Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review

Luc Besson is not a filmmaker I would consider a favorite of mine. In fact, the last film I saw that he directed was The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc way back in 1999. Sure I’ve seen the films he produced and wrote such as the Transporter and Taken series, while I did enjoy some of those films, I would only consider them “guilty pleasures”. I was never fan of his cult favorite Leon: The Professional and I mildly enjoyed The Fifth Element. He’s now back with another big budget sci-fi adventure film that’s based on a supposedly popular French comic books; although I’ve never heard of these comics before.

Set in the 28th century, the film opens with a group of alien beings who looks kind of like the Navis from Avatar and skinny human super models, enjoying their peaceful lives on a distant planet when suddenly space ships started clashing into their lands. Then we’re introduced to a couple of very young looking humans named Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). At first it looked like they’re on vacation at some remote beach but it turns out they’re special agents whose mission is to find something important and bring it back to their superiors. They met up with other agents on some planet and got in some trouble while trying to retrieve the product they were told to retrieve. Once they got what they needed, they headed to a planet that’s full of alien beings and humans living in harmony and the film spent most of its runtime on this city/planet.

If it sounds like I’m not sure what the film’s really about then you’re correct. The film has no coherent story or character development. It’s full of cool 3D effects and that’s pretty much it. Written and directed by Besson, I believe his only motivation was to make a very cool looking film and show off his 3D shooting skills. I love film that has great visual and 3D effects but I also want to see good story and interesting characters; this film contains neither. The film also lacks, of all things, good action scenes. In fact, I don’t recall any memorably action sequences at all.

I’ve never read the comic books but I assume the lead characters probably look quite different from the actors who portrayed them in the film. DeHaan and Delevingne both look like they’re 16 year olds and I find that hard to believe they’re some kind of special agents. Also, they have zero chemistry and their bantering throughout the film sounds forced. The supporting characters were also forgettable except Clive Owen, who happens to be the villain but he’s on the screen for only like 5 minutes, such a waste of his talent here.

I wanted to say something positive about this dreadful film but I couldn’t think of anything else besides the cool looking 3D effects. It’s one of the most excruciating films I’ve sat through. I would highly recommend you stay away from it.

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So have you seen Valerian? Well, what did you think?

Week In Review: A comedic play, Spider-man Homecoming and podcasting

How’s your weekend everyone? Well it’s been quite a whirlwind week for me, but a fun one nonetheless. I didn’t get an extra day off for Fourth of July, but still a four-day work week is better than five 🙂

I did manage to see a fun play on Friday night, a French farce called Don’t Dress For Dinner. It’s actually the opening night of the theatre company run by my lead actor Peter Hansen, in which he also starred in with five other actors.


I also got to see one of its rehearsals last week which was really fun to see. I had never been to a play rehearsal before and the fact that it’s a comedy is even more delightful to watch. Oh as if I hadn’t been busy enough w/ my film AND Kickstarter campaign, I also helped redesign his theatre website. (yep I need a vacation real bad!)

Saturday was a hot day, so after a scorching afternoon going to Art Crank in NE Minneapolis, we cooled off watching the new Spidey flick.

I have to admit I wasn’t all that enthused to see this so if it wasn’t for my hubby’s insistence, I probably would’ve waited for its VOD release. Fortunately it ends up being a pretty decent flick which is NOT an origin story, thank goodness!

It’s fun to see Peter Parker being a proper teenager and Tom Holland is perfectly believable in the role. Some of the banters between him and his BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon) seems too cutesy with all the ‘awesome’ which at times doesn’t ring true. But as the film progressed it didn’t bother me and they do have some fun memorable moments. Our young’un hero is far more eager to be a hero than in past interpretations but I’m glad actually gets to do something heroic and does it on his own account.

I hadn’t paid much attention to this film so I was pleasantly surprised to see Michael Keaton as the villain. He’s definitely one of the best villains in the plethora of Spidey movies I’ve seen over the years. My fave is still Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 2 and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is right up there with him. I like villains who are more of a tragic character, not an all-out monster hellbent on destroying the world. I enjoyed watching Keaton as a cross between Batman and Birdman when he’s wearing the birdlike costume, but his character actually has some depth. There’s also a pretty bizarre father-daughter storyline here that I did not see coming.

