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My Thoughts On: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The guy can’t catch a break after Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which I thought was fine).  I mean, The Man from U.N.C.L.E was unbelievably forgettable, and was such a box office disaster; I thought he wouldn’t get to make another movie for a while.  Luckily, some studio had faith in him, now we can see his interpretation of one of England’s most famous legends.  Unfortunately, you’ll be wishing they never pulled the sword from the paper mache stone after watching the end result.

To its credit, King Arthur is the most visually interesting Ritchie film (after Sherlock Holmes) I’ve seen.  Oh, I’m not talking about the F/X (which look unbelievably cheap); I mean the sets, costumes, and some of the cinematography.  Good thing too, because the characters are bland as white bread.  While Charlie Hunam gives a decent performance, I can’t remember anyone from the movie, probably because the screenwriters used token “adventure” clichés as characters.  It would be easy to list them off, but I’d rather talk about the worst one: Arthur himself.  Instead of being a bad*** swordfighter whose strong-willed, diligent personality never surrenders; Arthur is reduced to the “reluctant hero” trope.  Mhm, the most tedious version of “the chosen one” plotline is our protagonist for 2 incredibly long hours.  If that wasn’t enough, his backstory is exactly the same as the story of Moses (there is even a scene where he’s sent down a river in a basket as a baby).  Oy, these characters are forgettable.

It’s a shame really.  There are moments of classic Ritchie brilliance (an interrogation scene in particular is hilarious), the music and production is cool, and when the movie actually wants to be awesome, it is.  I don’t know much about King Arthur lore, aside from that line in Tomb Raider: Legend where Alister states that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone were, “Two bloody different stories!”  What I can tell you is that this movie’s bland story is not saved by a neutered PG-13 rating and a lack of satisfying action sequences.  King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel finally kills off some of its main characters.  Only at that point will their cinematic universe truly open to new stories.  I say this because the formulas for the modern superhero movie are slowly making each installment more predictable.  In the meantime, we have a film that screams “capitalization.”  Either that or it’s just a sequel that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written/directed by James Gunn.  Stars-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.  Premise-During one of their adventures (and getting into trouble at the same time), the Guardians learn more about their leader’s (Star-Lord) childhood.

The biggest problem with Guardians 2 is the writing.  No offense to Gunn (whose ideas started the trend of superhero movies having retro soundtracks), but this script needed another brain working on it.  Perhaps you see it differently, but this film felt really awkward to me.  Some of the jokes felt rushed or were not delivered well; especially whenever they try to use profanity (the PG-13 rating neuters some of these jokes).  It’s difficult to phrase, but the movie doesn’t have the flow of the original.  One thing that attributes to that is the terrible cutting.  I don’t know if it was written or edited this way, but there are many scenes that cut away at inopportune times.  For example, Star-Lord is about to learn something critical about his past, but the scene randomly cuts to the subplot involving Yondu.  I wouldn’t mind as much if this was a one-time thing, however, this occurs at least 3 times.  It kinda ruins the moment.  Still, the movie isn’t without its charm.

The cast may actually be better this time around.  That’s because they have much more development.  I don’t know why critics are saying the characters aren’t fleshed out; there are more character-focused scenes than actiony, space ones.  The first movie was similar to a television pilot in terms of character.  We got their backstories, personalities, and some interplay between them.  This movie bumps it up a notch.  The drama is outstandingly affective, and it kept the movie from getting boring.  Bautista, Rooker, and Cooper, especially get to shine with their material.  Which is great considering the action sequences and CGI are way too cartoony this time around (but the sets are fantastic).

Well, that was short.  Sorry if you were expecting 20 paragraphs of in-depth criticism, but that’s really all I have to say.  In essence, it’s not as good as the first one.  Heck, the soundtrack isn’t one-fifth as memorable as the first.  The best comparison I can come up with is the difference between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back movies.  The first was much more fun and action-packed, while the second was darker and focused on the characters.  That said, most people prefer Empire Strikes Back, so I’ll let you decide if time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth your time.  But for me, it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“Fate of the Furious” Review

I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, or the 2009 Fast & Furious.  I say this because Fate of the Furious is more continuity-heavy than Furious 7 (and because I’m honest with my audience).  In addition, Fate of the Furious is not as simply enjoyable as Furious 7.  Yeah, that’s a good intro.

Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.  Stars-Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Chris Bridges, and Kurt Russell.  Premise-Dom’s crew must track down their leader after he goes rogue for a mysterious woman.

Yes, greedy Hollywood producers have predictably stomped on a dead actor’s grave while greenlighting 100 more unnecessary sequels.  Even though the tagline for the previous film was, “One last ride,” the plot wrapped up nearly every character’s arc, and the emotional ending that brought tears to audiences eyes were all clearly saying, “That’s all folks,” you cannot argue with the 1.5 BILLION dollars Furious 7 grossed.  Because of this, we have an action film that pushes the envelope in more ways than one.

I know I’ll be called a hypocrite for thoroughly enjoying Furious 7 and then disliking the sequel (even though they are basically the same movie), but here is the game changer: the amount of drama.  In Furious 7, the most serious it got were those amnesia flashbacks.  However, things get really personal with Fate of the Furious.  Charlize Theron (collecting her paycheck while sporting a really stupid haircut) plays the villain whose entire character is written straight out of “Psychopathic Antagonist” Volume 1.  She speaks only in evil whispers, has a weird character design, and manipulates the main protagonist by using the most predictable cliché in the book (can’t say it because of spoilers, but you could probably guess what she does).  These movies are at their best when the drama is light and the over-the-top action is high.  Sadly, every scene with Theron is very hard to watch.  Not to say that what she does to Dom is a bad motivation; it’s because these movies should never be this depressing to watch.  Especially when these scenes are preceded/followed by the goofy characters joking around.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed the movie much more as a whole if these scenes were cut, because once my suspension of neutrality is broken, other problems stand out much more.  One of these problems is the clichés.  Unbelievable physics and invulnerable characters are acceptable (if you watch any of these movies expecting realism, show yourself out), but you can predict pretty much every scene, and that is a bore.

On the bright side, the action scenes are awesome!  If the previous film was too unbelievable for you, the races, chases, and shootouts are well-choreographed and fast-paced.  If you switch off your brain (a requirement at this point), these action sequences are a marvel.  Heck, the New York portion of the film is more over-the-top than any GTA 5 stunt video you’ll ever see.  Another notable scene takes place in a prison, and it gives The Rock his most awesome movie moment since the montage in The Rundown.  The rest of the cast is decent as well.  While Gibson and Bridges teeter on the edge of annoying and funny, Eastwood/Russell and Statham/Johnson have great chemistry, and the rest of the cast is fine.

Ultimately, this movie is exactly what you’d expect.  Transformers levels of stupidity, clichéd plotlines, and a whole lot of testosterone-fueled explosions.  If the filmmakers didn’t inappropriately try their hand at drama, then the film would require nothing from its audience.  After all, that’s why these movies are successes: dumb fun without the emotional connection.  Fate of the Furious gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“Ghost in the Shell” (2017) Review

Originally, I was going to review The Boss Baby, but Murphy’s law wrecked my plans so here we are.  While this movie has been reviewed by freaking everybody, I think my point of view will provide a differing opinion to those who are familiar with the source material.  That’s right; I have not read or watched any of the original Ghost in the Shell manga (or anime, whatever).  That means I went into this movie with absolutely no idea what to expect (aside from the first teaser trailer).  Upon leaving the theater, this was my thought: “That was decent.”

Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders and written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger.  Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Peter Ferdinando, and Juliette Binoche.  Premise-After an accident, a woman’s brain is placed into a cybernetic body for the use of hunting down criminals.

