Saturday, January 20, 2018

"Paddington 2"

"If we are kind and polite, then the world will be alright."

Paddington is back with his brand of gentleness, mischief and marmalade.  Now an integral part of the Brown family, Paddington adorably works odd-end jobs in order to save cash to buy a special gift for his aunt's 100th birthday. A hilarious mishap as a barbershop attendant doesn't stop him to improvise and eventually succeeds as a window cleaner. 

The story involves an active involvement of the entire family, with the support of a transformed British neighborhood and inmates, whose lives have been touched by the lovable furry friend. An antique pop-up book robbery leads to a mistaken identity, frame-up and trial, prison break, puzzle-solving, frenetic foot-bicycle-train chase, and underwater rescue. Stay through the credits for a song-and-dance number in an unexpected place. 

While it helps to see the first “Paddington,” “Paddington 2” can stand on its own.  A Bond bear with Mission Impossible misadventures, it's a sequel that is just as sweet-natured, heartwarming and exhilaratingly fun as the first.   


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Golden Globes 2018

A sea of black awash the 75th Golden Globes tonight.  While it didn't dim the glitz, it's an unusual sight.  Stars were wearing black as a symbol of solidarity following the watershed, #MeToo movement in the wake of sexual misconduct news that have toppled powerful men in entertainment, news and politics, and tremendous push for change.  Several activists were invited to the red carpet event.  The blackout movement was part of Time's Up, an organization founded by Hollywood's most famous women, which also has initiated a legal defense fund. 

Seth Meyers, first-time host for the show, went straight the point opening the show, “Good evening, ladies and remaining gentlemen... It's 2018, marijuana is finally allowed and sexual harassment finally isn't.”  He mentioned this was the first time in three months a white man wasn't terrified to have his name read out loud (i.e., a nomination for award instead of being accused of misconduct).  He addressed the elephant in the room, “Time to address the elephant not in the room: Harvey Weinstein isn’t in the room… he’ll be back in 20 years when he’s the first person booed in the in memoriam.”  He went on to mock Kevin Spacey, asking if Christopher Plummer (who replaced him in "All the Money in the World" at the last minute) would also be available for the TV show "House of Cards."

Meyers appeared to be self-aware of his awkward position as a straight white guy hosting this year's award show.  He quipped, “If it’s any consolation, I’m a man with absolutely no power in Hollywood. I’m not even the most powerful Seth in the room tonight."  The camera cut to Seth Rogen.

Meyers took a jab at President Trump when introducing the President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) as the real 'stable genius.'  The HFPA President announced two grants in the amount of $1 million each to journalism groups, in a year of undersieged media.

Beyond the usual thank yous, stars' speeches were sprinkled with support for women and encouragement for victims of sexual harassment, assault or abuse to not be silenced and to speak up.  There's also a mention about gender inequality and call for more women to be nominated for directing great films.

Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award for her outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment, the first black woman to receive the award.  She expressed, “I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times... speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.  I’m especially proud and inspired by all the woman who felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”  Winfrey closed her impassioned speech with a message to young girls, “A new day is on the horizon.  And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women... and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure they are the leaders to take us to the time where nobody has to say ‘me too’ again.”

It's a somber affair by awards event standard, and coincidentally, a lackluster year for movies.

And the Golden Globe goes to...

Best motion picture, drama: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Best motion picture, musical or comedy: “Lady Bird”
Best motion picture, animated: “Coco”

Best director, motion picture: Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture, drama: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Best performance by an actor in a motion picture, drama: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture, musical or comedy: Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Best performance by an actor in a motion picture, musical or comedy: James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in any motion picture: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in any motion picture: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best screenplay, motion picture: Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best original score, motion picture: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”
Best original song, motion picture: “This Is Me” — “The Greatest Showman

For a list of all the winners, check out the Golden Globes website here.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Upcoming Movies: January 2018

January 1
"Molly's Game" ( - The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

"The Post" ( - A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.

January 12
"Paddington 2" ( - Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

"The Commuter" - A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.

January 19
"12 Strong" ( - A story about the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11.  Under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban.

"Forever My Girl" - After being gone for a decade a country star returns home to the love he left behind.

