Expectations vs. Reality

Last week, I went into Star Wars: The Last Jedi knowing nothing save for the scenes included in the two trailers. Sure, after three viewings of The Force Awakens in 2015 I had concocted some theories about what was going to happen in the next installments. Though I’ve never been an active member of the fandom (as in, I don’t participate in any discussions online, but I am a big-time lurker on forums and such) I had a general knowledge of some of the more intense fan theories, and had a few ideas of my own rattling around about Rey’s parents, Supreme Leader Snoke’s true identity, what the return of Luke Skywalker would entail, and all the other questions that have been plaguing both die-hard and casual fans for the last couple of years.

Though some of my theories were wrong, a couple were confirmed, and some remain unanswered, I genuinely loved The Last Jedi. I had a couple of quibbles with it as far as the plot goes (no spoilers) but all in all, I felt that it was a strong film with excellent performances and some moments and scenes that I consider the best to ever feature in a SW film.  So, when I broke my social media ban and discovered that a vocal part of the fandom had major issues with the film (to the point of making a petition to have it struck from the canon, apparently) I was surprised. I mean, last I checked, the RT score for the critics was hovering in the low 90’s, but the audience score is in the 50’s, even lower than all, or most, of the prequels. Reading through the litany of complaints and the diatribes about all the things that “went wrong” with the film, I do see and understand how folks didn’t like it. Obviously not everyone is going to love a film – I know folks who didn’t like TFA, either, so I’m not trying to invalidate those who genuinely didn’t like TLJ. But with such a polarizing reaction to a film with such a passionate, dedicated fan base (for the better and the worse) behind it, It leads me to wonder; how much do our expectations of something color our opinion of it once we experience the reality? Does over-hype and rampant speculation lead to lukewarm reception?

I mean, I may not actively participate in the SW fandom, and my experience with the media outside of the films (novels, comics, the EU stuff, etc) is limited, but I am invested in it nonetheless. But there are folks out there (not a criticism, btw – I admire people with this level of dedication so long as it doesn’t interfere with life) who spend a lot of time to crafting theories or speculating about what is to happen next in a galaxy far, far away. So obviously, these die-hard fans might have crafted some theories or grown attached to ideas about TLJ and the new characters and plots in the SW universe that Rian Johnson and the creative crew behind the film have effectively taken a lightsaber to.  But just because it isn’t what fans expected, does that necessarily mean it’s “bad?” Or is it just a jarring contrast between expectations and reality that sours the experience for some fans? And while that perspective is valid – and people levying criticism at the film are justified – I think it’s important to separate folks who simply didn’t like the film from people who claim TLJ is “bad” because it didn’t go the way they thought it would.

Game of Thrones is another prominent fandom that suffers from this expectations versus reality mentality, and it makes me dread the reaction to season 8, which is pretty much guaranteed to debut before GRRM releases the final book. Fans of both the show and the books have grown so invested in the character journeys and the overall story and for years have come up with countless theories about “Azor Ahai” and who will marry who and who the “valonqar” is that I cannot fathom an ending that will satisfy everyone. There will be backlash, no matter what, because folks are attached to certain pieces of speculation that, if proven false, might affect the way viewers will perceive the ending. I think there are so many theories that if none of them turn out to be true (as unlikely as that is, a good number of them are going to turn out to be nonsense) a certain strain of fan will be incredibly disappointed. But it’s the nature of the fandom beast.  I know how I want the story to end, and which pieces I want to fall into place, but even if it doesn’t go the way I’ve theorized it would, that doesn’t mean I’m going to write it off as “bad.”

The closest I’ve come to this mentality this year was when Justice League came out a couple of months ago. After the resounding success of Wonder Woman, I was all in for JL, expecting the DCEU to finally turn itself around and prove that it can produce a well-balanced, engrossing ensemble film… which didn’t exactly happen. I did make the mistake of looking at the RT score beforehand, which dampened my excitement. I still enjoyed it, and it had some compelling strengths, but my expectations definitely weren’t met; and yes, that’s disappointing. That’s not the easiest thing to stomach, as a fan who is attached to the characters and the lore. But there’s nothing else to do but accept it, appreciate the good parts, and continue to have optimism for the future.

