Saturday, February 1, 2020

Upcoming Movies: February 2020

February 7
"Birds of Prey" - After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.

February 14
"Sonic the Hedgehog" ( - After discovering a small, blue, fast hedgehog, a small-town police officer must help it defeat an evil genius who wants to do experiments on it.

"Fantasy Island" ( - The enigmatic Mr. Roarke, makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island's mystery in order to escape with their lives.

February 21
"Emma" - Jane Austen's beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is reimagined.  Emma is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. She must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.

"The Invisible Man" - When Cecilia's abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

February 28
"Wendy" ( - Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Upcoming Movies: January 2020

January 10
"1917" ( - Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier's brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

"Just Mercy" ( - A renowned civil rights defense attorney works to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner.

"Underwater" ( - A crew of aquatic researchers work to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. But the crew has more than the ocean seabed to fear.

January 17
"Dolittle" ( - A physician discovers that he can talk to animals.

"The Wave" - An opportunistic insurance lawyer, thinks he's in for the time of his life when he goes out on the town to celebrate an upcoming promotion with his co-worker. Their night takes a bizarre turn when he's dosed with a hallucinogen that slters his perception of the world.

January 24
"The Gentlemen" ( - A British drug lord tries to sell off his highly profitable empire to a dynasty of Oklahoma billionaires.

"The Last Full Measure" - 34 years after his death, an airman is awarded the nation's highest military honor for his actions on the battlefield.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Year in Review: 2019 Movies

Farewell 2019... movies mashup in 6:49 minutes.

P..S. I intended to see and review "The Aeronauts," unfortunately, it's not playing in the area.  Will try to squeeze in another review before the end of the year.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"Knives Out"

In the evening after the celebration of his 85th birthday, a famed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) died with a slit throat.

While police investigators Liutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) conclude the wealthy patriarch's death as suicide, an acclaimed private investigator, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, “James Bond” series) suspects a foul play.  Craig's role models the mustache-twirling, notable detective from the “Murder in the Orient Express.”  Playing against type, he's so different from James Bond, over-the-top with thick Southern accent and penchant for theatrics.

Everyone in the dysfunctional family, privileged and entitled, is a suspect.  Brooding youngest son and Harlan's head of publishing empire Walt (Michael Shannon, “Man of Steel”), his wife Donna (Riki Lindhome) and their teenage son (Jaeden Lieberher); gold-digging lifestyle influencer and widow daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and her teenage daughter Meg (Katherine Langford);   eldest daughter and hard-edged businesswoman Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her secret-hiding husband Richard Drysadale (Don Johson) and their smarmy brat of a son Ransom (Chris Evans, “Avengers” series).  Evans seems to relish playing against his Captain America, do-gooder type.  Lurking in the background is great nana Wanetta (K Callan).

Other people outside of the family who work in the manor are Harlan's good-hearted nurse and immigrant Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas, “Blade Runner 2049”) and invisible housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson).  Since the last two have nothing to gain, the investigation primarily centers around the family's surviving offsprings.  Make no mistake, however, “the help” shouldn't be cast aside.  As a matter of fact, Marta, well-regarded by the family and detective Blanc, plays a key part in the investigation.  Her complete inability to lie is both an asset and a liability.  Armas is a standout among the star-studded cast.

The story runs sharp and witty with a comedic undertone, making it wickedly entertaining.  It's a treat to see the scenes that are first shown in pieces live or at surface level, flash back with details, pulling curtain after curtain behind the scenes.

Rolling back to the night of the incident, bits of conversations and noises were heard and suspicious sightings were reported.  Possible motives emerge.  But if the shoe fits, it may be the wrong shoe.  The will-reading is a chaotic affair.  What's unique about director Rian Johnson's storytelling is the cause of death and culprit are already revealed about a third into the story.  It leaves the next stretch with cover-ups and flashbacks, then a home stretch of twists, layering the mystery with another mystery before blowing it open with a mind-blowing who(really)dunnit. 

A great murder mystery is tightly plotted, drops clues, conceals secrets, misdirects with red herrings, teases resolution, springs surprises, reveals lies, ties up loose ends, and cleverly wraps up with a satisfying conclusion.  “Knives Out” does exactly that.  The knives are out and they hit the bullseye.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Upcoming Movies: December 2019

[Happy Thanksgiving!  Will catch up on movie reviews in December]

December 6 
"The Aeronauts" - A pilot and a scientist find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a gas balloon.

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" - On an isolated island at the end of the 18th century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

December 13
"Jumanji: The Next Level" ( - A team of friends return to Jumanji to rescue one of their own but discover that nothing is as they expect. The players need to brave parts unknown, from arid deserts to snowy mountains, in order to escape the world's most dangerous game.

"Uncut Gems" - A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. He must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

December 20
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" ( - The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

"Bombshell" - A group of women decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.

December 27
"Little Women" - Four sisters come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War.

"Spies in Disguise" ( - When the world's best spy is turned into a pigeon, he must rely on his nerdy tech officer to save the world.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil"

Angelina Jolie (“The Tourist,” “Wanted”) makes a magnificent return as the not-really-evil Maleficent.  Maleficent's malevolence is more of a perception among humans.  True, she did curse Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning;, "Trumbo," “Super 8”) into an eternal sleep, but in the 2014 reimagined version, she was also brought to light through the bond she forged with the girl.

Maleficent raised Aurora in the woods like her own child.  The carefree princess, now grown up, is the Queen of the Moors.  The storybook moor is as enchanting as ever, verdant and vibrant, filled with fairies and fantastical creatures.  One day Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes marriage, which Aurora enthusiastically accepts.  This will not only be a union of two young people, but also two kingdoms, fairies and humans.

The time has come that the future in-laws meet.  Phillip's parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer; “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Murder at the Orient Express") greet Maleficent with wariness at dinner.  The queen certainly has an agenda of her own, trading barbs and provoking Maleficent, driving her out in rage.  The night ends in tragedy, with the king cursed, the royals devastated, Maleficent wounded, and Aurora heartbroken.

Jolie and Pfeiffer stand out in star power and regal look, pointedly go toe-to-toe.  Maleficent's icy wickedness of sense of humor is matched with Ingrith's cut-through-the-heart sneer and cool evilness.  Ingrith is the 'Mistress of Evil' in the title. 

Maleficent is saved by a handsomely horned and winged creature (Chiwetel Ejiofor; “Doctor Strange”) and flown into an enormous nest.  He turns out to be one of the many faes occupying a cavernous cave with its own various ecosystems; forest, tundra and desert.  Maleficent is astonished to find that her own kind, albeit without the sorcery power she has.  The story goes that as human population expands, the faes are forced into exile, living in the far corner of the world.  There's in-fighting among the faes themselves, choosing between a peaceful status quo versus going into war with humans to take back their lands.

The royal wedding is happening as planned and all the fairies are invited.  At least that's what they think, and Phillip and Aurora have no reason to think otherwise either.  Little do they know what Ingrith is up to.  The power-hungry queen manipulatively pulls all the strings and wages an all-out war.  Fairy dust and iron-filled weapons prove to be lethal to fairies and faes. 

Maleficent soars back into the kingdom and uses her prowess to even out the epic fight.  An aerial view impressively shows an Avengers' Endgame-like scale of a battle.  Aurora and Phillip are clued in and each also plays a role in preventing any more bloodshed.  Amid the themes of tolerance, peace and harmony, the most consistent is Maleficent's maternal love for Aurora.  Their penultimate scenes in the battlefield are surprisingly touching and heartwarming.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is a vast improvement of the first installment, a fantastic fantasy adventure blending thrilling action in a magical setting with a real-world inclusion message.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

"Ad Astra"

This decade has been filled with stellar space travel films, such as “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “The Martian” and “First Man.”  “Ad Astra” is no exception.

