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‘Thor: Ragnarok;’ an energetic, hilarious crowd-pleaser

*I would have published this review first, as it’s undoubtedly the most popular of all the movies I reviewed for The Examiner.  However, I like order, and this was the second-to-last review.  Also, I noticed that I didn’t have grades in the reviews.  The Examiner doesn’t want them, so they were not in the original reviews.  I went back and added grades to them.”

 

As consistently successful as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to be, the God of Thunder does not have a standalone film worthy of his name. That is, until “Thor: Ragnarok” arrived, and it packs some punches.

Directed by Taika Waititi and written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, “Thor: Ragnarok” follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as they are overthrown by Hela, God of Death (Cate Blanchett). Imprisoned on a wasteland, Thor must fight in gladiatorial contests in order to secure his freedom, return to Asgard and save his people.

The general audience consensus I heard prior to watching this blockbuster boiled down to, “it’s a lot like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’” or “it was extremely funny.” After watching the movie, I can confidently confirm these comments. Of course, this does not sum up the entire movie: I have 350 more words to do that for you, faithful reader.

The change in tone, while very sudden and slightly out-of-character, is welcomed because the first two “Thor” films were some of the most forgettable in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. They lacked personality, but Waititi (known for his independent productions like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) breathes new life into the franchise with style, wit and plenty of memorable jokes.

Since the film takes many of its cues from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there are a few things you can predict such as: a soundtrack with classic songs, self-aware humor and a color palate that would make a Picasso painting blush. I actually prefer this movie over “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

The story is built on a firm foundation that bears more than one resemblance to the Russell Crowe film “Gladiator,” and supported by a collection of superhero movie clichés and predictable character arcs. As lazy as that sounds, I was able to ignore the narrative faults because the movie puts its focus on the character interactions, action sequences (which are absolutely incredible to watch) and worldbuilding. Seeing these new worlds, cultures and challenges face our stalwart hero is more investing than I thought it would be.

The cast thoroughly enjoys their time on screen and the script gives them plenty to work with.  The only issue I have is the familiarity of these character types. While Thor and Loki get some really good development as characters, some of the supporting cast falls into overused clichés. I’m not listing them for fear of spoilers, but if you see the movie, you can probably predict them yourself.

“Thor: Ragnarok” overcomes the narrative lows with its sense of adventure and steady sense of pacing. I wish the trailers didn’t spoil all of the shocking parts of the movie, but what can you do? The grand scale makes you feel like you’re watching a movie with gods in it. One can only wonder why it took them three tries to get it right. Either way, today’s film should not be missed, especially if you need a break from that mountain of textbooks.

Thor: Ragnarok gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

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‘American Assassin’ delivers high-octane thrills, but little else

*Here is the first actual review I wrote for the paper.  Came out nicely I think.  The different writing style is the result of following the rules of the class.  For example, the titles are newspaper headlines.  Once again, I apologize for the lack of posts lately.  From now on, I will post my reviews one day after they are released in The Examiner (that’s the law).  Look forward to reviews of: Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express (2017) these next two weeks.  Thank you, and let me know what you think!*

 

Of the many highly anticipated films of 2017, the big screen adaptation of Vince Flynn’s (what a cool name) best-selling novels about a counter-terrorism agent rank pretty high.  The Minnesotan author’s works have ridden the New York Times bestseller list for multiple weeks.  Unfortunately, Hollywood took the easy route again, and left us with a watered-down imitator.

“American Assassin” is directed by Michael Cuesta and written by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz.  The film follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brian), a young man who loses his fiancée in a terrorist shooting and sets out to eliminate radical organizations.  He is recruited by CIA agent Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who along with former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) train him to prevent global terrorism acts.

The story about a rogue intelligence agent who plays by his own rules has been done before, to varying levels of success.  In the case of “American Assassin,” the genre familiarities greatly outweigh the positives.  Not to say those positives are not worth mentioning.

O’Brian plays the “lone wolf action movie hero” very well.  His dry, almost emotionless approach to playing Mitch Rapp fits the character, and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are believable because of his devotion to learning the choreography and use of weapons.  Keaton provides charisma as the typical, tough, wise, mentor.  While it’s great to report that no fault can be found with the cast, the same cannot be said for the screenplay.

Even though the premise is solid and promises one tense picture, what the film ends up being is a predictable mess of poorly-shot action sequences and way too many scenes of government-driven dialogue.  Which sounds interesting, but there is actually very little substance in this movie.

Similar to this year’s “Power Rangers” and “Ghost in the Shell,” there are enough decent characters and potentially interesting stories to spawn some much better sequels.  However, that doesn’t forgive the lack of effort with the first film.  Much of this problem comes down to how fast the story goes.  There is never enough time devoted to the characters before they are thrown into the next big action scene.  Needless to say, the movie could have used another 30 minutes in the runtime, and the result would have been a much more investing story.

As far as how faithful this film is to the source material goes; head writer Stephen Schiff explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that, “Most of what’s in the movie is not in the book.”  This includes a villain whose entire character is an overdone cliché.

This is perhaps where the movie missteps the worst.  The villain is almost exactly the same as: Tai Lung from “Kung Fu Panda,” Kaecilius from “Doctor Strange,” or Anakin Skywalker from “Revenge of the Sith.”  Instead of having Rapp battle terrorists, he fights a boring former American soldier.  This change simply takes away the entire purpose of Rapp being a counter-terrorism agent.

The last thing worth noting is the implied moral dilemma.  The main motivation of the protagonist is revenge, which is not a biblical principle.  An eye for an eye is not the best way to create peace, and yet, the methods the United States use to fight terrorism often function on a basis of “the ends justify the means.”  “American Assassin” understands this question and devotes dialogue to discussing how Rapp combines rage and impeccable skills to make the world “safer.”  Considering American’s current culture of hatred and lack of understanding, this is certainly a topic that should be discussed.

In the end, “American Assassin” is a barely-serviceable action thriller.  The action scenes are worth watching and the two leads entertain, but the characters and story needed much more work.

American Assassin gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

Update-College Move-In/My Thoughts On: “The Dark Tower”

Oh boy, it’s finally that time.  In four days, this guy will be moving into a dorm and will be earning his BA in the next three years.  To be clear, I have been in PSEO courses for the past two years (earning college credits in high school in order to skip the obligatory general courses required for a degree).  I commuted from home and had much more time to watch/review movies.  Since this is my first semester for real, there will be fewer posts.  This is due to a combination of: getting used to the new schedule and setting, not having my car (it would be a hassle to take it with me), and the lack of a job.  I’m not broke, and the school has a bus so there will be a few reviews here and there.  When in doubt, check my “About” section for the most updated version of my schedule.

You may have noticed that the website has not changed, though I said there were a few things I wanted to change in the last update.  Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that this website costs me nothing.  I would have to pay a monthly fee to have complete control over design and presentation; but since I don’t have a job, and do not get paid for these reviews, it will stay this way for a while.  Sorry (unless of course you don’t mind how it currently is).  Now let’s get to the main attraction.

The Dark Tower is the newest entry into the “disappointing Stephen King adaptation” genre (along with The Shining Mini-Series, Dreamcatcher, Maximum Overdrive, Thinner, Lawnmower Man, and The Langoliers).  Of course Mr. King’s legacy has brought us some of cinema’s most famous stories like: Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand by Me, Carrie, and Kubrick’s The Shining.  Considering that he’s published over 250 novels, short stories, etcetera, Hollywood will squeeze every last penny out of his bestsellers.  Today, we have The Dark Tower, a film so standard, so lazily-executed, you’ll forget it 1 hour after leaving the theater!

The main problem with The Dark Tower is the utter lack of detail.  You know how Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings (the story that was supposedly impossible to adapt) into movies?  It was not by pure luck that the end result was near-perfect.  The books told of fantastic battles, memorable characters, and one heck of a universe!  The Dark Tower shares many of these traits: multiple books, loyal fanbases, both stories are fantasy epics, and their film adaptations were both highly anticipated.  Only difference is that you could see the effort and love behind every scene in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The Dark Tower felt like it was written by a Sony computer, shot by a hummingbird, edited by a cocaine addict, and directed by a coffee table.  This is an enormous shame because the marketing was great.  The two leads looked cool and the action sequences promised some stunning visuals.  In reality, the characters are blander than bread, the PG-13 rating ensures that all the potentially awesome violence is gone, and the story is a compilation of fantasy movie clichés rather than an original story.