Not to get ahead from myself, but this movie can be summed up as “an above-average action sci-fi flick.”  The manga may or may not be better than the film, but the general consensus does not like the live-action movie.  As we leaned with the Inferno movie, adaptations should be good in their own right.  Competent storytelling, compelling characters, and excellent visuals are not something that should not be difficult to recreate.  Luckily, GITS has the visual aspect in droves.  The costumes, designs, and color pallet are very interesting.  Stylization this intense is hard to come by nowadays, so I appreciate how they visualized the manga for the silver screen.  What’s even more impressive are the action sequences.  Slow-motion “bullet time” allows the impeccable F/X to impress, even in 2D.  To accompany every scene, we have one of the best movie scores of the 2010s.  If you love Vangelis’ Blade Runner music, Tangerine Dream, or electronica, then you will probably nerdgasm over this Lorne Balfe/Clint Mansell score.  I’m not even going to attempt to tell you how excellent it is, just watch the film (or buy the soundtrack when it’s released).

Despite the technical achievements, the problems of this movie lie entirely in the screenplay.  I don’t know (or care) how faithful it is to the manga, but it’s without a doubt, very clichéd.  We have: a bad guy who bears a shocking resemblance to Amon from The Legend of Korra, corrupted corporate officials, framed police officers, and a whole lot of copy-pasted “robotic sci-fi” genre clichés (like the scene where they wonder what it’s like to feel human).  There are a few scenes that should have been cut, the climax is not as big as it should be, and the symbolism is painfully obvious (what do you know, an American action film with all the subtly of a middle finger to the audience).

The actors are not much better.  Only the great Takeshi Kitano stands out because he takes command of every scene.  Sure, Johansson (btw, they do explain why she’s not Asian) looks pretty, but that does not translate to good acting.  Admittedly, she is mostly robotic, so I don’t expect Viola Davis levels of passion, but something other than “blank stare” would be nice.

There you are, one short and sweet review.  Despite the annoying faults, the entertainment value is pretty high.  There are enough interesting ideas and likable characters to turn this into a franchise.  After all, isn’t that what they wanted to do with it in the first place?  Ghost in the Shell (2017) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

“Power Rangers” (2017) Review

I can’t come up with a fresh intro, so here is some context.  I love the Power Rangers shows!  Campy, but fun; formulaic, but entertaining; they serve as very fond childhood memories of mine (S.P.D. and Samurai were my favorite generations).  When they announced a film adaptation, I had the usual Internet response: insta-rage.  Not only did they hire the director of Project Almanac (loads of potential, crappy execution), but the script went through multiple writers before being turned into a 2 hour screenplay that is supposed to set up a universe which rivals that of Marvel.  Well, if Lionsgate wants to milk 6 sequels out of this movie, it better grab the audience’s attention with likable characters, a clever plot, and jaw-dropping visuals.  Or they could just rip-off Chronicle.

Power Rangers is directed by Dean Israelite and written by: John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, and Kieran Mulroney.  Stars-Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, and Bryan Cranston.  Premise-A group of high school students come across some otherworldly technology and after an accident, come away from it with superpowers.  As per the ususal, now they must save the world.

I should probably preface this review by saying that I don’t recall all the lore and characters from the entire franchise.  I’m not even certain which generation this movie is based on.  However, I know what made the series’ work, and thus, I reside in the section of the audience who grew up with the originals.  In addition, I understand the main concern people had with the movie ever since the freaking costumes were released: “Is it going to take itself too seriously?”  The charm of this franchise comes from the corniness and lighthearted tone.  To turn that into an obnoxiously serious, brooding drama would result in… Batman v Superman (and we all know how well that one turned out).  To make things perfectly clear, being “dark” is not the problem, poor screenwriting is.  How can The Dark Knight be universally praised for its dark tone and adult themes while Batman v Superman is despised for its somber style and gloomy character arcs?  Aside from the fact that Christopher Nolan is an angel from cinema heaven; The Dark Knight developed its characters and didn’t spend half the dialogue setting up future installments.  In the case of Power Rangers, it’s definitely darker than the shows, but they balance it out with plenty of humorous moments.  Unfortunately, the movie isn’t very good at comedy, or action, or pacing, or…