The movie starts out pretty light, Peter’s fanboy-ing over Tony Stark also gets overdone, but the movie actually grows darker with a genuine sense of dread. I am however quite puzzled by the hype over Zendaya in this movie. Not because her acting wasn’t good but her character barely registers here to even make any impact. Yes I appreciate that she’s not just another love interest but I wish the slew of writers actually gave her something to do. The movie does hint that she perhaps will have a larger role in the inevitable sequels.

Despite me feeling blasé about this reboot, this movie ends up being pretty enjoyable. There are a couple of thrilling action sequences though the finale is still way too loud & bombastic. Casting-wise, Holland fits the role nicely and he seems to have fun doing it. There are fun moments of Peter poking fun at members of the Avengers which is in keeping with him being a 15-year-old kid. It was pretty fun seeing Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his chauffeur/personal assistant ‘Happy’ (Jon Favreau) as part of the story too. I’m not exactly clamoring to see more of Spidey movies though, but I suppose if they gotta make ’em at least they don’t suck.


The weekend is topped off w/ my first time doing a podcast! It was fun being a guest for an episode of The Film Pasture, hosted by my friend Vern from Vern’s Video Vortex with film blogger Kristen Lopez. Vern was kind enough to invite me to discuss our picks of Top 5 Female Filmmakers and let me promote my short film Hearts Want which I can proudly say has a strong woman of color in the lead and done by a mostly-female crew.

I will post the podcast here once it’s up. As you know I’m a big supporter of women filmmakers and having just written/produced my first film, naturally I have even more respect for those who’ve made it in the male-dominated film industry.


Well, did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen the newest Spider-man movie, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup: Quick review of BABY DRIVER (2017)

Happy [almost] Fourth of July weekend! It’s not really a long weekend for me as I’ll be working both Monday AND Wednesday, though the office is pretty much dead today with everyone taking a day off.

Last week was a pretty hectic one, hence I hadn’t even posted anything other than my short film update. Well, as if making movies wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I also launched a crowdfunding campaign is Kickstarter campaign last week. We had a good start but we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal.

Shout out to Paula, Shivani, Mark, and Nostra for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

This weekend I did manage to fit in a movie night… and it was a ton of fun!

Move over Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the movie w/ the best retro soundtrack this year belongs to Baby Driver. It’s also one helluva heist action flick that gets your blood pumpin’ from start to finish.

I like Edgar Wright and his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (especially Hot Fuzz!) but for some reason I haven’t been paying much attention to Baby Driver. I think I only read an article a while back when it was a hit at SXSW and then of course I was intrigued by the stellar reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So naturally I had a high expectations going into this movie. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint!

I dig car chases!! I grew up w/ two brothers and played with matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls as a kid so I always enjoy a thrilling car chase in the movies! Man, what an opening scene!! You can watch how they made it in this featurette. That’s perhaps one of the best car chases since the first Transporter flick, but this time we’ve got a kid at the wheel with a cutesy name Baby (Ansel Elgort). Yep it’s B-A-B-Y. Hence the title.

It’s obvious Wright himself is a big fan of heist movies and crazy car chases, and it shows. He’s also got an ear for music, and music is truly the fuel for this exciting ride. You go see this for the action, but there’s also a pretty compelling story and a character worth rooting for. Elgort isn’t the most charismatic young actor but he acquits himself well here and it’s easy to root for Baby who’s had a tragic past and wants out of the crime business. He’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James as Baby’s love interest. I’d say it’s quite inspired casting, especially in regards to Jon Hamm. The romance between Lily and Ansel seems deliberately too cutesy, cheesy even, but it’s kind of sweet, too.

In a way, Baby Driver is a heist flick & coming-of-age movie in one. And that makes it refreshingly original, as we see this kid who gets picked on and taken advantage of finally breaking free and coming into his own. The rather restrained ending is quite a pleasant surprise to me given how many blockbusters seem to go for deafeningly-bombastic finale.

So if you’re in the mood for fun music, crazy action and some sweet little romance, you can’t go wrong with Baby Driver.This movie’s also got heart to go with all the cool moves. And of course, plenty of Wright’s cheeky brand of humor too.

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Have you seen ‘BABY DRIVER’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016)

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Directed By: Niki Caro
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 2 hr 7 minutes

The diversity of Holocaust-themed movies has increased over recent years as filmmakers try different storytelling approaches to keep alive our collective memory of what happened. One film that has divided the critics is The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016). While most of this genre uses graphic realism to confront large-scale human carnage and moral dystopia, this beautifully filmed story tells how 300 Jewish lives were saved by the owners of the Warsaw Zoo.

