Thursday, December 13, 2018

Year in Movies: 2018

So long 2018... movies mashup in 6:49 minutes.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Upcoming Movies: December 2018

December 7
"Mary Queen of Scots" - Mary Stuart's attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

"Under the Silver Lake" - A man, intelligent but without purpose, finds a mysterious woman swimming in his apartment's pool one night. The next morning, she disappears. He sets off across LA to find her, and along the way he uncovers a conspiracy far more bizarre.

December 14
"Mortal Engines" ( - A mysterious young woman joins forces with a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head and an outcast to lead a rebellion against a giant predator city on wheels.

"Second Act" ( - A big box store worker reinvents her life and her life-story and shows Madison Avenue what street smarts can do.

December 21
"Aquaman" ( - Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

"Bumblebee" ( - On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. One girl, trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.

"Mary Poppins Returns" ( - Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings through a difficult time in their lives.

December 28
"Destroyer" - A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

"On the Basis of Sex" ( - The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

"Vice" - explores how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways still felt today.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"First Man"

"That's one step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"First Man" film takes place during the age of the space race, chronicling Neil Armstrong's (Ryan Gosling; "Blade Runner 2049," "La La Land," "The Big Short" "The Ides of March," "Drive") life from being a civilian test pilot to a NASA astronaut and the first man landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.

It is more of a character study and the story is seen from the lens of one man, Neil.  It also zooms into his family life.  When Neil loses his daughter, a mere two year old, to brain tumor, a part of him dies too.  It steely steers him towards NASA and put him on a sole path towards space.

The film gives a realistic look into the gruelingly dizzying training of astronauts.  It's truly a feat of physical endurance, as well as intellectual and mental capacity.  The training introduces Neil to his superiors, Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler, "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo,"  "Super 8") and Robert Gilruth (Ciaran Hinds, "The Debt"), and colleagues such as Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll, "Ant-Man"), Ed White (Jason Clarke, "Everest"), David Scott (Christopher Abbott), Pete Conrad (Ethan Embry) and Elliott See (Patrick Fugit).

While not all the astronauts survive the test missions and Neil personally feels the impact of the losses, it doesn't deter him from dedicating himself to his hazardous work and eventual goal of going to the moon.  It does take a toll on his relationships with his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), and their young children - from cohesive and supportive to apprehensive and cold.

At one point, his wife puts her foot down and insists on Neil explaining to their boys that he may never return alive from his moon mission.  Stoically, Neil explains the highly risky situation to them matter-of-factly, like speaking at a press conference.  Meanwhile, outside of NASA and his family, there are press and politics to deal with.  Not everyone is onboard with space explorations; they cost lives and money and the outcome is unknown.

All these elements provide a human perspective into space travel.  But nothing compares to the way "First Man" is filmed when it comes to traveling to and being in space.  Space travel has typically been portrayed in movies as an alluring adventure, almost with a mystique to it.  Filmed from a distance, astronauts coolly stroll in, then a rocket soaring into the skies and gliding gracefully in space.  While "First Man" has these depictions, it shatters the over the moon image.

Director Damien Chazelle ("La La Land") takes a decidedly different approach.  "First Man" is the closest you can feel to being strapped inside a spacecraft.  Many closeups of Neil's face in a helmet show his internal emotions of severe disorientation, fear, relief, calm and awe.  Gosling excels in portraying a wide range of expressions with minimalism.

There's nothing glamorous about being inside a rocket cockpit; it's cramped chamber and a potential death trap.  And wait until it's airborne - it shakes, rattles, rolls and spins so turbulently.  You'll feel the terrorizing intensity, velocity, vibration and sound.  It's a wonder how the human body could survive such perilous voyage.

In space,  the sight of a sliver of light and earth surface provide needed respite and tranquility.  When the spacecraft finally hovers over the lunar landscape and Neil steps foot on the powdery surface, it's a hard-earned triumph.  The lone human figure and silver moonscape mesmerizingly stand out against the backdrop of the black vastness of the space.  The awe-inspiring music that accompanies the journey stops in stark contrast to the soundless of the deep space.

"First Man" is an immersive experience, a technical marvel with a poignant payoff.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

"A Star is Born"

In “A Star Is Born,” an Academy Award-nominated actor (Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper,” “American Hustle,” “Limitless”) and a singer superstar (Lady Gaga) come together to make music.

