Current Reviews: “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)

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Thor: Ragnarok is the quintessential Thor film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe subverting the tropes audiences have come to expect with charming humor and brilliant direction from Taika Watiti.

Ragnarok is the third film in the Thor series within the larger MCU that brings back the character after two years of not being on the big screen (with the exception of a cameo in Doctor Strange). Ragnarok finds the titular character as played by Chris Hemsworth traversing the Nine Realms looking for his father Odin. Along with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the two discover that Ragnarok is coming at the hands of the evil and powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett). While heading towards Asgard, Thor gets lost in the shuffle and ends up on a far-off planet coming across the strong scrapper Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the villainous ruler known as The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who throws him into a fight with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s up to Thor to convince his brother and newfound partners to team up and destroy Hela’s reign of Asgard.

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Where Ragnarok succeeds is in its humor. It realizes it is a ridiculous film based off a comic book and rides with that rhythm for the rest of the film. Hemsworth shows off his funnier side managing to balance being a badass god and a bumbling idiot in the vein of Valhallen on Dexter’s Laboratory. Goldblum as The Grandmaster is delightful by hamming it up in every scene that he is in. The other performances hit their marks as well from the delightful addition of Thompson being a hard ass warrior and the Hulk getting much needed screen time with humanity and resolve.

The humor is not for everybody as it can be hit or miss, but when it hits, it hits hard. It’s physical and abrasive one moment and awkward in the next moment. It helps the film break away from the serious nature of the past two by not acting as if it is grander and more epic than it needs to be. It’s silly and goofball in its appeal, rather than loom in the dark and brooding. It’s not out to be compelling, but out to deliver a good time despite being about the impending apocalypse of Asgard.

What else is amazing is the action. The action throughout is one of the best of the three entries from an engaging opener combining rock n’ roll and Norse kicking amazement to a climax that thrills and excites. The highlight is the much-anticipated fight between Thor and Hulk with a larger-than-life brawl that wastes no time on delivering the goods and stellar callbacks to previous MCU entries that do not feel forced. Watiti handles both realms well in a clever balance that is interesting to watch as a whole that feel much at home with his style seen in his previous ventures (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople).

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With all the praise, there are certain things to be said about two major aspects of the film, one character-cased and the other a technical one. Cate Blanchett as Hela never felt like a major threat in the film. Blanchett is fine as the melvolent goddess of death being a seductive version of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, but that’s it. She acts the hell out of her character, but Hela is not given a great amount of screentime that justifies a threat. In a year of great MCU villains with the likes of (spoiler alert) Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Hela is lost in the shuffle as what was expected out of MCU villain prior to the aforementioned entry.

The CGI in this film can be quite distracting at times and not mesh well with the rest of the film. A particular heartfelt scene in a field feels false due to the clear addition of a CGI background that makes the actors feel like walking cardboard cutouts. The Hulk looks remarkable as do a variety of effect shots, except even the Hulk can feel out of place at times. One character in particular named Korg (Watiti himself) is funny and admirable, but easily stands out as not really being there in a number of scenes.

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Thor: Ragnarok lives up to the namesake of the comic company the character is from by being a marvel of a film with a few shortcomings. It elevates a series within a larger universe with a simple balance of action and comedy that never deters from the story. The performances are great all-around, even if some are not given more time as others. The CGI can be dodgy are brilliant at times adding to the fascinating action that is on display.

FINAL VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5

 

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Film Review – Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is a rare sequel that expands beyond its predecessor and standalone as a science fiction epic. Denis Villeneuve brings back the alternate future of Ridley Scott’s original film thirty years into the future in a visual marvel of bleakness, hope and noir intrigue.

In this sequel based upon Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Officier K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner hunting and retiring replicants in the grit and grimy world of Los Anageles in 2049. When profound and significant evidence are found during a routine investigation, it leads K into a mystery that involves corporate leader and replicant creator Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), Wallace’s assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) and the infamous Richard Deckard (Harrision Ford). K, like Deckard before him, must undergo a journey of empathy, self-discovery and the err of humanity.

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Visually, the film is a beautiful dark model of where current society may be headed. Though still rooted in the reality created by Scott, Villeneuve, along with famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, let the world breathe once more with overpopulation still a problem, advertisements still loud in their vibrancy and no glimmer of the sunshine present. The world is still dirty, radiated and rundown when outside of Los Angeles in the wasteland of California’s previously popular mainstays. Nearly every shot in this, like the film before it, is masterful in their craft, be it K standing in the pouring rain bloodsoaked or in the Wallace Corporation building with the ever-changing yellow glare booming in the dark backgrounds.

The effects shine through with an impressive artificial intelligence sequence blending both a live-action actor and a computer-generated counterpoint seamlessly, albeit still mindbending in its presentation. The cars in the film are still hand built, as our the sets that make the film a realistic future to the viewer despite defunct brands such as Atari and Pan Am still present. They blend seamlessly into the world and do not feel out of place. The story itself is a classic plot in the vein of other science fiction stories about humanity’s progression such as Westworld and Children of Men. It is fascinating in the different routes it goes in fitting in with the previous installments noir inspiration with red herrings and misdirections.

