Wonder Woman (Full Review)

In baseball, when you’re losing, you don’t always need a homerun to restore the hope in your fans. Sometimes, you just need a solid base hit to get your team back into a rhythm. 2016 had two strikeouts for the DC Comics Extended Universe. Batman v Superman was the most dreary, self-indulgent superhero movie ever and Suicide Squad was a sloppy mess that had to rely on a seasoned cast to make it watchable. But now Wonder Woman is up to the plate, and after being one of the few bright spots in Batman v Superman, the most iconic superheroine in comic book history looks to get DC and Warner Bros. back in the cinematic game.

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)Gal Gadot returns as Diana, the youngest of an island of Amazonian women created by Zeus to defend mankind from Aries, the God of War. Trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana becomes the fiercest Amazonian warrior, much to the dismay of her protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their hidden shores, Diana embarks on a mission with him and his friends (Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock) to find Aries and end the war before a German General (Danny Huston) and his chemist partner (Elena Anaya) can release a deadly gas on all of mankind.

From the beginning, when we see Diana as a starry eyed little girl, the movie has a charming tone to it that never ceases. All of the supporting protagonists are likable and the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine always comes off as genuine. Both Diana and Steve Trevor are wonderfully layered characters that uplift each other. Diana is portrayed as a strong but naïve fish out of water who learns the nuances of mankind from Trevor while he is a brave soldier who lacks faith until being inspired by her strong willed and unyielding nature.

Great chemistry between the cast is coupled with a strong dose of well timed humor that, unlike Suicide Squad, never feels forced. It should also come as no surprise to anyone that saw the character in Batman v Superman that the battle scenes are thrilling. So despite being over two hours, the movie paces beautifully with only the beginning feeling a tad slow.

Wonder Woman isn’t without some glaring flaws. There is an overuse of CGI which often clashes with the more tangible scenes in the film that feature well choreographed fights and gorgeous costumes and scenery. The movie also has some hokey moments and lacks a strong central antagonist (The final reveal seems a bit forced). So while it isn’t quite a homerun, Director Patty Jenkins does manage to make it DC’s first film that feels smart, fun, exciting, and endearing throughout. And that makes it a solid double off of the back wall and enough to give us faith in the studio again.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wonder Woman (Full Review)

Free Fire (Full Review)

There’s nothing like a movie that takes a simple concept and is able to turn it into something entertaining. Some films don’t need elaborate plots or huge set pieces to be exhilarating. With Free Fire, Director Ben Wheatley takes pages out of the Quentin Tarantino book of storytelling and delivers a hilariously kinetic film held up by a captivating cast.

imagesFree Fire takes place in the 1970’s and is almost entirely set in a Boston warehouse. Brie Larson plays Justine, a liaison helping a group of Irishman (Cilian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley) illegally purchase assault rifles from a group of shady gun dealers (Shalto Copley, Armie Hammer, Babou Ceesay, Jack Raynor). When an altercation leads to shots being fired, the deal turns into an all out gun fight with everyone trying to make it out alive.

As I mentioned, Free Fire feels very much like a Tarantino film (think Reservoir Dogs or The Hateful Eight). Almost every line is filled with sly humor and relevancy. And every time the story seems as if it’s going to lull, a new twist sparks even more hilarious chaos. The characters, from Armie Hammer’s suave trash talking Ord to Sharlto Copley’s weaselly Vernon, are all charismatic degenerates that make you want them killed just as much as you want them to survive.

If the film has a flaw, it is in those occasional dry spots where characters seem to be firing back in forth with no rhyme or reason. But that’s almost part of the fun. The only characters that seem to remain calm are too busy trying aimlessly to keep their moronic allies alive. As a result, Free Fire never feels too long or uninteresting. It plays out like a giant game of Russian roulette and by the time the climax rolls around, you’ll be glad you watched it all unfold.

FINAL GRADE: A

Free Fire (Full Review)

Logan (Full Review)

I remember watching the very first X-Men film on opening day back in July of 2000. Even though several changes had been made to the source material, I came out of the theater thoroughly pleased. One of the biggest reasons for the success of that film, and why the franchise is still chugging along 17 years later, is because of Hugh Jackman. Sure, he isn’t 5’3″ like his comic book counterpart, but Jackman has embodied the scraggly persona of The Wolverine so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the role. But all good things must come to an end, and after 9 films, it’s time for Jackman to wear the claws and muttonchops for the last time.

cuaiczwueaaid_w-jpg-largeLogan takes place in 2029. Most mutants have died off and the hero once known as the Wolverine is now a sickly old man who has been reduced to being a limo driver. Along with an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan spends his days tending to former X-Men leader, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is now a senile 90-year old man prone to dangerous seizures. Logan’s depressing life is thrown back into chaos when he becomes caught in the crossfire of a bounty hunting cyborg (Boyd Holbrook) searching for a young mutant girl (Dafne Keen) with similar powers to Logan’s.

For starters, this is NOT your children’s X-Men movie. Hell, this isn’t even your teenager’s X-Men movie. Filled with extreme violence, profanity in every other sentence, and even one scene of brief nudity, Logan has more in common with Deadpool than it does with any of Jackman and Stewart’s past films in the franchise. But that should only matter to anyone bold enough to ignore the ‘R’ rating. Like Deadpool, this film isn’t made for wholesome family fun. If the other X-Men films are comic books, this is a full on gritty, western graphic novel.

Logan feels like a story that has matured with audiences who grew up with the franchise and the Wolverine character. We’ve seen Wolverine deal with searching for his past and learning to be part of a team. But we’ve never seen the character experience having to outlive all of his closest friends. In that sense, Logan provides a story that makes the character feel more tangible than ever before and raises the question of what becomes of heroes when they’re down to their last leg?

The action sequences are gory, intense entertainment. But the family dynamic is undoubtedly the best part of Logan. Seeing the character being forced into a parental role brings a wonderful sense of heart to the film and the chemistry between Jackman and Dafne Keen is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. An even better dynamic perhaps, is the one shared between Jackman and Stewart’s Charles Xavier.

Professor X and Wolverine are the two most iconic characters in the franchise, so it’s fitting that they should share this last ride. This older, broken Charles Xavier is something we’ve never seen before. He has a potty mouth and has little to no control over his powers, and yet it never feels like he isn’t the same man that started the X-Men. The constant desire to nurture and teach is still there and more importantly to this film, the need to love, cherish and want the best for a friend, and pupil is what makes the dynamic between Charles and Logan incredibly emotional this time around.

Though darker and a bit more emotional than past X-Men films, there is still a healthy dose of effective humor throughout. Most of it comes from the sheer organic chemistry between the cast.  Even Boyd Holbrook’s antagonist, who is more bark than bite, manages to bring enough slick, Texas southern charm to make him an enjoyable character (He could’ve been great in the role of a certain Cajun mutant… but I digress).

Things do start to drag in the last act so the film could’ve probably shaved off about 15 minutes here and there. And try not to give yourself a headache by thinking about where this film fits in with the timeline of the others. Personally, I’ll take compelling stories and characters over continuity any day so consider these to be minor flaws. In the end, this isn’t just one of the best X-Men films. What Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created is a bold, deeply earnest sendoff to an iconic character that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

FINAL GRADE: A

Logan (Full Review)

Get Out (Full Review)

Jordan Peele became a breakout star when he and Keegan-Michael Key launched the sketch comedy show Key & Peele. Getting a mainstream start on MadTV, Peele has always had roots in comedy. Now, the talented comedian/writer who helped make 2016’s action comedy Keanu is playing his hand in the horror genre with a film steeped in racial allegory.

teaser_poster_for_2017_film_get_outGet Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a black photographer who after 5 months of dating his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), is nervously traveling to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) and her younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) despite the objections of his best friend (Lil Rel Howery). When the strange activity by the few black members (Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield) of the predominantly white community start to raise his suspicions, Chris finds himself knee deep in an uber eerie racist conspiracy.

Within minutes of watching the film, the first thing that came to my mind were the works of famed horror director Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s films like Psycho, Vertigo, and Birds were creepy simply because of subject matter, subtle allegory, and some brilliant camera work. Get Out checks off all of those boxes with precision.

Every ounce of dialogue, every shot, every scene holds purpose. The subtle discomforting comments made by Chris’ older white counterparts before things really go haywire are a perfect metaphor for the underlying prejudices that many have without even realizing they’re being condescending. And the horrific hypnotism subplot provides a great mirror to the constant state of racial appropriation that too often goes unnoticed in our society. From racial profiling to cultural assimilation, Peele leaves no stone unturned in his presentation.

The film isn’t without its flaws. At times it feels as though its preaching to its own choir. And there are a few plot holes that I can’t get into without giving spoilers. Many of the performances aren’t exactly memorable with the exception of lead actor Daniel Kaluuya who engulfs the audience’s unease with his performance. Lil Rel Howery also deserves credit for adding a well balanced dose of comic relief. But more importantly, Get Out is a film in which its concept and execution help it transcend from being a run of the mill horror film into an intelligent suspense thriller. For that reason alone, Jordan Peele is to be absolutely applauded for his work and his directorial career is off to a fantastic start.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

Get Out (Full Review)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (Full Review)

Who would’ve thought a movie about a retired assassin seeking revenge against the men that killed his dog would end up being one of the breakout films of 2014. A premise seemingly meant for a straight to redbox Jason Statham movie ended up being a fun, stylish action film seemingly plucked right from the pages of a graphic novel. So, while I usually feel as if most good ideas don’t necessarily need a sequel, the rich universe of John Wick is more than deserving of a follow up.

john_wick_chapter_twoChapter 2 picks up moments after the conclusion of the first film. Retired assassin, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has barely finished recovering his stolen car when he is recruited against his will by a former associate (Ricardo Scamarcio) and his mute right hand woman (Ruby Rose). Drawn to a blood oath, Wick must attempt a new mission that will put him in the crosshairs of an entire world of skilled assassins.

If you loved the first film, there is nothing to dislike about this second go round. From the cinematography to the soundtrack, Chapter 2 maintains the first film’s suave since of style. The action is bigger and better, filled with more fight choreography and some intense gun battles. Accentuating the action is a far greater sense of danger and suspense than what was experienced in the first film with the lead character being challenged early and often.

If there’s a flaw with Chapter 2, it’s in the more convoluted plot. But it’s hardly a bother. Sensational new characters like rival assassin Cassian (Common) and the sewer dwelling Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) are just some of the many welcomed nuances that add even more depth and intrigue to this fascinating criminal world. Returning characters like Winston (Ian McShane), Aurelio (John Leguizamo), and Charon (Lance Reddick) make the film mold seamlessly with its predecessor so even though things are more complex than a man avenging his puppy, it never stops feeling like a continuation of the first film.

The characters and world created by writer Derek Kolstad and brought to life by Director Chad Stahelski deserve to be commended. Like the James Bond and Mission Impossible films, the world of John Wick has become a character just as fun and interesting as the lead itself. And with an invigorating and fitting ending, there’s no need for this franchise to quit anytime soon.

FINAL GRADE: A

John Wick: Chapter 2 (Full Review)