Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: “Dunkirk”


Dunkirk

***** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language 
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

War movies are not my favorite. While you could say they’re usually just fact-based action films, I should like them more. So imagine my confliction when Christopher Nolan announced that his follow-up to the masterpiece headtrip Interstellar would be Dunkirk. Thankfully, not even Nolan can keep from making a Nolan film. While it may not feature any kind of twist — sticks to the facts and never goes Tarantino — he does have a few tricks up to his sleeve, making the film even more enjoyable than if it were simply another war movie. Dunkirk still is, but Nolan makes sure to keep it extremely interesting.

It’s 1940 and WWII is booming. We are split into three separate narratives focusing on different timelines of the Dunkirk evacuation where British, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops were trapped by Germany during the Battle of France.
  1. The Mole: One Week finds soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) seeking safety on the beaches alongside British Army Private Alex (Harry Styles) while Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) tries to get as many wounded piled onto boats.
  2. The Sea: One Day leads us to Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a mariner who is tasked with heading out to Dunkirk to help the trapped soldiers. Along with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and assistance from the young George (Barry Keoghan), they stop to rescue a Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy) on their way.
  3. The Air: One Hour whisks us into the skies with Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) as he dogfights the enemy swirling the beaches.
Considering Nolan is at the helm — he wrote this one all by himself — it should come as no surprise that it’s one of the year’s absolute best. Relentless, thrilling, moving, terrifying, a technical marvel, there’s no stone left unturned. Coming up with the idea 25 years and a mere 76 pages later — this is his shortest screenplay to date — the technical prowess is astonishing. Nolan is firing on all cylinders creating a palpable sense of dread, putting viewers right in the middle of the action from the very first shot. Accolades are bound to come pouring in year end with everything from Nolan’s directing, the acting — even Styles is exceptional! — Hans Zimmer’s score, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s razor sharp editing, right down to every other technical merit.

This is wham-bam summer spectacle at its finest. Running a mere 106 minutes shows that Nolan doesn’t have to delve into “self indulgence” to put on a grand time. While you would never call a film like Dunkirk “awesome,” it is flat out one of the most intense films of the year. Had it been any longer you’d have to check your pulse at the door. And make sure to see it on the biggest and loudest screen possible. Nolan loves his 65mm IMAX and it’s on full display here more than ever before. Most of the film is shot with IMAX cameras capturing every detail. If it happens to be feasible to see it on film it will look even better. As good as digital IMAX movies look, they always leave a little something to be desired in the visual aspect. No matter how you see it, Dunkirk will leave you breathless from the opening logo to the blackout of the end credits. Operation: Do Not Miss is in full effect!

Blu-ray Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: *****
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: ****

Article first published on Blogcritics.com

Every time a new Fast and Furious film comes out it seems a little harder to believe. The little film series that could has taken on a serious life of its own after kicking into high gear with a new writer and director who were able to throttle the mayhem into serious fun. Don’t get me wrong, none of these are high art, nor do they ever pretend to be. But even the eighth entry, The Fate of the Furious, finds plenty of life left in the franchise despite having to fill the hole left by the untimely passing of star Paul Walker. As they say, the show must go on, and when your films start grossing more than $1 billion worldwide, there’s no reason to stop it dead in its tracks.

Catching up with the family, F8 finds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) on honeymoon in Cuba. But just wouldn’t you know it, soon enough the conniving Cipher (Charlize Theron) comes calling and blackmails Dom into becoming the team’s biggest conflict yet. Before they know it — Letty, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — are swept up into a race against time by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) to stop Dom from helping Cipher get her hands on nuclear launch codes from the Russians. But don’t be surprised to find them getting a little help along the way from some familiar faces.


Universal Pictures crashes the Blu-ray party with The Fate of the Furious racing to the finish line with a top tier presentation. Watching the film on my brand new 75” 4K TV makes me only wonder how much better it would look in full 4K. With the 1080p upscaled, it’s still  a spectacular sight. Colors are bright without bleeding or blooming, crush never kills shadow delineation, banding is nowhere to be seen, aliasing is AWOL, and details are impeccable. From clothing textures to facial features, everything is on full display. You’re able to count every bead of sweat on Johnson’s head right down to the veins in his ginormous arms.

