Thursday, July 19, 2018

Comic-Con 2018 Preview

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

Comic-Con has begun and it's going strong!  While preview night was super slim as far as TV pilots go, there are plenty of props and interactive fan attractions outside (scattered right across and behind the convention center, as well as Petco Park).  DC Universe, Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, FX, Jack Ryan, The Walking Dead, Mr. Mercedes, Amazon Fire Cube TV, etc.  

Inside the exhibit halls, life-sized legos, Thanos' Infinity Stone-covered glove and Aquaman make splashy displays.  Resident Evil has a horror-theme attraction inside.  Fox took advantage of a Deadpool-level humor by plastering the superhero's face on a toilet seat cover. 

Also, for a FREE streaming service for movies and TV, check out Tubi:

Stay tuned!

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.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Upcoming Movies: July 2018

July 6
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" ( - As Scott Lang balances being both a superhero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

"The First Purge" - After the rise of a third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, an experiment is conducted, no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one must stay during the experiment yet there is $5,000 for anyone who does.

July 13 
"Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" - While on a vacation with his family, Count Dracula makes a romantic connection.

"Skyscraper" ( - A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.

July 20
"Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" ( - Sophie learns about her mother's past while being pregnant herself.

"The Equalizer 2" ( - Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

July 27
"Mission Impossible: Fallout" ( - Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.

"Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" - A villain's maniacal plan for world domination sidetracks five teenage superheroes who dream of Hollywood stardom.

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.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Ocean's 8"

"A 'him' gets noticed.  A 'her gets ignored."  To pull off the biggest heist of the century, you will need to be ignored.  The "Ocean" series make waves with an all-female ensemble spinoff, "Ocean's 8."

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"), Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) sister, is released from prison after being incarcerated for five years for a con gone wrong.  She waltzes out in a little black dress and scams her way into fancy cosmetics and clothes and a luxury hotel room.  It's a sleek little sequence.

Debbie reaches out to her former partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett, "Thor: Ragnarok").  Together they put together a crew with special skills - fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter, "The King's Speech"), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket (Awkwafina), fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson).

The target is the Toussaint, a $150 million necklace at the world's most prestigious fashion event in New York City, the Met Gala.  The diamond necklace is currently stored in a Cartier underground vault.  The plan is to get the necklace be worn by a fashionable starlet and host of the star-studded event, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, "Interstellar"), and make the switch there before the necklace is returned to the vault after the event ends.  Not only it's a tall order, it's also an impossible one.

The crew needs to get to the starlet and have her agreed to be dressed by the designer.  The necklace needs to be seen in person in order to be scanned and cloned.  The security map of the building and seating charts need to be obtained and studied.  Deception, infiltration, encounter, switcheroo and getaway need to be planned to the exact detail.  Things could go sideways easily and they would all end up in jail.

The impossible mission in "Ocean's 8" requires more than a suspension of disbelief and there are plodding moments in the setup.  But situational comedy and cheeky interplay among the characters help a lot.  The characters are a mix of low-key, cool, calculating, improvising, down-on-her-luck, ditzy and diva-ish.  Hathaway is the highlight as she lampoons celebrity with her vainglorious portrayal.

Playing fast and loose and with dresses and jewels on display, it's a glitzy ride.  Not all the secrets and tricks are known and it's a treat to see how they come together and the payoff is revealed.

A stylish, sassy heist, "Ocean's 8" is a breezy treat for a girls night out or crime caper lovers.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


In 1983, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, "Divergent" series) is a free-spirited 23-year old who left her San Diego home and arrives in Tahiti.  She works odd-end jobs to make ends meet, earning enough to fund her next trip.  She meets a British sailor, Richard Sharp (Sam Clafin, ("The Hunger Games" series), who considers the open seas his home.  Their mutual wanderlust brings them close and they fall in love.

When an older couple offers them a job to sail their luxury sailboat to San Diego for a $10K and first-class tickets, they set sail for a trip of their lives.  A hurricane nearly sinks the sailboat and the uneventful trip becomes a survival story.  Richard is severely injured and it's up to Tami to care for him, ration food and water, fix the sailboat and get them to safety.  Stranded, scared, sun-burned, starving and dehydrated, the wounded novice sailor decides to change the course from San Diego to Hawaii, closer but still a journey of 1,500 miles.  If she misses Hawaii, there would be no other land until Japan.