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Gosling’s performance is similar to his roles in Drive and Only God Forgive as a cold and calculated man, yet hope lies within him. In moments with his love interest Joi (Ana De Armas), he retains the charm he is known for while remaining in his completive self. Ford returning as Deckard falls back into the world without missing a beat as he did with previous return roles in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Force Awakens. Unlike those roles however, he gets to portray a man broken and lost in time, nostalgic for a bygone life he was rich and prevalent in. There is a beautiful sorrow in his performance. Other standouts include Hoeks as Luv going from a simple side character to full potential evil as the film progresses on and Leto as the monologue heavy and foreboding Wallace.

Blade Runner 2049 is one of the many reason why science fiction continues to thrive in the cinema and serves as a lesson in creating a sequel. It entices the viewer’s mind and does not treat them as any lesser than what they are. It provokes thoughts of one’s own struggles with empathy, allows them to gather their own ideas and trust them to know the world given to them. It builds upon what was delivered back in 1982 and builds upon into a world-building experience beyond compare rather than deter and rehash the ideas of the past. It is a film epic that delivers on every level to become a classic of both science fiction and film as a whole.

FINAL VERDICT: 5 out of 5

Film Review – Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

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Blade Runner, released in 1982, became a landmark in cinema blending the imagination of science fiction and the bleakness of classic noir elements. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stunned the audiences in the cineplexes by taking what essentially is an art house vision of the future and expanding it into the mainstream expanse of the modern theater. Yet, the film always felt a tad off.

The narration felt out of place, the violence not as dangerous as the world surrounding it and the ending was something left to be desired. Fortunately, time had been kind to the film with a Director’s Cut filling some of the void in 1992 and an international cut that retained the danger of the brutality. In 2007, the film was given the treatment cinephiles felt it deserved with Scott back to supervise and recut what many consider his masterpiece. Blade Runner: The Final Cut solidifies that statement.

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Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner whose job was to kill (“retire”) bio-engineered androids known as Replicants. Though retired, Officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and Captain Harry Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) inform Deckard of four Nexus 6 model replicants that have come to Earth illegally from an Off-World colony including Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Darryl Hannah). Deckard heads off to the Tyrell Corporation for more insight on why the replicants might be on Earth, Deckard comes upon the Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), a new experimental replicant who can pass easily for an ordinary human. With this new information at hand, Deckard returns to retire the replicants for good.

The Final Cut captures the essence of what Scott envisioned in the first go around. It’s intimate, dire, epic and hopeful. From the opening shot entering a Los Angeles rooted in fire and darkness, Scott shows that this story is going to be rooted within that heavy darkness. Brightness appears here and there, but in short bursts to add visual levity to the heaviness that surrounds. It’s remarkable in its production and scope with a combination of models, matte paintings and soundstages to make the year 2019 a grimy one. Among it, however, is a detective story firmly inspired by the noir genre complete with a femme fatale, a down-and-out detective and an antagonist after something they long for. While no Macguffin is clearly present, the desire to be human and be more than just what one currently feels omnipresent in the characters.

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Huaer as Batty evokes this feeling in his performance standing out among the humans as someone with true emotion and understanding. Batty desires the sense to be a better model in the same vein as Rachael despite going through nefarious means to get to that point with the others. Batty is more than just an automaton, but rather as complex as the framework he is made with. Deckard evokes this trying to get back in the swing of things and the desire to escape his old Blade Running days with his romantic interactions with Rachael. He has a burden on his back to himself stuck in his hard drinking retirement looking for a form of purpose. Rachael, who is not completely aware of her replicant state, desires to know her purpose in life and why she is desireable to both parties. The performances from all three add significance and weight to their respective characters in the desire to be their ideal version of humanity. The story is made stronger as well going from a simple noir story to a intricate one about the err of humanity and technology.

Vangelius’ score is the sound of the future, even at this point in time. Elements of old jazz and cliche noir stylings are blended with synthesizers, strings and ambience. It’s meticulous in its design going from the darkest of tones to the most hopeful of sounds seamlessly as the film progresses and goes on. Not once does it feels hokey or oft-putting, but rather adds. Even the love theme, complete with sensual saxophone, does not feel out of place in its structure. Scott’s direction and work of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth gives the desired result of the neo-noir setting with the starkness of black, the beautiful terror and wonder of night and the marginal greatness of daylight when it appears. Certain shots, including the shot of the Geisha advert and the sun setting, can be art pieces in their own right. The pacing is methodical, but never boring with visual effects that are stunning in their practicality from built models of flying cars, rear projections of the backgrounds and violence that feels real and brutal.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is a masterpiece of cinema taking what came before it in the realms of mystery, action and science fiction to blend it into gorgeous mixture. It excites and provokes the mind by perfecting a vision that more than just androids can dream.