Grizzled country rock star Jack (Cooper) stumbles drunk into a bar and discovers an aspiring artist, Ally (Gaga), belting out a classic tune.  The two connect on the spot and at one point end up in a parking lot of a grocery store, learning a bit about each other and start singing in the quiet of the night.

For all his success, Jack is a drug addict and alcoholic, growing up with a damaged childhood.  Ally is a waitress and singer-songwriter, hiding herself behind self-doubt on the music front, insecure about her looks and abilities.  Beyond talent, showbiz is also about persona and what people want to see.  The glitzy dress, daring hair and bold makeup, blaring lights and choreographed dancers.

Smitten by Ally, Jack rolls out the red carpet by flying her to his concert and providing her with a backstage pass.  When Jack sees Ally, he compels her to join him for a duet.  Mousey Ally surprises herself and everyone when she sings her heart out on stage.  In this age of social media, her performance goes viral.  Soon she's scooped up by a producer, gets jazzed up and becomes a sensation.

While Ally's star is soaring, Jack's spiraling downward.  Even so, their emotional, co-dependent relationship keeps them together through the highest and lowest times.  Ally makes excuses for him, cares for but desperately wants him to clean up his messes, and eventually realizes even her love can't save him from himself.

Gaga and Cooper have authentic screen presence.  Gaga for appearing in such a non-Gaga like image and acting so wholeheartedly.  She's totally unassuming with her natural look and vulnerability.  Cooper for singing with his own voice in a rock star facade.  Also, as the film director, he directs the movie with taut frames, creating closeup portraits of Jack and Ally's relationship.  A quibble is Ally's transformation from good ol' Ally to worldly performer goes in a flash, but it doesn't lessen the heartfelt performance.  Both Gaga and Cooper are a revelation.

In “A Star Is Born," two stars and love songs shine. 


Sunday, September 16, 2018

"A Simple Favor"

The trailer of "A Simple Favor" makes the movie appear like "Gone Girl" or "The Girl on the Train." In some ways, it is.  It's a female-lead, mystery thriller.  The movie differs in a surprising aspect; it's also a dark comedy.  It's got a similar vibe to a past TV show, "Desperate Housewives."

Emily Nelson (Blake Lively; "The Shallows," "The Age of Adaline," "The Town") and Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick; "Into the Woods," "Up in the Air") couldn't be more different.  Lively and Kendrick play their complicated characters and messy relationships with pitch perfection and a sense of  saucy self-awareness. 

Emily is elegant and nonchalant, coolly blase in her sleekly tailored suits and trendy shoes.  She has a high-powered career as a public relations director of a fashion house and lives in a modern mansion with her handsome husband, Sean Townsend (Henry Golding, "Crazy Rich Asians"), spellbound by her enigma.  Stephanie is a nerdy mommy vlogger who dolls out  lifestyle recipes online.  She's also an super volunteer at her son's school.  The two women strike an unlikely friendship through their sons.

The two bond over mid-day martinis at Emily's house and share personal secrets.  Emily's life is not so perfect after all.  The stylish house is a money pit and her professor husband is a novelist who hasn't written another book in a decade.  She may not be the person she represents to the world.  Stephanie has her own dark past, one that she carries with guilt.  Their rapid exchanges about life, women's roles and desires are flavored with frisky humor and snarkiness.

One afternoon Emily calls Stephanie to ask for a simple favor, picking up her son from school, as she has to deal with putting out fires at work.  Only one problem, Emily never returns home and she's gone missing.  Left with the fallout, Sean and Stephanie become involved and they live under the cloud of suspicions.

Stephanie is obsessed to find out about what happened to her friend, including gathering tips from her vlogger followers.  Her investigation helps uncover Emily's obscured past, connecting her to the warped present, and puts her in a hairy crossfire. The plot twists are better experienced totally unspoiled.

There's nothing simple about "A Simple Favor."  Piling on bizarre turns and deliriously aware of its own outlandishness, it is a wicked whodunit.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians"

Romcoms are  typically cliche.  Boy meets girl, throw in some lightweight drama, comedic antics, predictable resolutions, and voila, all is good with the world.  "Crazy Rich Asians," a mainstream Hollywood romcom based on best-selling book by Kevin Kwan (part of a trilogy) puts a vibrant spin with all-Asian cast (the first since the "Joy Luck Club" in 1993), Singaporean backdrop, and fantasy-level wealth.

