Han Solo Switches Directors

Whoa. Now that was unexpected.

In a surprise move this week, Lucasfilm fired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the Han Solo spinoff movie, citing creative differences as the primary motivator. Lord and Miller, who previously directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, were reportedly approaching the film in a loose, improvisational comedic style, while Han Solo producers were wanting them to strictly follow what was on the script page.

In short, the “creative differences” were that Lord and Miller wanted to be creative, whereas Lucasfilm didn’t want them to be.

Yesterday, their replacement was announced as Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, most known for films such as Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind. Howard is to oversee the remaining four weeks of filming with an additional five weeks of reshoots.

“I’m beyond grateful to add my voice to the Star Wars Universe after being a fan since [1977],” Howard tweeted. “I hope to honor the great work already done and help deliver on the promise of a Han Solo film.”

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Few things to note here. First of all, I have uncompromising support in Ron Howard and his abilities to direct Han Solo. From Night Shift all the way to Rush, Howard has been a mostly consistent filmmaker with expertise on directing both actors and on-set production. To me, Ron Howard directing a Star Wars movie is the stuff of dreams, and I’m very excited to see where exactly this will lead for both the franchise and Howard alike.

That being said, with how viciously things ended between Lord, Miller, and the film’s producers, I am concerned with how much influence the studio has over Han Solo and how that might affect production. Studio interference has been a major problem in Hollywood for a long time now, from Alien 3 all the way to the most recent Fantastic Four. When filmmakers have this sharp of a disagreement on their properties, that doesn’t usually spell out a good sign for the production overall.

Also, it’s especially strange that they just now decided to fire Lord and Miller when they’ve been working on the film for five months. There’s been other productions in the past where they’ve changed out actors, writers, cinematographers, even composers in the middle of filming. But switching out directors halfway through production is extremely uncommon. With Lucasfilm making that decision almost near the film’s completion tells me that they never had a grounded conversation with Lord and Miller on where exactly they intended to take Han Solo. And if the producers don’t have a clear idea of what their film is supposed to be, then usually no one does.

What do you think? Do you think the director switch is a good thing for Han Solo, or should Lucasfilm have kept on Lord and Miller? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, StarWars.com

“WONDER WOMAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Superman’s got nothing on this woman.

In an industry as sexist as Hollywood, Wonder Woman is a blessing both to the cinema and to gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes, is better suited for more difficult tasks. Even before watching the movie, Wonder Woman has faced scrutiny just for being a female superhero in a male-dominated genre. How is it that by 2017, we’ve already had six Batmans, three Supermans, Spider-Mans, Hulks, and Punishers, but we’re just now getting our first Wonder Woman on film? If that isn’t an example of under-the-radar sexism in Hollywood, then what is?

In this prequel to Wonder Woman’s debut in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira, where hundreds of her Amazonian sisters live, play, and train into fierce warriors. As a child, her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her stories about how the island was created after Zeus stopped his son Ares, the God of War, for corrupting the souls of mankind. With his dying breath, Zeus created the island that Diana and her Amazonian sisters live on now, and they’ve been at peace ever since.

One day, Diana witnesses a plane crash-landing into the ocean. After diving into the sea to save the pilot’s life, Diana finds out the pilot’s name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and she learns that he’s fighting in a devastating world war to end all wars. Rationalizing that Ares is somehow behind this, Diana suits up in her island’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and God-Killer sword and sets out with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares, saving all of mankind from destruction in the process.

If you’ve been keeping up with the DC Cinematic Universe as of late, then you know the series has been struggling for quite some time. Man of Steel, for instance, was extremely divisive among its fans, with a seemingly equal amount of viewers both loving and hating it. Batman V. Superman was just all around terrible and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that actually did enjoy it. Suicide Squad was equally polarizing, but it at least had some great performances and fun action to go along with it. Overall though, the DCEU has been very inconsistent with their properties and its core fan base is equally questioning their commitment to the series. At this point, the future of the DCEU is looking very uncertain.

The best praise that I can give Wonder Woman is that it works as a rebirth for the DCEU: a clean slate, if you would. That’s because Wonder Woman breathes new life into the franchise, telling an epic story brimming with action, adventure, excitement, heart, humor, and relevance. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed.

The heroic tag-team behind this success is the dynamic duo Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, the film’s director and lead respectively. Jenkins, who’s last time directing a feature film was with 2003’s Monster, comes forward here as a master storyteller, handling both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. The action, of course, is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, I’m more impressed by the moments leading up to the action, the softer scenes revealing Diana’s character and her finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego.

In her first scenes adjusting to life on Earth, Diana is coerced to try on big, clumpy, awkward dresses to conceal herself in a mostly conservative society. When she accidentally wanders into a war room, all of the men in there suddenly stop conversation to ask why a woman was in their presence. My favorite of these scenes involves Steve’s secretary Etta explaining to Diana what a secretary is. “I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do,” Patty says. “Where I come from, that’s called slavery,” Diana responds.

But it isn’t just ideas of feminism and gender equality that Jenkins elaborates upon. This is also an expansive drama on the decreasing human condition, man’s capacity for violence and conflict, and ultimately loss of innocence. Through battlefields and warzones, Diana feels like a child fighting for ideals she believes in, yet are hopelessly obsolete in the face of bullets and bomb fire. If you live in a world where your ideas don’t exist, what do you then? Do you change with the rest of the world, or do you stand firm in yourself, waiting for the world to change with you instead?

Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, hitting all of the right notes that she needs to at the right moments. We got an early look at her talents in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, where she was one of the few saving graces of the picture. Here she is on full display, not only embracing the rough physicality of the character, but also her courage, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and goodness. She’s not just a strong action hero: she’s a strong character, fleshed out with her own dreams, ideas, aspirations, and insecurities. We need more superheroes as compelling as Wonder Woman in the movies, regardless if they are male or female.

This is quite simply one of the best superhero films ever made, let alone one of the best DC films. I put it right up there with The Dark Knight and Superman II, albeit for clearly different reasons. In a world where our entertainment revolves around chauvinism and sexual domination, Wonder Woman stands proud, strong, and adamant in that women can be just as empowering in our media as men can be. And so it is.

The greatest moment of this picture comes when our heroes are walking through the trenches of No Man’s Land, an explosive hellhole where there’s death and destruction in every which way and direction. In this moment, Diana desperately wants to help the people suffering around her, but the men tell her that it’s impossible. That’s why it’s called No Man’s Land, because no man can cross it. But a woman could, and she did.

 

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“ALIEN: COVENANT” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Alien Covenant, kinda.

Before going in to watch Alien: Covenant, I was confused as to whether it was intended as a sequel to the 2012 science-fiction epic Prometheus or just a newly rebooted prequel to the Alien franchise. After I left the theater, I was still confused on what Alien: Covenant was supposed to be, and I’m pretty sure director Ridley Scott was equally confused while making it as well. At different times, Alien: Covenant wants to be a Prometheus sequel, an Alien prequel, and an Alien reboot all at once. In spreading itself thin, it misses all three marks. Although it remains to be intriguing and mildly entertaining, Alien: Covenant fails to stick out much in our minds. The most positive thing I can say is that it isn’t Alien: Resurrection.

Taking place after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew aboard the colonization ship Covenant, looking to begin new life on a remote planet called Origae-6. As the crew are traveling, they are suddenly woken up to discover a new planet in the system; one much closer to them that has the same hemisphere and plant life as Earth does. Curious to see if they could safely colonize on this planet instead, the Covenant crew lands on the mysterious planet to investigate, only to discover something that might lead to their violent, blood-soaked ends rather than new beginnings.

With this being the sixth film in the Alien franchise now, it isn’t hard to see why the series is getting tired. Let’s walk through the plots of each of them:

Introduction: Human crew members are in cryogenic stasis on a spaceship heading somewhere, usually with an android accompanying them.

Setup: Something goes wrong, crew members wake up, travel to mysterious planet.

Complication: Crew members discover threatening alien after it kills a few of them, panic ensues.

Climax: Brave female protagonist convinces crew that alien is too dangerous to live and must be destroyed.

Resolution: Bloodshed ensues, alien is killed, at least one crewmember survives, usually the brave female.

In five sentences, I’ve essentially covered what happens in six two-hour movies. That alone should show you how repetitive the series is getting.