January 26
"Maze Runner: The Death Cure" ( - Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the "Flare."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Greatest Showman"

[From 12/10/17 press screening]

Hugh Jackman (“X-Men” series) was so iconic as Wolverine for almost two decades that sometimes we forget how multi-talented and charismatic of a performer he is. Not only can he act dramatically or spring into action (“Logan”), he can sing and dance flawlessly (“Les Miserables”).

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum's (Jackman) life, “The Greatest Showman” romanticizes the story of the founding father of show business.

The story begins with boy meets girl. He grew up poor and she rich. Even though they were separated, their friendship endured through adulthood and they were eventually married. The rooftop dance union under the full moon is both exhilarating and sweet.

Two precocious daughters later, Barnum is jobless when the company he works for goes bankrupt. At a dire crossroad, this is not a life he promised his angelic wife, Charity (Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea,” "Oz: The Great and Powerful," “Shutter Island”). Believing he's capable to do more than being a number cruncher, his creative streak leads him to find a way to provide for his family. He gets a bank to lend him money to dip into the entertainment business. Barnum is convinced that people are eager to see things they've never seen before. He opens a museum. Alas, no visitors.

The ever-enterprising man dusts himself off and pivots his business model. As it turns out, people are indeed interested in seeing things they've never seen before, but instead of static or stuffed objects, living and breathing ones. Barnum goes out of his way to find people with unique skills or those considered as freaks by 19th century society simply because of their abnormal appearance. He brings them all together and creates an entertaining show.

As successful as the show is, it's not popular with everyone though. For one, a famous newspaper critic has searing words about the show. It's a circus. And not all segments of society is receptive, especially not high society. Protesters and detractors see the Barnum as a con-man, showing off or exploiting these outcasts. As talented as they are, people still stare and sneer at them because they are considered indecent, unacceptable by society standards.

In order to grow his business, Barnum finds himself someone from the upper class, a scandalous young man named Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Barnum signs him on as a protege through a drinking game. Phillip opens the door for Barnum, putting him in touch with the upper echelons. One is a famous European opera singer, Jenny Lind or as known as the “Swedish Nightingale” (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” "The Girl on the Train"). Barnum knows a golden opportunity when he sees it as he seizes this by partnering with her. The benefits for him are obvious, and for her, she gets a handsome cut of each show and broadens her audience to America. The first time we hear her sing is shatteringly mesmerizing.

More success follows and money is no object anymore. As Barnum becomes more and more successful, however, things begin to crack. He's on road shows with Jenny and just not there for his family and inner circle. It's a good thing that at least he still has some sense of loyalty and recognizes what's truly matters to him before it's too late. When misfortune befalls, instead of getting destroyed, with a little luck, he reinvents himself and rises again. P.T. Barnum Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth, is born.

The vivid and vibrant set designs, colorful costumes and props are visually delightful. Nearly all the actors sing and dance their hearts out. There are a number of memorable numbers, extravagantly and intricately choreographed.  Catchy tunes include "A Million Dreams,” “This is Me,” “Never Enough, "Rewrite the Stars," "This is the Greatest Show," "From Now On."  They're a blend of modern and theatrical music. In addition to the actual circus acts, the starry-eyed trapeze sequence between Efron and Zendaya is show-stoppingly thrilling and tender. In addition to Jackman, Williams also has a shining moment through her soulful solo.

Coincidentally, the theme of inclusion and tolerance, the core of “X-Men” movies, is no stranger to Jackman. While events are magically glossed over, it's a musical and fits within this style of a film. The movie celebrates diverse shapes, sizes, colors and status. 

“The Greatest Showman” is a sensational musical spectacular. A touching, inspiring and joyful razzle-dazzle entertainment for the entire family, just in time for the holidays.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: Year in Movies

A look back to 2017... hundreds of movies in 6:45 minutes.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Justice League"

When the first “Justice League” trailer came out, it had the look and feel of the gloom and doom of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” mixed with CGI mashup and overpowering score.  To be honest, it was worrisome. Justice League has been a long time coming and it should be epic.  It's not impossible, after all, "The Avengers" was grandly satisfying.  Nothing beats the feeling of seeing all the superheroes together for the first time, however.  So the Avengers had that advantage five years ago.