The film opens in 1939 with stunning photography of an idyllic existence in the charming Warsaw Zoo. Owners Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are devoted zoologists who love their animals and each other. There are many touching scenes of physical affection that portray trust and understanding across the human-animal divide. The peace is soon shattered by Nazi bombing and there are many disturbing scenes of animal destruction. Soon after the Nazis arrive, the Zoo’s best breeding specimens are sent to Berlin under Hitler’s zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). With Nazi soldiers needing housing, the Zoo is under threat but saved when Antonina obtains Heck’s support to convert it into a pig farm to feed Nazi soldiers. He becomes a frequent visitor to the Zoo and his sexual overtures towards Antonina means she must keep him charmed to save the Zoo. As the atrocities against Polish Jews escalate, Antonina and Jan hatch a plan to use garbage trucks to smuggle Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to freedom via Zoo tunnels. The story focuses on the dangers of hiding the Jews and the horror facing those who are loaded into cattle-trucks for transportation to Hitler’s Final Solution.

The critical ambivalence towards this film dwells on its aesthetic treatment of the opening scenes and what some argue is Chastain’s saintly characterisation of Antonina. While the cinematography is superb from beginning to end, it does adopt an excessively sugary style in the pre-Nazi-occupation part of the story. The opening scenes of Antonina cycling through the zoo, personally greeting the caged and free-roaming animals, smiling and waving to all of humanity, are both beautiful but incongruous for the story we know is about to unfold. From the extraordinary scenes of Antonina saving a new-born elephant in front of its distressed parents to the harrowing escape scenes, the film almost deifies the heroine for her goodness towards others. But these are directing issues rather than acting. Chastain’s performance is excellent across the range of emotions she portrays and she is a glowing beacon of light in a film that could easily have been depressingly bleak.

The Zookeepers Wife is a worthy addition to an honourable genre that includes the multi-award winning Schindler’s List (1993). It communicates the larger Holocaust narrative while keeping its carnage and dystopia off-screen. In an age of audience desensitisation, it is ironic that viewers can be emotionally touched more deeply by the death of animals than humans. This is a story of courage and triumph, told from a woman’s viewpoint, with top-tier production values in filming, acting, and narrative. It is also an important part of Polish history. Antonina and Jan were decorated as national heroes and the re-built Warsaw Zoo still stands as a legacy to their achievements.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘The Zookeper’s Wife’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review – Rough Night (2017)

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Directed By: Lucia Aniello
Written By: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I’ve been lucky enough to have had two amazing friends in my life since elementary school: Sarah and Annalise. We’ve seen one another at our most awkward, share the same stupid sense of humor, and can talk to each other about anything. Despite school and work-related distances separating us throughout the years, we’ve remained close, and now that we’re all finally living and working in the same area for the first time since high school, we’re trying to spend more time together. So when I had the opportunity to go to a screening of Rough Night, a movie about long-time friends getting into serious hijinks, I knew I wanted to see it with two of my favorite ladies. While my expectations for this film weren’t high, the casting had me hopeful that we’d get at least a few laughs.

Rough Night follows bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and her college besties Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon) on a bachelorette weekend in Miami that goes horribly wrong when hiring a stripper from Craigslist leads to a dead body in their beach house.

This movie’s biggest problem is its tonal confusion. It can’t decide if it wants to be a raunchy ensemble flick or a dark comedy (which could have been so much fun with a plot like this), so it halfheartedly attempts both. If the movie had stuck with one tone, they might have been able to pace the movie better, but because they don’t and try to fit too much into an hour and a half movie, it just feels lazy and messy.

Some of that has to do with the expository writing of the characters as well. A lot of the information we’re given about our leads is done very heavy-handedly. At first, I worried this was too harsh a critique for a comedy, but the genre isn’t an excuse for a lack of decent character development. There are plenty of comedies that manage to be hilarious and have interesting characters the audience can connect to. Bridesmaids immediately comes to my mind as an example, mainly because a lot of the radio ads I’ve heard for Rough Night announce that Elle Magazine has called it better than Bridesmaids (which makes me wonder how much the movie’s marketing team paid Elle, because….no). Bridesmaids manages to develop interesting, flawed but likable characters and share information about their pasts without dumping it all in a few seconds of sloppy dialogue. The same can’t be said for Rough Night.

