Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and crew board the Falcon for the first time.

I doubt I was alone in having a bad feeling about this film. For starters (as a kid I know told me), it is hard seeing anyone but Harrison Ford in the role of Han Solo, one of the most popular characters the galaxy has offered us. Yet director Ron Howard’s  Solo: A Star Wars Story does offer us places of the galaxy we have not seen before, plus some truly remarkable new visuals that make me just able to recommend it.

Alden Ehrenreich does what he can to play the young version of Han, who we learn tried to escape his home planet with his girl Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He succeeds but she is left behind, leaving him to try to enlist in the Empire in order to get a ship to come back and save her. Years later, he meets up with Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who is working to get supplies back for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Thandie Newton stars as Beckett’s girl Val, and we also meet a young Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover.

Bettany does play a decent villain (yet in all Star Wars films, it is impossible to stack up to Vader). There is some nice chemistry between Ehrenreich and Clarke. Yet there are two casting choices that stand above the rest. It seems to make the best of sense to have someone like Harrellson as the guy who would take Han Solo under his wing, and show him the ropes. Still, the scene stealer is Glover’s Lando. It is truly like looking at a young Billy Dee Williams that it is almost scary.

The second half of the film is where the force is truly strong (though that word is never mentioned). The first half is by the books, not really anything fancy (save for that train scene, and the intro of Chewbacca). The ultimate part of the film is the segment on the mining planet (too hard to explain why the movie leads us there). The visuals of the second half of the film are nothing short of breathtaking.

Parents, if your kids have seen a Star Wars film, they would be ok with this one. It is PG-13, but a soft one.

There is one point in the second half, however, that I am afraid is the big blunder of the film. There is a quick cameo appearance from a character that, while unexpected, does not make sense in the Star Wars timeline. Nevertheless, I do admit to liking this film better than Rogue One.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing

The smaller the person, the bigger the life….

How great is the concept of Downsizing. If only the film makers had taken it to a better destination…

The movie starts with scientists in Norway finding out how to successfully shrink organic matter. Flash forward ten years or so (I admit I lost track because the movie has way too much flash forwards), and we meet Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). He and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) are having money issues galore. After having a talk with a former classmate (Jason Sudeikis), they decide to downsize, both literally and financially (all of their money would translate to much bigger figures).

During the process, Paul wakes up five inches short, but Audrey has backed out at the last-minute, meaning it will truly be a new life for Paul. A year later passes (again, too much flash forwarding), and we see Paul has met some new people in his life, like his upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz), who is a party animal. One day after the party, he meets a popular celebrity named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who shows him how much more is happening in Paul’s new world.

The movie does have amazing visuals, and great story elements about how we are able to change our lives, but the movie goes far into left field during the third act when they travel to Norway. I won’t give anything away, except to say that you will seriously find yourself scratching your head.

Still, the movie does have its good parts. All of the cast (including some cameos) have their share of fun. The main stand out though is Hong Chau, who goes far beyond playing a stereotypical asian women. She is simply playing a strong-willed (understatement) women who fights for what is right, regardless of her situation. Yet there is still fear beneath her tough exterior. It is ravishing work for her as an actor.

Parents, the movie is rated R for two main reasons: Swearing and Nudity. While the nudity is not sexual (it is shown mainly during the shrinking process), the swearing does creep in (especially toward the end, in a monologue that brought me to unexpected laughter). I would say High School and above (maybe very mature middle schoolers).

Alexander Payne (who directed and helped write the film) no doubt had a script that could have been far better, and I admit I am disappointed a bit with the film. It does add it a little too much stuff (it does clock in at two and a half hours).

Ironically, maybe the script should have downsized.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

Justice League (2017)

Justice League

Dude, let’s get the band back together!

I had many a doubt going into Justice League.

After all, it is the last superhero movie of 2017, a year that had not really disappointed at all in the genre. It also did not help to see the bad score the film has going for it on rotten tomatoes.

In the end, I liked the film, but barely.

We begin right after the death of Henry Cavill’s Superman (who, lets face it, we know is in this movie, because it would be pointless to not have the world’s numero uno superhero present). Batman (Ben Affleck, who still does a good job in the role) is recruiting certain people with “special abilities”. His first is Diana (aka Wonder Woman, though she is still never called that), still played to perfection by Gal Gadot. From there they try to convince The Flash (a very well cast Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa, who I admit took a little time to get used to), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

The threat comes in the form of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a God-like being set to collect three cubes that will help him destroy the world. They are spread out: one with the Amazons, one in Atlantis, and the other on Earth. It is not too hard to follow the plot, but here is where I should mention the film’s biggest flaw by far: Steppenwolf. He is one of the least memorable, most boring, and blandest villains we have had in a superhero movie (at least compared to those of the last decade). I understand any villain would have to battle against some of the biggest names in comics in this film, but can he (or she) be at least a little interesting? He is like Ultron (from the second Avengers film), but without any humor, charm, character, or a sense of threat.