But just because all of the movies have the same plots, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically doomed from the start. Look at Prometheus. That film covers the same ground that every other Alien movie has before it, and yet, it feels like a different experience. That’s because it took a different approach to the series and its characters. Alien was a survival-horror experience set inside the claustrophobic setting of a spaceship. Prometheus was an exploration of our origins and how that ties in to greater ideas involving religion and creationism. While Alien: Covenant didn’t have to be as ambitious as Prometheus was, it did have to make itself unique to the rest of its cinematic counterparts. Instead, all it feels like is a retread, and the entertainment value is siphoned from seeing Aliens violently dismember human beings on-screen.

I know Prometheus also had its dissenters, but the strength that movie had going for it was its thought-provoking ideas and how they impacted the characters around them. If you were frustrated by Prometheus, chances are you will not be able to even stomach the implausibilities in Alien: Covenant.

Take, for instance, the first of this movie’s alien pregnancies. They were not done by the Facehuggers in Alien or the Engineers in Prometheus. No, here they are done by black flower pollen flying into one explorer’s nose and into another’s ears. That’s how it’s done now, I guess. Alien had Facehuggers, Prometheus had Engineers, and Alien: Covenant has ear and nose plant sex. At least the porn parody will have plenty of inspiration to pull from.

Some scenes like that are just silly and illogical, while others are just outright bad or laughable. In the first chestburst scene in this movie, an Alien pops out from a guys back and goes on to attack the other crew members on board. Yet, one girl is so bad at reacting that it felt like she belonged in a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than an Alien movie. First she opens the door to the infirmary where the alien was at, and it would have been simple enough to just leave it in there and starve it to death. Then she slips on a puddle of blood right before shooting, and missing, the alien. And just when the alien escapes and starts attacking her, she fires wildly in every which way and direction, eventually shooting a barrel of fuel, exploding and killing herself, her on-board companion, the alien, and destroying the crew’s only means of leaving the planet. The scene was meant to be scary, yet I couldn’t stop laughing from how terribly it was executed.

The conflicting thing about this movie is that while some scenes are done very poorly, others are done exceptionally. Katherine Waterston, for instance, is outstanding as the lead. Early on in her introduction, we grasp a sense of the tragedy the character is facing, and her tearful portrayal of a woman going through loss and anguish shows how hard Waterston tried for this film. Most other actresses would hear they’re being cast in a Alien movie and would just phone in the performance for the spectacle of the visual effects. Waterston put in the extra effort, and she deserves to be recognized as an action heroine alongside the likes of Ellen Ripley, even if the movie doesn’t deserve the same recognition.

I also really liked Michael Fassbender in the movie as well. In Prometheus, he played the manipulative android David, while in Alien: Covenant he plays another android named Walter. I can’t go too much into his character without fear of spoilers, but he shares an interesting relationship with another character that builds into a conflict of duality between the two. In my favorite scene from the film, Walter is speaking to another android and discussing the unorthodox nature of artificial intelligence. From the intelligent dialogue, to the intriguing points raised, to the steady camerawork, to the subliminal differences between the two character’s performances, this was a fantastic scene that demonstrated how great of an actor Fassbender really is. I’m excited to see what he brings in future installments, although I don’t know where exactly you can take the character from here.

The movie, of course, has the best visual effects out of any Alien movie so far. That, however, is slight praise since that’s also the case with any franchise film produced today. The problem is that Scott never centralizes all of the elements together to make a compelling Alien movie, making the series canon more muddled and confusing rather than streamlined and fluid. The script is incoherent and illogical. The editing makes for some disjointed sequences that fails to make the movie consistently scary or interesting. Even the alien, while looking more intimidating than its previous counterparts, fails to invoke the same sense of fear and dread from its previous installments.

In a strange way though, Alien: Covenant accurately reflects Ridley Scott’s career as a whole. Sometimes he hits home runs, like the original Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Other times his films are catastrophic, like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings. Alien: Covenant falls in the middle ground, and that’s the best way to describe Scott’s filmography: the middle ground. Not to mention Scott is planning on making four more Alien films after this. I’m sitting here wondering when we’re finally going to get to LV-426. Surely the round trip didn’t take this long to get there.

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“PROMETHEUS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus is in magnificent design, a complex and fascinating arrangement of ideas that qualify it more as science-philosophy than it does as science-fiction. Where do we come from? Where are going from here? What exists among the stars, if anything exists at all? These are questions all of us have asked ourselves at one point or another, no matter what culture, faith, or ethnicity you belong to. So too does Prometheus expand upon these questions, and even though it doesn’t provide many answers, it does explore the possibilities in endless detail.

