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War for the Planet of the Apes

Unlike the previous two movies, War is presented entirely from the perspective of the apes. We only know what they know and when they don't know what's going on, neither do we. This helps to persist the swing of sympathy from the humans in Rise to the apes in War and I found it very effective. I think we all saw this coming, but by this movie we are very much on the side of the apes and we see humans as the brutal animals. The events in this movie also bring us closer to the events and timeline as presented in the original series of Planet of the Apes movies.

My body was tensed through the entire movie, even when there wasn't action on screen. The emotion and character and heart demonstrated by the apes was incredible, and conveyed through the most amazing facial expressions I've seen on screen. It's interesting how the faces of the ape characters seemed so much more expressive than any human actor I've seen. I don't know if this is a testament of the advancement of facial motion capture technology, or the motion capture actors, in a way, over-acting to better convey those expressions, but whatever it was, it worked amazingly well.

My only criticism is that the story is very simple. Caesar wants to save his people and get revenge for what humans have done to him and his family. There is a minor B-story and that's it. We're not intertwining multiple stories of any complexity, and I think that helped to keep the focus on the characters and watching their emotional journey. It works well. I was also rather surprised by the lack of graphic violence. Not to say that there isn't violence, it's just most of it happens off-screen or when it does happen on-screen, it isn't all that graphic. I'm sure this was to maintain a marketable rating, but I found it a pleasant change from the borderline unwatchable graphic violence common in war-themed movies. I can't say you're going to have a joyous time with this movie, but I think you'll almost certainly enjoy it.

4/5

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

If you're familiar with Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element you'll find Valerian is the comfy chair sitting right next to it. The look and feel of the worlds presented in Valerian are similar in all the right ways, though a fair bit more CG and less rubber suits. I'm sure those who prefer practical effects over the CG will be upset, but I found most of it to be more seamless and less distracting. The mystery behind the story is simple, but interesting in the way it pulls you forward in search of new details to explain the tragedy on the planet Mul. The rest of it feels like a series of loosely connected action sequences, that, while entertaining on their own, don't all fit together very well taken as a whole.

When looking at characters, we have the "I just follow orders" Valerian who seems to avoid following most of the rules most of the time. We also learn almost immediately after he's introduced that he's possibly the greatest perpetrator of sexual harassment in the known universe, and this is blown off like "haha, isn't it funny that this guy has slept with every female he's ever encountered ever, and now he's being extremely inappropriate with his partner while on the job." I think the audience is supposed to find this funny or endearing or kind of slimy, but we're also supposed to see Valerian as the hero, so I found myself very confused. He's cocky and arrogant and not great at following orders and the constant harassment of Laureline makes me feel uncomfortable. Laureline, on the other hand, spends most of the movie either saving Valerian, or being saved by him. She doesn't take a whole lot of initiative on her own, and I found that disappointing. She also grudgingly puts up with Valerian's harassment, even after knowing how much of a sleaze he is (she demonstrates her familiarity with his past within the first few minutes of being introduced). Honestly, my favorite characters were all of the side characters. Captain Okto-Bar is really trying to do the best he can to solve the mystery and deal with the threats to Alpha. Ethan Hawke does a wonderful job as charismatic a pimp. Rihanna is an amazing performer, eager to be recognized as artistic. Sergeant Neza serves well under the Captain. Even a funny little submersible pilot named Bob the Pirate is entertaining for the time he's on screen. And don't get me wrong, Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan aren't doing a bad job as Laureline and Valerian, I just don't find them to be nearly as interesting as the supporting cast.

Did I enjoy the movie? Yes I did, and it's because the action that is there, as disconnected as it seems most of the time, is fun. The worldbuilding is thorough. The aliens are curious and, well, alien. And I really want to get an explanation of what happened to the people from Mul. So, lots of interesting supporting characters, some really fun action and sumptuous art design throughout, I think Valerian does, in the end, work out to be an enjoyable movie. Just know that I have some pretty serious issues with the main characters and their highly inappropriate relationship, and the kind of bullshit "love conquers all" message at the end, but if you can keep your expectations fairly low and go in expecting a fun ride, I think you'll like it just fine.

3/5

Baby Driver

Baby Driver ticketstubThis movie felt like the heists (and the escapes gone wrong) from the Payday games with the drama and police chase hi-jinks of the GTA games. Kevin Spacey is the sort of over-the-top fixer you would expect to see in a video game. Jamie Foxx is an over-the-top bank heist addict. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzales are in it for the thrill and the lifestyle. And Ansel Elgort's "Baby" is just in it to get out. It's a fun cast that, from the very beginning, you know is a bomb waiting to go off. Everything here is about to go horribly wrong, so let's sit back and wait for the shit to get sucked into the fan. As you would expect from a movie about a getaway driver, the movie is chock full of intense car chases, and it feels amazing. What you get here are chases that feel realistic, more or less, not the insanity you would get from a Fast and Furious movie. The crime story is enhanced by a bit of romantic cuteness that feels way too neat and tidy for my taste, but it's sufficient as a motivator for Baby to keep us wanting to see how it turns out. There's also the music that runs through the entire movie. I'll admit, this music is not the sort that interests me, in fact, there was no song in the entire movie that was of a genre I'd be into, but it all worked beautifully and absolutely enhanced the rhythm of everything that was happening on screen. Overall, this was a really great ride filled with thrills, romance, and a great soundtrack.

4/5

Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight ticketstubHoly shit, this movie is an epic disaster!

1/5

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman ticketstubWonder Woman gives us the origin story of the powerful Amazon super hero of the DC Universe, showing her leaving her hidden island paradise and heading into the Front in World War I Europe to save the innocents and stop the most evilest god of war, Ares. Personally, I wasn't really familiar with Wonder Woman's origin story. I had seen the television show in the way-back, but I don't recall any details beyond that she has a Lasso of Truth and wears a very patriotic looking bathing suit. The Diana portrayed in this movie is smart and idealistic, but also naive with regard to the modern world or even the nuances of human behavior... and about men (having grown up on an island populated only with woman and ancient documents). So Diana's innocence is the source of several jokes as she is first exposed to London in the early 1900s. This all works pretty well and lasts just long enough to get Diana the basics she needs to orient herself before heading out to the Front.

I don't really buy into the suggestion that Ares is personally responsible and involved with every war that happens and that killing him would suddenly end all violence, and the same issue is raised in the movie, people are complicated and sometimes they do bad things. This issue in particular lacks the nuance and complexity it deserves, but is probably just right for where this movie lives on the action vs reality scale. Obviously, two powerful beings engaging in what feels like an epic video game boss-fight isn't the most realistic thing to present, and therefor accepts the comic books setting it exists in.

So did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Was it well made? Yeah, pretty much. Does it get me excited for a Justice League movie? Yup! Is Wonder Woman my new favorite DC Universe character? Signs point to yes.

4/5

The Mummy

The Mummy ticketstubI understand Universal wants to bring back the monster movies and get some new old franchises going, because what we all need right now are some more reboots. Ugh. This movie, in fact, opens with a "Dark Universe" logo, the triumphant opening to a whole new world of old monsters! That would almost be exciting if this movie were at all interesting.

I believe there were several miscalculations with this movie, the greatest among them was making it impossible for the audience to empathize with any of the characters. The lead, Tom Cruise's Nick, is a selfish thief who doesn't care about anyone else (yup, that was three times redundant). The mummy, Ahmanet, is a power hungry murderer who made a deal with the Devil (they really used that term) and murdered her own family. Nick's friend Chris doesn't have a spine and just follows Nick around like a lonely puppy. Russel Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (uh, yup) behaved like people just don't matter compared to the importance of his cause to study and then destroy evil, in that order. There was also the beautiful archaeologist that Nick inexplicably falls in love with. Besides having virtually no personality, I'm not faulting her, it's just there was no chemistry or even apparent attraction between them. So tell me, who do I root for?

Was the story interesting at least? Not really. Basically, Ahmanet needs to get a ceremonial dagger and a magic jewel for the hilt and stab Nick with it to give the Devil Nick's human body. Now, everyone shrug along with me... very good. So why watch this movie? Effects were good enough, but didn't make it interesting. Look at the old monster movies, they had effects, but I don't think that's what made them compelling. I actually don't know what made those old movies compelling, they never worked for me, but somehow, a big studio wants to bring them back, so here were are with this mess. I can't wait to not look forward to the entire Dark Universe series.

2/5

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ticketstubIf you had any concerns this Pirates movie might reproduce the complex multi-plot structure of the third movie, have no fear, Dead Men Tell No Tales keeps it simple. There's only one main story thread here, though it does take several steps and jogs and jukes to get to the eventual destination, it is at least not too difficult to follow. Though, I will point out that, given all these steps, there were a few cases where I forgot where we were on the journey and why. It's not terrible, you're still enjoying the trip, but it's not always apparent why this particular action sequence needs to happen. As with the other Pirates movies, the effects are excellent, though a little gross (the undead sharks in particular). If you're looking for a fun adventure and this is what's showing, I'd say there's no harm in checking it out, but don't expect a movie that's going to stick with you.

3/5

Alien Covenant

Alien Covenant ticketstubAt least I can say this movie isn't Prometheus. While Prometheus wanted to be deep and philosophical, Covenant wants to gross you out and make you uncomfortable, and I think this is to its benefit in the sense that this keeps it really simple.

The Covenant is a colony ship that stops to check out an Earth-like planet that may be better than the planet they were heading for. This also happens to be the planet that the synthetic David landed the ship from Prometheus on. I'll skip the rest of the details, but suffice to say, it gets creepy. A day later and I am still kind of disturbed by the turns this movie took. Once again, the spacecraft and the sense of function they project is my favorite part of the movie. The characters are kind of meh... Like Prometheus, most of the crew of 15 dies off before you even know their names. The rest that make it through more than half the movie don't give me much reason to care. The significant factor that was introduced with this movie is that they are all couples, so we get the sting of spouses dying, and that has impact, but again, because we don't know these characters for long, the impact is limited.

Another issue I have with Covenant is that it fails to reproduce the cat and mouse game we get in Alien, Aliens and even the following two or three movies. This adventure doesn't seem epic and if not for the fact that we're dealing with a colony ship carrying thousands of colonists, would have significantly less weight to it. It's an enjoyable movie, but still lacking the magic of the earlier entries in the series.

3/5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ticketstubFollowing on from the first Guardians movie, Peter finally meets his Dad and learns the truth (slowly) about his purpose. All the other members of the team have their own stories of personal growth and learning about their teammates, and then emotions everywhere. Besides all that, this movie is a ton of fun and hilarious and I enjoyed nearly every moment. I'm not sure if Vol. 2 is better than the first movie, but it's plenty of fun in its own right, so if you enjoyed the first one, I am sure you'll get a kick out of this one. And wow, Baby Groot got some moves!

4/5

The Fate of the Furious

The Fate of the Furious ticketstubI think by now we all know what we're getting into with a Fast and Furious movie, and this entry into the series does not disappoint. Once again, the big bad is the mysterious Cipher, who forces Dom to work for her. On the other side, Dom's team is working to stop Cipher and repeatedly comes up against Dom. While not particularly original, it ends up being an engaging enough plot device. As usual, there's the usual assortment of vehicles and gadgets, and an extra large dose of hacking and movie hacker terms. In fact, what really stood out to me was how pervasive the hacking themes are in this movie. It was a big enough deal in the other recent movies, but it seems like it's half of this one. Overall, it's a big fun movie that gives you the usual angles on family and something new when it comes to the horrors of a world where nearly anything can be hacked. Kick back and enjoy not having to think too much.

3/5