The DTS:X (downscaled to 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio for myself) track does leave the tiniest bit to be desired. Bass never seems to deliver as it should and you really notice the missing speakers during moments of panning. Directionality, at least, is spot on. And dialogue is never engulfed by the chaotic sound structure or drowned out during explosions or music swells. It may not pack the wallop one would hope — I prefer Dolby Atmos to DTS:X — but it more than gets the job done. Additional audio tracks include Spanish and French (Canada) DTS 5.1, and a DTS Headphone:X option. Subtitles include English SDH, French, and Spanish.

As if the film doesn’t have its own fair share of overkill, the same can be said of The Fate of the Furious’s special features. The only thing not included on the disc is the “Extended Director’s Cut” which is a digital exclusive and comes with a separate download code from the theatrical version. Kicking things off in style is “The Cuban Spirit” (8:04) where we find the cast and crew living it up and loving being the first major motion picture to film in said country. “In the Family” is split into four featurettes: “Betraying the Family: Cipher and Dom” (6:35) where we hear everyone praise the dynamic of Diesel and Theron. It also features the most hilarious line of dialogue when Theron calls screenwriter Chris Morgan an “incredibly smart” writer. The man may know how to write a FF film, but these are far from smart; “Leaderless: A Family Lost” (5:00) covers the plot of Dom going rogue and how each team member reacts; “Shaw Family Values” (3:56) recovers Shaw’s newly disclosed background, how he may not be such a bad guy after all, and the dynamics of working with the one and only Helen Mirren; “Meet the Nobodys” (5:45) shows how much fun Russell and Eastwood had working on the film, something that’s clearly obvious onscreen.

“Car Culture” has three sections: “The Hero Cars of Fast” (10:24) goes into way too much detail about the cars featured in the film — at least for the less car-enthused fan; “Zombie Cars” (5:35) displays the practical elements that went into creating one of the film’s action centerpieces; “The Ripsaw” (5:22) is a fun piece where we get to see the Army vehicle in indestructible action. “All About the Stunts” is self explanatory and showcases three of the biggest set pieces: “Malecon Street Race” (6:15), “Iceland Stunt Diaries” (6:45), and “The Streets of New York” (5:27). “Extended Fight Scenes” are two longer versions of “Prison Fight” (3:01) and “Plane Fight.” The best part of these being able to watch Statham slip back into Transporter mode and kick some major ass. Finally, director F. Gary Gray delivers an in-depth “Audio Commentary” offering up the usual behind-the-scenes tidbits and insights.

The Fate of the Furious continues to prove the franchise knows exactly what it is and continues to deliver exactly what we want. Lots of ’splosions, fist fights, and fast cars. You’re never left wanting more so long as you know what to expect, and given the film’s worldwide box office take we still love the franchise, even if that little piece may be missing with Walker gone. Fate’s Blu-ray shows Universal loves the franchise with demo-worthy video and excellent, if not top notch audio, and shovels a plethora of special features down our throats to boot.

There’s no denying the films still have plenty of fun in the pipeline which is good news considering there are at least two more headed our way. If they can keep the momentum going, this will wind up as one of the most successful franchises of all time. Fans will never question whether to pick the film up on Blu-ray or 4K and will not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Movie Review: “Wish Upon”


Wish Upon

** out of 5
90 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language
Broad Green Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Horror movies can get away with a lot when they’re fun. I’ll be the first to admit, the Final Destination franchise is one of the dumbest out there, but they are such a good time, who cares? In the case of Wish Upon, it descends into a level of so-bad-it’s-good hilarity, something I’m sure director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) and screenwriter Barbara Marshall did not intend. And speaking of Final Destination, Wish Upon is sadly just a bad PG-13 rated carbon copy of those films. Something no one wants, nor would ever wish for.

