Saturday, December 21, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review

If you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably seen that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been getting mixed reviews. As I write this it is scoring 53% at Rotten Tomatoes. Is it as bad as some critics say or is the Force with this film? If I may paraphrase Maz (Lupita Nyong'o) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a "good question" for today.

The Rise of Skywalker opens with your classic Star Wars crawl. And right away, we learn Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still alive and broadcasting something on a podcast. Okay, the podcast thing is not in the movie. Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) to gather intelligence about him and the threat he poses. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is training with Leia in the ways of the Force. And Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is having trouble with his marriage... um, that's Marriage Story. Ren is also looking for the Emperor but for different reasons. Perhaps to join forces?

The performances are pretty good. Great to see Ian McDiarmid back as Palpatine. He doesn't seem to have aged but of course he has played an old wrinkly old man since Return of the Jedi. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega both know their characters well and adeptly play off each other. The late Carrie Fisher's role was supposedly cut out of other films and pasted here. I frankly didn't notice. Yeah, I'm no fanboy but her performance was seamless. Adam Driver is a tortured and conflicted Kylo Ren. And Daisey Ridley is magnetic. There are some great reveals and she is wonderful.

Okay, you might think The Rise of Skywalker is pretty good. Not so fast young Padawan. The screenplay by director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio based on their and Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow's story has some problems. The first being the above crawl. Maybe I missed it but I don't recall a hint of the Emperor in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. While some critics liked learning of Poe's backstory and the introduction of Zorii played by a helmeted Keri Russell, I thought it distracted from where the story needed to get going. There's another character introduced who seems to be the focus of Lando (Billy Dee Williams). She's Jannah (Naomi Ackie). Again, this is a character who interacts with Finn but it takes away from the momentum of the story. And there is another cute robot introduced named Cone. But what is this for? Other delays include too much time spent on a flooded world where Rey must obtain an artifact. No problem with where it's at but do we need so much film to show her finally get to it? Now all these lesser characters could be a setup for another movie or Disney Plus TV show. Still, this is a film not a mini-series. The movie is also a little too reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. One more thing, this movie is not science fiction. Characters are in outer space without spacesuits. Think space fantasy.

Where the screenplay works is the humor and its depiction of the goals of the characters. You'll have to see the movie to get the jokes in context. But I had to laugh at the jab this movie takes at The Last Jedi and a certain lightsaber. The motivations and reveals of the characters all worked logically. And there's warmth here too. Finn, Poe and Rey make a fine trio of friends.

Director J.J. Abrams thankfully keeps his penchant for lens flares at bay. And he doesn't let the fast cutting interfere with the action. Those scenes make sense and are exciting and easy to follow. he does falter on some of the scenes that take place on a dark planet interior. Look we get it. This planet is spooky, dusty and dark. But it's very hard to determine what the action is when it's so dark and he uses fast cutting. The movie does have some stunning special effects. 

Another reason to see this film is to hear legendary John Williams score and how it works wonderfully with the action. Let's face it. Williams is in the twilight of his career. His score for this film is regal, heroic and triumphant.

I was captivated by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It held my interest. Is no where as bad as the The Phantom Menace nor is it as great as The Empire Strikes Back. Still worth seeing if you are a Star Wars fan. The grade is B.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Midway review

Director Roland Emmerich has made a bunch of films. So he knows the importance of keeping focus on a dramatic narrative. In 1994, he wrote and directed Stargate (1994) , a science fiction movie that was about meeting the fictional aliens that colonized the earth in ancient Egypt. Now Emmerich didn't go into the enslavement of the ancient Egyptians. That would have taken away from the narrative, the purpose of the Stargate and where it would lead us. Unfortunately, his instincts for narrative get lost in the historical drama Midway. In fact, the movie starts with a scroll that it is about events leading to the battle of Midway. Really?

Yep. This 2019 version of the Battle of Midway starts with events leading up to it. We meet Lt. Commander Layton (Patrick Wilson) whose in Japan years before World War 2, getting to know the Japanese. Then years later the film Midway moves to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is depicted in frightening fashion but hey I thought this movie was about the Battle of Midway. We meet some of the main characters, hot shot pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and the responsible air group commander aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Wade McCluskey (Luke Evans). Throw in Woody Harrelson as the legendary U.S. admiral Chester Nimitz. But before we actually see the planning of the Battle of Midway, the movie decides to take some time to show the raid on Tokyo by Army Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart)

It's good to see Ed Skrein playing a good guy. And everybody in the cast is good. But they're only as good as the screenplay and writer Wes Tooke loads it up with plenty of corn. And he makes a big mistake when he tackled the historic Battle of Midway. He's telling two other battles before Midway. Pearl Harbor. The Doolittle Raid. And I'm very suspicious of American movies made with Chinese money. (Shanghai Ruyi) In the movie, Doolittle crashes in China. He's helped by local Chinese resistance fighters. And they are strafed by Japanese fighters. Doolittle asks who the Japanese are attacking. And the Chinese say it's the civilians. Okay, it's true that the Japanese killed Chinese civilians. But I can't help but wonder if this scene was in here to please the Chinese producers.

