Your Name Review

Your Name movie posterSynopsis
Taki (RyΓ»nosuke Kamiki (voice)) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi (voice)) find themselves mysteriously switching bodies at random. Eventually, they create a system to communicate with each other and be a part of each other’s lives. When they go in search of each other, they discover that they are separated by more than distance.

Review
I wasn’t expecting to go see Your Name during its limited US theatrical release but one of my best friends, and frequent movie buddy, had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was going to be in theaters until he invited me along, nor was I familiar with Makoto Shinkai and his work. I’m really glad I had the chance to go watch Your Name in the theater because this has quickly become one of my favorite animes.

The first thing you’re sure to notice is the beautiful animation. And I mean absolutely stunning and breathtakingly beautiful. Traditional 2D animation seems to be becoming less and less popular these days. However, films like Your Name show that there is still life in the medium. Every frame is drop-dead gorgeous and you can feel the commitment and love that went into making this movie look the way it does.

For some films, it can be difficult to balance drama with a sense of humor. Director and writer Makoto Shinkai makes it look easy. One pitfall of films that try to incorporate both drama and humor is that it becomes overly serious and the shift between the two can be jarring. It will be light and funny one moment then dark and sobering the next. Your Name, first and foremost, is a love story about Taki and Mitsuha but it never becomes melodramatic. Humor fits into the story without taking away from the core lover’s tale, nor does it feel forced or out of place.

What I really liked about Your Name‘s story was that as the audience, we don’t learn the full scope of the story until about halfway through the film. Bits and pieces are learned about Taki and Mitsuha and their interwoven fates but why it is difficult for them to meet up is not learned for some time into the movie. I think this works so well because it leaves some mystery about the two main characters despite learning so much about them through watching them interact with each other’s friends and family. I won’t give the why away but I will say that once you learn it, you will root that much more that they will find some way to connect with each other.

More than the animation, Your Name‘s biggest strength is its characters. As I said, for the first half of the film, a lot is learned about Taki and Mitsuha just by watching them inhabit each other’s bodies. The further in the movie went, the more I cared about them and wanted to see them get their happy ending. Like any love story, there are wrinkles but those difficulties just added to my fondness for the two. I can’t recall the last romantic movie, either animated or live action, that made me feel so strongly towards its lead couple.

I thought Your Name was GREAT πŸ˜€ From the get-go, it will grab your attention with its beautiful animation and lightheartedness. But as the story progresses, it will tug at year heartstrings with its intricate and alluring narrative. Makoto Shinkai has truely outdone himself and I will be sure to look out for his films in the future.

Trivia
Taki’s school teacher is the same character from Makoto Shinkai’s film The Garden of Words named Yukari Yukino.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Makoto Shinkai – Director / Writer
Composer – Radwimps

Taki Tachibana – RyΓ»nosuke Kamiki (voice)
Mitsuha Miyamizu – Mone Kamishiraishi (voice)
Katsuhiko Teshigawara – RyΓ΄ Narita (voice)
Sayaka Natori – Aoi Yuki (voice)
Tsukasa Fujii – Nobunaga Shimazaki (voice)
Shinta Takagi – Kaito Ishikawa (voice)
Yotsuha Miyamizu – Kanon Tani (voice)
Toshiki Miyamizu – Masaki Terasoma (voice)
Futaha Miyamizu – Sayaka Ohara (voice)
Taki’s Father – Kazuhiko Inoue (voice)
Teshigawara’s Father – ChafΓ»rin (voice)
Teacher – Kana Hanazawa (voice)

Power Rangers Review

Power Rangers movie posterSynopsis
When five teenagers find mysterious coins that grant them superhuman strength, they learn about about a powerful evil that will consume the world. They must figure out how to work together as a team or risk the destruction of the Earth.

Review
Growing up as a young boy in the 90s, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were huge for me. On the playground, it was always a debate on who got to play the Red Ranger, and later the Green Ranger, during recess. My best friend and I would fight hordes of imaginary Putties (the generic villainous foot soldiers) for hours on end. You might say that the biggest reason I went to see this movie was to relive that piece of my childhood. Out of all the old franchises that are once again seeing the light of day, leaving the theater after watching Power Rangers left me with the largest nostalgia high I’ve had in a very long time.

Say what you will about the television version of the Power Rangers, one thing it has always been extremely good at is having a diverse cast. This latest movie version maintains that diversity and even expands to be more than ethnic diversity, with an autistic and a lesbian rangers. I’m glad to see that a franchise that is all about teamwork and friendship, and is geared more towards a younger audiences embraces such inclusion.