Thankfully, “Justice League” is able to stand tall in the course-correcting DC Universe.  The plot is straightforward MacGuffin and it has a generic, computer-generated villain with a perfunctory exposition about his existence.  The battles are often awash in a haze of FX.  But the characters are compelling enough.  The character-driven dialogue and team chemistry save the movie.

The movie opens with a somber tone, a world without hope. That hope is gone with the death of Superman (Clark Kent; Henry Cavill, “Man of Steel” "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") at the end of BvS, where he sacrificed his life for the world.  The first sign of trouble is shown when Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, “Gone Girl,” "Argo") stages a scene to smoke out a parademon, a flying, fanged insect-like demon that can smell fear from afar.

That is not a lone parademon; it's part of an army led by prehistoric Steppenwolf, a horned demon.  He's after three mother boxes of mythical powers.  United, these boxes can transform Earth into a hellish planet suitable for him and his army. The boxes are now separated in three different places and safeguarded by the Amazonians, Atlanteans and men. Among all battles in this action-packed movie, the Themyscira sequence is a real spectacle.

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince recognizes the sign of invasion and comes to Bruce.  It's worth mentioning that her opening scene of rapid bullet-dodging and bomb-deflecting is nothing short of badass.  The two of them have their own issues. Bruce feels a sense of guilt by his role in the events of BvS.  He recognizes how human Superman was.  He's also a mere mortal and a couple decades of crime-fighting is taking a toll.  Diana, a demigod, could technically lead the team, but as she notes, being a leader is different, as the lives of others become your responsibility.

Bruce and Diana have the work cut out for them to form a team.  The rest of the superpowered beings live in hiding and they have to seek them out; Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher).  They have their own personalities and predicaments.

The King of the Sea plays by his own rules and could care less about joining a team, let alone following someone's lead.  Momoa has the imposing physicality and plays him coolly.  He ends up learning the amusing way what Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth does.

The Fastest Man Alive is a goofball with a nerdy energy that is off the chart.  He uses his power mostly on petty stuff, although his focus is to clear his dad's name from a false conviction and gets him out of prison. Miller will have you in stitches from his very first scene.  If you're used to Grant Gustin's pitch-perfect portrayal as the small screen counterpart on CW, Miller offers a different kind of performance that is just right for this universe.  He's naturally on point on so many laughter-inducing lines and he does this continually.

Machine-Man, on the other hand, is a tormented soul who feels burdensome by his altered form as a result of a freak accident.  He's more of an angsty kid than a brooding man though.  Little did he know that he would be an all-around pivotal player.

The super team is eventually comes together.  The dynamics surprisingly work well.  The team's chemistry lends itself to hilarious bickering and bonding.  Superman's fate is decided soon enough.  The world needs Superman by whatever means necessary.

“Justice League” is a Zack Snyder movie with Joss Whedon's touches.  It carries a more optimistic tone than other DCEU movies, “Wonder Woman” aside.  It's infinitely lighter and funnier.

It's not seamless.  They are moments that feel out-of-character (in particular, one iconic superhero) or clunky, but for the most part, the two directors managed to blend their diverging styles into an entertaining finished product, leading to promising sequels and standalone stories (“Aquaman,” “Flashpoint,” "Cyborg").  The movie has two scenes post-credit; a really fun mid-credit and then what's to come in the next installment, previewing a certain villain.

Even superheroes are greater together.  A league of its own, “Justice League” is a blast to watch.

Collector Edition:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Murder at the Orient Express"

Adapted from Agatha Christie's crime novel (1934), Kenneth Branagh (“Cinderella,” "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"), “Thor”) directs and stars in this plush production, “Murder at the Orient Express, as the famed detective Hercule Poirot.

After solving a case of a missing sacred relic in Jerusalem with a rabbi, a priest and an imam as the accused, as delightfully demonstrated to an astonished crowd, the detective boards a train in Istanbul to London for a break.  The Orient Express.