Despite these young actors trying their hardest, the material they’re given is garbage.  I made the comparison to Chronicle because Power Rangers follows its first act to a T.  These characters are extremely clichéd high school stereotypes.  Subsequently, we get to see all the gloriously overdone character arcs and easy-to-write backstories that come with them.  I’m not going to pretend that the shows had mind-blowing characters, but they had plenty of charm.  These guys literally spell out what their main character trait is “I’m insane!”  “What’s up crazy girl?”  “The ‘golden boy’ of our little town.”  It makes for some extremely unengaging characters.  I’ll admit, there is a lot of time dedicated to character development, but what we get is not very original.  It doesn’t help that 80% of the dialogue is painfully bland exposition.

Despite the character faults, the action could make up for it.  Ughhhhhh; that’s where the other half of the problems lie.  While the F/X and costumes are decent, it takes forever for us to actually see the Power Rangers!  You have to sit through 90 slow minutes of boring high school ridiculousness before any cool stuff happens.  Also, the pacing is yawn-inducing, and the camerawork is crappy (ugly Dutch angles, shaky cam, the usual).  What’s especially aggravating is the third act.  More clichés are abused!  We get a fake out death (it’s not a spoiler because you know the movie won’t actually do it), followed by one of the worst examples of “Talking Killer Syndrome” (a term crated by Roger Ebert to describe bad guys who monologue instead of kill), and a very disappointing climax.  The fight choreography is ok and the scale is fun, but the battle sequence ached for more time devoted to it.  Hopefully the sequels are more action-drewn, but this movie never measures up to the potential.  Honestly, it would have been outstanding if it was directed by Edgar Wright.  The source material would be perfect for his style of humor.  He can do action quite well (Scott Pilgrim, Hot Fuzz), and the genre lends its way for clever satire.  Sadly, I ain’t that lucky.  With that, the review is over.

Is Power Rangers an unnecessary adaptation that’s worth your time (like Warcraft or 2016’s The Magnificent Seven)?  Or is it an unnecessary adaptation that you should burn with hellfire (Maleficent, 2016’s Ghostbusters, Assassins Creed, 2015’s Vacation, etc.)?  That is entirely up to you.  In my (packed) theater, the parents looked bored, but the kids were having a blast.  Most critics don’t like the film, but most audiences enjoyed it.  As for me, there was not enough cool stuff to overshadow the blandness.  Then again, I did sit though Monster Trucks and Life (2017) so a film about angsty teens talking to Bryan Cranston’s wall-face doesn’t seem too bad.  Power Rangers gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

“Inferno” Review, Books vs. Movies, and The Robert Langdon Series

Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations!  Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason.  By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts.  I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot.  Wow.  I couldn’t put that book down!  Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills).  What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations.  I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me!  I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh.  Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.

Anyway, today we are doing something special.  In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books.  It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.

Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp.  Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan.  Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory.  All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.

This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them.  That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book!  The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to.  Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene).  When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death.  We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes.  Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull).  After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.

This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron!  Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted.  I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it.  At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave?  Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?”  In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.

Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists.  I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus.  There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.”  Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots.  Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone.  He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality.  As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic.  Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons).  A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”  It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures.  He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero.  The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.

Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell.  Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible!  If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory.  Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere.  Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals.  Inferno looks cheap as heck.  I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition.  That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children.  In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information.  Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.”  While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences.  If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot!  In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!).  Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves.  The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park!  You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!

If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.”  I don’t buy that.  You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult?  Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors.  Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director.  I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C.  Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books.  There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide).  What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.

Inferno reeks of laziness.  I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code.  That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was.  Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was.  Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING.  Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven.  If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent.  In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected).  All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent).  The performances can’t save this picture either.  Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious!  Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.

In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel.  I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect.  I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try.  Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims.  The movie has no concept of logic or pacing.  It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time.  While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book.  With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary.  In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel.  Let’s get back to the movie.

After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on.  To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate.  After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium.   After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located.  Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service).  This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first.  Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs.  The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.

You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed.  She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers.  These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns.  They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake.  An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in.  She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague.  Oh boy, time to go on a rant!

First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague.  Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most.  In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character.  In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out.  Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character.  It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still.  Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them.  Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind.  When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless.  It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it.  Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.

Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material.  An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original.  The only difference is opinion.  I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many.  The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough.  When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome.  But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.

This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017.  Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go.  Comment and tell me what you thought of this post.  Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job.  Thank you.

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read.  It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it.  Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

This movie is ungodly boring!  The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace.  Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

“Logan” Review

It’s about dang time I reviewed an X-Men movie huh?  There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: I don’t care about the X-Men (the comics, the characters, and the films).  Ok, “don’t care” is a bit much.  For what they’re worth, these characters have a huge following, and their films (which range wildly in quality) have started many careers and had a major influence on the superhero industry.  They maintained a darker tone than most other superhero flicks (largely due to complex characters and clever social commentary), and they persisted through many ups and downs in the genre.  However, I was never that engaged with the films, especially the horrid ones.  For me, the tone isn’t dark enough (like The Dark Knight or Watchmen) to dive into the really gritty stuff; or it was never lighthearted enough to be an enjoyable action flick (Doctor Strange or Captain America: Civil War).  Considering that this is Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the character, they have to do something phenomenal.  Something that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.  Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Logan; one of the best superhero movies of the 2010s.

Logan is directed by James Mangold and written by: James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green.  Stars-Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, and Boyed Holbrook.  Premise-Set a couple decades in the future, an aging Logan is trying to take care of a crazed professor X in the Mexican border.  By a twist of fate, he finds a young mutant running from unknown evil who desperately needs his help.

James Mangold also directed The Wolverine, which was a major improvement over its predecessor, but I can’t help but think he was held back by studio demands.  One of those demands being a PG-13 rating.  The first thing I have to bring up is the: tough, no holds barred, brutal, not at all for kids, R rating.  Thank you Deadpool for being a faithful adaptation that grossed over $700 million.  Companies are finally growing a pair and can bring us proper portrayals of comic book violence without the fear of poor box office returns (note, I am aware Deadpool is not the first R rated comic book film).  It only took 17 years for us to see the Wolverine chopping up people with the realistic amount of gore and blood.  Yes, the action scenes in Logan are incredible.  Flawless stunts, kinetic (without being annoyingly shaky) cinematography, gruesome sound design, and violence that makes Deadpool look tame.  One scene in particular… oh my gosh.  It takes place in a hotel and is a Triple M.  Basically, I have not come across a scene that kept me suspended in anticipation for over 3 minutes!  You’ll be able to tell what scene I’m talking about by the editing, sound, and Marco Beltrami’s awesome score.  By the time it was over, I didn’t notice I was holding my breath!  That never happens!  This movie is worth watching, twice, for the action alone.  Not to say that the story is lacking.

There is a surprisingly large amount of emotional depth in Logan.  It’s no secret that this character is the most developed out of all the movies, is the most popular, and has been a major source of drama for the franchise.  I’m impressed with how personal this movie gets with the character.  This may be Hugh Jackman’s best performance as Wolverine since the first two films.  There are many scenes with no dialogue, just Logan.  We see the wear and tear on his body and how emotionally conflicted he is.  It makes for one heck of a protagonist I’ll tell ya.  The supporting cast also shines.  This is Keen’s first film, and she’s fantastic.  Most of the time, she doesn’t speak, and she has great chemistry with Jackman and Stewart (who is also top notch).  This is probably the best child performance I’ve seen since Raffey Cassidy in Tomorrowland (hey look at that, strong female characters that are not remakes, who’d have thunk it?).  Sadly, this film is not perfect.

