Monday, August 7, 2017
I do not think most spy movies are very effective forms of storytelling. They are, at best, vehicles for well-shot and choreographed action sequences, normally in close-quarters or in chase sequences, but most of the time fail at telling an emotionally impactful narrative. This mostly comes back to our lead character, who is more often than not stoic and immune to the events that are happening around him and comes across as emotionally detatched or uncaring about the world around them.
He'll save the world and look cool while doing it, but if he doesn't give a damn about anything then why should we care about what he does?
That's not to say all spy movies are terrible, since films like "Skyfall" and "Goldfinger" are wonderful, while others like Paul Feig's "Spy" and Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" flipped the spy genre on its head and played it mostly for laughs. But when I watch most spy movies, by the time we reach the end of the second act and everything starts to get tense, I often find myself uninterested in what had come before and what is about to come. I will often remember the action sequences, but find it hard to remember how or why these bits of drama happened in the first place.
David Leitch's "Atomic Blonde" is a perfect example of why I don't care for the spy genre. While the film has stunning visuals and great use of color, which is very reminiscent of Leitch's previous film "John Wick," and some brutal action sequences, the story and characters leave a lot to be desired and ultimately made the experience feel a bit hollow.
Set in 1989 on the eve of the Berlin Wall collapsing, MI6 agent James Gasciogne is killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin for a wristwatch that contains a piece of microfilm that has the names and activity of every active KGB agent in the field, which Yuri plans to sell on the black market to the highest bidder. MI6 sends in their top operative, agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), to find the watch and kill the agent that ousted Gasciogne, known as Agent Satchel. Lorraine also meets with agent David Percival (James McAvoy) who has gone native, but maybe her only way of getting around Berlin.
I'll give "Atomic Blonde" this much - it perfectly captures the feel of the 1980s. From the neon clothing, to the rock music, to the rampant experimental drugs, this film screams of the 80s. This film eats grittiness for breakfast and neon lights for dinner. There's a certain zeitgeist to every decade and "Atomic Blonde" nails what it fells like to live during the 1980s, capped off by a boisterous soundtrack.
The action sequences in "Atomic Blonde" are quite different from what I expected. There are some longer fight sequences that use long takes, and many of them show fatigue and exhaustion in our characters, like they're always fighting with everything they've got. I don't remember many fight scenes where the hero gets tired, but this was a nice change of pace. Watching Charlize Theron trying to catch her breath in the middle of a fight was refreshing and honest.
However, the end result "Atomic Blonde" wants to go for is unsatisfying. This is because Lorraine feels so detached and emotionless from her job. She has the same emotion taking someone's life that you or I would have from going to grocery store to get milk. This works for first two-thirds of the film when she is putting all the pieces together, but once she thinks everything is solved and has to act upon it is when the film starts to fall apart.
This could be less of a problem with "Atomic Blonde" and more of a problem with the narrative style of the spy genre in general. This film could just be following the tropes of James Bond movies by having a protagonist that only cares about finishing the mission. But in any case, this is a trope I wish to see less of.
Overall, "Atomic Blonde" is fun at points, but uninterested at others. The film has a unique feel when it comes to atmosphere and fighting style, with some great cinematography during the action. But the story is dull and the characters are even more bland. If you're going to watch "Atomic Blonde," I would say take its style over substance.
Final Grade: C
I missed this monster movie when it was out in theaters, and now I'm glad that I did not spend more than a couple of bucks on this film.
The plot of "Colossal" revolves around Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an unemployed writer and a drunk who moves from New York back to her home town, where she meets up with an old classmate, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). But shortly after she moves back, she learns of a giant monster that attacked Seoul, South Korea, but finds out that it did some very strange movements. After rewatching some footage she finds out the truth - Gloria is in control of that monster.
Now, you'd think this would be a great premise for a comedic giant monster movie, especially with the actors involved in the movie. A drunk that controls the movements of a giant Godzilla-like monster and she knows that has this power. How can you mess that up?
Well, "Colossal" really screws it up quickly.
Let's ignore the ludicrous explanation used to show why Gloria has this power (she has to be at this children's playground at exactly 8:05 a.m. and only has control while she's in the confines of the park) or that Oscar also gets his own robot monster by the same method. We only ever see the monsters through television or computer screens, never getting a full detailed look at the monsters. There are even scenes where monsters fight, but we hardly ever get to see them fighting, just Gloria and Oscar rolling around the ground.
