Friday, March 31, 2017

New "Kong" fuses old school adventure with contemporary sfx

In the rousing adventure that is Kong: Skull Island, hard core U.S. soldiers, fresh with bitterness from their losing effort in the Vietnam War (Samuel Jackson, as Lieutenant Packard, plays a bloodthirsty man whose only interests are his own), accompany several scientists, a photographer and some plain old adventurers on a remote island in the South Pacific in 1973.  What they find there is - surprise, surprise - a giant gorilla who rules with two large fists and some very otherworldly creatures that resemble hybrids between giant lizards and predatory dinosaurs (if you've seen the trailers, you know what I'm talking about).  The movie's tone is definitely lighter and more tongue-in-cheek than Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong, and much of the movie's dry wit can be attributed to John C. Reilly, playing a gray bearded, World War II pilot who accidentally crash landed on Skull Island decades ago, and has since called this inferno-on-Earth his home.  There is also Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, playing cosmetically gifted protagonists who are clearly too talented for this material, but hey, they've got to eat, too.  Skull Island may not possess the heart and soul of Jackson's film, but as an action movie set in an exotic locale where characters get picked off like turkeys on Thanksgiving, it's as much fun as anything you're likely to see this spring.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Logan" is a bloody, graphic examination of X-Men legend

Hugh Jackman was born to portray the iconic protege Wolverine of Professor Charles Xavier's school of mutants on the big screen.  Ever since Bryan Singer's X-Men way back in 2000, the famed Aussie has played the character nine times, and never has he been more human than in James Mangold's Logan, an ultra violent action spectacle that marks the first R rated movie of the franchise.  His face resembling an appendage that's been eroded by time and suffering, Logan is a "hero" whose time has clearly passed, and he storms through the American Southwest with Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young mutant girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) - whose powers very much resemble his own - all the while dispatching various assassins (with the bland Boyd Holbrook at the helm) who serve no other purpose to the narrative than to get brutally slain by Logan and his new sidekick's indestructible knuckle blades.  Much like The Dark Knight Rises, Logan is a closing chapter for its iconic protagonist, a ride into the sunset that's appropriately set in Texas for the majority of its narrative (comparisons between Alan Ladd's Shane and Logan are also cleverly hinted at).  Logan's graphic violence and adult language actually work in its favor, because a character this legendary deserved to go out while spewing all sorts of profanities and cutting off as many of his enemies' limbs as possible.

Friday, March 17, 2017

"Saga Vol. 7" explores new friendships & refugee plights

The imaginative, intergalactic world of Saga is a sight to behold, and the original vision it took to create it is worthy of admiration.  Appropriately dubbed by many pundits as Game of Thrones meets Star Wars, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' space opera features characters both large and small, humanistic and animalistic, in a galaxy that resembles a retro nightclub gone ballistic with creatures on opposite ends of the sexuality spectrum.  And now, with the release of its Volume Seven Trade Paperback, Saga boldly ventures into new unexplored depths of its faraway and diverse galaxy.

Finally reunited with their young daughter Hazel - from whom they were periodically separated in Volume Six - parents Marco and Alana encounter new friends and foes, all the while attempting maneuver a large comet that is the central battleground of their two respective races who come from Landfall and Wreath.  We meet Miss Jabarah, a small, tailed creature whose race continues to be persecuted by the downfalls of a long and grueling war; there's also The March, a two-headed assassin who resembles a drag queen with long, skinny legs; and young Kurti, a rodent-type creature of Jabarah's race, who becomes a close friend to Hazel, and even add in contributing to her first kiss.  The fates of all of them will be determined in the explosive final climax that will leave the eventual outcome hanging in the balance, and leave the readers in the dark - literally.

Vaughan's story, as original and as exciting as it may have been early on, is beginning to lose steam, if ever so slightly, and one does wonder how long he plans to stretch it before concluding it altogether (The Walking Dead has jumped the shark looooong ago, and I can only hope that Saga does not succumb to the same fate).  Staples' artwork is as enthralling and mesmerizing as ever, and her style is clearly a match made in heaven for Vaughan's vast imagination.  Saga: Volume Seven may not quite be the intergalactic wonder it once was, but it's still one of the best and most original comic books out there.  I just hope that it finds its ultimate closure before it runs out of fuel, much like its heroes' organic rocket ship.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Get Out" tackles racial exploitation like no other

Who knew that Jordan Peele, that character, comedic actor from MadTV and Key & Peele fame, had such a dark vision in writing and directing a dark satire thriller like Get Out in him.  When a twenty-something Brooklyn photographer extraordinaire Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) accompanies his girlfriend (Allison Williams) to her parents' country estate, he finds that strange things are going on with every single African American he encounters there.  The future in-laws in question, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, at first exude a charm and likability that is hard to resist, only to slowly peel away thin layers of their polished up personas to reveal unimaginable monsters underneath.

Peele manages the tone of an ordinary drama that slowly transforms into an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that explodes in a memorable third-act orgy of violence, and considering this is Peele's feature debut, it's an impressive effort.  Also, he finds a fitting comic relief in Lil Rel Howery, a TSA security officer and a close friend of Chris', who warns him that he may soon be turned into a "sex slave" for the rich white people.  Howery steals every scene he's in, and his timing is reminiscent of Peele's own comedic talent.  Get Out is a well constructed, expertly made thriller that might contain more truth about our current society than most will admit, and that precisely is its genius.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bullets blaze in "John Wick 2", but not much else

Action movies can be a lot of fun.  Just look at Robert Rodriguez's work (El Mariachi, Planet Terror, Machete, etc), or even John McTiernan's early films (Predator, Die Hard), and you'll see what I'm talking about.  A good action movie usually features hundreds - if not thousands - of bullets, extravagant car chases, expertly choreographed fight scenes, stylized violence, and above all, a script worthy of its star's charisma (Bruce Willis in his prime is a good example of this).  Keanu Reeves' John Wick is, unfortunately, a character lacking depth, charm or any interesting traits whatsoever (unlike the similarly invincible Deadpool, who's actually funny and likable, John is a definition of dullness). He's a modern action hero for a new generation that's apparently ignorant about storytelling or character development; how also can one explain the incomprehensible 90% on Rotten Tomatoes for this brainless effort?

According to filmmakers of John Wick: Chapter 2, an action movie need not be anything but a hundred-and-twenty-minutes (a running time that is at least thirty or forty minutes too long) of its "bulletproof" hero (John never seem to suffer more than a scratch or a minor wound, and even after his house explodes with him inside of it, all he suffers is some dirt on his white sweatshirt) shooting everyone who comes at him right in the face at point blank range.  And this, pretty much, goes on for two hours.  The story is non-sensical, and simply an excuse for us to witness unlimited carnage with absolutely no suspense or vision whatsoever.  It is a movie so dumb and numb to any common sense or logic that I wondered if Michael Bay had something to do with its production (a scene featuring Common and Reeves on the opposite sides of a subway platform boarding the same train makes no fucking sense!)

Look, if you're the kind of moviegoer who isn't interested in being challenged in the least, and if prolonged, unimaginative shoot-outs is your definition of a good movie, then you may enjoy John Wick: Chapter 2.  Otherwise, you'd be depriving yourself of two hours that you may never get back.  You've been warned.