Despite the short runtime, the pacing is boringly slow and there are more “talking head” scenes than you would ever want in a Stephen King adaptation.  When the action does show up, it’s only slightly less generic than Power Rangers (2017).  The aforementioned neutered rating prevents any real impact, the camera does whatever it wants, and the actors, much like the audience, look uninvested.  The story is even worse.  Most of the narrative is a mishmash of King tropes, and all the interesting stuff is not explained.  Who built this tower?  Why are there so few people protecting it?  What is the backstory (and motivation for that matter) of our antagonist?  Where do these alternate beings come from?  None of these vital questions are answered very well, if at all.  The best we get are a handful of references to much better King adaptations in one pathetic attempt at fan service.  For all of you who subscribed to the “Stephen King universe” thing, I didn’t see any overarching plot that connected to any other one of King’s works.  Granted, I haven’t read The Dark Tower novels so the connection could be in the books, but it’s certainly not in this bare bones flick.  The only mildly entertaining things about the film are a few cool slow motion moments and Matthew McConaughey (who you could tell was enjoying every second of screentime).  Unfortunately, that only goes so far, especially when the climax, the final battle between Idris Elba and McConaughey, is the definition of “all buildup, no payoff.”  This confrontation was almost as bad as Batman vs. Superman… almost.

Bottom line, The Dark Tower is a thoroughly skippable waste of time and money.  Quite a shame too, because many potential fans were likely turned off from King’s (supposedly) great magnum opus epic.  As for me, I’m much more apprehensive about the new It film.  The Dark Tower gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Thanks for understanding my transition into college life; I’ll get back to reviews once everything is sorted out.

Top Ten Christopher Nolan Films

If you’ve viewed Christopher Nolan’s IMDb page over 50 times, like me, then you’d know that Dunkirk is his tenth feature-length film.  This means no one has been able to make a proper Top Ten list.  Many of you will think I’m crazy for pre-writing a top ten list in anticipation for a new release (I started this thing last month).  To them I say, “Since I’m not making any money off of this, I might as well have fun.”  Anyways, today I am going to rank each respective film from one of the-hands down-best directors of the millennium.

Rules/Notes:

  • There will not be a synopsis for most of these films.
  • There will be no spoilers in this list.
  • This list is determined by: 80% overall quality and 20% my opinion.
  • Please watch every one of Nolan’s films so he never stops making movies.

No more delays, let’s begin.

 

#10 – The Dark Knight Rises (Grade – C)

Let’s start out this fanboyish countdown by saying that I really don’t like this movie!  Bear in mind, Mr. Nolan is incapable of producing anything resembling garbage, and the effort is clearly on screen.  The action sequences are well-choreographed, the scope of the movie is huge, and the music added so much emotion to every scene.  That said, the performances are awkward, it has more plotholes than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the social commentary was akin to a pretentious high schooler’s first social studies essay.  Some believe The Dark Knight was never meant to be a trilogy, and when you compare The Dark Night to its sequel, you can see the difference in quality.  Still, the action is jaw-droppingly cool, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

 

#9 – Following (Grade – B)

One year after releasing his short film Doodlebug (which is worth checking out), Nolan wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited his first film, Following; about a writer who follows random strangers around to gain inspiration (until one of his targets, a criminal, shows the man his operation).   While many have said there’s nothing special about this movie (considering what the director would go on to make much better stuff), but Nolan unlocked his inner Robert Rodriguez by doing most of the work himself.   Might I say, the end result is very pleasing.  The black and white film allows for some interesting camerawork, and the pacing, while slow, builds to one stellar ending.  This low-budget gem has made it into the Criterion Collection for a reason, and is a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

#8 – The Prestige (Grade – B+)

In late 2014, a very young, and even more naive, Erick was about to do his weekly routine of ironing clothes while watching a movie.  Obviously, my attention would be more concentrated on the scalding-hot piece of metal near my fingers, so I’d typically watch something that didn’t demand much attention.  As it turned out, The Prestige was a bad choice.  After the first 2 minutes, I knew this movie was going to require the audience’s complete cooperation.  Figuring the black slacks could wait, I sat down and restarted the film.  Two mind-bending hours later, and my understanding of cinema as a whole was changed.  At that moment, Christopher Nolan became one of my favorite filmmakers.  Now that I’m older, and have studied the art form for a while, I can properly appreciate the work.  This movie does so many things right, like casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, treating the audience (and the subject matter) with maturity and intelligence, having Michael Caine say the word “prestige,” there’s a lot to be found with this movie.  It’s an excellent period piece drama/thriller that will require a few trips to the Internet in order to fully understand what the heck that ending was.