Honestly, the more popular something becomes, the more passionate and dedicated the fanbase is, and the more disappointed fans are bound to be with the outcome of the next installment, whether it be a book or film or episode. It’s the double-edged sword of popularity and fandoms, and the intrinsic nature of the idea that “you can’t please everyone.” But “different” doesn’t have to mean a “let down,” and “unexpected” shouldn’t automatically equate with “disappointment.” Unless it’s the finale of How I Met Your Mother, because that was straight up garbage and I literally can’t even watch reruns anymore without the shadow of that disaster looming overhead.

That’s why I’m more grateful than ever that I went into The Last Jedi with virtually no expectations and no idea what to expect, because I had no preconceived notions or outside opinions of the film to color my experience while watching. I may have had some theories kicking around in my head, but I was not so attached to any particular outcome or potential theory confirmation that I was disappointed when the reality strayed from how I’d imagined it would go. I have hopes for the future of the franchise and Episode IX, a spark that will not be snuffed out, but I don’t let my hopes get so high that they will inevitably come crashing to the ground and shatter when the outcome is unexpected.

This is my last post of the year; we’ll kick off January with a new Manga Monday!

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If you’re in need of a new read, or need something to spend your holiday money on, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon (uncredited)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr
Spoiler level: MAJOR.

***I AM NOT HOLDING BACK, THIS ENTIRE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING; MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!***

This review will be a bit more rant-y and personal opinion based, so the thoughts expressed might contain some bias.

MV5BYWVhZjZkYTItOGIwYS00NmRkLWJlYjctMWM0ZjFmMDU4ZjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Coming on the heels of 2016’s Batman V Superman and Superman’s demise, Justice League follows Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) as they attempt to recruit new heroes and “unite the league” against the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. Though they attempt to convince Aquaman (Momoa), The Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher) to go all in and save the world, simply coming together might not be enough to prevent the doom of the planet.

As a big JL and general DC fan, I’ll start with what I liked, then go into a bit more detail. I will say, though, that I did enjoy the film, and I think it is a better film than the RT score would indicate. No matter what the reviews say, it is worth seeing, especially because the divisive reception makes it all the more important for people/fans to forge their own opinions about it before taking someone else’s interpretation as law.

*Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen / The Flash. He injected some much-needed comedy and I enjoyed his running scenes.
*The new cast-members are all great, as are the returning cast.
*The humor in general was a VAST improvement over previous films. Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso was especially hilarious.
* Seeing the team together, onscreen, and with such an amazing cast, is a big thrill, and they have a great team vibe.
*Hearkening back to the “Lois is the key!” Flash scene from BVS. I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, anyway.
* Green Lantern Corps Easter Egg!
*Themiscyra.
*Both post-credits scenes. I am sooooo ready for Deathstroke.

I think it is important for me to admit that Zack Snyder is one of my favorite directors due to his incredible vision, his great passion for his projects, and the fact that he always seems to want to do justice to the material he is adapting while also inserting his own ideas. His visual style is absolutely stunning, he knows how to frame a shot, and I always enjoy the color choices for his films. Though he does over-rely on slo-mo, his style is incredibly distinct, so it’s also clear (to me, at least) that both Whedon and Snyder had a hand in the final result of this film, and the contrast in style led to a disjointed tone throughout. The scenes between the two directorial styles weren’t seamless, and if two folks are going to be behind the camera, it shouldn’t feel like there are differing visions grappling for screen time. That said, I completely understand and support Snyder’s decision to leave the project, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing so, but it does make me wonder what a total Snyder film would have looked like. I think, watching the finished project, that it’s pretty obvious that there were issues during post-production and after the re-shoots. The CGI is just one example –  I’m usually pretty forgiving, but it’s jarring in some scenes.

Fortunately, Whedon inserted some much-needed humor into the film, which helped lift the grim tone of its predecessors and present more lighthearted, enjoyable moments into what has been a fairly bleak series thus far. Humor, and coherency, are the two things the DCEU films seem to be lacking the most (with the exception of WW) and while JL picks up some laughs, the plot is still thin. Also, the dialogue in general comes off as so clunky to me a lot of the time; I had the same issue with BVS. A lot of “comic-booky” dialogue does not sound good when voiced aloud, even though it is passable in speech bubbles on a page. Some of the one-liners in this film are a total “cheese-fest” and made me think, “Oh…. no.”