To be honest, I never considered Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to be about superheroes. This mostly because that the first thing that comes to mind are characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, or Batman. For all intents and purposes, the Power Rangers are superheroes, and this film treats them as such. The Rangers don’t fully utilize their abilities until the final battle with Rita. But more than that, it takes its time to develop the characters. Power Rangers does a good job of building each of the five main characters. By the time they finally come together as a team, you have a good grasp of who the characters are yourself.

The television version of Power Rangers is considerably campy. Luckily, this movie never goes quite that absurd. Several years ago, there was an exceedingly gritty version of the Power Rangers on YouTube that was very much R-rated. This movie never gets anywhere near that extreme. This film is a middle between the two of them, maybe leaning a little bit closer to the television version. It does have hints of the silliness of the television show but it almost feel like it is there as a callback to the show since that’s just how the show is.

Going into the film, I wasn’t sure about how I felt about Elizabeth Banks as Rita. I’ve never much pictured her as the cackling-villain type. However, she wasn’t half-bad at the part. Banks totally embraced the character of Rita Repulsa and gave a performance that was part terrifying and part reminiscent of the 90s version of the villain. Her unique take on Rita fit well into the movie’s universe and I can’t wait to see if she gets to revisit the character.

I thought Power Rangers was GREAT πŸ˜€ The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was such a big part of my childhood that I would not miss this film in theaters. I’ll admit that it wasn’t perfect but it also had no right being as entertaining as it was. Some people might find it uneven in places (which it was) or not care much for the characters. As for me, I had two hours of pure fun and joy and a smile on my face almost the entire time and dammit if that isn’t enough for me!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Dean Israelite – Director
John Gatins – Screenplay
Matt Sazama – Story
Burk Sharpless – Story
Michele Mulroney – Story
Kieran Mulroney – Story
Brian Tyler – Composer

Dacre Montgomery – Jason (Red Ranger)
Naomi Scott – Kimberly (Pink Ranger)
RJ Cyler – Billy (Blue Ranger)
Ludi Lin – Zack (Black Ranger)
Becky G. – Trini (Yellow Ranger)
Elizabeth Banks – Rita Repulsa
Bryan Cranston – Zordon
Bill Hader – Alpha 5 (voice)

Logan Review

Logan movie posterSynopsis
In 2029, mutant-kind is on the brink of extinction.Β  An aged Logan (Hugh Jackman) is hiding in Mexico with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant).Β  When a woman finds Logan and asks for his help to transport her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), to a supposed mutant haven known as Eden, Logan and Charles set out for the US-Canada border while protecting Laura from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his band of Reavers.

Review
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men is one of those castings that was perfect.Β  Over the years, he has put his heart and soul into the role and has come to embody the character. It’s one of those actor/role combinations that I can’t imagine any other way.Β  Now, after 17 years and nine films, Jackman retracts the claws for good and hangs up the cowl, but not before giving the best performance of the character yet.

The X-Men movies have all fallen victim to having too many characters to juggle.Β  Some have adapted and made it work well (X-2: X-Men United), others have not (X-Men: Apocalypse). Even the other Wolverine movies have felt bloating with the amount of support characters they have tried to include.Β  Logan, on the other hand, keeps the focus very much on Logan, Charles, and Laura. There is a reason it is called β€œLogan” and not something like Wolverine 3.Β  The character moments are what drive the story forward.Β  The little interactions between Logan and Charles, who has become somewhat of a father-figure to Logan, and Logan and Laura, who in essence has become his daughter, feel intimate and authentic.Β  There are other characters as well but they are antagonists whose purpose is to move the story forward.

Logan is the most mature and darkest of not just any X-Man movie but superhero movies in general.Β  I don’t just mean β€œmature” with the violence but how it approaches the characters as well.Β  As I mentioned before, this story is all about Logan, Charles, and Laura as a bizarre, mutant family.Β  Most superhero movies tell a story around the characters’ superpowers. This movie, on the other hand, tell a story about characters who happen to have superpowers.Β  This makes it unlike any superhero that has come before.

After the success of Deadpool, Fox decided to go with an R-rating for Logan, which is something the character has been missing all these years. Wolverine has always been an aggressive, violent character and his cinematic version has always felt to me that he has been held back by the PG-13 rating.Β  Now, the character can really let loose.Β  Logan takes full advantage of the R-rating, showing even that an aged Logan is something to be feared.Β  This film would not have worked if it was restrained by a lower rating.Β  Laura is a younger, more rough-around-the-edges Wolverine, whose pure savageness needed to be unfiltered.

This film is a lot longer than it feels.Β  With a runtime of over two and a half hours, it just flew by.Β  I felt invested in the characters and the story.Β  It had its action moments and its character moments. It was never moving too fast nor did it ever feel like it was dragging.Β  There was a perfect balance between the loud action sequences and the quieter character moments.

I thought Logan was GREAT πŸ˜€ You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has come to embody a character the way Hugh Jackman has become Wolverine.Β  As a farewell performance for the character, Jackman gives the best performance of the character to date.Β  A tight familial dynamic between Logan, Charles, and Laura and intense and exciting action scenes make Logan not just good Wolverine movie but a great movie in general.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Mangold – Director / Story / Screenplay
Scott Frank – Screenplay
Michael Green – Screenplay
Marco Beltrami – Composer

Hugh Jackman – Logan
Patrick Stewart – Charles Xavier
Dafne Keen – Laura Keen
Boyd Holbrook – Donald Pierce
Stephen Merchant – Caliban
Elizabeth Rodriguez – Gabriela
Richard E. Grant – Dr. Zander Rice
Eriq La Salle – Will Munson
Elise Neal – Kathryn Munson
Quincy Fouse – Nate Munson

Disney and a Beer: Beauty and the Beast

The Beer
Palmetto Pale Ale – This is an American pale ale that I picked up in Charleston, South Carolina. The first time I tried it, I wasn’t a huge fan but I think it was the food I paired it with because very time I have drunk it after that, I have liked it more and more. It’s pretty strong on the hops but there is a little bit of orange taste to balance it out. Verdict: Enjoyed it.

The Movie

Beauty and the Beast movie posterSynopsis
Belle (Paige O’Hara (voice)) takes her father’s place as the prisoner for the Beast (Robby Benson (voice)). The Beast hopes to win Belle’s heart and break the spell that has been placed on him, his castle, and its inhabitants.

Review
I have expressed numerous times my love for the Disney Renaissance films. When I was younger, I had Beauty and the Beast on VHS but I did not watch it nearly as much as I did some of the other films from the era, like Aladdin or The Lion King. I think that was because it is a β€œprincess” movie and I was more interested in movies with male main characters. In any case, over the years as I have watched it, I have grown to appreciate it much more.

The main reason why Beauty and the Beast is so popular is because of Belle. Her character is so well written and developed. She isn’t like any of the previous Disney princesses. A defining characteristic of the Disney Renaissance is how the princesses (or women in general) were portrayed. Starting with The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, the women are less focused on finding a husband for finding a husband’s sake and more on pursuing their dreams and passions and simply being themselves. Belle likes to read, she has a vivid imagination, she is adventurous, she helps her father with his inventions, and she has dreams of her own that do not fit in with the others in her village. She is one of the first princesses to feel fully developed and that her happily ever after came from the result of her actions, not the actions of the prince.

To go along with Belle, Gaston is not a typical antagonist, at least in appearance. He is a physical embodiment of what this movie, and Disney in general at that time, is trying to move away from. He has similar features to what you would expect from the typical Disney prince. He’s tall, muscular, has a strong chin, and is pursuing the most beautiful girl around for her hand in marriage. But this is the movie’s villain, not the apple of Belle’s eye; This is the guy we are supposed to be rooting against but he looks like the love interest we are typically used to root for. Gaston’s actions and personality part of the movie’s message about judging a person’s characteristics from their appearance. He is handsome on the outside but a beast on the inside.

On the flip side of Gaston is the Beast. Unlike Gaston, his physical appearance is hideous, more fitting of a typical villain than love interest. This is what really pushes the film’s story and message forward. Belle isn’t quick to judge the prince on his appearance or beastly attitude. Instead, she see’s the good in him and works to bring that out of him so he can see for himself that his looks do not define him.

The townsfolk and mob are a third part to the movie’s message about not keeping an open mind and judging others quickly. They follow Gaston, the towns hero despite having a narrow and nasty attitude, and fear the Beast, although they know nothing about him. There is a lyric in β€œThe Mob Song” that perfectly sums it up: β€œWe don’t like / What we don’t understand / In fact it scares us / And this monster is mysterious at least.” Their fear is used by Gaston to lead the crowd into attacking the Beast, using them towards killing the Beast in an effort to still try and win Belle’s heart. Their suspicions and inability to think for themselves allowed them to be easily manipulated.

Speaking of β€œThe Mob Song,” Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman work together (in what would be Ashman’s final film before passing away) to create the score and songs. And once again, it is absolutely wonderful. My personal favorite is β€œBe Our Guest” but β€œBelle” and β€œGaston” are just as catchy and do a phenomenal job of character building. Of course, you can’t talk about this movie without talking about its title song, β€œBeauty and the Beast,” easily one of Disney’s most popular ballads. I’ve heard it at weddings, dances, and our high school band often played it for homecoming. It is a very moving and romantic song that has become the definition of a timeless classic.

The art style of Beauty and the Beast looks like something out of a picture book. The colors are bright and vivid, especially during the opening prologue. Even when the colors are more muted, like in the woods, there is still a vibrancy to them. The picture book feel reminds me a lot of Sleeping Beauty where everything just pops off the screen.

This movie is chock full of fun supporting characters. My favorite, hands down, is Lumiere and Cogsworth, voiced by Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers respectively, the first two enchanted inhabitants Belle meets after entering the castle. Although they may be animated, they are just as great as any comedy duo in other movies. Other great characters are the motherly Mrs. Potts, voiced by the sweet Angela Lansbury, and her son Chip, voiced by Bradley Pierce, and the wardrobe in Belle’s room in the castle, voice by the energetic Jo Anne Worley.

I thought Beauty and the Beast was GREAT πŸ˜€ It is not hard to see why this became the first animated film to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award. Belle is a strong heroine and the movie’s message about not judging others quickly and letting fear blind you is enduring. Often referred to as the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast is a special film that has been loved for over twenty-five years and will remain a beloved favorite for another twenty-five and more.

Favorite Quote
Beast: I’ve never felt this way about anyone. I want to do something for her! But what?
Cogsworth: Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.

Trivia
Angela Lansbury, the voice of Mrs. Potts, was unsure of her singing ability and thought that another character might be better suited to sing the song β€œBeauty and the Beast.” The directors convinced her to record it anyway in case nothing else worked out. She sang the version that made it into the movie in one take.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Gary Trousdale – Director
Kirk Wise – Director
Linda Woolverton – Screenplay
Brenda Chapman – Story
Chris Sanders – Story
Burny Mattinson – Story
Kevin Harkey – Story
Brian Pimental – Story
Bruce Woodside – Story
Joe Ranft – Story
Tom Ellery – Story
Kelly Asbury – Story
Robert Lence – Story
Alan Menkin – Composer
Howard Ashman – Lyricist

Paige O’Hara – Belle (voice)
Robby Benson – Beast (voice)
Richard White – Gaston (voice)
Jesse Corti – Lefou (voice)
Jerry Orbach – Lumiere (voice)
David Ogden Stiers – Cogsworth / Narrator (voice)
Angela Lansbury – Mrs. Potts (voice)
Bradley Pierce – Chip (voice)
Rex Everhart – Maurice (voice)
Tony Jay – Monsieur D’Arque (voice)

John Wick: Chapter 2 Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 movie posterSynopsis
After seeing John Wick (Keanu Reeves) come out of retirement, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) returns to John to collect a debt. When Wick fulfills his contract, D’Antonio puts a bounty on his head. Wick must use all of his resources to get through the assassins between him and D’Antonio in order to get justice for D’Antonio’s betrayal.

Review
I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical about a sequel to John Wick, a surprise hit from 2014. I felt the story wrapped up well and didn’t really need a follow-up. I was afraid that we would get too much of a good thing and an awesome character like John Wick would be run into the ground trying to squeeze as much money out of him as the studio possibly could. After the film was done I took a sigh of relief, John Wick: Chapter 2 is not the cash-in I was scared it would be.

One pitfall that many sequels fall into, particularly an action sequel such as this, is that it tries to make it as similar as the film(s) before as possible. In doing so, it does not bring anything new to the franchise and feels stale. John Wick: Chapter 2 keeps the core of John Wick but at the same time, brings a fresh new experience. It does everything a sequel should: raise the stakes, flesh out the character, and expand the franchise’s universe. There are clear similarities, as there should be, but this is not a carbon copy of the last movie. This feels like a whole new experience instead of a simple rehash of the last film.

On that note, this movie also feels like a natural progression of John Wick’s story. The opening action-packed scene cleans up the threads from last film then jumps right into the new stuff. We learn more about Wick’s character, his past, and the assassin world.

Oh my goodness do we learn about the secret assassin world! One of my favorite parts about John Wick was the Continental Hotel and learning about this underground society of assassins that has their own sanctuary, currency, and code of conduct. That film only touches the tip of the assassin iceberg. This film greatly expands on that. A ton of cool and interesting information is revealed and I don’t want to give any of it away, I want you to learn it for yourself. Even though a lot of information is revealed, there is clearly much more to the secret society yet to be given.

Another great aspect from John Wick that I enjoyed very much was the choreography during the action scenes. They were vibrant and exciting. That same energy returns but larger and with more intensity. Director Chad Stahelski has a history as a stuntman and stunt coordinator. Using his experience, the action sequences are very crisp and well choreographed. The series’ signature β€œgun-fu” style of action is exhilarating to watch.

I mentioned in my review of John Wick that I really enjoyed Stahelski’s directing because unlike most modern action movies, it didn’t use much shaky-cam. Instead, it felt like classic 1980s action movies with long shots, maintaining a focus on the action going on on-screen. John Wick: Chapter 2, to no surprise, does the same thing. Even when in tight spaces, such as catacomb tunnels or a subway station, the camera still manages to keep all the important characters and action in focus. This leads to some of the best action cinematography I’ve seen in a while. Even during the non-action scenes, sweeping shots and vibrant colors make for a unique, visceral experience.

The standout performance from the last film was Keanu Reeves as the titular character. He easily brought Wick’s incredible skills to life but still felt vulnerable as the aged hitman. He brings back that same vulnerability and it still works. Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Ruby Rose do a great job as Wick’s antagonists, feeling like much more of a challenge to Wick than the Russian mobsters of the last film. The reunion of Neo and Morpheus with the appearance of Lawrence Fishburne was fun to watch. I expected a bigger role for Fishburne, which was more of a cameo than a significant role. Hopefully he will have a bigger role in the future. Maybe they’ll even bring in Carrie-Anne Moss for a reunion of The Matrix.

I thought John Wick: Chapter 2 was GREAT πŸ˜€ It does everything expected of a sequel, creating bigger challenges for John Wick and building his character. Chad Stahelski proves he has a real knack for action scenes, using spectacular cinematography to create some of the best action scenes in recent memory. I went into this movie unsure if I wanted a second John Wick film but I left greatly looking forward to a third.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Chad Stahelski – Director
Derek Kolstad – Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer
Joel J. Richard – Composer

Keanu Reeves – John Wick
Riccardo Scamarcio – Santino D’Antonio
Ian McShane – Winston
Ruby Rose – Ares
Common – Cassian
Claudia Gerini – Gianna D’Antonio
Lance Reddick – Charon
Laurence Fishburn – Bowery King
Tobias Segal – Earl
John Leguizamo – Aurelio
Thomas Sadoski – Jimmy
Peter Serafinowicz – Sommelier
Luca Mosca – Italian Tailor
Peter Stormare – Abram

Lightning Review: When Harry Met Sally…

When Harry Met Sally... movie posterSynopsis
Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) have known each other for years and are very close friends. They want to move their relationship forward but fear that sex would ruin their friendship.

Review
When Harry Met Sally… is a widely beloved romantic comedy, and it isn’t hard to see why. Being one who doesn’t watch a lot of romance films, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this movie. A big part of that is the chemistry between the two leads, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Their conversations and their back-and-forth feels smooth and natural. It’d be easy to forget you weren’t watching a movie but two actual, long-time friends bantering. Of course, this feeling of comfortability would not be possible without the well-written script by Nora Ephron and crisp directing by Rob Reiner. Together, they have managed to make what is essentially a ninety-minute Seinfeld episode. If you think about it, this movie is about nothing. The simplicity is ingenious, which might be what I like best about it. There is no, conflict. There is no big hurdle Harry and Sally need to overcome. This is a movie about a man and a woman being platonic friends. The whole sex-ruining-the-friendship part is a driving force for the story but it is only brought up sporadically and doesn’t significantly impact it until the end.

I thought When Harry Met Sally… was GREAT πŸ˜€ The leads, the directing, and the script dovetail harmoniously to create a simple yet touching story. This truly sets a standard for romantic comedies that many films are still trying to touch today.

Trivia
The stories told by the couples during special segments throughout the film were real stories, collected by Rob Reiner for the film.Β  Harry and Sally’s segment was completely improvised by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

Favorite Scene

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Reiner – Director
Nora Ephron – Writer

Billy Crystal – Harry Burns
Meg Ryan – Sally Albright
Carrie Fisher – Marie
Bruno Kirby – Jess
Steven Ford – Joe
Lisa Jane Persky – Alice
Michelle Nicastro – Amanda