FlixChatter Review – MIDWAY (2019)

Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Wes Tooke

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has inspired many films over the years, most of which center around fictional characters and cheesy love stories. The 1976 Midway is no exception so it was with guarded anticipation I awaited the release of Roland Emmerich’s Midway. I was concerned it would get caught up trying to emulate other popular war films like Pearl Harbor or Dunkirk. However, I think having a German director and Chinese production team offered an interesting perspective.

The film gives a relatively straightforward account of the key naval battles. Beginning with Pearl Harbor and ending with the battle of Midway, it also recounts Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo (April 1942) and the Battle of Coral Sea (May 1942) which to my recollection were not well (if at all) examined in the 1976 version of Midway.

Although the film relies on a famous cast to get people in the theater, it does a much better job than its predecessor at accurately the battles, ships and planes used. The actors (Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, among others) played their roles with respect toward the heroic figures they were portraying. Focusing in on people of lesser rank allowed for deeper interpersonal development, although I didn’t think the film delved into relationships as deeply as it could have.

Many Hollywood based war films have a way of making the US service people look like helpless victims. This film makes sure to express the strength and capability of our country’s military personnel. Although it makes clear we were attacked and left at a great disadvantage it showcases the dedication and skill set of each service member while also expressing Japanese naval superiority.

The production value of the battle scenes are impressive. The bomber scenes concerning Dick Best are no exception. Well placed shots help to create the scale of an expansive world which draws the viewer further into highly realistic battle scenes. Unfortunately, the dialogue was uneven and the weak bits really drew me out of the film.

I felt this film gave equal respect to both US and Japanese service personnel, something that is not very common in war films. The screening I went to was mostly booked for a movie watching organization for veterans, one of whom served in the pacific during this time. It was a very unique and powerful experience watching this film alongside a person who experienced military action during the period portrayed in the film as well as other people currently serving in our armed forces. A timely film to watch, not just during Veteran’s Day. I already greatly respect and appreciate the sacrifices of people in uniform. I know that as a citizen of the US, I greatly benefit, even in ways I am not aware of. I really appreciated this film because it helped me refocus my gratitude.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen MIDWAY? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was at once my most anticipated and most dreaded film of this year. Disney has a long history of over saturating the market with quickly produced sequels, prequels and even midquels of films that have been successful. These sloppily made seconds have left me with a bad taste and a severe distrust of Disney sequels.

I loved the first Maleficent and feel rather protective of it. In a pre-me too and pre-times up world, Maleficent brought us face to face with the disturbing reality of our culture and wrapped it up in a way that would be understandable and affecting to young children. The violence during the wing scene is as confronting as a Brothers Grimm tale and just as truthful, exploring the ideas of betrayal and assault, and the subsequent psychological toll, as well as the ideas of consent, choice and ownership over one’s body. Although it was widely panned as an over produced mess, it addressed some heavy issues of our time and for that reason is still very valuable. Would the sequel do the same?

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Rønning, Mistress of Evil has an amazing cast of Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay playing Phillip’s parents with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, and Sam Riley in supporting roles. Distractingly, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip has been replaced by Harris Dickinson due to scheduling conflicts.

Like its predecessor, this film is a bit of a jumbled mess. It starts off with with Philip proposing to Aurora and we are dragged into rom-com inspired dinner scene. In a painful exchange Aurora asks Maleficent to cover her horns and lessen parts of herself that make people uncomfortable. Although watching Maleficent practice her smile and tone is meant to be comedic, it is also a very pointed assimilation. Aurora and Maleficent are expected to change in order to fit in.

Despite her best efforts to be a cordial guest, Maleficent is as impulsive and quick tempered as ever. Queen Ingrith gets the fairy queen so upset she flies the castle, ultimately seeks refuge in a hidden community of dark Fey. The last of their people, they come from all over the world.

Like Maleficent, they have been cast out and marginalized. Although overreaching, Disney is transparent in their intention that the Fey are meant to collectively represent all marginalized groups where Aurora, Phillip, Ingrith and other “humans” in the film are meant to symbolize  western colonial/imperialists. A narrative that is all too easily resolved by the end.