That said, this was still a surprisingly enjoyable movie, mostly thanks to a strong cast that can take a weak script and make it funny. Kate McKinnon is a treasure and always makes me laugh, and her performance in this is no exception. Scarlett Johansson is a little underwhelming, as she isn’t really known for comedy, but she has a couple stand-out moments. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer have fantastic chemistry, and Zoe’s comedic timing is especially impressive. Jillian Bell does a good job at being hilarious, obnoxious, and sympathetic all at once. Jess’s fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) and his bachelor party buddies (Patrick Carlyle as Patrick, Eric Andre as Jake, and Bo Burnham as Tobey) made me laugh the hardest, flipping the bachelor party bro stereotype around hilariously. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack; because the group of friends met back in the mid-2000’s, there’s a lot of pop and hip-hop music from that time, which is really fun and nostalgic.

While I wouldn’t pay to see this in theaters, it’s still a fun film, so if you’re looking for something for a girls’ night in Red Box or Netflix or something, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Rough Night’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: ALONE IN BERLIN (2016)

guestpost Directed By: Vincent Perez
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

War films are stories writ large about aggression between nations. Few of them explore small-scale human undercurrents of suppressed dissent inside the countries at war. Alone in Berlin (2016) does this by looking at an ordinary working-class couple and their compulsion to express feelings about Hitler’s dictatorship at time when dissent meant certain death. It is also an essay on parental grief struggling to voice pain and loss.

Based on real events, the story opens in a small flat in Berlin where Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife Anna (Emma Thompson) learn that their son has died in battle. In a long marriage that is under strain, the news pushes them further apart as they cannot console each other in grief. Otto had encouraged his son to join the Nazi army and now Anna blames him for their loss. Desperate to voice his rage against Hitler’s regime, he painstakingly writes postcards and secretly leaves them on stairwells and doorways where they can be seen by passers-by: he calls them “small grains of sand in Hitler’s machine”. Initially he keeps Anna away from his dangerous mission, but she insists on being involved and they both become clandestine resistance fighters whose weapons are simple messages about the evils of Nazism. They manage to write and distribute over 260 cards despite extensive investigative efforts to stop them. In the process, they resurrect their marital relationship. After almost two years of card-writing they are caught and together face Nazi justice.

This film has two parallel narratives that start in opposition and end in convergence: one is Otto and Anna’s actions, the other is the investigation. The first is focused on the smallness of the couple’s actions in contrast to the enormous risk they are taking, like a pair of mice squeaking at roaring lions. The filming, colour palette and period setting are drab and lifeless; the atmosphere is paranoid with suspicion and mistrust; and the acting is subdued and understated. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson are actors with broad performance repertoires but here they are minimalist in expression and Spartan in dialogue, with much being conveyed through furtive glances or avoided eye-contact. It is a slow-moving story, observant of small details in an alienated world. This has the effect of amplifying the intensity of Otto and Anna’s actions. Close-ups of a pen leaving a trail of outrage on a small white card become powerful portraits of bravery that are ultimately futile as most of the cards were handed in to authorities. The couple’s nemesis is a young German investigator (Daniel Brühl) who pursues his work with ideological fervour for the Fuhrer but whose success turns into the film’s most devastating moments of despair.

This is a joyless story about humble heroism. Otto and Anna are emblematic of ordinary people dealing with tragedy and anger inside a world of fear and danger. Far from being mere victims, their small protests seriously unsettled the Nazi hierarchy and the closing scenes are a tribute to the power of two human “grains of sand”.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Alone in Berlin’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – The Mummy (2017)

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Hoping to start their shared universe of monster films, Universal decided to reboot one of their earlier successful franchises with The Mummy. With Disney and Warner Bros. ranking in big dollars at the box office with their superhero flicks, Universal is hoping this so called Dark Universe will bring in big money for them as well. Unfortunately, they should’ve spent more time fleshing out better script and ideas because this latest incarnation of The Mummy is a mess.

In Iraq, military men Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are working outside their duty, hoping to find antiquities or treasures and sell them to the black market for large sum of money. On one of their trips to a small village, they accidentally unearth a burial site beneath the sand. The men discover the remains of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princes from thousands of years ago who wants power and live forever, so she made a deal with the god of death and murdered her family. She was eventually captured and was mummified. Now in present day, Morton who was driven by his own greed, decided to open the tomb and released an evil force that could destroy the entire world. In terms of plot, there’s not much going on, after Ahmanet is set free, she chases our hero around London and then gets captured by Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his team. Then Dr. Jekyll proceeded to tell Morton and the audience of what’s really going on. Even though it’s advertised as a non-stop action/adventure, there weren’t a lot action in the film.