On top of that, I do not ever recall laughing at anything in "Colossal." The film was billed as a comedy, and these is some of the most depressing characters I've seen in a long time. After a while, the film seems to give up on comedy and focuses on an entirely different aspect - that Oscar has been stalking Gloria for years.
Admittedly, "Colossal" gets a bit better when we learn Oscar's true nature - that he feels his life will never amount to anything and this is his way of lashing out on the world. Still, it takes a long time to get to that point, and we first have to watch bland monster sequences, unfunny scenes and witness Anne Hathaway get beat up.
"Colossal" was a chore to get through. As a monster movie, it leaves the audience hanging on those important sequence. As a comedy, there is no life or joy to found here. If you are going to rent or buy a monster movie that just came to DVD or Blu-Ray, go with "Shin Godzilla" before turning to "Colossal" and save yourself a headache.
Final Grade: D
If words could kill, "The Lion in Winter" would be the most brutal film ever made.
Imagine if "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was set during mediveal times and concerned a "King Lear" type story. That should give you an idea of how uncomfortable "The Lion in Winter" can be, while still being a wordsmith like William Shakespeare. Every word uttered in this film is carefully calculated to be an emotional dagger right into our characters' hearts, as every one of them is overcome with a lust for greed and power.
In the age of King Henry II (Peter O'Toole), he has now become an old man and still has not choosen who will be the next King. So for Christmas, Henry invites his whole family for the holiday, including his estranged sons, the rough and selfish Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the cold and calculating Geoffrey (John Castle), and the inexperienced and naive John (Nigel Terry), as well as his wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), who Henry has imprisoned for the last few years. Henry also invites the young king of France (Timothy Dalton). Henry says he will use this time to decide who will be the next king, mostly leaning towards John since he's the only one Henry likes even if he would be terrible king, while he also tries to make amends for his past sins, all while abusing his power as king over all of them.
"The Lion in Winter" is mostly a game of chess played through words and subtle manipulations of others, played by King Henry and Eleanor. They both have much larger schemes than either wants to show, especially Eleanor who takes every opportunity to goad Henry and show him that he is not as powerful or as perfect as he thinks. Both take absolute delight in knocking the other down a peg, while both scream at the top of their lungs to see who is the loudest.
This is done masterfully through Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn's performances, as they show the deeper parts of Henry and Eleanor's love-hate relationship as well as how much they need each other. These are both cruel, greedy people who want the other acknowledge their brilliance, yet they adore one another because they force the best out of each other. This comes during their quieter moments when the two reflect on when they first met and how their love and need for each other has evolved over the years. Tormenting each other with power plays and mind games has changed their relationship into a furious struggle to maintain dominance, and they would not have it any other way.
Overall, "The Lion in Winter" is a lot of fun, if only for the wordplay, devestating insults and the relationship between Henry and Eleanor. This feels like a medival tragedy only Shakespeare could have written, so it is amazing that writer James Goldman could create such a fascinating screenplay. The pacing is a bit slow at times, but the tension during the final act is absolutley worth it.
Final Grade: B+
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
For all of cinema’s complexities and nuances, there is nothing quite so rewarding as the film that makes us feel rather than think. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy a film that challenges me intellectually, which I would equate to solving a massive puzzle, possibly making you see life from a different perspective. But I often keep coming back to the words that, ironically, Charlie Chaplin once said – "We think too much, and feel too little."
A movie that feeds the mind is wonderful, but one that can move the heart is something special.
Nothing in recent memory has moved me quite as much as Christopher Nolan’s "Dunkirk." The mastery of this film lies in its simplicity and quieter moments, letting the visuals speak for themselves rather than overloading everything with dialogue. Watching "Dunkirk" felt like taking in a silent movie with amazing high-definition images, something I would have never expected from Chris Nolan, a man who seems to pride himself on his overly complex, sometimes pretentious, movies.
I walked in to "Dunkirk" expecting a three-hour film about how badly the Allies messed up in World War II with long-winded speeches about the tragedies of war, and instead I ended up walking out of the theater feeling exhilarated and filled with hope. Lots of movies want to do this, but few succeed.
"Dunkirk" succeeds on every single level.
