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5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
The Hulk of the MCU, Civil War is a relentless powerhouse that entertains once the wheels start turning, 9 May 2016

The cinematic equivalent to tossing dozens of awesome comic books in a blender with a heavy budget and pouring it out into celluloid, Civil War is not only a superb sequel and improvement to the Avengers films, but just might actually become the best MCU flick yet. And yes, the movie is extremely bloated. Yes, the movie becomes a bit of a downer especially after funnier offerings like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. But once the wheels start turning and the conflict shifts into the second act you will be enthusiastically entertained up until the final scene.

Civil War is honestly Avengers 2.5, but the half is only in terms of chronological order. In the third Captain America installment, the events from past Marvel offerings has the world afraid of the superheroes, and over a hundred nations want to be able to monitor and control where the Avengers goes and what they should do after an espionage mission gone wrong. This creates a rift between all the heroes, especially with Winter Soldier being a fugitive and another threat lurking within; and differing opinions on how to handle the situation. Civil War's biggest strength is the sheer amount of characters; as they bring back all the Avengers, and then threw in some new additions.

Black Panther was flawless in performance, visuals, and execution. Second-billing favorites like Ant-Man, Falcon, Black Widow (who deserves her own movie) and Hawkeye make an appearance and also greatly deliver. Lastly, Spider-Man undoubtedly steals the show and he barely makes an appearance here. After 14 years of cinematic Spider-Man appearances, Marvel truly gets it right this time. Unlike what happened with Age of Ultron (entertaining yet forgettable), you will be excited for future features based off the new characters you meet within the 150 minute timeframe----especially Spider-Man. Sadly not all the Marvel personas get enough screen time, but it's part of the sacrifices made when there is such a long guest list to the motion picture party.

The chemistry within the MCU is off the charts, and Civil War raises the bar even higher. What DC films are missing is this key element; mostly because we barely see any character development and consistent cast from sequel to sequel. The interactions between each of the heroes is what really allows this movie to go to the top tier of comic book mayhem, as even Bucky has his moments when involved with the others, especially (surprisingly) Falcon. The complicated relationship between Iron Man and Captain America is front and center, and both deliver spectacular performances as two guilt-ridden heroes desperately trying to avoid conflict even though all signs point to a clash.

Helping Civil War maintain its bite is a strong (and rather gloomy) script and flawless direction from the Russo Brothers, who have impressed mightily since their debut with The Winter Soldier. The film honestly has it all: deep themes, lots of loss, plenty of surprises, tons of drama, tons of action, controversial decisions, and a good amount of humor to mix it all together---even though we really could have used more jokes in the first act. The action scenes range from clever to intense to downright entertaining. The Airport Battle will become a part of Marvel movie history, I promise you. The scene will be embedded in your memory if you are a fan of the comics. Then there's the incredible Bucharest Chase that's the best chase since Raid 2. At the same time, the final fight will break your heart.

Painstaking amount of effort is given to not only making these characters come to life, but also making them likable and relatable. Marvel does a fantastic job picking the right staff behind the scenes, and does even better picking the actors and actresses to represent the MCU. Combine that with a proper budget and an extremely tight structure that connects all the films together and always leaves room for the upcoming sequels and you have a systematic series of films that resonates with the worldwide audience. Captain America: Civil War is now the peak result of this formula, as this is the first mega Marvel film since the original Avengers to appear to not pull any punches and maximize the content with the pieces allotted.

As a comic book fan, there's no way you can walk out disappointed. And as a summer blockbuster fan, you will also have a lot of fun while simultaneously think about the events that occurred long after the final punch is thrown. Civil War is absolutely fantastic, and among the best comic book movies of all-time. DC, you need to watch this and take notes.

Zootopia (2016)
42 out of 86 people found the following review useful:
Delicious dark chocolate, Zootopia looks colorful, tastes dark, but will be among the best films of 2016, 6 March 2016

Some movies perfectly personifies the past (Saving Private Ryan), some movies predict the future (Fight Club), and some (like this one) perfectly nail the current issues so accurately you feel like they financed, wrote, and filmed the movie yesterday. Read the following sentence slowly because you might not believe it the first time you glance through it: Zootopia is the best film under the Walt Disney Animation Studios banner since Emperor's New Groove, and is arguably the most important animated film since Princess and the Frog. Yes, the clock has to reach back 16 years before you can find a Disney Studios animated film as strong as this one. Between the layers of intense subject matter and a surprisingly strong mystery plot lies a beautiful message for the kids and tweens that needs to be heard, especially today.

