Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Upcoming Movies: May 2018

May 4
"Overboard" - A spoiled, wealthy yacht owner is thrown overboard and becomes the target of revenge from his mistreated employee.

"Bad Samaritan" - A pair of burglars stumble upon a woman being held captive in a home they intended to rob.

May 11
"Life of the Party" - After her husband abruptly asks for a divorce, a middle-aged mother returns to college to complete her degree.

"Dark Crimes" - A murder investigation of a slain business man turns to clues found in an author's book about an eerily similar crime.

May 18
"Deadpool 2" ( - After surviving a near fatal attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming the hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste. Searching to regain his spice for life, he must battle ninjas, yakuza, and aggressive canines, as he journeys around the world to discover the importance of family, friendship, and flavor.

"On Chesil Beach" - In 1962 England, a young couple find their idyllic romance colliding with issues of sexual freedom and societal pressure.

May 25
"Solo" ( - During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" - An alien touring the galaxy breaks away from her group and meets two young inhabitants of the most dangerous place in the universe: a suburb of London.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Free Comic Book Day: May 5, 2018

Save the date - Free Comic Book Day, May 5, 2018

Check out retailers offering free comics near you:

Thursday, April 5, 2018

2018 Movies Mashup

A quarter of the year is gone, but there are still plenty of movies to enjoy.  Check out this mashup: (3:32 minutes)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Upcoming Movies: April 2018

April 6
"Chappaquiddick" ( - Depicting Ted Kennedy's involvement in the fatal 1969 car accident that claims the life of a young campaign strategist.

"Spinning Man" - A happily married professor, known for having many affairs with students, becomes the prime suspect when a young woman has gone missing.

April 13
"Overboard" - A spoiled, wealthy yacht owner is thrown overboard and becomes the target of revenge from his mistreated employee.

"Beirut" ( - A U.S. diplomat flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by a CIA operative to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

April 20
"Rampage" - A primatologist shares an unshakable bond with an extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. A rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster.

"Super Troopers" - When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

April 27
"Avengers: Infinity War" ( - The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

"Traffik" - A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a bike gang. Alone in the mountains, they must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Black Panther"

[From 2/13/18 press screening]

Black Panther made an intriguing debut in "Captain America: Civil War."  Its standalone story has real bites.

T'Challa (Chadman Bosewick) returns to his home country following the assassination of his father T'Chaka, King of Wakanda, during the attack at the United Nations in 'Civil War.'  Accompanied by the head of the all-female royal forces, fierce General Okoye (Danai Gurira) and reunited with his on-and-off love, spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'O), he returns to ascend the throne.

To the outside world, camouflaged from the air, Wakanda is an impoverished, third-world country.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  Blessed with a vast natural resource, vibranium (the same mineral that makes up Captain America's shield), Wakanda harvests its spectacular power and thrives on supremely sophisticated technology, infrastructure, weaponry, science and medicine.

Wakanda is a unique society and locale with retro-futuristic style, steeped in mysticism and modernity.  Invisible spaceships, magnetic levitation trains, soaring skyscrapers and force-field shields blend in with long spears, bustling old streets, thatch huts, steep rocky walls and waterfalls.   The contrasting details in the designs, colors and textures are incredible.

As advanced as the society is, it's a kingdom that adheres to rigid code and honor, as shown in the regal ritual combat, where T'Challa is stripped off his Black Panther power and face his challengers.  Black Panther gains his power; strength, speed and instinct from drinking an elixir crushed from a heart-shaped herb. 

When word goes around there's black market transaction on vibranium in an underground casino in Busan, South Korea, T'Challa, Okoye and Nakia infiltrate with the intention to capture the seller, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).

What follows are hyperkinetic action sequences involving a remotely piloted car and high-velocity chase with agile T'Challa hanging on to a sharply tilted moving car, and Okoye wielding a gold spear in a billowing red gown, fighting and landing safely on the street after the Nakia-driven speeding car breaks apart.   The remotely piloted car, Black Panther's stealthy and bulletproof bodysuit, among other high-tech gadgets, are courtesy of Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's 'James Bond Q' sister.  She steals the scenes with her braininess and playful nature.

The stolen vibranium doesn't end with Ulysses.  He's connected to a bigger fish, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).  Like Thor's Loki, Killmonger is more like an anti-hero than a villain, which makes him very impactful.  The best antagonist is a human one, one that believes he's doing what's right, one that we can relate to and understand his motivation on some level.  When Killmonger's true identity and intentions are revealed, it presents a difficult dilemma for the Wakandans and divides the nation.

Beyond visual majesty, “Black Panther” is layered with rich history and culture and fluid relationships.  We want to know more about these people and how their relationships came to be.

The movie has a compelling storyline of contrastive ideologies. Beneath T'Challa's regal and dignified portrayal, he's understandably conflicted.  Torn between the duty to his nation as king and representation in the global community.  What has always been done to protect the prosperous country and preserve its national security and tradition may not be right for its future.  With so many things happening in the world at large, Wakanda is on the verge of deciding its identity, between enforcing barriers or building a bridge to the world.  It's a superhero movie with a political message that resonates.

The post-credit shows a reappearance of a familiar face from MCEU.  No doubt this person will play a role in  the upcoming "Avengers: Infinity War," premiering on May 4, 2018.

10 years into the the ever-expanding and connected universe, Marvel has outdone itself.  “Black Panther” roars and reinvigorates; one of the best, most important superhero movies of all time.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Maze Runner: The Death Cure"

The “Maze Runner” finally returns with the last installment, 'The Death Cure,' after a year of delayed production due to its leading actor's (Dylan O'Brien) onset injury.

Things have changed in the last couple of years.  The gold standard of YA dystopian adaptation, “The Hunger Games” series ended on a high note.  On the other end of the spectrum, the “Divergent” series faded away, literally; the last installment didn't even make it into the big screen.  The other YA movies, “Ender's Game” and “The Giver” are one-movie deal.  The “Maze Runner” trilogy fits between “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.”  It might not have reached the sizable mainstream audience earned by “The Hunger Games,” but it has its  fans.

With the mystery now blown open and horror factor introduced earlier, the movie is able to maintain suspense by sticking to its vast set pieces and wall-to-wall action, high-speed style.  Hooks and cables aid flying planes lifting a speeding train car and dangling bus filled with terrified kids.  Teens hide and run for their lives amidst urban warfare, pursued by armed soldiers with the undead lurking.

Underneath all the action, relationships are tested, friendships endure, loyalty leaves no one behind, survival is front and center, lives are lost, and the greater good is a maze of gray areas.  'The Death Cure' questions humanity and sacrifice.

Most of the world have been destroyed by a solar flare and population infected by a virus that turns humans into zombies.  It would be easy to dismiss a corporation that experiments on innocent humans without their consent as evil, especially when viewed from the hunted and imprisoned humans.

What if the ultimate goal is to develop a cure that would eradicate the virus, even if it means harvesting from and torturing immune children and teens?  What about building a wall to keep those who could be potentially infected, away from the last remaining city?  If the cure becomes available and in limited supply, who decides the recipients?  Could the poor get the cure?  Are you willing to compromise your humanity?  How many lives would be cut short first?  How far are you willing to sacrifice?

'The Death Cure' doesn't wrap up with an easy resolution, somber with an uncertain hope.  But the thrills and scares, along with deeper thematic elements, make it worth watching through the end.


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.

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.

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: