Wonder Woman – 2017

Tags

, , , , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

75 years in the making.  Setting box office records and records as a film directed by a female.   Female empowerment.   The DC Extended Universe.   Lots riding on the film.   All of these statements are true and have an affect on one’s perception of the film.   But, lets just call it what it truly is..a fantastic superhero movie.

Director Patty Jenkins hits every technical and tonal mark pitch perfectly.  Where the rest of the DCEU is shot in a muted color palette, director Jenkins lets the film showcase props, costumes, and set design.   Jenkins really is on top of her game with shot selection and setups as well.    Outside of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, this is the best directed film of the DCEU to date.

In order to make this better understood, lets take a look at the choice made regarding the Amazons of Themyscira and their fighting style.   As one of the scenes unfolds, the Amazons defend a beach from a German invasion force of World War 1.   Normally, the style of fighting would be a halting, aggressive style.  But the Amazons are enlightened and they fight in a smooth, dance like pattern.  It is poetry in motion, fluid and graceful.   But there is power in those moves and so their fighting style is just darned impressive and who made the choice to show them like that?  Director Patty Jenkins.  Just outstanding.

The movie is, at its core, a fish out of water movie.  As the time period is centered on World War 1, the world is starkly different to the all female Amazon world that Diana comes from.  Women do not yet have a right to vote, and during an all male war council meeting she wanders in and listens, not knowing that women are not allowed.   This and other similar situations lead to some of the best humor of the film.

Yes, this DCEU film is refreshingly funny and extremely witty.   It allows itself to be funny during tense action sequences and during moments of drama.  That confidence in the script and the acting is refreshing.   The film knows its a comic book movie and never really takes itself to seriously.   And the person who make these choices?  Director Patty Jenkins.

Gal Gadot is pitch perfect as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, AKA Wonder Woman.   She play the role with a wide eyed, morally assured manner.  She believes in the choice for the good of humanity and her mind is not changed easily.   Gadot is striking, but the film never shows her using her looks to get anywhere.  A wise choice.   And she can fight! Wowsers!  The action choreography and scenes are impressive.  And Gadot time and again shows a caring side to the character all while not undermining her ability to be a superhero.

Chris Pine is a delight as Wonder Woman’s love interest and guide to humanity, Steve Trevor.   He is well worn, a soul who as seen it all, done it all.  As a spy, he crash lands at Diana’s home, the beach fight ensues, and the Amazon’s question him using the golden lasso.   His reaction to giving up much more information that he wants to do is priceless. He falls in love with Diana, as an equal, as a partner, and as a friend.

The movie is just an overall delight.   The DCEU management team needs to make Wonder Woman the focus of anything going forward, including the Justice League movies.   I don’t want to give away much more.  Go see the film.   It is worthy of your time and a bucket of popcorn.

So – 3.5 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Vol. 2

Tags

, , , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. doesn’t really break any new ground.  And that is fantastic news.   While this movie isn’t as snarky as the first film, it doesn’t have to be.   In the first film, the characters traded comments and witty jabs at one another as they got to know one another.  This time the film is more an emotional roller coaster for Peter and how that affects the whole crew.

The film opens up with a terrific sequence showing the Guardians getting ready to attempt to exterminate an inter dimensional creature that is threatening to take special batteries from the host world.  This allows for Baby Groot to hook up some music and dance while the rest of the Guardians are taking on the beast.   And it is as charming and cute as you would hope that it is.  However, the beings that hired the Guardians consider themselves perfect and are completely off the scale narcissistic leading Rocket to verbally abuse them and steal the batteries that were paid to protect.

This leads to a chase scene and battle where Kurt Russell’s character Ego is introduced.   Ego wipes out the hundreds of ships in pursuit of the Guardians.  Ego lands near the Guardians and tells them all he is Peter’s long-lost father.   He tells him he has been searching for him for a long time and that he is really glad he found him.  He invites them back to his planet and to reconnect with Peter   However, during the battle, the Guardian’s ship is badly damaged and Rocket stays behind to fix it, with their “payment”, a captured Nebula.

