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Sunday, December 26, 2021

"Sing 2"

SO lavishly delightful and crazy funny!  The glitzy visuals, out-of-this world Vegas-like stage designs and productions, eye-popping colors, hanging-by-a-thread misadventures, situational humors, pop songs and musical numbers. There’s something to be said about believing in yourself, knowing your worth, going after your dreams and making things happen; now imagine these wrapped in an animated, mega musical riot.  A merry entertainment for the holidays; for the kids, the young at heart, the cynics, those who enjoy music or need an escape but can’t attend live shows…  You’ll sing along, tap your foot, hoot and holler, and laugh so hard!  Let it sing, let it sing, let it sing… 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

"Spider-Man: No Way Home"

Long before Marvel released its first ever superhero movie ("Iron Man") that helped launch the most successful superheroes franchise of all time (“The Avengers”), Tobey Maguire (“Pawn Sacrifice”) swung into theaters as Spider-Man.  Believe it or not, that was 20 years ago.  Maguire’s trilogy was beloved.  Then the reboot came only five years after with Andrea Garfield ("The Amazing Spider-Man," “The Social Network,” “99 Homes”).  Despite of criticisms and incomplete iteration of this version, I enjoyed the movies.  Maguire embodies Peter Parker more, but Garfield's a great Spider-Man.  

In “Captain America: Civil War,” I couldn't have imagined how Marvel could weave a brand new Peter and Spider-Man into its universe successfully, but they did with Tom Holland ("The Impossible"), seamlessly incorporating him as Tony Stark's protégé and the youngest Avenger.  “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was fresh and “Spider-Man: Far from Home” knocked it out of the cobweb.  As a matter of fact, I couldn't help but flashing back to the speedy ride of the uproariously action-packed 'Far from Home' during the slow start of 'No Way Home.'  It does get going though once the multiverse portal opens up and past villains start showing up.

It's no spoiler to say that Doctor Otto Octavius/Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn/ Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and Maxwell Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx, “Soul”) appear in the movie, as they're shown in the trailers.  While fans may be able to put the two and two together, this is one of those movies that's not easy to review without spoiling, as some characters are integrally embedded into the story.  

The storyline though is very straightforward.  The movie picks up exactly where 'Far from Home' ended, antagonist Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhaal; “Source Code,” Nightcrawler,” “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time”) revealing to the world not only the identity of Spider-Man, but also framing the web slinger of murdering him and launching the drone attack over London. 

As a result, Peter's life is turned upside down. His aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are also now targeted due to being associated with Peter.  Even as Peter become very famous though, at the end of the day, he's still a broke high school senior kid, now trying to get into the college of his dreams.  

Peter goes to see Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “Doctor Strange,” “The Imitation Game”) and ask him to cast a spell so that people would forget his identity as Spider- Man.  With Peter trying to self-select who should remember him, the spell-casting process goes wrong, creating a tear in reality and a gateway for dead villains from other universes appear in this universe.  The first action set piece on the freeway and bridge involving a hanging car is huge and hilarious.

Wouldn't the solution be simply returning these villains into their respective universe?  Well, yes, but the thing is they died there, in their fights against Maguire's Spider-Man or Garfield's.  While they may be the bad guys, they're also people and it's not in Spider-Man's nature to turn his back on humanity.  I wish this part would have been explored more for a richer story instead of oversimplifying with a quick fix, but at nearly 2.5 hours already, it wouldn't be possible.  With great power comes great responsibility truly hits home here, even as tragedy befalls and emotions flow.

The scenes that follow are high in nostalgia, leading to cheers and claps.  The end battle is filled with special effects, but it's nothing you could have imagined in other superhero movies.  The warmth, wisdom, humor, charm, camaraderie, poignancy and throwback are wrapped in iconic images and interactions.  Marvel has pulled off something incredibly special here.  

Human experiences and memories are priceless.  Heroes make choices all the time, even life or death, but this is different.  Peter realizes what it means to be a really good person and there's no way home from here.  Holland's trilogy concludes on a clean slate and his Spider-Man is either ending or moving forward on a path that is wide open.  