Six screenwriters were credited and I don’t think none of them knew what kind of film this is supposed to be. It tried to be horror then comedy then action then back to horror. The comedy was flat, the scares were non-existent and the action was scarce. Maybe had the film been directed by a more experienced director, it could’ve been a decent action/horror. But Alex Kurtzman is not that director, with the exception of a very cool airplane clash sequence; he couldn’t put together exciting action sequences or coherent story. I hate to use the terms “plot holes” but this film was full of them. There’s a prologue at the very beginning of the film that didn’t need to be shown and motivations of the characters just didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

Performance wise, Cruise was basically playing an older version of Maverick from Top Gun and he seemed to be having a good time in the first 30-40 minutes of the film. Then you can tell he lost interest and pretty much in cruise control mode with his performance for the rest of the film. Jake Johnson is pretty much wasted here as the thankless side kick/comic relief role. Annabelle Wallis who played Cruise’s love interest, is pretty lackluster in her performance. She’s the typical damsel in distress character. Sofia Boutella is The Mummy and she’s a one note villain, she wants to destroy the world and live forever. The only interesting character to me is Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll. Maybe the film would’ve much more entertaining had they made him the lead as Crowe seemed to have a good time playing the character.

It appears Universal’s Dark Universe is over before it began, they have no one to blame but themselves. I was never a big fan of 1999’s The Mummy but it has its fun moments and didn’t try to be anything than an action film. This latest version tried to be too many things and it failed miserably.

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So have you seen The Mummy reboot? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

I started writing this review just a day after seeing it. It has become a rarity for me to be able to write reviews so soon after I saw it but I felt… compelled, yeah that’s the right word, to get my thoughts out as the film opens. Thankfully the embargo ends Wednesday night!

I’m not going to lie. Like many people who care and support gender equality in Hollywood and want female filmmakers, or just women in film in general, to succeed. We all want Wonder Woman to succeed. It’s no hyperbole that much is riding on this film, even if it’s not exactly the first big-budget superhero film, though really we should perhaps forget those who came before this because well, let’s face it, they’re not any good. No doubt there’s an unfair amount of pressure put on director Patty Jenkins, whose last film Monster, was 13 years ago. (Wow, seriously?? I had to double check on IMDb on that fact).

There’s also a sizable amount of pressure on relatively unknown Gal Gadot. I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy with her casting initially. But like my qualms with Daniel Craig as Bond, it was quickly squashed when I first saw the first trailer. I was immediately on board with Gadot’s portrayal. The fact that she was part of the Israeli army, no doubt she looked the part. But more than sheer athleticism, she is also extremely charismatic and has such a genuine ‘goodness’ the way Christopher Reeve was as  the first cinematic Superman. It’s perhaps no surprise that the scene of Diana saving Steve in a London alley is reminiscent of Clark saving Lois in a NYC alley in Superman The Movie.

Superhero films can live and die by casting… it is extremely crucial that we believe in the person playing the role. Gal Gadot absolutely rocks as the mighty Wonder Woman as well as the sweet and compassionate Diana. More so than her two fellow DC boys Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman combined. That’s why she’s the best thing about Batman V Superman despite her less-than-10-minutes running time. She’s also got a pretty effortless comic timing that works in the film’s many lighter touches. Plus she’s got such an earnest quality that made lines such as ‘I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!’ works, instead of coming off lame or corny.

It’s superb casting all around. The Amazonian women. Diana’s mother Hippolyta is played with such grace by Connie Nielsen (I so miss her since Gladiator) and Robin Wright as Diana’s aunt Antiope is in phenomenally bad-ass form here (man she deserves her own superhero franchise!) I truly enjoyed the scenes in the paradise island Themyscira. The production design in Greece is absolutely beautiful, I’d love to see more scenes set here perhaps in the sequels? I also love the first big action scene on the island between the Amazonians and the German army set in WWI. It was so much fun to watch these fierce women looking amazingly cool in various acrobatics… on a horse, leaping in the air, etc. I would rewind that scene over and over when I get the Blu-ray!