In this 'Meet the Family' story, Nick Young (Henry Golding) brings his girlfriend, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American and fellow NYU professor, to his home country Singapore to attend his best friend's wedding.  This is where Rachel realizes her boyfriend's true identity as Singapore's most eligible bachelor, the 'Prince Harry of Asia.'

Rachel is thrust into his extended family, old-money and part of the world's one percent.  As expected, the matriarch of the family, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh),  doesn't approve of the relationship.  She doesn't see how Rachel, a nobody American outsider, would fit into the Asian culture, rich tradition and privileged lifestyle. 

It's easy to get starry-eyed with all the glut and glitter.  First-class intercontinental flight, helicopter trips to tropical islands, secluded beaches, over-the-top parties, sumptuous feasts, exclusive shopping spree, opulent mansions, extravagant fashions and lavish jewels.  This fish-out-of-water story has an added dimension of a culture and status clash.  Personal passion, self-freedom and pursuit of happiness stacked against individual sacrifice, traditional values and family fortune.

There's also a side story regarding  Nick's cousin, fashion icon and socialite, Astrid Teo (Gemma Chan), whose marriage is crumbling and not for the reason one may think.  Behind the perfect facade, there's a layer to her and arc to her character.

This is a movie with strong women who make their own choices.  Eleanor doesn't quite fit into an evil tiger mother or dragon lady mold.  She's got her own pathos.  Rachel is not a Cinderella who needs saving.  She has the strength to face her fears and makes unlikely decisions.  Her old college friend, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina, "Ocean 8"), beyond a comedic relief, provides unconditional support.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is a frothy and tiered feast, bursting with culture, glamour, color, humor and heart.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

"Mission: Impossible - Fallout"

“Mission: Impossible” is a rare franchise that gets better with age.  The trilogy reboot during this decade easily surpasses the previous three.  The big, bold and breathtaking 'Ghost Protocol' and impossibly thrilling 'Rogue Nation' are now topped with 'Fallout.'

While each “Mission Impossible” is typically a standalone movie, 'Fallout' is a fallout of 'Rogue Nation.'  Villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) might have been captured and his Syndicate organization got dismantled, but his network isn't totally obliterated.  His associates have formed Apostles and proceeded with his mission of a new world order; disrupting government structures and creating anarchy through sabotage, strategic assassinations and mass-annihilation.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise; "Edge of Tomorrow," "Oblivion," "Jack Reacher") failed a mission in Belfast because he refused to sacrifice his team, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg).  Plutonium canisters are now in the hands of the bad guys, which will be used for nuclear bombs.  The CIA now gets involved, to the dismay of the secretary of IMF, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin).  Head Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett, “Black Panther”) assigns an agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill, “ Justice League,” "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice", “The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), to accompany the IMF team to recover the canisters.

To say that things are not as straightforward is an understatement.  There's arms dealer White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) tangled in the web and she may or may not be what she seems to be.  British operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, “The Greatest Showman”) shows up, and like in 'Rogue Nation,' her intention and allegiance is not always clear.  Even the CIA itself is fractured and there may be an enemy within.

Layers of twists and turns have always been the hallmark of the “Mission: Impossible” series and it's something that distinguishes the series from generic action movies.  This, and Cruise himself.  He may just be a superspy himself, defying age and limits of the human body.  He continually performs death-defying feats with incredible audacity, vitality and velocity.

After scaling the Burj Khalifa and clinging to the side of an airplane in past movies, he thrusts into a brutal brawl, skydives in a lightning storm, rides a motorcycle sans helmet against Paris traffic, sprints across London rooftops, leaps between buildings, climbs up a rope tied to flying helicopter and free falls onto its cargo, takes control of the cockpit and engages in a heli pursuit in Khasmir, barrels down inside the heli dangling from the mountaintop, and scales a rock face to get to a detonator.  See it in 3-D if you can.

Close-ups of Cruise doing daredevil acts and clear sweeping panorama make the scenes suspenseful and breathtaking to watch.  Christopher McQuarrie ("The Tourist"), the only director invited back a second time in the series, films the scenes with deft direction and precise execution.