Film A Week #TBT: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers combined all the badass action of martial arts and the cheesy goodness of Saved By the Bell. Five teenagers with attitude, later six, are given powers by Zordon (voiced by Robert L. Manahan) to protect the the city of Angel Grove from the clutches of Rita Repulsa (voiced by Barbara Goodson) and Lord Zedd (voiced by Robert Axelrod).

The Rangers battle against the Putties, got involved in gigantic kaiju-inspired battles and the occasional mishaps of those always kooky Bulk (Paul Schier) and Skull (Jason Narvy). The show relied on footage from the Super Sentai series from Japan in order to adapt it for an American audience complete with horrendous dubbing and screwy editing.

The show was so popular with the kids at the time that 20th Century Fox teamed with Saban Entertainment to produce and make the Rangers cinematic debut in 1995′s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie. 

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Long before the upcoming 2017 big screen revamp, this film gave the audience what they wanted: Power Rangers on the big screen.

Upping the ante and giving the film version a bigger budget, this film took a risk by adapting the show with original content including a new villain, original footage that was not the Super Sentai footage and introducing a whole new ninja-based power called Ninjetti for the Rangers. The film is a goofy, cheese-filled romp, but feels like it should have stayed on the small screen in the long run.

Our rangers for this film are:

  • Blue Ranger Billy (David Yost)
  • Pink Ranger Kimberly (Ashley Jo Johnson)
  • Red Ranger Rocky (Steven Cardenas)
  • Black Ranger Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch)
  • Yellow Ranger Aisha (Karan Ashley)
  • White Ranger Tommy (Jason David Frank)

During a skydiving charity event for the passing of Ryan’s Comet, the Rangers team with comical and lovable bullies Bulk and Skull in order to raise money, but those two miss the target. They instead find themselves in a construction site which has unearthed a giant purple egg. Later that evening, Repulsa, along with Goldar (voiced by Kerrigan Mahan) and Lord Zedd, open up the egg to reveal the villainous Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman).

Ooze is hellbent on seeking revenge on Zordon for destroying his rule of Earth 6000 years ago and does so by not only laying waste to Zordon and the Rangers’ Command Center, but by selling his hypnotic ooze to the people of Angel Grove in order to work for him to dig up his own zords known as Ecto-Morphicons. It’s up to the Rangers save Angel Grove from Ivan Ooze armed with their new Ninjetti powers from Dulcea (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) of the planet Phaedos and use their new Ninjetti Zords to defeat Ooze once and for all.

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Power Rangers: The Movie is a bit of a mess, but what a beautiful mess it is. In my original review back in 2013, I was admittedly really harsh to it. In hindsight, the film captures the spirit of the show and the show itself is not the greatest to begin with. As a longtime fan, I prefer In Space to the original Mighty Morphin’ series, but that’s just me.

The acting in this film is pretty bad, save for David Frank as Tommy, Jo Johnson as Kimberly and Yong Bosch as Adam. The story and the dialogue is abysmal with certain plot threads not making total sense, but then again, this is based off a show where they once had to fight a rapping pumpkin. It also does nothing for the people who are not into the show to begin with as anyone coming into this trying to give it a chance will be alienated out of the gate with countless lines of exposition that would make Final Fantasy look casual in comparison. The CGi effects are disgustingly outdated, even by the standards of 1995. This film was just two years after the groundbreaking effects of Jurassic Park, so there was no excuse for it to look so bad.

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Luckily, the film does have some positives that can help with the enjoyment. The costume designs and makeup effects are awesome. Lord Zedd always looked brilliant, Ivan Ooze was completely astounding and the revamp Ranger suits are some of the best suits to this day. Love and care were actually put into these designs and fleshed out for the big screen.

The original action footage for the film is great fun, well choreographed and sticks to the spirit of the Super Sentai footage. The absolute highlight of the film is Freeman as Ivan Ooze. Freeman seems to be having a ball on set, chewing the scenery until there is none left to bite out of. He’s over-the-top and a maniacal comic that just happens to have superpowers.

It’s not worth go, go going after (that was horrible), but Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie gives the fans at the time what they wanted, but once the nostalgia wears off, the flaws will finally show.

Film A Week: The Series- “The Princess and the Frog” (2009)

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“The evening star is shining bright
So make a wish and hold on tight
There’s magic in the air tonight
And anything can happen…”

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In the early 2000’s, Disney was struggling to keep traditional hand drawn animation afloat in an era of computer-generated animation. Dreamworks started to show off with unadulterated send ups like Shrek and Pixar was giving brilliant stories in Finding Nemo. Disney, however, was delivering projects that had limited appeal (with the exception of Lilo & Stitch) with Atlantis getting mixed reviews, The Emperor’s New Groove taking forever in production and Treasure Planet being a major flop on par with The Black Cauldron.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Home on the Range, a film about three cows trying to save their farm which was flat out a waste of talent, time and tree pulp. Disney said “well, we fucked that up” and focused on CGI animation to compete with their competitors. Unfortunately, their first film out of the gate was Chicken Little, which was a flat out waste of talent, time and megabytes. After much noise and certain films succeeding such as Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, Disney shocked all animation fans with a return to form of hand drawn animation to the rejoicing of fans everywhere.

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This is accurate

Disney decided to tackle the classic story of The Frog Prince in their film “The Princess and the Frog” with new twists and something the company never really did before. The film took a new twist on the story set in the 1920’s New Orleans with a predominately Black cast. Now this caused a shit storm in certain areas as the princess’ former name was going to be Maddy, which the Black community where having none of as it was practically offensive as it was to close to Mammy. Disney went back and changed it to the much nicer name Tiana and changed the name of the film from The Frog Princess to The Princess and the Frog to avoid audiences thinking she was a frog and potential spoilers.

The film was ready for wide released with a all-star Black cast of Anika Noni Rose as the titular princess, Terrance Howard as her father, James, and Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s mother, Eudora. Others include Keith David as Dr. Facilier, a voodoo witch doctor referred as the Shadow Man, Jennifer Lewis as Mama Odie, a blind voodoo priestess that just happens to be 197 years old, and Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis, an alligator with a dream of playing trumpet with the big boys. There is also a bevy of other voice actors such as Jim Cummings as Ray the firefly, Jennifer Cody as Tiana’s white friend Charlotte, John Goodman as “Big Daddy” LeBeouf, Charlotte’s dad, and Bruno Campos as the naive Prince Naveen of Maldonia. With the cast in place, Disney headed into this film with a dream. So, what’s the story?

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WISH UPON A STAR: Tiana (Rose) looks to the night sky for hope. Source: disneyscreencaps.com

Tiana (Rose) is constantly working at to obtain the dream of owning her own restaurant that she wished for. She gets no sleep in between jobs and is drowning in the day to day. Tiana is hired by her friend Charlotte (Cody) to serve her “man-catching beignets” at a welcoming costume party for Prince Naveen (Campos). Naveen is recently cut off from his family and is New Orleans to live a little and find a job under the watch of his servant LAwrence (Peter Bartlett). Naveen unfortnately comes to deal with Dr. Facilier who takes advantage of Lawrence’s desire to have the power of the prince and Naveen to suffer as a frog for the rest of his days. Naveen escapes and goes on search for help and comes across Tiana in a princess costume wondering if her dream is worth it. After seeing the book of The Frog Prince, Naveen suggests to Tiana being a “princess” that they can kiss and break the spell. This strategy doesn’t work and Tiana gets turned into the most adorable damn frog on screen.

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No offense, Jean-Bob

These two head out on a journey involving the aforementioned Louis (Wooley), Ray (Jim Cummings), Mama Odie (Lewis) while trying to fight off the Shadow Man’s shadows and evil ways.

“The Princess and the Frog” may not be seen as the best of Disney films, but it certainly holds it owns together. It is great to see Disney tackle the old tale with a new twist as it takes notes from E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess and the classic tale into a weird meshing. The story works wonders for its setting as New Orleans, though a big city, is very contained and small. It’s a smaller scale for sure as the film only goes from the swamps to the city itself, but everyone is connected in some sort of way. The message the story conveys is also startling as it is a mature message.

It takes one of the foundations of the Disney corporation of “When You Wish Upon A Star” and says “Nope, that’s just to set a goal. You have to work at it.” That is a wonderful message as it is true. It takes hard work and focus on getting the dream, but the message also tells you not to make that the sole focus. Look at the world around you, smell the roses and don’t forget others as you accomplish the goal that are set out. That takes major cojones to tell an audience of kids. It takes its character’s ambitions seriously and doesn’t dull them in anyway. Yet, there are moments that seemed to be in there for the sake for being in there such as Louis being a typical comic relief, the stuff with Lawrence that is simply “I’m evil because, fuck it, why not?” and an odd out of nowhere fight with frog catchers, which while fun, is sort of useless.

The animation is nothing but stellar. It is so nice to see Disney hand drawn animation in a modern era because it not only came back, but it came back with a vengeance. It’s rich, vibrant and not afraid to play with the pallette of greens, purple, browns and black. For example, the “Friend from the Other Side/Transformation Central” sequence is a sight to behold. Hell, watch it for yourself.

That sequence alone is worth watching this film. I saw this film the first weekend it came out and when that scene came on, me and my sister shouted “That’s how you do animation.” It was gorgeous as hell. Even better, the whole film is filled with magical moments like that.

The songs by Randy Newman work wonders. I was iffy at first because of those corny tunes from Toy Story, but Newman nailed the bayou and jazz sounds of that era to a tee. Highlights besides the sequence above are “Almost There” with a upbeat Broadway-esque jazz tune with minmalist 2D animation, “Ma Belle Evangeline” as Tiana and Naveen dance (see the title card for this post) “Dig a Little Deeper” with Lewis going full gospel and “Down in New Orleans” with Dr. John giving his unique sound to the world of Nawlins. It’s a fun soundtrack and I listened to it days after re-watching the movie.