The film tells one of the more heart-warming and uplifting tales of World War II. Set in the town of Dunkirk, France in 1940, the German army has forced over 400,000 British and French soldiers into this small area, with tanks and bombs on one side and the raging ocean on the other. The British army can only afford to send a few ships, which are quickly destroyed by German airplanes and bombers, causing most of the men on the beach to lose hope that they’ll ever be rescued. That is until civilians decide to send out as many of their own boats as possible to save these helpless men.
"Dunkirk" is told through mostly three different perspectives – A lowly British soldier (Fionn Whitehead) on the beaches of Dunkirk that does everything he can to make it home, the British pilot (Tom Hardy) that does his best to stop the German planes from reaching the beaches despite running low on fuel, and a elder civilian (Mark Rylance) and his son making their way towards Dunkirk by boat and pick up a shell-shocked British officer (Cillian Murphy) who wants to get as far away from Dunkirk as possible.
I would best describe "Dunkirk" as taking the opening D-Day sequence from "Saving Private Ryan" and stretching it out to an hour and 45 minutes. Intense yet realistic, you are put in the center of a bleak battle, where the German forces are practically taunting these British and French soldiers. The film opens with flyers falling from the sky to show how the Germans have them boxed in and can now pick them off at their leisure. While we never see a German soldier in this film that only adds to the atmosphere - they are fighting a hopeless struggle against a faceless yet intelligent enemy. And all while home is within their reach.
But that just makes their constant need for survival all the more triumphant.
The majority of the film is small vignettes, showing how these men will take any and every extreme to get home. Like how the Private on the beach and another soldier take a wounded man on a stretcher across a long pier to get him on a medical ship, all just to use that as an excuse to get aboard a ship, even when an enemy plane is shooting at the pier. Or an interlude on the civilan boat, when we learn about this boy, George (Barry Keoghan) that they brought along who wanted to make a difference in the world even when no one ever believed in him, even his own father.
Then there are quiet moments, like a shot of an officer simply swimming out into the ocean while the Private watches on - He would rather take his chances crossing the ocean than deal with the Germans from every angle. Little moments like this add to the dread and atmosphere, and it is made even better when most of these scenes have little to no dialogue.
"Dunkirk" is visual storytelling at its finest. It is simple while keeping the stakes as high as possible. It shows emotions and heart through actions and says so much without speaking a single word. The breath-taking cinematography compliments the vast yet bleak landscape and Hans Zimmer provides a tense soundtrack. My only complaint is that the editing makes following each perspective tricky sometimes, especially in the middle of the film, but this is a minor complaint to an otherwise magnificent movie. This film puts you right in the middle of a war and never lets up for a second, so be ready for the most fierce movie experience of the year.
Final Grade: A
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Show of hands - Who wants to watch a film about a Haitian voodoo master killing innocent people and then bringing them back to life as mindless zombies who just kind of stand around looking like their dog just walked away and may not be coming back, with almost incomprehensible dialogue and black face? No one? That does not surprise me in the least.
"White Zombie" stars Bela Lugosi shortly after he made it big with "Dracula" as the voodoo master with a Satan-like goatee and eye brows that would make Groucho Marx jealous. The best thing about his character is his name - Murder Legendre. More parents need to name their children 'Murder' just as a social experiment, especially when you have a last name that sounds like 'Legendary.' That is the best ridiculous movie character name I've heard since Chiper Rage from "After Earth."
The memorable image of "White Zombie" is of Lugosi's creepy stare right into the camera. Though the film uses it so often that feels less terrifying and more like Lugosi is giving a weird look to the guy who took the last of the fried rice at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Then there are times where Lugosi has to do this stare for extended periods of time, or has to literally walk into the camera, or has to have the camera zoom in on him for about a minute.
I'm starting to get the impression this movie did not have a whole lot going for it outside of Lugosi's face.
"White Zombie" falls into the same category as obscenely silly horror films like "The Brain the Wouldn't Die" or movies that you would see on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." It is a harmless movie that is extremely dated and is mostly just good for laughs nowadays. It is the best movie to perfect your Bela Lugosi impression, if you are into that.
Final Grade: D+
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
There comes a time when every long running film franchise feels tiresome and repetitive. For some, it comes as quickly as the second film in the series is announced, like "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "The Fast and the Furious," while others have long tern success and have some bad moments sprinkled throughout, like the "Star Trek" film series. And then you have ones that had no business being a franchise in the first place, like Michael Bay's "Transformers."