 

#7 – Dunkirk (Grade-A-)

I just saw this war film a few hours ago; and I will have the full review out on Sunday.  For now, it is a fine example of passionate filmmaking and attention-to-detail.  Nolan uses a very traditional approach to this one, and it pays off for the most part.  The performances felt real, the narrative is respectful (if not a bit sanitized), and the suspenseful scenes are rattling.

 

#6 – Batman Begins (Grade-A-)

In preparation for this list, I watched a butt-ton of videos on Christopher Nolan.  One video in particular puts my writing skills to shame, and ironically, it was an essay about Batman BeginsStrange.  Well, better to try and fail than regret not taking the chance.  Batman Begins is a masterpiece of storytelling, and revived the superhero genre by treating its source material in a mature fashion.  This movie features some of the best exposition any screenwriter could ever ask for, and it all balances out with moments of action, complex characters, fine performances, and an engrossing tone.  It’s one of the three pre-2010 superhero flicks that started the superhero craze, and it shouldn’t be missed.

 

#5 – Insomnia (Grade-A-)

Did you know that this is the only Nolan-directed movie that he didn’t write?  Did you also know it’s a hallmark of subtly, suspense, cinematography, and acting?  Insomnia is one of those purposefully quiet productions that-while major critical hits-typically bomb at the box office (like Take Shelter or Donnie Darko).  In keeping with that genre, Insomnia is a feast for cinephiles.  The plot is simple, two detectives are sent to Alaska to search for the man who killed a 16-year-old girl.  What unravels is Nolan at his most ruthless (by the way, this film’s rated R).  First off, my gosh, the acting is fantastic.  This has to be one of Al Pacino’s most sympathetic roles of his career.  He struggles to find this killer while also dealing with his own personal issues, Hilary Swank is supportive, but also very intelligent, and Robin Williams…this is one of his most authentic performances.  There is little to no humor in his character, but what he brings to the table is one of the most impressive breakaway performances in history.  His dialogue is limited, but every second of it is incredible.  Forgive me if this all sounds rather vague, I am nowhere near the level of intelligence that this movie is on, so it’s difficult to explain how well it’s made.  Despite this, it is one heck of a film for anyone looking for underrated classics.

 

#4 – Memento (Grade-A)

“Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.”  There are so many brilliant moments in this brilliant movie.  Memento catapulted Nolan into critical acclaim much similar to M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense.  Meaning they both did something narratively that audiences had either never experienced, or weren’t expecting.  In the case of Memento, the story is told backwards.  This movie was unbelievably risky, as it easily could have alienated viewers, but pushing the boundaries of storytelling is one of Nolan’s best skills, and this psychological thriller is a fine example.  As far as second features go, this one feels like it was made by an archaic master rather than a newcomer because the quality of the filmmaking is top-notch.  Not only is Wally Pfister’s camerawork oozing with atmosphere, the constantly uncertain tone keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels.  Speaking of amazing things, Leonard Shelby is one of the coolest protagonists in film history.  Guy Pearce is at his best in this film, his character design is like something out of a comic book, and his motivations make him a very sympathetic hero.  It’s one of the most original movies you’ll ever watch, and the mere idea of remaking it is asinine.

 

#3 – The Dark Knight (Grade-A)

Oh, stop crying just because the second best superhero movie of all time is #3.  If it were not for the last 10 minutes (the Joker should have died, and Batman didn’t have to take the fall for everything), it would be higher  Also, don’t be upset because Unbreakable is better than The Dark Knight.  We all know why this movie’s awesome.  Heath Ledger is the best Joker of all time, it was nominated for more Oscars than any other movie about grown men in goofy costumes, the practical effects drop jaws, and the script is packed with more smart commentary than a season of early Simpsons.  On a filmmaking scale, you could study ever frame for 5 minutes and get enough out of it to write a film report.  The Dark Knight proved that superhero movies could be dark, better than their predecessor, and make bank (over $1 billion to be precise) all at the same time.

