrate to Brooklyn, New York in the 1950’s so she can have a better life. Once she arrives in America she feels intense homesickness, as she is alone in a new country. However, she falls in love with an Italian man named Tony (Emory Cohen). However, terrible news forces Eilis back home, and soon she must make a choice to stay back in Ireland or her new home in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is classic love story and a pleasant one also. Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen are the heart of the film. Their chemistry gradually grows throughout the film, and by the end you care deeply for their relationship. This is Ronan’s best performance to date as she starts out as a homesick immigrant, and transforms into a confident, self-assured woman at the end of the picture.

In addition, the production design and costume design is magnificently thorough. Every single detail is hammered out, and the viewer is immersed in the culture of the 1950’s. A minor problem I had with the film is that Ellis’ relationship with her sister is never fully fleshed out. The script could have developed that relationship more, so the film could have had more emotional weight in the third act.

Brooklyn has all the elements of the timeless love story and director John Crowley utilizes all of them. Ronan excels in her role, and her chemistry with Cohen is some of the best I have seen all year. In addition, thanks to excellent production design and impressive direction, Brooklyn is charming movie that is a throwback to the day of classic love stories.

Brooklyn - 4/5

The Force Awakens! (Star Wars Episode VII Review)

This poster is so amazing!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place three decades after the defeat of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. However, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi Master, has vanished. In his absence, the sinister First Order has arisen to take over the galaxy. Meanwhile, on a planet called Jakku, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger, finds a BB-8 droid that knows the whereabouts of Skywalker.
Eventually, Rey and Finn (John Boyega), a rogue Stormtrooper, meet two smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca, and are thrown into the middle of a battle between the resistance and the daunting legions of the First Order, which is led by the mysterious Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The original Star Wars trilogy is beloved by fans worldwide, but the recent prequel trilogy has tarnished the Star Wars brand considerably. Director J.J. Abrams had a paramount task of injecting life into Star Wars. He had to attract old fans and bring in new ones also. Fortunately, he succeeds for the most part. The newest Star Wars movie is more reminiscent of the original trilogy, which is a good aspect. The movie is good old-fashioned fun, with many call backs to 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and throughout its running time it is never boring. It does not suffer through boring exposition and jumps straight into the action.

The new actors in The Force Awakens are likable and marvelous. The standout performance belongs to Daisy Ridley. This is her first major motion picture role, and she excels as the character Rey. She is self-confident, likable, bold, and generally a good female action hero. Boyega also shines as Finn, the rogue stormtrooper, who gets many of the laughs of the film. In addition, Harrison Ford easily slips back into the role of Han Solo. Ford really embraces the role and his performance does not feel like he is in autopilot. Lastly, Driver is compelling as the evil Kylo Ren, who is conflicted by the light and dark side of the force. It will be interesting to see where his character evolves in the next movie.

The movie is immensely enjoyable, but flawed in the fact that it does not hold up well as a stand-alone movie. The movie leaves the viewer on a cliffhanger, which is annoying, but it does get you excited about the next Star Wars movie. Plus there are some characters that should get more screen time, but unfortunately they do not. In addition, many viewers have complained that it is very derivative of Star Wars: A New Hope. The Force Awakens did take a lot of elements from A New Hope, but I feel the film was just paying homage to the first film. I find nothing wrong with that as the first Star Wars film is one of the greatest Sci-fi films of all time. The Force Awakens is still a great chapter in the Star Wars' canon.

