Movie Review: The Warriors (1979)


Title: The Warriors
Release Date:  February 9, 1979
Director: Walter Hill
Production Company: Lawrence Gordon Productions
Summary/Review:

Yet another cult film I’ve never watched, The Warriors is take on the crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s by way of an Ancient Greek story.  The Warriors are a gang based in Coney Island who with dozens of other gangs travel to the Bronx for a summit called by a charismatic leader Cyrus (Roger Hill).  Cyrus proposes unifying all the gangs and working together against the police to control the city but before he can finish his speech he is assassinated.  (The killer appears to receive his gun from the cops and thus be a police informer but this is never followed-up upon so maybe I misread what was happening).

The Warriors are falsely accused of killing Cyrus and have to flee back to Coney Island for the safety of their home turn, pursued by all the other gangs and the police.  They lose their leader in the initial scuffle and war chief Swan (Michael Beck) takes over shepherding the rest of the gang on their journey home.  He’s challenged by the heel of the gang Ajax (James Remar) who prefers conflict to diplomacy.  The cast overall does a good job of capturing the youth and vulnerability of the gang members and seeing the story from their point of view rather than a societal judgment.  The only actor who didn’t really work for me is David Patrick Kelly as Luther, who really hams things up, although he also delivers the movie’s most famous line.

For a 1970s film, the cast is very diverse although the production company insisted on white actors in the lead.  For a story about gangs of men, the women in the movie have a lot of agency and call out the men on their bullshit.  The most prominent woman character is Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who initially taunts The Warriors but then joins them as a valuable contributor to their effort to get back to Brooklyn as well as a romantic interest to Swan. There is homophobia and attempted sexual assault as you might expect from gangsters in a 70s film, but it’s almost all from Ajax, while the rest of the gang appear almost noble.

For an action film, this movie takes things slow, reveling in the scenery of the on-location settings and the quirky costumes of the various gangs while building the tension.  This really works to the film’s advantage, although the choreography of the fight scenes is also good.  Somehow the cartoonish fantasy element of the story also undergirds the gritty reality of the movie and allows for some great character moments. I was particularly impressed by a scene where the exhausted Warriors share a subway car with some wealthy kids and the contrast of their lives is quietly emphasized.

I ended up liking this movie a whole lot more than I expected I would and think it’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)


Title: Lightyear
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Lightyear is a spinoff that likely didn’t need to exist, but as a fan of Pixar animation and the Toy Story movies in particular, I feel duty-bound to watch it.  Personally, I’d rather see a movie about the lives of the puppets on the 1950s Sheriff Woody TV show.  At any rate, Lightyear offers nods to what we know about the toy Buzz Lightyear, but the action-movie character Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) has a story that’s largely unique.  In fact, the movie Buzz Lightyear’s story is so unique it’s hard to believe the premise that this was the movie that Andy watched in 1995.  This is a small thing though, because the movie with 2022 sensibilities is more interesting than if they tried to make it a retro-1995 type of media.

The story focuses on Lightyear serving as a Space Ranger on a exploration vehicle that due to his own error gets stranded on an inhospitable planet.  Lightyear serves as a test pilot for a new hyperdrive but due to time dilation when he returns from every one of his four minute flights, four years have passed for his companions on the planet.  Buzz sees his commander and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) age, marry, have children and grandchildren, and ultimately die.  Upon returning from his final, successful test flight he finds the planet under attack by robots, and must team up with a ragtag crew including Alisha’s granddaughter Izze (Keke Palmer), the cowardly Mo (Taika Waititi), the elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and his delightful robotic cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn) to defeat the evil robots.

Lightyear is charming, funny, action-filled, and has a certain weirdness that justifies its existence as a movie.  On the other hand, it suffers in comparison to the Toy Story series.  It feels like a cash grab and yet it probably would’ve done better artistically and commercially as its own original story as opposed to being a spinoff to something else.  All that being said, this is a fine film and I’m sure many families and children will enjoy it.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)


 

TitleThor: Love & Thunder
Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director:Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak.  Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.

Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher.  When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.

Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor.  It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way.  Together they have some mighty adventures.  The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

 

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TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)


Title Obi-Wan Kenobi
Release Date: 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Deborah Chow
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Lucasfilm
Summary/Review:

The Star Wars franchise has a way of defying my expectations for good or for ill.  There are some things I eagerly anticipated seeing that ended up being rather bad (The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker).  Then there are things that I originally questioned why they needed to be made that turned out to be among the best Star Wars works ever (Rogue One, The Mandalorian).

When I heard there would be a show about Obi-Wan Kenobi set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars, I didn’t really think that there was any good story to be told during that time.  Then the news that Hayden Christensen was cast to return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I wondered what the point was since he’d be behind a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones.  Well, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction and beyond in this series that really delves into some of the most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe.

