2017 Summer Movie Review: Maudie

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Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) gets married to Everett (Ethan Hawke) in the biopic Maudie. (Source: IMDb)

Ah—what a delightful little film!

Maudie follows the true story of Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), an arthritic woman from Nova Scotia (although the movie is filmed primarily in Newfoundland and Labrodor), who gets a job as a housekeeper for fish meddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). She brings the ad to his small house and starts working. While they may be rough on each other at times, they slowly begin to fall in love. One day, Maud picks up a bucket of paint and a brush. She decides to paint simple things from flowers to animals around the house until she is convinced by Sandra (Kari Matchett), a woman from New York City, to sell her paintings for five dollars (“Show me how you view the world,” she says to her). She immediately becomes the talk of the town.

What makes the movie works is the performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Since being nominated for her supporting role in Blue Jasmine, Hawkins has starred in Godzilla and Paddington. She portrays Maud’s physicality and charisma to perfection. It’s impossible to resist her big heart. Featuring a sharp wit and gorgeous scenery, Maudie is a pleasant surprise!

3.5/4

“War for the Planet of the Apes”: The Ending to Something Extraordinary

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) returns, and he is not happy, in War for the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Screen Rant)

“War has already begun. Ape started war. And human will not forgive,” says Caesar at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is a send-up to the next film in the beloved franchise.

It has been almost 50 years since Planet of the Apes revolutionized the science-fiction genre with its groundbreaking sets and costume design, thoughtful ideas on faith and evolution, and its shocking twist ending. The franchise has come a long way with the reboots. In Rise, a scientist created a possible Alzheimer’s cure tested on apes including Caesar. While Caesar and his apes are given enhanced intelligence which leads to a battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, the humans are given a virus. In Dawn, the so-called Simian Flu wipes most of humanity. The remaining survivors go into an all-out conflict with Caesar and his fellow apes, while Koba betrays him and begins his trek to kill every human soul. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) returns director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback to focus more on the apes, and give a much darker, grittier, and devastatingly powerful conclusion to one of the best trilogies ever made.

A military group called Alpha-Omega, led by vicious Col. McCullough (Woody Harrelson), begins to emerge. In a breathtaking opening sequence, they attack the apes’ sanctuary in the heart of Muir Woods. Caesar (Andy Serkis), who wanted to offer peace between his fellow apes and the humans for so long, is driven mad after seeing many lives lost. He has plans of relocating his homeland in the middle of the desert, so no humans can be in sight of the apes. Before he could do that, however, he must begin his quest for revenge. Along with Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Maurice (Karin Konoval), and Rocket (Terry Notary), they encounter a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a chimpanzee named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who directs them to the facility on the border, operated by McCullough. Once they arrive there, Caesar sees his apes captured and used for slave labor to build a wall to protect his army (I won’t make any Trump jokes, I promise). This immediately becomes the battle of wits.

It’s no surprise that the original Planet of the Apes gained controversy for its allegory of American slavery and the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement. To be fair, we still live in a world where racial tensions are the norm. A different race will be discriminated anywhere at any time.  In the case of the Planet of the Apes movies, the irony is that the humans are the least dominant species. War, the ninth film in the franchise, is relevant to the Trmup era (again, no jokes). Reeves directs this social sci-fi movie to his full advantage with the themes of supremacy and prejudice. It asks the question: What does the future hold if the apes are the most dominant species, in terms of evolution?

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert,[1] Andy Serkis explained that he had no idea he would return to motion capture after doing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. “This is the end of type casting as we know it,” he said. “Anyone can play anything.”

I can’t agree with him more. Motion capture is certainly the future of film acting. And hopefully for the better. Serkis has fully embraced the instinct of Caesar. Take note on how grayer and wiser he’s getting in each of these movies. In War, we finally get to see the darker side of this brilliant character. We see him evolve from a pet to a leader through compassion. Now—he is getting revenge on losing something so dear to him. With numerous references to the Bible and films of the past, he can be looked at as a Clint Eastwood-type protagonist (one of the film’s biggest inspirations is The Outlaw Josey Wales). He also resembles the biblical Moses.

When we finally get our first glimpse of Col. McCullough, we see a spine-tingling image of him wearing black war paint on his face (one of the references to Apocalypse Now). Later on, we learn more about his motivation and his ties with the Simian virus. With Caesar in his office, he explains how he made the ultimate sacrifice to kill those infected with the virus, which makes humans have the inability to talk. . “The irony is we created you,” says the Colonel. “And nature has been punishing us ever since…no matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature.” From watching the original movies, this makes perfect sense about the humans living on this particular Earth now!

