Monday, July 17, 2017

'War for the Planet of the Apes' REVIEW

The third and final (??? you never know) chapter in this rebooted version of the 1968 science fiction slavery/racism metaphor presents a satisfying conclusion to everything presented in 'Rise' and 'Dawn' (of the Planet of the Apes...duh!)  Caesar is once again (rightfully) the focus and that is one of the film's strengths.  One of the best things about 'Rise' was that it focused on Caesar and the other ape characters as much, if not more as it did on James Franco.  In a world where Transformers movies focus on Shia or Marky Mark and Ninja Turtle movies focus on everybody but the turtles, it's nice to see the title characters front and center.  Especially as a testament to how far the technology has come and how it can blend with an actor's natural ability to create realistic computer generated fantasy characters that you can feel for.  Yes, Andy Serkis is once again great as Caesar, as is his supporting cast of guys who probably felt silly in those motion capture suits when they were filming this, but who turned out great performances.

It's been two years after 'Dawn' and the apes are on the run from a bunch of military guys that hold them responsible for the chaos that Koba caused at the end of the last film.  Caesar is trying to get his tribe of intelligent apes, including his wife and son, away from this group at all costs.  He tells some of the soldiers that come for him that he didn't start this war and wisely doesn't want to escalate the conflict.  But when tragedy strikes, things change and Caesar has to struggle with his own anger, not wanting to become like Koba, who has become like the devil on his shoulder.  And as the story unfolds, we learn about an ape concentration camp, a mute girl whose father was killed by the Colonel who has been chasing the apes and a (very funny) talking ape who is not part of Caesar's group of lab escapees.  It all comes together in the end.  Interesting revelations will keep you engaged, as one of this film's strengths is that it relies on drama between these well-CGI'd fantasy characters and not just action.  There is some action at the beginning, but the 'war' in the title really shows up at the end and the combatants might not be who you expect.

The only complaint I have is with one lull towards the middle of the film, where Caesar is repeatedly beaten.  A lot of that "Passion of the Apes" stuff could have been cut out to improve the pacing.  But once that part is over, the movie picks up and there are surprises as to why the Colonel hates the apes so much (that I won't spoil here).  There are many nods to the original series (the mute girl's name is Nova) and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  I would have like to see Taylor's ship splash down at the end of the film and a CGI Charlton Heston emerge like they did with Princess Leia in 'Rogue One', but that was just me.

I give this movie 3.5 apes out of 5.  I am very much looking forward to director Matt Reeves' "na na na na na na na" next film!

Check out Turtle Rocket Books for more inspired lunacy from Chaddy D.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' REVIEW

Much has been made of this new adaptation's resolve to stay away from things in Spider-Man's history that have been covered in previous versions (Uncle Ben's death, the spider bite, the Osborns).  Well, there's no Osborns and there doesn't need to be.  But there is one line where Peter says something like "with all my aunt has been through", alluding to Uncle Ben's death without saying so outwardly.  Would it have been horrible for them to say "my uncle died" for those in the audience who never saw the other versions, to reinforce why Peter is so cautious about causing his aunt anymore stress, an important part of this story?  With all the men in this movie commenting on newly-younger Aunt May's appearance, would that have resulted in more "so, she's available" jokes?  And what about that grandma taking her little grandson to see "Spidey-Man" who has never seen the Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield versions?

Well, there are a lot of things in this film that are either reimagined (like when Ultimate comics first came out) to be more modern and realistic and it all works very well.  That is, if you shut off your nostalgia radar and get happy that Spider-Man now gets to interact with other superheroes (except for the X-Men and the others owned by 20th Century Fox).  Remember the 'Spectacular Spider-Man' cartoon series, where Peter was going to a school for smart kids?  And they had to explain that Flash Thompson got there on a football scholarship, because he's a dumb jock and why would he be at the same nerdy school as Peter?  Well, that lame explanation will help you understand why Flash Thompson is a snotty rich kid and not a jock in this version.  He's still Peter's rival.  He bullies him by mocking him in front of his peers, not by physically dominating him.  No slamming him up against the lockers or anything like that.  But he still fills the same role.  Same with other Spidey side characters you may remember, such as Betty Brant and Liz.  Familiar yet modern.