For teenage Clare (Joey King), high school is a bitch. Still having nightmares over her mom’s (Elisabeth Röhm) suicide 12 years ago, she makes it through the day thanks to a little help from her friends June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park). It doesn’t help that her deadbeat dad Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) keeps dumpster diving across the street from her high school. One day, while Jonathan is out scavenging, he comes across a sealed box covered in Chinese writing and brings it home to Clare. What Clare soon discovers is that the box makes her wishes come true, but doesn’t realize until it’s too late that they are granted with dire consequences.

I wish I could I could say that the unintentional hilarity was reason enough to bare witness to Wish Upon in theaters, but this is a spectacular case of a film that should have gone direct-to-video. Marshall’s screenplay feels extremely outdated. Every death is laughably executed making Leonetti’s Annabelle look Oscar worthy. This is far funnier than Baywatch. The acting is mediocre at best. Except Phillippe, who completely steals the show as Sax Dad. That may be worth the price of admission alone — along with the very last scene. I dare you not to laugh out loud.

Wish Upon is a disaster from start to finish. It may not be bad enough to wish upon your worst enemy, but it’s not worth trekking out to see in theaters. However, I can see it winding up being a favorite among teen girls gathering at slumber parties to yell at the screen. Faint praise at best, but it is unintentionally hilarious enough it could wind up being a new cult classic. Now that’s a scary thought!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

***** out of 5
133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Sony Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com



An amazing thing happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe last year when Sony Pictures finally played ball with Disney and allowed Spider-Man to join the fight. Captain America: Civil War not only brought to life one of Marvel’s best story lines, but it also showed that as fans, we can have our cake and eat it too. And what sweet cake it is. Director Jon Watts — being yet another low budget director handed the keys to the castle — was a left field choice, considering he’s only directed a horror movie (Clown) and a thriller (Cop Car). But it was a brilliant choice in that he knows how to keep a film grounded, thus making Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spider-Man ever.

In this issue of Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is working with his crew cleaning up after the New York attack in The Avengers, but not before the U.S. Department of Damage Control — led by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) — swoops in, putting Adrian and his men out of work. Eight years have gone by and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is reliving the glory days of when he took a super secret trip to Germany with the Avengers. Two months later, Peter is stuck on hiatus, waiting for his call to become an Avenger.

With Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) on speed dial, Peter lives out his teenage life attending high school, being geeky with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), pining over Liz (Laura Harrier), and keeping his friendly neighborhood antics under Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) nose.

Everything seems to be going perfectly well, but little does Peter know that Adrian has been developing high tech weapons from leftover pieces of Chitauri technology. Spider-Man is hot on the case, while a new supervillain, The Vulture, lurks about selling his weapons on the street. Peter tries to warn Tony, but keeps getting brushed off because he’s only a kid. Soon enough, The Vulture turns things personal, and Peter must take the fight into his own hands in order to keep everyone he loves safe.

Watts’s Spider-Man has a lot going for it — most of all, the comedy. This is hands down the funniest Marvel movie to date. But don’t worry, there’s also plenty of web-slinging action to go along with the teen angst. Watts nails the teen high school movie angle. It certainly helps to have cast Holland who just might be one of the best casting choices since Downey put on the Iron Man suit almost 10 years ago. With his cat-like reflexes, snarky wit, and athleticism, Holland was born to play both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. No offense to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield, but this is the Spider-Man we’ve been waiting for.

And so is the film itself. Filled with spectacular — yet surprisingly not too over-the-top — action sequences, characters we adore, jokes aplenty, and even a thrilling score courtesy of Michael Giacchino, Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that the title works on multiple layers. With this being high school set, there is a homecoming dance, but what it really stands for is Spider-Man’s return to where he belongs: right in the middle of the MCU. Make no mistake, the MCU currents run strong and deep throughout Homecoming, and it works all the better for it. While some have complained about how hard Marvel tries to weave the films into each other, it works in spades here. Is this the best Marvel movie to date? It’s hard to say. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and make the declaration, but it’s without a doubt one of the best. However, it is absolutely the best Spider-Man film yet, and I can’t wait to see where the Sony/Marvel team take it from here.

Blu-ray Review: “Railroad Tigers”

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *****
Extras: *** 1/2

Article first published on Blogcritics.

If anyone can at least claim consistency with his performances, it’s Jackie Chan. His films on the other hand, are definitely hit-or-miss. One thing that’s not hard to believe is that the man has 136 acting credits on IMDB and can still kick some butt when he wants to. With only the most subtle signs of slowing down, Chan brings his hilariously elegant kung fu shenanigans to director Ding Sheng’s Railroad Tigers with all of his trademark charisma — and son — in tow. It may not be his best work, but it is one of his best films in quite a few years.

It’s 1941 and Japan has expanded its occupation to Southeast Asia. A railway in East China has become an important transportation route for Japan, but railroad worker Ma Yuan (Chan) has decided that he’s had enough of the Japanese tyranny. Along with a ragtag group of coworkers — including his son and daughter — they embark on a quest to blow up a bridge, stop the Japanese, and become known as the freedom fighters “Railroad Tigers.”

Well Go USA continues to bring their 50GB-disc A game after years of slapping what could have been excellent transfer on single-sided 25GB discs. Railroad Tigers is no exception. Full of razor-sharp detail with scenes featuring some amazing depth, the time period is brought to life in all its dust and glory. Fast moving scenes never suffer from judder, blacks never crush, colors never bleed, contrast is realistic, while skin tones are completely natural. Banding also never rears its ugly head. Even the individual character title cards don’t suffer from aliasing.

The Mandarin DTS:X track (DTS-HD 7.1 for those of us without the additional speaker setup) is exceptional as well. With some fun moments of full surround speaker usage, it puts you right in the middle of the action. Trains blow by with exact directionality, while dialogue is never drowned out. Moments of heavy bass will also give your equipment a good workout. Music and sound is put to full use as well. Additional audio tracks include Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, English 5.1 DTS and 2.0 Dolby Digital, and a DTS:X headphone feature. English subtitles are included.

In traditional Well Go USA fashion, the special features can be accessed individually, but are a play all affair once started. Included is a “Director’s Featurette” (2:53), “The Dangers of Shooting” (2:37), a good length “The Making of” (21:21), “VFX Featurette” (3:55), “The Characters” (3:11), along with the “Trailer” (1:17), and “International Trailer” (1:06). Trailers for Kung Fu Yoga (another Chan vehicle), Operation Mekong, and Cold War II follow the special features and are also front-loaded upon disc start up. They really want you to know these are available!

Railroad Tigers may not attempt to be the be-all-end-all Chan film, the man is far removed from his glory days of the ’80s and ’90s. But, it’s a lot of fun for those who still get a kick out of watching Chan work his magic. And it’s always interesting to watch the Jackie Chan Stunt Team come up with new ways for him to stay at the top of his game. Thankfully, Railroad Tigers features excellent video and spectacular audio, even if the film itself is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. With an elongated behind-the-scenes featurette and the aforementioned A/V, Railroad Tigers is a great addition to Chan’s legacy. It may not be a new classic, but it gets the job done. And sometimes, that’s all you can hope for.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: “Despicable Me 3”


Despicable Me 3

** 1/2 out of 5
90 minutes
Rated PG for action and rude humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Third time is not always the charm. Toy Story 3 is a pure anomaly. Not even Cars 3 could keep itself from being an exercise in tedium as we very slowly watched the last of the milk run dry. Another failed third entry is Shrek the Third. Thankfully, Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3 is nowhere near as bad as Shrek 3, but it is much more enjoyable than Cars 3. The best news is that it’s way better than the Minions movie. Faint praise, I know, but at least it holds your interest for a good hour before it delves into boredom.