There are a few “characters on the run” clichés that take you out of the experience.  Particularly a decision (an obviously dumb one) that happens during the second act that you can predict the end result of.  It’s a shame because that is a seriously important/dramatic part of the movie, but they used a boring cliché (one that was used in X-Men Origins!) to set it up.  The next problem the sheer amount of question marks I had when I left the theater.  There’s about 29 unexplained plot points (regarding the past, supposed atrocities characters committed, secret locations) that I’m sure will be explained in future installments.  But, I’m left clueless as to what is going on for most of the time.  Honestly, I’d prefer if they left all the details to the wayside so they could focus on one specific conflict rather than try to tell 15 stories at once (looking at you Apocalypse).  The biggest problem is the villain(s).  There are two of them, and they are both clichés.  I’d tell you what tropes they are, but that would spoil the film.  Just know that these guys are forgettable and largely unimportant.

There is no doubt about it; Logan is not to be missed.  If you want action, it’s here, if you want character development, it’s here, if you want a dang good cinematic experience, it’s here.  Logan gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.  On a side note, I may not be producing as much content for the next month or so.  Basically, I have some major college decisions to make this month, and my emotions are in utter turmoil trying to figure it out.  I’ll still be getting at least one review published a week (as doing this allows my mind to focus), but the projects that I wanted to finish last month are being delayed so I can sort other things out.  Thank you.

Check my Twitter for updates.

 

X-Men Movies Ranked

X-Men (2000-B+

X2 (2003)-B

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)-B-

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)-D-

X-Men: First Class (2011)-B

The Wolverine (2013)-C+

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)-B+

Deadpool (the X-Men contribute enough to the story to be called an X-Man film) (2016)-A-

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)-C+

Logan (2017)-A-

My Thoughts On: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

I hope you’re prepared for nerdgasming, because this post is going to be little more than a neon sign flashing, “GO SEE THIS AWESOME MOVIE RIGHT NOW!!!”  It is rare to come across a sequel that one-ups its predecessor, and when that happens, it is truly a sight to behold.

Stuntman/director Chad Stahelski (who also directed the first film) returns with even more visual style and intense fight sequences to boot.  I cannot understate how incredible these action scenes are!  This is due to: brutal R-rated hand-to-hand combat, impeccable stunts, camerawork that doesn’t cut or shake around, and sound mixing that packs more punches than the characters do.  The violence in this movie is akin to that of a 90s action flick without the cheesiness or over-the-top setting.  Many people will disagree with me on that aspect, but John Wick 2 makes a great effort to validate the 100+ body count (among other improbabilities).  When characters hear “John Wick,” they shudder in fear or, if he’s in their presence, treat him with respect rivaling that of Pope Francis.  He’s one of the best assassins the crime underworld has ever seen.  It would only make sense that people fear him.

Speaking of crime underworld, John Wick 2 has a stronger story than the first.  I always thought the dog’s death was a flimsy motivation, and they remedied that by expanding the incredibly interesting criminal world in this movie.  We got hints of this in the first movie, like the cleaning service, golden coins, and the hotel.  Hey wait, I just figured it out!  Literally as I write this review, it dawned on me.  They intentionally teased at the underworld in the first movie so the audience would gain interest for future installments.  Do you know what that means?  A franchise film released in the last seven years didn’t beat you over the head with sequel-baiting exposition!  Excuse me, I must sob with joy.

The narrative may not be as solid for some (although the motivations in this movie are logical).  Come to think of it, the runtime is too long, and the characters are slightly generic.  But for what John Wick 2is, I wasn’t expecting Inception, just some kick-a** thrills and Keanu Reeves proving that he can act.  John Wick: Chapter 2 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“The Great Wall” Review

First thing’s first, casting Matt Damon in this movie was not a stroke of whitewashing.  I grow tired of having to clarify these things.  Internet, questioning is fine, but wait until you have all the facts before you accuse.  From the director himself, “In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience.  Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.”  He was hired by a Chinese production company/director to play in the country’s most expensive film of all time.  That said, The Great Wall is probably that country’s worst movie of all time.

The Great Wall is directed by Yimou Zhang and written by: Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Max Brooks, Tony Gilroy, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard.  Stars-Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, and Willem Dafoe.  Premise-While running from bandits and searching for the fabled “black powder” (aka gunpowder), mercenary William (Damon) comes across the Great Wall of China, where he quickly learns that it is the first line of defense against a furious colony of creatures bent on consuming everything in sight.