Aside from the crew where the train conductor (Marwan Kenzari) is most prominent, the luxury train is sparse with only 13 other passengers aboard.  The international passengers are princess (Judy Dench, “Skyfall”), maid (Olivia Coleman), count (Sergei Polunin), countess (Lucy Boynton), governess (Daisy Ridley), widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), missionary (Penelope Cruz, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”), doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), professor (Willem Dafoe), car salesman (Manuel Garcia-Raflo), valet (Derek Jacobi), assistant (Josh Gad, “Beauty and the Beast”) and businessman (Johnny Depp, “The Tourist”). 

The three-day trip was meant to be relaxing, alas, trouble follows.   A passenger is found dead.  Murdered, as a matter of fact. To top it off, the train is derailed by an avalanche and they are all stranded.  Chill fills the air and it's not just because of the wintry weather.  It's up to the detective to solve the case, using his keen eye of observations, investigating each passenger and uncovering any motivation or connection.  Hopefully, everyone remains alive until they are rescued.  As it turns out, the passengers may not be who they say they are.

What stands out the most is not the acting, even with a starry and stylish cast.  The cinematography is the star of the movie.  It's captivating from start to finish.  The warmth and hustle and bustle of the daily life in the era permeate the opening scenes, against the backdrop of ancient stone walls, steamboats and vintage trains.  Then onto the snowy journey across moonlit mountains and sun-kissed plains, ending at sunset. Fine fashion and design are abound.  Immaculately dressed travelers, crisp linens and polished mahogany.  The movie is stunningly shot with creative angles and details and  lavishly lit.  The way the deceased is first shown to the audience is unconventionally filmed.

If you've never read the novel or seen the original film, the reveal's shock value is high.  Hercule Poirot, quite possibly the greatest detective of his time, is a man of law and order who values justice and balance.  In the end, he's forced to examine his principles.  Perhaps there's a situation where imbalance in life is necessary or that peace is more important than justice.

The dots are not always connecting clearly when they are rolling rapidly, and while suspension of disbelief is needed for this whodunnit tale, “Murder at the Orient Express” is a well-crafted, old-fashioned and modish murder mystery with a fantastic twist.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Thor: Ragnarok"

“Thor: Ragnarok” closes the standalone chapter of the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth, “The Avengers” series, "Rush"). Like “Thor: The Dark World,” the movie takes place almost entirely on distant planets, although it's tonally very different. Taika Waititi-directed 'Ragnarok' is overall bright and cheery.

Thor reunites with his mischievous, adversarial adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and tracks down their banished father, King of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on Earth. Here they encounter Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”) and his magical tricks.

After the death of Odin, Hela (Cate Blanchett, “Cinderella”) emerges from exile. She is the bloodthirsty sister Thor and Loki never knew, Odin's firstborn. Hela is marching back into Asgard to claim her birthright as the rightful heir of to the throne. Following the tradition of royal family drama, the revelation is the most interesting part of the story. Thor discovers that his late father wasn't always the benevolent and peaceful leader he knew and that the gleaming kingdom of Asgard has a dark history.

While Thor is mighty, Hela is mightier, as proven by what she does with the Mjolnir, Thor's hammer. Without his powerful hammer, Thor has to improvise and look within himself to show his strength when Hela unleashes hell upon Asgard. Hela's motivation is as legit as it gets as far as villain goes.

The super sibling showdown has to wait, however. First, Thor finds himself crash-landing on an artificial planet built on scraps, Sakaar, and getting captured by a scrap hauler (Tessa Thompson). Thor is hauled into the Grandmaster's (Jeff Goldblum) residence and forced into a bombastic gladiatorial match with a reigning champion, none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”). Fortunately, the scrap hauler turns out to be Valkyrie, a legendary former Asgard warrior.

Desperately wanting to get back to Asgard to save his people, Thor persuades Hulk, Valkyrie and Loki to escape from Sakaar, return to his home planet and defeat Hela. This is where the bulk of the comedy takes place. More than one-liners, their interactions are hilarious. Bruce Banner now has been in the Hulk form continuously for two years, so he has developed a more advanced level of expression and vocabulary, although still primitive by human standard.

Back at Asgard, Hela is raising an army of undead and goes on a murder spree. She declares herself queen and wants to continue with her ambition to conquer other realms. The quartet works together, and with the help from Asgard guardian, Heimdall (Idris Elba), to stop Hela and also to prevent a prophecy of Asgardian destruction, Ragnarok, from coming to fruition. In the end, the cost is way high.