Ego’s planet is mesmerizing.  It is wonderful.  It is so unbelievably awesome that Gamora is very suspicious.  Cautioning Peter to take care with Ego.   When Ego explains that he is a sentient planet, and somewhat of a God, the plan is fully explained.  You see Ego is considered a Celestial, a very high level being.   And, because Peter was able to hold an Infinity Stone in the first Guardians, he is partially Celestial as well.   Not to give too much more away, the Guardians have more than a disagreement over what Ego wants Peter to do with him and the galaxy.

In between the space battles, heartwarming narrative scenes, and hilariously fun jokes “Trash Panda”, the two scene stealers and MVPs of the movie are Yondu and Drax.  Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista play each of the character’s wonderfully well.  Rooker’s Yondu cuts a tragic figure and surprisingly provide some of the most emotional scenes in the movie.  Bautista’s Drax is still the comedic genius of the movie with his deadpan honest and “literal” statement about just about everything.

The film looks and has almost an ethereal feel to it.  Writer / Director James Gunn has outdone himself in the last two movies.  I am really glad they are going to be a three movie set as Gunn now is very close to having the most well-rounded of all the Marvel movie sets in the Universe.

3.5 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Tags

, , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The animated version of Beauty and the Beast is one of the most beloved movies in Disney’s catalogue.  The songs, voices, acting, and exquisite cinematography pop off the screen and several times over the years when hosting a party I would find myself singing “Be our guest, be our guest…”.  That’s how iconic the animated version is, it has ingrained itself in your life.   The unfortunate part of this film is that it falls flat at critical times.  And falling flat never happened in the original version.

Casting Emma Watson as Belle seemed to be an inspired choice.  She has the look, scholastic background, and acting experience to present a wonderful Belle.    What she does present is a very good Belle, not great and certainly not a classic Belle.  Her voice does not measure up, her acting seems forced at times and without nuance, and she really can’t seem to dance.   Belle’s interaction with Lumier and Cogsworth is not as smooth as I would have expected, given Watson’s work in the Harry Potter films with CGI characters.

Dan Stevens is miscast as Beast as well.  He is much older than Watson and they don’t seem to have much charisma and chemistry together.  During the final dance sequence I never truly believed that they were made for one another.   Impressively, Stevens really shines while as the Beast.  The motion capture work and layered CGI effects are average at best.   But Stevens gets fantastic marks for acting with his eyes and really developing a personality for the Beast.

While the film is good and will appeal the masses very well, the musical numbers seem to be a bit out of sorts.   In the original version “Be our Guest” is the most iconic of the film’s songs.  The song falls a bit flat and lacks the exuberance of the original.   However, more than making up for this is the Lefou and Gaston led “Gaston”.   It is infectious and Josh Gad (Lefou) and Luke Evans (Gaston) just sell it.  Honestly, I wanted to find a nearby table jump on it and sing and dance.

So here is the problem with bringing a Disney film from animation to live action.  Some films will translate well, while some should be left alone.   Beauty and the Beast is not a bad film at all, please remember this.  But being simply good isn’t good enough.  That’s going to be the problem going forward, Disney will settle for good and not classic.

Director Bill Condon has directed a couple of Twilight films in the past.  And the perhaps is what permeates this film.   Twilight films are awful.  And part of the problem is the Director’s choices of shot selection, under developed CGI, and lack of awe-inspiring cinematography.  These were strengths in the first film and can be considered weaknesses in this film.

Simply good not great and certainly not a classic.

3 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Tags

, , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Based on the popularity of the most recent American made Godzilla film, the production team and studio behind the film decided to re-introduce the giant monsters of old.  Godzilla was a great stepping off point and with this second film we are taken back to a land for an exploration that time forgot and King Kong.

