Monday, July 24, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson revisits the wild side of sci-fi with an adaption of an old classic graphic novel to make a decent film that has some fun moments. The film begins with the development of the International Space Station growing with each country of Earth and making alien contact. The ship grows and turns into Alpha, a space station that hosts all of the cooperating species of a thousand planets. Valerian (Dane Dehaan) wakes after a disturbing dream of destruction to find Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a beach simulation ready for the next mission. Valerian is flirtatious but forgets her birthday and the details of the mission. Together, the two agents fly down to a desert planet that serves a virtual market for shoppers in an effort to steal a converter, which is a cute little lizard that poops out replications of whatever it eats. This creature was introduced during the destruction of the planet and it is supposedly the last one left.

Valerian uses a dimension transport to rob the black market dealer in another dimension that he has to use glasses to see. This action scene was probably the best part of the film as Valerian jumps around trying to transport his hand back but the device was broken by the bite of an alien dog. The chase leads Valerian through the streets of the market until Laureline can save him. The dog chases them but they make it off planet at the expense of their whole crew. Valerian and Laureline return to Alpha to find that there is a new problem. Commander Arun Flitt (Clive Owen) informs them that a radioactive zone is growing at the center of the city and any crew that investigate it goes missing. An attack from the aliens at the beginning leads to Commander Flitt being captured.

Valerian chases after them but he crashes and is lost in the forbidden zone. Laureline has to bargain with three duck-like aliens to figure out where Valerian went. She has to go to the underwater section with Bob the Pirate (Alain Chabat) to catch a jellyfish that she then has to put over her head to see where he went. She finds Valerian and helps him but is captured by another group of species that have their own area that is restricted. Valerian goes to help her but is distracted by Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) and Bubble (Rihanna), a shape-shifting alien. Valerian wears Bubble to morph disguise at the primitive alien and save Laureline from having her brains eaten. The group escapes into the sewer but Bubble is tragically killed.

The two agents make their way through the forbidden zone to a strange colorful doorway. Valerian knows the way because he has had the essence of a princess inside of him. They encounter Emperor Haman-Limaï (Elizabeth Debicki) who explains their history and why they need the converter. Commander Flitt was responsible for destroying their planet in a war and orders robots to kill anyone trying to stop them. Valerian does most of the fighting at the end and it gets pretty boring, so much so, that I almost fell asleep. The action is alright but the ending is pretty disappointing and way too predictable. 

Luc Besson has proven that he can make a wild sci-fi that I enjoy and Valerian starts with a ton of potential. While it keeps its crazy visuals throughout, it falters with the story at the end and drags. Dehaan and Delevingne seem to lose interest and their chemistry is most awkward and not an even partnership that might have been more welcome in such a progressive movie. The film certainly has its cool parts and is interesting enough but does require a theater viewing and doesn't benefit that much from a 3-D presentation. I wanted to like this film as Besson is responsible for one of my favorite sci-fi films ever but in the end, it felt disappointing. 

Movie Review: The Fifth Element

Luc Besson created a wild futuristic universe two decades ago that was fun with a solid good vs. evil story. When a hidden weapon is found amidst the pyramids before the start of the World Wars, an alien race flies down to retrieve it and starts an order of priesthoods that would pass the knowledge down of a holy weapon to fight evil. In the very colorful future, Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) drives a taxi having given up his life as a fighter pilot. Absolute evil takes the form of a growing black ball that destroys military spaceships. As the priest, Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) awaits of the fifth element with President Lindberg (Tommy Lister), Jean-Baptist Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman)  sends shape-shifting aliens called Mangalores to shoot down the ship and retrieve the four elemental stones. The only survivor of the crash is recreated in a Neurolab into Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) and she breaks out. Her escape sends her crashing down into Corbin's taxi that leads to a wild flying car chase that holds well with special effects these twenty years later.

Zorg is angry when he finds the case empty without any stones and tricks the aliens into blowing themselves up with some crazy rifle. Corbin brings Leeloo to Cornelius who helps decipher Leeloo's language that the stones are hidden with an opera singer on a paradise cruise off the planet. Zorg summons Cornelius to find out where the stones are but his bargaining does not go as planned. The evil blob calls Zorg ordering him to find the stones. Corbin finds out he is fired as he finds out he is being recruited for a mission to go to Fhloston Paradise. Unfortunately, Cornelius and Leeloo show up and then the police. The police capture his neighbor but the aliens steal the captive neighbor. Cornelius knocks Corbin over the head stealing the cruise ticket. Corbin accepts the mission and meets David (Charlie Creed-Miles) and Leeloo there, getting aboard.

On the ship, the eccentric radio host Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) detains Dallas and forces him to interact with his audience. Cornelius follows Corbin on the ship as Leeloo learns English from the internet. Leeloo hopes to meet the Diva Plavalaguna (Maïwenn) and receive the stones after her opera performance. Ruby continues to urge Corbin to speak to his audience though the taxi driver is uncooperative. During the performance, Leeloo takes out some of the Mangalores while others attack the opera shooting the Diva. Corbin finds the stones within the Diva as Zorg attacks Leeloo in the Diva's suite. Corbin fights the Mangalores shooting and blowing them up in spectacular fashion while Ruby screams alongside him. Zorg sets a bomb to blow the ship up but has to return when he finds the box he took doesn't have the stones again.

Leeloo is disturbed by the violence she sees but Corbin helps her escape the ship with Cornelius and Ruby. They fly to the pyramids where David is waiting for them. They line the stones up but aren't sure what to do when David discovers that adding the element that each stone represents, fire, water, wind, and earth, activates the stone. Leeloo still has to be convinced that life is worth saving to fight against evil and Corbin professes his love to her. She ignites and destroys the ball of evil right before it impacts the planet, making a new moon. Corbin and Leeloo are free to love each other in the Neurolab pod as the world is saved.

The Fifth Element captured my imagination when I first saw it and was one of my favorite movies ever. Bruce Willis has always been a fun actor that does great action with witty one-liners. Milla Jovovich is great as Leeloo delivering humor and her unique sci-fi edge. Gary Oldman is extraordinary and nearly unrecognizable as the villain Zorg. Besson made a fun film full of wonder, excitement, and action that I can watch multiple times and still enjoy. I am glad I had a reason to review this film again on my blog as it was a film that I have enjoyed for twenty years and holds up well. When I was young, I like it so much, I even read the novelization where Zorg survives. The Fifth Element is a great film and I hope Besson continues to make more science fiction. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan depicts the great effort to evacuate British soldiers during the early part of World War II in his latest film. With Dunkirk surrounded, the soldiers try to flee on battleships but planes continue to drop bombs and sink them. The story plays out in three parts and three timelines, the first story "The Mole" plays out over a week on the beach, the second "The Sea" in one day, and "The Air" in one hour. The soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) tries to escape the beach any way he can from carrying the sick to hiding in an abandoned craft. He teams up with a silent soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) to carry a wounded man aboard a destroyer but then they are both ordered off the ship so hide below the dock. They hear Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy) discuss the situation on the beach. On a dock back in England, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) see the Royal Navy commandeering boats so they decide to set sail themselves to help the truth bringing along young George (Barry Keoghan).

In the air, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) fly towards the beach. Their greatest worry beyond the enemy planes is fuel, especially when Farrier's gauge breaks. The two pilots take down enemy planes with stunning scenes of air battle, probably the best part about watching the film in theaters. Back on the beach, Timothy and Gibson escape a sinking ship and help soldiers out of the water. They venture to another ship where they allowed on board and given tea and toast. Gibson does not go below deck but Timothy goes with Alex (Harry Styles) to eat the food. When a torpedo hits that ship, the men scramble to swim above the surface and Gibson saves their lives by opening the door so they can swim out. Mr. Dawson picks up a soldier (Cillian Murphy) shivering on a sunken U-Boat. The soldier desperately wants to not go back to the beach at Dunkirk having seen what happened.

The film keeps up a sense of tension almost entirely through these scenes of soldiers defying death with a powerful soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Collins's plane is hit and he pilots it into the water as Farrier continues on to provide protection for the British Destroyers. As the men on the beach watch the bodies float in with the tide, they seek a new way off the beach and find a trawler that is stuck on the shore. As they wait for the tide to come in, they must risk the fire from the enemy and Alex's accusals of Gibson as a German spy. As bullet holes fill the hull, the water rushes in but any soldier that tries to plug it gets shot. The soldier aboard Mr. Dawson's boat grows angry as their course stays set towards Dunkirk. He fights Mr. Dawson for the wheel but knocks George below deck. George hits his head and goes blind as Peter tries to help him. 