It is here with the Fey that a new side of Maleficent comes to light. A more introspective, open and vulnerable character emerges. She often sits alone, her wings engulfing her in a protective cloak; standing as a champion of morality while the world would yet again cast her as the villain.

Ejiofor as one of the Dark Fey leaders

This film follows the first, challenging the idea that women must be at odds with one another and can share deeply intimate bonds. Maleficent and Aurora relationship breaks boundaries and is constantly under attack by patriarchal forces hiding in a legend (Sleeping Beauty) that is also a lie.

At the same time, back at the castle, King John mysteriously falls ill and in reaction, to their king’s sudden demise, the entire and kingdom is armed and ready to wipe out the fairy kind. SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] This genocide is particularly frightening to behold as one watches a room full of creatures ravaged by a poisonous powder. Thus begins the war movie phase of our film that culminates in a completely unnecessary epic CGI-rich battle (similar to those found in Marvel movies.

The socio-political themes in Maleficent are a bit mature for this film to address, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t make the film fit together well. Nevertheless, I think it raises important issues and creates a space to safely have discussions with children. I really appreciated that Philip and his fathers are cast as allies and work to fight the stigma and spread love and understanding. I think the representation of their relationship, love and accountability as males and leaders in their community in itself is a huge paradigm shift in cinematic feminism.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Maleficent: Mistress of Evil? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

So apparently James Cameron has dreamed of making this movie, an adaptation of Yukito Kishiro‘s “Battle Angel Alita” manga, for over 20 years! It was before he made Titanic in 1997 and Avatar in 2009, and it’s his commitments to the latter that made him relinquish his directing duties to Robert Rodriguez. I have to admit though that my initial reaction to the first trailer was that the huge, Manga-inspired eyes are creepy looking. I read some Manga as a kid (specifically Candy Candy) but in the printed comics, of course they never bothered me, that’s how all Mangas are drawn. But cinematically, they can be quite eerie.

Now, I decided to see the movie anyway, two weeks before it’s open to the public in Feb 14. As it turns out, the eyes didn’t really bother me once the movie starts. It actually didn’t have the ‘cold, dead eyes’ effect like in Polar Express. Of course they can still be a bit disturbing at times, but for a character made up of cyborg parts, she’s pretty lifelike.

There are plenty to like about Alita. In fact, I immediately sympathize with this cyborg creature trying to discover her identity. It’s an action-packed coming-of-age story of a young girl who’s trying to piece together the mystery of who she is. Set in the 26th century, 300 years after ‘the fall’ where ‘the haves’ live in a floating city called Tiphares and the rest down below in Iron City. The story starts when a man found a still ‘living’ severed head in a junkyard, where the Tiphares dumps its trash. I thought Christoph Waltz as her father figure Dr. Dyson Ido is inspired choice, and at first you don’t know if he’s good or bad, which the Austrian actor portrayed really well.

The father/daughter relationship between him and Alita is actually one of my fave parts of the film, and the way Dr. Ido tried to protect her from the new world she’s thrusted into is endearing. It’s once Alita (Rosa Salazar, terrific in her first performance-capture role) discovered rollerball-style game (and also ‘puberty’ it seems) thanks to a boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson) that the action switches into high gear.

Before long, we, along with Dr. Ido and Alita herself, discovers who she really is. It’s not a spoiler as it says right there on the title, she’s a formidable killing machine, basically an ‘angel of death’ despite her seemingly innocent appearance. She’s able to fight a bunch of vicious Hunter-Warriors, sometimes all at once, even a huge one that looks like what Fantastic Four’s The Thing mixed with a Transformer. Knowing that she’s virtually indestructible kind of lessen any sense of suspense, and the more bombastic the fighting scene the less impactful it becomes. The first time we see the gladiatorial game of Motorball in this huge arena filled with cheering crowd was cool, but the second one just feels indulgent in the parts of the filmmakers. Yes, the action and special effects are cool, but it gets tiresome real fast too. In fact, at times it reminds me of all the loud metal clanging of Transformers, which is NEVER a good thing.