Parents, if your kids have seen any film from the DC universe, they are fine here. There is action, mild violence, and some swearing. Ten and above would be fine.

Is this film better than Batman v. Superman? Heck yes. Wonder Woman? Heck no. Still, I am getting a sense that DC is starting to get their footing right when it comes to making movies. They still have a way to go (and are still behind Marvel, in my  opinion), but at least they are on the right track.

Boo-yah.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

The Shack (2017)

The Shack

Sam Worthington’s Mack gets an invitation to “The Shack” by God (Octavia Spencer)

First, a question:

Am I the only one who thinks a movie titled The Shack is a horror movie?

I can’t be alone, can I?

 

I have a feeling that I would have rated The Shack a lot more highly if I had read the book before hand, though I know of a few people who say it does the book justice (one even says it is better than the book). While it is no secret that a lot of movies that are “Christian” are not well received, I feel quiet a few of them can be very overlooked.

The Shack is one more Christian movie that starts off with normal christian characters.: a nice loving family man named Mack (Sam Worthington, who is already immortalized after being in 2009’s Avatar) who takes his three children Josh (Gage Munroe), Kate (Megan Charpentier) and Missy (Amelie Eve) out on a camping trip (his wife Nan has a seminar). We have already learned that Mack is not much of a church going man, as demonstrated by his childhood: His father was a drinker and would beat him and his mother. Luckily, his wife is still able to get him and the kids to come to church (where his youngest daughter, Missy, likes to call God “Papa”.)

Sadly, more tragedy strikes, and Missy is abducted during the trip. All that is a piece of clothing inside a shack, next to a bloodstain on the floor. Months pass, and everyone says they have moved on (though it is clear that Mack and Kate have not). Mack gets a letter in the mailbox, asking if he would come back to talk to “Papa” at the shack. There are no tire tracks, so it surely does seem odd.

I read other user reviews on IMBD saying how they did not like the movie once the movie shows us what Mack sees at the shack. It was actually the time the movie spent at The Shack that I admired about the film. Here Mack meets God/Papa (the always delightful Octavia Spencer), Sarayu/The Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) and Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush).

Say what you will about portrayals of God and Jesus (God being most memorably played in the past by George Burns and Morgan Freeman), but what I liked about the portrayals here is how down to earth they are. God appears as a mother type character because he knows that is what Mack needs at the moment, though later in the movie he does appear as a needed father figure (played by Graham Greene).

Much of the time Mack spends with these three is one that can easily be used in discussion for church groups of all kind, especially when you consider what each of the three uniquely brings to Mack’s life through their individual lessons. It is here where the movie really gets close to being on the breaking point of being a great movie.

Without giving too much away, one of the main issues I had with the film was the end being beyond cliché, even for Christian movies. I will just say that something happens to Mack that I feel was totally thrown in for no reason at all, only to add more drama when we have had just the right amount of it.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 mainly for the subject matter (a little girl dies, after all), so 13 and above is the right choice (no swearing or sexual content).

While I am not a parent, I do know the pain of losing a loved one (a friend of mine actually lost his daughter in a school shooting, and his response through the years has made him a personal hero of mine). The Shack does dive deep into those feelings and confusions one would feel, and almost comes out a great movie. It would have been if it did not have so many of the Christian movie clichés along with it.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time…

Disney’s newest live action remake of an animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, is about as faithful and well done as one would be able to make from the source material (though the 1946 French film of the same name is a masterpiece in its own right). I only wish they film makers did not try to add-on to something that was already a master work of its own.

If you have not seen the original animated film from 1991 (the first movie I can remember seeing as a kid in the theaters),  I don’t know what you have been waiting for or what has stalled you. Still, there is time to see it before you see this live action flick (which I would strongly recommend). If you have, there are hardly many differences to this film, at least when it comes to plot. We meet Belle (Emma Watson, aka Hermione from the world of Harry Potter), a simple (yet “funny”, as we learn) girl in a local village in France. The only villager it seems that Belle talks to (or I should say talks to her) is the ever egocentric Gaston (Luke Evans, who is uncannily cast). Despite his many attempts, Gaston seems oblivious to the fact that Belle will never, ever wish to marry him.

She lives with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who one day sets off on an errand and stumbles upon a castle, home to a Prince (Dan Stevens) who (in the prelude) was cursed along with his servants by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan).

 

At the castle, we meet the familiar sidekicks that we remember and love from the animated film. All are faithfully cast, lead by the candlestick Lumiere, inhabited by Ewan McGregor. There is also Sir Ian McKellen as the clock Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci as the piano Cadenza, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts.