Now, I’m not saying I love every action scene in this movie. In fact, I gotta say the slo-mo stuff gets overwhelming after a while as the movie goes on. Towards the end the pyrotechnics of the final battle dull my senses, though nowhere near as bad as all the bombastic blasts at the end of Man of Steel. I quite like the music though, and I’m glad they use the main theme by Hanz Zimmer and Junkie XL sparingly to make a real impact.

As for the villains, I’m not too fond of Danny Huston’s rather over-the-top performance and he’s basically forgettable. SPOILER ALERT [highlight text to read] I don’t think it’s that huge of a surprise that Ares God of War takes the form of a British cabinet member (David Thewlis), I didn’t think that part and the subsequent battle between him and Diana are all that interesting.

In any case, there are plenty to like in this movie that offset my quibbles. The always-watchable Chris Pine is charming and sweet as Steve Trevor, Diana’s love interest. He’s got that rogue-but-sensitive sensibilities down pat, and his attempt at a German accent is hilarious! Plus he’s nice eye candy and we got to see quite a lot of him in a particular scene, ehm. The tentative romance is handled well, akin to Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter in Captain America movies in that you immediately want them to be together.

Right from the trailer, I also love his secretary, played with such glee by Lucy Davis. My only complaint is that she’s not on screen enough. The rest of Diana’s earth-bound rag tag team are a hoot as well, played by Saïd TaghmaouiEwen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock.

I enjoyed the fact that the movie isn’t as dark as previous DC installments but it’s also not all fluff and style over substance. There’s an emotional scene between Diana and her mother as they part ways, and Diana’s compassion and heartbreak at seeing people injured from the war is palpable. That’s what makes the first earthly action scene, Wonder Woman vs the German Army, is so powerful to watch. She’s driven by compassion and love for humanity, and she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder like many of her male superhero counterparts.

Overall it’s a terrific start to what I hope will launch more and more female-led comic-book films. For me, any female-led films is a great thing in my book, regardless of genre. It helps to actually have an actual comic book writer, Allan Heinberg, amongst a team of writers that also include Zack Snyder. But mainly, kudos to Patty Jenkins for being a capable captain of the ship and Gal Gadot for portraying a symbol of female empowerment with such strength and grace. It’s not just the best DCEU film so far, it’s a solid and hugely entertaining film, period.


So have you seen WONDER WOMAN? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!

Guest Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales (2017)

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Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 minutes

When I saw the first trailer for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard. While the first movie was enjoyable and still holds up as a fun adventure flick fourteen years later, the series has overstayed its welcome. The second and third were decent, but the fourth made it clear that these movies are pretty much just vehicles for Johnny Depp to ham it up as Jack Sparrow over and over, which I have issues with for a couple reasons. First is the domestic abuse allegations that came to light last year, which completely destroyed his likability for me-and for anyone who comments that Amber Heard is lying or it’s her fault: SAVE IT. While the allegations have changed how I feel about Depp, they’re not what this review is about, but if you insist on going there, I will fight you. Personal feelings aside, Depp’s acting hasn’t impressed me in a long time. His performances have become very one-note, not helped by playing the same character since 2003, which Disney has used as the primary marketing ploy for this movie. Because of this, I worried that they were compensating for an overall weak movie by putting most of the focus on its most popular character. With the fourth movie being so forgettable, my hopes weren’t high for this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces us to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of original trilogy hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry has been spending most of his life searching for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which could be the key to rescuing his father from The Flying Dutchman’s curse. Hoping his father’s old friend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) can help him, Henry teams up with the pirate, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist trying to navigate a mysterious map her father left her with when he abandoned her at birth. Along their journey, the three are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew, who want to prevent Jack from using the Trident to escape their revenge.

This movie’s main problem is that it tries to fit too many individual backstories into two and a half hours, leading to fan-fiction levels of bad, clunky exposition. We have Jack’s history with Captain Salazar, Henry’s lifelong mission to rescue his father, Carina’s mysterious parentage and struggles as a female scientist in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and even previous Pirates villain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets a forced backstory shoved into the last half hour. The magical item the characters are searching for is poorly explained; it’s just supposed to “break all curses,” which is incredibly vague. If this had been the start of a new trilogy, the pacing could have been better, but because this is (supposedly) the last film, everything is crammed into one movie, and it’s a mess.