The movie is brimming with comedic deliveries (including star cameos), fluid and packed action scenes bursting with candy colors. There's a “Guardian of the Galaxy” feel to it. The actors look like they're having one helluva time. There is nothing particularly memorable, unlike, say, the last installment of Captain America, 'Civil War,' but it sure is entertaining as a whole.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a blast of rock-and-roll.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Blade Runner 2049"

Having never seen the original "Blade Runner" (1982), which became somewhat of a cult-classic over the years, I didn't know what to expect.  With a brief intro narrative, I've found "Blade Runner 2049" works just as well as a standalone film.  Time will tell whether it would follow its predecessor's footstep.

The film picks up 30 years after the events in the first installment.  The previous version of replicants, or bioengineered beings, have been outlawed due to their rebellions.  While they have been replaced by the next generation, a perfect disposable workforce who obey human commands, some of the older version continue to live.  Government agents, or blade runners, are tasked to hunt for these hidden replicants and retire them, whether or not they are violent.  One of them is a farmer, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).  The officer tasked to retire Sapper is simply called 'K' (Ryan Gosling; "La-La Land," "The Ides of March," "Drive").

After Sapper is gone, K discovers a box deeply buried beneath the land surrounding Sapper's home.  This box contains a miraculous secret, a clue that propels him to a dangerous search, and answers that leave him shaken to the core.  His discovery leads to him to track down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford; "Ender's Game," "The Age of Adaline"), the loner blade runner from 2019.  It also gets him pursued by a replicant manufacturer led by its creepy leader, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, "Suicide Squad"), accompanied by his faithful right-hand replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).  A few other players whose interactions with K are significant are his cyber-girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), his boss Liutenant Joshi (Robin Wright, "Wonder Woman") and memory-making scientist Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri).

I'm typically intrigued by films with philosophical themes.  In recent memories, Villeneuve's own "Arrival," "Ex-Machina," "Interstellar," "Transcendence," "Cloud Atlas," "Inception."  There's some of that here, about how far is too far for a machine to be indistinguishable from human and what to do with them.  Whether or not the replicants' memories are implanted or programmed to behave a certain way, they feel real to them and they may not know that they are false reality.  Some things here feel shoehorned or grandiloquent though, told instead of shown.

Heavy on cinematography, the film plays on light and shadow and a palette of saturated marigold and cool blue.  After the great ecosystem disaster, people survive on synthetic farming and a weather that's either dusty, misty, rainy or snowy.  The great digital blackout wipes out most data, leaving K to rely on analog devices.  The grimy atmosphere, bathed in cerulean neon lights, dotted by outsized holograms and Asian fusion influence, reminds me of "Ghost in the Shell." Although it becomes kind of monotonous because of the overlong size.

With a running time of nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes, and a slow pace, it doesn't always sustain the suspense, even with a foreboding score.  A full half-hour of drawn out scenes could be cut without shortchanging the story.  The pace mirrors the thought-provoking "Arrival" from last year, directed by the same person, Denis Villeneuve.  However, that film's right under 2 hours.

"Blade Runner 2049" captures the most attention in pieces, during the concealed stage, clue-trailing and reveal.  While it doesn't quite meet the heightened expectations, it's runs on plenty of nostalgia, twists and visuals.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle"

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" set the bar thrillingly high.  Dynamically directed, sensationally choreographed and exemplarily executed, it' s absurdly over-the-top, sleekly stylized, expansive and inventive, and most importantly, outrageously fun.  Expectations are running high on the hills of the Comic Con-hyped panel earlier this summer.

No longer the fresh-faced recruit, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a full-fledged spy, carrying the baton of his dearly departed mentor, Harry (Colin Firth, "The King's Speech").  He's also in a committed relationship with royalty, Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom).

