Justice League Review

Justice League movie posterSynopsis
Batman (Ben Affleck) discovers that an alien invasion of Earth is imminent after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). In order to combat the coming threat, he tries to bring together several of the world’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Review
I have made no effort to hide my favoritism of the Marvel superhero characters over the DC ones. However, I do enjoy both studios and both have some great stories to tell. Ever since The Avengers, DC has tried to play catch up to get their Justice League on screen. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the films of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) so far have been less than enjoyable. So how did Justice League, the long-awaited big team up fare? Better than the sum of its parts, apparently.

Zack Snyder had to step away from directing duties for a while due to a family tragedy, so Joss Whedon stepped in to take over. Many were worried, including myself, that while he has a good sense of what makes a good team-up, he might take too much away from Snyder’s Justice League (for better or worse). I think it is safe to say that Snyder and Whedon have two very different directing styles and it is very apparent throughout the film. Whedon added a nice layer of humor throughout the movie that wasn’t too overpowering, like some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films can be these days, but it wasn’t a one-off thing either. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (both directed by Snyder) were very dark and broody, way more than they should have been. While this film isn’t bright and cheerful, there is still a level of levity to keep the apocalyptic story from hitting Dawn of Justice level of gloominess. It looks to me that Whedon respected Snyder’s vision for the film but still put his signature stamp on it.

This movie is the first time we are seeing the Flash (besides a small cameo in Suicide Squad), Aquaman, and Cyborg. I really enjoyed all three new characters and who were cast in the roles. Ezra Miller as the Flash brought a great comedic relief to the film. He is a very different version of the Flash in the Arrow-verse. Aquaman, played by Jason Mamoa, didn’t want anything to do with anything and wanted to be left alone. Oh, and is apparently an alcoholic. He had my second favorite arc of the new characters of becoming less antipathetic as he works with the other members of the League, culminating in a great gag with Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg has the most growth out of all of them, boasting maybe the most unique power set of the group. He initially sees his powers as a curse but eventually accepts them and gives some great moments during the final, no holds barred action sequence.

As I just mentioned, this is the first time several of the League members are being introduced. Normally, these ensemble movies feel way too long, focusing on only a few of the characters and not developing the rest cough Suicide Squad cough. This time, it actually had the opposite problem: it should have been longer! For obvious reasons, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) had the two biggest roles in the movie. However, it still did a good job of balancing everybody, especially given three of the characters needed to be introduced. But there was still room for some more development of the new characters. I appreciate that the editors wanted to keep Justice League relatively short but I think in doing so, they only gave the bare minimum motivations we needed from these heroes. There is plenty of room for more.

While I don’t necessarily agree with DC’s approach to rush into a film about their superhero team-up group, I don’t necessarily think an origin movie was needed for every character beforehand. Yes, it definitely would have helped the audience connect with them but other ensemble movie’s have gone this route with moderate to great success. One that is coming to mind is the animated Justice League: War which boasts a similar story with the same characters. Another is Guardians of the Galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, Justice League is nowhere near as good as Guardians but my point is that it brought a team together without any prior knowledge of the characters the same way this movie does and the only reason that this is an issue is because these are well known characters and is comparable to The Avengers.

A common gripe in modern superhero films are the weak and flat villain. To bring Guardians back into the mix, I didn’t have a problem with Ronin being one-dimensional because his purpose was to bring the titular group together. Steppenwolf serves essentially the same purpose as Ronin only this time I was very disappointed. Other than β€œhe wants to shape the Earth in his image,” he is given very little development. This is doubly disappointing given what, or rather who, he is the precursor for. Darkseid (pronounced β€œdark side”) is one of the Justice Leagues greatest and signature villains, often fighting on par with even Superman. There was very little hint towards any of this except for one line that only those who are familiar with the characters would pick up on. Steppenwolf is an integral part of what’s to come but it’s hard to see that given how poorly he was treated in this film.

