Foxy Brown – Review

1 Dec

The 1970s was a really interesting time for film. This was the era of auteur film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg making major names for themselves and redefining how movies should be made. This was also a great time for B-movies that would be played as double features in drive ins or grindhouse theaters. The exploitation genre was thriving and this spawned another genre called blaxploitation, which is said to have started in 1971 with Shaft. In 1974, on a double feature bill with Truck Turner, came Foxy Brown starring the one and only Pam Grier. This movie has become known as one of the most influential blaxploitation films ever made, and despite the controversies surrounding it, has become a true cult classic.

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Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has her hands full taking care of herself while also looking after her small time drug dealer brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), while also helping her government agent boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter) recuperate after time spent in a hospital. Acting on his own misguided motivations, Link tips off gangster Steve Elias (Peter Brown) that Michael is alive and well despite what they originally thought. Soon enough, Michael is murdered in front of Foxy which ignites a fire that sends her on a mission of revenge. Disguising herself as a call girl, Foxy infiltrates the gang that uses a modeling agency as a front, and it doesn’t take long for Foxy to start working her way up the food chain to Steve and his partner, Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder).

There was a lot of very important names that went along with the blaxploitation genre like Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes, but one can not forget Pam Grier who made a living playing some of the most kickass female heros to grace the silver screen. This is the strongest element of Foxy Brown and the main reason why I could watch it over and over again. The way Grier delivers her smooth one liners while also not hesitating to shoot any villain that gets in her way makes Foxy Brown a really cool character. Another stand out performance is Antonio Fargas as Foxy’s overconfident younger brother that pretty much gets the plot of the film going. My favorite part of the movie has Foxy storming into her brother’s apartment and trashing after she holds him at gunpoint and lectures him on the mistakes he’s made. That’s going to be the scene I think of whenever anyone mentions this movie.

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Foxy Brown is an interesting movie to look at historically because it received a lot of praise and also a lot of controversy. Like many of Pam Grier’s roles, Foxy Brown was a very strong female character that spoke directly to African American women in 1974. She took good care of other people while also being more than capable of taking care of herself in all sorts of situations. On the flip side, the movie was criticized for the violence and drug use depicted in the lives of the black characters in this movie. There was also some critics who spoke out against the sexualization of Foxy Brown, even though many still were impressed by her ferocity and intelligence in dangerous situations. This opens up a lot of discussion and many people will have many different opinions. This kind of controversy helped turn Foxy Brown into the blaxploitation cult classic that it is.

Other than the controversy, another reason Foxy Brown has earned the title of “cult classic” is the fact that it’s just so damn entertaining. Having been originally released as a double feature, the run time is short which means the story moves at a very brisk and determined pace. Once the action gets started, it rarely slows down and Grier has a lot of great lines to say and asses to kick. While it is action packed, there’s a lot of surprisingly funny scenes as well. One great scene has Foxy and a call girl putting the heat on a judge which ends in a laugh out loud piece of slapstick. The grand finale is also one for the books with Foxy hijacking a plane from none other than Sid Haig, who starred in many Jack Hill films and became even more notorious as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Foxy Brown may not be the most high quality film you’ll ever see and a great deal of its priorities and intentions can be seen as misguided and out of order, but you can’t deny that it’s one entertaining little movie. Pam Grier knocks it out of the park as the title character and the supporting cast really back her up. There’s something great seeing Foxy take down the gangsters that killed her boyfriend, even though the plot flies by at break neck speeds. Any fan of cult movie or the blaxploitation genre should consider this movie a must see, and anyone who’s just curious about the era might find some enjoyment as well.

Final Grade: B+

The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

Hacksaw Ridge – Review

21 Nov

I recently wrote a review of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, which I think is one of the coolest and most passionately movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, Gibson has gotten into all sorts of trouble, and his career has certainly suffered for it. While I can’t get behind anything he’s said or done, I’m still a huge fan of his work and it was unfortunate to see him fall so far off the radar. After 10 years, Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, an anti-war film that’s based off an incredible true story of one man’s courage and beliefs that are often at odds with the rest of his brothers in arms. All I can say is that this is a very strong return which will hopefully remind Hollywood and movie goers everywhere about an intensely strong talent that has been missing from the spotlight for the past decade.

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Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man living in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II. Throughout the years of the war, he sees his friends and neighbors leave to enlist and often times never return. When his brother enlists, much to the anger of his WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), Desmond also enlists as a conscientious objector with a goal of becoming a field medic and never picking up a weapon. As Desmond leaves his family and his love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), behind he finds that the Army isn’t quite as accepting as he thought. After jumping through legal hoops and defending himself against his platoon’s leaders, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington), he and his brothers in arms are shipped off to Okinawa to a strike point known as Hacksaw Ridge. There, Doss is witness to the brutal horrors of war and the violence one man can inflict upon another, but his strong beliefs and courage never waver and he becomes a truly respected hero of WWII.

There’s many different ways to go about telling a story. You can jump right into the action or you can take your time and build up the characters and motivations before really getting into things. There’s no objective right or wrong way to do this, but the writers and Mel Gibson really landed how to tell the story of Hacksaw Ridge. The best way to describe it is that the story is broken up in two halves. The first half of the movie show Desmond at home with his family, his decision to enlist, and his time defending his beliefs at basic training. The second half of the movie is the battles and other heroics at Hacksaw Ridge. The second half is such a devastating experience that is guaranteed to exhaust the viewer, but it wouldn’t have had that same impact if time wasn’t spent building up Desmond’s character and his relationship with his family, peers, and superiors. When something terrible happens to a character in this movie, I felt a physical reaction because of the previous half of the movie turning a fictional character into what felt like a real person. This is a war film at its most effective.

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I’ve seen from some critics that Hacksaw Ridge glorifies extreme violence. While the violence may be extreme, it never glorifies it. There was no time during the battle sequences where I thought an act of violence was cool. That’s not what this movie is about, and by the end I felt like I couldn’t take that final trip up the cliff and face the horrors again. This is a movie about two conflicting themes being met at a place that is hell on earth. Desmond’s pacifist and religious beliefs seem to have no place on the battlefield, and you’d expect these beliefs to change once he saw what his fellow humans are capable of. Gibson shows war in a straightforward and unflinching way which is reminiscent to the violence that is seen in Saving Private Ryan. Sure, there’s really brutal incidences that receive a lot of focus, but this was for the purpose of showing a religious individual faced with a situation that can be seen as entirely godless.

I always say that the writers are nothing without the actors and the actors are nothing without the writers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that walks a fine line with the director present to make sure everyone stays on track. Here we have actors all performing at the top of their game. Andrew Garfield seems to completely become Desmond Doss and Oscar consideration has to be given to Hugo Weaving for his small but unforgettable performance. Vince Vaughn gets more respect from me as well along with Sam Worthington in a career best performance. These are the names that stick out when I think of Hacksaw Ridge, but the rest of the cast also bring their best no matter how small the part may seem. A realistic movie requires realistic and believable performances and they radiate from the screen in the movie.

Hacksaw Ridge is a confident and impressive look at the horrors of war and is among the best and most powerful war movies ever made. The performances stand high amongst the carnage and the themes tower right along with them. This isn’t a movie about religion, but more so a movie about beliefs and conviction and the sacrifice it takes to uphold them. This is a masterwork in the genre of war and quite simply one of the best movies of the entire year.

Final Grade: A+

Point Break (1991 & 2015) – Review

17 Nov

I’ve talked about cult classics on here many times, because those are some of my favorite kinds of movies. I don’t know how I could’ve been writing these for so long and leave out one of the kings of the cult classics: Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break. It’s an over the top thrill ride that still has people talking and laughing about. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it would eventually be remade in 2015 to overwhelmingly negative critical responses. Today I’m gonna take a look at both movies and see where they both went right and where they might have went wrong.

Let’s start it off with the original 1991 classic.

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FBI rookie Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) might have been at the top of his class at the academy, but he soon learns that he’s going to have to prove his skills when he’s assigned to the robbery squad in Los Angeles. Partnered with burnt out veteran Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), the two begin their investigation on a group of professional bank robbers known only as the “Ex-Presidents” thanks to their interesting choice of disguises. They soon deduce that the Ex-Presidents are more than likely a group of surfers, so Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing community and find their guys. After being trained by surfer Tyler (Lori Petty), Utah meets one of the most respected people on the beach who goes by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). As Utah’s respect becomes more apparent for Bodhi’s philosophies, he starts to stray further from his connection to the FBI, but a shocking discovery about Bodhi’s involvements in the robberies changes everything.

Point Break is one of the purest definitions of the term “action movie.” It has everything from skydiving and surfing to fist fights and car chases. Not only that, but it has a whole lot of attitude to back it all up. While there’s a lot of adrenaline coursing through this movie, it isn’t anything perfect. First of all, Keanu Reeves’ acting can only be described as sub-par. Some of his lines are absolutely cringe worthy, which is something he can’t be completely blamed for. It’s also pretty uneven in terms of its action and excitement. The build up of the story can often feel disjointed and slightly distracted, but there’s a point that is highlighted by an exceptional foot chase that really brings the action up to 11. From then on, the action and the excitement doesn’t let up, and as silly as a lot of it is, Kathryn Bigelow films it with such style that Point Break has earned a spot as a cult classic.

Bigelow’s style is what really sets Point Break above the rest. First of all, the look of the Ex-Presidents is fantastic and original and I really can’t get enough of it. Other than the beautiful way the action is filmed along with the stunts that really get the adrenaline pumping, this movie has the nostalgic joy of the true MTV generation. The extreme sports along with the music and fast paced editing succeeds at putting the viewer in a certain mindset. While there are some major storytelling flaws and the writing often gets far too cheesy, this is a cult classic for a reason and required viewing for any action junkie.

Final Grade: B-

In 2015 came the remake that no one could have conceived of nor had any desire to have it be made. While this may be true about the remake of Point Break, it doesn’t change the fact that it made a good amount of money. Why does this happen?

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After seeing his friend die during one of their extreme sports performances, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) decides to give it all up and join the FBI. After years of training, he’s temporarily made into an agent to investigate a string of heists that include motorcycles, parachuting, and skydiving. Utah is sent to France to meet up with his new partner, Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone), and the two soon stumble upon a polyathlete named Bodhi (Édgar Ramirez) and his crew. As Utah earns the group’s trust and follows them around the world to engage in their extreme challenges that they believe will bring them close to nirvana, Utah starts to find their way of life refreshing. After things unexpectedly turn violent, Utah must re-asses the situation and start to once again think like an agent of the FBI.

While the characters and overall idea of this version of Point Break has similarities to the original, this does feel like a very different movie, and I can really respect that. This is a remake that’s trying to take chances and be different from the original. With the globe traveling, there’s more awesome stunts and death defying action to satisfy anyone. That’s where the positives for this movie end, so it was fun while it lasted. Somehow, Luke Bracey is even blander than Reeves was and I was dying just to see Reeves, Swayze, and Busey for their respective roles. I like Ray Winstone as an actor but he was completely underutilized here. As For Édgar Ramirez’s Bodhi: He was a jerk and I couldn’t stand him. All of Bodhi’s crew are such pompous asses with very little going for them to make them likable and make Utah’s job harder.

You know what else really bothers me about this and any movie guilty of this? I hate when movies try to preach to me and make me believe some certain agenda even if I happen to agree with it. This film is loaded with the sappiest “save the Earth” dialogue and faux mysticism. All of this talk happens in between the really cool action sequences which made the movie somehow even more boring than it would have been. When they aren’t talking this drivel, the screenplay tries to build the characters up with backstories and the like, but none of these scenes work well either. The only reason I can think of to see this movie are the parts when the characters are sky diving or snow boarding or whatever it is they do. This is one of the sillier movies I’ve seen fail so hard by taking itself so seriously.

Final Grade: D+

So there you have it. What I hope people take away from this is that it’s perfectly cool to go into the original Point Break and expect just to have fun. It’s not great, but it’s better than the sorry excuse for a remake. Stick with the original and you’ll be fine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies – Part 2

12 Nov

So here we have the final two movies in the Next Generation movie series. In the last review, I talked about Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First ContactGenerations was an acceptable entry into the series of feature films but didn’t really blow me away while First Contact was a rollicking good time and was exactly the kind of thing I wanted with this particular crew. This time, I’m going to look at Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis and see if they hold up to their predecessors.