The movie opens with an adrenaline rush of a faceoff between Eggsy and a failed recruit, now equipped with a mechanical arm, Charlie (Edward Holcroft).  They go head-to-head inside of a speeding car on a trafficked road, with Eggsy hanging out of a car on the door, flying onto the roof and lying on the dragged door on the street, maneuvering himself into the trunk, and finally peeking out into the backseat to finish the fight.  Dodging pursuers under the  hails of bullets, Eggsy dives the car into a lake, entering an underwater lair into safety.  Such recklessly incredible sequence.  This is followed by a spinning sky lift crashing and tumbling down snowy Italian mountain tops down the road.

The Kingsman headquarter and sites end up getting blown up to bits, leaving the two survivors, Eggsy and gizmo guy, Merlin (Mark Strong, "The Imitation Game") searching for clues.  A clue takes them into the good ol' USA, Kentucky.  As it turns out, on the other side of the world, there's another secret spy agency, Statesman.

Whilst Kingsman has a tailored suit shop as a front, Statesman's is a liquor distillery.   The sharply dressed Kingsmen have a fisticuff  with a skeptical Statesman, decked in a cowboy outfit, Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum, "Hail, Caesar!").  Once their identity is verified, they are met with key personnel; leader Champagne (Jeff Bridges, "The Giver"), Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and tech guru Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, "Cloud Atlas").  Miraculously, Statesman has back-from-the-dead Harry under their care, although he has no memory of who he is, having been shot in the head in the first installment.

Tracing their common enemy to a drug master, Poppy (Julianne Moore, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 & 2"), Kingsman and Statesman work together to prevent millions of people from death.  Don't mistake Poppy's Stepford wife appearance as meek.  She's evil and brutal, first shown releasing robotic dogs and forcing a new recruit to prove his loyalty by decimating another agent down a meat grinder.  And oh, by the way, she also serves a mean hamburger...

Psychotic Poppy runs the largest drug cartel in the world deep in a Colombian jungle, an isolated neighborhood with an American 1950s style, complete with a retro salon, theater and diner.  Poppy is not your run-of-the-mill villain.  Craving for worldwide fame and freedom, she wants drugs to be legalized, just like alcohol and cigarettes.  She unleashes virus into the drugs, causing those who take them to go through dying stages.  She offers antidotes; for a price, of course.  If the first movie lightly touches on class divisions, 'Golden Circle' threads on war on drugs, with a political agenda and personal vendetta associated with it.

The movie continues to be visually impressive and a showcase of gadgets.  While not quite as eye popping as the blade-legged lady and colorful head explosion, it's got the original bullet-proof umbrella and even more stuff, like the seriously cool mechanical arm, brain-healing gel, electric lasso, baseball grenade and briefcase shield, used in an army of shootouts and stylized slice-and-dice fights.  But the tongue-in-cheek humor and comic style remain, so it's not anywhere as grave or gory as it sounds.  It's not without its share of controversy, however.  A specific crude scene that got its director, Matthew Vaughn ("X-Men: First Class") and lead actor addressing the media.

'The Golden Circle' may not top the original or feels as refreshing as two years ago, but the cheeky spy adventure runs circles around most sequels. And from the ending, there's more story to be told, with Statesman coming into prominence in the world-saving business.

As fast, ferocious and uproarious as the first, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is a wild blast of entertainment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


An animation about an orphan girl and aspiring ballerina, set against an idealized backdrop of late 18th century Paris.  Along with her best friend, a hopeful inventor, she escaped from the orphanage and embarks on a quest to study at the prestigious Grand Opera Ballet School in Paris.

If you enjoy classical dance, especially ballet, it's enchanting to watch how those tricky movements are captured so elegantly in an animation format.  The creative, improvised training using household items, impromptu tabletop dance sequence, competitive face-off are very impressive.  And the adventure elements are fun.

The movie could benefit from having a backstory for a key supporting character.  The over-the-top villain and romantic angle feel out of place.  The dialogues leave a lot to be desired.  And the moral of the story may be ambiguous to some.

But the French-Canadian production also offers a different kind of animation with its excellence on ballet movements.  The movie imparts a belief to have a real passion for your dreams.  With some luck and hard work, you could make it a reality against all odds.   "Leap!" is lively and highly enjoyable.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Comic-Con 2017 Recap

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

Well, better late than never... In contrast with last year with jam-packed interactive activities, talk shows, press lines, it's more like 'Comic-Con Lite' for me this year - the lightest in nearly all the years I've been covering the convention.  The main reason is because of lack of programming in the feature film and TV pilot areas (outside of Hall H Saturday) and the lack of press conferences across the board.  I was also really sick, so I had to limit my attendance.