Brad Pitt (“Allied,” “The Big Short,” “Word War Z”) is Roy McBride, an astronaut whose work is his life, following his father's footsteps.  His father was Clifford McBride (“Jason Bourne,” “Lincoln,” “The Company Men”), the most decorated astronaut in history, legendary explorer and space hero.  The first human to reach Jupiter and Saturn, he and his crew were near Neptune on a mission called the Lima Project to search for intelligent life decades ago.  They were lost and presumed dead 16 years ago.

When series of strange electrical surges from space lead to catastrophic results on Earth, the Space Command officials think that they are caused by the anti-matter reactor from the Lima Project.  The truth, as presented to Roy, is that they think Clifford found something during his mission and might likely still be alive.  The continual power and communication failures would threaten mankind.  Roy is brought in to make contact with his now-presumed alive father and destroy the Lima Project.

Known for his calm composure, Roy routinely undergoes and passes psychological profile and heart rate tests so he's always mission-ready.   It is at the cost of his relationship with his estranged wife (Liv Tyler), however.  It's obvious that underneath the impenetrable exterior and trained detachment, there is a lost little boy carrying the pain of abandonment.

The movie is visually arresting and audibly striking.  There's a stunning sequence of Roy plummeting, somersaulting and spinning down towards Earth from a space tower when the power surge hits.  Moon buggies traversing the lunar surface followed by pursuits towards the edge of space.  Earth looks like a blue marble glowing in the dark viewed from the silvery landscape of the moon.  Mars is awash is golden hues and mystery.  Neptune looks cool with its blue ring of rock showers.  The void of space is vast and dark.

Roy's interstellar trip to reach Neptune starts with a commercial space flight to the moon, answering a distressed call and a violent turn, and a stopover in Mars.  In the Red Planet, Roy attempts to send signals to his father, the first time he's ever seen to be remotely emotional.  He also meets a woman (Ruth Negga) who reveals to him the real truth about his father and the Lima Project crew.

Roy is more determined than ever to do what it takes to board the rocket to Neptune, although it's not without dire consequences.  When his father's whereabouts and state becomes clear, Roy is hit with another layer of truth.  He must come to terms with what he discovers and decides how to move forward.   It questions the point when passion becomes obsession and what you think is your destiny may obscure you from reality or what really matters.

This is a Pitt-focused movie, both in narration and performance.  He's able to convey both the flat emotional state that is often required of him or what he's allowed himself to feel and the depth of his troubled soul.  He portrays a man in control and utterly comfortable with isolation, while carrying a quiet anger, hurt, desperation and deep yearning to reconnect with his father, fear of turning into the man who abandoned him, acceptance, healing and peace of mind.  Pitt restrainedly takes us through his engrossing inner journey.

“Ad Astra” means “to the stars.”  At the helm of director James Gray, the exploration of the stars is more of a backdrop here.  Masterfully made, “Ad Astra” is an introspective character exploration and profound development of one man's relationship with himself and life.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

2019 Fall Movies Preview

Fall is around the corner... from crowd pleasers to prestige pictures, check out the synopsis and trailers of 30 movies premiering soon:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Comic-Con 2019

[For a blast from the past, check out:]

With Warner Bros, Sony, Universal and Fox 20th Century Studios skipping 2019 Comic-Con, the lack of feature films this year is not surprising.  Marvel's return to a prime spot Saturday evening was mostly inaccessible unless you camped overnight.

I do miss those years when Hall H was stacked with one movie after another.  Paramount made it worthwhile though, springing in one of the most talked-about surprises of the Con.  The vacancies also allowed other channels to rise, such as Amazon Prime Videos and Netflix, which might appeal to some audiences.

If last year was the pinnacle of activations, led by Amazon Prime Videos' Jack Ryan, this year's activities were more sparse.  The studio looked to repeat its success with  multiple smaller activations - The Expanse, The Boys, and Carnival Row.  Escape rooms became more popular this year, which also includes NBC Universal's Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  A ferris wheel, which was installed outside and free to all, was a nice touch, allowing people to have a bird eye's view of  the convention area.