Taking place in the future of 2089, archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a set of strange cave drawings all around the world, all resembling the same image: natives, human beings, mankind, all bowing and worshiping towering humanoid beings who loom over them. These beings are represented as a higher authority to the humans, possibly representing themselves as mankind’s creators. As they tower over the humans, they all point to the same thing in the exact same direction: a quadrant in the sky, deeply immersed in space, signifying where they came from. Their home.

Fast forward to 2093. Shaw and Holloway, now part of a crew led by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), travel to a strange planet known as LV-223, where Shaw believes they will meet their creators and discover the origins of the human race. What they find instead could very well mean the extinction of mankind.

It’s difficult to review a film like Prometheus because the plot is so embedded in its mythology and premise that you threaten to review ideas instead of the film itself. Originally conceived as a prequel to Alien, Prometheus has since then stretched its roots out to embrace wider, more ambitious ideas, elaborating on themes such as creationism, mortality, Godhood, human nature, and spiritual identity. What started as a story relating to science-fiction horror has since then branched out into a quest for humanity and for existence itself.

It’s interesting to see this film as it tackles these ideas headfirst, focusing on its themes first and entertainment second. Director Ridley Scott, who helmed the first Alien film back in 1979, does just as well here bringing breathtaking production value and applying it to thought-provoking content. In most summer blockbusters, directors are usually satisfied with throwing spectacular visual effects at us from the screen without having it immediately relating to the plot or its characters. Not Prometheus. Here, Scott smartly and subtly uses the visual effects as a gateway to the film and its larger narrative. Put simply, the visuals enhance the cinematic experience in the way that it is supposed to. It is not the experience in itself.

In the opening scene for instance, a grey-skinned giant swallows some sort of black liquid as his brethren boards an aircraft and flies away. As the giant stays behind, he begins to cough and choke violently as his skin begins to disintegrate. As he falls into the waterfall and his body dissolves into nothingness, the camera zooms up close to his remains, showing remnants of human DNA generating in the water.

What we are witnessing is, of course, the birth of humanity: the creation of “Adam” and “Eve”, if you will. The idea on its own is interesting and unique to other portrayals of creationism, but I’m more interested in the visual layout of the scene. Everything worked here. The elaborate makeup and costumes, the dark gray and blue coloring, the opaque and dreary landscapes. Everything culminates to form a visceral visual experience inside Prometheus: mysterious, ominous, and haunting, yet eerily beautiful in its own way

And out of any summer blockbuster to come out this year, none has a more standout cast than Prometheus does. Yes, that list does include The Avengers and The Hunger Games. While they too sport an incredible cast that lends very well to their film’s purposes, neither utilize their performers in a nuanced method that feels as real and tangible as this. Noomi Rapace, for instance, is a great lead in this movie, demonstrating a versatility and fierceness to her character that is equal parts thoughtful and uncompromising. In short, she is the perfect protagonist, and all of the emotions she experiences through the film are emotions we share with her. Theron has a thick snide to her character that is equally uncompromising, but has a colder edge to it that makes her more harsh and relentless to her fellow crew members. She starts off the film feeling like she has an ulterior agenda, yet there’s no way you could predict where exactly that agenda leads us.

Out of anyone else though, I’m most impressed by Michael Fassbender portraying an android named David. His character is endlessly fascinating. Unlike the other human characters, he seems to struggle with his existence the most, feeling superior to his mortal crew members while equally unable to relish and brag about himself. He’s artistic, cultured, intelligent, thoughtful, and has a metrosexualistic vibe to his speech and manner. Yet, he’s ultimately two-faced, and out of any of the other crew members, he’s the one you know the least about in terms of motivations and intentions. He is easily the most chilling and intriguing character out of the bunch. I would love to see where exactly Fassbender and Scott choose to take this character, should they use him in future installments.

Like any film, of course, Prometheus has its weaknesses. For one thing, it’s more intriguing and thought-provoking than it is thrilling or exciting, and that will be disappointing to fans who are expecting another horror-filled Alien romp. For all of its intelligence, there are some scenes where the science just plain doesn’t make sense, and some characters make the most unbelievably stupid decisions. And for all of its deeply-explored questions, Prometheus does not reach an established conclusion for its characters, but instead teases us to the possibilities of where they go from here.