Nothing on the surface can actually prepare you for what happens once you enter the setting of Zootopia. However, the surface is quite delightful to look at. The animation is spectacularly detailed and contributes mightily to the storyline about animals living together. The main city itself branches off into several subdivisions, each with its own distinctive personality. Unlike most Disney films, Zootopia itself is so massive its practically begging for continuations through film and television. It's an expansive visual feast of colors and colorful characters, similar to the creative world of Wreck-It Ralph. However, once the movie gets going you will quickly realize that although it is a children's movie, there is plenty for teenagers and even adults to laugh at and to be moved by. The mystery is slightly more mature than what is expected, and we even reach quite dark territory once the second half kicks into play. This is a children's movie, but has an incredible script full of heart, soul, drama, and necessary comedy to offset the bleakness. Using Pixar's collective creativity technique (which has been rusting lately), we have three directors and nearly a dozen writing credits attached (two wrote the screenplay, many others contributed to the story). It is a miracle that so many contributors to a single script made a film that flowed so well.

Disney and Pixar are the best at coming up with the required vocal talents to bring the animated films to life, and this is no exception. Jennifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are absolutely perfect for each other and play to their strengths: Goodwin with her charming all-American bubbliness and Bateman's sly hustling ways. They dominate the film but luckily you'll learn to love them immediately through their strengths and their flaws. And in keeping with recent tradition, you won't know who the true villain is until later as the stakes start getting higher.

Rich Moore (most experienced of the three-director team) should be a bigger name because his directing credits includes the early 90s Simpsons and some of Futurama's greatest episodes. What those shows and this film has in common is the electric mix of well-paced story, strong characters, and shades of drama and commentary that speaks to the current issues. Zootopia explores racism, sexism, classism, and diversity fears better than any of the trailblazing Disney animated films before it. That being said, it's not a knock on Princess and the Frog, Mulan, or Hunchback of Notre Dame---the truth is Zootopia would have never been fully greenlit by Disney in the 90s, and perhaps even the 2000s.

Disney has gotten gutsier and ballsier in recent years with the Too Big to Fail attitude; and although the company definitely remains officially mum on the current political turmoil, Zootopia can and should be its resume and cover letter concerning what side of the fight they are on. Zootopia is a daring animated film that will frighten you (especially the youngsters), will emotionally hurt you, and will leave you thinking long after Shakira's gazelle character lets out her final note. It's the perfect concoction of mystery, comedy, action, and social commentary that not only allows it to become an early entry for Best Animated Feature, but (dare I say it), a Best Picture nomination.

Zootopia on the surface, beneath the surface, and everywhere in between is essentially flawless. It has something for everyone, although the youngest ones will struggle as it gets darker. Through its importance as well as the engaging, ever-revolving plot, I give this film the highest marks. Zootopia will stand as one of the best in all of 2016, and among the best works of animation this entire decade. Disney has unveiled its stance through adorable animals while simultaneously proving that it remains the animation king of the world.

Deadpool (2016)
4 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Cinematic Redemption: Deadpool gets the restart we all deserve, despite the limitations, 14 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Finally we have a decent X-Men origin story with plenty of heart, spirit, chemistry, and good connections with the original source. The baffling thing is that we receive this gift in the form of the most incoherent and random Marvel character in the entire universe. The character that least requires an explanation gets the most structured and most engaging Fox Marvel film since X-Men 2. But of course, the behind-the-scenes licensing drama and the infuriatingly small budget (compared to what the storyline demands) entangle the film quite a bit.

Ryan Reynolds might be the only man in the history of film to totally mess up a cinematic character, and then get a second chance at getting it right by starting entirely from scratch. With the rated R guaranteed and a looser approach to Deadpool, Reynolds knocks it out of the park with a much more accurate performance, and one with plenty of depth and sympathetic pull. His chemistry with the rest of the cast reminds you why he's much better unhinged and uncut (Waiting, Adventureland).

