Sunday, July 31, 2016

Movie Review: "Jason Bourne"

After a nine year wait, Jason Bourne has returned to movie screens in what is perhaps the best Bourne movie of them all.  Jason Bourne picks up nearly a decade after The Bourne Ultimatum, with Matt Damon's Bourne currently living in Greece as a street fighter, off of the CIA's radar.  Of course it wouldn't be a Bourne movie if Bourne wasn't drawn back into the crosshairs of the CIA, only this time it's personal, when a major revelation about Bourne's past comes to light that propels Bourne on his quest for revenge.  To say too much would rob this movie of the franchise's trademark twists and turns, which are all executed well by director Paul Greengrass.

Once more, Damon does far more with the role than what is required.  With only about two dozen lines of dialogue in the whole two hour movie, Damon has to make us feel for Bourne through his actions and facial expressions, which with a character as stoic as Bourne, is no small feat.  I can't help but think that had The Bourne Identity director, Doug Liman, cast a lesser actor as Bourne, the franchise would have never made it this far.  Joining Damon once more is Julia Stiles, as former CIA analyst turned whistleblower, Nicky Parsons, as well as newcomers to the franchise, Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander.  Vikander portrays a morally questionable CIA cyber agent on the trail of Bourne, while Jones acts as the head of the CIA.  I have often said that I think every movie would be better with just a little bit of Tommy Lee Jones, and that is true here as well.  However, what makes Jason Bourne possibly the best Bourne movie, is the emotional motivation that drives him in this one.

The first three Bourne movies were all pretty much about Bourne learning who he was by exposing what the CIA did to him, and once he did that, that was it.  We didn't get to see what those revelations really meant for Bourne, which is what Jason Bourne does.   When we first see Bourne again, he is a man adrift.  He has no purpose in life and is struggling with the knowledge that he was a killer.  Then Nicky comes back into his life, and with her she brings an emotional bombshell that sends Bourne into action once more.  It is that emotional bombshell that makes Jason Bourne such a strong movie.  It creates a basic human reason for the carnage beyond Bourne simply wanting to know who he was.  Of course, while the Bourne movies have always been known for their smart storytelling, they're still action movies first and foremost, and Jason Bourne more than satisfies on that mark.

From a tense motorcycle chase during a riot in Greece, all the way to a car chase on the Las Vegas strip, Jason Bourne is an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.  While I think the final fight between Bourne and the bad guy is a little lackluster compared to some of the great fight scenes in previous Bourne movies, the end result of the fight is emotionally cathartic.

All in all, Jason Bourne is a movie that you must see if you are a fan of the Bourne movies.  While I am not sure how well the movie will play if this is the first Bourne movie you've ever seen, Jason Bourne is such a well-crafted spy thriller, that I think just about anyone interested in this type of movie will feel rewarded.

I give Jason Bourne a 9 out of 10!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How DC Won Comic-Con 2016

It has been a rough year for DC Comics at the movies.  While Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice (or as most fanboys refer to it, BvS) made $872.7 million worldwide, that was at least three hundred million less than what Warner Bros. was initially predicting, and most importantly, wanting.  Couple the negative critical response with a very mixed fan response, and DC has really found themselves in a PR pickle over the last few months since BvS came out.  Most notably because BvS, while itself being a sequel to Man of Steel, was meant to be the launchpad for DC's own cinematic universe, akin to what Marvel has done with The Avengers.

First, let me clarify, I actually liked BvS (for my full review, here's the link), but it wasn't perfect and was not the way I ideally wanted to see these characters represented, and clearly most other fans agreed with me.  At the time of BvS's release, Warner Bros. was already well into post-production on Suicide Squad, the villain mash-up movie that is releasing on August 5th, and was already filming a solo Wonder Woman movie to be released in June 2017.  Add on top of that the fact that Justice League, DC's answer to The Avengers, was already set to start rolling cameras just a couple of weeks after BvS came out, and there were just too many balls rolling for Warner Bros. to pull the plug.  They had to do damage control.