Collins is unable to open his cockpit to get out of his sinking plane and the water steadily rises. Mr. Dawson has seen the plane go down and heads towards it, suspecting that the pilot may still be alive. Timothy and the other soldiers find themselves floating on a sinking ship and abandon it only to swim towards a destroyer that is hit by bombs. Farrier takes down another plane but his fuel reserves finally give out, sending him coasting through the air. The sea water is covered in oil as Mr. Dawson and Peter load men aboard their ship, trying to fit as many as possible. Timothy dives underwater to try and flee the fire. All three stories converge as Peter rescues Timothy from the water and Farrier manages one last turn to take out a German bomber. The film ends with the empowering words of Winston Churchill about never surrendering.

Dunkirk offers a look at the massive scale of the military evacuation during the advance of German troops, a possible turning point in World War II. From the great shots of the soldiers lined up on the beach to the sinking destroyers and the swooping planes, Christopher Nolan makes a film that is grand in size and epic despite the very close nature of the story. While only depicting one event and for one part only an hour, a sense of the war can be taken that is both horrifying and inspiring. The will to survive is strong in humans and when all the odds are against them, they will still struggle to find a way and even help each other during a sense of great danger. I enjoyed the film and appreciate Nolan's filmmaking with all of the great topics he takes on.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Review: Interstellar

Christopher Nolan takes on space travel in a scientific thriller. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a scientist and former pilot haunted by his past accidents. He lives with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and his grandfather Donald (John Lithgow). Murph is convinced that a ghost is in her room but Cooper tells her to use the scientific method. Crops are dying and people are assigned to their careers as resources are being consolidated. When Cooper finds a signal coming from Murph's room, Murph deciphers a binary code from the bookshelf. He follows the coordinates to a military base when he learns about a mission to space. The NASA scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) takes Cooper to a meeting with her father (Michael Caine) and others including a robot.

The mission hopes to search for a new habitable world and they invite Cooper to come along with his engineering and piloting skills. Despite a message from the bookshelf to stay, Cooper goes on the mission rocketing into space with Brand, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi). Their search for habitable planets takes them through a black hole to a solar system with three potential planets. The biggest complication is gravity and relativity cause for a huge time jump that will change every hour into seven years back on Earth. The first planet is a water planet that has giant tidal waves heading towards their spaceship. Doyle is wiped out by the wave but Brand is saved by the robot. They are stuck on the planet for longer than they had hoped because the engines are waterlogged.

They are following a message from interdimensional beings that can treat time as another dimension. They make it off the planet to find Romilly having waited for twenty-three years. Cooper listens to the messages watching Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) grow up. They debate which of the two planets to try next but Cooper votes to against what Brand wants because she loves a scientist on one of the planets. They head to the planet where Mann (Matt Damon) has survived by putting himself in hibernation. The world is cold and harsh. The situation on Earth has grown dire with dust clouds and humans steadily going sick. When Professor Brand dies, it is revealed that he never hoped to save humans on Earth. Getty (Topher Grace) works with Murph to help Tom's family but they are sick. Tom fight with Getty when he claims they have to leave the farm.

Mann tries to kill Cooper because he faked the data and doesn't want to be alone. He wanted to be saved so the two men fight in their spaceships on an icy mountain of the frozen planet. Cooper's mask cracks but Brand flies out to save him. Romilly discovers that the data is wrong but the habitat explodes. Mann steals a craft and heads up to the spaceship but blows the airlock. Cooper and Rand have to match the spin of the out of control ship to board. Their new plan is for Cooper to fly towards the black hole to send a message back to the humans on Earth while Brand checks out the other planet. Somehow the black hole transports Cooper back in time to allow him to communicate with Murph through the bookshelf because gravity can cross the dimensions through time. This part always felt a bit odd and a strange solution to an interesting movie. Cooper survives and wakes up on a space station with a thriving human society. Murph (Ellen Burstyn) arrives at the space station to see her father again. Brand has also started a colony on the third planet in the system. There is plenty of hope for the future at the end.

Interstellar was a bit of a disappoint for me when I first saw it. I liked the science and the depiction of relativity but plenty of parts seemed boring and the ending was a bit ridiculous. McConaughey and Hathaway were good with Christopher Nolan's directing showing his same skill but a confusing story hurts many parts of this film. The pace plods along but then there are intense scenes that are fun but are also hurt from Nolan's difficulty with filming action scenes. The movie was better on the second viewing and I understand why people enjoyed it so much. I've had fun revisiting the great director's work progressing from a simple black and white film to an epic space journey and look forward to seeing his latest in theaters tomorrow. 

Movie Review: Inception

Christopher Nolan headed to the dream world for his next project after the box office smash success of The Dark Knight. Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a thief of ideas using an advanced technology to journey into the minds of wealthy individuals while they dream. With his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), they try to steal business secrets from Saito (Ken Watanabe), but another thief gives them up. Cobb has trouble building dream worlds because the memory of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) still haunts him. Saito offers him a chance to return to the United States if he pulls off a complicated job called inception, planting an idea in someone's mind. He heads to Paris where his father Miles (Michael Caine) helps him recruit a new student Ariadne (Ellen Page) to help him build dreams. In a spectacular sequence, Ariadne explores the physics of the dream world but is attacked by Mal as a part of Cobb's self-conscious. The dream explorers need a totem, an object that only they know so that they can assure themselves that they are in reality and not in someone else's dream.

Cobb recruits Eames (Tom Hardy) to help him forge identities. Cobb is pursued by another corporation known as Cobol that nearly captures him until Saito helps him escape. Eames introduces Cobb and Saito to Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who has mixed a powerful sedative that can keep people in dreaming sleep for extended periods of time. The job requires Cobb and his group to trick Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his company and prevent it from being a competitor to Saito. They develop the plan like a heist explaining how they'll drop down into three levels of dreams causing a massive difference in time and moving into the depths of the subconscious. Saito buys the airline the Robert will take and the plan is set though Ariadne worries about Cobb's ability to keep it together in the dream world. 

In the dream, the group captures Robert but Cobb's memories cause a train to smash through a busy street of traffic and Robert's conscious is militarized to attack intruders. Saito is shot but if he dies in the dream world, they'll fall into Limbo, a place where they'll lose their minds in infinity. Eames disguises himself as Robert's employee Browning (Tom Berenger) to figure out a special combination. Cobb reveals his past with Mal to Ariadne while explaining how people can survive in Limbo. The subconscious attacks again and during a car chase, the group drops down to the next level leaving Yusuf to drive. In the second layer, Cobb approaches Fischer in an attempt to turn him against his own subconscious and Browning. Gravity shifts during the car chase as the van flips making for a cool action scene in the hotel as the subconscious agents attack Arthur and he fights them across the floor, walls, and ceiling.  

The third layer is a snowy mountain top complex protected by subconscious agents on snowmobiles. Saito and Fischer make their way to a safe but Saito is still injured from his bullet wound from two layers ago. Mal intervenes and shoots Fischer, sending him down into Limbo. Eames and Cobb about to give up when Ariadne claims they can go down and save him. They need a kick, a sense of falling, to wake them and each layer is prepared. As the van falls in the first layer, Arthur prepares a kick with an elevator in the second and Eames holds off the white clad subconscious soldiers in the third. Ariadne and Cobb venture into Cobb's old world full of crumbling buildings. Mal tries to convince Cobb to stay as he confesses to Ariadne how he planted the idea in Mal's mind that her world wasn't real, his first experience with inception. As the team rides the kick back up the layers, Cobb stays behind to find Saito who is an old man. Encountering Cobb causes Saito to remember and they all wake up. Saito makes a call allowing Cobb to enter the United States. He is reunited with his family and the final shot shows the top still spinning.