Much has also been made of the high school element of this new version feeling like a John Hughes movie.  Well, a humorous reference to one of the best 80's teen comedies of all time (with the actual movie playing in the background) will cement the fact that this was intentional and also very well done.

The rest of the story is about Peter Parker, after helping Iron Man in 'Captain America: Civil War', wanting to join the Avengers with Iron Man/Tony Stark telling him he's not ready.  He's figuring out how to be a hero, helping people any way that he can and Tony suggests that he continue being a "friendly neighborhood spider man", meaning stopping low-level crimes in his neighborhood.  But when really high-tech weapons (with connections to the aliens from the first 'Avengers' movie) show up on the streets of New York, Spider-Man sees this as a chance to prove himself.  This is a really good, funny superhero origin story with great performances.  Since the focus is away from the spider bite thing, this "origin story" is about Spider-Man becoming a hero after getting said powers.  Because just getting super powers doesn't make you a hero and this movie explores something that the other versions just fast-forwarded, using  the "Spidey becomes a wrestler" storyline from the comics.  How does someone become a hero?

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' really works as a stand alone movie, with the nods to other films being very slight and not that important to the story, other than where the weird weapons come from.  Mostly just jokes, like Cap doing instructional videos for Peter's gym class (and detention).  The film references the one-story Avengers facility shown in 'Civil War' and 'Ant-Man' and shows Tony Stark moving things out of Stark Tower into that new headquarters.  So, that's when the story takes place (somewhere between those two films) and you will hear references to Wakanda (because February 2018), but the rest is focused on Spidey.  With Tony Stark in the Obi-Wan mentor role.  Robert Downey Jr. is great once again, as is Tom Holland as Spidey.  Marissa Tomei is a good actress for this new version of Aunt May.  And Michael Keaton is amazing as Vulture.  Michael Keaton is great period and should be in more movies.  The supporting cast of teenage classmates are also filled with good actors.

So, a great Marvel stand alone movie with ties to the MCU that doesn't weigh it down.  I give this movie 4 thwips out of 5.

For more inspired lunacy from Chaddy D., check out Turtle Rocket Books.

Friday, July 7, 2017

'Cars 3' REVIEW

'Cars 2' was the Pixar movie that started Pixar's post-Toy-Story-3 slump after their 12 awesome movie streak starting with the original 'Toy Story'.  'Cars 2' was the first time I walked out of the theatre of a Pixar movie not blown away by the creativity.  It happened a few times after that, with 'Inside Out' raising the bar up again...albeit briefly.
But even a mediocre effort by Pixar is just as good or better than what other studios crank out.  I just got my hopes and standards up during those first 12 movies, being blown away by 'The Incredibles' and 'Wall-E'.  Yes, 'Brave' and 'Cars 2' were lame, but 'Cars 3' falls in the "this would be better if DreamWorks made it" category.
The story is basically about Lightning McQueen having to swallow his pride when younger, faster race cars are making their way into the sport.  Because all the characters in this world are sentient cars, race car drivers are athletes, so this movie is like a 'Rocky' sequel for kids as Lightning McQueen mounts both his wheels and his comeback.  Along the way, he makes friends with a young, female race car trainer named Cruz Ramirez and teaches her to believe in herself.  There are some nice nods to Paul Newman, who died after voicing the character of Doc Hudson (McQueen's previous mentor) in the first film, as Doc Hudson appears in flashbacks and Lighting takes on a mentor role of sorts with Cruz.
I think your enjoyment of this film will depend on whether or not you enjoyed the first one and want to see where the characters have ended up.  It's wayyyyy better than the second one (which totally didn't count).  Mater is in this one, but with no mention of the lame spy plot in part 2.  In the end, 'Cars 3' is a funny final lap to the (two part) 'Cars' trilogy.
KIDS' RATING: 3 Lightyear tires out of 5.
Did anybody see 'Captain Underpants'?  Was it good?  Comment below.
For more imaginative entertainment, check out Turtle Rocket Books.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