Reynolds has actually been the main catalyst at making sure that he helped right the wrongs caused by X-Men Origins. He helped fight to keep the R rating, helped increase the (already small) budget to make this a reality, and has helped craft the flood of social media hype. The hard R rating was the biggest requirement in making this film work; the story and mannerisms of Deadpool are not for the faint of heart. Deadpool is far more in the realm of Spawn as opposed to Fantastic Four in terms of adult content.

The script is formulaic in nature, but fresh with crisp dialogue, great one-liners, constant shifts in timeline, and plenty of fun sidekicks to be entertained by. Sadly, because of obvious budget constraints, we are treated to only two major action sequences (the first one overshadows the finale by a long shot), not a single major X-Men cameo, throwaway villains, and most of the time being spent on the creating of Deadpool as opposed to the anarchy that follows. 10 years of production hell and dozens of re-writes could doom most screenplays, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick do a great job saving whatever was left.

The biggest achievement of Deadpool is how closely it resembles the source material and personality despite getting less money. If you enjoy Deadpool in the comics, you'll enjoy him here as well---even if the eccentricity is toned down just slightly enough to keep the plot structured. The action is intense, the injuries are gruesome, the humor is dark and crude, and the movie never really takes itself seriously. Fourth walls go down, it reveals its own production setbacks within the film, and it has this kinetic comic book flavored energy that hardly ever slows.

It might be a case of less money = more freedom, but the lack of funding really tarnishes the movie. Part of the glee of Deadpool in the Marvel universe is his wild interactions with other characters, especially the X-Men. But to put Deadpool in the same supposed Marvel universe as the X-Men and then refuse to have any of the popular characters join in on the fun is baffling and infuriating. Even worse is that we have long-unused X-Men like Gambit (especially) and Cable available. In a tragic case of the production team having more faith than the studio itself, the limitations aren't obvious but become apparent once the final act rolls in and you are left desiring more Deadpool chaos.

As a risqué, adult version of The Little Engine That Could, this was a comic book film that was supposedly doomed, expected to fail, and was released with minimal hope---only to be saved because of the strength of the Marvel brand, the incredible online/Reynolds marketing campaign, and a legitimate effort to stay true to the source. Great cast, great energy, and great humor is restricted because of Fox and the ridiculous guidelines everyone has been forced to follow since Disney purchased the property. Deadpool can become a successful franchise as long as they are willing to tie him closer to the rest of the X-Men and Marvel movies---and as long as we keep the same dedicated staff. Don't expect pure unadulterated crazy here; but do expect a great blend of crazy, heart, and entertainment---wrapped together in a limited budget.

Most importantly, this is much, much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

4 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Well-Directed but Poorly Written, Hateful Eight is a Tarantino pound cake--thick but not fully satisfying, 6 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kendrick Lamar was the best live performance I've ever seen. April 2014, he rocked UCF. However, we had to endure two hours of mediocre rappers before getting to the main event. By the time we got to the very good part of the night, we were emotionally, physically drained. Lamar did his best, but Orlando struggled to maintain the energy. This is Hateful Eight in a nutshell.

It is extremely hard to get mad at Tarantino and the Hateful Eight project as they went through extreme lengths to ensure that it felt, sounded, and looked like a Western straight out of the 1960s. From getting Ennio Morricone to compose the soundtrack to using the same cameras used to film Charlton Heston, Tarantino and friends reached far back into cinematic history and moved it to present day. This alone propels the movie to become a unique experience, as there is actually an overture and then an intermission about halfway into the film.

But leading up to that intermission is where the film really struggles. Throughout his career, the better Tarantino's script is, the better the movie will become—regardless of all the other intangibles. Death Proof's climax rivals as one of the best in the past decade, but the ho-hum dialogue and unlikable first round of characters prevented us from truly enjoying it. In the meantime, Reservoir Dogs is one of the rare movies in which literally every word said is important, making it one of the best indie films you'll ever see.

There is a lot of what I like to call abe dialogue (already been established) in Hateful Eight—leading to a lot of repetitive dialogue, repetitive conversations, and verbal revelations that we had already encountered. As a matter of fact, you could have cut the first third of the movie because the facts and characterizations created were re-created once the movie's setting becomes more claustrophobic and remains in the cabin. Part of Tarantino's magic was his ability to create awesome characters without revealing too much about them. Sadly we don't get much of this in Hateful Eight.

The Tarantinoisms (good music, sharp imagery, inventive directing) start taking off once intermission ends and the intriguing mystery begins, as the tension suddenly revs up. In the second half is when things become interesting and the actors (and lone main actress) can start chewing at the scenery. The words suddenly become important, the details become more prevalent, and the audience has become much more engaged. In spite of this, the length of the film and the over-indulgence of throwaway dialogue weighs down on you and never allows for Hateful Eight to really reach the quality lengths of Tarantino's other hybrid westerns like Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds.

Hateful Eight is like a large fluffy pound cake, a lot of density but lacking in flavor and substance. Tarantino directed this with his usual precision and quirkiness, however it lacks an outstanding moment, it lacks an outstanding character, and with the climax being delayed in favor of displaying past events it's hard to find the pulse of this irregular heartbeat.

In order for lengthy movies to maintain interest you have to cover a lot of ground in terms of whether years or space. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly covers an insane amount of Western territory, leading to every minute being required. Shawshank Redemption covers over two decades of prison life, so it too needed every minute. Hateful Eight is a cinematic bottle episode that could have been much shorter, much tighter, and with that each detail and word being much more vital.

Somewhere in that cabin lies a good story, and overall a good movie. You just have to get past the thicket of words to find it.

3 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
A New Hope for the franchise, The Force Awakens brings Star Wars back to quality form, 18 December 2015

Let's get one thing clear: there is absolutely no way in the modern economic structure of filmmaking and Hollywood are we ever going to get a sci-fi trifecta as good as the original Star Wars trilogy. Just ask Indiana Jones what happens when you try to revive a severely beloved franchise in a new era decades later (*screams in agony*). And with the Disney Regime having their fingerprints all over the product you know there will be limitations, there will be questionable decisions, and the eggs will never be in the same basket.

However, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not just a step in the right direction; its many many steps in the right direction. Despite the impossible odds to live up to the Original Three, The Force Awakens delivers an exhilarating experience that will revitalize your love for the franchise, and will give you strong anticipation for what the future holds within the LucasFilm universe. Although the movie definitely scales back some of the plot for future installments, it is still chock full of surprises, lovable characters, and the Star Wars magic that we haven't experienced in a very long time.

J.J. Abrams revs up the nostalgic factor by not only doing several callbacks to the original trilogy, but but by crafting a storyline that builds and evolves in similar fashion to the original 1977 masterpiece. Without spoiling too much secrets are being pursued, rising evil is threatening the galaxy, and we see heroes coming from unexpected sources--these are all factors coming into play in Episode VII. Force Awakens actually takes off a lot quicker than Episode IV, but the difference is the 2015 revival slows down slightly to allow for more story lines to build (and not always necessarily conclude within the two hour timeframe). Don't let George Lucas fool you—there were no plans for a sequel back then as A New Hope tossed the entire kitchen sink in terms of budget to give you the most complete riveting experience possible.

The Star Wars tropes are all far too present, and some with upgraded elements: our villain is quite menacing, there is a great cast of characters we wish we could spend more time with, the robotic creatures are lovable every second they are on screen, and of course there is the underrated variety of vehicles and weapons and creatures that we see in the Star Wars universe. Those expecting or hoping for a big deviation might be slightly disappointed. The production value of The Force Awakens was mesmerizing, from the battles to the outstanding cinematography supported by the booming John Williams score. Complementing the art direction is the CGI being kept to an absolute minimum (although the film really should have taken a page from Return of the Jedi and reached out to the Jim Henson Company for a few scenes).

It paces like Star Wars, it looks like Star Wars, and it definitely feels like Star Wars. The Force Awakens has a major element preventing it from becoming the cinematic game-changer Star Wars was back in the 70s: the planned structure technique of Disney. The 1977 gem was layers ahead of the next best-looking film while simultaneously nearly bankrupting everyone around them. It would change the way we see, experience, and film special and visual effects. It was also a fresh new concept that had a wide open door of possibilities—leading to all the extra books and media filling in the structural blanks. Disney is going on a schedule, is going on strict guidelines (More money was spent on budgeting then the film itself if that's saying anything), leading to less power to the fans (we won't be seeing dozens of Star Wars books like in the past) and less attempts to ever fully finish the story. Love or hate Disney, they know how to keep a property from becoming stale but profitable.

Can The Force Awakens be a better film? Of course, with more time, less limitations, more actually-completed story lines, and a lack of planning of milking the franchise. But Abrams and company still gives us a very entertaining film that begs multiple viewings to witness the new coming, and skim through all the details and potential clues to where the franchise is heading. Star Wars fans should not be disappointed, especially after what we witnessed during the darkest of times being a fan (The Prequel Trilogy).

The Force Awakens is a dazzling blend of old-school Star Wars magic with new-school thrills and fresh blood that will revitalize the brand throughout the upcoming trilogy and all the spin-offs that follow. Thank you Abrams, thank you Disney, and thanks to all the participated: Star Wars is back and has removed all the stench of the past couple decades.

8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Light as a feather, but enough charm to destroy all your negativity, 9 November 2015

The Peanuts Movie is just like a puppy: adorable, irresistible, charming, and absolutely worthy despite any flaws it may or may not present. This extremely well-made movie does exactly what adaptations should do: be very faithful regardless of current audience, keep it very close to the source, don't try to spice it up with unnecessary additions, and do plenty of callbacks to the original work. Blue Sky does an absolutely phenomenal job transforming the world of Schultz into the computer-animated-obsessed cinematic world we see today. This is the best Blue Sky has released since the also-faithful Horton Hears a Who and one of the best films of the entire year. Seriously.

Peanuts has been so embedded in American society that we forget how groundbreaking and how seriously funny the original comic strip was. What Winnie the Pooh is to Disney, Peanuts was to the newspaper---a reliable source of entertainment and harmless beauty. Side-Note: Disney's 2011 Winnie the Pooh revival was criminally underrated. Transforming Peanuts successfully requires tons of research and special care since Schultz and most of the magical staff behind the specials and movies are no longer with us unfortunately.

The details is what makes The Peanuts Movie phenomenal. The more you loved the comic strips, the more you'll appreciate the effort. From the art style to the running jokes (Curse you Red Baron!!!) to the fact that the Red-Haired Girl never reveals her name so we can all relate to our childhood crushes, to even the fact that they recycled the sound clips of Snoopy, Steve Martino (delicately directing this with lots of care) and company continue carrying the torch behind one of the most beloved groups of children in the history of cartoons. Peanuts Movie also doesn't even try to sneak in any adult humor: it sticks to the kids and the kids-at-heart, as well as those that grew up watching the delightful specials. The art style alone throws you right back to the first time you saw A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Charlie Brown is still a wonderful relatable boy, despite his social insecurities and bad luck. Snoopy is still that trustworthy best friend despite his eccentricity. Linus, Sally, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Woodstock, and the rest of the gang all don't skip a beat despite it being nearly four decades since the last movie, and years since the last special. The plot never thickens or gets deep, it never outstays its welcome, and never loses the tight focus on Charlie Brown/Snoopy while simultaneously giving the other kids their moments to shine. It's a miracle that they found a cast that matched the voices of the predecessors so well. The fact that there is not a single adult seen (or coherently heard) is a perfectly executed idea that adds to the childhood innocence tone of the film.

You can nitpick and (try to) find some flaws, but I was far too busy smiling at the perfect art style and the light humor that decorated the carefree 88 minutes. I was far too busy rooting for Charlie Brown to finally have his moment. And lastly, I was far too busy enjoying the wild imagination of Snoopy and Woodstock as they take on their version of World War I. Fast, yet harmless and irresistible, The Peanuts Movie will appeal, delight, entertain, and cheer up anybody that decides to give it a chance.

Charles M. Schultz would be extremely proud.