I’ll also admit, as blasphemous as it is, that I am one of the folks who prefers Snyder/Cavill’s portrayal of Superman. I like the dark tone, the disconnect/conflict with humanity, and the fact that he doesn’t always pull punches. I enjoyed Man of Steel quite a lot (except the final fight with Zod was WAY too long) though I wish he’d had more screen time in BVS. But in JL, the only Superman scene that stood out to me was after his reawakening, when he forgot who he was and attacked the JL members. That was excellent. But the CGI mouth was atrocious, and it was present in nearly all of his scenes, which means that most, if not all, of his spoken scenes were from re-shoots. Most of his dialogue (especially in the field with Lois) was cringey and uninspired, and very different from his previous appearances. I did like him coming in to save the day at the end, as predicable as it was, and enjoyed his new rapport with The Flash, but could have done without the “I’m a big fan of justice” bit. It’s like Superman came back to life with a sudden 180-turn in sense of humor and demeanor, and although he might be more like how Superman is “supposed to be,” he doesn’t feel like the version from this universe, and the change is too abrupt. I’m okay with the changes in general, and I look forward to future Superman appearances to see where his character goes, but I think it comes off as a total upheaval instead of a gradual shift. Then again, he probably should have had another solo film before all of this, to allow his personality to develop more, and shoving his resurrection into a 2 hour movie made it feel rushed and lacking in emotional depth.

This is also one of few Snyder films that I think would have benefited majorly from about 20 extra minutes, at least. Back when BVS came out and viewers got their first glimpse of Wonder Woman, her brief appearance did an excellent job of setting up and building interest in her solo film, which went on to be both a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, JL introduces three new characters, and that feeling of “gosh, I can’t wait to see more of *character*!” is also colored with a feeling of “I wish we’d seen more of ‘so-and-so’ before this.” While I’m excited for Aquaman next year, and am doubly excited for a Flash solo outing after Miller’s stellar portrayal, I think Cyborg’s development suffered from being crammed into a movie with 2 other newbies. Ray Fisher was great as Victor, but trying to shove three new characters with elaborate backstories into a 2 hour film does not work and did Cyborg no favors. Aquaman also suffered a bit – the Atlantis reveal is kind of underwhelming, and Aquaman has few opportunities to really show off his water-based skills. Ultimately, it leaves more unanswered questions and rushed exposition instead of creating intrigue, which is a shame because although the glimpses we got of these new additions were good, they were not fulfilling. I almost wish we’d gotten at least a couple more of the solo movies out before this, so the exposition and setup could have been trimmed down for this film, as audiences would already be more familiar with these characters. The only character who really didn’t need a solo film prior to JL is Batman, and I think Affleck has performed the role extremely well thus far. Apparently the strict time restriction is due to studio interference, and this time around, I genuinely believe it was a misstep. However, a 2-hour runtime would have likely worked had we been introduced to all (or most) of the major players before this film. Also, some big names (J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred) are given virtually NOTHING to do but be around for a couple of scenes, and it’s a damn shame. In trying to do too much on restricted time, the film ended up doing too little.

Though I’ve seen a lot of criticism levied at the villain, I didn’t mind Steppenwolf that much. Critics and reviews made him out to be the worst CBM villain of all time, and he certainly wasn’t great, but I’d rank him above a few of Marvel’s more forgettable villains. Justin Hammer, anyone? Malekith? Ultron? CGI dodginess aside, Steppenwolf, his massive hammer/axe, and his dramatic monologues were par for the course, and no worse than the underdeveloped baddies from other films. However, I do love Ciaran Hinds, so maybe that’s my bias speaking.

In additional terms of directing, I’m not sure who we have to thank for the upskirt shots of Wonder Woman (I have my theories), but they were about 10000% unnecessary, considering her outfit is plenty short already. An absolute disservice to the character and her solo film. On the other hand, I don’t think the Amazon midriff outfits were nearly as bad as social media made them out to be, though the way they were shot was pretty pervy. Several had armor similar to their attire in WW, though the more revealing versions are definitely deserving of some side-eye. You could play devil’s advocate and say that Momoa as Aquaman fought Steppenwolf shirtless, which is equally as impractical. I, for one, was certainly looking forward to shirtless Momoa, and was not disappointed.

Unfortunately, the first phase of the rushed DCEU has tried too hard to keep up with Marvel instead of establishing itself as it’s own universe and has fallen short of the finish line. Though I enjoyed several moments of Justice League, the disappointing aspects ultimately left this viewer with a longing for “what could have been,” though a flicker of optimism remains for the future of the franchise. If you want these films to succeed, go and give JL a shot in theaters – it has a lot of box office ground to make up. I do have faith that the DCEU can turn it around, and I’m still “all in” if it means we get to see these compelling heroes onscreen for future movies. I just hope that the ensuing installments can do these characters and their evolving personalities the justice they deserve with more well-developed plots and compelling narratives.

 

Overall Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Dir. Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, and Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr10m
Spoiler level: Light, some mention of plot points but no end spoilers.

Of all the MCU major Avenger film trilogies, I have generally considered the Thor films to be the weakest, so I went into the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, with tempered expectations. Two hours later, I came out of the theater with sore cheeks from laughing so hard and my expectations thoroughly blown away, as if by the sheer force of Hela’s wrath, Hulk’s incredible smash, or Thor’s lightning prowess.

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgThor: Ragnarok follows the titular hero (Hemsworth) as he strives to free Asgard from the chaotic rule of his previously exiled elder sister, Hela, Goddess of Death (Blanchett). In an effort to prevent Ragnarok, Thor must endure capture by an outcast Valkyrie (Thompson), forced combat with the Hulk (Ruffalo), continuing sibling strife with adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston), and the loss of his beloved Mjolnir.

I’ve always thought that, when in the presence of the other Avengers, Thor’s character tends to get overshadowed, but Hemsworth nailed it in his third solo outing and has officially proven that Thor can hold his own against the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. He rocked the heroic moments and his humor was on point – Thor’s otherwordly humor has always been a highlight of his character, and it’s dialed up to ten for this film with hilarious results. The “Get help” bit had me laughing so hard I was afraid the woman behind me was going to ask me to get a grip. Hemsworth’s chemistry with Hiddleston as Loki is also stellar, and Hiddleston continues to ooze both charm and deception in what is likely his last outing as the semi-sympathetic villain, and stands as possibly the most well-developed menace of the entire MCU. Blanchett is delightful as the near-unstoppable Hela, and shows what might have happened had Galadriel become a queen as great and terrible as the dawn. Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and his rapport with Hemsworth is a highlight along with Hulk’s overall development, as he now carries conversations and doesn’t devolve into smash mode on a constant basis. The introduction of Valkyrie is a pleasant one, as her complex history and abilities as a fighter prove her to be an excellent ally for the Asgardian hero. Hopkins also briefly returns as Odin, and though his appearance is short, it makes an impression. Idris Elba as Heimdall and Karl Urban as Hela’s conflicted henchman Skurge are both great in supporting roles. And how could I leave out Jeff Goldbum, as Grandmaster? All I can say is… he’s Jeff Goldblum. And it’s fantastic.

The cameos are enjoyable, with a peek at one of 2016’s breakout heroes Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and three surprise cameos (I won’t spoil them) during an early scene on Asgard. It’s a “Is that really __________?” moment, thrice over, and done very well. Sad we didn’t get to see Sif this time around, but honestly, the film is enjoyable enough that I didn’t even feel her absence, and I didn’t feel the loss of Jane Foster one bit (I do love Natalie Portman though, for the record, and Jamie Alexander as well). I didn’t even miss Thor’s hair! Additionally, the music is great, the colors are fun and bright, which creates a much more visually-pleasing aesthetic than some of the previous films, which have a darker, more serious atmosphere.

