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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Comic-Con 2022

For a blast from the past, check out past recaps here.

All I can say was it's about time... long overdue actually.  I can't tell you how surreal it was to be back at Comic-Con in person after three years.  

I didn't even care about the lack of movies and TV programming or that the COVID-19 vaccination or negative test verification process was messy.  Mask was enforced inside the convention.  2022 being my 17th year at Comic-Con, I felt like I had experienced it all, with all the highs and privileges, and I’m so incredibly grateful for those extraordinary experiences.  I was simply there this time to truly soak in the immersive ambiance and cherish the experience even more.  I was on a relaxed pace, arriving in the afternoons every day and nothing was a 'must' for me at this point.  Outside of press access for activations, unlike in years past, I didn’t attend any press event. 

I attended the “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (movie), “BRZRKR” (comic book), “National Treasure: Edge of History” (TV show) and “The Resort” (TV pilot) panels.  Surprisingly, two-third of my time was actually spent outdoor, doing people-watching, picture-taking and activations – specifically, “House of the Dragon” (TV show), “The Gray Man” (movie), “Severance” (TV show) and “Ghosts” (TV show).  

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Movies 

Stars present for "Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" panel are Chris Pine, Rege Jean-Page, Michelle Rodriguez, Sophia Lillis and Hugh Grant.  Attendees saw some footage and trailer and had Q&A with the cast, producer and directors.  Nothing dark and grim here; a relic heist, the movie carries a cheeky tone and is more of an adventure comedy.  The video game adaptation is about a band of thieves and misfits, stealing the wrong thing for the wrong person, banding together, traveling across varied landscapes dotted with dragons, monsters and beasts, fighting in a gladiator-like arena, encountering and chatting with the undeads along the way.  

The cast bonded while filming in isolation during the pandemic.  Pine would like to bring the energy and excitement into the world.  Jean-Page likes the no-limit escapist fantasy.  Rodriguez gained 10 pounds of muscle for the role.  Grant joked that he used to be a 'Dungeon Master.'  The trailer is out and the Paramount Studios movie will unleash into theaters on March 3, 2023.  To cap the Comic-Con experience, the studio also put forth the Tavern Experience downtown where fans could come inside the movie-themed bar/nightclub, which is plastered with posters and props, and getting interactive experience and glowing cocktail drinks.

I stopped by the "BRZRKR" panel where Keanu Reeves was the star of the comic book series panel.  Reeves talked about a simple idea, a guy who could punch through chests, which brought BRZRKR to life.  But it’s not just brawl, there’s also heart in the immortal character.  The comic book is being adapted into a live action movie and Netflix series.  

Biggest news coming out movies are probably Marvel's phase 5 and 6, ending with another Avengers team up, "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty" and "Avengers: Secret Wars" slated for May 2, 2025 and November 7, 2025.  An emotional trailer of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" also broke the internet last week.  And Dwayne Johnson made an electrifying entrance by showing up in "Black Adams" (October 21, 2022) costume.  Having seen The Rock rocking the entrance for "Hercules" years ago, he has that down to pat.  

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TVs

With no TV pilot showing on preview night, I was glad to catch “The Resort” screening and the panel that followed.  Stars Cristin Miloti, William Jackson Harper, Nina Bloomgarden, Luis Gerardo-Mendez, Gabriela Cartol were in attendance.  “The Resort” is a mutigenerational story taking place on a topical vacation getaway, with elements of mystery, romance, adventure and comedy.  An interracial couple arrives in Mexico for their 10th year wedding anniversary.  While they’re there to celebrate, it’s clear that their relationships have issues.  

Soon the couple is trailing clues on a mystery of missing tourists that disappeared 15 years ago.  Flashbacks showed a young man vacationing at an oceanfront resort there with his girlfriend and his parents.  He stumbled upon proof that his girlfriend was cheating on him. He was later found missing and dead, the day before a once-in-a-century hurricane swept through the area and destroyed the resort.  A girl, another tourist, also disappeared around the same time.  The show, described as a magic trip, has an intriguing factor to it and left me wanting to see more.  The show started streaming on Peacock TV on July 28, 2022.  

Disney+ “National Treasure: Edge of History” brought a panel for a quick preview and behind-the-scene, but mostly it was a banter session among the young cast (Lisette Olivera, Jake Austin Walker, Jordan Rodrigues, Zuri Reed, Antonio Cipriano, Lyndon Smith).  Nicholas Cage will not be reprising his role, but the show will add Catherine Zeta-Jones into the mix, playing a black market antique dealer.  The show follows an adventure of a DREAMer, on a study break from her citizenship test goes on a trip with her friends to uncover mystery surrounding her family history.  History and artifacts, treasure hunting and heist, and action mixed with romance promise a good time.  

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Activations

The hottest activation this year was “House of the Dragon.”  First, I visited the market stalls outside of the makeshift castle and interacted with the warriors before entering the castle.  The ambiance inside was a bit creepy, with mysterious sounds and glowing amber lights.  Along with a group of visitors, we walked through darkened rooms and halls and saw a massive dragon skull in the lair.  We went through the hatching of the dragon eggs ceremony, and everyone ended up in a spiky throne room for a photo op at the throne and exiting with a dragon egg stone pin.  “House of the Dragon,” the prequel of “Game of Thrones” will hatch on HBO Max on August 21, 2022.  

Netflix’s “The Gray Man” staged an action setup with a train crashing into a building.  Although the action was not nearly elaborate as Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan” activation and super quick, it was still pretty cool.  The premise is to test skills, strength and speed of spy recruits.  As a recruit, I went inside the crashed train, with blaring sound and smoke, pushing button, rope and lever to escape from the train. Afterwards, I went up the stairs and then sprinted across a metal bridge to get to a briefcase.  Once I saw the briefcase, I punched in a code to open it and placed the golden bronze coin pendant necklace I was given earlier on the circle inside the briefcase.  The circle lit up and I accomplished my mission.  The sprint was captured on video and a clip was e-mailed to each recruit.  “The Gray Man” is now streaming on Netflix, released on July 22, 2022.  

Apple TV+ brought in “Severance” and took me in with a group of ‘new hires’ through orientation.  We were each given a new name to sever our identity and have a new one for work.  We walked through a living room set with paintings and artifacts, the smile room where we saw pictures of numerous toothy smiles on the walls, the computer room where several visitors were chided for entering without permission, the wellness room where a new hire was sat down for a talk therapy, and an office with workstations.  It ended with all of us breaking into dancing and taking a group photo.  I heard another group went to the break room where a new hire was admonished for breaking protocol.  We received a bunch of souvenirs to take home; a tote bag, orientation book, badge, finger trap, pen and pin, as well a card with an access code for three months free of Apple TV+.  

CBS’ “Ghosts” took up a large chunk of Petco Park, with areas for archery, lounging and readings of crystal, palm and tarot for visitors.  I partook in the tarot reading and it was pretty interesting.  The reader shuffled the deck of cards and each guest picked a card and provided a quick reading based on the card.  I would have been interested in doing the palm and crystal reading had I not been rushing.  After shooting an arrow, I went to the photo op section where I sat down on a sofa with a bent arrow on my neck (with the arrow on one side of my neck and the other tip goes out on the other side).  The digitized result shows I was surrounded by “Ghosts” characters.  After each activity, I was provided with a “Ghosts” embroidered badge.  

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Among notable photo ops outside are Peacock’s and NBC’s hub by the Gaslamp Quarter, where people could take pictures under the “Quantum Leap” circles arch, sit on the "Vampire Academy" chair donning a robe, pose with a flipped umbrella to withstand the storm on the wall for the natural disaster “The End is Nye” show or relax against the backdrop of “The Resort” wall and greenery.   There’s also a nice seating area in front of “La Brea” clips playing on a big TV.  Marvel also came out with a photo op set in front of Doctor’s Strange’s sanctum sanctorum, complete with a wizard robe.  Those who did the photo op also received a card with a code for a free digital copy of the “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” movie.  

The movies and TV shows, comics and exhibits, panels and activations, and star-sightings are always amazing, but the entire experience makes up Comic-Con.  Seeing the wrapped buildings and trolleys, the mile-long lines under the hot sun, the sheer insanity of die-hard fans camping out overnight, the jam-packed trolleys and streets, the cheering star-struck crowds... Comic-Con was truly BACK in full force. These days, a sense of normalcy (the craziness is part of the experience and 'normal' by Comic-Con standards) is good for the soul.  It's awesome to see people out and about, happy and celebrating life!    

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

"Jurassic World Dominion"

Dinosaur-centric island theme park in “Jurassic World” brought back the sense of awe and wonder, although nothing would ever capture the magical feeling of seeing the first dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” three decades ago.  

In “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” humans face moral consequences of whether we are now responsible for the continuation of the lives of these previously extinct creatures since we brought them back to life.  “Jurassic World: Dominion” is the fallout of this evolution.  

Have you ever wondered if dinosaurs live among us?  Not just on an isolated island, but in modern civilization.  This what makes 'Dominion' different from all the other installments.  It's a sight that you thought you'd never see.  All types of these prehistoric creatures are seen on skyscrapers, snowy plains, rocky canyons, open meadows, wooded forests, icy lakes and deep seas.  To manage containment, the government grants a worldwide contract to a biotech company, Biosyn Genetics.  Headed by a quirky head, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), Biosyn predictably turns out to be an evil outfit.  

‘Dominion' has two separate storylines, running concurrently.  The first one involves dinosaur  trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, “The Avengers” series), former Jurassic World's business manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon).  The second one reunites the main characters from the original “Jurassic Park,” world-renowned scientists Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).  

Maisie now lives with Owen and Claire in a forest cabin, as their adopted daughter.  As revealed in 'Fallen Kingdom,' Maisie, a human clone, is special due to her scientifically engineered DNA, which makes her very much sought after to be studied.  Now a teenager, Maisie longs for freedom, which the isolated life couldn’t offer her.  When Maisie is inevitably kidnapped, Owen and Claire have to get her back.  In addition to Maisie, Blue, the velociraptor with a special connection to Owen, now has a baby, and the baby dinosaur is also captured.  

The rescue attempts take Owen and Claire on adventures around the globe, with the goal of getting into Biosyn island, the research facility where Maisie and Blue's baby are held.  The  underground black market, city street running and rooftop jumping make ‘Dominion’ more like  action movies, like the “Mission Impossible” kind, only with dinosaurs thrown in the mix. 

Standout scenes include killer raptors, programmed to kill, relentlessly pursuing our heroes, and a wild motorcycle chase leaping into the back of an open door of a cargo plane taxiing for takeoff.  The plane is piloted by good Samaritan, former Air Force pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise).  

Entering into Biosyn island's airspace and landing is far from a smooth ride, due to a concentration on dinosaurs roaming around, on land and in the air.  With monstrous creatures merely inches away, survival is often utterly sheer luck.  Even knowing the main characters would ultimately survive, they still do make hold-your-breath, jump-out-of your seat scenes.  

Alan, Ella and Ian end up on the Biosyn island on a different mission.  It has something to do with Biosyn's efforts in creating and disseminating mutant locusts to wipe out the world's food ecosystem.  It may be fan service, but it's good to see the old-timers back together.  They are likeable, and their interactions are heartwarming and bring humor into the movie.  

There are moments where you might question the actions of certain characters but this is one of those movies where it's more enjoyable when you don't poke into holes.  The last third of the movie resembles the traditional 'Jurassic' series, where all hell breaks loose and humans are once again trapped in an island, trying to survive and escape from voracious dinosaurs.  

'Dominion' introduces cool-looking new species with gnarly teeth, long sharp claws, regal feathers and majestic wings, with roaring predators ferociously fighting for supremacy.  Most memorable are clawed therizinosaurus, feathered pyroraptor and gigantic giganotosaurus.  

The separate storylines make 'Dominion' less cohesive, and the main attraction of the movie, dinosaurs are on the backburner sometimes.  It's also hard to believe how humans could co-exist or cities could be safe from destruction with these mostly fearsome creatures running around.  Some are clearly very dangerous, dominate and do not discriminate on what they attack, tear or eat into.

'Dominion' doesn't necessarily offer a solution in the unprecedented present day, which is arguably least satisfying, and it ends more on a philosophical note.  Still, there's plenty of fun to be had, particularly for fans of dinosaurs. 

Serving up familiar terrors and new thrills on a nostalgic platter, “Jurassic World Dominion” is a quintessential summer blockbuster.  

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-jurassic-world-dominion/

Saturday, May 28, 2022

"Top Gun: Maverick"

A global pandemic and nearly three years since I saw Tom Cruise on stage at Comic-Con in 2019, and 36 years since the original “Top Gun,” Cruise's (“Mission Impossible” series, "Edge of Tomorrow," "Jack Reacher") return to the danger zone will take your breath away.  The last movie star of his kind, Cruise remains in cruise control of epic moviemaking.  Returning to work with director Joseph Kosinski (“Oblivion,” "Tron: Legacy"), and high on youthful charisma, endless energy and extraordinary dedication to his craft, “Top Gun: Maverick” is truly a Cruise movie and Maverick's journey.

More than three decades of service in the Navy, Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell has been stuck in a Captain mode, where he should have reached the rank of Admiral.  Despite of a long and distinguished career, it seems that Maverick has been escaping promotions by wanting to stay in the skies, where the prime actions are, and his boundary-busting behavior continues to stymie and dismay his superiors.  Now an avant-garde test pilot, the opening scene of him flying an experimental flight must be seen to be believed.  Another is a single most heartstopping solo sequence mid-movie; you'll know when you see it.  

At the request of Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky (Val Kilmer), Maverick is sent back to the flight school in San Diego, the same school he was trained in, to teach the next generation of fighter pilots.  They are preparing for a deadly mission into a mountainous terrain in enemy territory no living pilot has ever attempted.  It would not only require incredible technical skills and techniques, but also extreme level of fitness and physical endurance, impeccable timing and precision, unparalleled teamwork, peak confidence and a little bit of luck.  

While the two men differ much in temperaments and Iceman's career has had a legendary trajectory, it's apparent there's a lifetime of friendship and admiration between him and Maverick.  Val's return, in a real-life state that the actor is in due to his health condition, while very brief, is impactful.  The reunion between the former star rivals is misty-eyed touching. 

While Maverick's need for speed makes him the barrier-breaking pilot he's known for, a different side of him emerges.  He is wistful, reflecting on his younger years, and still carrying the guilt over his late co-pilot and best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw all those years ago.  He's also more careful, knowing full well that not only he has the lives of those young pilots on his hands, but also the life of aviator Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller, “Insurgent”), Goose's son.  Rooster is resentful and doesn't trust Maverick, whom he held responsible for his father's death and more.

Some of the other top trainees are Jake 'Hangman' Seresin (Glen Powell), Monica 'Phoenix' Barbaro (Natasha Trace), Robert 'Bob' Floyd (Lewis Pullman), Reuben 'Payback' Fitch (Jay Ellis), Mickey 'Fanboy” Garcia (Danny Ramirez), Javy 'Coyote' Machado (Greg Tarzan Davis).

Jennifer Connelly (“Winter's Tale”) is introduced as Maverick's on-and-off again flame, Penny Benjamin, the Admiral's daughter mentioned in passing in the original movie.  Successful and adventurous in her own right, she anchors and pushes Maverick the right way.  There's familiarity, comfort, old lovin' feelin' and tenderness between them.  

The emotional core of the story is the relationship dynamic between Maverick and Goose though; as expected, it's uneasy.  I wish we'd get to know more about the new pilots, but I knew there's no time.  The real stars of the movie are the fighter jets and the elite pilots who fly them.  

The aerial maneuvers and old-fashioned dogfights are a dazzling extravaganza across the wide open skies and seas, narrow canyons and snowy mountains.  These fighter jets steeply climb, dive, loop, roll, cut through, swerve and invert, taking along the actors for the fiery and glorious rides.  No CGI planes or fake cockpits here; the actors, who underwent a grueling survival training program, sat in the backseats flown by real Navy pilots demonstrating inhuman feats.  Their gravity-defying reactions pulling G-forces are also real, which makes the experience viscerally authentic with intensity.  