This film isn’t going to win an Academy award for best film.  Rather, its about the experience of seeing gigantic monsters on screen and watching Kong beating the living bejeesus out of them.   When I was young, the monster movies that played on the weekend were always my favorites.   It wasn’t real, just the imaginary creatures of my mind coming to life.   Truly, this film does indeed bring to life the creatures of many a little boy or girl.

The film is set in 1973 and with a loosely explained connection to Monarch, the mysterious monster watching organization, a military and scientific exploration team sets out for Skull Island.  The island is perpetually covered by an intense storm of hurricane like strength.  So of course, we must get through the fog and look where we don’t belong looking.

Where this film stands out is the cast.  Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are very good actors.  Larson is an Academy award winning actress and Hiddleston brings to life the best villain of the Marvel Comic Universe, Loki.  They both bring a gravity and timing to the film that allows for a connection to the drama of the script.  Such a connection is very important when selling a film about a 100 foot tall monkey.   Without the connection, the film would quickly become a farce and a joke.

Additionally, the ace in the hole on screen is John C. Reilly.  His comic talents have been on display in dozens of movies.    He plays a marooned WWII pilot who has been on the island for 28 years.   He provides snarky comment, laugh out loud one liners, and a wonderful foil for the rest of the cast.

What takes away from Skull Island is Samuel L Jackson.  He plays the same one note character he has been playing in his recent films.   He doesn’t play another beat except a wronged army officer avenging his men.  And his greatest failing is that any other actor could basically play the role the same way.   Jackson does nothing to set his character apart from any other armed forces officer.

A additional plus is the design and CGI of Kong himself.   The films special effect crew must have been given a massive budget.   Kong looks great and the rest of the monsters and large animals just jump off the screen.  A great movie to watch with a bucket of popcorn!

The movie is worth seeing on the big screen.

2.5 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

Logan (2017)

Tags

, , , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Credit – Johnny Cash

“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
‘Come and see.’ and I saw, and behold a white horse”
There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reachin’ down
When the man comes around”

The end credits of the movie Logan are accompanied by this song.   I cannot think of a more fitting song.  This movie is true genius in its entirety.  An antihero film on par with the Dark Knight.   Not a comic book movie, but a real film of note.  See it in a theater with the full on digital sound and video projection of Dolby Atmos.  You wont regret it.

Set in the near future, Logan is able to do something that most superhero films cant do, ground itself in humanity.  When I walk into a superhero film, I expect to be carried away for two hours by flying people, aliens, or some sort of magic.  But, I never forget that I am watching a superhero movie.  Logan is so grounded in muck and grime that it takes itself very seriously.  At times I forgot I was watching a movie about a man with claws, and that is an awesome achievement.

Hugh Jackman is a marvel in this film.   He really is Logan / Wolverine.  However, since Logan is world weary and worn out, Jackman plays him with a pained, damaged expression.  He is never really comfortable both emotionally and physically and Jackman gives him a limp to reinforce this fact.  His facial features are not those of youth, they are those of a person who has done too much, seen too much, and cannot forget.   Jackman should really win some sort of award for this role, even be nominated for next year’s Oscar, he is that good.

Patrick Stewart is a delight as a ninety plus year Professor Charles Xavier.   He caused a mass mutant catastrophe years back and is dealing with the inability to control his mind. One of the most powerful telekenetic mutants of all time is begin to lose control because of age and has devastating seizures that cause people to die.  Logan, because of his ability to heal, is one of the few remaining x-men that can be his caretaker.   The give and take between Logan and Professor X is a highlight and I can see the affection that the actors have for one another.

However, the real scene stealer is 12 year old, 4 foot tall Dafne Keen.  As mutant X-23 she it unforgettable.  Her fluidity of movement, ferociousness, and connection to Logan allow Keen to play this role as sidekick, pupil, and naive newcomer.  She acts with her eyes and it works wonders.   Just the right amount of side eye, eyes wide open, and eyes filled with anger allow Keen to hit every beat with her character.   I really hope they allow her to grow with the character as she could be the cornerstone of a new mutant franchise.