'Fallout' has multiple crosses, switcheroos, surprises, old-fashioned stunts, relentless pace and total momentum.  It also manages to touch into Ethan's personal backstory and internal sacrifice he's made.  The personal sacrifice is what enables Ethan Hunt to continue to do what he does.  At this point in his life, his relationship with his ghost of a wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan, “Source Code”) is in a good place and he may finally be ready to move on. 

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is a breathless blast of honest-to-goodness action and a visceral treat for thrill seekers.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Comic-Con 2018 Recap

[For a blast from the past, check out these recaps from years past!]

Comic-Con has evolved greatly over the years. Comics might have been what started the phenomenon, but it's morphed into pop culture central; exhibits, movies, TVs, props, games, after hours parties, and so on.  In the last few years it has added talk shows and virtual reality (VR).  Interactive fan experiences continued to be elevated.  Massive sets are built around the convention center to facilitate experiential marketing (activations with chipped wristbands), providing badge-holders and general public alike immersive entertainment.

This year's notables were Jack Ryan, DC Universe, Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, FX American Horror Story and Legion, to name a few.  VR even had its own center, Future Tech Live.  Companies hosted their own activities, such as Overwatch, Hologate and Star Wars The Jedi Challenge.

Jack Ryan (premiering on Amazon Prime Video on August 31, 2018) undoubtedly took the top spot.  Amazon Prime Video went all out.  The set pieces included a Yemen bazaar (a bustling market displaying spices, snacks, fabrics and wares), a three-story building structure, a helicopter, a zip line and an escape room.  Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst tasked to retrieve key intelligence and thrust into the field.  He doesn't have a field operative training.  Visitors got to experience what's like to be Jack and learn how to survive.  Due to time constraint, I didn't get to do the escape room, but I had the privilege to do the best aspect of the Jack Ryan experience.

Jack Ryan took the experience to a whole new level.  Each visitor entered his or her personal information and received a personalized ID card as an operative.  The field training equipped visitors with harness, gloves, protective shoe covers and motion sensors. Atop the three-story structure, visitors were expected to repel down to the second level, cross a plank on the floor to the other side of the building, search for and retrieve clues inside the room, zip line to the ground, step into a hydraulic car, steer and get jerked around, and complete the mission.

I can tell you it's unlike anything I've ever experienced and I've done all kinds of VR activities and simulation rides.  What's unique about this is that it's 'hyper reality.'  Unlike simulator rides in amusement parks, I wasn't sitting down.  The physical aspects of what I was doing in the real life (walking, ducking, crawling, repelling, zip lining) were incredibly augmented through the VR goggle, giving a feeling as if I was a field operative in a combat zone or battlefield like in the virtual world.  What's most surprising is that the most nerve-wracking part wasn't the repelling or zip lining; it's the crossing of the plank. I heard other people feel the same way.

In my head,  I could see an image and movement of a wobbly, broken wooden plank suspended between two sides of the building in a hostile territory.  I was hearing noises all around me and was shot at.  The scary sensation felt inexplicably and utterly real.  My heart was beating so fast and I was sweating bullets.  Even cooler, the activity was live-streamed through Twitch, an interactive game where gamers around the world could throw obstacles at in real time.  It's a total heart-thumping, multi-sensory experience.  Afterwards, I received a sleek souvenir, one-of-a-kind video clip, consisting of bits and pieces of my 4D virtual and augmented reality experience. Jack Ryan was the unforgettable highlight of my Comic-Con experience.

DC Universe (DCU) provided an elaborate experience as well, albeit lower key.  There were multiple rooms - Titans, Dick Grayson's Loft, Young Justice, Swamp Thing, Harley Quinn, Doom Patrol's Chef Lab.  There were DC Legends and batmobile on display.  I got into a jump-scare room with mirrors and maze and phantom figures coming out, looked for clues as a detective trying to find the missing Grayson, posed as a Young Justice superhero for a photo opportunity, did a walkthrough of a swampy Swamp Thing forest, watch people in a bloody room release their rage and smash stuff around like Harley Quinn (I didn't have the time to do this myself), and tasted an oddly delish and refreshing liquid nitrogen-processed Doom Patrol's popcorn (chocolate, caramel, unicorn) served in a biohazard-marked cup.

DCU came out with a brand new app, content-rich subscription at $7.99/month or $74.99/year.  The content-rich subscription provides subscribers with mixed media, including comics that can be viewed via Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Cube, Android TV and Roku.