 

#2 – Interstellar (Grade-A)

Ever noticed that this guy has a talent for titles?  Even though I’ve given this movie its own-somewhat crappy-review and talked extensively about it in the Study Scores list, I could go on forever with this one because it makes me so happy!  Oh, there are problems, but this movie requires faith from the audience to stick with it for the 3-hour runtime.  Those who do are greatly rewarded.  Many people think this was the point where Nolan ignored common sense and just wrote whatever complex nonsense came into his mind.  Whew!  That was difficult to type in and of itself.  Forgive me audience (and any future employers who may see this), but these complaints are pure balderdash!  The amount of research I put into this movie rivals that of college essay finals!  One of the factoids I came across explained that Nolan did his dang research about space, black holes, and other sciency things I can’t pronounce before writing a movie where Ron Woodroof saves humanity.  Guy’s, he knows what he’s doing.  Even if (which is a pretty big “if”) the story doesn’t grab you, the visuals definitely will.  Interstellar features some of the most impressive CGI and sets of our time.  It also features one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.  I won’t deny, there is a bit of filler, but what’s excellent (like the action scenes) is truly magnificent.  When people talk about spiritual successors in film, Interstellar is the true sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

#1 – Inception (Grade-A+)

“I try to be all about story.” – The greatest storyteller in Hollywood today

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie (nothing of any consequence that is).  Every single thing about it works so well!  The effects (both practical and CGI) are convincing, the action sequences are creative and exciting, the actors have charisma, the ideas are interesting, the plot is original, the emotional element is strong, the music is intense, and it should have won Best Original Screenplay!!!!  Pardon me… I just can’t stand the Academy some times.  For someone to tell me they didn’t enjoy this monument, leaves me in a state of bewilderment.  Sure, everyone loves The Dark Knight, but Inception is the perfect summer blockbuster.  Action sequences that actually entertain, characters that you like, and a script that doesn’t treat you like a statistic.  I’m greatly inspired by this movie if you couldn’t tell.  It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, and for good reason.  Nolan knows where the movie starts and ends, and once the story (which he was apparently working on since Memento in ten years earlier) is perfected, the rest runs like clockwork.  You could watch this movie countless times and learn something new each time.

 

Ahhh, now that was fun!  Whether or not you like Nolan’s approach to filmmaking, you cannot deny that he has consistently delivered high-quality stuff.  The guy simply hasn’t made a bad movie, and I don’t think he ever will.  Now that being said, I’m going to go to bed, have an awesome dream inspired by Inception, and watch a lot of movies tomorrow!  Goodnight and thank you for your time.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Review

You know what?  I’ve been too hard on Sony.  Sure their films may be the worst excuses for cinematic entertainment this side of Happy Madison, but they built themselves up as an electronic manufacturer.  Heck, of the three different Blu-Ray players I’ve used, the fastest, least temperamental, and most reliable one was from Sony.  However, I’d be lying if I denied my enjoyment of watching them run around like chickens with their heads chopped off after a terrific three-punch combo of getting hacked in 2014, striking a deal with Marvel in 2015 (one that cancelled many Spider-Man projects), and releasing one of the biggest box office bombs in 2016 (Ghostbusters) while I listened to the La La Land soundtrack with Sony earbuds.  Bliss.  Anyways, today we are seeing the highly anticipated result of that Marvel deal, and I can happily report that this movie is decent.  Not an A, not great, not even that memorable, just decent.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is directed by Jon Watts and written by: Johnathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers.  Stars-Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, and Zendaya.  After the events of Captain America: Civil War, young Peter Parker must responsibly balance his superhero life (in which a new threat has appeared) with his personal school life (where his relationships are crumbling).