I thought Justice League was GOOD πŸ™‚ Not devoid of problems, it still offers a good time. A shallower-than-normal villain is really the biggest complaint from me, especially given the character’s importance. The new characters were fun and unique and meshed well with the previously established characters. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Zack Snyder Director’s Cut of the film to see how much Joss Whedon’s reshoots changed the final product or to get more character development. Overall, this is the best I could have expected from the mostly disappointing DCEU so far.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director / Story
Chris Terrio – Screenplay / Story
Joss Whedon – Screenplay
Danny Elfman – Composer

Ben Affleck – Bruce Wayne / Batman
Gal Gadot – Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Ezra Miller – Barry Allen / The Flash
Jason Momoa – Arthur Curry / Aquaman
Ray Fisher – Victor Stone / Cyborg
Henry Cavill – Clark Kent / Superman
Jeremy Irons – Alfred
Amy Adams – Lois Lane
Diane Lane – Martha Kent
Connie Nielsen – Queen Hippolyta
JK Simmons – Commissioner Gordon
CiarΓ‘n Hinds – Steppenwolf (voice)
Amber Heard – Mera
Joe Morton – Silas Stone

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American Made Review

American Made movie posterSynopsis
Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an American airline pilot, is approached by a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who offers him a job taking covert pictures of insurgent operations in Central America for the US government. Seal is soon approached by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and his crew and is recruited into smuggling drugs into the US.

Review
I’ll admit, the only reason I really went to see American Made was because of Tom Cruise. Biopics aren’t normally my type of film and there haven’t been very many that I have greatly enjoyed. However, I was hoping that with Cruise at the forefront, this might actually be a biopic that I’d like. While it does contain several of the aspects of the genre I don’t care for, there was plenty more to enjoy than other biopics.

As I thought would be the case, Cruise’s charisma is one of the driving forces of the film. He plays Barry Seal in such a way that you like him, even though you know he is a terrible person and that you should detest him. It creates a very interesting experience. With Cruise’s infectious grin, you’ll be rooting for Seal all along the way.

Another actor who I thought did a great job was Domhnall Gleeson as the CIA operative Schafer. He was just as charismatic as Cruise except we don’t get much information about him. I supposed this works out alright because since he is CIA, this helps to build that air of mystery about him. I just wish I was able to see more of him and Cruise together because they both had an energy about them that was fun to watch.

The subject matter of American Made is actually pretty dark but you might have a hard time seeing that with the way it is presented. I’m sure part of it comes from Cruise’s charisma I brought up earlier but there is a lightheartedness to the film that was unexpected in a movie about a drug dealer. I think its unique tone made it more enjoyable for me because there are plenty of movies about criminals and drug dealers that are very grim and to see one that wasn’t was a breath of fresh air.

In the film Inside Man, the movie sporadically jumps into the future with interviews with the hostages to set up the upcoming scene. This film makes use of a similar technique. Throughout American Made, commentaries about what Seal was thinking and doing are interjected between scenes to prepare the audience for the scene ahead. I thought Inside Man should have made more use of this approach to telling its story, whereas here I think it is used the right amount. It never takes away from the experience too much and gives the audience a better insight into Seal’s character. Since this is a movie about Seal, it only helps better our understanding of him.

I thought American Made was GOOD πŸ™‚ Most biopics have a hard time keeping my attention it seems but I didn’t have that feeling during this movie. The lighthearted nature of such a dark movie and the energy from Tom Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson makes it enjoyable. While I don’t think I will go out of my way to see it, I won’t shy away either if I happen to come across it.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Doug Liman – Director
Gary Spinelli – Writer
Christophe Beck – Composer

Tom Cruise – Barry Seal
Domhnall Gleeson – Monty ‘Schafer’
Sarah Wright – Lucy Seal
Caleb Landry Jones – JB
Mauricio Mejia – Pablo Escobar
Alejandro Edda – Jorge Ochoa
Fredy Yate Escobar – Carlos Ledher
Jesse Plemons – Sheriff Downing
Jayma Mays – Dana Sibota
Benito Martinez – James Rangel
E. Roger Mitchell – Agent Craig McCall
Jed Rees – Louis Finkle
Robert Farrior – Oliver North
Alberto Ospino – Manuel Noriega
Daniel Lugo – Adolfo Calero
Jayson Warner Smith – Bill Cooper (Snowbird #1)
Mark McCullogh – Pete (Snowbird #2)

Lightning Review: Home Again

Home Again movie posterSynopsis
Alice (Reese Witherpoon), a recently divorced, single mother, moves into her childhood home in Los Angeles. After meeting Harry (Pico Alexander), Teddy (Nat Wolff) and George (Jon Rudnitsky), she lets the three filmmakers live in her home while they try to get their big break, causing her life to take an unexpected turn.

