Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 - Review (Spoiler-Free)


If you really sit down and think about the journey of Marvel’s most ragtag band of heroes, the path to get to Vol. 3 is a roller coaster. 9 years ago, a film about characters that few outside of the hardcore comic fandom knew about released to rave reviews and financial success that no one could’ve predicted. And just 3 years after that the sequel came to continue the weirdest superhero franchise (at the time). 

But between then and now, the characters have featured in two massive Avengers films, the director was fired (and promptly re-hired), and the MCU’s entire trajectory has shifted drastically. And yet, the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise soldiers on, becoming one of the best comic book movie trilogies to date. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Sisu - Review


World War II is a well traversed setting for many a story of triumph and tragedy, but it’s the rare entry choosing its genre trappings on a far more specific level that surfaces from time to time just to mix it up. Sisu promises very little, a fair bit of killing and violence directed towards one of history’s worst groups in the Nazis and a main character who simply refuses to die, and it more than delivers on both. 

During the last days of World War II, a solitary prospector, Aatami (Jorma Tommila), crosses paths with Nazis on a scorched-Earth retreat in northern Finland. When the soldiers decide to steal his gold, they quickly discover they just tangled with no ordinary miner.

Director and writer Jalmari Helander breaks Aatami’s gnarly journey into chapters, each seeking to top the violence and tension of the last. Sisu never actually feels like much of a war film, but borrows the steady and well-paced escalation of westerns to get to the finish line. The carefully orchestrated action set pieces and grisly kills line up one after the other to make this satisfying display of madness and explosions.

The narrative itself is not super complicated, simply an avenue to display the action prowess of the individuals behind and in front of the camera. There’s not much in the way of character development, though one could argue its goals of portraying a legend make that a deliberate choice. Hell, the main character doesn’t speak a line of dialogue until nearly the end of the film, making Tommila’s performance entirely physical, nailing the intense glares and imposing presence that would make a man like him so worthy of the stories told of him.

Sisu captures an odd balance for action filmmaking. It’s simple premise feels very old-fashioned, while its set pieces feature a modern sense of style akin to the studio’s other action star by the name of John Wick. It’s that same sense of style and visual flare that make Sisu special. Sure, watching a seemingly un-killable man dispatch truly vile human beings in fitting and gory ways seems like enough on the surface, but Helander’s insistence on making it all look amazing as well is just icing on the cake. Even if the very clear divide between hero and enemies is so vast that it’s easy to predict where it’s all headed, the journey to get there is an absolutely wild ride.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Air - Review


Professional sports and its superhuman athletes have long been the focus of Hollywood’s eye. From the underdog stories, to the feats of legends, the movie machine has done it all to varying degrees of success. However, Air represents a different angle to the view of sports: the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of endorsements. And, despite what it sounds like, it’s a pretty solid and fascinating watch.

Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) and Nike pursue basketball rookie Michael Jordan, creating a partnership that revolutionizes the world of sports and contemporary culture.

See? Even the synopsis sounds like an attempt to capitalize on the fascination around the basketball legend, but the result is anything but that. While the aura of MJ permeates throughout, the actual absence of him as a character ensures that this doesn’t become a worship of how great he is just for being him. Instead, the story focuses on less fungible human values like grit, love and competitiveness. 

Writer Alex Convery and director Ben Affleck find a nice spot on the line between drama and comedy. There’s a balance that relies heavily on the delivery of said comedy rather than depending on the writing itself. And when you get people like Matt Damon playing the dejected but quick-witted Sonny Vaccaro, it’s going to come pretty naturally as well. 

Damon isn’t alone, though his character often feels that way, and is surrounded by other pretty memorable performances. Affleck himself plays founder Phil Knight, whose deadpan interactions with Damon’s Vaccaro are a highlight to say the least. You also get Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman to fill in some other Nike suits, adding their distinct timing and brilliance to the film. But other M.V.P, perhaps sharing the crown with Damon, is Viola Davis. In a modulated, minimalist performance as Jordan’s mother Deloris, Davis helps to deepen the story beyond the business side of things and show just how in control she is of her son’s ascendence to stardom. 

It is sometimes easy to forget how good a director can be if they miss or take a break for a while. It’s been seven years since Affleck’s last directorial outing, and eleven since his last good one, but Air is a pretty good reminder of his talents. Affleck handles the stories many parts gracefully, keeping everything rolling at a pace that isn’t too fast but doesn’t dawdle either. The final film thus becomes a perhaps overly simplified version of events, but an enjoyable and sometimes touching one. 

Friday, March 31, 2023

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves - Review


It’s easy to be skeptical about the latest IP to get a Hollywood adaptation when so many of them are half hearted or just flat out lazy. Throw that adaptation into the high fantasy fare that’s so often stumbled and the expectations for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves can’t be too great. However, with the team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein at the helm, this quest to make a fun and adventurous D&D adaptation is a successful one. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 - Review (No Spoilers)


It’s rare for a franchise to reach the fourth outing without any waning interest. It’s even more rare for a franchise to see increases in quality as each entry comes and goes. For the John Wick series, the fourth installment once again reiterates just how much of action cinema history lies within the bones of what makes these films great. All at once simple and bonkers, the series aestheticizes violence in a way that few other modern action flicks can muster for a scene, let alone the entirety of the runtime. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Creed III - Review


Reinventing the boxing movie is an impossible task, Michael B. Jordan and crew know this by now. Creed III doesn’t even attempt to change up the storied tropes of the franchise, instead opting to focus on two interesting characters on a collision course that can only end in an intense slugfest. Where the quality of the Rocky series started to stretch its ideas thin by the third entry, Creed III feels like a franchise still flexing it muscles. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania - Review (No Spoilers)


Who in their right mind would’ve thought the world would be getting not just one film centered on the shrinking hero Ant-Man, but a whole trilogy? It certainly speaks to the absolute box office domination of Marvel Studios over the last decade and a half. But whereas the first two entries in this sub-series of the MCU were fairly small scale (no pun intended), the third entry ups the ante, bringing the new big bad to the world and setting the stage for the next phase of the overarching story.