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger illustrated a scene from the TV show where Cloak sees Dagger and they both gets thrown off due to the powerful energy between them.  On the set, I wore a vest and tied into a harness.  Feeling the tension in my back, I leaned forward to face the other guest.  Pre-special effect - after a countdown, each of us extended our right hand (without touching) and got pulled back with a force.  Post-special effect - the scene appeared as if we're touching hands and a ball of white light exploding between us.  While brief, it's a neat experience.

FX American Horror Story had an exhibition titled Eccentric Collections.  A wealthy collector collects oddities from around the world.  Nothing as they seem though.  There are unseen spirits in the paranormal world.  I entered the museum-like room with strange objects, such as a sinister doll, statue, beast, bird cage, covered deceased body, tree trunks.  There were people acting as docents guiding visitors from viewing one object to another.  In the physical world, these objects were static.  However, once I brought up my FX tablet in front of each plague on the wall and the object, each object became rattled or alive and spirits came out of the woodwork.  The ambiance was enhanced with the sound from the personal headset.  It was a fantastically creepy experience.

FX Legion gathered a small group of people in a cold, circular room with a rotating, 360 degree kaleidoscope of images and colors from the show.  The rotating movement gave visitors an ascension sensation.

Outside of these experiences, it's worth mentioning that Netflix has some competition from Tubi.  A free streaming service, Tubi uses ad-supported model and has partnered with a number of major studios. Tubi offers more than 7,500 titles per month, with varied contents such as movies, TVs and animes.

Courtesy of CBS Studios, I had the pleasure of attending their press photo lines for the upcoming reboots (premiering this fall), "Charmed," "Magnum PI" and "Tell Me A Story."  They also screened the TV pilots for the first two.

"Charmed" (in attendance: executive producers Jennie Snyder Urman and Jessica O'Toole; stars Sarah Jeffery, Madeleine Mantock and Melonie Diaz) promised to honor the original and respectful of the mythology but with a modern twist, especially in this (#MeToo) day and age.  It's a coming-of-age story where audience could expect to see sisterhood, female empowerment, LQBTQ representation, humor, witchcraft and demons.  The pilot showed a new sister bonding in; having conflicting beliefs - believing, doubting, rejecting, embracing and uniting in the magical power of three; discovering and battling demons in human bodies; and humorous interactions with their mentor and advisor to witches whom may or may not be trustworthy.

"Magnum PI" (in attendance: executive producer Peter Lenkov; stars Jay Hernandez, Perdita Weeks, Zachary Knighton, Stephen Hill) reminded me of "Hawaii Five-0," with its scenic setting in Hawaii, over-the-top action and investigative work, and comedic dynamic.  They've got a team of Navy Seal, two former Marines and a former MI:6 agent.  There's a diversity touch in this reboot.  Magnum is Mexican-American and the property master is now a woman.  The PI team often buttheads with the Hawaii Police Department trying to solve a case. 

The pilot deals with the team looking into the kidnapping and death of Magnum's friend from the Navy, which is connected to the release of two ex-Marines from prison after looting Iraqi villages. Magnum parachutes from space into enemy territory for a rescue mission, drives backwards in high speed and shoots nonstop, pulls a 'Fast and Furious' move over a car roof and doubles it up by clinging into a helicopter.  This looks like an entertaining reboot.  The panel mentioned that the show wouldn't t rule out the possibility of the original Magnum, Tom Selleck, from making an appearance.

While "Tell Me A Story" (in attendance: executive producer and writer Kevin Williamson; stars Paul Wesley, James Wolk) didn't have a screening, the panel mentioned that the story was about a fairy tale adaptations in modern New York; Hansel and Gretel intertwined with Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pig.  Audience could expect to be surprised of who they would be rooting for and who's the bad guy or the good guy, as it's not always obvious.  There's no supernatural aspect; it's an edgy, serialized drama and suspense thriller.

"BumbleBee" (in attendance: director Travis Knight; stars Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena) was a rock-and-roll experience, opening with Stan Bush singing "The Touch" live.  Once the panel got started, Cena made a blaring entrance through the aisles high-fiving fans with "Fight to Survive" song playing in the background.  Before the "Transformers" series, there's BumbleBee.  This movie returns to its origin in the 1980s.  BumbleBee has always had the greatest affinity for humanity.  Expect to see Cybertron, triple-charger Decepticon (Blitzwing), as well as an appearance by Optimus Prime.

It's also a coming-of-age story, a friendship between a girl and a robot.  The girl has experienced a major loss in her life.  She wants to move away from negativity, craves for a sense of freedom, finds a sense of discovery, and becomes her own person.  She experiences this life journey with BumbleBee.  There's also a friendship with her neighbor, a geeky boy.

The footage showed the girl's discovery of the loveable robot, Decepticons that could turn into a jet and a helicopter (Shatter and Dropkick), a fierce fight leaving BumbleBee's life hanging in the balance, and a funny scene of a clumsy BumbleBee inside a living room and kitchen.

"Venom" (in attendance: director Ruben Fleischer; stars Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed) brought in a brutal trailer with Hardy transforming into the black liquidy symbiote with monstrous teeth,  ferocious attacks and car crashes. Venom would be battling a powerful symbiote, Riot.  The antagonist is a billionaire inventor (a.k.a. Riot) who experiments on humans with symbiote.  He believes our ecosystem is in the brink of collapse and is convinced that his experiment's result is the future of human evolution. 

There are no heroes in this world.  Definitely darker than Marvel, grittier and grounded with a more violent character.  Eddie Brock is a lethal protector, investigative journalist that falls into hard times.  An 'anti-hero,' his ethical standards and moral codes are off, even if he has a noble heart.  With Venom in him, it's like having two different beings living in himself, but  no one believes him.

I attended other panels partially; "Glass" (in attendance: director M. Knight Shyamalan; stars Samuel Jackson, Bruce Willis, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy), "Halloween" (in attendance: director David Gordon Green, producers Jason Blum and Malek Akkad; star Jamie Lee Curtis), and animation "Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse" (in attendance: directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman; writers and producers Phil Lord, Chris Miller; stars Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld).

"Glass" is a sequel of psychological and horror thrillers "Unbreakable" (1999) and "Split" (2016).  The movie brings together Willis, Jackson and McAvoy.  Their characters are patients of a psychiatrist who specializes in treatments for those who believe they have superpowers.  "Halloween" showed a gory sneak peek, with masked serial killer Michael Myers hacking his way through the neighborhood at Halloween night; a bona fide horror even 40 years later.  The animation "Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse" plays in an alternate dimension.  It  has a comic book style that translates into a distinctive look on the screen.

In other news, Warner Bros made a splashy debut with a trailer of "Aquaman" (now available online).  The FX-heavy movie looks more like a fantasy, action adventure sci-fi with an underwater metropolis and dual-battle between the surface world and the ocean occupants (including war seahorses).  "Wonder Woman 1984" was still very early in the shooting process and continued to keep the mystery of Steve Trevor's return to the 1980s after he's seen perished in the original movie.

While I missed the pilot screening of NBC's "Manifest" (premiering on September 24, 2018) due to time conflict, the premise sounds intriguing.  In 2013, an airplane with 191 passengers experience a turbulence and lands safely.  When these passengers land, they find that it's now 2018.  Their few hours of disturbance in the air translate into a missing five years.  A lot of potentials can be explored here.  The show has been described as a reversed "Lost" and a convergence of faith and science.

The panels and presentations have always been the staples of Comic-Con.  Having attended for many years  though, it's a nice change to spend extended time on other cool activities.  Cheers to creativity, technology innovations and new experiences!

[click to enlarge pictures]

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Ant-Man and the Wasp"

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, "Ant-Man") has been on house arrest for nearly two years, following the events of "Captain America: 'Civil War," where Scott sided with Captain America and violating the Sokovia Accords or Superhero Registration Act.   Confined at home, Scott spends his time with his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Rider Fortson), playing a game of trap, pulling card tricks and mastering musical drums.  His relationship with Cassie is authentically sweet.

Scott is also trying to run a security consultant business from home, partnering with his old pal, ex-con Luis (Michael Pena, "American Hustle") and two other associates (Bobby Canavale and T.I.).  Pena is quite a supporting character; his Luis' rap-storytelling style is truly hysterical.

In three days, Scott will have completed his sentence.  Finishing these last few days turns out to be a sizable challenge.  Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, "Ant-Man") and her scientist father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps") reach out to him with the hopes of saving their long-lost mother and wife, the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, "Murder at the Orient Express").  They're not on exactly friendly terms with Scott, considering their association with him through the Ant-Man suit technology put them on the other side of the law.

