Category Archives: Action

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review – The Best Spidey Film Ever, Full Stop.

By Mike Reyes

Thanks to Jon Watts’ sublime directing, and a cast that’s anchored by a fantastic hero and villain, Spider-Man: Homecoming does whatever a Spider-Man couldn’t do on the big screen.

It’s been a long damned road to Spider-Man: Homecoming. We got two great films out of the Sam Raimi / Tobey Maguire run, with one absolutely abysmal one that shut down the rumored seven film cycle they were attempting. And then there were two very mixed-up films by director Marc Webb, with Andrew Garfield making a great run as Peter Parker / Spider-Man. But neither of those runs could prepare me for Spider-Man: Homecoming, as this latest film did what the franchise has never done before: it made a superior adaptation of the Spider-Man mythos.

Baby Driver Review: The Ultimate Summer Joy Ride

by Mike Reyes

Somebody better call the folks at Merriam-Webster, because it’s time to update the dictionary. Cool is now spelled “B-A-B-Y.”

Edgar Wright is one of the most important director of modern cinema, and there’s very little room to argue against this fact. His understanding of the movies is so keen that he can always send up a genre while paying tribute to it with a fully functional entry in its canon. But with Baby Driver, he pushes himself to provide more than just another Edgar Wright film. It’s because of this that just might be his best work yet.

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Wonder Woman” – Score A Big Hearted Win For The DC Extended Universe

by Mike Reyes

After what seemed like forever, Wonder Woman has finally arrived in Hollywood, with strong, but mixed, results.

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With three films under its belt, the pre-Wonder Woman DC Extended Universe was in a bit of a bind. Between the way it handled its characters and source material, as well as the variously noted disasters, debacles, and reshuffles in its cabinet, it looked like they were never going to put out a film that could please the public. But then, hope started to shine as Patty Jenkins came aboard the first cinematic outing for the princess of Themyscira, and a pretty solid cast boarded under her leadership. Well, it pleases me to say that while Wonder Woman isn’t the silver bullet (or bulletproof bracelet) that Warner Bros intended, it’s a strong, satisfying base hit.

After growing up in the idyllic Themyscira, its princess, Diana (Gal Gadot,) ventures into the world of mankind. Accompanied by the soldier that crash lands into her life (Chris Pine,) our protagonist embarks on her greatest adventure yet. With World War I raging, and Diana’s naivete adjusting to the culture shock, the search is on for the madman who’s pulling the strings of the conflict. As her battle rages on, Diana will learn what it’s like to be human, warts and all.

While Wonder Woman is a far from perfect film, it’s a truly heartfelt piece of entertainment. Up until now, DC’s films have had a sort of anarchic / nihilistic sort of attitude about them, with a sliver of optimism being represented by Superman. With that sliver now dead in the universe, and Justice League looking like more of a bro-down than any of the other Warner Bros films, Wonder Woman is a refreshing change of pace, as the film decides to focus on themes of heroism and love. The message is a little clunky at times, particularly when the dialogue hits the nail a little too on the head, but the fact that the message is there is still important. Should the internet turn its attentions to memes about Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman’s relationship, rather than The Joker and Harley Quinn’s “relationship,” the world will already be better off.

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Of course, the goodwill doesn’t end there, as Wonder Woman powers forth with Gal Gadot as its sterling female lead and director Patty Jenkins finally putting her stamp on the comic book world, both making huge strides for women in a male-dominated genre / industry. Thankfully, that angle isn’t preached with tone-deaf sentiment, as the strength of Gadot, and the rest of the female characters in this world, is shown in actions rather than dialogue. Ms. Gadot, in particular, balances wide-eyed wonder with her warrior nature quite well, with minimal sour notes being hit throughout. It’s just a shame that the film leaves Themyscira so soon, as the film ditches 95% of its strong female characters once the action moves into the real world.

It should also be noted that Chris Pine absolutely shines in this movie, as do his fellow World War I compatriots. That’s partially because all of them are full fledged, captivating characters on their own, each with a sparkling personality, and a common goal in the name of the common good. However, it’s really Gal Gadot’s chemistry with the group, and the earnestness of her performance, that make this unit as fun to watch as Captain America, Peggy Carter, and the Howling Commandos.