"Terminator: Dark Fate" (November 1, 2019)
In attendance: director Tim Miller, stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Diego Boneta, Gabriel Luna

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reunited in the "Terminator: Dark Fate" panel. Edward Furlong is set to reprise his character, John Connor.  Hamilton opened the panel and talked about returning to the movie after 27 years  She said that there was a richness that she could explore and rocked it as a woman of a certain age.  Sarah Connor is an outsider whose life hasn't worked out, so Hamilton had to dig into places of deepest sorrows and loss.  Schwarzenegger remarked that he was addicted to 'Terminator' and praised the movie as something that changed his career forever.

The footage looked badass.  An enhanced human and a girl are on the run on a freeway from an unkillable shape-shifting Terminator until Sarah shows up with a bazooka and a grenade.  Sarah is determined to protect her because she could relate to her; she was pursued by Terminators at her age.  Lots of chases involving cars, helicopter and plane, as well as gunshots and explosions.  It's not clear why Terminators are after the girl, but it appears that her life is a matter of human race survival.  The movie is a certified R-rating, with adult language and violence.

"Top Gun: Maverick" (June 26, 2020)
In attendance: Tom Cruise

The 'Dark Fate' panel concluded and everyone was getting ready to leave until Conan O'Brien strolled into the stage, stole the microphone, and asked if we would like to see the biggest movie star in the world.  Tom Cruise appeared, greeted by thunderous applause.  He gave a brief speech that it was 34 years ago he's in San Diego for "Top Gun," thanking everyone for being very patient, and that he's ready to show the world's premiere of the trailer.

The trailer shows Maverick as a Navy captain, when he should have been a two-star admiral.  Cruise mentioned that everything we saw was real, including him flying in certain fighter jets.  The movie, which will hit theaters on June 26, 2020, is about competition, family, sacrifice, and a love letter to aviation.


Marvel presented the longest lineups.  While nothing could have topped the years leading up to the "Avengers: Endgame," the studio doesn't seem to be slowing down.  It continues to have a full slate, plus the addition of Disney Plus streaming service.

Phase Four scheduled movies and shows, which I caught in the playback room, are as follows: "Black Widow" (May 1, 2020), "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" (Disney+ series, fall 2020), "Eternals" (November 6, 2020), "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (February 12, 2021), "WandaVision" (Disney+ series, spring 2021), "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (May 7, 2021), "Loki" (Disney+ series, spring 2021), "What If...? (Disney+ series, summer 2021),  Hawkeye (Disney+ series, fall 2021), "Thor: Love and Thunder" (November 5, 2021).

"Black Widow" was described as gritty, like "Bourne."  Angelina Jolie got the loudest cheers when she showed up for the "Eternals" lineup. The biggest surprises coming out are "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" being billed as the first MCU horror movie and "Thor: Love and Thunder"  inviting  Natalie Portman back as the female Thor.  Last but not least, Mahershala Ali was announced to be the next "Blade."


"nExt" (Fox; premiere date TBD, midseason)
In attendance: creator Manny Coto, executive producers and directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, stars John Slattery, Fernanda Andrade, Michael Mosley, Jason Butler Harner, Eve Harlow

From the creator of "24," this propulsive artificial intelligence thriller (along the lines of CBS "Person of Interest") looks promising, exploring the far-reaching impact of super advanced technology in our modern lives.  Drones and Alexa are merely the beginning.  When an FBI cybercrime agent's former college professor is murdered, the trail leads to an AI program started by the now-fired Silicon Valley's tech firm co-founder.  He butts head with his estranged brother and CEO of the firm, regarding what is being done with the program.  The program, which he thought was under lock-and-key, is continued to be developed.  His brother promises that it is self-contained and has no connection to the outside world.

As can be predicted, a rouge AI is evolving and ultimately finds a way to the internet, which has chilling repercussions.  This is the type of war that is not fought in the battlefield and most difficult to combat because it's faceless, slowly destroys from within and lives will be ruined.