I, however, love Prometheus and its ending because it resembles so much of mankind’s own faith and imagination for where we came from. Such an ending is appropriate because such is life. There is no concrete way to approach the unanswerable questions we have before or after watching Prometheus. They are too big of questions for just simple answers. All we can do as a developing species is keep our mind open, our eyes alert, and our ears receptive to anything we might learn in our lifetime.

We may never know the mysteries of our beginnings or endings. Indeed, only God would know such things, if you believe in one.

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Zack Snyder Exits ‘Justice League’, ‘Avengers’ Director Takes Place

Sad news this week in regards to Zack Snyder, writer-director behind the upcoming Justice League film. After experiencing a tragedy no family should ever have to go through, Snyder is taking leave from the project to spend time with his wife Deborah.

This news comes months after the suicide of Autumn, Snyder’s 20-year-old daughter. While Snyder will be away, Avengers director Joss Whedon will be stepping in to oversee reshoots and post-production. Producers are adamant, however, that Whedon is there to follow through with Snyder’s vision, not to bring in his own creative decisions.

“The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” Warner Bros president Toby Emmerich said. “We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing a baton to Joss but the course has really been set by Zack.”

This is some genuinely depressing news. While Snyder’s films have been mostly divisive among DC fans (Watchmen, Man of Steel, Batman V. Superman), that shouldn’t matter when it comes to empathizing with another human being. My upmost thoughts and prayers go to the Snyder family during this difficult time.

Zack, I know you’re not reading this, but just in case you are, know from one fan to another that you did the impossible: you brought the Justice League together. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and many others will all share presence on the big screen because you made that happen.

However Justice League turns out in November, thank you for making all of the fan’s dreams come true. We wish you a speedy recovery.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Independent, Cinemablend

‘Uncharted’ Casts Spider-Man In The Lead

Um, okay. I wasn’t expecting Peter Parker when Sony was talking about Nathan Drake. Apparently that’s the case, though.

In a stunning new development in the Uncharted movie that has long been stuck in development hell, Sony Pictures made a surprising announcement that they had cast their movie’s Nathan Drake. The role has officially gone to British actor Tom Holland, more recently known for playing Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War.

This casting is… unusual, to say the least. For one thing, Holland is too young to portray Nathan Drake. In the video game series, Drake is a 30 year-old adventurer who is on the hunt for buried treasure. Holland, in comparison, is 20 and looks like he’s 15. Physically, he doesn’t look at all like Nathan Drake. He just doesn’t fit the part.

Granted, the Uncharted film is written as a prequel to the best-selling games rather than a traditional adaptation, but then that raises another issue with this production. Why waste time making a prequel when people clearly want to see a cinematic experience of the game? Previous actors attached to this role included Mark Wahlberg and Chris Pratt, and while neither of them look exactly like the in-game Drake, they both look more similar to him than Holland’s minuscule figure does. How can Sony guarantee that this movie will feel like an Uncharted movie and not a Spider-Man 1.5?

And just to be clear, I’m not criticizing Holland as an actor. The guy clearly has talent and has a promising career ahead of him. But I just don’t see him in this role in any way whatsoever. Ben Affleck cast as Batman made more sense than this.

The film is being produced by Charles Roven (Man of Steel, Justice League) and Avi Arad (Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man) and directed by Shawn Levy (Real Steel, “Stranger Things”). We’ll have to wait and see how Holland does as everyone’s favorite scavenger.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, Screenrant

Tom Hardy Sinks His Teeth Into ‘Venom’

Credit: BOSSLogicBlack is back, and it’s starting to look really good on Tom Hardy.

This weekend, Sony cast their lead for Venom, an R-rated spinoff from the Spider-Man franchise. They announced that British actor Tom Hardy, most known for movies including Inception, Warrior, and The Dark Knight Rises, will be portraying Eddie Brock, a.k.a. Venom, in the upcoming superhero flick. Sony also announced that Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer was attached to direct the project.

On the casting alone, this is some very exciting news. The last on-screen portrayal of Venom came from Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, and that was a performance that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Granted, it wasn’t as much Grace’s fault as it was writer-director Sam Raimi’s, but Sony now seems to be taking Venom in a bold, exciting new direction. With Hardy being a rising talent ever since portraying Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy naturally embodies the rough physicality of the character and will no doubt bring a new edge that perfectly suits the violent vigilante. It will be very exciting to see Hardy’s performance, as well as what plans Sony has in store for the new on-screen Venom.