Here are the highlights: (thank goodness for an epic 'Kingsman' panel!)

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" (September 22, 2017)
In attendance: stars Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges

[For the 'Kingsman' press conference from 2014, check out this recap here]

20th Century Fox pulled out all the stops.  The studio presented three lengthy footages of the upcoming sequel of the spy action, a panel full of stars, and plenty of booze to boot.  While everyone had a shot glass, Halle Berry chugged an entire pint of bourbon, to the cheers of her co-stars and audience.   There's a good banter about Channing Tatum's physical strength and Taron Egerton's being asked again to hold his breath under water for one of the shots.  Attendees of the panel each received a bright orange Kingsman T-shirt with a faux tuxedo front and a fidget spinner.  The studio also converted Hard Rock Cafe into Kingsman Central, by providing free poppy burgers and whiskey cocktails for three nights of happy hour.

The first footage is out-of-this world!  Eggsy, now an agent with the British spy organization, faces off with a former agent recruit with a mechanical arm.  They go head-to-head inside of a speeding car, in the backseat, up on the roof, and in the trunk.  At one point, Eggsy is forced to lie on a dragged car door on the street.  Dodging pursuers, he dives the car into a lake, entering a secret lair.  No words can do justice to describe this incredible sequence.

The second took our sharply dressed Kingsman agent and his handler across pond to the good ol' USA (Kentucky).  They have a fisticuff  in a wine cellar with an agent from the U.S. spy organization, Statesman.  That would be Tatum's character, carrying a Southern accent and decked in a cowboy outfit.

The third showed a 1950s style neighborhood, a cover for a drug trade in the middle of a jungle.  Don't mistake Julianne Moore's character's Stepford wife appearance; she's evil and brutal.  Accompanied by two robot dogs, she tests a new recruit's loyalty by having him take down one of her agents and shove him down to a meat grinder.  Take a wild guess on what kind of hamburger is being served to our new recruit...


"Deception" (ABC, premiere date TBD)

If you enjoyed "Now You See Me," you'll be in for a treat.  Instead of a two-hour movie, how about a little magic every week from the comfort of your home?  Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott), a magician down-on-his-luck, shows up at a crime scene after watching the news of an explosion and a disappearing plane on the ground.  He thinks it's an elaborate bait done by an illusionist who might have framed his brother and wanted to get his attention.

Smart-alekcy, it's quite a delight to see Cameron pulling off cool stunts, pursuing and trapping drug cartel leads through misdirection, disguise and escape scheme.  He's got a sleight of hand with cards, knife-throwing, bullet-catching, kidnapping, car chase and secret getaway.  Saying more would be ruining the surprise.

They stunts may be implausible, but the show is meant to be an escapist.   It's got potentials with elements of mirage, action, humor, and a hint of a future romance.  The trick (pun intended) would be to keep those tricks fresh episode after episode.  Let's hope for some magic!


"Inhumans" (2-hour premier on IMAX, September 1; ABC, September 29)
In attendance: producers Jeph Loeb and Scott Buck; director Roel Reine; stars Anson Mount, Iwan Rheon, Serinda Swan, Ken Leung, Eme Ikwuakor, Isabelle Cornish, Mike Moh, Ellen Wonglom, Sonya Balmores

A first in TV history, the first two hours of the episodes will be initially released in IMAX theaters. The FX-heavy show (600 special effects in the first two episodes) tells a the story of a superpowered royal family, the arrival of Inhumans on Earth and their adjustment of living with humans in our planet.

Among the Marvel Inhumans are King Black Bolt (with a destructive voice whose whisper could level cities; therefore, he does not speak), Queen Medusa (with a prehensile red hair), the king's brother Maximus (a 'normal' one without superpower but has the ambition of a king and ability to influence people), military leader Gorgon (with cattle-like hooves that can generate shockwaves), Black Bolt's cousin and adviser Karnak (with the ability to see every possible angle and find fault in everything), Medusa's younger sister Crystal (with the ability to control elements).  There's also Lockjaw, a 2,000-pound bulldog with teleporting power.

