Widows (2018)

Widows

Veronica (Viola Davis) directs her cohorts in what to do.

As someone who has lived his whole life in the suburbs of Chicago, I had mixed emotions to Widows. Is the city full of corruption? Sadly yes, but that does not detract from how well the mood and atmosphere is set in the film. It only adds to it.

After a robbery gone wrong leaves all involved dead, we see the grief unfold for one of the widows, Veronica (Viola Davis). Her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) was the one in charge of it all, but when the wreckage was looked over, it is discovered that the money went up in flames as well. The money was stolen from one of the candidates running for the local district, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). He warns Veronica that she has a month to pay him back. The plot thickens more when we learn he is running up against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), who is still under the thumb of his retired father Tom (Robert Duvall).

Of course, Veronica is not the only widow. She meets up with the others whose husbands died that night. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has lost her clothing store, while Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is going through her own emotional turmoil with little help from her mom (Jacki Weaver).

Ok, that is as far as I will go with the plot, since the movie has plenty of twists (especially one that I did not see coming) to discover for yourself. What is remarkable about the film is that each character could have had the movie told from his or her own point of view. All of them are so well written and acted it is as though the depth of the characters could not go any deeper. This is all due to the nearly perfect script by director Steve McQueen (whose last film, 12 years a Slave, won Best picture five years ago) and Gillian Flynn that is based off of material by Lynda La Plante.

It is close to impossible to say which of the actors would be in talks for Oscar consideration, because Widows is an ensemble film in every sense. Davis has always been a force of nature on-screen, and is no different here. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Debicki, who I have only seen recently in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017). Here she seems dumb, but shows more beneath the surface. My favorite would still probably be Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s brother and right hand man. To say he does all of Jamal’s dirty work is an understatement. I have a theory that, after Kaluuya was mistreated (to say the least) in 2017’s Get Out, he now gets to unleash that anger here, and it is fantastic to watch.

 

Parents, not for kids. Not at all. More than enough swearing, violence, and sexuality (two scenes, not to mention photographs showing hardcore details of a sexual act). The R rating is justified.

 

There are some moments in the movie that I would question (especially one with Linda’s character), but it does not take away much from this amazing thriller. Movies like Widows are why we sit at the edge of the theater seat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

'Iron Man 3' film premiere, Los Angeles, America - 24 Apr 2013

You don’t need to be a fan of baseball to have heard the name of Babe Ruth, or of basketball to hear the names of Michael Jordan or Lebron James, and you never needed to have read a single comic book to have heard the name Stan Lee, who died today at the age of 95.

In the time when DC comics was king of comic books (with heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), it was Stan Lee (as well as other writers) in the early 1960s who offered more relatable superheroes. They did not come from made up cities (Gotham, Metropolis, etc), but from real world cities (New York seemed to be his favorite). Unlike those in DC, Lee never liked the idea of the “sidekick”: all were heroes in their own right. They also suffered from more than just fighting the bad guy: we got relationship issues as personal as they come.

We got heroes from him like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Panther, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and (arguably his most popular) Spider-Man.

The last ten years of Marvel movies have helped Stan Lee become much more than a house hold name among nerds. He appeared in almost all of the movies based on his characters (not just in the MCU), never shy of poking fun at himself.

The world has truly lost one of the most unique imaginations it has known.

Excelsior!

 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

 

Blade Runner 2049

One of many images that are entrancing in Blade Runner 2049

Despite some holes and question marks in the screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 still manages to be the best sci-fi sequel since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is a movie that challenges the mind and brightens your eyes with some of the most gorgeous imagery of recent years. I have only seen the original once, but I know that I have to return to get some answers (though not all the questions will have them).

The plot is a lot harder to follow this time around, but not too terrible. Basically, the new Blade Runner in town is named “K” (Ryan Gosling). After reporting to his boss (Robin Wright, having a very decent year with this film and Wonder Woman) the discovery of a dead replicant who died giving birth to a child, he is sent out to erase the mistake and kill the child. As he digs deeper, he realizes he is more and more in danger. It eventually leads him to the Deckard (Harrison Ford).