 

On the subject of casting, perhaps my favorite choice was Josh Gad (who kids will remember as Frozen’s Olaf) as Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick. Perhaps the most noticing difference between this film and the animated one is that Lefou is apparently gay. They don’t say this, but it is hinted at enough that it is hard to miss.

As for the other differences, there are a few added songs that, while nicely executed, don’t seem to be needed and just add to the run time (which I confess felt too long for me). Songs from the original are still here (my pick for the most faithful and overall best is “Be our Guest” thanks in no small part to Ewan McGregor). There is also some revealed history as to the Beast’s childhood as well as Belle’s, which does allow us to feel more intimacy between the two characters. I also enjoyed that there are more scenes that happen outside the castle, letting us see more of the kingdom.

 

Parents, it is Disney, so the film is pretty safe (aside from the whole situation with Lefou, which I know some people may  have issues with). If your kids have seen the animated film (which they should have), then they are ok.

 

Still, being a nineties kid, I can safely say the animated film is better (no offense to Emma Thompson, who did a good job here, but the title song should be sung by Angela Landsbury and no one else). As I read more online, Disney is releasing more live action versions of classic animated films, so I am aware I have to get used to that.

 

Overall: Three out of Five Stars ***

 

 

 

The Accountant (2016)

the-accountant

Ben Affleck has more on his resume than just “Accountant”.

What made me want to see The Accountant was not if Ben Affleck could be a grade A butt-kicker (we already know he can), but if he could manage playing someone with High Functioning Autism. Both are true.

Affleck is calm, cool, and somewhat collect in the title role. His Christian Wolf has some flashbacks to when his mother left him and his little brother, leaving his father, a retired soldier (I think) to train his sons to defend themselves. It is like something almost out of Batman, or Batman 101.

In present day, Chris works for a robotics company, meeting his new co worker Dana Cummings (the always impossible to not love Anna Kendrick) as they work the numbers for CEO Lamar Black (John Lithgow). Secrets are found out, and both Wolff and Cummings are underattack by an assassin-like warrior named Brax (Jon Bernthal). Others in the movie include the always wonderful J.K Simmons as head of the Treasury Department and Jeffrey Tambor as a character of great importance in Wolff’s flashbacks.

I will stop describing the plot now for two reasons. The first is, of course, so as not to reveal any twists (including one at the end I did not see coming at all). The second is because I admit the movie’s flaw is its script. In short, it seems to be trying to be smarter than its own good. It seemed to be going too fast (screenplay wise) when it needed to slow down. Still, the action scenes and acting (mainly from Affleck and Kendrick) make the film worth seeing.

Parents, the movie is rated R, but could be easily a hard PG-13 (only some sexual dialogue, no nudity. It is mainly action/violence, and a lot of swearing that is heard in any High School hallway.) In short, I think High School and above would be fine.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Deadpool (2016)

deadpool

Deadpool fears no one, especially the fourth wall…

It could be argued that Ryan Reynolds may not have just been born to play Wade Wilson/Deadpool, but he was playing him not long after he was out of the womb.

He and director Tim Miller really understand the character, one of the best anti-hero examples of recent years. It is Reynolds that is the real reason to see the film. I only wish the movie gave us a better script that was not completely by the book.

For those who don’t know about the character, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with multiple cancers. He is offered a chance to beat it, so he leaves his new girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) one night to be subjected to treatment. Not all goes well, and, hence, Deadpool is born.

There are definitely many funny moments (a lot of which I will not quote here, for fear of young eyes reading). Ok, I will say one good one. While being taken by Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to see Professor X, Deadpool asks, “Stewart or McAvoy?”

Parents, if there were ever a superhero movie not made for children, this is definitely it. Lots of violence, profanity, and sex. Trust the R rating.

I admit I did not laugh as much as I wanted. The story timeline jumping back and forth were unneeded in my mind, and the villain was not very memorable. Still, Reynolds makes the movie worth seeing.

Note: I just had a weird idea of Deadpool hosting the Oscars. Or, more likely, crashing it.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Taken (2008)

taken

Liam Neeson in his now immortal scene from “Taken”

There is at least one meme I know of with Liam Neeson and a reference to his role in Taken. I am not sure 100 percent how it goes, but it is along the lines of “He saved over 1000 Jews, he helped train Batman AND Anakin Skywalker, and you dare to take his daughter?!?!” This is what I knew when I finally got around to seeing Taken, and it is far from brilliant, but it is still somewhat entertaining.

The movie would easily have been forgotten weeks after it was released if it were not for Liam Neeson. The role of Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent whose daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped on her trip in Paris is one that Neeson is still being known for almost a decade later (even so that he was in a great commercial a few years back for Clash of Clans).

There are no doubt the action scenes are well done, but it is the plot that had me stroking my chin in not the most positive ways. I understand there is a problem with underground sex trafficking in the world, but what a chance that both Kim and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) are not only kidnapped for this, but are done so barely after they even get off the plane.