Director Emmerich knows action, special effects and big explosions. And Midway does those things well. But he also has made films that stayed on narrative course. By the time we get to the Battle of Midway, he's wasted too much time. I'm not giving anything away when I say the Americans won but how? Three Japanese carriers are sunk but we really don't see how. It's so badly depicted that you're confused as to which ship was sunk. It's basically delivered in a line of dialogue. We really don't get a feel for the battle. You're scratching your head at what happened. The battle was close because it was two fleets looking for each other. So much so, that the dramatic impact of the sinking of the last Japanese carrier lacks the emotional weight it should have been given. The Americans suffered great losses. The 1976 film of this battle, Midway did a better job of setting up the conflict because it didn't waste time with extensive depictions of the battle of Pearl Harbor or the Doolittle Raid.

Some day there's going to be a better dramatic retelling of the Battle of Midway. Maybe it will be done in a television mini-series. This 2019 version is worth seeing on cable. But if you want a better feel for the real battle, read a good book on it. The grade for Midway is B Minus.

Terminator: Dark Fate review

About a third of the way during the movie, Terminator: Dark Fate, (T:DF) I got an idea to contact Twentieth Century Fox regarding the Alien franchise. You see in T:DF, the film ignores Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator: Genisys (2015) without any explanation. Oh yeah, you can forget about Terminator: Salvation (2009) too. So can we ignore the events in Alien 3 (1992) which terminates the cute Newt and feminist hero Ripley from Aliens (1986)? Please James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox? You know you can do it guys.

Speaking of James Cameron, the director of the first two Terminator films, he's partly responsible for the story of T:DF. And there's a bunch of writers on this movie which might lead me to think they were writing a comedy but alas, that's not the case. And if I went over all of them, you would get bored and skip this review. Anyway, this movie takes place after the first two movies in the present. An old Sarah Connor {Linda Hamilton) is running around North America terminating Terminators who are warping from the future. Meanwhile, an advanced Terminator (Gabriel Luna) has interest in killing a young Mexican woman, Daniella (Natalia Reyes) while another person with enhanced abilities from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has an interest in protecting her. Oh yeah, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the movie as Carl, who's a Skynet robot from the future with the mission to get humans to eat more vegetables. Okay, I'm kidding about the robot part here to get us to eat more vegetables but Arnold does want us to do that.

The cast is all good. Great to see Linda Hamilton, as the older Sarah. Her voice is deep, raspy and reminds one of beaten leather. Sarah has been through a lot and Hamilton portrays it well. If you were alive when the first two movies came out, it's like seeing an old friend. Natalia Reyes plays the confused and then true believer of Terminators, Daniella, well. And Mackenzie Davis is up to the task as the duty driven Grace. Of course, Schwarzenegger was made to play a robot. It's like rolling off a log for him.

Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) is a fine director. He handles the action here well with little confusion. In this film he has one big problem when he was handed this screenplay from all those writers. They couldn't come up with something really original. It's the same plot from the first one. Terminators come from the future to the past to destroy the future. If you've seen the first two movies, you've seen it all before, At least Terminator: Salvation had a great premise but was mangled by that film's director McG and the writers. Maybe if they combined the two next time, it might be interesting. Why don't they have Sarah travel to the future?

As I write this review, Terminator: Dark Fate is already out of my multiplex. Shame. It's not that bad a movie. It's just not original. Rent this one and hope something interesting happens down the timeline. The grade is B.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Men in Black: International

There's a reason why many times in a comedy, the screenplay will be written by multiple writers. It's because writers can bounce jokes off each other and determine what is funny. I'm not saying that a solo writer can't produce a comic screenplay. It's just that comedy is more subjective than drama. What's funny to me, may not be funny to you. Men in Black: International (MiB:I) was written by the writing team of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. They are not known for comedy as their best screenplay was the excellent Iron Man (2008).