Is Star Wars back to its former glory? Yes it is. Abrams should be commended on rebooting Star Wars for the next generation. Even though some may find it too similar to the first Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still a fantastic film. It has just enough action and endearing characters to make it a worthy chapter in the Star Wars' mythos. If anything, it at least gets audiences excited to see the next Star Wars movie, which is currently shooting.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - 4/5

Deadpool Review

Deadpool recently opened with $150 million dollars at the domestic box office over Presidents Day weekend. That is mind boggling considering that its source material. The movie is based upon Marvel Comics most unconventional anti-hero Deadpool. Basically, Deadpool tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), who is suffering from cancer. In order to cure his disease he undergoes a rogue experiment run by the sinister mutant scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein). The experiment leaves him with accelerated healing powers, but at the cost of disfigured skin and his sanity. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Rated R comic book movies have always been risky in a market where the majority of comic book movies are rated PG-13. Most Rated R movies based off of comic books tank at the box office. The Blade trilogy was mildly successful, but that series ran out of steam by the third entry. Before Deadpool300 is really the only true breakout hit. So why is Deadpool so successful? Well, because it's just so entertaining. It's just that simple. Deadpool is by far the riskiest comic book movie I have ever seen, and I loved every minute of it. Ryan Reynolds owns the role of Deadpool. He is truly meant to play this role, and I could not see any other actor portray this violent and foul-mouthed character.

The first 20 minutes of the movie has one of the best opening action scenes I have ever seen. It combines just the right amount of graphic violence and insane comedy to make this movie stand out from other comic book movies. Deadpool is never afraid to go the extra mile, as it pulls no punches in regard to its violence, language, and nudity.

The only flaw is that the rest of the movie pales in comparison to the first 20 minutes. The rest of the movie is still good as it is constantly entertaining, but the rest of the movie does not reach the heights of the first 20 minutes. My guess is that most of the money went into that action sequence. In addition, Deadpool does fall into some of the stereotypes of the typical origin story. It is ironic since the film lampoons the clichés of the superhero origin story at certain points in the film. However, it does get me hyped for the sequel, which is alluded to at the end credits.

Deadpool is an entertaining comic book movie and a great addition to the X-Men cinematic universe. If you are looking for a different type of comic book movie, and do not mind raunchy humor and excessive nudity, then Deadpool is worth the ticket price.

Deadpool - 4/5

Prisoners Review

I watched Sicario the other day, which is an amazing film by the way. If you haven't seen it, check it out. Unfortunately, I thought Sicario should have gotten some Oscar nominations this year, especially for Bencio Del Toro's magnificent performance and for director Denis Villeneuve. Then I got to thinking that Villenvue's 2013 film Prisoners did not get much Oscar love either. So I decided to watch decided Prisoners again. I have to say that this film was robbed. Prisoners is a gritty, suspenseful, and thought-provoking crime thriller. This masterfully acted film should have been front runner for the 2013 awards season. I also realized that I never reviewed the film, so here it is.

The film starts with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a deeply religious blue-collar worker, and his family attending Thanksgiving at the house of neighbor and family friends, Nancy and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). The Franklins and the Dovers each have two children, the youngest of which (Anna and Joy) head out to play outside only to mysteriously disappear.

Upon a frantic search, the Franklins and the Dovers suspect the worse. Especially when their elder children tell them of a mysterious camper that was parked just down the street. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is heading the investigation, soon finds the camper with Alex Jones (Paul Dano) behind the wheel and arrests him. However, a lack of evidence forces Alex’s release. Dover is still convinced that Alex has something to do with the kidnappings and takes matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, Loki follows leads that open up possibilities of a crime where multiple persons may be involved.

The ensemble cast makes this film come alive, but the best performance that stands out in this film is from Jackman. His performance as a tortured father who does unquestionable things to find his daughter is extraordinary. I still don't understand how Jackman did not get any Best Actor nominations throughout the 2013 awards season. The script, from writer Aaron Guzikowsk, drives audiences down many different paths and emotional rides, and Jackman's performance will have you rooting for his quest for answers even though his methods are unorthodox and highly illegal.

This is also the first American film from acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. The directing in this movie is gripping and pulls the viewer in from start to finish. Villenvue brings out the best in his actors and captures the haunting atmosphere in the movie. Thanks to this film, he got plenty of Hollywood gigs like Sicario and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. Plus, the film looks stunning because of the famous Director of Photography Roger Deakins, who is actually nominated this year for Sicario. He probably will not win this year, even though he totally deserves it. Deakins brings a beautifully bleak look to film, which perfectly matches the tone of the film.