That said, the writing isn’t completely hopeless. There is a surprising amount of genuinely funny dialogue, especially among Jack’s crew. I also enjoy that the main female character’s defining characteristic is her scientific prowess and having to deal with men not taking her knowledge seriously. It’s refreshing having a leading lady who’s more than just the romantic interest; her intellectual expertise is instrumental in reaching their goal.

Regarding the acting, I have mixed feelings. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was…fine. He plays the character the same way he always has, so while he doesn’t bring anything new to the role, at least he’s consistent. The two young leads, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, are decent but not especially memorable, although Kaya shows a little more promise than Brenton. Geoffey Rush is always fun to watch and gives an enjoyable performance here, brief as it is. My favorite, though, is Javier Bardem, who is so good at making anything sound menacing in that deep, gravelly voice. Hearing that he was playing the villain made me a little more excited about seeing this movie, and he did not disappoint.

There are other positive aspects of this film as well. Like its predecessors, Dead Men Tell no Tales is a visually interesting movie. The action is good and the fight choreography is fun, although it gets buried in some of the larger crowd scenes. The character design and CGI for Captain Salazar and his crew is truly spooky; even his ship looks scary. The costumes, hair, and makeup are beautifully detailed. The soundtrack is as epic as ever; although Hans Zimmer isn’t the main composer for this film (his protégé Geoff Zanelli is), his famous theme is prominent throughout the movie, and I will never get tired of hearing it.

Overall, this is a decent adventure movie. The storytelling is poor and some of the acting is underwhelming, but some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s pretty to look at. Good job, Disney. You made a better Pirates movie than the last one (although that bar wasn’t set very high). Now, please, for the love of God, stop.

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Have you seen ‘Pirates 5’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Everything, Everything (2017)

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Directed By: Stella Meghie
Written By: J. Mills Goodloe (screenplay) based on a book by Nicola Yoon
Runtime: 1 hr 36 minutes

I went into Everything, Everything with somewhat low expectations. There are very few romance movies that I enjoy, and one based off a young adult novel seemed even less appealing. The trailers looked cheesy and predictable, and I was prepared to roll my eyes for an hour and a half. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Everything, Everything tells the story of Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), an eighteen-year-old who has been unable to leave her house her entire life due to an extreme immunodeficiency. The only human interaction she has is with her mother (and doctor) Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube Hermosillo)- until a new family moves in next door, including a boy named Olly (Nick Robinson). Olly and Maddy’s friendship, first through glances through their windows and texting, then secret meetings arranged by Carla, soon develops into a romance that has Maddy questioning whether some risks are worth taking.

Easily the best part about this movie is Amandla Stenberg. Her performance is moving, subtle, and relatable, and while the rest of the cast is great as well, she is the stand-out actor. She’s an incredibly talented young actress, and I’m hoping this movie opens the door to more leading roles in the future. Anika Noni Rose as Pauline does an excellent job as well, despite not getting nearly enough screen time considering her character’s importance. She strikes a good balance between loving warmth and clinical bluntness.

In addition to the strong acting, this movie is visually stunning, which is impressive considering the majority of it takes place inside one house. It’s beautifully shot and lit, and there are some really creative moments- specifically, turning Maddy and Olly’s texting conversations into imagined face-to-face conversations inside the models Maddy’s built for an architecture class she’s taking. All of this is topped off by a phenomenal soundtrack that fits the tone of the film so perfectly.

All of that said, I did have some issues with this movie. As talented as the romantic leads are individually, their chemistry feels kind of lukewarm. I was also a little annoyed that they don’t spend much time exploring Maddy’s feelings on being homebound her whole life before meeting Olly. I’m not saying their romance acting as a catalyst for her to take action is a problem, but the idea that an eighteen-year-old woman in these circumstances wouldn’t question certain things is pretty unbelievable. Maybe she does in the book, but she doesn’t in the movie, and it would have helped develop her character if she had.

My biggest problem with this movie, however, is the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s predictable (at least, I think it is; it was exactly what I expected after seeing the trailer), and it’s so disappointing, because as soon as you start thinking about the details behind it, it’s really convoluted. Again, maybe it’s handled better in the book, but even within the time constraints of an hour and a half long film, it could have been handled better.

Still, I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to, and I plan on checking out the book soon. If you like young adult fiction and romance, this movie is for you. Even if you don’t, you’ll still appreciate the talented cast, the gorgeous cinematography, and the fantastic music.

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Have you seen ‘Everything, Everything’? Well, what did you think?