"Batwoman" (CW; October 6, 2019)

The pilot was shown in preview night with no one in attendance.  Bruce Wayne/Batman has been missing from Gotham for three years.  His cousin, Kate Kane, discovers the Batcave and asks his techie to alter his costume to fit a woman.  Kate, who lost her mom and sister in a tragic car accident where Batman couldn't save them, has a complicated relationship with her father.  She was sent to a military academy school and expelled under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Being in the military is her father's dream for her, but never hers.

When a star agent of her father's private security firm, the Crows, is kidnapped, it's clear that there's a personal connection and Kate can't escape her past, family or otherwise.  The villain is a revelation. The first look of Batwoman soaring from a skyscraper in her sleek black costume and picking up the crime-fighting crusader mantle is pretty buzzworthy.

"Emergence" (ABC; September 24, 2019)
In attendance: creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, stars Allison Tolman, Alexa Swinton, Donald Faison, Clancy Brown, Owain Yeoman, Ashley Aufderheide, Robert Bailey Jr., Zabryna Guevara

"Emergence" is an original drama with a supernatural element.  After a plane crashes on the beach, the town's police chief discovers a frightened young girl who was not aboard the plane.  The plane appears to have taken off from an isolated government research facility.

The mysterious girl appears is amnesiac and has some kind of electromagnetic powers.  She's pursued by fake NTSB officials and people who claim to be her parents.  The chief brings her home to stay with her family, at least until she could investigate what is really going and know her identity.  There may not be a safe place for her and her family though as incidents continue to occur.  The pilot closes with a scene that questions whether the girl actually knows who she is, where she comes from, and what she is capable of.

"Stumptown" (ABC; September 25, 2019)
In attendance:  producers Ruben Fleischer and David Bernad, writer Greg Rucka, stars Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson, Michael Ealy, Camryn Manheim, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Sibus, Adrian Martinez

Based on a graphic novel, the show is about the life of a female Marine vet working as a private investigator in Portland, Oregon.  She's a scrapper, sexually fluid, has PTSD, gambling debt, and a mentally challenged brother to care for.  It's said that Portland has a lot of character as a town as it's emphasized as a setting.

Cobie Smulders mentioned that the training for the show was more intense than the Avengers.  The fight scenes are very realistic and dirty.  The cold open is bananas; Smulders emerges from the back seat of a moving car and tries to incapacitate the driver and his passenger, ending up with the car flying through the air.

"Snowpiercer" (TBS; date TBD, 2020)
In attendance: showrunner and executive producer Graeme Manson, stars Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Alison Wright, Rowan Blanchard

An adaptation of the 2013 movie of the same name starring Chris Evans, the show takes place seven years after the world turns into a frozen wasteland and its survivors reside in a perpetually running train.  The show is a tale of the haves and have-nots in various states of living conditions, from deplorable to luxurious.  It explores class warfare, social injustice and politics of survival.  The footage and trailer have a cinematic quality to it, depicting an avalanche engulfing the train, how it breaks through the cars, and an arm-freezing punishment.

"Carnival Row" (Amazon Prime Video; August 30, 2019)
In attendance: creator and executive producer Travis Beacham, executive producer Marc Guggenheim, stars Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Tamzin Merchant, David Gyasi

A fantasy-noir show with a Victorian style where humans and immigrant creatures mingle.  Centaurs, fairies and pucks migrate to the humans' land when their land is invaded and torn from war.  The creatures are treated cruelly in the human's world, including being disemboweled on the streets.

The show portrays star-crossed lovers of a human detective and a fairy, and an uneasy relationship between a financially struggling human aristocrat and her fae wealthy neighbor.  The show parallels itself with complex issues of the real world, such as classism, racism, sexism, spiritualism, immigration and refugees.  Orlando Bloom made waves when he made a comment that the Mayor of San Diego left the activation (below) abruptly when he was told the show dealt with immigrants.  The Mayor disputed the account later on.