The mid-credit depicts a curious scene that makes you wonder whether the multiverse portal is completely closed and the end credit reveals that you don’t mess with magic without consequences.

Nostalgic and iconic, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a special tribute to fans... You'll never see another superhero movie like this one, truly one-of-a-kind.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-spider-man-no-way-home/



Sunday, November 7, 2021

"Eternals"


The most heavily promoted Marvel's Avengers-like movie has finally graced the theaters. Are the Eternals the next generation of Avengers?  Not quite.  Although the movie's trailers make it look like a close-knit family of immortal superheroes, the story goes totally sideways.

The Eternals were created 7,000 years ago by the Celestials, who oversee the universe. Ajak (Selma Hayek), the leader of the Eternals, can communicate directly with Arishem, Prime Celestial, the deity who created the first sun and brought light to the universe. 

Under Ajak's titulage are Ikaris (Richard Madden, “Cinderella”) and Sersi (Gemma Chan, "Captain Marvel," “Crazy Rich Asians”) - whose on and off romance spans for centuries, Thena (Angelina Jolie, “Maleficent,” "Salt," "Wanted"), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Sprite (Lia McHugh). Ikaris is the MCEU's Superman; he can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Sersi could transform objects into other matters.  Thena is the goddess of war and skilled in weaponry; she can conjure up a golden sword and spear from thin air and fight with balletic grace. Druig is mind-controller. Gilgamesh, with his hulking frame, is super strong. Kingo could form fire balls with his hands.  Makkari is the Flash here; she's a deaf super-speedster. Phastos is a technology inventor. Sprite is an illusionist and has the body of a perpetual teen.  Kudos to Marvel for pulling together the most diverse cast (races, genders, ages, orientations, impairments) onto the big screen!

The Eternals were sent by Arishem from Olympia to travel to Earth to watch over and protect humans from the monstrous Deviants. They're first seen in 5,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. They have lived through centuries of civilizations. While they have marveled by the wonders of this beautiful planet and human progress, frictions have emerged over time, as they have also witnessed wars, destructions and deaths. 

Per Arishem's order, these superpowered beings are strictly prohibited to interfere with human affairs in order for mankind to develop as they are meant to be. But after thousands of years have passed, some have begun to question their purpose and why they can't help, even though they have the otherworldly abilities to make the world a much better place. At the same time, aren't flaws what make humans truly humans? This central moral conflict, combined with one of the Eternals suffering from a memory overload, which is a mental condition, split the Eternals apart and they go on their separate ways.  After all, the Deviants were defeated and they're just waiting around for Arishem's order to return home to Olympia. 

The present day brings the story forward to London, where human-loving Sersi is now a museum curator and in a stable relationship with a human, Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington). She also lives with Sprite as her roommate. After a surprised attack by the Deviants, whom they thought had been exterminated long ago, Ikaris shows up to lend a hand. Not only these modern-day Deviants turn out to be stronger and seem to have self-healing ability, they are also targeting the Eternals this time around, not humans. This prompts Sersi, Sprite and Ikaris to band together and track down the other Eternals.

Unexpected would be a major understatement for what awaits the trio.  Ajak is in an unimaginable place.  Kingo is a flashy Bollywood star, running a century-long, one-man dynasty for eons.  He injects a lot of levity into his scenes, which is sorely needed.  Phastos has retired from inventing, has a husband and young son.  Gilgamesh and Thena isolate, with him taking more of big brother role of a protector and caretaker.  Druig has gone off the grid and lives in the Amazon jungles.  Makkari resides in what used to be the ancient Mesopotamian region.  Along the way, twisted secrets are revealed, which make them question their identities and life’s purpose further.  It's definitely not a straightforward story of noble alien superheroes serving as Earth's protectors.  