Inception is a wild movie, one that is not easily understood on the first viewing. It has a lot of exposition that slows down the pace somewhat but is mixed in with several creative action scenes. Christopher Nolan does not always film the action in the most comprehensible manner but the benefits of a crazy story propel the movie forward. A mix of solid blockbuster acting combines with stunning set pieces to engage viewers in the dream world and all the potential of this advanced technology. It was one of my favorite films at the time and is still very fun to revisit on occasion.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: The Prestige

After the success of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan took on magicians for his fourth original film. Two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) compete for the greatest illusion. The stage manager Cutter (Michael Caine) accuses Alfred of attempting to steal Angier's trick but murdering him instead and sends him to jail in the furthest forward storyline. The film operates on multiple storylines, one that follows Robert searching for the great inventor Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis) in Colorado, and another storyline that tells the history of Angier and Borden as young magicians. These stories come from diaries that the men read of each other. Alfred meets Sarah (Rebecca Hall) at a magic show and falls for her quickly.  

In the past, Borden tries a special knot that ends up killing Julia (Piper Perabo), Angier's lover. As Borden starts a solo career, Angier confronts him during a bullet catch trick and shoots his finger off. Having had his revenge, Angier reignites his career with a new name as the Great Danton and a new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson). With the help of Cutter, he performs new tricks with special gadgets but Borden shows up to bust the birdcage and injure a participant. Desperate for a new trick and out of a show, Angier meets with Alley and finally is allowed to meet with Tesla in his hideout. This story parallels the real rivalry between Tesla and Edison over the conducting of electricity. 

Angier is more of a showman but Borden has a trick that astounds Robert so much that Angier seeks out a body double. His new trick copies Borden but results in him missing the ovation. He is so upset that he asks Olivia to work for Borden, even though they have formed a relationship. Olivia betrays Angier for Borden which allows Alfred to one-up Robert and injure him at the Great Danton's show. Angier obsesses over how to steal Borden's trick but can't decipher his diary. Angier captures Borden's partner Fallon and buries him to force the answer. Borden leads Angier to Tesla. Cutter feels too old and after being shot during the kidnapping, cannot continue working with Angier. 

Borden's erratic behavior and relentless coveting of secrets wear on his wife Sarah. Angier discovers that Tesla can duplicate objects, including hats and black cats. Tesla is run off by Edison but leaves behind a box that allows Angier to duplicate himself. Both men leave the final passage addressed to the other, taunting each other, even though Angier should be dead. Distressed by Borden's changes, Sarah commits suicide, hanging herself in Borden's lab. Angier finds funding by stunning an investor with his newest trick. Borden desperately seeks the solution to the trick. The film catches up the storylines joining them together where the film began with Borden watching Angier die. Borden is sentenced to death and Angier shows up at the prison to taunt him. Cutter confronts Angier about his lies and the conviction of Borden. As Angier disposes of the Tesla tool and stands amongst his dead clones, Borden reveals that he was also Fallon switching back and forth and shoots Angier. 

Christopher Nolan tells a great story in this film with a twist that caught me totally off guard the first time I saw it. The story mixes fantasy with a real trick that is all the more stunning for pulling it off right before the viewers' eyes. The movie is fun to watch a second time because one can see all the clever storytelling tricks used throughout the scenes and understand more of the plot developments as they happen. Bale and Jackman play well off of each other assisted well by Johansson, Caine, and Hall. As far as twist endings go, it is one of Nolan's best and worth the watch. 

Movie Review: Insomnia

Christopher Nolan takes on a noir detective story with a unique location. Detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) arrives in Alaska, tired but ready to work. He and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are greeted by local policewoman Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). The Los Angeles detectives are investigating the murder of a young high school girl Kay Connell (Crystal Low) but Dormer is disoriented by the daylight in the middle of the night. They stay at a hotel run by Rachel Clement (Maura Tierney). Hap is being investigated by Internal Affairs and is thinking of confessing which would incriminate Will. The next morning on little sleep, Will and Hap head to the high school to interrogate Kay's boyfriend Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) who is uncooperative during the questioning. He does admit that Kay was seeing someone else but he doesn't know who it is. 

Will treats Ellie as a protege schooling her on the procedure and the little things of an investigation. When Kay's bookbag is found in a cabin, it provides clues and a trap for Will to devise. Dormer continues to threat over the IA investigation, doubting his own tactics. When the amateur Alaskan police botch the stakeout alerting the suspect, a foot chase ensues through the cabin and fog. A policeman is shot but Will Dormer pursues the suspect across slick rocks and fires into the mist possibly shooting and killing his partner Hap. Overcome with grief, Will is unable to sleep and keeps reflecting back on his previous shortcuts he took to nab awful criminals. He works to cover up the possibility that he shot his partner as he becomes increasingly dazed. Noises disturb him and he hallucinates his partner giving him accusatory looks. The killer calls him up on the phone and reveals that he knows of Will's guilt in killing his partner. Ellie suspects that something isn't quite right with Will's account of his partner's shooting. Will confront Tanya Francke (Katharine Isabelle) taking her to the dump where Kay's body was dumped after spooking her by playing chicken with a truck. Tanya mentions Kay's secret lover who promised the young victim all sorts of things. The killer calls him again at the station taunting him about what he knows and Will offers to meet him. He deciphers the clues and heads to the house of Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a mystery novel author.

Will chases Walter, pursuing him across floating logs but Will trips and slips under the logs, scrambling to surface and catch a breath. Walter escapes and arranges a meeting with Will when Will returns to Walter's house. Ellie also discovers the trail of the mysterious author with whom Kay was infatuated. Will meets Walter on a ferry and bargains with him to stay silent about his partner to help him avoid the investigation. Walter records the whole conversation as something to hold over Will. In a phone call, Walter confesses to the murder and Will grills him hard in the interrogation but Walter gives the local police enough to search Randy's house. Will hurries to Randy's house to search for the murder weapon before the police can find it because he doesn't want Watler to get away but can't find it.

The police find the gun and arrest Randy. Exhausted from six nights of no sleep, Will confronts Walter again, destroying his recording of the conversation on the ferry. Walter knows Will can't turn him in or risk advancing the investigation by Internal Affairs. Ellie investigates the shooting of Detective Eckhart finding a bullet from Dormer's backup weapon. Will confesses his crime to Rachel and asks her what she would. He decides to take down Walter, driving out to Walter's lake house just as Ellie heads there too. Will can barely drive he's so tired and Walter hits Ellie over the head when she comes in his house. Will breaks in to help Ellie, and they start a shootout with Walter. Eventually, Will is shot but kills Walter in the process. Ellie attempts to destroy the evidence but Will stops her not wanting her to take the same path he did. 

Insomnia is a great film and shows how Christopher Nolan can just tell a simple, yet exciting, story. Al Pacino does a great job slowly losing his mind from lack of sleep. Robin Williams is menacing turning from comedy to thriller in a brilliant performance. Hilary Swank holds her own amongst these veterans and helps tie the mystery together. For a detective thriller, I think this is one of my favorite. Christopher Nolan also adds another dimension making the viewer feel the effect of not sleeping. I actually saw this film earlier this year but had no problem sitting through it again. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Memento

Christopher Nolan made an excellent film for his second time out with a bigger budget and wild story. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has short term memory loss so the entire story plays out backward. Leonard kills Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) because he believes he is the one from instructions written on the back of a photograph. He uses tattoos to help him understand what he needs to remember and the message scrawled permanently on his body leads him to a man named John G. who raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox). Revenge is his primary motivation and he uses facts and clues to fuel his constant investigation. 

He meets up with Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) who leads him back to Teddy, whose real name is John Gammell. He tells everyone about his condition that he meets including the hotel manager Burt (Mark Boone Junior) who profits off his condition by renting him a second room. Leonard has been drawn into something dangerous by Natalie as he is attacked by a man named Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie) who he beats up and requests Teddy help him scare off. He is accustomed to waking up in hotel rooms but is never sure where he actually lives. He believes he can use logic and facts to keep his world in order and live a better life. 

In between each of the color scenes are black and white scenes where Leonard explains his illness. In the black and white part, he tells the story of Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a man that suffered the same fate as him. he was an insurance investigator who looks into Sammy's condition as his first claims case. He doesn't believe Sammy's condition is real. He makes Sammy take tests for his memory, which are troubling to the poor man. Leonard concludes that Sammy's problem is psychological, not mental. Mrs. Jankis (Harriet Sansom Harris) is devastated by Leonard's decision and the rising medical bills. 