Spectre (2015/I)
0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
After this entry, its time to shake the Bond franchise, not just stir it., 9 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Bond suffers from the Simpsons Syndrome: its biggest enemy is its collectively stellar past, and its refusal to attempt to shake things up often (ironically, the beginning of the end of the Simpsons was a poorly-done shakeup involving the death of Maude Flanders). Bond has been exploring beautiful places and wooing beautiful women for decades, so when the formula gets stale it really meanders deep into the production. However when the franchise flips the switch and alters things while still sticking to the roots, we get cinematic gold. Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall are the best of Bond within the past 25 years, and it's for those reasons. Spectre unfortunately fails to attempt anything groundbreaking.

Daniel Craig is still fantastic. The cinematography is still top-notch. The directing (when the budget and script allows) is quite good. Waltz and Bautista were great adversaries (but with very little material). But underneath that, we have a Bond movie that struggles to live up to recent adventures. We have a Bond villain that doesn't quite match up to sinister folks of the past. We have a series of locales that had been explored before. And lastly, the producers should have known better then to not bring back Adele after her Skyfall song became the best Bond theme since the 70s. Sam Smith had no chance.

What hurts even more is that the beginning was phenomenal, from the opening shot to the opening action sequence that follows. And just like Skyfall, it was so good that the rest of the movie struggled to truly catch up. What instead follows is a more realistic and grounded approach to the expected and familiar Bond formula; and to be honest it used to be effective but the competition of your exotic action movies in European territory has increased significantly---Jason Bourne, Mission: Impossible, and even the revived Fast and the Furious series. Making the movie a rough 150 minutes doesn't help at all either; it even felt like the budget ran out towards the end.

The grounded formula was a shake-up to the Bond clichés, but by the end of all this you'll be clamoring to bring these clichés back. You want the entourage of gorgeous vehicles back (as opposed to several helicopter scenes), you want the outlandish villain back (Give me more 1960s Spectre please), and you want the clever gadgets back. As a matter of fact, I want the cool and calm spy back. In Spectre, they cringingly kept referring to him as an assassin—never a spy. It's a slight dialogue mishap but it speaks layers as to what we are currently seeing from MGM's final moneymaker. Remove Bond from the equation and you have a decent summer assassin flick. But as a Bond movie that has seen so many precious films and delightful moments---the past harms the quality.

This is the weakest Bond since Die Another Day, another Bond movie that was ruined because it became too formulaic and frayed far from what we saw in the first act. The movie isn't a dismal failure, nor is it a total sequel disaster to the likes of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Yep, went there). The Bond recipe is all here, but it's been diluted by too much filler and not enough flavor. Trying to connect the recent Bond movies together also didn't help its chances---James Bond wasn't meant for continuity because they can never add up no matter how hard you try. Spectre went through four writers, and the result was still messy.

Don't expect peak Connery/Craig Bond, expect more along the lines of late 70s Roger Moore Bond---when it was obvious that change was needed. Perhaps they've run out of ideas with Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. Perhaps more time is needed between Bond movies (the three great Bond flicks I mentioned had many years between installments). It might be time for that shake-up again. I wonder if Tarantino is still interested…

Technically brilliant, Children of Men is a visceral thrill ride that clutches your breath, 23 August 2015

If you are an aspiring director, then this is your film to watch and take notes.

Children of Men is an exercise in precise and flawless filmmaking, from the positioning of the shots to the kinetic movement of the shots. Alfonso Curason takes a high-budget idea with a minimal budget (for its genre anyway) and manages to pierce together an intense relentless experience that pulls no punches, and practically throws you in the exact center of the action. In usual science fiction and action movies you are an observer from a distance; with Children of Men you practically become an unwilling participant. You can smell the chaos, feel the blood (and at some points see it spilled on the camera), and sense the grimness that swallows the decaying environment of England.

In one of the best-directed flicks in the past several decades, we follow an everyman (Clive Owen) get caught up in an extremely dangerous mission to transport an important woman out of the country during a time when children cannot be born—leading to panic and apocalyptic results. The cast is small but very effective, from the reliable Clive Owen to the always-entertaining Michael Caine in a small but poignant role. Not to knock the actors or the writing staff (which also includes Clive Owen), but the biggest strength of this movie are the visuals. We'll get to that soon.