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Comparing behind-the-scenes to the final product. (Source: IMDb)

Zahn, a newcomer to the franchise, provides the film’s comic relief. His Bad Ape is one of the franchise’s most fascinating supporting characters. Originally from the Sierra Zoo, he becomes exposed to the virus and has been hiding out in the snowy mountaintop for years. He becomes their guide leading them to the facility on the border. This results in a funny scene where they make their way through a tunnel.

The beginning and the end of War features two big action set pieces that are as nerve-wracking as they are breathtaking. With the gritty nature going on, what carries the movie through is the simple moments of poignancy. Miller’s Nova represents the innocence during the dark times. Her moments with Maurice are so sweet I want to choke up as much as the rest of the movie. Her moment of grace, however, is during one powerful scene where she sneaks into the facility. She sees Caesar tired and hungry from working on the wall. What does she do? She gives him food and water before escaping from the army. We see one of the apes holding two fists together side-by-side; indicating that “apes together are strong.” The other apes later repeat the act. Accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s outstanding score, it’s impossible not to get teary-eyed.

(As much as I loved Patrick Doyle’s score in Rise, his doesn’t quite capture the gritty nature and simple poignancy of Giacchino’s score in this movie and in Dawn.)

War for the Planet of the Apes may be the end of the trilogy, but the franchise is most certainly not over, according to Matt Reeves. “The idea would never be to remake the ’68 film,” said Reeves in a 2014 interview with JoBlo.[2] “But it would be sort of a re-telling of those events from a new perspective. And the events themselves would probably be a bit different since they will have grown out of these films.” I’m definitely looking forward to seeing exactly where the franchise will go.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64mWOoj68qo

[2] http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/exclusive-matt-reeves-talks-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-169

2017 Summer Movie Review: Baby Driver

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Baby (Ansel Elgort) puts on his earbuds and goes for a ride in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. (Source: The Playlist)

That’s what I’m talking about!

When it comes to writing and directing, Edgar Wright is unlike any other filmmaker. He brings forth the most unique visual style in movies, such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (a colorful tribute to graphic novels and video games) and The Cornetto trilogy—Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End (my absolute favorite). After ditching Ant-Man (which, to this day, has no interest in seeing), to do Baby Driver, the latest action-comedy that only Wright wrote the screenplay.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in our Stars) is a marvelous getaway driver living in Atlanta working under crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). As a child, he witnessed his parents getting killed in a car crash. It left him with tinnitus, or constant ringing in the ear drum. The only way he can drown out the ringing is listen to music on his iPod. While he doesn’t sit with his team—including Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx)—he can repeat back the heist plan even though he’s preoccupied with his music.

One day, at a local diner, he locks eyes on a gorgeous waitress named Debora (Lily James, Cinderella and Downton Abbey). He decides to leave behind his life of crime, so he can be with her.

I have never had this much fun at a movie theater all summer. Baby Driver is no exception! The movie has it all: action, laughs, romance, twists, turns, and straight-up emotion. Most—if not, all—of the action and stunts seen on the screen is actually real. There are a couple of shootouts in the movie where the guns go off in sync with the music, compared to Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. Goofy, yes. However, it’s a ton of fun to watch, and it makes the audience wonder how the sequences were performed without any accidents.

Elgort leads a terrific cast bring enough energy, either behind the wheel or interacting with his crew, foster dad, or his new girlfriend. Even when he is singing and dancing to his playlist (particularly during the opening credits), it’s hard not to crack a smile. The soundtrack is one of the best of the year. It’s as if Awesome Mix Vol. 1 and Awesome Mix Vol. 2 had a baby (a big baby!), and got Baby Driver. Featuring music by Queen, Golden Earring, The Commodores, and many more, the movie is like a rock opera mixed with a straight-up action film. One of the year’s best films.

Oh—and always remember: “The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet.”

4/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: It Comes at Night

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Paul (Joel Edgerton) tries to find answers about an intruder in It Comes at Night. (Source: Slash Film)

Director Trey Edward Shults made his directorial debut last year with Krisha. Made on an extremely low budget ($30,000, no less), he cast his family members in a movie about a woman (played by Shults’ real-life aunt, Krisha Fairchild) whose past begins to haunt her while at a Thanksgiving dinner. It unnerved audiences at the SXSW Film Festival.