Director James Mangold makes every choice in the film perfectly.  From the locations, to the acting, editing, and the soundtrack, Logan comes alive with his every choice.   At one point, the movie Shane is playing in a background and becomes the perfect backdrop to this modern day western and road trip movie.

Enjoy this one folks, we will never again see Jackman as The Wolverine.

4 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

Deepwater Horizon

Tags

, , , , , ,

deepwater

The April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon caused the greatest environmental catastrophe in US history.   The resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still affects the wildlife in the region today.  The fines and total costs are estimated to be over 62 Billion dollars.   And while all of this data is unreal, the movie documenting the drama of the explosion is equally huge in scope and spectacle.

The sound and cinematography are the standout features of this film.   The sound is unreal.  Recorded in Dolby Atmos, every creak, groan of steel, explosion, and spoken word is full.  Full of depth, distinction, and clarity, the sounds of the film capture the moments of despair and hope.   It is striking and almost an entity unto itself.  It siezes the viewer and takes them along for ride.

The cinematography compliments the sound perfectly.  Cinematography is the technique and art of the shot.   A director sets the scene and the Cinematographer usually the way it is shot.  This choices of shot in Deepwater Horizon are very good.   More than once I said “Wow, look at that!”  From the way explosions are shown, to the lifeboats getting lowered into the water, the choices made from a technical standpoint are flawless.

The acting of Kurt Russell, Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, and company do a very good job guiding us through the events of the day.  While the BP executives are the bad guys in a traditional sense, Russell and Wahlberg play stalwarts, just wanting to insure the safety of the crew as the systems on the ship are woefully in need of repair as BP has chosen to cut corners and try to reduce the costs associated with the exploration of the Gulf for oil.

While Deepwater Horizon doesn’t present anything new from a structured storyline perspective, it is worth viewing from a sound and visual perspective alone.

3 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

Tags

, , ,

ghostbusters2016

This is a beloved movie for me.    A fantastic, funny, irreverent movie that provided a lot of quotable lines that will last a lifetime.   That was 1984’s Ghostbusters – 2016’s Ghostbusters?  Well, this movie is a level of awful that hasn’t been reached since the release of the Twilight films.   It is so bad that the filmmakers and actors should get awards for being bad.  Something like the Razzie awards.   I do hope this will kill some of the momentum in remaking the classic films of the past few decades.

In order to review this film properly, comparisons to the 1984 classic shouldn’t be made.  It’s just not fair, compare one of the funniest movies of all times to a modern remake?   If this movie had been funny at all, it would have stood on its own merit.  But that is the problem.  So after a period of time, the old jokes come back, the classic song, and even the want for the first cast.

I loved Bridesmaids, the movie was hilarious.   Well written, great comic improv, funny storyline.   This movie tries really to hard.   Or at worst, isn’t trying very well at all.  It is almost as if they filmmakers got together and decided what should make up a funny Ghostbusters movie.  Shoot a ghost in the crotch!  Check.   Have characters fly around testing equipment out!  Check.   Try to have some sort of chemistry by highlighting the oddities of each character!  Check.   At the heart this movie if formulaic and that simply will not do when you have Melissa McCarthey, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the primary cast.

The film contradicts itself way to many times.  The team can afford the let super engineer McKinnon build all this cool equipment, but can’t buy the firehouse.   And why is Leslie Jones even relevant.   Her whole addition to the team is because she know everything it seems about New York and its architecture.  A tour guide.  But, the movie never really sets up the need for tour guide.  So her showing up and being automatically included in the team is really not great storytelling.   It doesn’t fit.  And it isn’t played well enough for funny.  Why not have her make a mistake and turn the corner to surprise!  Mr. Stay Puft.  But no, wasted opportunity.