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ONLY IN DREAMS: Dr. Falicier (David) shows Tiana (Rose) what her dreams could be if she listens to him. Source: disneyscreencaps.com

The vocal performances are great with David, Cody, Rose and Cummings being the real standouts. David as Dr. Facilier is astounding as he covers the charm and charisma of a con man, but all the evil of a bastard. The scene in which he is face to face with Tiana and manipulates her with visions of her dreams is brilliant. He delivers every line with such bravado and assurance that it is hard for even the audience to tell him no. Cody’s performance as Charlotte is too damn hilarious. She covers the Southern Belle stereotype to a tee and every line she delivers is effin’ gold. Rose gives Tiana a strong voice that proves she can make herself accomplish her dreams and goals. This actually makes the battle of wits between her and Facilier incredible. Cummings as Ray the firefly is filled with heart and soul as he maybe a comic relief, but he has dreams of his own one day to be with the love of his life, the northern star named Evangeline. This helps make (spoilers) his death all the more upsetting because we want him to succeed.

The film went on to become a modest hit, but not big enough for Disney to continue with hand drawn. In a winter packed with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel (who took their kid to see that crap?) with Avatar (I forgot that existed), it suffered a small loss. The next hand drawn film would be Winnie the Pooh, released the same day as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, to which I assume the schedule guy at Disney was promptly fired for.

The film, though, does have its fair share of fans, myself included, that enjoyed what it brought to the table. Tiana has gone to be part of the Disney Princess franchise and Dr. Facilier is now getting recognized as one of Disney’s best villains since Jafar from AladdinThe Princess and the Frog is a fun and fantastic film with wonderful animation, top notch performances and a message that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

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Next week, Film A Week continues Black History on Film month with a bad mother-“shut your mouth!” What? We are just talking about Shaft, man. Shaft gets the Film A Week treatment next Wednesday, February 17. See you then.

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Film A Week: “The Graduate” (1967)

“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray”

-“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel

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Coming-of-age stories are no longer fresh or exciting in today’s world. Even in the 1960’s, there were a fare share of those stories around for teenagers to relate to, but they were never short of horrid beach party movies. The only other one worth remembering was 1956’s Rebel Without A Cause. Luckily, 1967 had The Graduate to make up for the dry spell of great coming-of-age movies.

The Graduate has been hailed, like 2001: A Space Odyssey  and Amadeus, as nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the second film every one around me looked at me with disgust and said “How haven’t you seen it!” I’m tired of hearing this, even from my own mind telling me, and decided to see it. Before we hop into with my thoughts are, let’s talk about the plot.

There is more to this plot than the affair between Benjimin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Our titular graduate Ben has come back to California from college home to his parents (including William Daniels aka Mr. Feeny) with worries of the future carrying him. At a graduation party filled with his parents’ peers and friends, an older woman named Mrs. Robinson is intrigued by Ben. Mrs. Robinson asks for a ride home from Ben and they converse leading to an interesting conversation. Ben feels that Mrs. Robinson is coming off a bit too strong.

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“Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?”

Ben rejects her advances, including her being naked in front of him, and leaves. Yet Ben finally gives in, sets up an affair at the Taft Hotel with a fake name in order to make love to Mrs. Robinson. This becomes more than an affair when Ben sees an interest in Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) much to her chagrin and is trying to decide if he should continue to graduate school or runaway from responsibility. As the tensions increase and the story plays out, Ben must come to terms with what is right, what is his future and where his relationship with Mrs. Robinson will end up.

The Graduate is more than the affair everyone remembers it for. It’s much more in-depth due to the direction of Mike Nichols and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It is quite an experience watching it for the first time, so be forewarned there are spoilers ahead for a movie that is nearly 50 years old.

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One is being older and around the age Ben is. If I was in high school watching it, I probably would still be wondering why the hell it is so important. The relatable aspects, despite his own horrendous moments, really take a hold. There’s even a moment he realizes his actions after the burlesque show and even tells Elaine that he thought he had to be rude at his college age while becoming a tad redeemable in the recognition. He also stuck in the middle of the young kids of the next generation and the older generation. The hotel door revealed all in that. Here is a young adult opening a door for the older people as the young people enter, yet he is directly in the middle of it all with the door open to being with the old and the door about to close on the youthful days of yore. At this current moment, I feel like Ben because I’m not quite young, but I’m not that old either.