Watching the movie in a spacious Screen X theater mid-day on a weekday without crowd, the wraparound screens are especially immersive (see it on Screen X if possible!).  The last stretch of the movie is phenomenally exhilarating.  Surmounted by racing tension, the turn of events turns emotional, but when you'd think the movie might be flying one way and ends with a headwind, it spins into another direction and another.

It's nice to see my adopted hometown, San Diego and its sun-drenched coastlines, featured on the silver screen.  The iconic anthem, familiar “Top Gun” tune will elevate and bring back memories, and Lady Gaga's (“ A Star is Born”) “Hold My Hand” new soundtrack fits with the movie's theme.  

Family and friendship.  Bravado and bond.  Heroism and sacrifice.  Tremendously thrilling, dripping with nostalgic poignancy, “Top Gun: Maverick” is the ultimate love note to aviation and unifying, soaring blockbuster. 

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-top-gun-maverick/

 




Sunday, April 24, 2022

"The Bad Guys"














Imagine “Ocean 11” meets “Mission Impossible” and “Fast and Furious” in a “Zootopia” style and you've got “The Bad Guys.”  

The Bad Guys are comprised of suave leader Mr. Wolf, safe-cracking Mr. Snake, tech wizard Ms. Tarantula, disguise master Mr. Shark and wild-charging Mr. Piranha.  They like being bad and proud of their accomplishments.  Despite of their successful heists and treasures, newly appointed Governor Foxington pities them and thinks that being bad is not nearly as brave as being good.  

When Governor Foxington announces an award to be bestowed at a town gala to the Good Samaritan of the year, Professor Marmalade, a mild-mannered guinea pig, the animal criminals are determined to steal the award.  Mr. Wolf catches the Governor's attention and charms his way through, while the rest of the crew do their part – setting traps, creating distractions, disguising themselves, security-hacking and sneaking into tight spots, with hysterical narrow-misses.  

It was during this event that Mr. Wolf accidentally finds himself doing a good deed and realizes that it makes him feel good.  The eye-opening experience distracts Mr. Wolf much that it gets the team caught at the gala.  

Do-gooder Professor Marmalade believes in second chances and that people are essentially good.  He wins Governor Foxington’s approval to potentially pardon the Bad Guys if he could coach and mentor the con artists and thieves and they’re able prove they can be good.  

Mr. Wolf has a hard time convincing his friends that there may be something worthwhile about turning a new leaf.  It creates discord within the team, so Mr. Wolf tells them that they're only pretending to be reformed model citizens, and when the chance to turn back into being bad arises, they would.

That chance arrives when Professor Marmalade's social experiment is deemed to be successful, as the town is celebrating the Bad Guys turning into the Good Guys.  Little did they know the seemingly Good Guys is planning another heist at a party in their name.  They're planning to rob the rare meteor that will be on display.  The meteor fell into and destroyed swaths of the city a year earlier and now it’s a prized artifact.    

This is where things go askew.  The Bad Guys may have personally been impacted by the feel-good feeling of being perceived as good and their newfound popularity.  The Bad Guys are framed for the missing meteor and the real villain works behind the shadow.  The twists keep on coming.  Identities are unmasked, new allies and enemies form and re-form, rolling into a crazy adventure after another.    

As crazy as the adventures turn out to be, the antics among friends, especially a running gag between Mr. Snake and Mr. Shark is not to be missed.  And there may be a human reason why some people, or in this case, anthropomorphic animals, may feel they have no choice but being bad.  As the saying goes, don't judge a book by its cover.   

“The Bad Guys” is adventurous, hilarious and twisty caper, tons of fun for all ages.  

Sunday, February 13, 2022

"Death on the Nile"

If you enjoyed “Murder on the Orient Express” and Agatha Christie's novels, you'll be swept away by the grandeur and intrigue of “Death on the Nile.”  

Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) returns as legendary detective Hercule Poirot, now on a vacation in exotic Egypt.  Hercule runs into his friend from 'Orient Express,' Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his painter, meddlesome mother Euphemia (Annette Benning), who are there to attend a wedding party of an acquaintance at a palatial resort.  Bouc invites Hercule to the resort, where he meets the newlyweds and their party.  