Chris Hemsworth is a shining spot as the dull headed office administrator, Kevin.   But even that joke begins to fade fast.  Even the cameos by the old team fall flat.

This movie should have never been made.  It was two hours that I won’t get back for my life.

0 Stars – NOT a Hitting a mark recommendation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Wick: Chapter 2

Tags

, , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is something so very smooth about Keanu Reeves.  He is the male representation of a classic martini,  great steak, Miles Davis Jazz, or a 1957 Chevy.  He just exudes classic, effortless cool.    Nothing to macho or in your face masculine, but when you look into his eyes as John Wick, you know he isn’t messing around.   This is the second time Reeves had played the retired assassin John Wick and he is better, so much better, than the first time.

Chapter 2 starts right after the end of the first John Wick.   Reeves hasn’t lost a step and he has admitted that he still practices the martial arts that he learned while filming the Matrix Trilogy.   He just glides from one kill to another, not expending more energy than is needed and looking incredibly efficient in the process.   He has mastered the move where he disables a bad guy, holds him on the floor writhing in pain, and shoots a few other baddies only to then turn around and shoot the first bad guy in the head.   And it all looks fantastic.

Director Chad Stahelski, a Matrix stuntman alum, makes every lighting, stunt coordination, soundtrack, and scene setup work together perfectly.  As Wick goes around  the globe during the film, some catacombs in Rome form an unbelievable background to a fight scene / shoot out between Wick and a few dozen guards.  The way the music is playing and the emphasis on grunts / groans / shots being fired really drew me in.  More than once I found myself thinking – “wow, look at that!” only to be outdone five minutes later with another “wow, look at that!” moment.

In the first movie, the hotel Continental in New York was a fascination.  Managed by the Legendary Ian McShane, the hotel was a safe haven for hitmen.   A place where no “business” could be held and a hitman could get a meal, a drink, and a doctor’s call.   An assassin in the first John Wick broke this rule and was exterminated by the movie’s end.  In a brilliant move, the story writer has made the Continental part of a larger universe.  There is a now a Continental in Rome and it is more than implied that there are several all over the world.  And all the Continentals manage assassin communications and move the money and can provide a tailer and a gun sommelier.  The scene with the gun sommelier is inspired.  A fantastic connection between two professionals discussing weaponry and the scene’s writing is some of the movie’s best.

The ending leaves us a little uninspired, but they are setting up for the next film.  I won’t give any more than that, but this film is the best action movie of the last few years.

3.5 Stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

 

Abruzzo’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge

Tags

, , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In my normal day job, I tend to travel a bit.  I work in various suburbs and towns around the Chicago metropolitan area.   I really like exploring the surrounding areas by the remote site offices, as there is usually something I run into by mistake and it leaves an impression.  The really fun part is when I make mention to my family about the place and we get to share the experience together.

The office I was working in would be considered a public transit island.  Meaning, you couldn’t easily travel to location by our local rail commuter service.   I tried multiple different ways to travel home via different streets, hoping to magically shave off 15 minutes from the car drive home.  (This never happened, the shaving of the 15 minutes)  But, while cutting through Melrose Park on Division Street, I ran into this lighted little area lined with little restaurants.  Abruzzo’s caught my eye.  It looked like the type of place that my wife and family would enjoy.

I always tell my wife that I am trying to make memories, because we need to live for the day   Abruzzo’s is a restaurant that allows you to do just that.   As we approached the building, both it and the street were beautifully decorated for the holidays.   Upon entering the dining area, we were seated with a table with white table cloths, perfect place settings, and wonderful decor.  In my imagination I could see and hear Frank Sinatra holding court in the corner booth.   The charm just came at you from every angle.  Looking around, I just smiled.   It was magnificent.