Second is Mrs. Robinson as a character and the other adults. These characters put a hold on Ben and try to put themselves in him. They see a kid with a bright future and seem to want help, but are actually weighing him down. His parents weigh him down in his own sense of freedom and education that bring him down mentally. Mrs. Robinson also weighs him down with arousal and seduction to take advantage and control of his sexual state of being at his current moment in time. This is during the 60’s where exploring the sexually was becoming in fashion. Here Ben is being tied down by her to the point she does everything in her power to stop him going further in exploration, i.e. with her daughter. It’s a battle of oppression by the previous views while coming to terms with the progressive views. Robinson is just slightly craving what he youth have and uses Ben as means of getting that. She needs to feel that old sense of wonder, freedom and possible rebellion with Ben in tow.

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The shot speaks for itself.

Third is the direction. Holy shit, pardon the language a tad, but the direction in this movie is perfect. There are shots that tell more than dialogue can. The dialogue of the film is hilarious including fun lines of wit and watching Hoffman fumble in both seducation and awkwardly stroll through life, but certain shots give it weight. The shot of him in the pool shows him at peace in the middle of nowhere escaping his troubles. The famous leg shot and stocking shots emphasize the power Robinson has on Ben. There is one shot I really loved (pictured above) where Ben is laying in the pool and is looking up at his parents and the Robinsons. The sun is directly behind them, giving them a mysterious shadow quality, totally showing the shadow they put on Ben. It emphasizes the previous point of the old generation against the younger generation. 

Finally, the ending of this movie is great. I now have context to it and it makes sense. They made it out, but their is no uncertainty in the air looming. There faces say it all after the manic chaos of the end. They are free, but then “The Sounds of Silence” comes in to further demonstrate their uncertainty. It’s poignant and puts a nice cap on the the whole experience.

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Going from “We are great!” to “What the fuck are we doing?” in less than 30 seconds

The Graduate is simply perfect and great for anyone in their twenties to relate to. IT hits every note just right to tell a story from its direction, its dialogue and its underlying tones of the old versus the new. The Graduate is worthy of its recognition.

Next week, The Greatest Films…I’ve Never Seen ends with a bang. The number one film on my list of movies I’ve never seen is finally here and it is a modern classic. Time to hang out with Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Pink. This month ends with Reservoir Dogs.

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Wednesday, January 27th

Serg Beret Reviews: ‘Ant-Man’ (2015)

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QUICK SUMMARY: Ant-Man combines comic thrills and creative concepts in a goofy and silly film and that is a good thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to bring unexpected heroes to the screen with ‘Ant-Man.’ Directed by Peyton Reed and starring Paul Rudd as the titular hero, Ant-Man plays to the softer side of the Marvel Universe.

Scott Lang, played by Rudd, is a thief fresh out of the clink and ready to begin life anew in hopes of seeing his daughter. That is until Lang gets another heist job from his friend Luis, played by Michael Pena, to break into the home of the original Ant-Man Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. It is here he comes upon the Ant-Man suit which can shrink him down to the size of, well, an ant. What follows is a caper with Pym, his daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, and havin g to deal with the villainous Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll.

‘Ant-Man’ wears the goofy premise of Ant-Man on its sleeve. It isn’t dark or brooding like ‘Age of Ultron’ before it, but is instead closer to being fun in the same vein as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ It indulges in being a fun movie by plating with tropes from other miniscule world ideas. From an elaborate training sequence, the destruction of a model city and a fight scene in the climax that is nothing short of outstanding, it creates a bigger sense of adventure even if it just at five inch nothing.

Further more are the performances. Everyone seems to be having fun. Rudd is always his charming self except now with super powers. He plays well off of the stern grumpy old Douglas who knows what it takes to be km the suit. Their dynamic is the classic mentor/student story, but it does not come off as cheap or hokey. Corey Stoll as Cross and later Yellowjacket is menancing. He is a bastard that has the same charm as Rudd, but more worried about advancing his technology than the well-being of others. He is a perfect foil for Lang and Lang’s personality that when it comes time to go toe-to-toe, the audience is excited to watch these two come to blows.

The humor is quite funny, but can be a bit grating at points. The three comic reliefs including Luis are a bit hit-and-miss, especially Peña at points. He is not as bad as Kat Dennings in ‘Thor: The Dark World’ as he is grounded in reality and not as much of an annoyance. Some lines and quips hit the mark such as the lovely descriptions of where he got the heist info that include wine tasting and neo-cubism art. Others fall flat into groan territory, but Peña seems to be having fun. The other two are useless and serve no purpose including T.I. who is just there to collect some Marvel money.

One issue is Evangeline Lily as Hope. She’s tough girl bland, complains most of the time and is only going with the plan to prove her father wrong. Lily is a fine actress, but the role seems to be one any actress can pull off. Hopefully in the sequel they expand upon her character because a scene gives a hint for what is next for her to tackle and it would be fun to see Lily get into her role more.

‘Ant-Man’ is a nice breather from the ever-growing plot threads of the other films. It knows what it wants to be as a silly film and stands on its own because of it. Despite some moments that miss, its a fun watch to tide any fan over, big or small.

Serg’s Rating: *** out of *****

‘Ant-Man’ is rated PG -13 for sci-fi violence.