Review
I don’t normally see films like Home Again in the theaters but I found myself in a theater-going dry spell of sorts and my mom was visiting and we hadn’t seen a movie together in a while so I figured why not. For a romantic comedy, this movie didn’t lean too heavily on either. There are the romance parts and there are comedy parts but neither completely overtake the film. First-time writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer has a story about Alice she wants to tell and she uses the romance and the comedy to tell it, however, they never become the central focus. And it never becomes over-the-top or way out-there and never resorts to a cheap laugh. Every comedy moment feels natural and genuinely funny. You might need to suspend some disbelief but this is a movie we’re talking about here! That pretty much comes with the territory, regardless of genre.

I wouldn’t call Reese Witherspoon one of my favorite actresses but I do generally enjoy her movies that I’ve seen. This seems like a very typical fair for her but she is as charming as ever. As for the rest of the cast, I am mostly unfamiliar with them, so I can’t compare their performances to what they’ve done before. Although, I can say that in Home Again, I thought they all did very well. The three filmmakers who move in with Alice, Pico Alexander, Nat Wolff, and Jon Rudnitsky, were fun and believable together. They felt like actual friends and seemed like they were having a good time together. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones with Rudnitsky and Lola Flanery, playing Alice’s oldest daughter. Together, they had many playful and heartwarming scenes.

I thought Home Again was GOOD πŸ™‚ Romantic comedies aren’t usually a type of movie I go out of my way to see so I don’t have a ton of experience with the genre. However, I did enjoy the story this film told. Reese Witherspoon and the rest of the cast gave enjoyable performances with some moving and heartfelt moments. I’m sure it’s far from the best rom-com out there but running at about one and a half hours, it never feels tedious and offers a feel-good story.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Hallie Meyers-Shyer – Director / Writer
John Debney – Composer

Reese Witherspoon – Alice Kinney
Pico Alexander – Harry
Nat Wolff – Teddy
Jon Rudnitsky – George
Lola Flanery – Isabel
Eden Grace Redfield – Rosie
Michael Sheen – Austin
Candice Bergen – Lillian Stewart

Lightning Review: Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky movie posterSynopsis
When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets let go from his job, he convinces his siblings, Clyde (Adam Driver) and Mellie (Riley Keough), to help him rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Logan and Clyde recruit experienced bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them get into the vault. But first, they have to figure out a way to get Joe Bang out of jail.

Review
Part way through Logan Lucky, I thought β€œWow, this is a hillbilly Ocean’s Eleven,” which felt much more original until the movie made almost the same joke and I saw that it was directed by Steven Soderbergh (the director of Ocean’s Eleven) in the credits. In any case, it had many of the elements from Ocean’s Eleven that I enjoyed in that film. Like Ocean’s Eleven, it is a fairly slow burn for the first two-thirds of the film. Most of the run time is spent on the Logans concocting the plan / setting up all the pieces. However, also like Ocean’s Eleven, the fun characters, well-written dialogue, and great chemistry between the actors make this time enjoyable and entertaining. Once the heist actually happens, the payoff is well worth it. Keeping the film close to a formula that has worked well before and twisting it slightly was a brilliant move by Soderbergh. It keeps the film familiar yet still manages to keep it feeling new and fresh.

Having a great cast too doesn’t hurt the film either. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the Logan brothers are absolutely a blast to watch. On the surface, they seem like they might be a pair of dim-witted rednecks but you soon realize that’s not necessarily the case. Add in a Southern-accented Daniel Craig as Joe Bang and you know you’re going to have a good time. To my surprise, Joe Bang’s two brothers, played by Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, were two of my favorite characters in the film. Several of their lines had me cracking up the most. I would love to see a sequel if only to see those two characters on screen again.

I thought Logan Lucky was GOOD πŸ™‚ There is nothing original story-wise in this film but it uses what has been tried and true before and makes it work again in an unconventional way. The vibrant cast is clearly having fun, giving a fun Ocean’s Eleven vibe and keeping my attention despite not really picking up until the end. There are many better heist films out there but few of them are as whimsical or playful as Logan Lucky.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Soderbergh – Director
Rebecca Blunt – Writer
David Holmes – Composer

Channing Tatum – Jimmy Logan
Adam Driver – Clyde Logan
Riley Keough – Mellie Logan
Daniel Craig – Joe Bang
Jack Quaid – Fish Bang
Brian Gleeson – Sam Bang
Farrah Mackenzie – Sadie Logan
Katie Holmes – Bobbie Jo Chapman
David Denman – Moody Chapman
Seth MacFarlane – Max Chilblain
Sebastian Stan – Dayton White
Jim O’Heir – Cal
Rebecca Koon – Purple Lady
Katherine Waterston – Slyvia Harrison
Hilary Swank – Special Agent Sarah Grayson
Macon Blair – Special Agent Brad Noonan

Lightning Review: The Mummy Returns

Synopsis
Meela (Patricia Velasquez) the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun, locates Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) body in the city of Hamunaptra. She hopes to use Imhotep’s powers to defeat the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) and take control of the army he commands. Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) calls upon Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier) and his wife Evy (Rachel Weisz) to once again defeat Imhotep.

Review
What makes The Mummy so enjoyable is that it never took itself seriously and just had fun with its story. The Mummy Returns is much of the same which, like any sequel, is both a good and bad. The core group of Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo returns and have the same fantastic chemistry from before. Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay has a much bigger role this time around and syncs with the group very well. The film’s sense of humor is pretty much the same as before, although the comedy is not as prominent this time around. It seems this time, there was more of a skew towards the action-adventure side of things instead of a pretty even balance like before. Not that that’s good or bad, it just gives the film a different feel. Newcomer Shaun Parkes as Rick’s pilot pal Izzy is my favorite of the new members of the cast but he feels underused, especially since he is a funny addition. The Mummy Returns is Dwayne Johnson’s first big movie role. I say big but he only appears in the opening scene and as CGI in the final battle scene, which has not aged well at all.

I thought The Mummy Returns was GOOD πŸ™‚ While not nearly as charming as The Mummy, it is still a decent popcorn flick.

Also read my reviews of The Mummy and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Sommers – Director / Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Brendan Frasier – Rick O’Connell
Rachel Weisz – Evelyn Carnahan
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Freddie Boath – Alex O’Connell
Arnold Vosloo – Imhotep
Oded Fehr – Ardeth Bay
Patricia Velasquez – Meela / Anck-Su-Namun
Alun Armstrong – Mr. Hafez
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Lock-Nah
Shaun Parkes – Izzy
Dwayne Johnson – The Scorpion King

Lightning Review: Goal! The Dream Begins

This review was originally posted as part of theΒ Play to the Whistle Blogathon, hosted by Film and TV 101 and Reffing Movies.

Goal! The Dream Begins movie posterSynopsis
Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) is an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles working multiple jobs to support his family. However, his passion is to play football professionally. When Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a retired Newcastle United player, notices Munez talents, Foy sets him up with a try out with Newcastle United. In hopes of making his dreams a reality , Munez travels to England.

Review
As a soccer player and cinefile, it can be difficult to find a movie about the sport, let alone a decent one. Thankfully, Danny Cannon realized this and worked with FIFA, the international soccer organization, to create Goal! The Dream Begins. What makes this a good soccer movie is that it gives a down and dirty look into the sport. The camera angles are low and near the ground during the action, not up high like a commentator’s booth like you would see on television. You feel every hit, clearly see every move, and feel like you are on the field with the players. What makes this a good movie is the sincerity and heart it brings. From the beginning, Santiago Munez’s (Kuno Becker) love for his family and humility are felt very clearly. This gives the audience a connection with Munez and a reason to want to see him to succeed. It is nothing new to films, let alone a sports film, but it is used effectively. Becker brings an innocence that makes it that much easier to connect with and relate to.

I thought Goal! The Dream Begins was GOOD πŸ™‚ It is very much like many other underdog, rags-to-riches sports films, such as Rocky, but that isn’t really a bad thing. There is a lot of heart to the story and Santiago Munez is the type of character you can relate with and can’t help but root for. Goal! is a soccer movie that fans and players of the sport alike can enjoy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Danny Cannon – Director
Mike Jefferies – Story / Screenplay
Adrian Butchart – Screenplay
Dick Clement – Screenplay
Ian La Frenais – Screenplay
Graeme Revell – Composer

Kuno Becker – Santiago Munez
Cassandra Bell – Christina
Alessandro Nivola – Gavin Harris
Stephen Dillane – Glen Foy
Sean Pertwee – Barry Rankin
Marcel Iures – Erik Dornhelm
Tony Plana – Hernan Munez
Miriam Colon – Mercedes
Jorge Ververa – Cesar