I will stop there for two reasons: I don’t wish to ruin any plot points, and I am also afraid that I may have still misunderstood the plot. I can talk about a few other characters, however. Dave Bautista (Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy) is rather surprisingly subtle and reserved as a runaway replicant. The owner of the replicants is played by Jared Leto, proving to be a better villain (or is he?) than he was in Suicide Squad. One of my favorite performances came from Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi is basically Suri, but far more upgraded. She has been with K (who she now names Joe) for so long she is almost like a personal secretary. So lovely and ironic is it that she is one of the most human characters in the film.

Now we get to the visuals. They are, quite simply, marvelous and uncanny. It should come as no surprise, mainly thanks to two men. The first is director Denis Villeneuve (who recently was nominated for 2016’s Arrival). He knows how to pace the film at the right tempo: If you think there is not enough action in the film, you are not paying attention.

The second, and possibly most critical, is cinematographer and legend Roger Deakins. Here is hoping that his losing track record at the Oscars (0-13) might end next February. Watching the movie, I had that same feeling when watching films from Studio Ghibli. You could pause each shot, and look at them for hours. You know what? I take back what I said: Roger Deakins will win the long overdue Oscar, and will get a standing ovation.

Parents, even if you children may have seen the original, you should be warned that his film has a lot more nudity in it than the first one. While the only real sex is through blurry glass, there is still a bit of sound. Add in the swearing and (not so horrible) action/violence, and you have a movie for only High School and above.

I mentioned before that the plot does have some holes: one character clearly betrays another and then shows their utmost loyalty. Even so, this movie is worth seeing just for the visuals alone. They are haunting, spellbinding, breathtaking, cold,…seriously, words don’t do the visuals justice.

On the sights alone, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that, once seen, is something we people will not believe.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Baby Groot

I have stated before that I never grew up reading a single comic book. My childhood knowledge of Marvel (as well as DC) came from movies and TV shows. Perhaps this maybe the reason why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did not appeal to me as much as the first (though it is still worth watching).

GOTG V2 starts off with all the Guardians (Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) defending a battery source from a giant monster. This is all done as Groot dances to ELOs “Mr. Blue Sky”, providing one of the movies many pleasant scenes.

Eventually, the Guardians are persued by a group of Golden people called the Sovereigns, led by their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They are after batteries stolen from them by Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper, who gives us an even deeper character this time around). The Guardians are forced to crash-land, and are met by Peter’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell).

Ego takes Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista, who gives the film some of its most immortal quotes) to his home planet with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Staying with the ship is Rocket and (the ever cute) Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) as they watch over Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Eventually, they are tracked down by the familiar face of Yondu (the always underappreciated Michael Rooker). He is still after Quill, after being denounced by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).

What made the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie so endearing was the humor, and Vol. 2 is no different (the same can also be said for the immaculate soundtrack). I won’t ruin any moments, except to say the scene stealing belongs (again) to Groot. When sent to find an item, what he returns with goes from hilarious to even a bit disturbing.

My main issue with the movie is the villain. Without saying who it is (thought it will become rather obvious), the actor is indeed a far talented one. It just seems like the Guardians have more than enough character and spunk to deserve a much menacing villian. In Vol. 2, the villian is downright forgettable.

Parents, if you kids have seen the first movie, they are fine with this one. There is some action/violence (mild), swearing, and one awkward (though funny) scene about where babies come from.

I know there are probably a lot of nods to the comics that would make GOTG V2 very appreciated by comic book fans. Good for them. I am more of a movie fan. That being said, the movie does give us some good slow moments of reflection (especially at the end, which took me off guard).

While it is not as good as the first one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has certainly started the 2017 movie season with a bang.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2