The strength of this film is easily the humor and more lighthearted nature, as the film-makers perhaps looked to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy for what tone and direction to take, and it certainly pays off. I laughed out loud several times, and just started giggling again thinking of a particular joke. Though, that’s not to say that the action doesn’t deliver, because it does; the battles are all vivid and engrossing and none of the action sequences feel dragged out or too long. The overall pacing is done well, and though it seems as though the plot starts to meander a bit in the middle, the jokes and the character interactions keep it from feeling drawn out, and the final battle does not feel rushed and crammed into the end. The narrative is balanced between action with dire consequences, focus on the lead character and his inner conflict, and all of the external conflicts going on at the same time, with Hela’s wrath being unleashed upon Asgard, the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial games, and Thor’s efforts to wrangle a new team to assist him with saving the realm(s). With so many players on the field and such a stacked cast, it would be so easy for this film to devolve into a muddles mess with several personalities vying for screen time, but each plot point gets a decent amount of attention and no character feels like they got left to the wayside. And, though it might just be my inability to pay attention to detail, I didn’t really predict how the final conflict was going to play out, and there were enough surprises throughout the film to keep me on the edge of my seat.

After the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, I wasn’t looking forward to Ragnarok as much I was some of the other MCU installments, but the third Thor outing definitely stands as one of the best, might be a top contender for the funniest, and has made me even more excited to see our favorite golden-haired Asgardian prince in action during Infinity War next year.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Five “Anytime” Films

Everyone has at least one “anytime” movie – a movie that, while scrolling through the channels on a rainy Saturday, you can tune into no matter how many times you have seen it, and still enjoy it. And here are a handful of my favorite “anytime” movies!

1.) Jumanji (1995)
Whenever this film comes into conversation, my first comment is always, “I f*cking LOVE Jumanji.” Unless there are children around, of course. Then I just say, “I LOVE Jumanji.” And it’s true – the film about a jungle-themed board-game come to life to terrorize a small New England town is one of my all-time faves, and also one of my most personally-treasured Robin Williams performances. Sure, the effects are super dated by today’s standards which causes a bit of a kink in the immersion factor, but I adore the story and the characters/performances so much that I watch it any time it’s on TV. The trailer for the sequel/remake coming out next month actually made me laugh, so I might end up seeing it, but I don’t think it will ever triumph over the original. And though I’ve seen it several times, I never put together that Jonathan Hyde plays both Van Pelt (the hunter) and the dad until very recently.

2.) The Princess Diaries (2001)
I saw this movie in theaters when it first came out and instantly fell in love with it. Though I love nearly all of her performances, I think Mia Thermopolis will always be my favorite Anne Hathaway role, as she was just so convincing and relatable as the awkward girl turned unexpected princess. I think I’ve seen this movie well over a dozen times and I still enjoy it 100% each viewing. The Hathaway/Andrews chemistry is unreal and my favorite scene is toward the end, when grandmother and granddaughter enter the ballroom together. I also have this film to thank for introducing me to Meg Cabot, one of my all-time favorite authors!

3.) Remember the Titans (2000)
I first saw this film in school (junior high, I think, though I can’t for the life of me remember what class) and it resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. I even went out and bought the DVD not long after and used to watch it on a portable DVD player during every long car drive. The true story of a recently desegregated football team during the 70’s features an important message and I haven’t gotten tired of it after multiple viewings. Plus, the music is stellar, and the acting is great!

4.) The Mummy (1999)
I know this isn’t widely regarded as a “great” film, but boy is it entertaining! The effects are dated and it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking plot-wise, but it’s a fun romp in the sand with decent humor and action, and I absolutely love Brendan Fraser. The scene where he screams back at Imhotep makes me laugh every single time I see it. Besides, it might not be a masterpiece, but at least it isn’t trying to be; and it’s still better than the 2017 remake/reboot. And the super-fast scarabs still scare me! I also bonded with my study abroad friends from college over this film after we spotted John Hannah (who plays Jonathan) at a cafe near our university one morning.