Now that you’re properly making this face (and thus I have your attention), we can talk about another movie with a 90%+ Rotten Tomatoes rating that I don’t agree with.  Bottom line, Spider-Man: Homecoming is far better than its two predecessors, but in the end, I was left slightly disappointed.  I didn’t have any monstrous expectations for this movie (save for wanting it to be better than the Andrew Garfield flicks), but there were defiantly some distracting flaws.  Before I get into that, I need to give credit where credit is sorely due.

This movie passes the Politically Correct test (the one that made Ray a perfect, aka boring, character in The Force Awakens) by having a multiethnic cast.  And unlike in Beauty and the Beast (2017) where black people were casted as regular townsfolk (when in reality, a slavery system was well-established in France in the early 1700s), it works because present-day New York is wildly diversified.  Not only that, the cast is top-notch!  Tom Holland is thoroughly enjoying every single second of screentime he gets, and the supporting cast shines as well.  The best comedy in the film comes from the interplay between the characters; which is great because the rest of the humor is pretty stupid, as are some of the character decisions.  Seriously, you could make a compilation of characters saying that they should be discreet, and then immediately getting found out.  I can only tolerate a bunch of “supposedly” intelligent, secretive superheroes/agents discussing top secret information in an occupied high school bathroom, for so long

To make things worse, two of our main characters have crippling errors.  The first is Spider-Man himself, and his problem is that he’s invincible!  In the original Sam Raimi film (which is better than this movie for the record), whenever Spider-Man took a blow, you could tell it hurt.  During the final battle, he was almost beaten to death!  In this movie (in which Peter is still learning his powers), he gets knocked around, but the impact is nonexistent.  It’s almost like they used a CGI puppet whose outfit never takes damage, or looks even the slightest bit dirty.  It makes for some suspense-lacking action sequences.  The second poor character would be Michael Keaton’s Vulture.  While Keaton is great as always, his character is just another “common man” cliché, and he’s not interesting enough to make up for it.

In regards to the fight scenes, remember how inventive Raimi’s camerawork was in the original trilogy?  Well, shaky-cam and bland action set pieces are now a part of the Spider-Man canon.  These action scenes are very standard fare, which sucks because watching Spider-Man swinging around the skyscrapers of New York City should always look awe-inspiring.

Though I thrashed the living heck out of this movie, it is still an entertaining, funny, promising start to the newest interpretation of this character.  While writing this review, I realized that I held this movie up to Captain America: Civil War (as that was Spidey’s last appearance).  I love Civil War because it had complex characters, drama, and pure entertainment working together in perfect harmony.  Homecoming only has the latter, but it puts every ounce of effort into it.  After all, Spider-Man has always been very popular with younger audiences.  Hence why there was a greater focus on humor in the movie, it’s in an awkward high school setting, and there’s a lot of dialogue devoted to Tom Holland geeking out about his powers (take a shot every time he says “awesome”).  Taking this into account, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an enjoyable, if not safe, entry into the franchise and it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“Baby Driver” Review

Remember A Cure for Wellness (all 10 of you who saw it)?  An original thriller, from one of the most interesting directors working in the industry, whose trailer showed much promise but disappointed due to bad narrative choices?  The punchline is that Baby Driver is a major disappointment.

Baby Driver is written and directed by Edgar Wright.  Stars-Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Lily James, and Jamie Foxx.  Premise-Expert getaway driver Baby is forced into one last job before he can leave the business.  Unfortunately, there are many more distractions, dangers, and unforeseen variables this time.

In the same vain as A Cure for Wellness, I don’t like Baby Driver because of how amazing it could have been.  I realize I’ve said nothing about the actual movie yet, but this foundation needs to be set, otherwise you’ll not understand why I don’t like this movie as a whole, because it has a lot going for it.

For starters, Elgort is outstanding.  His graduation from the “teenage drama novel” genre is seamless as he can carry this movie purely through his subtle, but charming performance.  Another high point is the outstanding soundtrack!  You know how a lot of recent action movie trailers obnoxiously sync up punches, gunshots, etc., to their royalty free loud music?  Well, Mr. Wright somehow improved and transformed this concept into its own character.  Every song choice is accompanied by fast editing, cinematographer Bill Pope’s long takes, and Elgort jiving to them.  I know, this sounds like some “hip” car or iPod commercial, but it just works (I really cannot explain how, it just does).  Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end.