Unfortunately, there’s something to be said about a lot of the borrowed elements that Wonder Woman displays, as there are moments in here that not only recall Captain America: The First Avenger, but also one particular scene in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Let’s just say No Man’s Land becomes one of those “hit the nail on the head” moments we were talking about, albeit the moment itself is redeemed with an exemplary action sequence that exhilarates the film. While these elements aren’t exactly unique in the world of comic books, it’s more noticeable when you copy elements in the context of a film.

But perhaps the weakest element of Wonder Woman is, in fact, the villainous contingent throughout the film. There’s three villains in this film, and none of them escape the classification of mere caricatures. There’s even a laughable moment where Danny Huston’s  General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru (aka “Dr. Poison”) engage in some comedic villainy that makes for a quick chuckle, but renders both characters unable to be taken seriously. Not to mention, the third act is damaged by this villain problem, as the final showdown just isn’t as compelling as it wants or hopes to be. For a film that has such a strong first two acts, it really hurts to see the finale turn into a subpar closer.

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Despite its flaws, Wonder Woman is a film for fans of the comic book genre, as well as movie fans altogether. It’s an especially dazzling film when seen in IMAX 3D too, as the quality of the visuals are only enhanced by the superb presentation of third dimensional enhancement. It’s not a perfect movie, and there’s plenty of comic book films that outrank it in brilliance, but Wonder Woman represents hope for a better female driven franchise ahead. What it lacks in plot it makes up for in well-drawn characters you want to spend time with, and a lead that truly rocks her role like a goddess. Gal Gadot has come a long way from her Fast & Furious days, and Patty Jenkins continues to shine as a vital directorial voice in the world of film. May they both come out of the gate swinging for Wonder Woman 2, should the market allow such a possibility, as I already miss their work.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Alien: Covenant” – A Frightening Summer Blockbuster, With An A-List Pedigree

by Mike Reyes

Ridley Scott continues to excite with his Alien franchise, returning to the series’ terrifying, blood soaked roots.

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While no one can hear you scream in space, they probably can hear the outcry of upset fans who feel they’ve been done wrong. It’s no secret that Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel Prometheus has its fair amount of detractors, but I myself am among its champions. I felt it was an interesting origin point for an earlier era in the story that would eventually follow Ellen Ripley’s lineage in grand style, depending on what the next couple of films in the prequels did. After seeing Alien: Covenant, I can safely say that the direction Scott is heading in is an exciting one, filled with much more danger and darkness than Prometheus could have ever promised.

In the vast distance of space, the crew of the “Covenant” are ready to start a new home on a planet that’s just ripe for the living. But after discovering a random signal, they are drawn to a planet that is much closer, and can inhabit human life just as easily. One decision will send a crew of colonists straight into the mysteries of this planet, and all of the terror that their shadows conceal. A very familiar terror, with a very interesting origin story.

In early reactions to Alien: Covenant, I remember reading someone coming out of the premiere saying that they knew this was going to be the new film for Alien fans to argue over. That’s definitely the case, as the latest film in this ever evolving saga has taken an interesting turn, in regards to the origins of the species. While ruining those turns is pretty much high treason at this point, it’s a good bet that I can say the mythos of the Alien saga is moving forward in some pretty interesting ways. The ideas that Covenant has when it comes to the creation of the Xenomorph race are not only intriguing, but also thematically ballsy, as their connections to Prometheus make even that film a little more interesting. And all the while, this film unfurls with genuine pacing and craftsmanship that only Ridley Scott could bring to such a film.

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Though it should be noted that Michael Fassbender steals this goddamned movie from everyone else. We get two scoops of synthetic this round, as Alien: Covenant has Fassbender reprising his role of David from Prometheus, as well as introducing us to Walter, a newer, more tame synthetic designed down the line. In both performances, the man shines, playing one character who feels like a soldier and the other like a mad scientist. Watching the two Fassbenders collide on screen is truly a treat, and a testament to the fact that the man is one of our greatest acting treasures in modern cinema.

That’s not to say that the ensemble containing Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bashir, and Carmen Ejogo is weak. In fact, each member of the cast sells their portion of the story with great gusto, with a particularly interesting turn from McBride. In fact, this is probably the most grounded I’ve seen him since his supporting role in Up In The Air, and when you see him upset or scared, you really feel it thanks to his usually egotistical bravado. And Waterson, whom we last saw in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, is definitely ready to be more of a Ripley-esque presence, as she gets to show in certain key moments in this film. While she’s not a full Ripley just yet, I do hope she gets the chance to work in that space, as she’s simply too good not to allow to do so.