If you want to look for whitewashing in this production, check out that writing team.  When I first saw “Story by Edward Zwick,” everything made much more sense because The Great Wall is a lot like a Zwick film: all style (action) no substance (story).  The best thing about this movie is the action sequences.  The sound design, Ramin Djawadi’s score, and a good sense of scale and urgency create some pretty cool battles.  Unfortunately, that, along with impeccable sets and costumes, is the only redeemable thing about this utterly forgettable flick.

Yimou Zhang is one of Asia’s most renowned directors (pretty close to Akira Kurosawa).  He’s won two BAFTAs and has directed several Oscar-nominated films.  My question is: why the living heck did he sign on to this Americanized dreck?!  Seriously,  I have never seen a more American film from a foreign production company/director in my life.  The Great Wall uses, literally, every single bad action movie cliché in the book.  Characters flying back half a mile when a green screen prop hits them, an attractive, white, male, mega star in the lead role, an overdose of crappy CGI, annoying shaky-cam, unfunny side characters, and of course, explosions.  This action movie sucks at creating suspense because I could predict it scene by scene, and since the characters are stock, boring clichés, The Great Wall is a bore to sit through.  Also, the trailers lie to your face.  The line, “I’ve fought for greed and gods” is not in the film, and the way they show the monsters suggest them to be something entirely different than what they really are.

If you need any proof of how no one cared about this project, just look at the actors.  When they’re not doing their best impression of an IKEA coffee table, they sport the, “I know being in this movie will sully my reputation, but I got paid big time” expression.  I honestly don’t blame them, they have nothing to work with.  You’re not going to believe this, but there are not one, not two, but three main characters that contribute absolutely nothing to the plot!  I have never seen that before in my life!  Not only that, but there are a million plot-wrecking plotholes and contrivances.  For example, it takes the movie till the halfway point (long enough for the audience to lose any suspension of disbelief) to explain where the heck these monsters came from, and doing so creates even more continuity issues.  I’m all for historically inaccurate films.  When properly written, we get the awesomely fun Inglourious Basterds, the incredibly dramatic Braveheart, and 300 (need I say more?).  Apparently this is one of the legends of the Great Wall of China.  What the filmmaker’s do not understand is that your movie has to be coherent regardless of historical accuracy.  There’s about 25 MacGuffin’s and none of them make any sense, despite their lazy attempts to dump exposition on everything.

The climax is especially ridiculous.  Just when you didn’t think they could cram in any more clichés, they do (and take your money at the same time).  I can’t list them all for fear of spoilers, but this one needs to be called out.  *MINOR SPOILER*  It is a death scene.  When this happened, I fully gave up on any dignity the movie had left.  It is perhaps the worst self-sacrifice I have ever come across.  They even do the slow-motion head turn as the character does the deed.  What’s insulting about this is that the character that dies is barely developed.  They have a few scenes, but the movie never even tells me their freaking name (at least, not to my knowledge)!  These were my immediate words after that scene, “Aw.  I cared so much for…whatshisname?”

After the thorough spanking I gave this movie, you’d probably expect me to call this one of the worst movies of all time.  Heck no.  The sad fact is, every now and then we get a mindless action movie with a grand scale setting.  It was Ben-Hur and Legend of Tarzan in 2016, San Andreas and Maze Runner: Scorch Trials in 2015, Transformers: Age of Extinction and I, Frankenstein in 2014 (there were many in that year), etc.  Each and every one of those films shares the same elements: boring, stupid, and forgettable.  Oh, and crappy.  I’m going to watch Kung Fu Hustle now and pray to God that these clichés (aka blights on cinema), end.  The Great Wall gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.