Director Baltasar Kormakur ("Everest") parallels the couple's struggle to survive and being adrift with their courtship, the carefreeness of a young love in a tropical paradise filled with sea breeze and romantic sunsets.  If the constant flashbacks break the dramatic momentum, there's a reason for the structure.  A nifty twist makes it effective in the end.

Since the film is based on a true story, it's best to go in without knowing anything.  Among the summer blockbuster movies, "Adrift" floats swimmingly as a woman vs. nature and love story.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"Avengers: Infinity War"

18 movies and 10 years in the making, Marvel's infinite superhero world-building culminates in an all-out war, “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The movie picks up right after the events in “Thor: Ragnarok,” where Asgardians fled their destructed planet. They may not be safe after all, as Thanos' (Josh Brolin, “Oldboy”) spaceship looming over them. The big, bald, intergalactic baddie that has been hinted and flashed in earlier movies is here in all his purplish menace.

Front and center with a backstory, Thanos is surprisingly a credible threat in a universe filled with superheroes. He's got his own motive and pathos. What makes him different is his purpose, singular-mindedness and methodicalness. Not a typical alien villain out for world domination, he's dangerous in all his righteousness.  He wants to erase half the universe to help ease overpopulation to allow the other half to live and thrive.  In his mind, it's that simple.

Traversing across the galaxy, our superheroes are doing everything they can to prevent Thanos to collect all Infinity Stones. These magical stones are the building blocks of the universe. Color-coded gems – power, reality, space, time, mind and soul – would allow Thanos to achieve his genocidal goal to twinedly balance the universe with a mere snap of his fingers. Super strengths, open up portals, twist time, bend reality, create mind illusions. These limitless powers are not without a soul-crushing price though, one that imbues Thanos with a sliver of vulnerability.

The Russo brothers (“Captain America: Civil War,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”) deftly weave in multiple storylines and a sheer number of superheroes in 2.5 hours. Fractured and scattered following the ending of 'Civil War,' our superheroes find themselves in unlikely teams, fighting battles on all fronts; earth, space and planets.

Whilst darkness descends from the first frame and drapes the entire movie, there are rays of lightness in the humor that comes out of the interactions among these characters. Imagine the personalities and scenarios.

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”) asking for Tony Stark/Iron Man's (Robert Downey, Jr., “The Judge”) help. Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland, “Spider Man: Homecoming”) tagging them along in a new supersuit aboard a spaceship. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, "Avengers: Age of Ultron") and Shuri (Letitia Wright, "Black Panther") having a science chat. The humorous Guardians of the Galaxy (Star-Lord/Chris Pratt, Gamora/Zoe Saldana, Drax/Dave Bautista, Rocket Raccoon and Groot/voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, Mantis/Pom Klementieff) encountering and rescuing Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Rush”) in space. And speaking of GoG, the team divides itself intentionally and ends up teaming up with other superheroes.

There are heartbreaking moments. The fate of the Asgardians, evolved AI Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch's (Elizabeth Olsen) doomed love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula's (Karen Gillan) tortured sisterly ties, Gamora and Thanos' complicated relationship. Gamora and Nebula are Thanos' adopted daughters.

Then there's the penultimate.  Wakanda becomes the last frontier. At the helm of King T'Challa/Black Panther, the formerly secretive society and technologically advanced country welcomes Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, “The Avengers"), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson, “Her”), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), among others. They devise a desperate plan to keep Thanos from essentially playing God. An epic battle and extended hand-to-hand fights spread across sprawling fields.

“Avengers: Infinity War” works on a visual, narrative and emotional level. It's more than a visual marvel. Its cohesive narrative, mighty stakes and unpredictable twists carry real casualties. Far beyond nameless people, one-off characters or computer-generated aliens. The shocking, sobering ending literally leaves the world hanging in the balance.

Thanos will return. To say that the Avengers (or what's left of it) have the work cut out for them is an understatement. Although the post-credit scene beacons hope for a new kind of aid.  “Avengers 4” (currently untitled) is slated for May 3, 2019.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

WonderCon 2018

WonderCon has always been a lighter alternative to Comic-Con.  It's still the case, however, be mindful that the event is getting more popular than ever, as proven by sold out tickets for the first two days and the parking quagmire this year.

Forget about driving into one of the Anaheim Convention Center structures.  All those garages were full and traffic was re-routed to the Honda Center (stadium) where attendees could park and take the shuttle buses to get to the convention.  Merely a few miles away, the lanes en route were jammed.  If you're planning to go next year, get a parking permit in advance (if you don't already stay at a hotel nearby), arrive super early, or drive straight to the stadium.