The only thing that’s disappointing about this news is that this will take place in a separate reality from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. I would love to see Tom Hardy’s Venom in the same universe where Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Michael Keaton’s Vulture co-exist, but I understand Sony wanting to retain a few properties for themselves. With the family-friendly direction Marvel is going, I can also understand why an edgy character like Venom wouldn’t be a part of it. I just would have liked to have seen that as a more darker take of the MCU.

That being said, how does Sony plan to incorporate Spider-Man into it? Holland’s Spider-Man can’t be involved, unless Sony inserts some awkward weird reality-warping explanation to it. With how many similarities Venom shares with the web-slinger, it seems unlikely that he won’t be a part of the film altogether, or at least mentioned.

Either way, we’ll have to wait until October 2018 to see how Sony incorporates both worlds into Venom’s menacing return to the big screen.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Comic Book News

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

With a little “g”.

Guardians of the Galaxy is irrevocably stupid. Whether you’re a fan or not, this is generally considered consensus among viewers. This is a superhero movie filled with wise-cracking bounty hunters, green-skinned assassins, talking trees, raccoons, and even ducks. If you had told me about a movie like this 10 years ago, I would have laughed you off and said “Leave me alone, I’m trying to watch Spider-Man 3”.

And yet, Guardians of the Galaxy became an instant classic: a surprise hit nobody was expecting. That’s because writer-director James Gunn found an impeccable balance between action, humor, wit, drama, and in-cheek satire only the most passionate Marvel fans could catch. Guardians wasn’t just a great superhero movie: it was a great movie period. It’s energy, originality, and irresistible sense of style breathed life into its absurd premise, playing well on its strengths while downplaying its potential weaknesses.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the elements of the first movie, just more haphazardly assembled. The action is still great, the cast remains phenomenal in their roles, and Gunn is equally skilled in throwing in some entertaining Easter Eggs every once in a while. But the tone is off. The jokes don’t land as much. The emotions don’t hit as hard. And no matter how you slice it, Vol. 2 is just a lesser version of Vol. 1. Disappointing, but not surprising.

In this sequel to the star-studded sci-fi blockbuster, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovers the identity of his father: a celestial that has lived for ages called Ego (Kurt Russel), an appropriate name considering his high-strung personality. After saving the guardians from an attack by the Sovereign, a gold-plated alien species that would make Ebenezer Scrooge drool in his seat, Ego reveals himself to Peter and invites him to his planet so that they could bond as father and son. Joined by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and newcomers Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the Guardians of the Galaxy set out to discover Peter’s true heritage and to see where his destiny may lie.

When Vol. 2 opens up on its first scene, I was immediately reminded of the fun, unorthodox energy sprouted from the first film. Pratt’s charismatic swagger, the catchy and toe-tapping 70’s music, the obnoxious and absurd action, even a miniature Groot was dancing to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians were busy fighting a giant space monster in the background. If this first scene was anything to go by, it was that Gunn still had his sense of style intact and he was ready to follow through with it to the end of Vol. 2.

He does in a way, but it isn’t without its inconsistencies. There is a lot to like here in Vol. 2, mostly having to do with the cast. Pratt and Cooper remain to be the best performers out of the other Guardians, and their spontaneous and quick-witted lines made me laugh and chuckle at their on-screen antics. Kurt Russel has a charismatic intensity that vibes very well with Pratt, and at comparing the two side-by-side, it’s easy to see how their characters are related. Gillan also gets more screen time as Nebula, and Gunn fleshes her out as a more well-rounded character complete with her own fears, apprehension, and regrets. Gunn has previously stated that Nebula is a strong enough character to warrant her own movie. After watching Vol. 2, I can totally see that happening and would be curious to see where exactly Gunn could take her.

These performances alongside the others make for a very strong ensemble, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Yet the characters and their motivations struggle to mesh and at times lack sense altogether. Yondu, for instance, is painted here as an almost-fatherly figure to Peter, juxtaposed right alongside Ego in their differences for how they raised Peter. Yet in the first Guardians, Yondu is the complete antithesis of Peter, a ruthless criminal that was fully intent on killing Quill for betraying his ravagers. How does it make sense that Yondu was dead-set on killing Peter in the first movie, whereas here he’s flipped to being more protective and even concerned? One could argue it as a change of heart, but that doesn’t make any sense. Where did that change come from? What was the inciting incident? Why now after Peter betrayed Yondu not once, but twice?