5.) Spirited Away (2001)
The first time I saw this film, I was so spellbound I watched it two times in one day. Miyazaki is a master storyteller and Studio Ghibli’s animation is always enchanting, but I think Spirited Away is the one Ghibli film that has the highest “re-watchability” factor. I can jump into the film at any moment – whether it be after Chihiro’s parents have been turned into pigs, or when she’s helping a contaminated river spirit – and watch it through to the end, and still enjoy it just as much. Chihiro’s journey in the spirit world is a timeless one, and the magic of the film does not get old upon multiple watches.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

Home_Again_poster
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54570184

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Film Review: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Dir: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 23min
Rating: R
Spoiler Level: Super lite

After viewing this film, I’ll say one thing for certain; I am so glad that I was not invited to this dinner.

Beatriz_at_Dinner.jpgBeatriz at Dinner follows the titular character, an employee/massage therapist at a cancer treatment center, who ends up staying for dinner at a client’s house when her car fails to start. Beatriz attempts to navigate the evening while reflecting on her personal circumstances and how they compare and collide with the wealthy lives she is surrounded by, ultimately creating tension between her and powerful businessman Doug Strutt.

The film follows a relatively simple premise, and is buoyed by the stellar performances from the cast. Hayek is brilliant as Beatriz, the central character, and capably delivers a range of tangible emotion, from quiet, tempered despair, to deeply-rooted resentment, to cautious hope for the future. Lithgow is irritatingly good as Doug Strutt; I love Lithgow, but definitely felt that he needed a good punch in the face for this role. Britton, Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and David Warshofsky all play their parts as poised, simpering, shallow, occasionally frustrating, and yet multi-layered members of this dinner party. Each character could easily be a real person and each actor delivers a convincing and thought-provoking  performance with complexities that make it difficult to really hate any of them, with perhaps the exception of Lithgow. Everybody knows somebody like each of the dinner guests, and that is the strength of the film; it is a believable tale, with believable people and a relevant message. Even the “bad guy” isn’t just a standard corporate suit caricature; he’s got layers, like an onion. But the film is mostly carried by Hayek; the camera follows her every move, analyzes every tiny facial expression, and navigates her story, though it never really delves deep enough into her psyche to give us a clear picture of Beatriz’s motivations or the underlying reasons for her conflict with Strutt. There are clues left, and theories that can be woven together to make some semblance of an answer, but much of Beatriz’s psyche remains a mystery, even as the film draws to a close.

Since the film takes place predominately over the course of a single dinner, the pacing is a bit slow, but there is enough happening that the progression does not feel like a tedious drag. The tone is fairly balanced, and the dialogue is believable; I feel like I’ve heard people having similar conversations and discussing similar topics, but the writing did not feel tired or overdone. The tension in the film is also palpable; as the dinner drifts into different topics and controversial statements, the awkwardness and discomfort is real. There were several parts that made me squirm in my seat, as the discomfort was practically radiating from the screen. It’s a film that creates a very definitive mood, and it succeeds in it’s ability to generate a realistic atmosphere and emulate situations and characters that could very well exist in the world today, and probably do.

Unfortunately, the film’s efforts at subtlety occasionally miss the mark and fall more ham-fisted than is intended, or fly too far beneath the radar to be thoroughly detected. Overall, the film utilizes a commentary that is easily applicable to the world today and features an extremely prevalent message about society/money/greed, and for the most part, it comes across beautifully, but there are moments where the film picks up steam only to abruptly lose momentum and grow aimless. The end also left me with more questions than answers, and though I think films that stir up questions and make the viewer wonder are often a good thing, Beatriz at Dinner raises a few too many ambiguities and the conclusion comes across as “unresolved.” However, for the performances and the commentary alone, the film is definitely worth checking out, though lingering mysteries and dangling threads might leave you more frustrated than appeased. But if you’re looking for an action-based thriller with a quick pace, then this dinner party isn’t for you.

Overall rating: 8/10

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Dir: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russel
Runtime: 2hr16m
Spoiler Level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE UNDER A “READ MORE”)

MV5BMTg2MzI1MTg3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU3NDA2MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgBack in the summer of 2014, I knew nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy, but when Marvel’s film adaptation rolled into theaters, my best friend and I decided to venture out to see it on opening night. I knew there was a raccoon involved, and I do love my nocturnal, trash-eating rodents, so I figured it would be worthy entertainment for a Thursday night.