Serg Beret Reviews: “Inside Out” (2015)

AHEAD OF THE GAME Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) start their work day. COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY PICTURES

Pixar Animation Studios is back with intelligent thought and creativity to explain the childhood mind in “Inside Out.”

“Inside Out” follows the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) or rather the story of the emotions within her head. In Headquarters, a clever pun, resides Joy  (Amy Poehler) who leads a team of other emotions including Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). These emotions help keep tabs on the core memories of Riley that give life to various islands in her head that represent traits of her personalities.

In the week that Riley has moved from her hometown of Minnesota to San Francisco, Sadness starts touching the memories of Riley, making Riley sad in the process. Joy stops Sadness from continuing until Riley’s core memories fall from the main console. Joy tries to fix the situation, only for her and Sadness to be sucked into the long-term memory. This begins their journey to head back to headquarters and regain control of Riley to help her become the happy girl she has always been.

By the looks of the film alone in trailers, audiences might expect it to be simple with its bright colors, typical kids comedy and retro 60’s stylings, but that is where the simplicity of the film ends. The film is a complex experience that examines the inner workings of what early signs of depression and being homesick is. With Joy and Sadness out of the picture, the other three emotions try to work in order to get Riley operating again, yet this develops a moody and more lifeless version of Riley. This extends to the relationship of Joy and Sadness.

STUCK IN THE INNER WORKINGS Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Bing Bong (Richard Kind) stare off into the inner worrking of Riley’s mind. COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY PICTURES

These two are the basic opposites we know and understand, but seeing two animated characters that represent those feelings interact with Joy’s overly positive personality and Sadness’ depressing side trying to figure out. It is not until the film reaches a breaking point with the constant messing about in Riley’s head does Joy understand that Riley needs to let out more than just happiness of the world. One part in particular that explains one major complexity is nothing short of stunning.

As Joy and Sadness find Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), they enter Abstract Thought in a gorgeous sequence of fun comedy and imaginative animation. Yet, on the outer workings of Riley’s reality, she is alone eating lunch by her lonesome self. One of the mind workers explains that this is the abstract thought of loneliness. Never in a film has this been carefully explain with such thoughts and wonder involved, yet Pete Doctor and his Pixar crew figured it out.

The humor of this film perfectly balances the more mature and complex moments of the feature. It’s designed in a way that kids won’t get bored and adults can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their kids are digesting the information in front of them. One joke in particular involved the constant times someone gets a song stuck in their head that is hilarious.

The characters are in themselves well played and acted. The two standouts in particular are Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Richard Kind as Bing Bong. Smith delivers her lines with such a beautiful melancholic tone that rivals Eeyore of “Winnie-the-Pooh” fame, but also performed with such honesty and pain that the audience latches on to her throughout the journey. Kind as Bing Bong brings on the warm feeling of the imaginary friend we all have while wondering if Riley still loves and thinks about him that makes a moment later in the film all the more heartbreaking.

With the aforementioned retro design and bright colors, the film appeases the viewer with delightful hues and balances with the reality of Riley that is muted and dreary due to her view on it. Colors are all over this film to explain simply what emotions do what while adding to an already gorgeous tapestry of animation. One technique used in this film which is astounding is the use of a Kirby Dots effect to give a shiny glow to the characters in Riley’s body. This gives not only a nice glow, but represents the electrical charges of the body constanting at work. The animation makes the film pop out and stand out over the other children’s fare out this year.

“Inside Out” is a marvel of not just animation, but of film. It’s an intelligent masterwork that does not dumb itself to get its point across and is still entertaining enough for children to enjoy it. “Inside Out” is a rare film in animation that hits every mark just right and never thinks too highly of its own self.

Serg’s Rating: ***** 5 Stars out of 5 Stars

“Inside Out” is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.  

AFTERWORDS *SPOILER ALERT*
I wish this movie came out when I was younger. I suffered through depression and suicidal thoughts as a young kid in middle school and never really felt like it could be properly explained. This movie reminded me of how it was to deal with such heartbreak and thoughts. It is a hellish road and no one really understands what it is. This film carefully explains it in a way that it can be used as a teaching tool for both adults and children alike. I never expected to see a film like this in my lifetime. I teared up genuinely at certain parts involving the self-sacrifice of Bing Bong and Joy being stuck in the memory that there are precious memories we remember and some we use along the way. Sometimes these memories are sugar coated with happiness or driven out by complete sadness, but it is important for us to find a balance in our emotions to learn that even though these memories may fade or remain, we have to learn from them and learn to let out our feelings in a much better manner. I fell in love with this film and awarded the highest rating I could because it was nothing short of impressive.

25 Films of XMAS: Jingle All the Way (1996)

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Jingle All the Way (1996)

Jingle All the Way is not a great film, nor a good one. It’s actually stupid as heck. Yet, I can’t help but not watch it because it’s so ingrained in my memory from childhood that I have. Plus, the fact it has freakin’ Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator himself, as the lead character only makes watching a must.

Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is a busy business man who is constantly more focused on work than his own family. This type of story was not uncommon in the 90’s. His wife Liz (Rita Wilson) is constantly wondering when Howard will attend Jamie’s (Jake Lloyd) karate graduation, all while nosey neighbor Ted Maltin (Phil Hartman) tries to prove he is a better man and father than Howard. After a long day of work and missing the graduation, Howard plans to win back Jamie’s admiration with a Turbo-Man action figure. One problem though: It’s already Christmas Eve and the you is sold out everywhere. Howard decides to venture across the Twin Cities in search of Turbo-Man while avoiding kung fu Santas, a wild reindeer, Ted’s annoyance and the most terrifying thing of all… Sinbad’s humor.

Jingle All the Way is a dumb movie with dumb humor and tons of just stupid moments. Yet, just like some bad movies, it’s so bad, it’s good. Schwarzenegger does his damnedest and finest to get through the over-the-top ridiculous nature and it is pretty hilarious to see such a strong man get his ass handed to him every step of the way. Sinbad is just okay with trying to add his brand of humor, but that manages to fall flat on his face. Everyone else in this movie, for lack of a better word, is kind of an asshole. Hartman is a frickin’ jerk, the wife is a bit naggy, the son is whiny as hell and everyone Howard comes across gives him nothing but shit on a stick. It comes off as unfunny and just mean spirited with the rest of the holiday. Hell, even The Big Show as Santa is a prick. Then again, that man was the New Year’s Baby.

NEVER FORGET
NEVER FORGET

The one promising film is the premise. It tackles the concept of commercialization and consumerism around Christmas time showing the ludicrous nature of it all. It is always there to help guide the movie along to show that isn’t important around Christmas time. Unfortnately, the film falters in that aspect. Another thing I can give this film credit for is the climax. The ending of the film with a giant action scene in a parade makes sitting through all this random stuff worth it. Arnold in a Turbo-Man suit fighting Sinbad makes this movie still worth going through forced comedy and tedious crap. I still watch it and know it’s awful, but I get joy out of it.

Jingle All the Way is so bad, it’s good with a clear message that is lost underneath silly humor, odd performances and needless moments.

NExt time, we enter the 21st century with a familiar Christmas icon.

Sci-fi action romp ‘Elysium’ shoots to thrill

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Director Neill Blomkamp has come back to the big screen to deliver his follow-up to Best Picture nominee ‘District 9’ with the high budgeted sci-fi thriller ‘Elysium’. Blomkamp may have a huge undertaking after his last film being highly regarded, but ‘Elysium’ shows no sign of Blokamp slowing down.

‘Elysium’ follows Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon, living on the now desecrated and dilapidated Los Angeles in the Year 2154 with the poor and sick while the rich and powerful inhabitants live in the space station above known as Elysium, overseen by Secretary of Defense Delacourt, portrayed with an awkward British accented Jodie Foster. Max is slowly dying of cancer and wants to head to Elysium to be cured, but undertakes a risky job by sleazy dealer Spider, played by Wagner Moura, to wear an exo suit and faces against samurai-esque Agent C.M. Kruger, played viciously by Sharlto Copley. What secrets lie with Max could save the lives of everyone on Earth, if he can succeed.

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‘Elysium’, like ‘District 9’ before it, serves a an allegory for current problems in the world. As ‘District 9’ dealt with the segregation in Africa, ‘Elysium’ deals with healthcare reform and immigration with not so subtle hints about the ordeal, yet plays to the strength of these issues as they connect to the audiences quite well. Never has there been a movie so pro-immigration and pro-Latino and yet can reach out beyond that demographic. The story is intriguing and sets up a world where the audience can give a damn about the rights of the people and wonder if freedom can come. The premise helps the audience care about Max’s struggle and his anti-hero ways to help not only himself, but those around him.

The performances in the film are stellar with Sharlto Copley’s villainous Kruger stealing the spotlight. Copley is intimidating and terrifying great at what he does and will attack and kill just to have a laugh. Matt Damon’s heroic Max is the perfect foil, rising above what Kruger thinks and delivers on getting the job done, no matter what comes in his way. Sadly, the weakest person in the film is Jodie Foster doing a horrid British accent that would make even the Queen tremble. She is not intimidating or as menacing as Copley’s character, but tries to measure up with being just a stern and boring individual. On the action and visual front, it is a spectacular mix of CGI and practical that is thrilling and blends seamlessly together. It would be a huge task to tell the difference between what is CG or handmade. The action is stellar and brutal, but dives into ‘Zack Synder syndrome’ with unnecessary slow motion just for the sake of making the scenes seem “cool.”

‘Elysium’ is another fantastic work by Blomkamp and will make fans of his last film surprised at what he can do with a bigger budget, despite minor flaws that can make some deter away from it. ‘Elysium’ is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.