As I stumble my way through this misfire, be wary of the difference between wasted potential, and an actual bad thing about the film.  For example, wasted potential is found in the form of casting Kevin Spacey as the villain, but making every single line of his dialogue 1 of 2 things: a clichéd “bad guy boss” line, or something that makes him look like an idiot.  You could tell from the trailer that he was not to be messed with (“Your girlfriend’s cute.  Let’s keep it that way.”), but it’s never explained why the audience should be intimidated by him.  The most we get is that he has higher ups, and that’s a flimsy reason (he doesn’t even have bodyguards).  Not helping are some braindead decisions he makes.  Like hiring a crazy Jamie Foxx (whose temper and personality are an obvious liability) for simple bank robberies, and trusting his driver who is clearly not committed to the job.  On the other hand, an actual bad thing about the movie would be Baby’s babe (I’d tell you her character name, but I think it would be a spoiler, so we’ll just go with Lily James).  She has absolutely no character.  Aside from a fantasy of driving forever while listening to music, she is nothing but a nice piece of a** for Baby to fawn over so the plot can move forward.  These would be simple distractions if not for one more thing… this film gets worse and worse as it goes on.

I’m reminded of Bolt, a movie that also started with a fast-paced chase that left you begging for more.  Then it turned into a complex character piece with way more drama than the opening suggested.  The same effect happens with Baby Driver, only it’s not as original, not as funny, and doesn’t have John Travolta.  By comparison, the third act is something out of a Michael Bay film.  I’m not dreaming this up; there was a notable drop in the pacing, energy, and style.  The climax is especially terrible.  For starters, it doesn’t one-up the opening (which is a requirement for action films), it drags on and on, and the overall big brash explosiony angle they went with doesn’t belong with the rest of the movie.  The ending is arguably (if there was anyone who would argue it) even worse; mostly because, it’s so CHEESY.  I may sound whiny about this, but since the climax/ending, is what you remember the most when you leave the theater, it left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Is that a look of denial on your face?  Perhaps you’re thinking, “Who’s this talentless nobody?  How and why did I find his amateur blog and continue reading the first thing I saw?”  First, ouch.  Second, I felt a similar feeling of disbelief upon leaving the theater.  We’re talking about Edgar Wright here, who always delivers when he’s behind the camera, so I looked for reasons why this happened.  To my knowledge, there are no sources to confirm this, but I chalk the Hollywoodization up to the production company… Sony.  It wouldn’t be the first time they ruined a movie (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) with their childish insecurities of, “we have to make sequels!”  It also wouldn’t be the first time Edgar Wright was screwed over by a producer (Ant-Man).  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I disagree with literally everyone when it comes to Baby Driver which gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

My Thoughts On: “Wonder Woman”

Yeah, I posted a review on Thursday and a “my thoughts on” on Monday… moving on.  I figured that I should briefly talk about a movie that will definitely make it to every critic’s best of the year list.  Thankfully, I agree with everyone on the basis that this is the best movie (tied with Man of Steel in my opinion) in DC’s cinematic universe.  However, there are many things holding it back.

Most of my complaints lie within the story, which needed a few revisions.  For one, the whole movie is a flashback started with narration (two of the most overused storytelling techniques of modern time), and the first third is exposition-overdosed.  Also, the lore and message is very confused.  The movie goes to great lengths beating you over the head with its mythology, but the message (which is handled well) kinda fights against the mythology.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t sit in the back of my mind when the epic action sequences (accompanied by some outstanding music) and fun character interactions are taking place.  The movie walks a fine line between fighting for feminism, and being sexist.  For example, all the male characters are introduced as stereotypes, whereas all the women (aka, the Amazons and a useless comic relief) are portrayed like Zeus’ gift to a world dominated by sexist, violent, pervy, one-note idiots.  Thank real God, Patty Jenkins gives all of her characters more dimension as they spend time together and become friends.  Eat that 2016 Ghostbusters.

Despite its shortcomings, I actually experienced something that I haven’t yet felt in a DC movie… pure enjoyment.  Each DC movie has its moments, but Wonder Woman managed to bring out my inner 9 year-old, and considering the last superhero movie to accomplish this was Captain America: Civil War (which had much more going for it), you can color me as one satisfied customer.  Wonder Woman gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

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-.