The comely newlyweds are wealthy heiress Linette Ridgeway (Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”) and common man Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer, “The Man from U.N.C..L.E,” "The Social Network").  This is not the first time Hercule meets them, however.  Just six weeks ago, he attended a jazz performance at a fancy club in London where he first spotted another woman dancing sultrily with Simon.  That woman was not Linette; it's Jacqueline De Bellefort (Emma Mackey), a good friend of Linnette, and Simon's fiancee.  

Linette made a goddess-like entrance and caught up with Jacqueline.  A besotted Jacqueline told Linnette that she was engaged to Simon and needed help on the financial front.  Jacqueline asked Linnette to give Simon an office job.  Upon being introduced to Simon, Linnette was so taken by him and said yes.  Their eyes met, they danced away and couldn't part ever since, leaving Jacqueline heartbroken and seethed with envy.  

Stabbed with the pain of betrayal, Jacqueline stalks the couple at the resort and later shows up on the river cruise.  When the bride ends up dead, it's not as straightforward as the jilted Jacqueline being the prime suspect going for revenge, due to a circumstance that leaves it impossible for her to do the deed.  

That leaves the rest of the guests – in addition to the above – Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), Linette's loyal maid; Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), the same jazz singer who performed at the London club; Rosalie Otterbourne (Letitia Wright, “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Endgame”), Salome's niece and savvy business manager, as well as Lynette's friend from boarding school and Bouc's amore; Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), Linnette's distant cousin and business lawyer who may or may not have shady dealings; Lord Windlesham (Russell Brand), a patrician physician and forlorn former fiance of Linnette; Marie Van Schuyle (Jennifer Saunders), Linnette's godmother with a distaste for materialism and capitalism; and Bowers, Marie's longtime nurse (Dawn French).

Love runs deep.  So does possessiveness and obsession. The movie's running theme is love, various shades of love, and broaches on greed, class and racism.  We also get to know Hercule on a deeper level, his war past and long-buried sorrow.  The tragedy doesn't end with a single murder.  While Hercule's connecting the dots and reveal seem crammed in the penultimate and I had a sense of the whodunit prior, there are unexpectedly shocking scenes.  One twist turns into another, secrets are forced open, relationships are torn, lives are changed forever. 

If you love traveling the world, the spectacular scenery of the 'Nile' is undeniable.  The great pyramids and Rameses, riverside historical resort bordering the desert, luxury paddleboat steamer cruising down the Nile are awash in rosy-golden glow of daylight and sunset hues and moored under royal blue starry nights, with guests dressed in finery dance, dine on lobsters and drink champagne.  

If you love mysteries, you'll be in for an intriguing treat, keenly observing scenes, guessing on motives and putting together clues. There is no perfect crime.  

Murder mystery meets world travel and old glamor on “Death on the Nile."  Go see it on the biggest screen! 

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-death-on-the-nile/

Sunday, February 6, 2022

2022 Most Anticipated Sci-Fi Movies


 As a sci-fi fan, I'm always on the lookout for sci-fi movies.  Check out the most anticipated sci-fi movies of 2022:

https://screenrant.com/sci-fi-movies-upcoming-2022-best/

Moonfall (February 4)

Everything Everywhere All At Once (March 25)

65 (April 29)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6)

Jurassic Word: Dominion (June 10)

Lightyear (June 17)

Don't Worry Darling (September 23)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (October 7)

Avatar 2 (December 16)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Superheroes Battle of 2022: Marvel vs DC

After 2021's box office dominations of "Black Widow," "Shang Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings," "Eternals," and "Spider-Man: No Way Home," there's no sign of stopping the superheroes train.  2022 is stacked!  

***

Warner Bros/DC:

The Batman (March 4)

Black Adam (July 29) 

The Flash (November 4)

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (December 16)

***

Disney/Marvel:

Doctor's Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6)

Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (November 11) 

***

Who will win the superheroes battle of 2022?  Check out the article:

https://screenrant.com/marvel-versus-dc-movies-2022-releases/

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!  

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

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/