In the wake of the so-so reception of BvS, Warner Bros. tapped Jon Berg, the executive vp at Warners, to work with Geoff Johns, CCO of DC Comics, to oversee DC Films moving forward.  Before that, DC Films was mostly being run by Man of SteelBvS, and Justice League director, Zack Snyder, along with his wife and producing partner, Deborah Snyder, and The Dark Knight trilogy producer, Charles Roven.  Now, Berg and Johns are essentially playing the role that Kevin Feige plays at Marvel Studios, overseeing all of the DC movies in production.  Then came the news a month or so ago that WB made Ben Affleck an Executive Producer on any movie that features Batman, further wresting total control away from Snyder.  Add on top of that the unconfirmed word of last minute rewrites to Justice League to inject more lightness into the movie, as well as confirmed last minute reshoots to Suicide Squad that may or may not have been to do the same thing, and it's safe to say that everyone knows Warner Bros. were trying to reposition their chess pieces to fix the situation internally.

With all that said, being a moviemaker myself, I know that most of this was already in motion before BvS came out, so to necessarily say that Suicide SquadWonder Woman, and Justice League were retooled after BvS, is not all that realistic.  The movies that they are probably changed a little bit, but there's only so much you can do when two of the movies were already shot when everything hit the fan.  So really I think DC and Warners knew they had to just wait it out till they had enough stuff to show fans to try and win back their trust, which made Comic-Con 2016 perhaps the most crucial piece on their chessboard.

Comic-Con is the largest comic book convention in the world, held every single July in San Diego, with pretty much every major geeky thing that is coming out over the next year having panels to promote their work.  While some have debated whether or not a movie's presence at Comic-Con really impacts it's box office, it has been shown to be ground zero for positive buzz in the past, with the first Iron Man being the perfect case and point.

Robert Downey, Jr. was still seen as an iffy choice for Tony Stark, but when Marvel showed off footage from the movie at Comic-Con 2007, it started a parade of excitement in the fan community.  That exact same thing is what DC and Warner Bros. knew they needed after the months of negative press they'd had in regards to their DC movies.  It's bad enough that the casual moviegoing audience didn't respond as kindly to BvS as they had to The Dark Knight trilogy or The Avengers movies, but for a good portion of fans to have turned their back on the movie, that was the sign that the ship had to be righted.   Thankfully, I can effectively say that DC and Warner Bros. have won Comic-Con 2016.

While it is too early to say if Warners has righted the ship, they came out swinging at their panel on Saturday.  First, they finally made official the worst kept secret in Hollywood, that Ben Affleck was going to direct a Batman movie that he is co-writing with Geoff Johns.  Then, DC kicked things into high gear by showing trailers for both Wonder Woman and Justice League.  Both trailers emphasized lighter tones than Man of Steel and BvS had, with a fair few jokes sprinkled through.  And after that, DC capped things off with a new sizzle reel for Suicide Squad that makes the movie look even more fun than it already did.  All in all, DC and Warner Bros. did what they had to do and the fans responded accordingly, thanks in large part because Warners broke Comic-Con tradition.

Usually, most of the special trailers shown at Comic-Con are not released online and are only ever seen by those in the crowd.  Thankfully, after years of bootleg trailers, it seems the studios are learning their lessons and Warners released all of these trailers online immediately after they premiered at Comic-Con.  This made it easier for Warner Bros. to say, "We value the fans."  That's how I saw them, and I'm glad I did, because personally, I was super impressed by everything I saw.

I loved seeing more of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and really dig the World War I setting for her first solo movie.  From the looks of things, director Patty Jenkins has made one of the most visually stimulating superhero movies ever made, with Wonder Woman's home of Themyscira looking particularly amazing.  As well, I think Chris Pine looks charmingly fantastic as Col. Steve Trevor, the first man Wonder Woman ever meets, and her love interest to boot.

As far as Justice League goes, I loved the nice bits of humor in the trailer, seeing Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne going around to recruit the likes of Aquaman and the Flash.  The tone and feel of the trailer is very much the tone and feel I think most fans wanted from BvS, which is a tone that takes itself seriously, while still being fun and colorful.  It's a tough balance, but if Snyder has managed to apply that tone to the entire movie, we may be in for something special.

Then finally, the sizzle reel from Suicide Squad only furthered my interest in the movie, which has slowly been growing since last year's Comic-Con.  I'm still not a fan of Jared Leto's look as The Joker, mainly because I don't like the tattoos or the grill on his teeth, but there is no denying how entertaining the movie looks.

While it's always possible that DC and Warners used the few moments of levity in each movie to try and sell these movies as being different than BvS, I genuinely believe that the folks in charge have finally listened.  Fans don't like what they have been doing, and it seems that they are actively trying to fix things and change the conversation.

All in all, even though we have to wait till 2017 to see if Wonder Woman and Justice League deliver on their promise, Suicide Squad hits theaters in just two weeks.  If that movie succeeds with fans, as well as with critics and casual moviegoers, then BvS will start to become a distant memory, thanks in large part to an awesome Comic-Con.  While some might argue that Marvel Studios still won Comic-Con with a new trailer for Doctor Strange, some new Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  and Spider-Man: Homecoming info (confirming Kurt Russell as Star-Lord's Dad, Ego the Living Planet, and Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture in Spider-Man), as well as the announcement of Academy award winner Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, I believe DC won Comic-Con hands down.  Simply put, this is the first time Wonder Woman has ever had a movie of her own, and this is the first Justice League movie ever made.  Both of these comic books predate anything at Marvel, save for Captain America.  The time has finally come for these DC properties to shine, and fans have had their excitement renewed for these movies.  Well done, DC.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Movie Review: "Star Trek Beyond"

The crew of the USS Enterprise are back to celebrate Star Trek's 50th Anniversary with a new movie in the alternate timeline started with 2009's Star Trek.  Cutting to the chase, Star Trek Beyond is a very fun movie entirely worthy of the Star Trek name.  While Beyond is not quite as strong as it's two predecessors (a controversial opinion, seeing as how Into Darkness is hated by most serious Trekkers), I did like Beyond an awful lot, and felt it was a perfect continuation of the story J.J. Abrams started back in 2009.

At the start of Star Trek Beyond, the Enterprise crew is midway through their five year mission, and such a long stretch in space has worn down the crew, in particular Captain Kirk, played yet again by the exceptional Chris Pine.  Of course this movie doesn't wallow in soul searching for two whole hours.  These characters search their souls as they embark on a propulsive adventure in uncharted space,  getting separated on an unknown planet by an alien warlord named Krall, with the crew of the Enterprise having to find each other and reunite in order to stop the threat that Krall poses to the Federation.

This time about, because J.J. Abrams had to direct a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he serves merely as a producer, and Fast & Furious director, Justin Lin, takes over as director.  As well, the screenwriting duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are no longer writing the franchise, with the same going for producer and Into Darkness screenwriter, Damon Lindelof.  The new writing team of Simon Pegg (who once again portrays Scotty) and Doug Jung, prove that they know these characters inside and out.  In a great many ways, the Enterprise crew is more faithful and lively here in terms of dialogue and characterization than they've been in any of the alternate timeline movies thus far, with Karl Urban's Bones getting the vast majority of the movie's best lines.  Plus, Pegg and Jung deserve huge props for creating the new character Jaylah, a resourceful, tough as nails alien portrayed by a butt-kicking Sofia Boutella.  Add on top of that Lin's action movie pedigree (especially in a scene where a swarm of bee-like spaceships bore into the Enterprise to tear it apart), and you get a very solid Summer blockbuster that is fun and action packed, but seems to be missing the special ingredient that made this movie's two predecessors so special to me.

Honestly, I can't quite put my finger on why I feel this is the weakest of the three Trek movies in the alternate timeline.  The energy is there, the cast continues to surpass the cast of the original series in my opinion, and there are plenty of fun moments to be had.  So why do I feel this way?  For me, I think it's two reasons.  One, I think Idris Elba's bad guy, Krall, never gets enough explanation to how his strange powers work and how he amassed this large army to make him as strong of a villain as he could have been.  And two, the movie simply lacks as many awesome, fist pumping, spine tingling moments as the two directed by Abrams.  Part of this goes back to a slight disappointment I have in Michael Giacchino's musical score.  I love Giacchino, and his themes for Star Trek are some of my favorites he's ever written, so for me to not feel like he utilized his themes as well as he had on the two previous movies, makes me sad.  Of course, this is really me being a nitpicky fanboy, because as far as this movie being just a fun standalone adventure movie, there hasn't been any other blockbuster this Summer quite as strong as this one.