Our waiter was at out table side very quickly, suggested some drinks, and listened as our daughter explain her food allergies.  He quickly broke down what she should have and not have and customized a dish with her in mind.   Just fantastic service from the Abruzzo staff.

Abruzzo’s features both homemade sauces and noodles.  And neither disappointed.   My wife ordered the home-made flat noodles with crumbled sausage in vodka sauce.  This dish is called “Maltagliati all Vodka”.  From the first bite, she was in heaven.  The noodles were firm and cooked perfectly, the vodka sauce was savory and just the right amount of flavor, and the crumbled sausage was awesome.

I ordered Pappardelle noodles, meat sauce, and a meatball.  It was perfect.  The noodles and sauce complemented each other and the meatball added just the right amount of flavor.   Our daughter’s dish had baked gnocchi and was just delightful as well.

Did I mention the serving sizes were huge?  Two adults could easily split one dish, so we all had leftovers for the next day!   We finished the meal with two desserts.  Homemade cheesecake with blueberries and Sfingi with Rhum Baba.  Sfingi is an Italian Donut with whipped cream and rum.  Both desserts were absolutely delicious.

If you are in the Chicago area, do yourself a favor and make your way to Abruzzo’s in Melrose Park.

4 stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.

 

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Tags

, , ,

rogueone

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, I was a bit leery as to the direction the franchise was going to head in as a story.  Disney is driven by its excellence in Marketing and the firm’s ability to cross sell it’s products.   While the Marvel Cinematic Universe was built, the excellence in Disney’s ability to take a bit of a hands off approach gave me hope.    This was all a Star Wars junkie could want, especially after the blandness and wooden prequels were released.

While watching announcements about “mining the Star Wars Universe for stories”, I thought we were going to a sub par product.  “Mining” sounded like a money grab.  Something Disney was doing to turn a profit on their investment.   Then three things happened; George Lucas was announced to have no direct involvement in the future story building attempts, Gareth Edwards was hired to direct Rogue One, and The Force Awakens was released and it was a huge success.

In order to understand how huge the Gareth Edwards hiring was at the time, there is a story to tell.  Edwards is a huge Star Wars fanboy.  He estimates that he has seen Star Wars: A New Hope at lease 300 times.   For his 30th birthday, Edwards made the trek to Tunisia to spend the night in the same sand home that Luke Skywalker was shown in during the original Star Wars film.   That’s the type of director Edwards is and how much he loves Star Wars.

I will not spoil any part of the movie.  Rather, I will comment on the acting, directing, and story.  This movie is loaded with tons of cameos and they are terrific.   Felicity Jones is really good as heroine Jyn Erso.   She has just the right amount of earnest believability and connection to the rebel alliance.    Erso is raised to be a tough badass and boy can she bring the pain.  An Oscar nominated actress,  Jones is just wonderful and really connects with the audience.

But my main rule is to always base your review of a movie on how good the bad guys of the movies.  The two main baddies in the film are Darth Vader and Director Orson Krennic, head of the Imperial Weapons Program.   Krennic is played by Ben Mendelsohn.  He is excellent and brings just the right balance of deviousness and suck up weasel ambition to the role.  He could have overplayed this role, but really works hard to make it in the new Empire.

Edwards really gets the movie going in the second half, the first hour being used as a methodically paced setup and introduction of characters.  His eye for shot selection and setup of the visual effects is just stunning.  This is the best looking and most action packed Star Wars film to date.  He also is brilliant in the use of cameos and more than once I would audibly go “Wow, thats ******”.   As a total fanboy, this just made the experience extra special to me.

Finally, the story.   Based off an idea from the opening crawl of Star Wars:  A New Hope, Rogue One really gets the story right.   Nothing is wasted and after 30 years some things are explained and it causes your to think – “Huh, so thats why”.   It helps to close more than one story gap from the New Hope.   I cant divulge anymore, but know that you will not be dissappointed.

Overall, a remarkable achievement in film.

4 Stars – A Hitting a Mark recommendation.