Jonathan Frakes returned to the director’s chair after helming First Contact to make the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection.

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After Data (Brent Spiner) goes haywire while on a mission with Federation and Son’a explorers, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the Enterprise travel to their location on an isolated planet. Their original mission was to study the quaint Ba’ku people, but upon recovering Data and repairing his positronic brain, it becomes clear that the Son’a and Admiral Dougherty’s (Anthony Zerbe) intentions are much more sinister. The leader of the Son’a, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) along with Federation help is attempting to move the Ba’ku off their home planet in order to remove the healing properties from the rings around the planet which will make the land uninhabitable. Picard now faces a choice to either stay on the side of the Federation and its Admiral, or defy his orders and defend the peaceful Ba’ku from forceful relocation.

I see this movie get pushed to the side a lot because it feels too much like an extended episode of The Next Generation. I completely agree, but that doesn’t detract too much from it. While watching Insurrection, I wasn’t too impressed, but then I got to thinking and reading more about it and it’s actually better than people make it out to be. In this movie, we see Picard make a very difficult choice to defy the Federation that he loves so much in order to protect the rights of the defenseless Ba’ku. While this fits in with Star Trek highlighting real world issues in their science fiction universe, it also features a performance by Patrick Stewart that really shines.

Jonathan Frakes, who also plays Will Riker, is back directing this one since his work on First Contact proved very effective. While it isn’t as sharp as First Contact was, Insurrection is a still a visually exciting film with the special effects and performances you’ve come to expect with Star Trek. I have to give special attention to the make up work on the Son’a. Their skin one their faces being pulled all the way back makes them a horrifying villain to look at, and F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Ru’afo just solidifies their coolness in my mind. For a villain we’ve never seen before, they definitely make an impact.

Star Trek: Insurrection isn’t one of the best Star Trek films, but it’s certainly not as bad as The Final Frontier. This movie definitely feels like a long episode of The Next Generation, but that just means it feels like another adventure with a crew that I’ve come to know very well. I can’t really complain about that. Some parts do tend to drag and there are a few story arcs that lead to nowhere, but the action, characters, and special effects all work in the movie’s favor along with the choices Picard and the others have to make.

Final Grade: B

In 2002, the adventures of the crew of The Next Generation finally came to an end with Star Trek: Nemesis.

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After the assassinations of multiple members of the Romulan Senate, a new Praetor is put into power. As a result, the Enterprise is ordered to Romulus on a diplomatic mission to see that this exchange of powers goes over smoothly with the new Praetor being of Reman descent, which is the race that the Romulans use as slaves and cannon fodder. The new leader is in fact a human named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) who has a very special and unsettling connection to Captain Picard. When it becomes clear that Shinzon is only using his new power to not only conquer Romulus, but also Earth, Picard and the crew of the Enterprise begin a hopeless fight against Shinzon’s technologically superior flag ship. With the fight growing bleaker by the second, Picard is forced to use drastic measures that pushes the limit of his ship and crew.

After 7 seasons of the show and 4 movies, it’s clear by this point that this particular series is running out of steam. I have to say, though, Nemesis insures that these characters that people grew to love so much really get a send off. Unfortunately, this send off is very under appreciated and I feel like I’m in the minority of people that really liked this movie a lot. After First Contact, I think this movie is the best of The Next Generation films. There’s plenty of action and excitement, and despite a budget that wasn’t too great, there are some really cool special effects. The last 45 minutes or so is a space battle that really gets the heart pounding, and it highlights various members of the crew who each have their own time in the spotlight. Finally, there’s a moment in this movie that is one of the most heartbreaking in the entire franchise.

Star Trek: Nemesis is a very exciting movie that is full of action and really gives closure to these characters. The main cast are all great and perform like they always have. The best new addition is definitely Tom Hardy as the villainous Shinzon. He just oozes corruption and yuckiness while also appearing pathetic and sickly. This isn’t a perfect Star Trek movie. Leave that to The Wrath of Khan, but I will say it’s a damn entertaining one and it’s, in my own opinion, a great send off to the crew of The Next Generation

Final Grade: A-

With this series finally at a close, it’s pretty nice that there aren’t any real stinkers in the mix. A few of these movies are better than others, but none of them fall into the pit that was created by The Final Frontier. For fans of this franchise, all of these movies are worth a watch on some level. Live long and prosper.

Doctor Strange – Review

6 Nov

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown and expanded so much more than I ever expected since the days of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. After showcasing those more mainstream heroes, including Captain America and Thor, it was time for Marvel and Disney to add something new to the mix and bring in some lesser known heroes. Ant Man was the first to really go somewhere strange, and the inclusion of Black Panther in Civil War was just awesome. Now, with Doctor Strange, we’re going down a wormhole that I never expected to see in an MCU movie. This is probably the most unique film in the entire franchise, and is most definitely one of my new favorites. Who woulda thunk it?

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Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an accomplished, world renowned neurosurgeon who may operate on other people, but it only working for himself and his own inflated ego. After a devastating car accident leaves him with permanent nerve damage in his hands, Strange tries every medical technique he can find until he hears about this mystical clan in Kathmandu that helped a paraplegic walk again. Upon arriving at the secret training ground, Kamar-Taj, Strange is shown the secrets of multidimensional existence by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and is appointed a teacher, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Though reluctant at first, Strange becomes a star pupil and soon has to put everything he’s learned to the test when the treacherous magician Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) returns to unleash dark lord Dormammu and the Dark Dimension onto the earth.

I knew next to nothing about this character before going into this movie, so my expectations were a little weird. I was expecting something entertaining and disposable like Ant Man, but I got something so much more. This is more than just a comic book action film. While it works as an adaptation of a Marvel comic that builds on a universe that keeps on growing, it’s also a really impressive and mid bending fantasy. Listening to the characters talk about muliverses and mirror dimensions along with the lingering presence of the Dark Dimension and Dormammu just sounded so cool. It made even the extended scenes of dialogue feel just as exciting as the scenes with magic. The world that the screenwriters crafted with Doctor Strange is so fantastical, it’s impossible to complain at all about the lack of imagination put into superhero movies.

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So while the dialogue is all really cool, it wouldn’t be worth it if all the magic and special effects on display couldn’t match what they are all talking about. This is where Doctor Strange shines the brightest. This film has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. There was one point in the movie where Strange, Mordo, and Kaecilius are fighting and running through a city that is completely folding in on itself and coming apart like a kaleidoscope. Some of that scene was shown in the trailers, but it’s so much crazier than the trailers ever made it out to be. It was like Inception on steroids and LSD. The climax of the movie also plays out much differently than in most movies like this. It fits in very well with the rest of the movie and will certainly not disappoint.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as a Bostonian in Black Mass was a little awkward to say the least, so I was a bit concerned with how he’d handle the accent for Stephen Strange. My concerns were unwarranted since it’s clear he is the best choice for this character. He’s funny, arrogant, and sympathetic at the same time which makes this a fully realized character that is brought to life by a great performance by Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor also give very good performances, but I have to give an extra special shout out to Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius. While his character didn’t have nearly as much screen time as I may have wanted, he stole every scene he was in and is one of the more memorable villains in the recent MCU.

 

Doctor Strange has so much imagination, action, fantasy, and humor crammed into it that it sometimes feel like it might burst from the awesomeness. The actors all do a splendid job with the roles and the special effects are going to make you feel like a kid on Christmas. This is definitely one of the better movies in the MCU, and while it may not be the best, it’s definitely one of my new favorites in the franchise.

Final Grade: A

Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies – Part 1

4 Nov

A little while ago, I did a couple of review on the original Star Trek movies. Overall, it’s an epic series of movies, save for a few bad eggs. There was still a lot more great than bad, so I was pleased. It would be wrong to talk about those movies and leave the more recent Next Generation movies in the dark. Wether you like the original series or The Next Generation better is a different story. I personally think that both have their own unique strengths that hold them both up very well. That may be a cop out answer, but you can’t make me choose. Anyway, let’s get started with the first part of my reviews.

The first movie to feature The Next Generation cast was the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations. The interesting thing about this one is that it also features some cast of the original series. Could it possibly live up to that kind of potential?

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In the past, James Kirk (William Shatner), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) are guests for the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise-B. After answering a distress call involving ships caught in an energy ribbon, the Enterprise-B also gets damaged and Kirk is apparently killed. In the time of the the Enterprise-D, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the crew are called to investigate an incident on a space observatory where they find Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell), an El-Aurian who was also saved from the energy ribbon by the Enterprise-B. It soon becomes clear that Soran’s motives to get closer to the ribbon are not scientific, but personal as he will do anything, including destroy an entire planetary system to just reenter the ribbon, which is a place that time does not exist and a person can travel and do whatever they want. In order to stop Soran, Picard relies on an old Starfleet legend: James Kirk, who has also been trapped in the ribbon for all these years.

There isn’t really a whole lot to say about Generations. It’s great to see the crew of The Next Generation finally get their own big budget movie, and it’s also cool to see some older faces from the original series in the same movie. There isn’t much inherently wrong with this film, but by the time the credits begin to roll you can’t help but feel you’ve watched a weak entry into the series. The best way to describe this movie is just as a longer and more expensive episode of The Next Generation. The whole plot involving the energy ribbon and being able to enter it and travel in time is just the kind of thing you would see in one of the cool episodes of the series, but I’m not sure that’s enough to really carry a feature film.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some stand out parts of Generations. The crew all do great in their first time together on the big screen, and McDowell’s villainous performance as Soran is both tragic and sinister which makes him a perfect fit for this series. There’s also some excellent comedic relief since Data fits himself with Doctor Soong’s emotion chip that he gets off Lore towards the end of the series. Finally seeing Data truly understand emotions is funny and, in some odd nerdy way, makes me proud. This isn’t an excellent entry into the series, but it also isn’t a bad one. This movie has enough to make fans happy, but will also leave them wanting a bit more. I say it’s worth a watch.

Final Grade: B

Two years later in 1996, the crew of The Next Generation got their very own movie where no other character from the original series made an appearance. This film was Star Trek: First Contact.

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Ever since being assimilated by the Borg, Captain Jean-Luc Picard has never fully recovered from his experience. Now, he’s forced to face his most dangerous enemy yet again as they begin their assault on Earth. After defeating the Borg Cube, a sphere is released from the ship and sent through time with the plans of killing Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) before he can create the first warp engine and establish first contact with an alien race. This will make humanity more susceptible to the Borg and their mission of assimilation. Luckily, the Enterprise manages to travel through time as well, and fight back the Borg and aid Cochrane in his attempts to repair the warp engine. For those left on board the Enterprise, however, things don’t look so good as the Borg sneak onto the ship and wage an all out war with the crew.

Take everything cool in Generations and make it even cooler, and the result is First Contact. This is how you make a high quality Star Trek film. So far, this is one of the best entries in the entire franchise, including the original series. For starters, the Borg are my favorite villains in Star Trek, and making them the main antagonists for this film was a great idea. It brings a lot of the canon from the show and adds even more to it, while also revealing the man Cochrane really was, rather than the hero Star Fleet has made him out to be. There’s a lot of themes about humanity and what it means to be human and good, which seems to be the prime directive for the writers of Star Trek. It’s themes like this that feel all the more highlighted when you’re watching a feature film rather than an episode on t.v.

Along with improving the villain and the storytelling, First Contact also amps up the action and characterization. The main draw to watch Star Trek is to see the crews, whoever they may be, work together in such unison that no problem appears to big for them to handle, even at the most dire of moments. In this film, the crew is split up doing equally important things, which means their screen time is never wasted. On Earth, the scenes are much quieter, but the Enterprise is where all the action is. There’s one scene in particular that takes place on the outside of the Enterprise that might be my favorite scene in any Star Trek movie. The space battle in the beginning is another highlight in an already outstanding film.

For fans of The Next Generation, this is the Star Trek movie for you. It shows all of the strengths and weaknesses of the characters very clearly while also beefing up the canon that has already been established. There’s great acting, a great villain, and many memorable scenes that will keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Final Grade: A

So that’s just the start of my reviews for The Next Generation movies. Up next, I’ll be looking at Insurrection and Nemesis.