If you look at any movie franchise with three or more entries, you're sure to find bad moments. The best modern day film trilogy to me is Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" series, even though "The Dark Knight Rises" is filled to the brim with plot holes and does not make any sense if you think about the antagonists' plan for more than five minutes. But the first two entires are so strong and memorable that they overpower the bad moments in the final installment.
Some would argue that a new trilogy can compete with Nolan's take on Batman - the recent reboot of "The Planet of the Apes." I'll admit this series of films is impressive, if only for their technological achievements in making an vast army of apes come to life and making each one a fleshed-out and realistic character. But after watching "War for the Planet of the Apes," I've realized this series has little going for it outside of the motion capture and Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar. By the end of this film, the franchise has become tiresome.
Set a few years after the events of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," a full-blown war has now broken out between the hyper-intelligent apes, led by Caesar (Serkis), and the remaining military forces. One of those factions, the Alpha Omegas', led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), launches a surprise attack on the apes home, killing Caesar's son and wife. Now, Caesar seeks to avenge their deaths and take out the colonel himself, despite the protests of the wise Maurice (Karin Konoval) who says Caesar is becoming more like the treacherous Koba.
As with the previous films, the motion capture technology is spectacular to behold, especially in the larger crowd shots with hundreds of apes in the snowy terrain. I swear there is never this much detail in crowd shots with humans, but to see the vast range of emotions and body language, while also taking note of the fur blown by the wind and snow or the scars on many of the apes is nothing short of impressive. I could stare at this pack of apes trying to escape their icy confines all day and never get tired of it.
But unlike the last film, there is never a standout moment in "War" that makes you appreciate that detail of these effects. In "Dawn" there was a three-minute tracking shot during a pivotal battle sequence, following Koba as he hijacks a tank and we see the vast range of carnage on display. "War" never has that "Wow!" moment that adds to the scope of a world ruled by apes instead of man.
But the biggest disappointment with "War" was its lack of an engaging story. The whole point of this series has been to show how our current world would eventually become a planet where apes evolved from men, and the first two films do this well. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" did this by showing how humans messed everything up in the first place, while the focus of "Dawn" was to show if humans and apes could co-exist peacefully. Even with humanity slowly but surely fading away, the apes remained calm, logical, and emotionally controlled. There was a strong sense of family and warmth that made those scenes with the apes enjoyable, where you could tell that everyone in the camp cares for one another.
"War" does not necessarily try to answer any questions or show something meaningful, only the next step in that escalation. The only humans left now are soldiers, fighting a losing war. The attempts at kindness and peace are gone, and we are at the point where humans would rather solve their problems with a gun.
This is not a bad change, as it does make sense when people are fighting for their way of life against someone they considered animals only a few years ago. But it does remove most of the humanity and heart of this situation. Both sides are forced to fight for most of the film, leaving most of the characters with little to do outside of look stoic or shoot a gun. I ended up feeling more for the humans since they were struggling to survive far more than the apes.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" is like the "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" of the Apes franchise - It's not necessarily a bad movie, but the previous entry told a far more intriguing story with more fleshed-out characters that this one almost feels empty by comparison. Instead of smaller character building moments or the difficult struggles both the common man and apes must face every day, we get action sequences. They are well-made sequences that ultimately showcase man against nature (in more ways than one), but with so much action and limited story there was little reason to care for this planet of apes.
Final Grade: C+
Friday, July 14, 2017
Spider-Man has always been that superhero who has delicately balanced the line between tragedy and comedy, while pulling off both effectively while also being charming. Characters like Batman and Wolverine offer up a tragic backstory that give the heroes a chance to rise again, while others like Iron Man and Deadpool tend to go all out on ego and the zany antics to show the lighter side.
Spider-Man is trickier, because of his Batman-like backstory of preventing his uncle's death if he was not so full of himself and the challenges of growing up with super powers while learning to balance both his hero and personal lives. But at the same time, our favorite web-head is known for his comedic banter during fight scenes, as well as Peter Parker's typical bumbling nature.