He is haunted by the memory of his wife, even hiring a hooker to pretend to be her so he can wake up thinking she is still alive. The night of the murder becomes clear even as he burns her things to stop obsessing. Teddy warns Leonard that his investigation is out of control and that Natalie is using him but he doesn't listen because of a note on a photograph. Natalie is in trouble with Dodd because Jimmy (Larry Holden) went missing and she also says horrible things knowing Leonard won't remember. She does other nasty things, taking advantage of his lack of memory. In the black and white scenes, Mrs. Jankis has Sammy kill her by telling him that she needs insulin shots over and over.  Teddy keeps trying to convince Leonard to leave town. The black and white story catches up to the current as Teddy is revealed to be the man Leonard was talking to on the phone. 

The story collides when Teddy reveals Leonard has been making this all up. He was actually Sammy and killed his wife. He's been killing different men named John G. at Teddy's behest. Leonard does not accept the truth, burning the evidence and setting up his path to kill Teddy. Christopher Nolan continues to excel at telling stories out of order yet comprehensible and with tons of shocking twists. The backwards storytelling works great as each bit of past information allows the mystery to unfold in reverse and information to make sense as the movie goes forward. This movie is one of my favorites and I still enjoy watching it every so often. 

Movie Review: Following

Christopher Nolan's first feature film is filmed in black and white and has an interesting premise, a man follows random strangers to learn about their lives. The young man "Bill" (Jeremy Theobald) confesses his strange hobby to a listener as he lays out different encounters he has following people. His person is to accumulate stories to write about. He makes up rules so as not to get caught following others but when he does follow another man Cobb (Alex Haw), the man confronts him. Cobb takes him on his daily life breaking and entering people's houses just to violate their stuff and learn about them. Bill feels guilty and will often return to interact with the individuals whose house he has entered.

The film's story plays out of order and a viewer can identify which time period it is by the changing appearance of the main character. He is battered and bruised in some scenes and in others, he has long hair and shabby or is well-dressed and clean cut. In the storyline that follows him battered, he is planning a robbery of a bar. In the middle storyline, he woos a blonde woman (Lucy Russell) who he had previously robbed. She has a relationship with an abusive guy who beats up men who owe him money. She is afraid of this man, but she still goes with the main character on a date to a coffee shop and invites back to her place, where he had previously snooped.

The main character breaks into the bar that is owned by the blonde's abusive boyfriend and uses a combination he has written down to open the safe. In the past, Cobb and Bill eat at a restaurant but encounter a woman who caught them in the middle of a burglary. Bill panics and leaves so Cobb advises him to change his appearance. It turns out that Cobb knows the blonde and set him up to pretend to steal her stuff. Bill's heist in the future timeline turns deadly as a man catches him in the act of robbing the safe and Bill uses a hammer to smash his head. It shows how Bill learned the combination of the safe from the Blonde to help her get photos back and Cobb beats him up when Bill tells him that he is involved with the woman they robbed.

Cobb and the blonde conspire to trick Bill who goes ahead with robbing the safe and has to tape it to his body when he doesn't have a bag or anything to carry it. The pictures turn out to be a ruse by the blonde and Bill returns to her angry. She explains that she and Cobb setup him to take the blame for a case that Cobbs was being investigated for. Bill goes to confess to the investigator (John Nolan), which is how the story began. Cobb kills the woman and leaves the hammer so that Bill takes the blame. 

Following shows the potential of Christopher Nolan and his ability to tell a story out of order with a surprising twist ending. The film moves along briskly and isn't too long. It sets up an interesting premise and delivers with a story that keeps on delivering as each piece of new information is given.  Christopher Nolan had more opportunities after this film and has grown his career to tremendous heights, bringing his latest film to the theaters this weekend. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

The final film in the trilogy that serves as a prequel to the sci-fi classic delivers a bleak story that explains how the furry creatures inherited the planet. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads the apes as they are attacked by a battalion of humans. They manage to fight off the humans but Caesar spares a few to return a message to the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar does not want a war but is haunted by the legacy of Koba. When an ape betrays them and reveals the location, the Colonel kills Caesar's wife and son. The apes leave their home and set out for the desert but Caesar decides to turn back and hunt down the Colonel. Refusing to leave his side are Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) a gorilla, Rocket (Terry Notary) another chimp, and Maurice (Karin Konoval) an orangutan. The crew set out finding a deserter and killing him. Inside his house is Nova (Amiah Miller), a mute girl affected by a strange disease.

Maurice insists on taking the girl with them and the apes find the humans military camp. The Colonel has already moved on so Caesar and his group follow along towards a military base. Along the way, they encounter Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a survivor of another group of apes that was wiped out by the humans. Bad Ape is a great source humor throughout the film that needs the lightheartedness when dealing with such a dire situation. The apes make it to the military base where they find apes imprisoned including Caesar's group. Luca is killed in a fight with the sentries. Caesar moves down there but is captured by the Red Donkey (Ty Olsson), a traitorous gorilla. 

Caesar stays imprisoned for a significant part of the film which slowed down the pace quite a bit for me. The Colonel has a monologue where he explains the mysterious disease that renders humans imbecilic and silent and how he went over the edge of sanity by killing his son now believing in a holy war. Other humans are coming towards the base to fight the Colonel's men but these humans also hate the apes. He and his right-hand man Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria) torture Caesar and the other apes as they work to build a wall. Caesar inspires resistance but after the Colonel shows his ruthlessness, they cease disobeying.

Meanwhile, Maurice, Bad Ape, and Rocket find a tunnel beneath the base where sick humans escaped the wrath of the Colonel. Nova walks into the base undetected and gives Caesar water and food to help him survive a rough night, and she somehow evades detection causing Rocket to give himself up. The plot speeds up a little as the apes organize an escape but the Colonel becomes infected with the disease from Nova's doll. The other human army launches an all-out assault on the military base just as the apes escape. Caesar allows the Colonel to kill himself then blows up the base with the help of Red Donkey who decides to work with his species. Caesar is injured by Preacher but blows up the base and escapes through the tunnel. 

The other army is about to attack Caesar but an avalanche wipes them out. The apes flee up into the trees and survive the rushing snow. They make their way across the desert to a lake. Caesar sees his apes are settled but is lethally wounded. He dies peacefully and happy. The trilogy really tells Caesar's amazing journey from a young ape being experimented on to a revolutionary leader starting a new society that will one day rule the planet. It was an amazing way to reboot the series and tell a new tale helped along by the awesome motion capture technology and a brilliant performance from Andy Serkis. The second film in the trilogy is still my favorite as I would have like to have seen more ape action in this one and less imprisonment and dreariness as Matt Reeves chose to play dramatic music over some of the most stunning scenes. I will enjoy revisiting these films one day but I think this should be the end. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The sequel to the reboot prequel uses the amazing motion capture technology to bring a darker backstory to the original classic. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a society of apes that hunt and live in the redwood forests. During a hunt, a bear attacks Caesar's son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and Caesar nearly dies fighting it but Koba (Toby Kebbell) saves him. When humans stumble upon the apes' home, Caesar speaks, telling them to go. He sends Koba after them to follow. The group of humans is led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who returns to the human settlement in San Francisco to tell the leader of the human society Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) about the apes. Carver (Kirk Acevedo) shot one of the apes and fears what the apes can do. Ellie (Keri Russell) used to research the disease that wiped out most of humanity at the CDC but sees no signs of any further contagion. Malcolm's son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) left behind a sketch book allowing the apes to see the extent of the society. Koba, recalling the ill treatment in the labs, believes they should attack the humans but Caesar cautions against war.

Caesar leads a show of force to the gates of the human society and tells them that he does not want a war. Dreyfus is ready to go to war but Malcolm pleads with him to let him go up there and reason with Caesar. He has to take Carver along since he knows the how the power works at the dam. At the apes' fortress, Malcolm is brought to Caesar. Despite Koba's doubts, Caesar lets Malcolm show the dam to the apes. Dreyfus sends men to the armory and Koba sneaks into it though he is caught by a soldier. The men are caught off guard when Koba plays stupid. Caesar has a family to worry about as well and does not want to sacrifice apes in a needless war. He allows Malcolm and the other humans to work on the dam. The apes save the humans lives when an accident leaves some of them trapped in a tunnel but a tense altercation with a baby chimp, Blue Eyes, and Carver shows that trust is still difficult between the species.