'Wonder Woman' REVIEW

The first live-action Wonder Woman movie since her first appearance in All-Star Comics #8 in 1941 (created by polyamorous polygraph inventor William Moulton Marston) satisfies as a solo introduction to this character for people who have heard the name, but never knew about Themyscira and other important elements of this story.  Really, the only part of this story that connects it to the DC Cinematic Universe is the photograph of her and Steve Trevor that you see in 'Batman v. Superman', delivered to her by an armored car that says 'Wayne Enterprises'.  It was a little on-the-nose, even for a DC fan like myself.  If they had cut that scene out, having Diana (Gal Gadot) just find the picture somewhere and start telling her story, it would be a little friendlier to newcomers.  One minor nitpick and the only sliver of 'Justice League' movie setup in an excellent origin story.

Most of us know that Princess Diana lives on an island of all women, where they were sculpted by clay and given life by Greek gods that you probably learned about in high school.  You get a brief Greek mythology lesson at the beginning and then follow this little girl who grows up wanting to be a warrior like most of the women on her island, but is discouraged from this by her over-protective mother.  Then, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the first man ever to set foot on Themyscira, crash-lands his plane in the ocean.  He is a British spy posing as a German soldier.  Diana learns that the rest of the world (Man's World) is wrapped up in a "Great War" (World War I) and is convinced that Ares, the Greek God of War is behind it.  She leaves her island for the first time in her life, much to her mother's dismay, believing that if she kills Ares, the fighting will stop.

There is a lot of funny culture clash moments where we see Diana's humorous naivety about the world outside of her island, especially considering it was the 1910's and women weren't allowed to do much. Diana is from an island where women run the whole place.  She's not going to listen to Steve telling her to stand outside while the men discuss how to proceed.  But Steve is always on her side, we see their relationship grow over time.  Gal Gadot is great in this role.  So is Chris Pine.  All of the performances are top-shelf, including the feisty little girl who plays young Diana, admiring all the soldiers who are training and pantomiming them blocking stuff with their bracelets.  And the action scenes are also top-notch.  They don't detract from the story at all, but Wonder Woman does kick some German butt all over the battlefield, whipping people towards her with her lasso and kicking others through stone walls.

You may remember that the first season of the 'Wonder Woman' TV show took place in World War II, not WWI, which was appropriate to when she was created in the comics.  I think the change was made for this film to avoid comparison to 'Captain America: First Avenger', but the WWI setting does add more intensity to one aspect of the story.  You see, (in real life) WWI was truly a leap forward as far as mankind developing more destructive weapons for war.  Yes, that took another leap forward in WWII with the atom bomb, but the savagery of Man' s World developing new weapons is an important part of the story.  It is why Diana thinks the God of War is behind all this, so the period setting is appropriate to the tale and one of the movie's strengths.

It is truly the best film in the DC movie universe, partially because of the humor and the humanity shown through these characters, something that both 'Man of Steel' and 'BvS' (which I liked) lacked.  Check out my review of 'Suicide Squad' to see why I am not mentioning it and hoping it goes away.

Taking one half-point off for unnecessarily shoehorning "Wayne" into this movie just to sell 'Justice League', 'Wonder Woman' was an excellent film with humor and heart that truly did the character justice.  William Moulston Marston and his two wives would have been proud.  4.5 tiaras out of 5.

Check out Turtle Rocket Books for some science fiction books written by a mildly-autistic man-child.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

'Guardians of the Galaxy: volume 2' REVIEW

'Guardians of the Galaxy: volume 2' picks up pretty much where the first one left off.  That is why Groot is still a baby and then, before the opening credits, the movie jumps forward 34 years from its 1980 flashback.  So, it's 2014 again and the Guardians are the organized team that they became at the end of the first film.  Fighting baddies, doing jobs for money.  This is established (along with the great old-school soundtrack that the first movie had) in a very funny opening battle/title sequence.

Rocket's affinity for thievery gets the team in hot water and then the story takes the Guardians all over the galaxy, Empire Strikes Back-style.  Peter Quill (Star-Lord) meets his father and goes off to his home planet with Drax and Gamora while blue, fin-headed Yondu joins the rest of the team to find him.  Peter's father, as you may have seen in the trailers, is played by Kurt Russell, the human form of a living planet called Ego.  Peter learns where he came from and struggles to understand why his father left him.  As the one who actually raised Peter, you may remember from the first film, Yondu has a larger and much more emotional role in this story than I expected he would.  The whole movie is about people who you are related to vs. people who were actually there for you.  "Family" is an important theme to this story, although Vin Diesel doesn't actually say the word "family" over and over again like he does in 'Fast and the Furious' because he is playing Groot.