There are other things that don’t work as well in the picture. The Sovereign are not very interesting villains and serve little purpose except to look shiny on the big screen. There’s a running gag with Rocket where he keeps winking out of the wrong eye while speaking sarcastically. I’m left wondering how a cybernetically enhanced raccoon could not know the difference between his left and right eye. And some of the dialogue was just too stupid to forgive. In the climax of the film, Peter yells to the movie’s villain “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE KILLED __ AND CRUSHED MY WALKMAN!” I’m thinking the person or the Walkman, pick one and stick with it.

Overall, Guardians Vol. 2 is a decent addition to the Marvel universe, but not an outstanding one. It’s just sort of there to hold us by until we can get to Spider-Man: Homecoming later in the summer. Yet I remain sympathetic towards Gunn because he was betting against expectation for this installment. Nobody was expecting Vol. 1 to be as great as it was: it just came out and subverted the entire superhero genre in a fun and stylish way. Following up from the surprise that was, how can you fairly expect Vol. 2 to have the same impact? You can tell Gunn invested a lot of heart and humor into this story: he just invested it in some of the wrong areas. What can I say? Even the classics can let us down sometimes.

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“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A tale as old as 20 years ago.

I’m going to be ostracized no matter what, so I may as well just come out with it: I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast. I really wanted to. I was a big fan of the original, I was really excited for this movie’s new look with updated visual effects, and I was especially looking forward to Emma Watson as everyone’s favorite book-loving heroine. Ultimately though, I felt as though this movie didn’t live up to its expectation as a remake of the iconic Disney classic. Then again though, who in their right mind would want to remake Beauty and the Beast anyway?

The Beauty and the Beast remake follows the original about as much as you expect, but with a few changes. There’s still Belle (Watson), there’s still Beast (Dan Stevens), there’s still that egotistical jock Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), as well as a slew of other characters. However, Disney thankfully updated their adaptation and made some changes to differ its live-action adaptation from its animated counterpart. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a clockmaker instead of an inventor, Beast’s origin is visually portrayed in the introduction, and Le Fou is now a homosexual. Conservatives roar in upheaval.

Since the homosexual aspect has been covered non-stop in mainstream media, I’m going to get that controversy out of the way first so I can focus more on the rest of the film. First of all: no, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay. Gay characters have inhabited films numerous times over now, from Dog Day Afternoon all the way to Moonlight. Even in animated movies, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Finding Dory and Zootopia all had gay characters in them, however small of roles they played. To get outraged about a gay character to the point of banning the film is just ridiculous and over the top. For parents who are unreasonably angry about this, I would remind you that this is in a movie whose main characters experience Stockholm syndrome and bestiality. Where exactly do your priorities lie?

That being said, the character’s homosexuality was being heavily forced in the picture. I’m not criticizing Josh Gad, who plays Le Fou upbeat with energy and enthusiasm. I’m criticizing director Bill Condon, who paints the character as so on-the-nose gay that the only way to make it more obvious would be to nail a sign on Gad’s forehead. His high-pitched voice matches that of the women around him, his swagger so feminine that it’s surprising he’s not walking down a runway. His body posture and movements are so flamboyant that he comes off as pompous rather than genuine. Compare this to the nuanced performances of Stanley Tucci or Trevante Rhodes in The Devil Wears Prada or Moonlight. These were gay characters, but they weren’t so on-the-nose to the point where it was hokey or silly. Those characters felt like real people. Le Fou feels like a stereotype.

Again, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay, but I do mind how it is portrayed as a caricature instead of a characteristic. Agenda or no agenda, topics such as sexuality need to be done well in film, and Le Fou’s is one that needed more finessing.

The rest of the film is… fine, I guess. Nothing really reaches out to you in the way that the animated film does, despite the added story content. I wondered why this was the case? From a technical standpoint, this film was produced at a higher quality than that of the original. The costumes are intricate and elegant, acutely embodying the traditional garb and style of the 19th century. The visual effects are astounding, and the castle characters pop out to you more than they did in the original. And the music, which recruits original composer Alan Menken, rejuvenates Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack with newfound vigor for a modern audience.