That said, it's always a pleasure to be at WonderCon where panel lines are short or non-existent.  Below are the highlights.

"Ready Player One" (March 30, 2018)
In attendance: author Ernest Cline, screenwriter Zak Penn and stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Ben Mendelsohn, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki

While the director, Steven Spielberg, wasn't there, the admiration for the legendary filmmaker was palpable.  The presentation opened with a montage of Spielberg's iconic movies.  The stars were also star-struck when Spielberg's famous friends, George Lucas and Tom Cruise, visited the set.

Spieberg is the DNA of the movie and has a clear vision.  He's a film nerd, a child, so warm and  engaging.  He would dance behind the scene.  That's why there's such a camaraderie in the characters in his movies.  On the other hand, he sort of casts a shadow over the movie since he already directed great movies in the 1980s (the movie has references to that era).

Being an adaptation, some things could not be translated well from the book, such as hours of playing a video game, so they made it more cinematic, engaging and propulsive while staying true to its spirit.  For the actors and actresses, the challenges include motion capture, as it's something they had never done before and it required a lot of imagination to act while wearing a visor.  At the same time, there's a sense of liberation in the acting without the distraction of special makeup, hair or costume.

"Ready Player One" is set in 2045, where the world is a harsh place to live.  People escape to an immersive virtual reality named OASIS.  When the creator dies, he leaves clues for players to find a hidden treasure.  Whoever wins the contest will be gifted his vast fortune and control of the OASIS.  The futuristic adventure arrives in theaters this week, March 30, 2018.


"Lost in Space" (Netflix series; April 13, 2018)
In attendance: executive producer Zack Estrin and stars Toby Stephens, Molly Parker, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Maxwell Jenkins, Ignacio Serricchio, Parker Posey

Set in the future, the Robinson family volunteers to travel to space to find a new colony since the Earth's atmosphere has grown toxic.  We've got an army dad, a scientist mother, two older girls and a young boy.

The opening scene is not your run-of-the-mill family get-together.  They play floating cards in space.  Their spaceship runs into trouble and they crash-land on a snowy planet filled with glaciers.  It's a good thing the planet has Earth-like gravity and air.

The spaceship sinks under a body of icy waters.  In an attempt to retrieve a necessary supply, one of the daughter plunges and gets trapped underneath.  The only thing that keeps her alive is an oxygen in her astronaut suit.  The mom is hurt and the other daughter has to perform an emergency medical procedure, aided by the instruction of her trapped sister.  The boy notices the planet has a mineral that would help thaw the ice and save his sister, so he and her dad takes off to find it.  The boy gets separated from the dad and encounters another side of the planet, forestry green.  But embers of fire flicker and soon he's surrounded by massive fires.  And he's not alone. An alien life rapidly approaches him.  Is it a friend or a foe?

The dysfunctional dynamics make the show work.  They love one another and would do anything to stay together.  A combination of family drama, humor, mystery and danger made the pilot remake (from 1965) a hit among attendees.  "Lost in Space" is a gripping, intergalactic family adventure.


"Impulse" (Youtube Red, summer 2018)
In attendance: executive producers Doug Liman and Gene Klein, showrunner Lauren LeFranc, stars Maddie Hasson and Missi Pyle

Doug Liman ("Bourne" series) has always wanted to jump into the superhero realm, but not the traditional way.  He admitted that his first foray, "Jumper," didn't quite work, so he's coming back with "Impulse."

The main character, a teenage girl, is unapologetically strong and guarded.  She's different from other female characters in a way that they didn't soften her or make her more likeable or relatable.  In a couple of clips, she's shown to be able to boldly turn the table on her teacher.

The girl has teleportation power, which is activated during a harrowing ordeal.  She doesn't want this power and considers it a curse.  The teleportation is always proceeded by a seizure and she always teleports backs to her bedroom.  The panel discussed how they did not want to glamorize the seizure.  It's sloppy, raw and painful.

This is also a story about a mother-daughter relationship.  The daughter is resentful towards her mother, who keeps moving from town to town pursuing one relationship after another.  This time to the town of Reston.  It's cold and snows a lot.  It looks idyllic, but flawed.  It's a typical small town, but interesting enough to have things happen.  The show has mystery, suspense and supernatural.