This is a very funny movie.  The Guardians quip at each other during the action scenes.  I agree with criticisms that there is a little too much of this, but only a little.  Most of the jokes either land or help you to get to know the characters and their flippant attitudes a little better.  Another movie that had a rapid fire succession of jokes was 'The Simpsons Movie', but 'GOTG volume 2' made me laugh much more.  There are more funny references to things that Peter Quill grew up with in the 80's that nobody out in space understands and this creates a funny friction between him and Gamora, who knows nothing of David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man.

My only complaint about this movie is a storyline between Nebula and Gamora.  For most of the movie, Nebula is just kind of there and then, the emotion of her feud with Gamora comes out.  It's an interesting dynamic, but it should have been at least alluded to earlier.  Other than this minor gripe, this film does a great job of juggling all of the characters.  There is a slight 'drag' in certain places, as they had to give all the main characters/actors adequate screen time.  But everyone has something interesting to do and some way to grow as a character.  New friendships are formed, relationships move forward, either as friends or enemies.  Drax is far more interesting than I expected him to be, a prejudice I had against Dave Bautista as an actor because he started his career as a wrestler.  When I think "wrestler in a space movie" I think 'Suburban Commando', but he was awesome and hilarious in this.

Even the cameos are well handled, not bogging the movie down.  They serve their purpose, either providing a laugh or an insight into one of the main characters, and then they move on.  The Stan Lee cameo is one of my favorites of his.  Another small role in this film is an obvious set-up to a spin-off movie that Marvel hasn't greenlit yet.  But the set-up for said film is saved for one of five post-credits scenes that this movie has, so sit tight when the credits roll.  I saw this movie at a screening where people walked out as the credits were rolling.  My wife looked at me and muttered "amateurs".  This is a Marvel movie, people!

A fun space adventure that will make you laugh out loud.  No, it's not as good as the first one, but not by much.  3.5 Infinity Stones out of 5.

Check out Turtle Rocket Books for science fiction books from the mind of a mildly-autistic man-child.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

'Fate of the Furious' REVIEW

I always say that, anything that a movie explains in the first twenty minutes or so, people will buy into, because that is when your brain is trying to figure out what you are watching.  So, with sci-fi movies, they explain the fantasy elements right away, so you believe that this guy was bitten by a radioactive spider or is from Krypton or whatever.  And with space movies, there is still the element of "this is another planet, so this is different from what I'm used to".  So, even if they take a little longer than twenty minutes to explain The Force, you buy into it because they established that you were in a galaxy far, far away...right away.

'Fate of the Furious', the 8th installment in the series, takes place on Earth, with cars, weapons and countries that we are all familiar with.  This makes the fantasy elements, the laws of physics that they ignore, both with the car chase scenes and with how strong Dwayne Johnson's character is, far less believable than Yoda fighting Count Dooku.  The saving grace, however, is how this movie knows what it is and does not try to be anything other than silly.  So, if you shut off your brain and laugh at how over-the-top it is, you will have a great time.

The main characters are very likable, despite being played by actors who would be terrible in anything except this series or a music video.  Again, the producers know what kind of movie this is and have given us two good actors to raise the credibility of the cast as a whole.  Charlize Theron is great as the villain in this and even makes human Groot Vin Diesel look like a better actor than he is in other scenes.  Kurt Russell is also great, playing a government agent.  My low opinion of Tyrese Gibson as an actor has improved, but I give credit to the writers and director of this movie for making him the butt of the jokes all the time.  It made me feel that I am not the only one who finds him irritating.

A lot of characters are the butts of jokes, as this movie was clearly made for a bunch of guys who like cars to sit around and bust each others chops while watching it.  Dwayne Johnson has some funny one liners (including one about a toothbrush) and there is a scene at the end with Jason Statham that was legitimately hilarious.  I'm not going to spoil it, but he's protecting something and it's funny.  I dare you not to laugh.  Or go "awwwwww!"