I’m not that familiar with Robert Rodriguez’s work, having only seen Desperado and Sin City. I think this movie is as much a James Cameron movie as a Robert Rodriguez one. We’re treated to a video interview with the filmmakers and some of the cast after the movie and it’s clear that Cameron was Rodriguez’s mentor throughout and Rodriguez helped fulfill Cameron’s vision. As we all know, Cameron is a perfectionist, so I doubt there’s really much ‘creative liberties’ the ‘chosen director’ would have if it clashes with Cameron’s vision.

What? You’re not impressed by my Damascus blade? How about my chiseled face?

In any case, it’s no surprise that Cameron, who co-wrote the script with Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon), loves cross-species, star-crossed romances. I kind of roll my eyes every time I see Alita gets all giddy over Hugo, even going so far as giving him his heart, literally! Most of the supposedly-romantic scenes end up being unintentionally hilarious. There are moments that remind me of Titanic, perhaps intentionally so? What’s genuinely funny are the scenes involving Hunter Warrior Zapan (Ed Skrein), a cyborg obsessed with his pretty face, the only ‘fleshed out’ part of his cybernetic being. The tall, lanky British actor relish on his character’s narcissistic vanity. It made me think that he might have imbued a much-needed dose of humor had he been cast in Altered Carbon instead of Joel Kinnaman!

The actual villain of the movie is never actually seen (played by a famous actor we haven’t seen in a while). We only know it lives in Tiphares and could actually ‘possesses’ other beings to communicate with people down below. I feel like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly are pretty wasted here as their characters are pretty thinly-written. As the protagonist, Alita’s backstory itself isn’t as deeply compelling it could’ve been. It’s a missed opportunity really, as her relationship with Dr. Ido and Connelly’s character Chiren could’ve been explored more. It’s clear the filmmakers focused heavily in the spectacle of it all. After all these years, the technology (thanks to Weta Digital) finally caught up with Cameron’s vision of Alita, at least the way he envisioned to do Kishiro’s world justice. Yet all that money spent (about $200 mil) is kind of hollow when it’s just another ‘style over substance.’ I think science-fiction is the perfect genre for a ‘what does it mean to be human’ commentary, when humans would co-exist together with robots in the future. But unlike sci-fi classics like Blade Runner or Terminator, Alita doesn’t really add anything new to that concept.

Alita going googley-eyed over pretty boy Hugo

Visually speaking, it also didn’t really inspire that sense of wonder the way I did with Cameron’s previous creation Avatar. I recently rewatched that movie and I still had that ‘awe-struck’ reaction when we first saw Pandora in 2009. The floating mountains and that mountain banshee flight sequence still made me go ‘whoa,’ which I never felt while watching Alita. I’m not sure of its replay-ability value as right now, I don’t know if I’m eager to see this movie again nor do I care to see more of Alita’s adventures.

As I never read the Manga books, I’m curious to see the reception from their fans, especially in its native Japan. As a Southeast-Asian blogger, I’m not bothered that they hired a Latina actress to portray Alita as Kishiro supposedly didn’t even set the world of Iron City in Asia, it’s just supposed to be a melting pot type of futuristic dystopian city. I think the cast is quite diverse and the actors get to speak with whatever they’re most comfortable with (Waltz with his Austrian accent, Skrein with his Northern London brogue, etc.) I do think it’s funny that Alita made a comment about the many languages spoken in the city when I never heard of any other language being English being spoken in the movie [shrug].

Should you go see it? Well, if you like a sci-fi action adventure, I’d say it’s well worth seeing on the big screen. I don’t normally like watching 3D movies with those pesky glasses, but the effects and visuals look cool in IMAX 3D as the movie was optimized for such technology. I skipped Ghost in The Shell (just didn’t appeal to me at all) and I think Jupiter Ascending is absolutely rubbish, but this one has enough going for it for me to recommend. Just don’t expect a sci-fi classic or even something emotionally gratifying, just enjoy the ride for the high-octane action adventure that it is.


What do you think of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL? Are you excited to see it?

10 reasons Deadpool movie won me over

To be perfectly honest, I never thought I’d actually be writing a review of Deadpool, let alone a top 10 list praising the movie. I hadn’t been anticipating this movie at all – crass, vulgar, foul-mouthed movies aren’t my thing and I’m not exactly a fan of Ryan Reynolds as an actor. But all the massive buzz got this movie blogger intrigued, I simply just had to find out what the fuss is about. Heck, I even went to the screening twice as the first time around the film couldn’t be played.

Deadpool_fireplace

Well, it ended up being a pleasant surprise and I totally get why people are flocking to see it. It’s shattered all kinds of box office records with $150mil domestic gross ($264 mil worldwide) which is unheard of for an R-rated flick opening in the month of February!

The Guardians of the Galaxy‘s director James Gunn weighed in on its success, “Deadpool was its own thing. THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks.” (you can read his FB post here) Yep, I agree with him.

Here are 10 reasons why the Deadpool movie won me over:

1. The self-deprecating humor

Deadpool_Reynolds
Photo from Archonia.com

I LOVE British comedies as they rarely shy away from poking fun of themselves. Deadpool relentlessly pokes fun at himself, the actor playing him, and even the studio that made it. That bit about the studio not being able to afford more X-Men characters in the movie got the biggest laughs. There are a plethora of jokes on Reynolds himself and his failed superhero flick Green Lantern. It’s also not afraid to make fun of famous people, that bit about David Beckham’s helium voice is absolutely spot on!

2. The retro throwback to 80s pop culture

As Reynolds is close to my age, I really appreciate the references to 80s pop culture, especially the music. I mean, WHAM! was huge back in high school, and we all were crushing on George Michael. Boy I’d never be able to listen to Careless Whisper the same way again.


I also laughed so hard when You’re the Inspiration by Chicago played on, that was my brother’s favorite band and he’d listen to it endlessly in the car until my ears bled!

3. That it IS a love story

Deadpool_Vdayposter

The marketing folks over at Fox have done some genius marketing for the film. The first time I saw this V-day poster I had a good chuckle. But hey, it turns out, Wade and Vanessa are genuinely in love, imagine that! The love story is actually pretty compelling and you get why he’d do whatever it takes to protect her. Reynolds and Morena Baccarin have a fun, playful chemistry together. I also think that it’s nice to see that they opted to hire an actress close to Reynold’s age as his love interest instead of some pretty young thing like they did in his previous superhero movie.

4. There are some bad ass women in this movie

Brianna_Deadpool

Brianna Hildebrand is quite memorable as the brooding Negasonic Teenage Warhead. She didn’t have many lines in the movie, but the brief exchanges between these two are pretty funny. There’s Gina Carano as the villain’s henchwoman (natch!) There’s even a hilarious bit when she dropped to the ground forcefully like Superman, obviously poking fun at the famous superhero landing. I think it’s even funnier the fact that Gina used to date Man of Steel himself, Henry Cavill. I think Vanessa herself is no damsel in distress. Even when Deadpool went to save her, she got some ass-kicking scenes of her own.

5.  I actually care about Wade Wilson

Deadpool_Vanessa

Kudos to the writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) as well as Reynolds himself in making a character worth caring about. The fact that Wade didn’t start out to be a superhero had a lot to do with it. [spoiler alert!] He’s also the first superhero who suffered from cancer. I actually felt really bad for him, and for Vanessa when he left her. No matter how cool a character is, if you don’t give a reason for us to care for him/her, it’s hard for us to care for the movie, too. In a way, it made me think that his crazy antics is perhaps a means to cope with his pain.