The humans exile Carver but manage to bargain to stay because Ellie can help Caesar's wife who is sick. Koba returns to warn Caesar and is angry that Caesar is still working with the humans. Caesar beats Koba but stops himself from killing another ape. Koba returns to the armory and kills the soldiers there. The humans get the power to work, but Koba advances his path of destruction including Blue Eyes in his scheme as he shoots Caesar and blames the humans. As the human society celebrates the return of power, the apes launch an attack raiding the armory and killing or imprisoning humans. The apes overrun the society as the soldiers send out a radio signal for help. Malcolm, Ellie, and Alexander find Caesar, injured, but still alive. Koba's leadership proves especially vicious when he kills an ape who disagrees with him. 

Blue Eyes starts to see the chaos caused by Koba and does not like other apes being imprisoned. Malcolm and Ellie take Caesar back to his old home with Alexander so that the ape can recover. Blue Eyes runs into Malcolm who was searching for a way back to the human city. Malcolm brings Blue Eyes back to his father and tells him about Koba's misdeeds. Caesar reflects on his past with Will as he recovers from his injuries. After two days, Malcolm heads out finding Dreyfus holed up beneath the building where the apes have taken over ready to blow the place up. Caesar climbs to the top of the building to confront Koba. As the human soldiers continued to reach out for help by radio, Malcolm intervenes in their plan to blow up the foundation by taking their guns. Caesar and Koba fight amongst the scaffolding and cranes. Dreyfus snatches the explosive, telling Malcolm that they have contacted a military base. He blows himself up taking down the building as Malcolm jumps to safety. Koba takes advantage of the destruction to grab a gun. Caesar throws himself at Koba knocking him down so that he's hanging on a ledge. Koba tries to appeal to Caesar's kind heart but Caesar sees the destruction Koba has wrought and drops him down the building. The apes prepare for war in the final scenes as it sets up a sequel.

Boasting an impressive cast, stellar special effects, and a solid story, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great movie. Director Matt Reeves does a great job humanizing the apes and displaying spectacles of the apes swinging through trees or building. Andy Serkis once again does a masterful job with the motion capture. This movie turns up the action several notches with a drawn out battle during nearly the entire second half of the film and the major conflict between two apes. I was excited to see the ending leading to something bigger when I first saw this film in theaters and now look forward to seeing the conclusion of this amazing trilogy.

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Using awe-inspiring motion capture technology, this reboot takes a fresh new look at the franchise and creates a remarkable start to a trilogy. Chimps are captured in the jungle and brought to a research facility where Will Rodman (James Franco) researches Alzheimer's. Due to an incompetent worker Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine), a chimp, named Bright Eyes due to the green eyes that are a symptom of the heightened intelligence, escapes and is brutally killed scaring off investors before human trials. Franklin and Will discover a baby chimp in Bright Eye's cage. Franklin convinces Will to take the ape so he doesn't have to put it down. Will returns home where he cares for his father Charles (John Lithgow) who suffers from Alzheimer's and names the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis). The baby already exhibits advanced intelligence and grows smarter over the next three years. Charles's condition worsens during the same three years until Will brings home a sample of the drug. 

Charles almost immediately recovers as Caesar finds himself in trouble with the neighbors. Caesar is injured so Will takes him to a vet at the zoo, Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Together they take Caesar to the redwood forest across the Golden Gate Bridge. Caesar grows even smarter and stronger over the next five years but is distressed when he sees a dog on a leash like him. Will sees Caesar's intelligence increase exponentially but the effects of the medicine wear off on his father. Caesar fights the neighbor again when Charles, in an attack of dementia, tries to drive the neighbor's car. Caesar is forced to go to an animal shelter run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his ruthless son Dodge (Tom Felton). Caesar reacts poorly to being in captivity and the harsh treatment from Dodge.

Will informs the company head Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) that the drug worked but is having a regressive effect now. Excited, Jacobs gives Will more resources for his research. Will tests the enhanced drug on Koba (Christopher Gordon) but during a test Franklin is exposed to the drug and cover up his bad symptoms like coughing blood. Caesar does not get along with the other apes in the pens but manages to establish dominance with the help from a gorilla named Buck (Richard Ridings). Charles passes away from his disease but Jacobs moves forward with the tests. Franklin tries to warn Will but ends up sneezing on Will's neighbor who is a pilot, spreading the disease. Caesar becomes the leader of the apes and sneaks out to obtain an aerosol version of the new drug. He infects the other apes who show the symptom of green eyes. 

There is a brief allusion to the space flight Icarus that contains the pilots from the original film. Franklin is found dead in his apartment. Caesar tricks Dodge into the main pen to fight him and speaks for the first time. He leads the apes in a rebellion and Dodge attacks Caesar with an electric rod but gets hit with a hose, becoming Caesar's first victim. The apes escape out of the pens and head into the city. They charge back into the research center and free the apes that were being experimented on. In an exciting sequence, the smart apes take over the city of San Francisco leading to a confrontation on the Golden Gate Bridge. The humans turn violent shooting the apes from a helicopter but the apes manage to take them down. Jacobs dies in the helicopter when Buck the gorilla takes it down, sacrificing himself for Caesar. Will confront Caesar one last time in the redwood forest and lets him go. The credits show the spread of a virus across the world.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an interesting way to reboot the series from director Rupert Wyatt. The film lays the groundwork for how apes evolved while still having plenty of exciting scenes and one especially cool scene at the end. It does feel like a prequel in a lot of ways and I always felt like there was a lot more potential there, which has been fulfilled at this point. The movie boasts impressive action but nothing compares to the motion capture performance by Andy Serkis. The new trilogy begins here and plants the seeds for a movie nearly fifty years old. 

Movie Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Director Tim Burton remade the science fiction classic but came up short on quality and story. Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) works with chimpanzees teaching them space flight aboard a space station. When they come close to a space storm, they send out the chimp Pericles but he flies off course. Davidson flies out after it, disobeying orders, and is warped further out in space and time. He crash lands in a swamp and abandons his ship as it sinks beneath the water. He quickly encounters other humans who are fleeing an attack by apes. The humanoid chimps and gorillas have amazing jumping abilities and easily catch the humans, throwing them in carts. Leo is shocked to find out that the apes can speak. Using humans as cattle, Leo and the other captives a brought back into the ape city, full of all sorts of astonishing sights. 

The apes do not treat the humans with respect though Ari (Helen Bonham Carter) scolds the child apes that throw stones at them. The trader orangutan Limbo (Paul Giamatti) purchases the humans and stores them in prisons. The leader Thade (Tim Roth) inspects them with his right-hand man Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), looking to purchase one for his daughter. As Limbo brands the humans like Daena (Estella Warren), Ari interferes on their behalf and purchase Leo, bringing him home. The apes debate possessing humans at dinner and Thade visits Ari after professing his love, though she spurns him. Leo escapes with Daena who makes him help her father Karubi (Kris Kristofferson) and family. The humans can all talk and Leo organizes an escape with them and Ari, though Karubi sacrifices himself.

Leo returns to the crash site and retrieves a bag with a blaster pistol and messenger. He tracks a homing beacon to find his spaceship. Limbo attacks the group but Leo demonstrates the power of his laser. Thade works to cover up the existence of Leo's spaceship and learns of the humans' destructive power from his dying father. Leo and the group head into the forbidden lands, marked by scarecrows. The apes send out a battalion after them led by Attar. The group rides through the battalion's camp and Leo has to save Ari's life. The group heads towards a forbidden holy site known as Calima. The apes worship a founding ape named Semos. Leo finds the site is actually his crashed ship. The ship is powered by a nuclear power source that lasts the thousands of years it has been there. 

Leo learns from the ship log that the apes they were experimenting with were the source of this new species of advanced ape. Other humans from the villages arrive at the downed ship, setting up a human camp. Ari returns to the ape battalion's camp and pretends to ask Thade for forgiveness but he brands her and sends her back. There is a large battle for the finale as the ape army attacks the humans. Leo blows up a fuel cell killing the first charge of apes. The humans flood in to fight but the large ape army overpowers them. As the battle seems lost for the humans, Pericles's ship flies down. The apes kneel believing this is Semos, but Thade attacks Leo knocking him into the bowel of the ship. Leo tries to shoot him but Thade dodges and steals the blaster. He tries to kill Leo but Leo locks him in the control room behind strong glass. Attar and the other warrior apes announce a new peace with the humans. Leo takes Pericles's ship back to Earth where he discovers world run by apes.  