Themes of immigration, faith, motherhood, and fate are mixed together in this hearty soup of a script that raises important questions, parallels important issues that have taken place in modern day society, and also dwells into religious tropes. There is a lot of beauty that looms under the shadows of extreme violence and mayhem that will keep you riveted and afraid for what happens next, even if some of the post-apocalyptic clichés pop up in the final act. Children of Men establishes the issues plaguing the society and the characters in the first act, and the film takes off like a lightning bolt starting from the first cleverly-staged action sequence.

This film belongs to Curason and Emmanuel Lubezki, the directing/cinematography duo that have worked well together before (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and since (the also-visually stimulating Gravity). Here they make beautiful dark music together, as they flawlessly and seamlessly shove the camera in the direct center of all the conflicts, and you watch the action and startling images emerge from all different angles as the scene unfolds and becomes lengthier. Why neither got Oscar wins (let alone nominations) remains a major travesty, and same goes with the editing. This was 2006's most impressive technical cinematic work---and don't anybody mention Pan's Labyrinth.

Children of Men is a dizzying action-packed journey worthy of multiple viewings, worthy of many awards that it inexplicably never won, and worthy of being one of the better science-fiction thrillers this entire generation. It is the complete package of a great soundtrack, slick editing, good script unveiled well by a wonderful cast, and then a directing effort that certifies Curason as among the best in the business. Dim the lights, rev up the sound, and prepare for a hell of a trip.

6 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
This film has got somethin' to say, 21 August 2015

This movie would not have been greenlit 15 years ago.

And this movie took a decade to finally receive the full backing it needed to fully produce the story behind the rap group that started it all.

Perfect timing too.

Straight Outta Compton a surprisingly powerful and deep film that looks into the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of the three main men behind N.W.A.; a group that fueled a short-lived but powerful revolutionary run of success with its urban attitude, strong lyrics, and absolutely biting commentary on devastating realities that music had never dealt with up to that point. N.W.A. became notorious for bringing light to living in the deepest parts of California while dealing with a society that constantly makes it difficult for them to branch out. This film doesn't just highlight their beginnings and eventual rise to success, it also deals with the outcome of their decisions and what happens when the wrong people are mixed in.

Some have argued that the aftermath bogs down the movie, that the third act becomes a slight drag. But truth be told, no storm literally or figuratively is at its strongest in the aftermath, but at the point of impact. From the first tense scene on, Straight Outta Compton holds very little back in terms of the lyrical content, the violence, the drugs, and the disturbing environment they have to survive in as they fight for a way out. Gang members pleading for the next generation to stick to their books, cops destroying houses they believe might have drugs, and a systematic cycle of violence and grimness that comes with the impoverished life. The script gives light on the good, the bad, and the ugly part of representing the hood culture that N.W.A. managed to (slightly) escape with their bittersweet poetry.

Movies representing this lifestyle and the people in it hardly get a good budget and good production value to back them up. But thanks to the powerhouse moneymakers that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have become, it is now a hell of a lot easier for them to tell their story: and they got a great writing cast, great production team, and a superb director (F. Gary Gary has Friday and Italian Job in his resume) to back them up. Back then you couldn't have dreamed of an N.W.A. movie containing great cinematography, wonderful editing, and fantastic musical score (outside the source material) to follow a talented young cast that emulates the men behind the group perfectly. The movie is sleek, crisp, and sounds better than most of your biggest blockbusters.

There is no scaling back the content and the lifestyles during Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E's rise to the top. Some of what you see is concerning and slightly paints some ugly on their personalities, and that's why the third act albeit not as energetic is required. Consequences are indeed dished out, people are lost, friendships and partnerships are tested, and devils left and right challenge the foundation and wellbeing of our main cast. The story is never pretty, whether they are buying a new house or losing it. This is why Straight Outta Compton succeeds as a film, very little sugarcoating while giving each character their good side as well as their dark side.

The sugarcoating does exist though. With Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing, I'm sure there were some skeletons in their closet that were not going to be revealed; especially when it involves the N.W.A. tours, the nasty rap beefs that followed (back when rap beefs had some actual meat), and especially during the darkest days of Death Row Records (led by rap music villain Suge Knight). Reputation is key, and I'm sure that Cube and Dre want to avoid any further controversies as their market value remains strong. They are now businessmen far removed from the dirty days of mixing records and avoiding arrest for being black. But hey, it's their money, so it's their story.

Straight Outta Compton is a big budget biography that hits all the right notes, even though it doesn't aim to tell the entire story. But there's a lot that needs to be said, and plenty was unveiled within the 140 minutes of great acting, superb writing, and tight direction. It is a rags-to-riches story, except for the fact that the rags followed them long after the riches came pouring in. If you think it's just a simple movie glamorizing the gangster life then you aren't seeing this with an open mind and both eyes open. The story took a while to be displayed on screen, but thankfully the moment has finally come, and it definitely doesn't disappoint.

Ant-Man (2015)
6 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Ant-Man is a surprisingly entertaining romp with a stellar script and stellar cast, 10 August 2015

In the midst of all the behind-the-scenes chaos, what we see here is quite possibly Marvel's best film since the original Iron Man. Containing the extremely-loose approach of the Phase 1 Marvel flicks, the delightful quirks and details from Edgar Wright's script, and the carefree fun of Paul Rudd (Role Models) and Adam McKay (Will Ferrell's best work), Ant-Man is comic book brilliance that substitutes style for wonderful characters and plenty of content to chew at. Of course let's not forget the slew of Marvel surprises that we honestly didn't see enough of in Age of Ultron. Thanks to the strict organized approach from Disney, it is safe to say that Marvel is still leagues ahead of the competition in terms of comic book and summer blockbuster films.

The staff is incredible, and must have made the director's job quite easy. Starting with the always-reliable Paul Rudd and the silently-efficient Evangeline Lilly, we have an excellent entourage bringing what is a relatively unknown comic book to life. Rounding out the staff is the very serious and engaging Michael Douglas, an unexpected addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The themes presented in Ant-Man are a bit more personal than your usual blockbuster fare, with plots involving redemption, forgiveness, and father/sibling relationships all blending in together---and this requires better performances from even your villains. From our villain (Corey Stoll bringing some depth to our mad scientist) to our father figure right down to the partner-in-crime (Michael Pena, also excellent) Ant-Man boasts one of the strongest lineups in all of 2015. Honestly though, what's with Disney and fathers?

Usually creative differences from the writing squadron in the midst of filming will result in mixed content throughout the finished product. Disney's very own Brave is one of the better recent examples, with the first and second half of the movie being extremely different in tone, pace, and even character. Quite miraculously, you don't get this sensation in Ant-Man, from the first act origin story right down to the exciting climax that delivers enough action to cover the extensive prologue. It has obvious touches of Edgar Wright's quick-paced humor and character depth, but has Rudd's clever subtle comic timing and McKay's humorous mayhem. A four-team staff complied the script, and what could have been a disaster actually results in a complete screenplay with a little bit of everything: humor, heart, action, and tons of connections to other Marvel properties.

Peyton Reed has a resume that could raise some eyebrows (sneaky-fun Bring it On, could-be-better Yes Man), but doesn't disappoint here. Although he has far less action to work with, he manages to keep Ant-Man fun, grounded, and simple. It has its share of emotion, but it never drags too far or mucks up the blockbuster glee. He treats it like a heist film, with unique circumstances. Under the hook/line/sinker approach, the biggest sequence is saved for last and will keep you on your toes, while also laughing along the way thanks to the sprinkles of humor flung in for good measure.

Similar to the equally-unique Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is enjoyable because it never feels like its holding back any punches to save for the next (obviously going to happen) installment. Unlike Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World, it feels like a complete story, and will keep you asking for more---especially after the post-credits sequences. It fires on all cylinders with the permission of Marvel and the Disney Marketing Machine, and despite not having the previous popularity credentials of a Batman or a Spider-Man, Ant-Man leaves a nice footprint in the cinematic comic book universe. Don't let the slightly campy outlook of Ant-Man fool you, this is a seriously entertaining picture worth a thousand words of praise.

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