MiB:I is the fourth in the series of Men in Black movies about a secret force that protects the earth and peaceful aliens from other alien threats. It starts out with two flashbacks. One in which T (Liam Neeson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) are in Paris to take on a hostile alien race known as the Hive. After the alien threat is dispatched, the film flashes back twenty years where a young girl named Molly meets an extraterrestrial. The movie flashes forward to see an adult Molly (Tessa Thompson) looking to join the Men in Black. She sneaks in the New York headquarters and impresses O (Emma Thompson) who sends her to London to assist H.

Okay, I'm going to cut to the chase here.  Because the plot can be a tad convoluted.  This movie is not funny.  Jokes don't work.  The aliens are not funny. Let me give you an example.  H has sex with an alien and this could be very funny if they showed some of it. But the filmmakers don't maybe because it would be too controversial.  Think Galaxy Quest.  And I'm pointing my finger at the writers who are not really known for writing comedies.  Yeah, a couple of good jokes in Iron Man work but the guys didn't need to write jokes to keep a comic film humming for two hours.  They could have used a third writer with comedy chops to help.

As for the acting and directing, Liam Neeeson,  the always excellent Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth are all good.  But the movie can't survive on Hemsworth's charm.  It needs better and more jokes. Director F. Gary Gray is competent but he doesn't seem to recognize that this is a comedy.

Men in Black: International is just a time waster and worse, it's not funny.   Shame. Because Hemsworth and Thompson looked like a great duo to lead the franchise.  The grade is C Plus.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Avengers: Endgame review

In 1986, the Star Trek movie franchise took a diversion from the drama to situation based comedy. The film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was funny, and smart. It was also a risk that worked as it was well received by the critics, general audience and fans. Avengers: Endgame takes a risk also. It is the sequel to last year's Avengers: Infinity War, an extremely fast and kinetic superhero movie. Endgame decides to focus much on the characters and has quite a bit of humor.

Endgame takes place after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has snapped away half of life in the universe with the Infinity Gauntlet in Infinity War. And if you're lost at this moment, I'm not going to go over all twenty one films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (MCU) Did I get all of them? I think I've seen almost all of them with the exception of The Incredible Hulk. (2008) As a kid, I was never a fan of the jolly er... angry green giant. Just accept the fact that earth's mightiest heroes have lost.

Anyway, the surviving Avengers find out which planet that Thanos has his retirement home on. They decide to go and pay him and see if they can borrow the Gauntlet and snap every one back into  existence. I mean not really "borrow." Unfortunately, Thanos has destroyed the Infinity Stones that power the gauntlet. Stop looking at me that way. I know it's geeky. Well, Avengers lose again.

 Flash five years forward. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is living a happy life because he has a family with a daughter. Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is leading group therapy sessions with Bob Newhart just kidding about Bob Newart. You remember his show? Too old. Okay. Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is leading what's left of the Avengers but there ain't that much too do since half of the universe  ceases to exist. Look, let's face box office reality here. You don't think half of Marvel's heroes are going to stay dead, do you? I'm pretty sure Disney is going to fix this in the script since Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) was a gigantic box office movie. And Sony is going to want Spider-Man (Tom Holland) back, especially since he's got a movie out this summer!

Well, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) reappears from the movie wrecking end credits scene in last year's Ant-Man and the Wasp. You see he's been in the Quantum Realm but hasn't aged. He has an idea. Go back in time and steal the Infinity Stones.. Bring them back to the future and voila. Snap everybody back into existence.

Okay, anytime you have time travel in a movie, some in the audience are going to sit there and think about the "grandfather paradox." I do.  But as the movie correctly points out in a couple of places, this ain't Back to the Future or Star Trek, the original series' episode  "The City on the Edge of Forever."   Going back into time does not change the present. It may create parallel universes or an alternate reality. But our heroes have that figured out.  They will also return the stones back to where they found them. I'll save the problems in this plot for another post. At this point, stop thinking about this, okay?

Well, if you've been watching any of the MCU films, you know the Infinity Stones are in many of them.  And Endgame takes our heroes back to visit some of the scenes. . This creates a wonderful valentine to the fans to see the Avengers visit the great movies of years past.  It also creates hilarious opportunities for the heroes as they see themselves in the past timeline.  There are also touching moments as well.

Congratulations to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for creating a script that takes an adventurous, original route into more character than action. It's warm and funny. And yes, you will weep along with  the laughing. But this is a superhero movie and there's going to beepic  heroic action.  It all works beautifully.

Composer Alan Silvestri sticks to classical, swing and jazz. A great choice in music not because those are some of my favorite genres. This film is meant to be classic. So use music that fits and stands the test of time.  The score is just lovely and worth listening as you watch the credits because there's no end credit scene.