In what is hopefully the final Despicable chapter, we catch up with Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) as they continue fighting crime for the Anti-Villain League (AVL). Together, they foil supervillain Balthazar Bratt’s (voiced by Trey Parker) attempt to steal the world’s largest diamond. But it’s not long before Balthazar manages to snatch it anyway causing Gru and Lucy to get fired from the AVL by the new director Valerie Da Vinci (voiced by Jenny Slate). As fate would have it, Gru finds out that he has a rich, long-lost brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell). Now, Gru finds himself swept up in Dru’s fortune and schemes to become a supervillain, tempting Gru back to his old ways.

There could still be hope for the Despicable Me franchise. It just depends on whether they take the time to craft a worthy sequel. Even Despicable Me 2 was better than the first one. And anything would be better than a Minions 2. That may be why I feel so let down. It thinks it can just coast along on the goodwill of the first two, but Dru is an obnoxious addition and there’s not enough time with Gru’s merry band of adopted daughters — Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), and Agnes (voiced by Nev Scharrel).

Not even Wiig is given much to do aside from play second fiddle, along with everyone else, to the Minions characters. While hilarious in small doses, they’re now relegated to punchlines and cheap visual gags. Bottom line, they are for kids only. And I suppose that serves a purpose on its own. But it’s all far too bawdy for adults who like their animated features to have as much brains on screen as it took to animate the ones and zeroes that put them there. All we’re left with is an extra weak entry in what could have been another pretty good trilogy of family films. This one is for the die hard fans only. For the rest of us, it’s been there, seen that. It doesn’t help that The Lego Batman Movie is on home video. I suppose for us, at least, we can opt to stay home and relax and just stay out of their way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie Review: “Baby Driver”


Baby Driver

***** out of 5
113 minutes
Rated R for violence and language throughout
TriStar Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It may not mean as much to some, but I pride myself on being an Edgar Wright fan before it was cool. While Shaun of the Dead may have put him in the public eye here across the pond, it was Spaced I discovered first. With each film better the last — maybe not quite so much when comparing Scott Pilgrim vs the World and The World’s End (Scott Pilgrim is by far better) — it comes as no surprise to find Baby Driver being his best yet. Working without the aide of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, or Jessica Hynes, Baby Driver is all Wright, and I was interested to see how he could possibly top his previous films.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) works for kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver. Doc never uses the same crew twice so he’s constantly mixing with a different array of criminals. In the opening scene, Baby’s driving for Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Griff doesn’t trust Baby since he’s only being used as a driver. But Doc knows Baby is the best there is, even if he’s reliant on earbuds, eclectic music, and sunglasses. Baby works for Doc paying off a debt after Doc caught him stealing from him, but Baby wants out so he can drive away and be with local diner waitress Debora (Lily James). While Baby may be thinking he can escape, Doc makes sure he knows he’s never out, pitting him against both the hot headed Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Debora’s safety after a heist goes awry.

Baby Driver is not only Wright’s best film so far, but one of the year’s best films as well. Full of his trademark wit and style, he never puts style over substance. His script is chock full of verbal wordplay, loveable characters, and incredible action. The opening car chase and a late-in-the-game foot chase are jaw dropping. And it’s all set to the year’s best soundtrack. Wright has finally been set free by Sony and he’s giving Quentin Tarantino a true run for his money. It doesn’t hurt that Baby Driver feels like the funniest film Tarantino hasn’t made yet, but I can only imagine what could happen if the two got together — not counting Wright’s faux trailer Don’t! featured in Grindhouse — but I would die to see the end results.

Baby Driver is one of those films that deserves all the praise. I am dying to see this one again and hopefully it can see a bigger audience than just Wright fanboys; myself included. Summer films don’t get much better than Baby Driver. It demands to be seen in the loudest theater possible to fully allow the intoxicating use of music to wash over you. It’s also the kind of action film that screams “watch me in a theater dammit!” and you’d be a fool to let this one pass you by. Between Shaun, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, and The World’s End, I was never worried Scott Pilgrim would be as good as it got for Wright. But now, he has single handedly proven that he’s every bit as good playing in the movie sandbox all by himself — if not better. Baby Driver is full octane entertainment that cannot be missed.