The accelerated healing powers that he got as a result of the rogue experiment could’ve been another ho-hum origins story. Yet here it felt like the hero’s earned it and we root for him after all he’s been through. That superpower isn’t just cool for the action stuff, but it also made for some of the funnies, albeit cringe-worthy, jokes in the movie.

6. The awesome opening credit

Deadpool_upsidedown

Ok, the opening credit is definitely one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. It immediately establishes the tone and style of the movie, the extreme self-awareness and brazenness in roasting pretty much everyone involved. As we watched an action scene being frozen and played in slo-motion, we get quips like “the writers are ‘The Real Heroes Here” and “the director is ‘An Overpaid Tool” and the likes. They made fun of some of their own movie clichés like having a [one note] British villain and gratuitous cameo. It’s as if they’re making their own ‘Honest Trailer’ video of their own movie, ahah.

7. Hilarious supporting characters

Deadpool_Dopinder Deadpool_Weasel

Ok so the villain is pretty much one-note and humorless (Ed Skrein), though all the jokes about his English teeth was indeed funny. But Karan Soni as Dopinder the Indian cab driver and T.J. Miller as Wade’s BFF Weasel had some hysterical lines. I think the ‘avocado’ line that Weasel said to Wade after seeing his face after the experiment is so mean yet because they’re good friends, you can’t help but laugh while cringing at the same time. Oh, and Colossus has never been funnier here w/ his Russian accent. Most of his scenes with Deadpool are simply hysterical, and the fact that he’s so polite provides an amusing contrast to the juvenile & irreverent Wade.

Deadpool_Negasonic_Colossus

8. Biting wit delivered with fun action sequences

Ok so the R-rating is absolutely warranted and it’s definitely more violent than John Wick where a lot of the shots fired are quick and blurry. But just like that film, this film certainly had some stylish action sequences. First-time director Tim Miller, who had a background in visual effects, did a nice job staging the high-octane action throughout. But what made it even more memorable is the biting wit that accompany the action. Having the protagonist constantly wise-cracking as he shoots and make human kabobs out of people certainly makes it extra fun to watch.

Deadpool_Ajax

9. Ryan Reynolds is perfect in the role

Deadpool_RyanReynolds

You can’t make a top 10 list about Deadpool and not mention Ryan Reynolds. In many ways, he’s the reason the film worked as he & the filmmakers have fought hard to have their brazen vision of this comic-book character come to life in this adaptation. He’s played this character before in the lame X-Men Origins: Wolverine but it barely made a mark. But here, he got to showcase what he does best, that is comedy. I really don’t care for him in dramatic roles or even as a typical action hero. But here he’s so at ease at making fun of himself which is a brazen act in and of itself. Reynolds definitely got another leash on his superhero life as Deadpool will become a massive franchise after its gargantuan box office take. I’d say he should stick to this genre of action comedy as that’s what he does best.

10. The fact that it turns the conventional superhero formula on its head

Deadpool_ooops

I think the whole concept of a raunchy superhero movie alone isn’t a recipe for success. Yes it’s different from the PG-13 stuff that Marvel & DC put out there, but if that’s all it’s got going for it, I don’t think the movie would be as successful. I think the fact that the movie IS relentlessly hilarious means the humor hits the mark. The “breaking the fourth wall” style also works well for the movie, which apparently is loyal to the comics. I’m not familiar w/ it but things that work in the comic books don’t always translate well on screen, so props to the writers & filmmakers for somehow making it work. It actually creates some of the funniest bits in the movie and makes Deadpool likable as he’s sort of ‘one of us.’ The pop-culture commentary and zings also made it fresh and has huge appeal to millennials AND baby boomers alike.

Now, despite all the praise, this isn’t a movie I’d readily watch again though. The graphic violence, sex scenes, full frontal nudity, and that whole scene at the strip club are gratuitous and not something I enjoy watching. But overall, this movie is pretty darn entertaining. I give props to the filmmakers for delivering on the promise of an unconventional superhero movie. It does exactly what it says on the tin and it’s refreshingly daring in its approach.

4Reels


So, what do you think of Deadpool? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?