As for the cast, there are no false moments with their performances.  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson and Karen Gillan all are more than adequate. But let me praise everybody for their comic timing more than anything.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are back from Infinity War.. They are actually better at directing the quiet, touching and funny scenes than action. While their action direction is too frenetic to be able to see clearly. I wish they would slow down and use more bodies in action than fast cutting. Still, they absolutely know how to stage a great moment. When Captain America says, "Avengers assemble" you'll want to join the fight. (That's Captain America's line from the comic books.)

If you've loved the MCU movies, go see Avengers: Endgame. If you love cinema, go see Avengers: Endgame. It's exciting, inspiring, touching and funny. The grade is A.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Captive State review

Captive State sounded like a good idea for a movie. It's a story about aliens invading earth and forcing their will on the population and that includes making humanity live by the aliens' rule of law. But good ideas for movies need execution.

The film starts out in flashback. Gabriel Drummond sees his mother and cop father killed as they try to escape the alien invasion. We flash forward where the aliens have conquered the planet and have placed their political syetem on Chicago. Ashton's father's partner, William Mulligan (John Goodman) works for the aliens enforcing the laws and hunting down human resistance. Gabriel is now a young man and is played by Ashton Sanders from Moonlight. He works at some factory doing something. I have no idea what he does except he seems to be a runner for the resistance. Folks, that's all you need to know about the plot as he disappears from the middle of the film The resistance has an assassination plan but because there are problems with this screenplay, I'm going to stop here in talking about the story.

So, I'm sitting in the theater when a woman in the back says, "I have no idea what is going on." I nodded in agreement. The utter lack of exposition in this movie kills it. I had no ideal what Gabriel does or why he does certain actions. And why is the resistance trying to assassinate this particular alien? How do the human tracking devices work? We, humans love our freedom but why are the people resisting? I had so many questions that I didn't care what happened towards the third act of this movie.

I also have a rule in monster movies. The film must clearly show the monster. Director and co-writer Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) has many of the scenes where the aliens are filmed at night or in dark garages. I couldn't see them. The best I can describe the main aliens as looking like a big hair brush with arms and legs. You want a top grade from me? Clearly show the monster.

This film may have been better off as a longer film or even a TV series. Of course, it would have to compete with the better resistance versus alien occupation TV series of Falling Skies. The confusing screenplay, and badly shot scenes make this movie a non-rental and wait for cable. The grade is C Plus.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Replicas review

Look as an amateur film critic, I should judge a movie on how good it is not reasons I want you to see a flick. But there are three reasons I like Replicas as a guilty pleasure. I'll tell you two of them now so you can skip this or read this short review. One. Trump really hates the people of Puerto Rico. And they've suffered from Hurricane Maria. No matter how you feel about Trump, the people of Puerto Rico  are our citizens. Replicas was filmed there. And I hope more films are made there to help the economy. Two. Alice Eve co-stars. Look, she took a bad rap from politically correct Trekkies for the underwear scene in Star Trek Into the Darkness (2013) She's an excellent actress who deserves more work.

Replicas is about scientist William Foster (Keanu Reeves) who is trying to map a dead man's brain onto an android, giving control of the android's functions over to a human albeit a dead one. And it's not working well. His assistant is an expert in cloning, Ed. (Thomas Middleditch) Living with William on Puerto Rico is Foster's wife Mona (Alice Eve) and their three children. They're pretty much your normal, happy family until disaster happens. On a family outing, Foster has an auto accident. Mona and the kids are killed. Well, this being a science fiction movie, you can guess what happens next. William will attempt to bring his family back with the use of cloning and the brain mapping technology.

I'm not a big Keanu Reeves fan. I like many of his films but have found his acting to be stiff as if he doesn't seem to understand who his character is. At times he sounds like he's merely reading his lines. Here, he is no different than his other performances. Inconsistent. There are times he's quite good, other times not so much. English Alice Eve does a good American accent and is excellent in this film. She demonstrates the confusion of the horror, curiosity and emotional attachment to her family needed for this movie. John Ortiz is the William's boss, Jones. He's appropriately harsh and mercenary.

Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff is competent. Action scenes are clear and he relates the drama well. One big problem. The film clearly has budget issues. The decision to use CGI for the android was a mistake. It looks like an old fashioned stop motion character. The better decision should have been to use an actor in costume. The movement would have been smoother.

Stephen Hamel's story and Chad St. John's screenplay is fascinating. It made me think, "What does it mean to be a human?" I wondered do we have souls? One issue though. Jones' actions are barely explained and the screenplay expects you to accept how he knows things. It would have been better to have scenes that demonstrate his motives. I'm talking about a scene in the third act where you will ask yourself, "How did Jones figure that out?" And while it's explained with a throwaway line, it comes off lazy.