Beauty and the Beast does all of this well, yet it’s still lacking. Why? When I look back on it, I think it comes down to the performances, or more accurately how they are captured. Stevens has his breakout role here as the Beast, but he never really sticks out beyond his roars and coarse deep voice. It feels like the CGI is doing more of the performance than he is, while he more or less just moves in the background, never really taking presence on-screen. Considering how much he stood out in television shows such as “Downton Abbey” to independent flicks such as The Guest, it’s sad to see his talents diluted down here to basically a motion performance.

His co-star Watson is sadly an even bigger disappointment. Her performance was the part I was most excited about in the film, but while watching her, I noticed that she felt more stiff and wooden than even the castle characters did. Everytime she spoke a line that Paige O’Hara spoke in the original, it didn’t feel like it was Belle speaking. It felt like Watson was just reading from the page during a script read. The only actor to wholly embrace his role was Luke Evans as Gaston, who ironically enough is the most cartoonish character out of the whole cast.

I don’t even necessarily blame the actors for their awkward placement in this film. I think Condon just didn’t know how to direct them to their fullest potential. Among his credits include the last two Twilight films and The Fifth Estate. He didn’t know how to guide his cast in the right direction in those movies either. Why would he suddenly learn how to do it now?

I know this review will be divisive among passionate Disney fans, who perhaps will love the source material too much to see when it isn’t done well. The film remains to be brilliantly produced, visually stunning, and pleasing to the ears. It’s a for-sure lock for multiple technical awards at the Oscars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it even won a few as well.

But Beauty and the Beast feels too much like it’s trying to replicate the emotions from its animated counterpart instead of trying to fill it with its own life. It’s sad, really. Disney took a bold step in remaking one of its most well-known properties, only to crumble underneath the sensationalism of it all. And people thought the gay character would be the movie’s biggest problem.

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‘Hellboy 3’ Canned, Reboot Opted In Its Place

Hellboy? More like hell no.

If you’re a fan of the Guillermo Del Toro action series Hellboy, then you’ve been in for a rough few months. Fans have cried for a sequel to Hellboy: The Golden Army ever since its release, and they’ve been let down at every single turn. Del Toro teased fans yet again by posting a poll on twitter, saying that it got enough responses, he would sit down with studioheads to discuss producing one last sequel. After more than 130,000 responses, Del Toro confirmed the outcome of the conversation to some disappointed fans: Hellboy 3 is officially dead and is never happening.

Well imagine fans’ surprise when they woke up in the morning and heard that a new Hellboy movie is actually in the works. However, it’s not a sequel to the pre-existing series, but instead an R-rated reboot with “Stranger Things” actor David Harbour expected to take on the titular role. “Game of Thrones” director Neil Marshall is expected to direct, while “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola will write the screenplay alongside authors Andrew Cosby and Christopher Golden.

I don’t know how to feel about this. For one thing, it hasn’t even been 10 years since the last Hellboy movie was released. Does the series really need a reboot, now of all times? When we’re in the thick of the superhero craze and we’re busy rebooting X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and so many others, I would presume that a reboot would just backfire and be flooded out in the midst of all of these other superhero franchises. Releasing a new Hellboy movie now just seems like bad timing.

Also, I think studios are starting to abuse this whole “R-rated” craze on superhero movies. It worked well for Deadpool and Logan, but don’t go overdoing it now. Soon enough you’ll see Batman decapitating criminals and Hellboy blowing guts off in gunfights, and you’ll see fans walking out because studios are more focused on producing blood and gore rather than relevant character drama and storytelling. An R-rated Hellboy movie can work, but it needs to focus on the right emotional elements, not just the sensationalism of it all.

I do like that Harbour is being considered as the lead. He was great in “Stranger Things”, and he also played solid supporting roles in End of Watch, The Equalizer, and Black Mass. It’s nice to see actors move up the totem pole, and I hope this opportunity works out well for Harbour’s career.

Also, Mignola’s involvement is encouraging, but don’t get too excited about it. Frank Miller, after all, did write and direct the adaptation of his own The Spirit. Look at how that turned out for him.

What do you guys think? Are you excited for the Hellboy reboot, or do you wish that the whole idea would go to hell? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, IGN