Extended sneak peeks show an Inhuman being hunted by armed soldiers in the Hawaiian jungle,  a tense dinner sequence depicting conflict between Black Bolt and Maximus (with Medusa interpreting Black Bolt's sign language), a brotherly betrayal and a military coup, a confrontation between Medusa (and her hair-raising power) and Maximus, Karnak's mental fighting prowess, and Black Bolt's being transported into Earth.  A human named Louise has been exposed to a substance that alters the Inhuman gene.  The substance appears on Earth, alarming the king, who then sends his cousin Triton to investigate, save Inhumans and bring them back.

The showrunner talked about having relatable characters who happen to have superpowers.  These Inhumans, who have depended on superpowers all their lives, may find that having them are not always helpful to solve problems.

While the show didn't grab me from the start like the CW superhero shows, to be fair, I would have to see the pilot to make an informed opinion.  "Inhumans" will be on my fall roster.


Miscellaneous TV Shows & Panels

Syfy brought in several minutes of trailer of "Krytpton" and a mini panel (showrunners Cameron Welsh and Damian Kindler, and star Cameron Cuffe).  The show reimagines the backstory of Superman's grandfather in his home planet before its destruction 200 years before the events in the "Man of Steel" movie.  The House of El rises up against tyranny and is thrown into the bottom of society.  The story involves time travel from the present time and a conspiracy to prevent Superman's legacy from happening.  It is a story about sacrifice and triumph.  Adam Strange and Hawkwoman will appear on the show.   Villain will include Brainiac.

Time-travel show "Timeless"(NBC) made history this past spring when it was cancelled and brought back three days later after fans fiercely made their collective voice known in social media.  A very grateful panel, creators (Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan) and stars (Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett and Goran Visnjic) showed up to show their appreciation and answer questions from fans (plot, character arcs, favorite scenes such as time period and costumes), including their indescribable reactions to the show cancellation and return.   Spencer was especially vocal in her gratitude.  The creators  promised to deliver a comeback in January 2018.

I don't watch fantasy police procedural dramedy "Lucifer" (Fox), so I left shortly after the panel (which featured stars such as Tom Ellis and Tricia Helfer) started.  From the footage and audience's reaction, the show looks like devilish fun and has quite a bit of following.

NBC had a pilot and a full panel with "Midnight, Texas" novel author and cast (Fran├žois Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel, Sarah Ramos, Peter Mensah, Yul Vazquez, Jason Lewis), stumping for the summer horror offering.  If you like horror and supernatural, you may want to check it out.


While I didn't explore much this year, I partially attended an intriguing presentation of the "State of the Iron Man Tech," attended by Gravity Founder, Richard Browning and stuntwoman Zoe Bells ("Iron Man," "Inglorious Bastards"), showing onscreen the invention and experiment of a real exosuit.  Unfortunately, due to a time conflict, I wasn't able to attend the press-only session for a private demonstration of the suit.

Far from making Iron Man a reality, it shows that it's possible to have a wearable, flying suit (although it's more like hovering for now).  Although it does take a quite a bit of practice, and a rigorous training regimen, in order to be able to operate the suit.  It's a combination of high tech and peak physicality.  You can view Browning's demonstration on Youtube here.

Inside of the exhibit halls, I visited the "Alien Covenant" attraction.  Visitors were invited into a a chamber to undergo 'Colonist Certification Test' to determine their suitability for the next colonization mission.  A cosplayer, acting like a synthetic greeted participants and warned that the images depicted onscreen might be too graphic for the younger ones.  Sirens blared and screen after screen depicted grotesque alien attacks on humans.  Finally, a live person behind the door crying out for help, but she wasn't able to get out, leaving blood splatters behind.  Participants received a set of collectible pins.  Creatively speaking, having an interactive component and a personalized ID badge or photo inside the chamber would have been neat.

Among notable exhibits were Justice League's Batmobile, Thor: Ragnarok's costumes and headpiece, Ghost in the Shell's silicon shell, It's yellow raincoat and red balloon.

Here's to Comic-Con 2018!

[click to enlarge pictures]