Thirty years ago, Janet had to shrink herself into a subatomic level in order to disarm a nuclear missle, and as a result, she fell into the quantum realm.  She's been presumed dead in this abyss.  When Scott was able to return from the realm in the first installment, it shows a possibility that Janet may just be trapped in there and still be alive.  In the last couple of years, Hank and Hope have been working on a technology that could open a portal to the quantum realm.  They need Scott's help to find and hopefully bring back Janet to the real world.

A tech black marketer, Sonny Burch (Walter Groggins), has a component part needed to perfect the technology.  As soon as Sonny knows what the technology can do, however, he wants Hank's shrinkable lab building.  He's not the only one.  A mysterious figure who can phase in and out of solid objects dubbed Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is after it for her survival.  The reason why she became Ghost is painfully tied to Hank's past work with the S.H.I.E.L.D.  She's aided by Hank's disgruntled former colleague, Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne).

How Scott manages to get out of house and back in the nick of time without triggering his ankle bracelet and thus beating the FBI is cleverly hilarious.  Hope, Hank, Scott and his associates must protect the mobile lab and finish the portal process, while dodging the authorities, the bad guys and Ghost.

This is where the movie shines differently than other superhero movies.  The nifty superpowers, which allow a play on miniature and massive sizes, add an additional pop of depth to the screen, especially when seen in 3-D.  Martial arts expert Hope is now a full-blown superhero herself, the Wasp.  It's like Ant-Man with wings and blaster.  The fights and car chases, utilizing suddenly shrinking and growing of ordinary objects, and also taking advantage of San Francisco's topography, are greatly choreographed.

A special shout to the Wasp, the first Marvel female superhero (Marvel Cinematic Universe's 20th movie since 2008) that shares a lead title with her counterpart.  Lilly stands out as an equal partner.  The Wasp is a fearless ally with graceful fighting moves.

Superhero movies have grown grander, heavier or more complex, dealing with the fate of the universe ("Avengers: Infinity War"), world domination ("Justice League"), World Wars ("Wonder Woman," "Captain America: First Avenger"), social commentary ("X-Men" series), political climate and global issues ("Black Panther," "Captain America: Civil War").  Even the superheroes themselves are tortured or conflicted souls ("Logan," "Man of Steel," "The Dark Knight").

Other than 'Infinity War'-related post-credit scene, none of these is found here.  Like its titular superhero, the movie scales way down.  It focuses on family and fun.  Lighthearted and humorous, "Ant-Man and the Wasp" is surprisingly refreshing.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” picks up three years after “Jurassic World.”  The fantasy-filled theme park is no more and dinosaurs are roaming in the wild as nature intended.  There's only one problem; Isla Nublar's dormant volcano is going to erupt.  Without human intervention, all the dinosaurs will soon cease to exist (again).

Here comes the moral dilemma.  Do these previously extinct prehistoric animals, revived by a private enterprise, deserve protection of the U.S. Government and at the expense of taxpayers like other endangered species? 

When the answer is no, a company connected to Jurassic Park's founder, Dr. John Hammond's former business partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), reaches out to a dinosaurs protection organization led by now conservationist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard, “Hereafter”).

The plan is to rescue these animals by moving them into an island sanctuary nearby.  As the former operations manager of the park, Claire's expertise is needed to get into the old park's system and locate the dinosaurs.  She persuades her ex-boyfriend and raptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, “Avengers: Infinity War”) to go with her and her team, tech geek Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda).

It's no surprise that things do not go according to plan.  As a matter of fact, the plan is not what it seems.  Mercenaries and profiteers (Rafe Spall, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong) want to save the dinosaurs for their own self-serving benefits.  These dinosaurs are worth millions and can be used for other purposes. 

Director J.A. Bayona sets up suspenseful set pieces and action sequences from the start.  Unlike the sun-lit wonder of “Jurassic World,” 'Fallen Kingdom' starts off with a harrowing underwater nighttime expedition in the rain. Once Claire and company arrive at the island, they are trapped in an underground bunker, cracking with shots of hot lava and a monstrous creature coming out of hiding.   Then out in the open, dinosaurs are running amok, trying to outrun shooting fire balls and engulfing smoke.  Chaos descends on land and in the ocean, with a rolling and sinking gyrosphere.