As someone who loves history, whether real history or historical fiction, I actually wished the backstories were much longer. I wanted them to stay in the past and explore their lives there first.  I wanted to know more about these characters, the family-type of relationships, the friendships and the romances.  However, this wouldn't be possible due to the length of the movie, already at a staggering 2 hours and 37 minutes.  It would have been neat to have another movie that lays out the foundation and tells the stories that led to this "Eternals" movie. 

The Avengers had the benefit of having solo movies prior, so you're invested in the main characters and their journeys. The Eternals does not have this advantage, and as a result, so many expositions are crammed into the movie and the scenes jump from one to another with super quick cuts. While the pictorial shots of real landscapes in natural light and historical places are sweepingly stunning, the scenes feel rushed because of how quick they are.  They’re gone in a flash before we could digest them.

The story goes far beyond a typical dysfunctional family. It touches on free will and destiny, blind faith and loyalty, duties and betrayals, convictions and morality, purpose and meaning about who they really are and what the right thing to do is. And it's not simply a familial conflict; it's a full-blown existential crisis, treacheries and tragedies to the point of no return. 

What's unexpected for me was how bleak the movie is. While superhero movies typically have twists, the twists in this movie are shockingly dark, which doesn't feel like a Marvel movie.  It makes the superheroes’ rivalry in "Captain America: Civil War" look like child's play.  

Director Chloe Zhao has crafted something different.  Unlike the universally praised “Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings,” it’s also understandably divisive.  The use of natural terrains is a nice touch.  The costume designs look celestial.  While the movie has the big special effects scenes that come with a superhero movie, it’s not a formulaic Marvel film.  While there are certainly typical action scenes, the movie digs deeper into the dynamic of multiple layers of relationships and dark human drama, even if they are not humans.  

The closing credits show how the Eternals are eternally and subtly weaved into human history through the artifacts.  The post-end credits show potentials of what the saga may continue.  

Saturday, October 2, 2021

"Domain"

As a sci-fi fan, I enjoy discovering little known sci-fi treasures on the streaming corners of the world.  “Domain” is such a find.  Nothing as trippy like “Predestination," but intriguing enough as far as mystery sci-fi thriller goes.  

The movie starts with an exposition; a deadly virus has wiped out most of humanity.  The air is toxic and 500,000 remaining survivors, selected via lottery, are leaving  in government-built underground bunkers, 30 feet underground.  

The bunkers have been built to last for 70 years, equipped with capabilities to recycle fresh air and water and waste, supplies of dried food, and sleep cycle to mimic natural light and nighttime.  Once the virus runs out its course and the air is safe again, the survivors will be notified and released.  

Within the 500,000 survivors, the people are grouped in seven-people network for virtual social interactions, connected through a computer network called Domain.  They can see one another via video and chat as a group or have private chats.  

The story focuses on one seven-people group, who call one another nicknames based on the physical locations of the bunkers they're in – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Phoenix.  Each of them occupies a single room in their bunker.   

After five years of being cooped up and isolated, two people have formed a virtual romantic relationship.  Their exchanges via the monitor screen are surprisingly believable as a couple, even though they have never met each other.  Another one specifically grates on the others' nerves, even admitting that he committed a crime before getting underground.  

After the group decides to cut off the obnoxious guy's feed, courtesy of a hacker in the group, things started to go awry.  They later discover that some of them start disappearing from their locked bunkers one by one, which is impossible, considering they're deep underground and no one could escape outside due to the hazardous air.  

Dread and panic set off a chain of events and the remaining survivors realize that things are not what they seem.  They're debating whether or not they should try to find their way out and wonder if it's even possible, as they don't know what's and who's out there.  

It's cleverly filmed that you start wondering about possible explanations.  Aliens?  Government experiment?  Supernatural powers?  When the reveal happens, there's an originality to it that puts a twist on what you thought might have happened.  While the ending ends up being anti-climatic, the penultimate still comes as a shock. 

This high concept, low budget movie manages to create a tense intrigue throughout by moving the story along through the guess-the-mystery, intensive dialogues and claustrophobic single-settings.  

Go stream it for free at tubitv.com!  

Monday, September 6, 2021

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"

Say what you want about Marvel, their formula works, whether origin stories or multiverse Avengers.  My hats are off to them for not only bringing lesser-known superheroes from comic obscurity, but also minority representations into mainstream America and making them a global phenomenon.  Standing on the muscular shoulders of “Black Panther” is “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”  

Relative unknown Simu Liu is Shaun, a valet parking attendant living in San Francisco, sharing a close friendship with his friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina, “Crazy Rich Asians”).  One day a mundane bus ride turns into a heart-pumping joyride when Shaun is inexplicably attacked by several assassins, not to mention by one assassin with a sword arm, wanting to have a jade pendant he's been wearing on his neck since he was a child.  

To say Katy is surprised to learn her best friend is a kung-fu master is a major understatement.  Awkwafina's comical reaction is priceless.  While Shaun is fighting, Katy steers the bus in a thrilling “Speed” style.  

It turns out that Shaun is Shang-Chi, the son of an ancient warrior, Wenwu (Tony Leung).  Possessing the magical Ten Rings makes Wenwu immortal.  From one lifetime to another, he conquers lands, amass powers and influence world events.  

Wenwu's continual quest for domination takes him on a trip to find Ta-Lo, a mystical village in a hidden world filled with mythical creatures and otherworldly powers.  He's stopped on his track by the guardian, Li (Fala Chen).  Fighting and falling in love, their graceful scenes in an enchanting forest are classic wuxia.  They eventually get married.    

The fights in 'Shang-Chi' are a blend of real wushu, used in hard-hitting hand-to-hand combats, most impressively seen in the aforementioned bus scenes and another alongside of skyscraper scaffoldings, with fantasy wuxia style, where the fights look a lot like balletic dances of superhuman powers, channeling life energy and controlling earth elements.  Growing up in Asia, I saw many movies and TV shows with both styles.  

The pendant-hunting assassins are not only searching for Shang-Chi, but they're also after his long-lost sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), and Shang-Chi travels across the globe to track her down.  Xialing is an outcast daughter of Wenwu, unceremoniously excluded from the family's martial arts training and emotionally abandoned after their mother's death.  Xialing is no wallflower, however.  A self-starter and determined beyond her means, she becomes a skilled fighter and more, truly on her own.  

Wenwu is convinced that Li is still alive, held captive by her own people in Ta-Lo. He tells his now grown children that he's heard his wife's voices, pleading with him to find and save her.  This sounds believable to Wenwu; after all, the villagers didn't approve of their marriage and taking up residence in Ta-Lo due to his past, leading the couple to give up their powers and leave everything behind to start anew outside as a family.  

Besieged by all-consuming obsession of grief and fury, Wenwu is determined to find the ultra-secret entrance to Ta-Lo, a maze of moving bamboo forest, to free his wife.  He would burn the entire village to the ground if he had to.  

Shang-Chi, Katy and Xialing have the upper hand in finding the passage to Ta Lo first, by way of a character that shouldn't be spoiled here.  If Themyscira is the paradise of “Wonder Woman,” Ta-Lo is that world in Shang-Chi.  Lush, vibrant and serene, the village has its own backstory, with the people embroiled in wars against soul-sucking, flying dark creatures.  

The villagers are trained and have special weapons, along with a protective water dragon, to fight these creatures should they escape from their prison.  Wenwu's arrival and his misguided search for his belated wife threatens not only the village's survival, but also the universe, should these creatures escape into the outside world.  

Immortal warlord Wenwu is a very sympathetic, complex villain, exceptionally acted by Leung with a wide range of spot-on human emotions.  He may be power-thirsty, but the abiding love he has for his wife is genuine, as well as his desire to leave his criminal past behind when he married her.  His relationships with his children are dramatically complicated, especially with his son.  Shang-Chi's transformation, from a laidback valet to warrior worthy of the Ten Rings feels organic.  The familial bonds are filled with pathos and the soul of the story.  

'Shang-Chi' may be a Marvel movie, but it feels fresh and different.  It introduces us to a whole other world, steeped in mythology and authenticity, and it's a superhero origin story unlike any other.  As always, stay tuned for the end-credits.  Familiar characters appear and something tells me the discovery signals something greater and that Wenwu's legacy may not be lost.  

Dragon-sized epic and deeply personal, 'Shang-Chi' is a sheer spectacle and heartfelt joy to watch.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-shang-chi-and-the-legend-of-ten-rings/


Sunday, August 22, 2021

"Reminiscence"












What if you could go back and relieve your fondest memories as if you're experiencing them all over again?  

In the near dystopian future, Miami is perpetually flooded with rising tides and heat due to climate change.  Skyscrapers are partially submerged, roads are waterways, and boats and water taxis are common transportation.  The muggy heat also turns the city nocturnal, where a lot of daytime activities are done at nighttime.  

Border wars and wealth inequity have created a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots, where the wealthy wall off themselves with a dam; the land barons push out coastal waters and keep the dry lands to themselves, leaving the rest of of the residents in sinking grounds and dampness.  It's an inventive setting that would have been interesting to delve into.  

The intriguing premise and setting are matched by the star powers of Hugh Jackman (“Wolverine” series, “X-Men” series), Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible” series) and Thandiwe Newton.  Jackman and Ferguson reunited from their last smash hit together, “The Greatest Showman.” 

Jackman (Nick Bannister) and Newton (Emily "Watts" Sanders) plan war veterans-turned-business partners and friends.  Nick operates a business where he uses a machine called Reminiscence and he guides his clients to travel back to certain memories of their choosing and relieve those memories.  Watts is his assistant, helps operates the machine and records the memories into memory cards.  

A client would get into a water tank, wear a virtual reality headset, and have the chosen memories played over, projected into a hologram.  The machine could also be used for investigations and putting together clues to aid in solving crimes, wading the business into private eye territory.    

One day a closing time, Mae (Ferguson), a nightclub singer, walked into Nick's office, wanting to find her missing keys.  Clad in an alluring air and a slinky red silk dress, Nick is instantly smitten from the moment he lays his eyes on her.  

Snippets of the love affair can be seen from the holograms, Nick's memories of their time in the few months they are together before Mae vanishes from his life, leaving him heartbroken and obsessed in finding her.  For all Nick's obsessions, the relationship is underdeveloped, as it speeds through montages.  

Not surprisingly, Mae is not the woman Nick thought she was.  The femme fatale's shady past takes Nick on a train trip on a lone rail line above the water-logged landscape to New Orleans, encounters with a drug lord and gangster, crooked cop, and crime conspiracy of a land baron and his heir.  

Foreseeing the consequences, Watts begs Nick to not go down this road, but Nick is far down the rabbit hole to let this go.  There are multiple shootouts and drag-down fights, including one with a grand piano underwater.  

The story grows out of bounds and you may get lost at some point, but things that seem far-fetched end up interconnected in the larger picture.  From the protagonist's perspective, the ending is bittersweet.  There's a fragment of this that reminds me of “Inception."  

Director Lisa Joy crafts an original, neo-noir story with a cool cinematography, weaving in elements of sci-fi, mystery, thriller, crime drama and romance.  While “Reminiscence” is far from a mind-blowing trip, the concept, central mystery and cinematography are still worth a trip. 

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-reminiscence/

Saturday, August 7, 2021

"Jungle Cruise"

Summer is synonymous with blockbuster and the yearlong delayed “Jungle Cruise” has all the marks of a tentpole pre-COVID.  Disney also needs another non-superhero franchise hit and “Jungle Cruise” may just fit the bill.  

While much of the movie focuses on the river cruise and jungle adventures, the opening scenes in London where Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt, “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) gets her hand on the arrowhead found from an expedition, hiding-and-seeking and balancing herself on a ladder before making an auspicious escape, is entertaining.  It gives a glimpse of the intrepid botanist's character and adventure to come.  

The arrowhead is the key to find the mystical Tears of the Moon.  Legend has it that the petals found in the Amazon jungle has magical healing powers that can cure all kinds of ailments.  With the treasure map and arrowhead on hand, Lily heads down to the Amazon, accompanied by her prim and proper brother, McGregor (Jack Whiteall).  Unlike her headstrong and adventurous sister, McGregor's prissiness adds a refreshing touch to the gender dynamic.  

In the golden-toned Amazon, Lily and McGregor are met by skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson, “Faster.”  He takes rich people on rickety-rackety river tours on his rickety boat and hustles for cash.  While it's predictable how the initial clash between the Lily and Frank is turning into a trusting friendship and burgeoning romance, the stars have great chemistry and it makes the ride more enjoyable.  

“Jungle Cruise” is right up Johnson's alley, but Blunt is surprisingly on point as an explorer and adventurer.  Nimble on her feet, she easily climbs up ladders, traipses on rooftops and tree branches, ziplines through power lines, and stands on her own while facing off nefarious opponents.  

Danger lurks at every turn; raging rapids, living jungle, menacing animals, supernatural beings, mysterious tribe, caricature-like, determined villain (Jesse Plemons) and his army hot on the trio's trail.  The movie goes off on a wild tangent at one point with an entire other history and storyline, making it overstuffed, yet, it still remains a blast.  There's a particular twist that you wouldn't see coming.  And the ending may just launch a sequel.  

With fantasy action adventure elements of “Indiana Jones,” “The Mummy,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure,"  there's a lot to like.  The movie is in constant motion, like a giant roller coaster ride of Jungle Cruise, Grizzly River Run and WaterWorld show rolled into one.  “Jungle Cruise” is an entertaining escapist for the whole family.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-jungle-cruise/

Saturday, July 31, 2021

"Old"

Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan is back.  

The controversial filmmaker who thrives on sinister twists returns with a high concept mystery, rapidly aging people at a beach vacation.  One year older in a half hour; 48 years in a day!  Imagine starting off the day as a child and turning middle-aged the next day, speeding through life and being robbed of the intellectual, emotional and mental development of a human being, and a lifetime of milestone life events.

Parents Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) take their children, six-year old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) to a beach resort vacation as an attempt to give them one last family memory before they get divorced.  

At the resort, they are approached by the resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten), telling them about a secret private beach for special guests.  They're interested and taken to the dropoff point in the jungle by an affable van driver, none other than Shyamalan himself.  And not just a van driver, he’s, making a major cameo here.

The family is joined by two other families, a nurse, Jarin (Ken Leung) and his psychologist wife, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird); and a doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell) with his youth-obsessed wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their six-year old daughter, Kara, (Kylie Bailey), and her grandmother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant).  No sooner they arrive at the beach, a mysterious man, rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) shows up and a deceased body of a woman washes up ashore.  The body decomposes at an alarming rate, resulting in bone remains.

Puzzlement, prejudice, paranoia and panic set in, especially when people find out that there is no cell phone connection and no way to leave the beach.  Each time they try, they get massive head pressures, blacking out and winding up back on the sand.  Swimming to the other side or climbing up the rocks does not work either.  

They soon realize the connecting thread among them is that they have various kinds of illnesses in some of the family members, but they don't know why they are trapped there.  The tropical paradise, with lush jungle, rocky walls and clear waters, become a secluded nightmare they can't wake up from.  

The terror ratches up when the three kids grow up to be teenagers and young adults (Luca Faustino Rodriguez, Alex Wolff; Thomasin McKenzie; Mikaya Fisher, Eliza Scanlen) before everyone's eyes.  Their tremendous growth spurts are clearly more noticeable than the aging of the adults and the scenes that follow lead to a disturbing consequence.  

People are shocked, terrified, divided, pointing fingers and fighting off one another, like in the survival of the fittest test.  It's easy to root for the remaining survivors to realize what's really important in life and find a way to escape back into the world.

The movie is more of a thriller than horror, mixed with hilarity, due to clunky dialogue, body horror, and the way it’s filmed.  The off-kilter shooting of the scenes, such as overhead, closeup of partial body parts, sights unseen, blurry images before coming into focus, create an unsettling ambiance of disorientation and dread.  One particular scene in the cave is creatively gruesome, although there's an unintentional comedy aspect to it.

While not every stone is turned, the mystery of why certain people end up in that beach is uncovered and it has a surprisingly logical explanation within the confines of the storyline.  

If you're into intriguing premises and willing to suspend disbelief, you may dig “Old.”  At the very least, the movie will linger in your mind, and you can rest assured you'll walk out of the theater the same age as you walked in.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-old/

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Comic-Con @ Home 2021


Comic-Con @ Home (virtual) this year is FREE (no badges required).  Full programming starts on July 23, 2021, but there are panels starting on July 21.  

Check out the schedules here and how to access:

https://www.comic-con.org/cci/programming-schedule

Sunday, July 11, 2021

"Black Widow"

Daughter.  Sister.  Avenger.  

At long last, the movie that has been postponed for more than a year due to the pandemic and overdue solo for the character of Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “The Avengers” series, “Captain America: Civil War,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier,“ “Iron Man 2,” “Hail, Caesar!,” "Her") arrives at the theaters.  Is it still relevant?  Heck, yeah.  

The movie is both an origin and mid-prequel story, taking back to Natasha's childhood in America and the period of time between “Captain America: Civil War” and '”Avengers: Infinity War.”  Along with her younger sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), she's raised by her Russian parents, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz, “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Runaway Jury”), in a suburban Midwest  neighborhood.  Their seemingly idyllic life came to an abrupt halt when one night they had to flee the authorities and make a daring, harrowing escape back to their home country, Russia.

Fast forward to over two decades later, as one of the Avengers that supports Team Cap, Natasha is on the run for refusing to submit to the Sokovia Accords, an international law that requires superheroes to be registered and monitored.  

While in a hideout, Natasha discovers a message and mysterious vials sent to her by her long lost sister, Yelena.  She's suddenly attacked by a robotic assassin, who is after the vials, and narrowly escapes.  Those red liquid are antidotes that would deprogram trained assassins, mind-controlled by General Dreykov (Ray Winstone, "Snow White and the Huntsman") a control center called the Red Room.  These young women were trafficked as children, trained in martial arts and weaponry, and embedded in positions all over the world to do his bidding.  

Reunited with her sister, Natasha hears that Dreykov, whom she thought was dead, is still alive and in business.  The assassin-turned-heroine couldn't help but join in the mission to track down Dreykov, find and destroy the Red Room.  In order to do this, they needed the help of their super soldier father, Alexei.  From there they find their spy mother, Melina, who has surprises of her own.  When the family reunites at the dinner table, it's a mixed of painful past and quirky humor.  It's clear that it's not even a typical dysfunctional family.  

While  the plot may be slim, but the emotional core is there and action nearly non-stop, in close quarters and massive set pieces.  From sliding down rooftops and swinging into windows to brutal fights, high speed chases, prison break, avalanche escape and free falls.  There's also a twist that reminisces  “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” 

The movie not only showcases Natasha's reformed spirit and heroic action, but also an excellent introduction to Yelena, who may be carrying the Black Widow mantle following Natasha's fate in “Avengers: Endgame.”  Less polished than her older sister, Yelena certainly has her own charms.  She pokes fun at Natasha's fighting poses and ribs her about her Avengers family.  Pugh looks like she belongs in the Marvel Universe and if the post-credit scene is any indication, her story may not end here.  

The movie has Mission Impossible's escapes and Bourne's hand-to-hand combat wrapped in a Bond's sleek style.  The parting shot made me feel a bit nostalgic; I will miss Johansson's Black Widow in the Marvel Universe.  While the movie should have been released several years ago, it's better late than never.  The character finally has a backstory and a closure, and a potential for her legacy to continue on.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-black-widow/

Friday, July 2, 2021

Movie Releases: July-August 2021

Catching up regular schedules of movies...

March 2021 - "Raya and the Last Dragon"

April 2021 - "Finding You"

May 2021 - "Cruella"

June 2021 - "F9"

***

July 2021:

    "Black Widow" - Natasha Romanoff confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous  conspiracy with ties to her past arises.

    "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" - Six people unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors, they soon discover they've all played the game before.

    "Old" - A vacationing family discovers that the secluded beach where they're relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day.

    "Jungle Cruise" - Based on Disneyland's theme park ride where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles but with a supernatural element.

***

August 2021:

    August 6: "The Suicide Squad" - Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.

    August 13: "Free Guy" - A bank teller discovers that he's actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game.

    August 20: "Reminiscence"A scientist discovers a way to relive your past and uses the technology to search for his long lost love.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

"Cruella"

Like “Maleficent,” Disney has done wonders in refashioning the origin story of Cruela de Vil, one of its most heinous villains with “Cruella.”  Born as Estella (Emma Stone, “La La Land, ” “The Amazing Spider-Man”), Cruella is more of an anti-hero than a villain here.  

As a kid (Tipper Seiferd-Cleveland) with a dual-toned jet black and platinum hair, Estella was viewed as a freak and she got into fights in school.  Her sweet-natured mother (Emily Beecham), a single parent, tried to tone down her rebelliousness to keep her out of trouble.  

When Estella was expelled from school, she's looking for help for her daughter when she met a tragic end, leaving Estella orphaned and heartbroken with guilt.  On the run, Estella ran into two other homeless kids, Horace (Joseph Macdonald, Paul Walter-Hausher) and Jasper (Ziggy Gardner, Joel Fry), and they quickly banded together.

The trio grows up together on the streets of London, from pocket-picking to more brazen thievery to survive, utilizing Estella's fashion talent to create disguises, accompanied by their dogs which are trained to steal.  The scenes are hysterical; one of them leads to Estella snagging a menial job at a legendary department store, House of Liberty.  

An unintended incident shows off Estella's innate talent as an aspiring fashion designer, which leads to Estella being discovered by a merciless fashion maven, Baroness von Hellman, (Emma Thompson).  The Baroness hires Estella to work for her.  

Not only Thompson wears her Devil Wears Prada's narcissistic elitism and tyrannical chilliness down to pat, she dials it up to an unfathomable level.  But Estella continues to catch her attention.  Having a keen eye for design and natural creative flair, Estella becomes a rising star and the Baroness' go-to assistant. 

One day during a meeting, Estella sees something connected to her childhood that shocks her to her core, propelling her to plot a series of events against the Baroness.  It's devilishly entertaining to see an enemy on the inside in action.  A failed Mission Impossible's type of heist opens Estella's eyes further and makes her realize the extent of the Baroness'  savagery.  Her cruelty knows no bounds. 

If a human could grow a devil's horns out of her head, Estella would have as she stares down pure evil.  Brilliant, bad and a little bit mad, Stone is emotionally raw and icily determined, as fabulous in her performance as draped in luxurious fabric.

Estella goes by the name of Cruella, the nickname bestowed to her in childhood.  She shows up at the Baroness' galas, stylishly upstaging her at every turn, whether in a lavish clifftop mansion or on the street with the masses.  

Cruella rambunctiously rocks the scenes in glamorous gowns and vivid colors, bringing in glowing lights and live music.  The elaborate stunts are lapped up by the press and fans, and tank the Baroness' popularity and haute couture sales.  The vicious rivalry cycle, while vivacious, overflows and could use a little scissor's cut. 

Cruella's over-the-top stratagems finally catch up to her, but not all is lost.  Fate twists again and turns around in unexpected ways.  Precisely prepared and setting her mark on the Baroness, the final act goes down in a dramatic Kingman's action and is unmistakably satisfying.  Amidst the superficiality of decadent fashion and high society, the story has layers of twists and characters sharply play off each other.  

Fashionably extravagant, twistedly tragic and deliriously hilarious, “Cruella” is wickedly entertaining.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-cruella/