Planet of the Apes was already a classic and this additional film added nothing to the story besides some updated special effects. The makeup is still extraodrinary and Tim Roth's performance as Thade is worth a watch. Wahlberg is awful as a scientist pretending to know a lot of stuff and brings down the main role. The story ends on a bizarre cliffhanger and didn't inspire enough fan appreciation to spark a sequel furthering the story. The movie has its moments to enjoy but this is far from the stunning masterpiece of the original.

Movie Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

This sci-fi film began a massive franchise that spawned a new look at evolution and provided an awesome twist. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is a space pilot floating through space at the speed of light which alters time and moves them forward centuries. When the spaceship crash lands, the crew discovers one of their members has aged to death and their ship is sinking. The three remaining crew members abandon ship and paddle towards land. The environment is strange and desolate and director Franklin J. Schaffner does a great job creating an eerie aura to the foreign planet. Landon (Robert Gunner) is worried about their new life and wants to know where exactly they are while George insists they are far away and will survive by any means necessary. Dodge (Jeff Burton) seeks life on this new planet as a means of survival for as long as they have left.

The crew treks across the barren landscape and find strange scarecrows along with water. Humans native to the planet shred their clothes but are unable to communicate. A strange sound sends them all fleeing and apes on horseback with guns chase them down. Dodge is shot and killed during the skirmish. George notices Nova (Linda Harrison) but is also shot in the throat. The scientist ape Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) gives George a blood transfusion and notices something different about him. His throat prevents from speaking so Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) does not believe they are intelligent. George is attacked by other humans and tries to write in the dirt but Dr. Zaius cover it up. He finally steals a pen and paper and writes a message for Zira.

Zira's boyfriend Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) believes it's a trick, but also thinks flight is scientifically impossible. Using hand motions and writing, Taylor explains his situation. Dr. Zaius orders him to be gelded so Taylor escapes but is pretty conspicuous as the only human. After a chase, he's caught but he shocks all the apes when he talks. The apes have shoved Nova into the cage with her for them to mate but she is taken away. Taylor is put on trial by Dr. Zaius, Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey), and other orangutans. He tries to prove his story but finds that Landon has had his brain cut open. The trial continues but the apes' dogma does not let them accept any of the evidence presented by Zira, Cornelius, and Taylor. Dr. Zaius plans to experiment on Taylor.

Zira sends her nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner) to help Taylor escape. Taylor insists on bringing along Nova. Cornelius brings the supplies and the scientist apes and freed humans head to the dig site where Cornelius has proof of future civilizations of humans and primitive apes. Dr. Zaius knew of this evidence but still does not accept the proof after being captured by Taylor. The apes allow Taylor to head into the Forbidden Zone and start his own life. Dr. Zaius insists on blowing up the cave of proof and trying the scientists in court. George discovers the Statue of Liberty in the iconic final shot realizing that he just traveled into the future.

Nearly fifty years later, this film is still quite amazing. I remember being stunned by this film when I first saw it and enthralled with the whole idea of a planet of evolved apes. The adventure keeps the story moving along with the large philosophical and science fiction ideas throughout it. Heston delivers some very quotable lines and the makeup job on all the actors who play apes still looks pretty great today, if not a little silly. This film reminds me of a time long before I was born where the special effects were all practical and the films played with big ideas instead of just spectacle. It also started a franchise that is still popular five decades later and may live on for centuries.  

Graphic Novel Review: Saga Volume 7

The quirky and wild sci-fi epic graphic novel continues its story in a somewhat self-contained story. The couple Alana and Marko travel with their daughter Hazel and Prince Robot IV to a comet for fuel. The comet is Pheng, a crucial point in the war between Alana's home planet and Marko's moon. Also along for the journey is Izabel, one of my favorite characters, a ghost that serves as the babysitter, and Petrichor, another magical former citizen of Wreath. There is also a new member of the family coming as Alana finds herself pregnant again when Marko and her reunited passionately. All of these worries are put on hold as their tree planet cannot function until it refuels. 

Another storyline follows Gwendolyn, Marko's former fiance, and Sophie, a freed slave. They were previously working The Will, a freelancer assassin but since his injury, they have set out on their own. On Pheng, the family encounters the furry refugees who have survived the destruction but do not want to leave their homeland. They settle into a nice routine as they wait for the ship to recover but then fitting the storyline something awful happens. Izobel searches for the reserve of fuel in an abandoned base but runs into the freelancer The Marcher, a two-headed villain that uses some sort of device to kill the ghost. I sure hope that's not the last we see of this character but it was quite a shocking twist.

The Will has recovered from his injuries and searches for his lost charge in various places but he also finds that he has been fired from his job and replaced. The March continues to search through the abandoned based as Hazel worries for her babysitter. Petrichor searches for Izobel finding strange inhabitants on Pheng. The comet is actually heading to s strange space phenomenon that will end the life of it. Prince Robot IV gets high on a drug and finds that he cannot control his lust for Alana. Marko has sworn off violence which makes defending Alana and fighting off Prince Robot IV tougher than usual. 

Gwendolyn is making a deal with the Landfallians much to Sophie's distress. They are planning on dealing over Pheng as it is heading towards destruction. Back on the comet, Alana manages to knock out Prince Robot IV, but then The March shows up with a little furry hostage. They use magic to distract him but Marko has to go back on his vow to not commit violence to destroy the freelancer. The deal for Pheng is made and many of the citizens are evacuated before it falls into the space abyss. The refugees will not leave their home even as they know they are doomed because they believe their faith will protect them. The family launches off to their next adventure as the book ends on a dark note.

Saga is my favorite graphic novel and I always look forward to a new volume coming out. I think that by the end of the series it will be one epic tale that I will look back on fondly. The characters are interesting and eccentric and I never know where the story is going to go as Brian K. Vaughan is a brilliant writer. Fiona Staples draws amazing pictures that I can't help but just stare it in awe. It will be a while before the next volume comes out but when I found out about this series, I read through the first issues so fast that I like to go back and read them every year. I didn't reread them this time around but definitely when the next volume comes out. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Beguiled (2017)

Sofia Coppola delivers a dark and suspenseful Southern Gothic horror film that explores the genre and feminine charm. When Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles across the wounded Union soldier Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods, she brings the man back to her school for girls to help him recover from his leg wound. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) runs the school that has scenes the departure of its slaves and most of the students. The last remaining teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) wishes to leave this place but with the Civil War raging nearby sees no hope of escape. The young and restless Alicia (Elle Fanning) is especially vicious when she first meets the wounded soldier, telling him about the warning symbol of a blue cloth that will bring the Confederate soldiers. The corporal admits that he is cowardly and jumps at the chance for brandy.

Amy seems to think the best of her discovery and Martha takes the man in, sewing up his wound and washing his skin. Edwina also takes a particular attraction to the man especially when McBurny awakes and compliments her in his thick Irish accent. Other girls like Jane (Angourie Rice) don't trust the Yankee presence and tells tales of the awful deeds by Union soldiers. Martha thinks about turning him in but when Amy and Edwina appeal to her Christian nature, they decide to allow him to stay until he recovers. The new presence changes the behavior of the women as Edwina starts dressing up more and young Marie (Addison Riecke) brings him a prayer book as a gift. Alicia sneaks up to give him a kiss during the nightly prayers. He stays up in the music room unable to move and hides up there when the Confederate soldiers march by stopping to check that everything is all right. 

McBurney recovers steadily, starting to test his leg with a cane and leaning on Amy to get around. He starts to offer to do services despite his crippled leg and helps around the garden that has gone untended for quite some time. The entire mansion is in disrepair and McBurney brings to life these things as he is able to walk again. He confides in Amy and tries to talk to all the women out of loneliness and boredom. The girls show off their talents and McBurney sneaks kisses with Edwina as well. After an especially celebratory night of dinner and music where Martha nearly kisses McBurney, Edwina readies to visit him in his room. She hears giggling from Alicia's room and finds McBurney on top of her. Shocked, Edwina stumbles back as McBurney rushes to console her. Edwina pushes McBurney down the stairs, snapping his leg into even worse shape. Alicia claims that the corporal forced himself on her. 