Amazon Prime Videos doubled down the effort to promote the show, showcasing it as one of the attractions outdoor.  Once we entered the activations set, we're given a brochure and engraved coins in a velvet pouch.  I used my coins to purchase food offered in the market; churros, pretzel, fruits and popsicle.  The set was nicely built with lounge chairs and tower in the center for performances.

To enter Carnival Row, each visitor was provided a choice between  two cards, human or creature.  After passing security check, we were whisked into a marketplace with creatures selling their wares.  A face appeared on a peep hole of the door and we entered the dimly lit Forbidden Lounge.  A cabaret singer and burlesque-type dancer performed on stage, where she revealed fancy wings underneath her robe.  The show ended when human police officers barging in and shut down the event.

That's a wrap... borrowing the words from 'Terminator,' I'll be back in 2020!

[click to enlarge photos]

Sunday, June 30, 2019

"Spider-Man: Far from Home"

[From 06/27/19 Press Screening] 

Marvel's domination this year is not ending with "Avengers: Endgame."  "Spider-Man: Far from Home" is expected to have one of the highest opening weekends of the summer for any movie, not just MCU.  The best thing about it is that there couldn't have been a more perfect movie that would close out the gigantic Infinity Saga and begin anew the next phase of the superheroes universe.

'Endgame' marks the end of an era, one that begins with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).  His legacy continues to loom large.  Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland, "The Impossible") returns to a world forever-changed by the aftermath of 'Endgame,' which is dubbed humorously here as the five-year blip.  When the evaporated half of the universe snapped back into existence, 'Far from Home' deals with it from a ground level, yet in a surprisingly lighthearted way.

Spider-Man is showered with adoration from high school fans.  He might have tussled with fellow Earth's Mightiest Superheroes (“Captain America: Civil War”), gone into space (“Avengers: Infinity War”), and fought Thanos (“Avengers: Endgame”), but at the end of the day, Peter is just a nerdy high school kid.

While the people who were turned to dust by Thanos returned the same age, the world was moving on without them.  Imagine if your younger brother is now older than you. Or you may be 21 on paper and can legally drink, but in reality, you're still 16.  And that scrawny little kid you knew back then has grown into a handsome and buff fella, competing for the affection of the cool girl you like.

All Peter wants to do is a break from saving the world, take a vacation to Europe with his schoolmates, and find the right opportunity to tell MJ (Zendaya, “The Greatest Showman”) how he feels about her.

Alas, it doesn't work that way.  As a matter of fact, the stern Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, "Kingsman: The Secret Service“) is hot on his trail and Peter should know better not to ghost him, as Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, “Iron Man” series) cautions.  Happy and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) are more than happy to spend time together, which also adds a bit more complication into Peter's life.

From the start 'Far from Home' continuously pokes fun at itself and is charmingly self-aware.  The humor is nonstop and off the charts.  From the moment Peter and friends stepping on the plane, plans radically changing (read: the Fury Effect), arriving in Venice, detouring to Prague, and ending up in London; they are absolutely riotous.

The hilariously precarious situations they find themselves in and their wide-eyed interactions will have you in stitches.  There's also an adorably awkward teen romance, which is sweet and funny.  Peter's friends, Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice) dole out some of the goofiest scenes.

It doesn't mean 'Far from Home' is without serious superhero business though.  Nature monsters called the Elementals wrecked havoc cities.  Even as a mysterious caped figure, Mysterio/Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, "Source Code"), swoops in and saves the day, he needs Spider-Man's aid.  From Peter's side, he finds comfort and guidance in their chats, like the dilemma of having great power and great responsibility, and also wanting an everyday life as a teenager.

There's more to Mysterio that meets the eye, however, and Gyllenhaal is killing it.  When the real villain emerges, it's a head-scratching twist.  The movie is abound with action and plenty of Spider-Man's aerial acrobatics.  Tony Stark didn't just gift Peter an upgraded suit.  An artificial intelligence glasses is front and center in the movie's high-tech plot.  In the end, Peter realizes that he must step up to the plate and be the kind of hero his mentor knew he would be.  Holland shows a range in those defining moments.