He’s back to unnerve audiences again with It Comes at Night. It is unlike your average cabin-in-the-woods horror picture. Without any annoying characters doing dumb decisions or cheap scares, it features a claustrophobic atmosphere and humanity. A lot of people called it “a horror masterpiece” prior to its release. After going into this movie blind, I found it to be far from a masterpiece. Nevertheless, it is nothing short of a solid shocker.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) is a patriarch of a secluded house in the woods. He’s doing everything he can to protect his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from a nasty virus that wiped out the outside world. One day, a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbot) is seeking shelter. Paul reluctantly agrees to have him, his lover Kim (Riley Keough), and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) into their home. After breaking a few ground rules, the group must fight for survival.

Compared to last year’s The Witch, Shults has crafted a slow-burning psychological horror-thriller featuring a solid cast—with Edgerton doing what he does best—and some of the creepiest images in all of horror (I’m talking about the one where an old man is seen with black eyes and blood dribbling from his mouth). However, what falters is the limited character development and sluggish pacing. While a lot better than most horror movies today, It Comes at Night isn’t something I’ll revisit anytime soon.

3/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: The Mummy

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Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) unveils something evil in the reboot of The Mummy. (Source: IMDb_

The Mummy has been around for a long time. Boris Karloff played the titular character in 1932, and became one of the most memorable horror movie villains. In 1999, it rebooted as a straight-up action-fantasy-thriller starring Brendan Fraser as the cocky hero embarking on a journey to rid the curse of an Egyptian tomb, while two sequels followed after that. Today, The Mummy is rebooted again as the first installment of a new cinematic universe featuring the Universal monsters. The “Dark Universe” is going to feature the Bride of Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, Van Helsing and Dracula, and the Wolf Man.

In the latest reimagining, The Mummy is a female instead of male. With Tom Cruise doing what he does best, he cannot save this shallow dud of a movie.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a soldier-of-fortune looking for ancient artifacts to sell at a black market. In Iraq, he and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson, who plays one of the most annoying characters in cinema) discovers a tomb of an Egyptian princess. Her name is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who is betrayed by the Pharaoh and is buried alive. Thousands of years later, her spirit returns with a vengeance. After surviving from a plane crash (don’t ask), Nick wakes up in a London morgue, and learns that he is cursed by the princess (again, don’t ask). Along with archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle), Nick must “outwit” Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), and rid Ahmanet’s curse once and for all.

Cruise has starred in some bland movies. However, this is the first movie of his I genuinely hate. Along with director Alex Kurtzman and screenwriters David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie, the movie is fascinating within the first thirty minutes explaining the backstory of Ahmanet (which makes the audience ask more questions). Then, it all goes downhill with Cruise and the gang wrapped in (no pun intended) a ridiculous script with plot holes big enough to ride a bus through. None of the characters have any charisma whatsoever; making it damn near impossible to care on what’s going to happen next. While the humor feels forced and the movie takes itself so seriously, it does have its fair share of unintentionally goofy moments. For instance, whenever Nick and the Mummy go head-to-head, she would smack him upside the head and send him flying. And also, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (horribly miscast, by the way) must have been added in the movie as a build-up to a possible standalone film in the franchise. This is not a good start for the Dark Universe. I highly doubt it will get better in the future.

1/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) springs into action in Patty Jenkins’ origin story of the Amazon princess. (Source: Screen Rant)

Wonder Woman has been around since World War II. Not only has the heroine been appreciated by women, but also men. A lot of you might remember the campy show from 1975 starring Lynda Carter, as she saves the world from the Nazis. While Wonder Woman has been featured in a couple of feature-length films (e.g. The LEGO Movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), and straight-to-video animated films, there has never been a live-action standalone film starring her. Until now.

The DC Extended Universe is off to a rocky start. While Man of Steel provided a more twisted take on Superman, it hardly managed to stick with the nature of who he really is. Last year’s Batman vs. Superman had potential to make up for its predecessor’s flaws (including Superman seeing humanity wipe away from his eyes as opposed to saving it). While it did for the first thirty minutes, it resulted in being an absolute disgrace to both Batman and Superman. Suicide Squad, which also came out last year, also became a wasted opportunity featuring a talented cast, clunky action, and horrible exposition. This time, director Patty Jenkins (Monster) and her crew save the day by providing an origin story with heart, humor, badassery, emotion, and bursting with color.