Miss Martha has no choice but to grab the anatomy book and amputate the leg. When McBurney awakes, he's enraged blaming Edwin and Martha for conspiring against him when he decided not to come to either of their rooms. He steals a gun from Martha's desk and threatens the women, taking control of the house. Amy tries to calm him by showing him her turtle but he viciously throws it across the room and proclaims himself less than a man. Martha instructs Amy to tie the blue rag around the gate but the girl is caught and taken to the other building. Martha manages to calm him and bring him back to the house, but he won't be calmed, drinking and yelling. Edwina feels guilty for throwing him down the stairs and goes to comfort him, ending up having intercourse. As McBurney is occupied, the other ladies plot and Marie suggests poisoning him with mushrooms. They set a large dinner to celebrate his impending departure and poison him sitting poised as he chokes. Edwina is distraught from his death. The women sew him up in a bag and leave him out front with the blue ribbon tied to the gate in one final shot.

The Beguiled is a remake of a movie from 1971 and caused some controversy for eliminating the black character. It does follow closely with the original, The film is beautifully shot and full of suspenseful moments that come with the soothing Southern setting. It brushes over a lot of the worse horrors of the Civil War, focusing more on the conniving intrigue within the house and not having any scenes elsewhere. There is a lot to like as all the acting goes well with the great directing making clear why it won at Sundance. Still, it comes up short in other areas while exploring the relationship between men and women but shouldn't have shied away from more difficult topics, especially about the South.

Movie Review: The Beguiled (1971)

The original film about intrigue at a ladies school during the end of the Civil War provides a more complex look at the war between the North and the South and the relationship between men and women. Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) finds the wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) and helps him return to the school run by Miss Martha (Geraldine Page). Teaching at the school is Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) who finds the mysterious soldier attractive. The women take the man indoors and board up the windows to keep him inside. The slave Hallie (Mae Mercer) doesn't like the newcomer much either though he tries to work his charm on her and point out that he is fighting for her freedom. She comments that she sees white people as all the same. Carol (Jo Ann Harris) also takes a liking to McBurney, though she still considers him a traitor, kissing him when the others aren't looking.

McBurney charms each of the women as they think about turning him over to the Confederate soldiers. While McBurney flirts with Carol, he calms a jealous Edwina by kissing her. Carol becomes jealous and ties the blue rag symbol for a Union soldier. Martha, who didn't turn her in before, steps up when Confederates nearly shoot McBurney and lie that he is her cousin from Texas. This allows him to stay unharmed though the Confederate soldiers want to stay around with the women as well. Martha also becomes enamored with McBurney reflecting back on the relationship she had with her brother and imagining a threesome with Edwina. 

McBurney turns Martha away and is discovered in the bed with Carol Edwina. When McBurney tries to call her back, she beats him with a candlestick and pushes him down the stairs. His leg is hurt worse and Martha insists it must be cut off since it is gangrenous. McBurney awakes enraged by the realization and blames Martha for cutting off his leg out of vengeance since he didn't go to bed with her. He takes control of the household with a gun demanding that he have the company of any woman he desires. When he tries to take Hallie, she recalls when another owner tried to rape her and threatens to kill herself before McBurney can. The corporal exposes Martha's incestuous past to the girls and throws Amy's turtle across the room when she tries to calm him with it.

Edwina goes to McBurney and professes his love to her. The other women conspire against McBurney unable to let him leave since he threatened to bring back Union soldiers who would rape the women. They debate methods to kill him coming to the method of poisoning him by serving him mushrooms. Amy picks the mushrooms and the women prepare the meal.  Edwina and McBurney make love and go down to dinner together. They proclaim their love and tell the women that they are getting married. McBurney eats the mushrooms but Martha shouts when Edwina attempts to eat them. The girls finish their dinners as McBurney dies. They sew his body up and put out the blue rag to alert the Confederate soldiers.

The older version has characteristics of a movie from the 70s but stays more aware of certain aspects than the remake. The inclusion of a woman enslaved by the cruel culture of the South allowed for the film to comment on racism as the newer version avoided such a debate. Eastwood was certainly interested but all of the acting seems distant to me and different from what I am normally used to seeing in theaters. I enjoyed the film and story and hope to one day read the book that gives the basis for the motion picture. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sports: MLB (All-Star Game 2017)

Baseball's best gather in Miami for a chance to determine which team will get home-field advantage in the World Series. The Home Run Derby offered excitement with Aaron Judge (New York Yankees) taking the win, the first rookie to do so. I'll use this chance to look at what teams are at the top of each league and the possible matchups for the World Series after I recap the game. I'm excited for the second half of the baseball season to start because games are more significant and the contenders separate from the pretenders.

The All-Star started with two scoreless innings as Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox) and Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals) started pitching. The first run came in the fifth inning for the American League as Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins) singled with an awkward fly ball and Jonathan Schoop scored. Yadier Moline (St. Louis Cardinals) homered in the sixth to tie the game. The game remained tied into extra innings. Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) homered off of Wade Davis (Chicago Cubs) in the tenth to put the American League up 2-1. 

American League
The Houston Astors are having an incredible season and if they do not make it to the playoffs, I will be shocked. With sixty wins they lead the AL West by 16.5 games, their closest challenger in the division the Los Angeles Angels. Fighting for the top spot but with ten fewer wins, the Boston Red Sox lead the East trailed by the New York Yankees. The Cleveland Indians hope to return to the playoffs but they'll have to fend off the Minnesota Twins and take a spot lower ranked. Wild card right now looks like Yankees and the Rays. 

National League
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the most wins in Major League Baseball at the half. Their formal rivals, the San Francisco Giants are next to last but the NL West is strong with both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card Spots. The Milwaukee Brewers and the Washington Nationals look to be the other two teams that will be in the playoffs from the NL Central and NL East respectively. 

I look forward to watching more baseball and will check in a month or two to see if any of these rankings have changed. I'm still rooting for a comeback from the Cincinnati Reds or the Atlanta Braves but neither of those teams look promising. It's a slow time for sports but I'll use it to catch up on some reading and television shows before we get into the thick of MLB Playoffs. 

Graphic Novel Review: Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

Since I was catching up on all the movies, I thought I would pick up a collection of comics featuring my favorite villain of the Spider-Man universe. I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised when I read this outrageous and epic battle through fourteen issues. Cletus Kasady aka Carnage is stuck in Ravecroft prison until his DNA manages to grow the symbiote suit back due to a strange mutation. He disposes of the guards and encounters Shriek, a fellow psychopath who immediately has a romantic attraction to the ruthless killer. Peter Parker mourns the death of his best friend Harry Osborn but keeps the awful secret that Harry was really the Green Goblin. Mary Jane worries for Peter but is helpless to stop him when he hears of the chaos in the city. The two crazy supervillains begin to wreak havoc across the city killing and maiming anyone in their way coming across until they meet Spider-Man sharp-toothed, bestial doppelganger. Spider-Man heads out to stop them and encounters his six-armed doppelganger and Shriek first, breaking his ribs in the fight. Carnage heads to the Daily Bugle to threaten J. Jonah Jameson to get the news out. 

Coming to Spider-Man's rescue are the first heroes to be featured, Cloak and Dagger. Using Cloak's ability, they transport Spider-Man out of danger but Shriek and the Spider doppelganger follow them back to the church. Carnage joins the battle, and Shriek kills Dagger. Venom hears the news and heads to New York City from San Francisco. Spider-Man returns home to rest his ribs but finds Mary Jane very upset. He has to go back out as he hears of more murders but encounters Demogoblin. Venom tries to take on Shriek and Carnage alone but ends up defeated in Peter Parker's apartment. Demogoblin joins Carnage's dysfunctional family. When Venom recovers, Spider-Man reteams with Cloak and adds Black Cat to his hero team, though Venom's ruthless tactics make Spider-Man wary of cooperating.

The four villains continue to spread mayhem as Shriek works her hypnotist magic to make the citizen of New York lash out with anger. Spider-Man is too injured to carry on so Venom, Black Cat and Cloak add Morbius the living vampire to their crew. Mary Jane is so frustrated with Peter that she goes out to party at the club but Carnage and his gang crash in. After Spider-Man joins the fight to stop them, Carrion, a villain with a deadly touch, joins Carnage. Spider-Man becomes preoccupied stopping the citizens from tearing each other apart. Deathlok comes down from space to fight Carnage's group and ends up defeated. Spider-Man, Venom, and others head to the Fantastic Four's headquarters to steal a sound ray to fight Carnage with a weapon that can defeat him. 