Replicas will surprise you. Because you will expect this movie to go down the horror movie path. I mean bringing back loved ones from death almost never works. It's the unexpected direction into William's agony that makes this movie work. Rent this one.   The grade is B.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Robin Hood review

There have been many productions of the English folk tale of Robin Hood. The last movie version I saw was Ridley Scott's dour Robin Hood. (2010) And to be frank, none have bested the classic Errol Flynn version, The Adventures of Robin Hood. (1938) Now comes this year's Robin Hood to take on the legend of the man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

Lord Robin of Loxley (Taren Egerton) is drafted to fight in The Crusades is taken away from his love, Marian. (Eve Hewson) While in the Holy Lands. he becomes disheartened by war and tires to prevent the execution of Yahya's (Jamie Foxx) son. Robin returns to England to find that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) is seizing property and taxing the population to fund the war. Yahy had come to England to discover who is funding the war and try to stop it. He sees Robin and offers to help him rebel against the Sheriff.

Okay, you've got to be wondering how a hip African American actor like Jamie Foxx is going to be fit into a thirteenth century English folk tale. And if you're thinking it's a bit silly, you would be right. I mean this version of Robin Hood with Foxx reminded me of 1991's Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves with it's cramming of the talented African American Morgan Freeman into that movie And don't get me wrong, I'm all for diversity when it's not artificial. The problem with this casting will become apparent. By the way Mel Brooks had some fun with the cramming of a hip African American in an English folk tale. In Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) it was with Dave Chappelle in the Freeman role. Brooks also added some rap music.

David James Kelly and Ben Chandler'screenplay tries to put some modern touches in this folk tale. I mean the Sheriff is a tyrant and he decries the migration of foreigners. Sound familiar? And there is a theme that war is perpetuated by men in power. But if you are going to go with this type of metaphor, you better write an interesting and entertaining movie. I did not really care about what was happening to the people. And get this. Robin's merry men are given a short shrift. We don't even get the fabled Sherwood Forest until the end and then it's a throwaway line. And then there is Foxx's character. Robin Hood is supposed to be unknown to the authorities because most of the time he's wearing a hood. But Foxx runs around medieval England without a mask. Think about it. He's a hip black guy in the middle of lily white England. And no one notices.

But what about the performances? Well, they're okay given the material. That being said, I couldn't help but notice that Egerton and Mendelsohn looked like they just got a five hundred dollar haircut from a Beverly Hills stylist. I mean didn't guys in the thirteenth century have long hair? Good to see F. Murray Abraham again even if it's a stereotypical villainous Cardinal.

Director Otto Bathurst doesn't handle the action scenes well. He relies on fast cutting and the choices
in the editing don't allow the audience to enjoy the stunts or the action. Second, this movie looks low budget as it feels as if every scene has been shot on one set. And it's a set that looks like one street. If the script would only allow the Robin Hood to say venture into Sherwood Forest but alas it was not to be.

Look if you're going to do a fresh take on the Robin Hood legend, then get it out of the thirteenth century.  I have fond memories of a science fiction take in the late sixties.  It was a cartoon called Rocket Robin Hood. Of course there's Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) featuring Frank Sinatra.

Robin Hood hints at a sequel.  I'm guessing that the producers are optimistic that  this movie will do great at the box office or home video. .  I say to them, I believe that Republicans will support Medicare for All.  Keep waiting, America.  Both have equal chances of happening.   And hey Taren Egerton, don't hold your breath for a sequel. Get ready for the next Kingsman. The grade for Robin Hood is C.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Best Science Fiction Film of 2018

This year's best science fiction film of the year could be considered a family movie.  It's all about family.  Just turn it off once the credits roll because the mid-credit scenes wreck it unless you've see Avengers: Infinity War.  The "coveted"  Basement Blog Science Fiction Film of 2018 goes to:

Ant-Man and the Wasp.

It's a mix of quantum mechanics, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, a family's love, and comedy.  It's better than its predecessor.

Best Film of 2018

While the Oscars have no host and are afraid of offending people, here at the Basement Blog, we have no such fear. We also don't have a show, host, or staff.   You see it's just me. But I digress. There's one film in 2018 that deserves the 'coveted"  Basement Blog Film of the Year for 2018. It is:


Director Spike Lee mixes beautiful filmmaking, humor and social commentary in a tale of an African American police officer infiltrating the Klan. When one listens to the racist ideas of the Klan, one can hear them echoed today with our current president. President Trump.  Lee sends a strong message against hatred in America.