For all the flaws of the prequels, it did have some talented actors with Ewan McGregor among this best.  This show allows McGregor to flourish as he portrays the Jedi master dealing with guilt and isolation as he’s separated himself from the Force while watching over they young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).  Christensen, who was criminally underserved by the poor scripts in the prequel, gets to show off his acting chops as well.  Newcomer Moses Ingram appears as Reva Sevander, a Force-sensitive Inquisitor working for the Empire to hunt down Jedi, also does a great job.

Of course, the best part of this series was a huge surprise and I’m going to hide it below the trailer in case you’ve read this far but don’t want to see spoilers.

Continue reading “TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)”

Movie Review: Run Lola Run (1998)


Title: Lola rennt
Release Date: 20 August 1998
Director: Tom Tykwer
Production Company: X-Filme Creative Pool | WDR | Arte
Summary/Review:

In the summer of 1999, everyone was agog over The Blair Witch Project.  So one night I met up with some friends at the cinema, waited in a long line, and when we got to the front learned that all showings of The Blair Witch Project were sold out.  So we ended up seeing a German art film, Run Lola Run, instead. Run Lola Run quickly became one of my all time favorite movies, while I still haven’t seen The Blair Witch Project.

Set in Berlin (and incorporating the city as a character), the movie stars Franka Potente as Lola, a young woman who must find 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes.  Her doofy boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a bagman for a mob boss and lost the bag of money he was supposed to deliver and will meet certain execution if the money is not replaced.  As the title implies, Lola runs through the streets of Berlin trying to find the money, primarily from her estranged father who is a banker (Herbert Knaup).

What makes the movie unique is that the story is told three times with Lola’s split-second decisions affecting the outcome of her story and of the people she comes in contact with.  It’s basically the hip version of Sliding Doors which came out the same year.  People have compared it to a video game where one can start over after dying and keep trying to get it right.  The movie features a lot of innovative camera techniques for the time it was released, although they may seem clichéd after a few decades of overuse. In addition to the great visuals the film is expertly scored to a techno soundtrack on which Potente provides many of the vocals.

The movie is an exercise in efficiency getting across the basic plot points swiftly but still bearing emotional heft.  I’d completely forgotten that the movie also intercuts animation with the live action sequences that makes it a fun touch.  There are probably some deep philosophical issues that can be discussed in regard to this movie.  But I like it just for the pure energy it brings to telling a story about love and fate.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)


Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Release Date: May 6, 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I wasn’t a big fan of Doctor Strange (2016), but Benedict Cumberbatch has done a good job with the character in various other MCU films including Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).  So I did look forward to this film, especially since it also promised the return of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of WandaVision.  The multiverse has been a recurring theme of Phase 4 especially in the tv series Loki and What If... and in No Way Home, and this movie leans into the “madness” of its title.

The basic plot involves a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the power to jump between universes although she is not able to control it.  America arrives in the main MCU universe (Earth-616) pursued by a giant demon who is sent after her by someone seeking to take away America’s power, which would kill her.  Doctor Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) agree to help and defend America leading into a heavily action-filled adventure. In another universe, they are aided by Stephen Strange’s ex Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They also meet a crowd-pleasing team of alternate universe superheroes with actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Hayley Atwell, Lashana Lynch, and Anson Mount reprising their roles from other Marvel properties and John Krasinski making a first appearance as a well-known character.

Director Sam Raimi is best known for his camp horror movies like Evil Dead and brings a horror aesthetic to this film as well.  That means we see our protagonists chased by demons and a blood-soaked villain as well as scenes with a heavily-decayed zombie.  There are a lot of brutal deaths in this movie which make it feel more dangerous than other entries in the MCU and may not be suitable for young children or anyone who is squeamish.

There’s a lot that I can quibble with about this movie, although it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor.  I especially felt that the chemistry between Strange and Christine was never strong and it makes the “lost love” element of the plot a tough sell.  America feels more like a MacGuffin than a character for much of the film, although she does get a good moment in the denouement.  Despite the multiverse being a recurring theme in the MCU, this movie felt oddly self-contained as it had no connection with previous multiverse stories.  I also felt that Loki and the non-MCU movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did a much better job with the possibilities of the multiverse for storytelling.  Ultimately, I enjoyed this movie as a it was pretty much nonstop action set pieces with a lot of visual flair.

SCROLL PAST THE TRAILER FOR MORE THOUGHTS WITH SPOILERS

Rating: ***

Continue reading “Movie Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)”

Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


Title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Release Date: 7 July 2000
Director: Ang Lee
Production Company: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia | Good Machine International | Edko Films | Zoom Hunt Productions | China Film Co-Production Corp. | Asian Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.
Summary/Review: I last watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it was released in US theaters 21 years ago and it turns out I remembered very little of the movie.  The one thing that stuck with me was the duel fought on the tops of a forest of bamboo which remains an awe-inspiring image in this rewatch.

The film centers on Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a governor who is promised in marriage but yearns for a life free to determine on her own terms.  She learns Wudang skills from a bandit named Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who is disguised as her governess and steals a famed sword named Green Destiny from the renowned swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat).  Mu Bai and his friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) investigate the theft of the sword and attempt to aid Jen who resists any interference.

The movie features several wuxia fight setpieces, and in addition to being amazing action sequences also are all rooted in relationships and plot points.  I’m impressed at how central women are in almost all the roles of this film especially since in just the last decade it’s been “controversial” for women to be centered in Hollywood action films.  I also was really touched by the unspoken romance between Mu Bai and Shu Lien which is paid off in the film’s denouement.  Chow and Yeoh are really terrific actors and express a lot of emotion with very little external display.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Top Secret! (1984)


Title: Top Secret! 
Release Date: June 22, 1984
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The team of Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker followed up their hit Airplane! with this comedy that turned out to be a flop.  It’s a bit unfortunate because I feel that in some ways it is better than Airplane! While the previous movie was a straightforward disaster movie spoof, Top Secret! is a more esoteric parody of Cold War spy thrillers and Elvis Presley musicals that evolves into a strange pastiche of World War II resistance movies.

Val Kilmer makes his film debut as American rock star Nick Rivers who is invited to perform at a cultural festival in East Germany.  He ends up caught up in the attempts of resistance member Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge, who appears to mostly work in British theatre and tv) to escape the authorities.  Hijinks ensue. There are a lot of great gags, but among them the opening song “Skeet Surfin'” and the Swedish bookstore scene are absolute classics of the genre.  At the more lowbrow end, there are a lot of jokes about breasts and penises.

This was not the type of movie Kilmer wanted to make, but nevertheless puts his all into the role making him the perfect straight man for all the nonsense.  Veteran actors Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, and Michael Gough all appear in small but memorable roles.  And the rock and roll parody songs are all pretty hilarious. Plus there’s always something going on in the background that’s worth watching.

I put Top Secret! on my 250 favorite movies list earlier this year.  If I revised the list now, it might not make the cut, but it’s wouldn’t be too far off.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)


Title: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Release Date: March 25, 2022
Director: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Production Company: AGBO | Ley Line Entertainment | IAC Films | Year of the Rat
Summary/Review:

I haven’t seen a ton of Michelle Yeoh’s work but I’m always impressed by her and I’m pleased to see her in this movie that is already being hailed as one of the best of the year.  It feels particularly groundbreaking to have a science fiction/action/comedy blockbuster center on a middle-aged Chinese immigrant woman who’s basically having a mid-life crisis.  Evelyn (Yeoh) is seeing her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, most famous as the child star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) crumble, her relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) strained, and her relationship with her father Gong Gong (James Hong), recently arrived from China, was never particularly good in the first place.  On top of this, the family laundromat business is failing and under an audit by the IRS.

When the family go to meet with IRS inspector Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis, who I didn’t even recognize until I saw her name in the credits), strange things begin to happen.  Evelyn learns that she is a significant figure in the multiverse and has to use the talents from the parallel universe versions of herself to fight a grave threat to all of existence.  I don’t want to give away many details of this movie, but it is a story that works on many levels: a family drama, an absurdist comedy, an existentialist debate, and a martial arts action film.  Somehow this is a movie where the lowbrow humor of fight involving butt plugs can exist side by side with a scene in which a couple of rocks can make me want to cry.

I’m not going to say anything more, but I believe Everything Everywhere All At Once has earned all the praise it is getting and if you haven’t seen it, make plans to see it now!

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Title: Free Guy
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
Production Company: Berlanti Productions | 21 Laps Entertainment | Maximum Effort | Lit Entertainment Group | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t know that he lives in a video game as a non-playing character (NPC), and seems content with living in a city where violent crime is routine.  The game, Free City, is a product from the company of melomaniac Antwan (Taika Waititi).  Game developer Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the game to seek out her source code that she believes Antwan stole from her, sometimes with the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame). Meeting Millie prompts Guy to become more self-aware and evolve as an artificial life form, prompting a revolution among the NPCs.

I won’t go too much more into the plot as it’s one of those plots that gets too convoluted and doesn’t make much sense if you think of it too much.  The premise of this movie reminds me of The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, but not so much that it doesn’t stand on its own. The real point of this movie is to see the charming Ryan Reynolds do action, comedy, and romance which he does well, and it features enough fun gags to make it worth the watch.   I was also interested in seeing Free Guy because I remember when it was being filmed in Boston.  Boston looks good as a video game setting and it was especially unnerving to see familiar Boston landscapes disintegrating in one scene.

Rating:***