"Writing Great Dialogue"
In attendance: animation writers Craig Miller (Curious George, Beast Wars), Holly Huckins (Rugrats, Sheriff Callie's Wild West), Jim Krieg (Justice League Action, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight), Mairghread Scott (Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers: Rescue Bots), Matt Wayne (Niko and the Sword of Light, Cannon Busters)

"From Script to Screen"
In attendance: Gabrielle Stanton (The Flash, Titans, The Vampire Diaries), Michael Narducci (The Originals, Medium), Ryan Condal (Colony, Conan The Barbarian), Sean Crouch (Lore, The Exorcist), Ashley E. Miller (Fringe, Black Sails), Steve Melching (Star Wars Rebels, The Clone Wars), Steve Holland (The Big Bang Theory), Kay Reindl (Freakish, Millennium), Marc Bernardin (Castle Rock), Mark A. Altman (The Librarians, Agent X), Amy Berg (Counterparts, Eureka)

Behind great shows are great writers and showrunners. The panels discussed what it takes to write great dialogue and bring script into screen.  It's important for every character to have a distinct voice.  People have distinctive speech patterns.  Writers should be able to hide the characters' names and know which character is speaking by his/her lines.  Every writer, regardless of personality, is also a salesperson, s/he has to be able to sell the words and bury the information in the charm (referring to story expositions).

Showrunners must be decisive and knows a 'yes' or 'no' answer within minutes of every question. Shows could go under very quickly.  It's like running a business.  They have to have a vision and a POV (point of view) on everything, and be able to communicate these.  They have to make it a safe place for people to talk and listen to their ideas, even if they are not great.  They should be able to balance between inspiring or pushing through and making decisions and holding people accountable.  One can still reject ideas in a way that would make people want to get up again and do better, and not shame them.  Courage and empathy, leading by examples and excellence go a long way. 


"Selling the Hit: What You Always Wanted to Know about the Stunts Industry"
In attendance: stuntmen and stuntwomen from Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Jumanji, Central Intelligence, comedies and live shows (e.g., Water World, Pirate Dinner), etc.

The stuntmen and stuntwomen have an impressive array of experiences, such as taekwondo, kickboxing, fencing, sword-fighting, parkour, gymnastic, surfing, and so on.  Every skill helps. Find what you love, learn and nourish it.  Do improv.  Respect everyone as if they're your next boss.  Collaborate when asked of you.  Recognize and respect the 'alpha' in your set.  Watch your actors carefully, know what they will act or react next and when they will land.

They shared their scary stunts and injuries, like broken bones and burns.  It's clear they are passionate about what they do.  While stars get the glories, some of our blockbusters and shows would not happen if not because of these professionals' skills and dedication.  They really appreciate stars who are nice and sincerely give them props for doing their jobs well.

As someone outside of the film industry, what I've found interesting is that these insights, from writers and stuntpeople, are applicable to other areas of life as well.

[click to enlarge pictures]

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Tomb Raider"

When Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Ex-Machina”) was announced as Lara Croft, the internet was abuzz. Fans wondered whether Vikander would be able to carry the wordly mantle worn by Angelina Jolie 15 years ago. Rest assured that she is more than capable.

Lara is the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, "Money Monster"), a business magnate and archaeologist-explorer who disappeared on a personal mission when she was a teen. Fiercely independent and hopeful, she refuses to believe that her father is dead even after seven years. 

Lara works as a bike courier and has been stubbornly reluctant to touch the family's riches. A mishap with the law reunites her with her father's business partner (Kristin Scott-Thomas). The conversation compels her to take steps in gaining control of her father's global business empire before everything would be sold, including the Croft Manor. The manor holds memories of her childhood and her dear father.

A scroll and a key lead Lara to a secret basement in the manor where her father keeps treasures of his work. Of particular importance are a journal and a map to Himiko's tomb in the lost island of Yamatai, off the coast of Japan. 

Himiko was the first queen of Japan, dubbed as the Death Queen. Legend has it that she ruled with dark magic and her terrifying reign was only halted when she was buried alive by her own general. Lord Croft took off to Yamatai to stop someone (Walton Goggins) from discovering the tomb. If found and opened, it would unleash a curse that would harm humanity.

Yearning to know what happened to her father, Lara follows the trails. She leaves London to Hong Kong and finds a boat captain (Daniel Wu) who helped her father earlier on his trek to Yamatai. With some persuasion, he agrees to take Lara to the island. Their boat capsizes on treacherous waters of the Devil's Sea. 