Using Jameson and the Daily Bugle, Spider-Man lures Carnage back to the orphanage he was raised at but their attack only does so much when a cut can bring his suit back to life. Iron Fist helps Deathlok recover and after a brutal fight, Captain America steps in to help Spider-Man. The artwork is amazing and these elaborate fights are fun to look at. Sometimes things can be confusing but I'm a huge Spider-Man fan so him taking on the most vicious villain is something to behold. With Firestar added to the team, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Fist and Deathlok go at Carnage. Morbius and Nightwatch also jump into the action as Venom is captured and tortured at the Statue of Liberty.

The heroes try various methods to stop Shriek's hypnotism over the citizen of New York but it isn't until Dagger returns with the help of Cloak and brings her light to the battle, that the heroes can stop Shriek. Venom infiltrates the sound ray gun and uses his symbiote's strength to escape. Spider-Man believes he's defeated Carnage but another trick leads to the final battle. Carnage fight Spider-Man and Venom in the last book and Eddie Brock sacrifices himself to defeat Carnage by throwing his body into the villain and knocking them both into the power plant. The Avengers seal up Carnage and Venom disappears as Spider-Man is finally able to return to Mary Jane. I don't often read superhero comics but with the Spider-Man films hitting theaters, I was happy to pick up a fun collection featuring my two favorite villains of my favorite superhero. I think I will check out more comics with popular superheroes when I have the time. I like the arcs that play out in a graphic novel so that I get a beginning and an end with some hints at a greater world but not the necessary previous reading. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Bringing the most popular Marvel superhero into the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved a winning formula with the third iteration of Spider-Man. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is so excited to be brought into the Avengers by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) but after the battle in Berlin with Captain America (Chris Evans), Peter returns to a somewhat normal life. Claiming to be part of a Stark internship, he spends his hours at school counting the seconds and brewing web solution in chemistry class and his after school hours swinging around looking for crimes and reporting back to Stark's assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). He keeps his identity a secret from his Aunt May Parker (Marisa Tomei) but his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers him crawling across the ceiling of his room. In lieu of a backstory, Ned's questions serve to provide information on the details of Spider-Man's powers.

The story begins with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) salvaging alien technology from the battle in New York with the Chitauri aliens in the first Avengers film. When the government takes his work away, he steals the equipment and builds super weapons with his crew including Phineas Mason the Tinkerer (Michael Chernus), Jackson Brice the first Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green), and Herman Schultz, the second Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) after Toomes murders Brice with an alien weapon. Peter has his own group at high school in the debate team including the girl he has a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), the high school bully Flash (Tony Revolori), and the girl too cool for everything Michelle (Zendaya). They keep questioning where Peter goes all the time but he keeps using the excuse of the Stark internship.

When Peter tries to use Spider-Man as a tactic to impress his high school friends, he spots an explosion and stumbles upon an alien arms deal as Toomes's gang is selling to Aaron Davis (Donald Glover). Fighting the super weapons proves harder, especially when the Vulture arrives and carries him up into the sky. Iron Man saves him from drowning, though using the suit from India and not actually there. Spider-Man finds a dropped alien weapon and Peter and Ned study it in shop class, but when the Shocker shows up tracking it, Peter shoots a tracker on him. The two boys watch as the tracker traces the Shocker and Toomes's crew to Maryland and use their debate field trip to Washington D.C. as cover for their Spider-Man mission. Ned hacks Spider-Man's suit upgrade, giving him all sorts of new powers when he takes on the Vulture but ends up trapped in a storage container. He experiments with his new suit as he's locked in a storage facility but when he learns that the alien weapon Ned has is a bomb, he has to break out and hurry back to D.C. leading to a cool action scene on the Washington Monument.

Peter returns to Queens to find that Spider-Man is a famous hero though he cautions Ned against telling everyone. He hunts down Aaron Davis to find out where the next deal will be leading to another action scene on the Staten Island Ferry, though Iron Man has to step in to save him. This time Tony Stark takes the suit back telling him to be a hero on his own. Peter settles into a more normal life, finding time for his friends and even asks Liz to the homecoming dance. The big twist comes when Peter goes to pick up Liz and finds Adrian Toomes, who he saw on the ferry, waiting at the door. During the ride to prom, Toomes figures out that Peter is Spider-Man and threatens to kill him if he hurts his business. Peter knows he has to stop Toomes from his latest plan so he bails on Liz and runs into Shocker in the bus parking lot. Ned saves him and takes over in the computer lab to help Spider-Man.

The finale sees Spider-Man in his makeshift suit fighting the Vulture as the villain tries to steal Stark's plane. The fight goes up into the clouds and back down as the plane's engines explode. Spider-Man saves the vulture before he kills himself and delivers the products back to Stark with a friendly note. Stark forgives him and offers to have him be a part of the Avengers with a new spider suit and a big announcement but Peter turns him down to just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. With its new sheen and connection to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, this Spider-Man feels like the best one on the first watch. I'm sure I'll see flaws in later viewings but Holland is a fun Spider-Man, and Keaton is great as the villain. All of the acting was top notch but Batalon as Ned was the funniest part of the film. The action looked great though couldn't match earlier versions of the sequels. I am very pleased with Spider-Man: Homecoming and look forward to him participating in the other films for Marvel. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The sequel to the reboot expands on the backstory of Spider-Man's parents and introduces new villains in an unsuccessful attempt to build a Spider-Man universe. After a brief prologue about his parents, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) swings through the city, a lot more comfortable in his role as a hero as he fights the criminal Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). In the process, he saves the electrician Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx). Late for his own graduations where valedictorian Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) gives a speech, Peter Parker swings in just in time having stopped the criminal from getting away with stolen plutonium. Living at home with Aunt May (Sally Field), Peter struggles to continue to be a hero and keep his identity a secret as the city has mixed feelings about him.

Max Dillon is obsessed with Spider-Man making up voices for him as he readies for work and imagining scenarios where he worked with him. Gwen Stacy also works at Oscorp whose founder Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) has died, leaving the corporation to his son Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Max stays behind at Oscorp tower to fix a power problem, is shocked, and falls into a tank of water filled with electric eels. Harry takes control of Oscorp assigning Felicia (Felicity Jones) a top role but taking time to socialize with his childhood friend, Peter. As Oscorp tries to cover up his death, Max Dillon awakes as Electro, possessing an out of control electrical ability.

The story takes a moment to focus on the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Peter has issues with dating Gwen after her father made him promise to stay away so that she wouldn't be in danger yet he continues to stalk her. Gwen plans to go to England on a research program. Spider-Man fights Electro in a spectacular Times Square action sequence, finally subduing him with a water blast from a hose. Peter researches his father's past and webbing that can withstand electric shock until Harry calls him wanting to access the blood of Spider-Man for a cure to his genetic disease. Gwen also stumbles upon secrets at Oscorp like the cover up of Max's death. In Ravencroft prison, Electro is tortured by the mad scientist Dr. Kafka (Marton Csokas).

Peter tries to convince Gwen to stay in New York and finds his father's secret hideout. Harry also discovers his father's secret about Oscorp including a serum to make him strong and crazy. He frees Electro and together they take over Oscorp and New York City. With civilians in danger, Spider-Man uses the help of Gwen Stacy to prepare his webbing and fights Electro at a power grid. Spider-Man almost loses until Gwen shows up to help him overcharge Electro, so he explodes, and return the power to the city. Their victory is short lived because the Green Goblin arrives and captures Gwen. Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin and tries to save Gwen but she falls to her death.

While the film boasts some stunning action visual and a decent character romance, this reboot was unable to extend the franchise further. The sequel is torn between telling a captivating story and delivering enough setup for multiple further sequels that it forgets to focus the current story. The tragedy of Peter losing Gwen probably prevented this film from being a family-friendly hit as this was supposed to be darker reboot than the campy original. I wanted to see what happened if this story was extended as the multiple villains like the Rhino grow up out of Harry's revenge. It time the Spider-Man story comes close to delving deep into the world and possibly approaching the best villains, the series is rebooted, now on a third version currently in theaters.