Be sure to stay through the end credits.  Game-changer is the word and it will be intriguing swinging forward.

There's so much joy to behold.  Refreshingly uproarious and smartly twisty, "Spider-Man: Far from Home" is exhilaratingly entertaining.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


After “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” another Disney princess is getting a live action makeover.  While the 2019 Guy Ritchie's directed "Aladdin” is about riff-raff Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Genie (Will Smith), it's also a story about Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).

In Agrabah, a society with a rigid class system, Aladdin gets by from stealing from street vendors.  A thief with a heart of gold, he takes what he needs and gives the rest to the hungry.  One day he and his thieving monkey, Abu, run into a disguised Princess Jasmine.

Jasmine is roaming outside the palace to better understand the lives of her people.  She aspires to follow in her father's footstep by becoming a Sultan herself, instead of simply being married to a foreign prince  After a couple of stolen breads and a sleight of hand exchange of bracelet, they end up on the run together.  It's a lively scene, showcasing creative parkour skills between tight walls, narrow alleys and open rooftops over bustling streets of Agrabah.

Jasmine parts way abruptly as she has to get back to the palace to greet one of her prince suitors.  Aladdin, who still has her bracelet, then attempts to return it to her at the palace.  He is spotted by Jafar's (Marwan Kenzari) smart-talking parrot, Iago, and caught by the guards.

Jafar, the Sultan's adviser and number two, has been plotting to take over the kingdom.  His path to power is a magical oil lamp inside the Cave of Wonders.  Only someone with the purest heart, a diamond in the rough, can enter the cave.  This is where Aladdin comes in.  He and Abu successfully walk into the cave and find all sorts of forbidden treasures.  Careful not to touch anything, Aladdin couldn't help but freeing a flying carpet weighed down under a rock.  A few mishaps later, Aladdin is trapped inside the cave with the Genie out of the lamp.

It may take getting used to seeing a human actor as Genie, and while it would never be the same as the animated version, Smith makes the role his own in smoothly hilarious ways.  Aladdin uses his first wish to escape from the cave and second to make him a prince, as only a prince can be with Princess Jasmine.

Prince Ali makes his entrance in an extravagant and explosion of colors.  A parade of fancifully costumed entourage singing and dancing their way into the palace, complete with exotic animals and lavish gifts.  The nighttime carpet ride with the classic tune “A Whole New World” is a highlight, taking Aladdin and Jasmine over the panoramic cityscape, countryside and coastline.

The princess finds herself strangely drawn to the unknown prince, who seems to share her values.  She's looking for a partner to wisely lead the kingdom, not a savior.  She's led to believe that the Aladdin she met earlier is actually a prince in disguise. 

Aladdin struggles with the truth.  It's not easy to give up a pretense when it gets you what you want.  A watchful Jafar seizes the opportunity and eventually gets his hand on the lamp.  The Genie, now serving him as the Master, has no choice but to grant him his wishes.  First as the Sultan and second as Sorcerer.

Amid this transformation, Jasmine finds courage to not be silenced.  This is a strong princess with her own mind and agency.  Scott has the charisma to demonstrate the princess coming into her own powers convincingly and she belts out “Speechless” with conviction.  Jasmine shows that she's worthy of being a ruler herself.

Still, Jafar becomes impossibly powerful.  His all-consuming avarice for being number one remains his weakness, however, which in the end is crucial as it's the key to beat him at his own ruthless game.

It's heartwarming to see Aladdin's third and final wish is to set his Genie free, even if it means giving up what he wants most in the world.  Massoud pulls off both the princely facade and humble commoner who finds his way back to being true to himself.

The movie's production bursts with candy colors and exquisite fabrics, moves fast with action, and delights with music. “Aladdin” maintains the energetic pace and vibrancy from start to finish.

Like a magical carpet ride, "Aladdin" will take you to a whole new world of fantasy adventures, with charm and heart fit for the whole family.

DVD (animation):