There is a decent story holding this all together, about Vin Diesel's character being blackmailed into going back to his old criminal life from the first movie.  There are a few surprises and the characters explain what you need to know from previous films in order to go along.  If you forgot that Paul Walker's character's name was Brian, you might be confused when he is referenced.  (The actor passed away shortly before the 7th film was released, but the character just went home to his family.)  But everything else leads up to a plot twist that I honestly did not see coming.  I gave them credit for surprising me, allowing me to enjoy the ridiculously fun climax with cars running away from a submarine (on ice) that was shown in the trailers.

All-in-all, if you shut off your brain and can enjoy the over-the-top madness, Fate of the Furious is a good time at the movies.  I give it 3 nuclear subs out of 5.

Check out Turtle Rocket Books for science fiction books from the mind of a mildly-autistic man-child.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Suicide Squad could have learned from Guardians of the Galaxy

Suicide Squad was a mess of a movie.  But there was enough cool stuff in it that, as I often do with movies I am disappointed by, I started rewriting it in my head.  I usually don't bother rewriting the flick in my head unless I like something about it and want to salvage the rest.  I thought Margot Robbie was great as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto was good as The Joker, his performance diminished by the poor writing.  Viola Davis made an amazing Amanda Waller, a character I loved from the Justice League cartoon, but didn't save the weaker elements of  the film.  Anyway, as I was mentally rewriting Suicide Squad, I realized that this movie could have benefited from being more like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Not that Suicide Squad should not have had the darker tone.  Of course it should have.  The people in Suicide Squad (or any Batman-related property) certainly should have had a tone that was darker than GOTG.  Darker humor would have worked to lighten up the movie where it needed to.  But the thing that Suicide Squad did poorly that GOTG did much better was apparent to me from the very beginning.  It had to do with the way that they introduced the characters.

GOTG and Suicide Squad are both about groups of people, a "squad" and "guardians" respectively.  But GOTG started out by introducing us to a main character (Peter Quill/Star Lord) and then, as we follow him on his journey, we meet the rest of the group (Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora etc.).  So, even though the movie is about a group of people, it still technically has ONE main character, which prevents the movie, the first act where you introduce everybody, from being confusing.

Confused is precisely what I was in the first act of Suicide Squad, which consisted of numerous flashbacks being hurled at the audience, introducing all the characters, most of which I forgot who they were, because they don't give you much of a reason to care.  Besides Harley and the Joker, I only remember Killer Croc because of Batman's 1992 animated series.  Oh, and Deadshot.  Would I have remembered Deadshot if Will Smith didn't play him?  Probably not.  Should DJ Jazzy Jeff have played Scarecrow?  YES!!!

But that was my biggest problem with Squad.  Movies should have ONE main character, even when said film is about a group.  I said to a friend after seeing the film that Mad Love, the Batman cartoon episode where they get into Harley Quinn's origin story, would have made a better basis for the movie.  People like seeing female main characters, so here you have a criminal psychologist who gets her first high-profile gig working at Arkham Asylum.  She's lonely and falls in love with the bad boy.  And in helping the Joker escape, she lets out the other members of the Suicide Squad, who we meet slowly through the first act of the film through therapy sessions that they have with Dr. Quinzell.  Then, you have your Batman cameo and Amanda Waller (DC's female Nick Fury) intro as they show up to handle the madness.  See how that would have been better because you're following Harley around, getting to know her, getting inside her head and THEN she meets other people?

Personally, I would have ditched the other members of the Squad and made it a Harley Quinn movie, where Harley and Joker escape and go on a Mickey and Mallory/Bonnie and Clyde style road trip crime spree.  But even if the other guys are there, focus on one journey and how that journey affects other characters.

There are a lot of things that I think mainstream sci-fi movies could learn from GOTG, but I will save that for when I review the second film, which is coming out in 2 weeks.  Are you looking forward to GOTG2?  What's your favorite comic book movie of all time?

Meanwhile, check out Turtle Rocket Books for science fiction books from the mind of a mildly autistic man-child.