“The Lego Batman Movie” Review

You all know the story of a certain animated masterpiece about Legos, how great it is, and how the Academy, in one of their dumbest moves yet, snubbed it for Best Animated Feature in 2015.  The writing was clichéd, but creative, the voice-actors’ personalities shined, and the animation is some of the best you’ll ever see.  It proved many naysayers wrong, and reminded us that movies based on toys don’t always have to suck.  This film paved the way for toy-based movies to make a comeback.  Sadly we got Trolls, Max Steel, and Monster Trucks.  Looks like Hollywood needs a refresher on how to do it right, and there’s no better candidate than the one we’re going over now.

The Lego Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay and written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington.  Stars-Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, and Zach Galifianakis.  Premise-A spin-off of The Lego Movie, Bruce Wayne/Batman must face his fear of relationships while ensuring the safety of Gotham.

Before we get into anything major it would be apparent to say that this movie is not nearly as amazing as the first one.  That doesn’t mean The Lego Batman Movie isn’t without its charms.  Honestly, if you want to sum up this movie’s humor, I would call it a kid-friendly version of Deadpool.  There are so many fourth wall jokes, jabs at the clichés of superhero movies, and CinemaSins-style (those guys have no idea how much they’ve influenced cinema) self-awareness gags.  Basically, this movie makes fun of anything having to do with the Batman character from the 60s to the 2010s (I honestly think it was funnier than Deadpool).  That is where the humor shines.   There is some quirky wordplay, but the parody factor is what delivers.  The animation compliments it very well.  Surely it doesn’t need to be stated that the animation in these Lego films is in the Top Ten of Forever/All Time?  I don’t have to say much, just check out the trailers, or the first movie, or this movie, and ye shall be rewarded (the music is pretty cool as well).

Unfortunately, Lego Batman suffers from something that many parodies can’t escape… using the clichés they make fun of.  Doing this is necessary to a certain point (how could Scream be a 90s horror movie if there were no teens getting murdered?), but Lego Batman uses many comic book movie clichés to build the story.  This would have been fine if the writing was as solid as it was in The Lego Movie (whose entire message and lead character was a trope as old as storytelling itself), but there are quite a few plotholes and they don’t reach the amount of dramatic heft they were going for.

The main conflict is Batman’s refusal to allow others into his life, which is definitely enough to carry a movie.  My problem is how they execute it.  Batman is flanderized quite a bit.  I know that this is a tongue-in-cheek animated Lego flick (an extremely over-the-top one), but Batman is annoyingly hard-headed and egotistical during most of his screen time.  I could excuse it in The Dark Knight because his character was very complicated, but it takes way too long for Lego Batman to learn this simple lesson.  Also, this thing about Batman’s character that they are debunking; it’s been a major part of Bruce Wayne’s core character since the comics.  That’s what makes him Batman.  If you want to satirize how the movies have taken it too far (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Rises) or not cared at all (Batman and Robin) fine, but questioning Bruce Wayne’s loner personality is like complaining about Superman’s alien origin.

The last few script problems are minor, but distracting.  For one, I have no idea when this story takes place.  I know it’s a spin-off, but they mention “master building” once or twice and they show a clip from the first movie.  Continuity is important, regardless of what character arc you’re focusing on.  Also, the climax is pretty cheesy.  Actually, it’s cheesy, predictable, and makes no sense.  Is it bad to say that the Portal Ex Machina from The Lego Movie was more believable than what happens in Lego Batman?  Again, these are minor problems; there is plenty of good to make up for it (including the energetic voice-acting).

I hope you’ve ascertained two things from this review: 1-The Lego Batman Movie is not as good as its predecessor, 2-you should see it right now.  If not for the humor, then maybe for the spectacle.  This movie is truly wonderful to look at.  I was scared to write notes should I miss some scintillating imagery.  This is one of the best animated spin-offs of all time, and it rightfully deserves Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

 

Batman Movies Ranked

Batman: The Movie (1966) – N/A

Batman (1989) – A

Batman Returns (1992) – C+

Batman Forever (1995) – B-

Batman and Robin (1997) – F

Batman Begins (2005) – A-

The Dark Knight (2008) – A

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – C

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – C-

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) – C-

The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – B+