However, I did not expect it to become my favorite installation in the MCU up to that point. The original Guardians is an action-packed, visually-engrossing space opera laden with laugh-out-loud humor and fantastic music, and 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a worthy sequel and excellent addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, even though it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of quirky charm of the first.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 follows the titular band of space misfits as they continue their travels through space and adapt to their new role as “heroes”, but after a mission goes awry, they must work to resolve their internal conflicts while also navigating various precarious situations, including the question of Star Lord’s parentage, the sisterly rivalry between Nebula and Gamora, and Baby Groot’s inability to understand even the most basic directions.

Naturally, with such a stacked cast, it’s easy for the more “supporting” characters to get shoved aside so the main cast can bask in the spotlight, but GotGv2 does a decent job of balancing the plot and the narrative focus between all of the characters. I think this contributes to the somewhat “nonlinear plot” of the film, as this film is far more character-driven than it is plot-driven, but that’s not necessarily a drawback; in fact, I think it’s the film’s strength. Each character seemed to get their own sizable piece of the action, and in most cases, the character arcs “overlap” to help ensure enough time is devoted to each person/creature. Gamora has to grapple with her dysfunctional relationship with Nebula, which also gives the viewer a better look into Nebula’s motivations. Drax strikes up an unusual (and hilarious) friendship with Mantis, and Rocket finds an unusual kinship with Peter’s old mentor/guardian Yondu (Michael Rooker), which also opens a window into Yondu’s past as a ravager and his history with Peter. Peter struggles to reconcile the dreams he once had about his real father with the reality of his actual father, Ego, in addition to dealing with an “unspoken thing” with Gamora. And Baby Groot is… well, he’s Baby Groot. Every moment he is onscreen is a moment to treasure.

But this focus on the characters only seems to add more of an emotional impact to the film, even if the result is a less “plot-driven” film than the previous one. I mean, while there’s a solid plot and all, the individual stories and plotlines are kind of loosely interwoven until the climax, where they all crash into one another; but instead of stretching the story too thin, I think it adds a unique sort of depth. After all, a film about a superhero team should give adequate screen time to each of the members, and this film does a great job of doing just that. It didn’t feel like anyone got left behind, and certain events over the course of the film packed more of an emotional punch because of the enhanced focus on the entire cast, not only the leads; this is especially apparent in the treatment of Yondu and Nebula, who get more of a layered portrayal this time around.

New additions to the cast include Pom Klementieff as the empath, Mantis, who expresses a genuine naivete and wide-eyed sweetness that balances out some of the “rougher” members of the team. Mantis contributes to a lot of big laughs throughout the film, especially through her interactions with Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Kurt Russell oozes confidence and charisma as Star Lord’s father, Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki is “gold” in her appearance as High Priestess Ayesha of the Sovereign, though her screen time is limited. Also, Sly Stallone is in this for a hot second – didn’t know that until I saw the opening credits.

Much like with the first film, the music in this film is fitting for the plot and all around fantastic to listen to, and the effects are amazing, per usual – especially the design of Ego’s Planet. There’s plenty of action, and several sequences that are just an absolute blast to watch, especially in IMAX/3D. Plus, for a film/property that is generally more light-hearted in tone than other Marvel installments, GotGv2 isn’t afraid to land a roundhouse kick right to your feels in a couple of spots. Unlike Mantis, the film is beautiful – on the inside, and the outside.

Alas, with the good comes the bad; while the film features several legitimately hilarious moments (I’ll discuss a couple of them under the spoiler cut), some of the humor feels a bit forced and awkward, especially in the beginning – though obviously, this might differ for other folks depending on their sense of humor. It takes a bit of time for the film to find its groove, and a few jokes failed to hit the mark. However, Drax (along with his interaction with Mantis) is definitely the comedic heart of the film, along with the lovable Baby Groot. Everyone gets a few quips, and the film eventually finds a rhythm and sticks to it, despite a faltering start.

If you’re a fan of the first film, or just love a good, humorous jaunt through the distant reaches of the universe with a twig, a couple of aliens, a human/celestial, and a cybernetically-engineered trash panda, then prepare yourself to get hooked on a feelin’ (again) by Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2.

Overall rating: 9/10

SPOILERS BENEATH THE “READ MORE,” YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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