Once the dinosaurs are off the island, they are transported into the mainland, specifically an expansive estate in Northern California, the Lockwood Estate.  Caught in the mayhem is Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), Benjamin's granddaughter.  Terror reigns in the manor.  Hide-and-seek and attack occur in confined spaces, lending a claustrophobic feel.  The filmmaker takes advantage of the Gothic setting with a play of light and shadow.

The film is shot beautifully for maximum chill.  A lone, gentle giant left behind on the shore, disappearing into a desperate silhouette in an ash cloud.  A ferocious hybrid creature roaring on the rooftop against the backdrop of a moonlit rainstorm.  A gigantic beast lurking beneath the sea surface dotted with surfers.  An intelligent dino roaming across rocky scape and looming steps away from civilization.

The kingdom may have fallen apart, but life finds a way.  There's also a twist that doesn't stop with loose dinosaurs.  The ending sets up for a sequel where humans would have no choice but face the consequences of their action. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a tense and thrilling ride with a surprisingly thought-provoking message.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Incredibles 2"

After 14 years, “The Incredibles” made an incredible return. Led by the same director, Brad Bird (“Tomorrowland,” “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), it's as if the Incredibles family never left.

Things have changed a lot though. It's illegal now to be superheroes because they leave behind large collateral damage while doing their do-gooder work. Even the government has ended the program that protects them. As a result, the Incredibles family – Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl), and kids - teenager Violet, middle child Dashiel and baby Jack-Jack have been forced to live in a cheap motel. Mr. Incredible would soon have no choice but return to insurance work to make ends meet.

When a brother-sister team (Winston Deavor and Evelyn) of a tech company approaches them to change people's perception of superheroes, garner public support and eventually have the law overturned, they jump on it with reservations.

Elastigirl, who has a cleaner crime-fighting record, is the chosen one, leaving the proud Mr. Incredible the caretaker of their kids.  Elastigirl goes to work, wearing a body camera to show people first-hand accounts of saving the city.  Staking out, sneaking in and out, spying and fighting crimes.  The villain is Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people through computer monitors.  There's a larger master villain at work though, with a bigger purpose.

Meanwhile, sleep-deprived, stay-at-home dad Mr. Incredible is left dealing with Violet's first crush incident, Dashiel's math homework problems, and discovery of Jack-Jack multitude of superpowers (Edna Mode comes to the rescue!). Speaking of Jack-Jack, the superpowered baby is the source of many laugh outloud moments with the raccoon showdown as the highlight.

Action scenes are crisply rendered and cleanly cut.  Superheoic acts move at a breakneck speed, like stopping a runaway monorail, speeding mega-yacht or crashing jet.  "Incredibles 2" is an incredibly fun, action-packed family adventure.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"American Animals"

Amid the cornucopia of summer blockbusters this month ("Ocean's 8," Incredibles 2," Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"), along came a phenomenal little film called "American Animals."  The title is unappealing, but there's a reason why it's titled that way.

This is a true story of four privileged American college students at the University of Transylvania, Kentucky who planned a bizarre robbery of rare, exclusive books in the university library in 2004.  The crown jewel is the first edition of John James Audubon book, more like a collection of his paintings of birds, worth a cool $12 million.

Yearning for adventure, excitement and dramatic change in their mundane, midwest lives, the young men plot to pull off the outrageous heist.  The college bandits are composed of  leader-planner/athlete, Warren Lipka (Evan Peters, "X-Men: Days of Future Past"); number two-idea man/artist, Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan; numbers/logistics man, Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson), and entrepreneur/getaway driver Chas Allen (Blake Jenner, "Supergirl").

The filmmaker cleverly intersperses the scenes with interviews with the real-life robbers and some of the people in their lives at the present time.  They show the dynamics of the relationships, different accounts of what happened, thoughts, doubts, confessions and aftermath. Our lives are a collection of choices.  There are moments where you know you may make a life-altering choice; this is when you get to decide.  While the aftermath is known from the start, the trip to get there is riveting. The day of the robbery, underscored with a pulse-pounding score, tensely plays out like a ticking bomb.

Co-distributed by MoviePass (if you don't have it, you've missed out!), "American Animals" is a hybrid, crime docu-thriller that is stranger than fiction.