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Ultimately, your enjoyment of Alien: Covenant will depend on several things. Chiefly among them will be how much you like Prometheus, and just generally how you like your sci-fi. But one thing applies to all who are interested in uncovering this new film’s mysteries: you really do have to see it for yourself. It is as thrilling as it is visceral, and it might possibly be the bloodiest film of the summer, at least for this moment in time. For someone who’s loved the series since they were a kid, warts and all, I absolutely loved this film, and cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

My Rating: 5/5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Kong: Skull Island” – Massive Fun, With Minor Flaws

by Mike Reyes

Kong Lives Again In This Fast Paced Action-Adventure, That Skimps A Bit On Heart, But Goes All In With Spectacle.

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A funny story to preface this review to what looked like it was going to be another hollow exercise in franchise building and cheap thrills: Universal was originally supposed to produce Kong: Skull Island. But, presumably after some of the setbacks that their producing partner Legendary Entertainment had suffered with high profile bombs such as The Seventh Son and Blackhat, they passed the project over to Warner Bros. without a second thought. It’s funny, because Kong: Skull Island is actually a hell of a fun thrill ride that not only should have Universal kicking itself, but should give Warner Bros cause to celebrate, as their burgeoning “Monsterverse” is still going strong as ever.

In the shadow of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have a special favor to ask of Uncle Sam. That favor is to allow for these two men to make an expedition to an uncharted island that hides a lot more than what can be seen on the surface. With a military escort, led by a Lieutenant Colonel looking for a fight (Samuel L. Jackson,) and accompanied by various scientists, a war photographer (Brie Larson,) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston,) the secrets of Skull Island will slowly reveal themselves. And Kong himself is acting as the god of the island, and possibly the fates of the humans who’ve come so far to seek him.

The first thing you should know about Kong: Skull Island is that it’s not another straight up remake of King Kong. So if you’re looking forward to the Empire State Building or beauty killing the beast, Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic is the most modern you’ll be getting with all of that. Instead, writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein (who also helped pen Godzilla ’14,) and Derek Connolly (who served as a writer on Jurassic World,) have decided to go with a Vietnam War movie themed mold to shape their monster movie. It shows in the soundtrack, the cinematography, and even in the film’s predominantly orange, brown, and green color palette, and it’s a refreshing change.

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With this fresh lens, Kong: Skull Island is dripping with 70’s throwback mojo that charms as much as it does anchor the story of Kong in a more modern context. Gone is the old school adventurer vibe, and in its place is a “man on a mission / war is hell” film that crosses the character of Kong with Apocalypse Now. Nowhere is this more present than in Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard, a character who swears an oath to stomp out Kong, after a particularly eventful engagement during our first moments on the island.

However, there’s still some of the awe and wonder of discovering a new ecosystem, as there are plenty of new beasts and environmental factors that our characters discover throughout the running time of the film. In fact, this is more where Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s characters of James and Mason come into play, as they’re on the side that wants to preserve Skull Island, and Kong himself. Through their chemistry together, as well as with late game contributor John C. Reilly, they explore the conservationist side of Kong: Skull Island, setting up the major conflict of the film’s narrative.

Though don’t get too attached to the characters in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first blockbuster picture. Not only do you know they’re going to be monster fodder, but they just aren’t all that well fleshed out, seeing as this expedition actually has a lot of participants among its ranks. If there’s any fault to Kong: Skull Island, the film could have stood to engaged in some more character and story development, and dropping some of the extra characters could have helped immensely. That’s not to say the break neck pace of the film isn’t an advantage, as the film’s almost two hour screen time breezes by on a gale of excitement. But a couple more moments learning about the pieces in the game would have been nice, if anything so we had more of a connection to the film at large.

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Kong: Skull Island is unapologetic blockbuster fun, and it’s certainly recommended as a fun night out at the movies. In fact, IMAX 3D is the only real way to go with this film, as it sells the scale of Kong and his compatriots properly, immersing the audience in a true clash of titan level glory. By time the final post credits stinger rolls, and ties in Godzilla ’14 alongside the adventures of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be ready for the next chapter. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s exciting – and in this case, the parts that are missing don’t sink the ship.

My Rating: 4/5