The thing that hurts this film is the running time. It could have been trimmed about 30 minutes as the torture scenes go on too long. In addition, Villenvue wraps loose plot lines too quickly, and the climax is too cliché for this story and abandons some of the realism that the film is going for. Nevertheless, these are still minor complaints.

Prisoners has a multitude of elements that makes it engaging for the audience. It is an emotionally complex film and questions difficult moral dilemmas. It also has a sense of dread, which makes for an emotional, disturbing, and absorbing viewing experience. I still think Prisoners was one of the best films of 2013. Sadly for this film, 2013 was a very competitive year at the Oscars. Check this film out if you can.

Prisoners - 4.5/5

Friday, December 6, 2013

Welcome to the Family

The Family stars Robert De Niro as mafia boss Fred Manzoni, whose family is relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob. However, assimilation is never easy for the Manzoni family. Despite the best efforts of CIA Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep them in line, Fred and his family revert to their old habits and attract trouble along the way.

De Niro breaks no new ground in this role, but he plays what he does well, which is a mafia type role. This is a relief considering that he has been doing a lot of subpar projects in recent years. The Family even has some meta-humor thrown in with several references from past mob movies like Goodfellas, which also starred De Niro. This makes the movie even more enjoyable.

The Family is darkly comic, but most of the action and gun play does not come until the end of the movie. Director Luc Besson does not break any new ground with the film, but it is better than some of his latest. The other members of the family, which include Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, and D’Leo share some good chemistry with De Niro ,and it shows on the big screen. They all make for a very convincing family. In addition, Tommy Lee Jones brings some much-needed deadpan humor to the movie. The only factor this film lacks is a menacing villain. A truly frightening villain could have brought this film to a new level and increased the stakes for the Manzoni family. Nevertheless, the film still succeeds, and it is enjoyable for a September release. While this is not one of Besson’s best films, the strong performances and dark comedy help the film rise above your average mob movie.

The Family - 3.5/5

Giant Robots Vs. Big Monsters (Pacific Rim Review)

Pacific Rim takes inspiration from the elements of any material that involves giant creatures and robots. When monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the ocean, a war erupts that destroys cities and consumes humanity resources for years. The nations of the world come together to face this threat by building Jaegers. Jaegers are basically giant robots controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. However, kaiju get stronger with each battle and the forces defending mankind must turn to two unlikely heroes – a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) – who are teamed to drive a legendary, but seemingly obsolete Jaeger. Together, they are mankind’s last hope against the upcoming apocalypse.

Pacific Rim is the latest film from visionary director Guillermo del Toro, who has directed films like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Devil’s Backbone. Pacific Rim is easily his most mainstream and blockbuster film. The large-scale battles between the Jaegers and Kaiju are spectacularly well done and are very thrilling. The designs of the creatures and robots are simply marvelous and stunning. The backstory involving the Kaiju, the mechanical details of Jaegers, and how society has become affected due to the Kaiju attacks is very fascinating. Basically, the film plays homage to monster movies, which is filled with anime inspired robots.

Nevertheless, while the film does satisfy on a visuals effects level, it is greatly lacking in substance. The story is rather weak and is filled with clichés and generic plot points. Plus, while the cast is talented they are only playing stock characters, which are the norm in almost every other science fiction movie. In addition, while the film looks extraordinary, the majority of the battles take place at night, sometimes in the rain. While the battles are amazing in that setting, it does make it hard to keep up with the fighting sometimes. Despite those problems, it is still a fantastic movie.

While Pacific Rim is not completely groundbreaking, it is still a movie that is best experienced in theaters. The film is intriguing and action packed, but sadly the plot suffers from some lackluster storytelling and one-dimensional characters. However, it is a monster vs. robots type of story, so I cannot expect too much depth from it. If you liked the Transformers series, then you will definitely appreciate this movie.

Pacific Rim - 4/5