Welcome to the Amazonian island of Themiscyra! Where it’s populated only immortal women, and men aren’t allowed due to war. Diana (Gal Gadot) wants to become a warrior just like everyone else including her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). While her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) does not allow this to happen, Antiope secretly trains her anyway. One day, Diana discovers a plane crash landing in the water. She finds out the pilot is a man. His name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a spy for the British. Diana learns about the Great War, and thinking Ares, the god of war, might be responsible. With her body armor, lasso of truth, among other weapons, Diana and Steve go to London to save the world from German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his minion Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Dr. Poison.

Prior to its release, the Alamo Drafthouse decided to hold women-only screenings for Wonder Woman. Not surprisingly, this caused outrage among everyone. While the theater chain never had screenings where men are only allowed for any superhero movie, it’s just a blow to the head in terms of gender equality. The demographic among movies based on comic books are intended for everyone. Wonder Woman is a prime example of being a symbol of gender equality. This movie is no exception. She works alongside men and cares for those around her. Given the movie is set during World War I, Jenkins intended to have the movie set during the height of the suffragette movement in Great Britain and the United States. With its traditional three-act structure, they each have an exhilarating, sleekly-edited action set piece. The scene where Wonder Woman walks through No Man’s Land is one of the best you will see all summer.

From being Miss Israel to starring in Fast and Furious, Gadot has certainly come a long way. She proves that she can be more than just a pretty face. She is charismatic, naïve, and simply kicks ass! Seriously! How can you not get pumped when the electric guitar music starts playing in the background once Wonder Woman heads into action!? (The score is another great one to add into Rupert Gregson-Williams’ repertoire).

Pine’s Steve Trevor provides the film’s deadpan sense of humor as he tries to understand about Diana’s nature, and eventually working with her and his buddies. His motivation serves the movie well, given its gender-neutral state. The supporting characters also have motivations of their own, particularly Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting) as the Scottish sharpshooter Charlie, who suffers from PTSD.

If the villains had a little more depth, Wonder Woman would have been a perfect movie. This is the first film from the DCEU that I’ll watch over and over again. Bring on the Justice League!

3.5/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Baywatch

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Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of lifeguards run in slow-motion in Baywatch. (Source: IMDb)

I have never seen the Baywatch show starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. All I needed to know about it is that a group of lifeguards save the day and run in slow-motion. That’s it.

When I saw the previews for the movie, they made me laugh quite a bit. How can anyone not love Dwayne Johnson? He may be tough, but he also has a soft side and can be really funny. Despite some bizarre casting choices (particularly in some family flicks), he proves that he can be a great action star—from The Scorpion King to the Fast and Furious franchise.

With him teaming up with a younger cast, Baywatch might be a decent comedic escape. The comedy does work at times and the action rarely lets up, the movie somewhat falls flat.

Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) works as a lifeguard on the Florida coast. The movie opens up with him saving a parasailer’s life from hitting his head on a rock. While saving hundreds of lives during his career, Mitch remembers that tryouts are the next day. His new team of lifeguards including Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), techie Ronnie (Jon Bass), blondie CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), brunette Summer (Alexandra Dedarrio, San Andreas), and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) goes around Emerald Bay to solve a drug case.

Making fun of the original source material is nothing new. 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street, The 1995 film version of The Brady Bunch and the 2002 live-action rendition of Scooby-Doo are prime examples of movies making fun of the shows that are based off of. Some work well, while others fail miserably. Baywatch is no exception.

The movie did give me a good laugh here and there. Particularly when Mitch gives Brody such a hard time and poking fun at the hot women running in slow-motion on the beach (one of the iconic bits on the show). I don’t know how Dwayne Johnson can come up with these insults. He certainly gets a good laugh while being a straight-up badass. His comedic timing is nothing short of perfect. While having to get as buffed as his co-star (so buffed he could be on American Ninja Warrior), Efron has been starring in a lot of raunchy comedies recently—from the decent Neighbors to the abysmal Dirty Grandpa. I prefer him vomiting in the pool in this movie rather than seeing him waking up on a beach wearing nothing but a bumblebee fanny pack.

While the jokes do work, there are times in which they go on for far too long. In one scene, Mitch, Brody and Summer sneak into a hospital morgue in search for evidence about the drugs. Brody is told to look under the corpse’s penis for anything, which, of course, he makes a complete ass out of himself. A lot of raunchy comedies—like Neighbors—often use a lot of dick jokes. If it goes for too long, it loses humor.

Despite its moments, Baywatch is, more or less, your standard R-rated comedy. With strong action, great chemistry between Johnson and his co-stars, what falters is some terrible CGI (still a lot better than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and the jokes being a mixed bag.

2/4