Star Trek Beyond simply made me smile for the vast majority of its two hour runtime.  When watching this movie, you get to spend two hours with characters you love, all getting along and working together towards a common goal.  This is a rare feat in most of these team movies nowadays, as is evidenced by Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman.  For some odd reason, most moviemakers think we want to see our heroes arguing and fighting one another, but Beyond makes a strong case for unity above all else.   None of the conflict in Star Trek Beyond comes from the relationships between the characters, and that is just a refreshing change of pace in this day-and-age where so many people the world over can't seem to ever agree on anything.  While this is an action adventure movie, the future of Star Trek feels even more like a utopia than it usually does in this one, and I for one would love to live in the world of Star Trek.  Honestly, I believe that's the true hallmark of great sci-fi or fantasy.  Is it a world so fantastic I'd want to live in it?  In this case, the answer is a resounding yes, especially as long as Kirk and the Enterprise crew are around to save the day.

I give Star Trek Beyond an 8 out of 10!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why do we need a "NEW" Iron Man?

There is a new disturbing trend in comic books that I want to rant about, and that trend is new characters taking over the mantle for an established superhero.  Just this week it was announced that at the end of Marvel's new event, "Civil War II," Tony Stark will step down from being Iron Man and will be replaced by a new character named Riri Williams, a female college student.  Of course, this is not the first instance of something like this happening in the past few years worth of comics.  While the comic companies always frame it as if it's something we should all be excited about, the reverse happens because they're messing with the foundation of what made their companies to begin with.

When a new character takes over the mantle of Iron Man, they are no longer Iron Man in my opinion.  Iron Man is Tony Stark.  Captain America is Steve Rogers.  Batman is Bruce Wayne.  Spider-Man is Peter Parker.  Etc. and so forth.  You can have as many characters take up the mantles as you want, but there is only one Thor, and it's the traditional Thor from Norse mythology, not the Jane Foster Thor that was introduced a couple of years ago.  The minute you introduce a woman as Iron Man, she's no longer Iron Man.  Not least of which because she isn't a man, she's a woman!  Call her Iron Woman for crying out loud!  It's stupid to call her Iron Man, cause that's not what she is.

I have nothing wrong with Tony Stark going away for a while and a new hero taking his place, and I have nothing wrong with the fact that it's an African American woman wanting to honor the legacy of Iron Man, but she's not Iron Man.  Iron Man will always be Tony Stark, the two are interlinked, and no matter how many times you try to have people take over for a pre-existing character like this, fans get upset for that very reason.  Now if Marvel were to call her Iron Woman, that would be new and unique, and I'd be fine with it, but the silliness of calling her the new Iron Man is just too much.  All of these things that Marvel has been doing with their characters for the past few years really goes back to the big issue...  Create new superheroes, stop taking pre-existing characters and trying to graft onto them.  That is not what longtime fans want.

When I read a Spider-Man comic book, I want to be reading about Peter Parker.  Sure, Ultimate Spider-Man's Miles Morales is okay, but he's not Peter and he never will be.  What makes Spider-Man is not his powers, it's who he is under the suit, and for me, that should always be Peter Parker.  I hated the nearly two year long storyline where Doc Ock took over Peter Parker's body, cause it wasn't Spider-Man, and while I understand Miles Morales is now part of the canon, I just don't care about him as a character the way I do about Peter Parker.  Miles has only been around half a decade, tell him to call me when he's been around for fifty-four years like Peter has.  Of course, it's not just Marvel who has been doing this, DC is real bad to do this as well.

In the past two years, I stopped reading Batman comic books for one reason, because writer Scott Snyder finally wrote a story I didn't like.  He "killed" Bruce Wayne off, made Commissioner Gordon the new Batman by having him wear a robot suit, and then brought Bruce back, saying he wasn't dead, he just had amnesia (to say nothing of the Joker being immortal or being multiple people over the years).  This was just a storyline that negated why I've always loved the character of Batman.  Sure, there have been others to don the cowl over the years, ranging from Azrael to Dick Grayson, but in each of those instances, I wasn't quite as upset.  While I do believe Bruce Wayne is the one true Batman, seeing a sidekick step up and take over the identity isn't as bad as some random person, like what's happening with Iron Man, or what happened with Miles Morales.