Mercenaries await when Lara washes ashore. They have been there for years, trying to mine the areas in hopes of finding the infamous tomb. Thanks to Lara's arrival, now they have a way to get there. While she is initially able to escape her captors, she runs into a familiar face. Eventually everyone ends up at the tomb's door. Inside they are greeted by puzzling pieces and elaborate booby traps. The most nail-biting moment comes when Himiko's casket is unsealed.

Previously known for her dramatic roles, it's clear Vikander trained hard to perform a lot of the stunts.  Lara Croft is believable not only in her intellect, but also the physicality and agility demanded by the role. She runs, leaps, climbs, swings, dangles, fights and shoot arrows video game-style with ease.  The extended sequence where Lara latches onto and rolls inside a crashed airplane frame perched perilously on top of a waterfall, before parachuting into a canopy of forests, is unbelievable. It would have been interesting to see more flashbacks of Lara's training that turned her into this ferocious adventurer.

Aside from the Indiana Jones-like adventures, the movie's heart relies on the father-daughter relationship. This humanizes Lara beyond a video game character. The movie takes itself very seriously and could turn a sense of fun up a notch. The story comes full circle in the end and it has sequel potentials.

“Tomb Raider” delivers as a fantasy adventure actioner. Sometimes an escapade is just what we need.

Video Game:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Academy Awards 2018

The 90th Academy Awards opened with a subdued black-and-white reel mimicking the Old Hollywood era, flashing to stars walking the red carpet and sitting in the auditorium, before transforming into full color.

Jimmy Kimmel returned to host the the 90th Academy Awards.  After the' Envelopegate' last year where “La La Land” was incorrectly announced as the Best Picture winner instead of “Moonlight,” Kimmel cautioned that if you're announced as the winner, it would be best to wait and give the presenters a minute (just to be sure you're indeed the winner).

This year is as a year of standouts with a number of first-time nominees, box office hits led by a woman and a minority (“Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther”), movements like MeToo, Time's Up, NeverAgain, Equal Pay and Dreamers.  Speeches called for for breaking down barriers and message about diversity, representation and inclusion.  There's also a tribute to those who serve our country.

Kimmel sneaked in a joke that it's been so bad these days we now have a woman fall in love with a fish (“The Shape of Water”).  He praised the Oscar statue for being a gentleman, “He keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word.  And most importantly, no penis at all.  He is literally a statue of limitations.”

It's not an award ceremony without political jabs.  "If the last two years have taught us anything it's that reality can be depressing, but tonight's documentaries show us where there is darkness there is hope, except at the White House, Hope quit on Wednesday,” Kimmel pointed out, referring to Hope Hicks' resignation.  The communication director has been with the Trump administration since the presidential campaign.  Vice President Mike Pence got a serving of zinger too, “We don't make films like 'Call Me By Your Name' (a gay coming-of-age story) for money; we make them to upset Mike Pence.”

For the musical component, Mary J. Blige soulfully sang “Mighty River” in front of a choir.  Gael Garcia, Miguel and Natalia LaFourcade performed “Remember Me” song from “Coco,” against a glowing neon stage and dancers in Mexican costume.  The audience stood when “Stand Up for Something” was belted out by rapper Common and singer Andra Day.  Keela Settle brought the audience to their feet with a rousing “This is Me.”

Being a milestone year, 90th, there's a montage of numerous film clips going back to 90 years, thanking viewers for going to the movies.

Kimmel and select stars surprised those at the TCL theater next door by bringing  in goodies, showing appreciation for moviegoers.  Attending a screening of “A Wrinkle in Time,” they waved and cheered.

And the Academy Award goes to...

Best Picture
Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Producers

Actress in a Leading Role
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Actor in a Leading Role
Darkest Hour

Guillermo del Toro

Music (Original Song)
from Coco; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Music (Original Score)
Alexandre Desplat

Roger A. Deakins

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Written by Jordan Peele

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Screenplay by James Ivory

Short Film (Live Action)
Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton

Documentary (Short Subject)
Frank Stiefel

Film Editing
Lee Smith

Visual Effects
John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover

Animated Feature Film
Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson

Short Film (Animated)
Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant

Actress in a Supporting Role
I, Tonya

Foreign Language Film

Production Design
Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

Sound Mixing
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo

Sound Editing
Richard King and Alex Gibson

Documentary (Feature)
Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan

Costume Design
Mark Bridges

Makeup and Hair Styling
Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick

Actor in a Supporting Role
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri