Lightning Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell movie posterSynopsis
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A perfect human / machine hybrid. However, she has no recollection of her past before becoming the weapon she is today. When she confronts a mysterious terrorist known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), she soon begins looking for answers about the truth of who she really is.

Review
Ghost in the Shell had the difficult task of luring in fans of both the original 1995 animated film and proceeding anime of the same name, as well as a new audience. Because I have yet to see the original film, I fall into the latter, but found myself right away getting drawn into the movie’s world. What hooked me in the beginning was its fantastic science-fiction neo-noir version of Tokyo. The bright colors from the advertisements, signs, cars, and lights create a stark contrast against the more muted-colored buildings. When it comes to sci-fi films, I like to be sold on the world it is looking to create. Almost every character has some sort of cybernetic enhancement and this movie shows how integral these enhancements have become in this world. Say what you will about Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major, she did a great job in the role. She made her movements rigid and less fluid than what you are used to seeing. This motion sold that she had a robotic body despite her appearance as flesh and blood.

As philosophical as this movie wanted to be, it never fully examined the themes it was trying to bring across. They were touched on and hinted at several times through the film but it still felt like the message or commentary it was trying to provide was not delved into as deeply as this movie thought it was. I think it is funny that this is the case because a lot of time was spent on exposition. However, it never seemed to move past a superficial level or into any deep exploration of its themes. This also made the movie feel like it was often not going anywhere because there wasn’t enough action to make up for the lack of depth. It’s a shame these ideas never found much ground because the concepts of artificial intelligence and identity are very interesting to me.

I thought Ghost in the Shell was OK 😐 Its futuristic neo-noir world is extremely well realized and Scarlett Johansson was great casting as Major but despite much of its run time is spent on exposition, the themes and commentary it was trying to bring across aren’t explored past high-level concepts. This movie isn’t bad by any means, but there are flickers of good ideas that never came to fruition to make it something special.

Trivia
Several original voice actors from the 1995 animated Ghost in the Shell reprise their roles for the Japanese dubbed version of this film. Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Koichi Yamadera voice their parts as Major, Batou, and Togusa respectively.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rupert Sanders – Director
Jamie Moss – Screenplay
William Wheeler – Screenplay
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Lorne Balfe – Composer
Clint Mansell – Composer

Scarlett Johansson – Major
Pilou Asbaek – Batou
Takeshi Kitano – Aramaki
Juliette Binoche – Dr. Ouelet
Michael Carmen Pitt – Kuze
Chin Han – Togusa
Danusia Samal – Ladriya
Lasarus Ratuere – Ishikawa
Yutaka Izumihara – Saito
Tawanda Manyimo – Borma
Peter Ferdinando – Cutter
Anamaria Marinca – Dr. Dahlin

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 😀 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)

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) movie posterSynopsis
Belle (Emma Watson) takes her father’s place as the prisoner for the Beast (Dan Stevens).  The Beast hopes to win Belle’s heart and break the spell that has been placed on him, his castle, and its inhabitants.

Review
Disney is currently going through a phase of remaking its animated films as live action films.  There have been a few of their lesser (although no less loved) classics already made and now they are stepping up to remake one of their most popular films, one that even holds the honor of being the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  Disney’s previous live action remakes have gone in several different directions.  Maleficent retold Sleeping Beauty’s tale from the titular fairy’s point of view, whereas last year’s The Jungle Book, told a similar story to their 1967 classic while incorporating more of the original book’s source material, making it feel new yet familiar.  Where does Beauty and The Beast stand? Well, knowing that their Disney Renaissance film is such a well known and well loved film, it follows very closely to the original. Maybe a little too close.

Beauty and the Beast‘s biggest strength comes from its cast.  Emma Watson, to no surprise, is an absolute gem.  Her Belle is every bit as gentle yet strong as her animated predecessor.  Watson mentioned many times in interviews that Belle means a lot to her on a personal level and that love for the character really shines through.  Not only that, she has great chemistry with Dan Stevens, who plays Beast, which seems like a silly thing to say since Beast is a CGI character. However, Stevens’ emotion is still felt through the computer animation, leading to several touching moments throughout the film.

Besides Watson as Belle and Stevens as Beast, I thought the other characters were well cast also.  Luke Evans’ experience in theater made him a perfect fit as Gaston.  He brings the same charisma we’ve come to expect from his animated counterpart.  Josh Gad’s short and stout stature fit the character of LeFou perfectly, and I’m sure his experience as Frozen’s Olaf helped with the musical numbers as well. Kevin Kline was a more composed, less village-crazy-man incarnation of Maurice, Belle’s father, than the 1991 version.  Ian McKellen embodied the character of Cogsworth flawlessly. While Ewan McGregor’s French accent is a little dodgy, it never bothered me too much and he was still fun.

What surprised me the most about this film was how humorous it was! The original had plenty of laughs, sure, but I don’t remember it for its comedy.  This time, however, there were multiple times the entire theater would burst out laughing.  It definitely kept the mood light.

The set and costume design for this movie undeniably gorgeous. The majority of this film takes place within Beast’s castle and the ornate designs and decorations give it a breathtaking appearance. Everything is extremely detailed and well thought out and designed. It all deserves some recognition, from the castle’s furniture and stone towers, to the characters’ 18th century outfits, even character designs for the living objects, such as Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts.

My biggest flaw with Beauty and the Beast is that it doesn’t expand on, or do anything new with, the 1991 classic. Instead, what it does do is fill in and clean up the story.  For example, Gaston is painted in more of a villainous light, Belle’s family is given more of a background, the movie’s timeline is tightened, and more is revealed about the Enchantress’ spell. Disney’s other live-action remakes they have done so far have each told their own story using characters we were acquainted with, albeit with varying success.  This film, on the other hand, hits the exact same beats and the characters go through the same motions as before.  In essence, all this film is what the 1991 Beauty and the Beast would look like with live actors.

I thought Beauty and the Beast was GOOD 🙂 If you are a fan of the Disney Renaissance classic, you will more than likely enjoy this remake since it follows it very closely.  However, that is also its biggest weakness, in that it simply fills in some story points but never does anything wholly original.  It does make up for it though, with fantastic casting all around and great chemistry between Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bill Condon – Director
Stephen Chbosky – Screenplay
Evan Spiliotopoulos – Screenplay
Alan Menkin – Composer

Emma Watson – Belle
Dan Stevens – Beast
Luke Evans – Gaston
Josh Gad – LeFou
Kevin Kline – Maurice
Ewan McGregor – Lumiere
Ian McKellen – Cogsworth
Emma Thompson – Mrs. Potts
Nathan Mack – Chip
Audra McDonald – Madame Garderobe
Stanley Tucci – Maestro Cadenza
Gugu Mbatha- Raw – Plumette
Rita Davies – Old Woman
Hattie Morahan – Agathe / Enchantress

Logan Review

Logan movie posterSynopsis
In 2029, mutant-kind is on the brink of extinction.  An aged Logan (Hugh Jackman) is hiding in Mexico with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  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.  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.  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.  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.  Logan, on the other hand, keeps the focus very much on Logan, Charles, and Laura. There is a reason it is called “Logan” and not something like Wolverine 3.  The character moments are what drive the story forward.  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.  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.  I don’t just mean “mature” with the violence but how it approaches the characters as well.  As I mentioned before, this story is all about Logan, Charles, and Laura as a bizarre, mutant family.  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.  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.  Now, the character can really let loose.  Logan takes full advantage of the R-rating, showing even that an aged Logan is something to be feared.  This film would not have worked if it was restrained by a lower rating.  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.  With a runtime of over two and a half hours, it just flew by.  I felt invested in the characters and the story.  It had its action moments and its character moments. It was never moving too fast nor did it ever feel like it was dragging.  There was a perfect balance between the loud action sequences and the quieter character moments.

I thought Logan was GREAT 😀 You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has come to embody a character the way Hugh Jackman has become Wolverine.  As a farewell performance for the character, Jackman gives the best performance of the character to date.  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

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 “gun-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 😀 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

The Lego Batman Movie Review

The LEGO Batman Movie movie posterSynopsis
Batman (Will Arnett (voice)) is the hero of Gotham City and has everything he could want except for one thing: a family. When the Joker (Zach Galifianakis (voice)) enacts a his largest, most villainous plan yet, Batman must lean to work with a team to stop the Joker’s diabolical scheme.

Review
I am a huge, huge fan of The Lego Movie. It had all the right elements to make it fun for both the younger and older audiences. Also being a superhero fan, I went into the theater hoping that I would see that cleverness and self-awareness return but pointed at the superhero genre that has exploded over the last 10-15 years. The Lego Batman Movie may not hit the high that The Lego Movie did, but it sure comes close.

Batman has had a very wild and varied history, a fact the movie brings up several times. Although this is wrapped in the aesthetic of a children’s toy, I would qualify this a good Batman movie. It looks at the Dark Knight from a different perspective, but it keeps much of what makes Batman Batman. Although this is a very different kind of Batman (arrogant, obnoxious, self-centered), he still feels like Batman. This should please long-time fans of the character while still not being too inclusive for those who aren’t as familiar with the character.

The photo-realistic look from The Lego Movie was astonishing and one of the things I liked best about that film. There is not much difference in the look and feel of between that and this film and that’s perfectly fine with me. It still looks like real Lego bricks and figures on the screen. Nothing is not made out of Legos. I can’t get enough of it!

So far, these theatrical Lego movies have brought together the perfect voice casts. Will Arnett returns as Batman and kills it. Michael Cera, Arnett’s co-star on Arrested Development, fantastically plays the innocent Dick Grayson. His Grayson is much younger than any Robin seen in any Batman film so far and Cera gleefully brings a childlike naivety to the role. Other stars of note are Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, the no-stranger-to-superheroes Rosario Dawson as Barbra Gordon, and Zach Galifianakis, who is clearly having too much fun as the Joker.

Going into a Lego movie like this, you should expect some zany action sequences. With everything being composed of Legos, the possibilities are endless and this film takes full advantage of that. Every scene is explosive, insane, and batshit crazy. The constant intensity keeps the story moving quickly. However, it still takes the time to have the softer moments. One thing’s for sure, you won’t get bored during this movie.

Although this is an animated film that might be geared more towards a younger audience, this movie incorporates enough to appeal to many ages and groups. There are plenty of references to previous Batmans (Batmen?), such as the recent Ben Affleck Batman, Christopher Nolan’s version of the Dark Knight, and even “that weird one in 1966.”  There are also references to other superhero properties, like Suicide Squad, which are sure to please comic fans, as well as other franchises like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings to hit a wider audience. If you’re a little bit older, there are jokes and pop-culture references that you’ll catch. Then the colorful action will surely keep the attention of the young ones.

I thought The Lego Batman Movie was GOOD 🙂 The goofiness and cleverness that made The Lego Movie so much fun returns. Although this Batman may be very different than any Batman seen so far, I had a blast as a fan of the character. Whether you are a lifelong fan of Batman like myself or just know who he is, chances are you will find something to enjoy in this film and end up having a good time.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Chris McKay – Director
Seth Grahame-Smith – Story / Screenplay
Chris McKenna – Screenplay
Erik Sommers – Screenplay
Jared Stern – Screenplay
John Whittington – Screenplay
Lorne Balfe – Composer

Will Arnett – Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Michael Cera – Robin / Dick Grayson (voice)
Ralph Fiennes – Alfred Pennyworth (voice)
Rosario Dawson – Batgirl / Barbara Gordon (voice)
Hector Elizondo – Jim Gordon (voice)
Zach Galifianakis – Joker (voice)
Jenny Slate – Harley Quinn (voice)
Jason Mantzoukas – Scarecrow (voice)
Conan O’Brien – The Riddler (voice)
Doug Benson – Bane (voice)
Billy Dee Williams – Two-Face (voice)
Zoe Kravitz – Catwoman (voice)
Eddie Izzard – Voldemort (voice)
Seth Green – King Kong (voice)
Jemaine Clement – Sauron (voice)