Personally, I don't mind the idea of Bucky Barnes as Captain America.  Will he ever replace Steve Rogers?  No, but he's a natural fit.  The same with The Falcon.  I also never had a problem with Wally West taking over as The Flash after Barry Allen died (who himself followed Jay Garrick).  In these instances, you're taking a superhero partner or sidekick and giving them the mantle.  That's actually a neat concept and is fun, so long as one day the true Batman, Cap, or Flash, come back (which they all did).  The bigger issue is when a new character is introduced, or an old character who had no super powers or superhero training (i.e. Jane Foster and Commissioner Gordon), take over the mantle just because the writers want to shake things up.  To me, that's just silly.

I am not sure Bob Kane or Bill Finger would have ever liked seeing Commissioner Gordon as Batman.  Maybe they would have, but at the end of the day, that's not the character they created.  They created Bruce Wayne as Batman.  While Stan Lee has come out in recent years in support of all the changes Marvel has made to his characters, fans haven't been as agreeable, and I hate being the typical fanboy here, but I'm just fed up with the current state of comic books.  When I pick up a comic book, I want to read the characters I've always known and loved in new adventures.  I don't want to read the adventures of someone else as Iron Man or Thor, I just want to see Tony Stark and Thor in the costumes, kicking butt and taking names.  Sure, the argument is always...  "Well, you can just go back and reread old comics," but that's missing the point.  The point is wanting to see the further adventures of Tony Stark's Iron Man.  We know what's already happened, therefore we're more interested in seeing what the next adventure will look like.  Maybe I'm just a sentimentalist, but I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review: "The BFG"

Director Steven Spielberg has created yet another masterpiece, with this one being a gentle adaptation of Roald Dahl's kid lit book, The BFG.  The BFG is nothing short of brilliant, with imagination on display at every turn.

The movie follows the titular Big Friendly Giant (or BFG as he comes to be known), as he befriends a human girl named Sophie and whisks her away to giant country, where the BFG is the runt of a litter of larger, more violent giants.  Throughout the course of the movie you really get to know Sophie and the BFG, with the two of them forging a friendship due to their shared circumstances.  Both are lonely souls who others think less of, and in the eyes of each other, they discover what it means to be a better human "bean," as the BFG would put it.

Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie with wide-eyed wonder and sass, immediately making Sophie an adorable heroine you want to root for.   Then there is recent Oscar winner, and current Spielberg muse, Mark Rylance, stealing each scene he's in as the BFG.  Rylance has this uncanny ability to convey deep wells of emotion with nothing other than his eyes.  He truly is a marvel to watch onscreen, and when you go from his work in Bridge of Spies to his work as the BFG, you see a completely different actor.  The BFG is a warm and gentle soul lacking in bravery, who only wants to help deliver the dreams he catches up in dream country to sleeping people.  Perhaps the greatest marvel of this movie though, is the fact that the special effects manage to make us believe that Ruby Barnhill is interacting with a twenty-four foot tall Mark Rylance.

Through the use of CGI and motion capture work, the special effects crew manage to capture every element of Mark Rylance's performance and make it writ large.  I have seen many movies that try to show us giants interacting with humans, but there is often an odd feeling to the difference in scale.  I never had that feeling with The BFG.  I truly believed that Sophie and the BFG were there together in every scene, and that allows the magic spell of this movie to be cast.

When you get right down to it, The BFG is not an in your face adventure movie, it's a rather simple bedtime story.  There's not a lot of violence, nor are there any real scares (except for when the BFG is bullied by his fellow giants), and the crudest thing the movie has within it is the greatest farting scene I've ever seen in a movie.  The BFG is easily Spielberg's most child appropriate movie he's ever made.  It is sweet, funny, and will have your imagination in overdrive the entire time.  Couple the gorgeous images from longtime Spielberg cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, with the beautiful musical score by John Williams, and the great script by the late E.T. scribe, Melissa Mathison,  and you've got another Spielberg classic.  Will it be remembered as fondly as E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Probably not, but it could very well be on the same plain as Spielberg movies like Hook and War Horse, which is not bad company to share.

I give The BFG a 9 out of 10!