I also had a little trouble with believing the friendship between Mills and his former associate (at least that is what I think he was) Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin). There is a dinner scene that, while somewhat well done, is highly improbable to me.

Parents, this is a not a movie for kids. Despite the PG-13 rating, it is one that could have easily been rated R. There is obviously some violence and some swearing (though I don’t remember any F bombs dropped), but the fact that the movie talks about sex trafficking may be too much for a middle schooler. High School and above only.

Still, if you have not seen the film, it is worth watching mainly for Neeson. There were times I was remembering another movie character who was more determined than ever to get a family member back: Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers (1956), which, compared to Taken, is like comparing Disney World to a block party. Nevertheless, if Liam Neeson is reading this, I will tread lightly and say his performance is worth seeing the movie just by itself.

I would not be smart in making him mad.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Pokemon: The First Movie-Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998)

Pokemon The First Movie

There are many Pokemon you don’t mess with…Mewtwo tops that list.

It is hard for me to not be biased, for I grew up with the Pokemon TV show. I only lasted a few seasons before I got to middle school, but it was a true staple in my childhood (how I miss my gameboy).

The first film they made was the only one I ever saw (it was hard for me to get into Pokemon when they made more than the original 151), and it was not nearly as good as the show. Still, when you have a Pokemon as big as Mewtwo (and Mew, for that matter), one episode will not cut it.

For those who don’t know what Pokemon are (or have just started playing Pokemon Go on their phone), Mewtwo is considered the most powerful of all Pokemon, having been made from remains of Mew, the rarest of all Pokemon. He comes across Ash Ketchum and  his friends Brock and Misty and (of course) Pikachu (from the show), and challenges them. By now, the best thing to do is ask your kids who they are, because they will know.

Parents, this movie is ok for kids. Maybe you should just watch it with them, because they will explain it (as I am sure they would the other movies, which, as I have said, I have yet to see).

I have found myself going back to watching the shows, and realize it is possibly the main source of puns I picked up as a kid. Jokes from the movie include letting us know most Vikings exist now, in Minesota.

Still, the lessons kids can learn from Pokemon are as true today as they were when I was a kid. One scene which has stuck with me for years is from Meowth (the main Pokemon of Team Rocket, some of the best bad guys kids TV has ever made). While talking to his evil clone (again, ask your kids), he says the following:

“We do have a lot in common. The same earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same, instead of looking at what’s different…well, who knows.”

Am I the only one who thinks the world today needs a quote like that?
Overall: Three Stars ***

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

x-men Apocalypse

The younger versions of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

X-Men: Apocalypse is sure to dazzle the biggest fanboy (or girl), but it is almost generic in being a summer film, one that may not completly be remembered by the end of the year.

After the brilliance of X-Men: Days of Future Past two years ago (I still have yet to see X-Men: First Class from 2011), we fast foward ten years and are introduced to the biggest baddie in all mutant history (also the first), En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac), also known as Apocalypse (though I don’t think he is called anything else in the movie). His ability is to move his conscience into other beings, picking up their powers along the way (at least that is what I gathered: I was a fan of X-Men as a nineties kid, but never got around to Apocalypse).

Meanwhile, we see familiar faces such as Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who is still running his school for the gifted with the help of Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is leading a normal life with a wife and daughter, though still working in a steel mill seems awkward for the man once known as Magneto. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), also known as Mystique, has become kind of a folklore legend, but refuses to be seen as a hero. We also see three young versions of familiar heroes; Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Bush), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). However, Apocalypse has also managed to recruit some mutants of his own, including Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).

Still, as it was with Days of Future Past, my favorite is still Evan Peters as Quicksilver. It is a difference character than the one we met in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and a better one (and not the because of the reason you think). He is witty, smart, funny, yet still has a tortured soul. He has a scene reminiscant of the one he had in Days of Future Past, and, as was the case in the previous movie, it is the best scene of this film as well.

All actors give strong performances (I did especially enjoy the chemistry between Sheridan, Bush, and Smit-McPhee), and the action sequences were very cool. Still, the story itself was just luke warm to me. Even at nearly two and a half hours (which it did not drag on as much as I thought it would), I feel they could have added a few more levels of depth to each character, as well as give a little more sinister-ness to the villian (though Issac does a fine job here).

Parents, the movie does have some revealing clothing, and some nudity (all Mystique, though the nudity is always her in blue). There is also some swearing (including one F bomb, though it is well placed). Basically, the PG-13 rating is justified, though it could have been rated R.

I will end by saying do still feel I liked this film better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though not nearly as much as Captain America: Civil War. I understand not all comic book stories are light and fun: some can be dark. I feel there is still some room left for another X-Men film or two (which will more than likely happen), but they need to stop looking at the horizon and take a leap of faith.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***