Perhaps it is because of this difficult dual nature that has made Spider-Man difficult to adapt to film in the past - Studios want to aim for one aspect of the Spidey style, but cannot do the other justice and certainly cannot balance both at the same time. Sam Raimi's trilogy with Tobey Maguire went for a dark and sophisticated approach, with little levity outside of J.K. Simmons J. Jonah Jamison or down-right strange sequences that did not belong like the many dance sequences in "Spider-Man 3." While the recent saga with the Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield tended to focus more on the comedic side and handled drama and complexity about as well as a fourth-grade stage play.
Both franchises clearly wanted a different interpretation of Spider-Man, but neither was able to capture the full picture of so many people's favorite superhero.
The latest film attempt, "Spider-Man: Homecoming," gets far closer than either film series before this did to nailing the dual nature of the character while still giving us a fresh take on the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe and the best comedy this series has offered so far. This film does not feel like a rehash of previous Spider-Man films, thanks to the natural way characters are written and the confused adolescent performance by Tom Holland.
Set two months after the events of "Captain America: Civil War," teenaged-Peter Parker (Holland) has been readjusting to his new life as the web-crawler hero Spider-Man, while also being under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter wants nothing more than to join the Avengers, but Tony insists that he stay low to the ground and help the little guy, much to Peter's irritation. But when a new villainous gang shows up, led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who steals alien technology and sells it on the the black market, Peter takes it upon himself to stop Toomes without getting the attention of Iron Man and has to balance his life at school at the same time.
The humor in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" feels genuine, without ever coming across as forced or searching for a joke like many Marvel movies have in the past. Instead of a one-liner for the sake of being funny, we have Spiderman hopelessly searching around Queens trying to help people in need, which results in him stopping someone from breaking into their own car and the whole neighborhood yelling at Spider-Man for setting off the car alarm. Or Peter's nerdy yet enthusiastic friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who learns early on about Peter's secret identity and spends the rest of the movie asking ridiculous questions about Spider-Man's powers and his high tech suit from Iron Man.
As a result, this ends up being the most memorably funny movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While films like "Iron Man 3" or "Guardians of the Galaxy" had more laugh-out-loud moments, every joke in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is welcomed and adds to the overall odd-ball charm of this movie.
"Spider-Man: Homecoming" focuses more on the common man than any other Marvel movie, showing how normal people would handle living in a world populated by super soldiers, gods from other realms, and alien invasions that can be thwarted by super heroes. We see this take many sides, including unbridled joy from Peter, mistrust and anger from the villain Toomes, who hates that Tony Stark has his hand in every aspect of the world including the clean up from the alien attack in "The Avengers," and Tony himself who just wants to make a better world for the little guys.
This makes the movie far more down-to-earth and humble than previous entries, especially when a major plot point in this movie is how troublesome getting from New York City to Washington D.C. is for Peter. Far less extravagant than the Avengers movies or "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" but instead we get something far more personal and flawed.
The biggest theme of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is the need to belong. Peter feels that his purpose in life is to join the Avengers and save the world like Iron Man, but goes about it in a juvenile and arrogant manner that gets him in far more trouble. Toomes starts out as a construction worker hired to clean up after the alien invasion in New York City, but is quickly shut down by Tony Stark's clean-up project, and is forced into black market dealings to keep up with the Avengers and to help his family.
Toomes says early on that to keep up with the changing world, they need to change too. We now see that this world is becoming much more harsh and unforgiving now that powerful being like the Hulk and Thor are around, and extreme measures must be taken to stay relevant. This makes the struggle between Peter and Toomes feel natural and dynamic, where they just want to help the world in their own ways but have a strange way of showing it.
Which is helped even further by spectacular performances from Tom Holland and Michael Keaton, both riding the edge between manic and subtle. They both take absolute delight in being these super powered people, but never to the point where they let the power consume them. They remain grounded in reality, though Holland tends to show his excitement far more often. Keaton's facial expressions come off as crazy, like he's channeling his inner Jack Nicholson, especially when he interrogates Spider-Man for messing up his job. These two consistently keep the film fresh and exciting.
Overall, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a great slice-of-life experience in a world overflowing with superheroes. Its diverse cast of zany characters keep it from ever getting stale and were often more exciting to watch than the action sequences. The writing and comedy felt genuine and honest without ever going over-the-top. The pacing was pitch-perfect, never moving too slow to make the film drag but quick enough to always have something interesting going on. The film was able to balance the web-crawler's dual nature well enough that both sides were portrayed fairly, and that is something no other Spider-Man film has been able to achieve.
Final Grade: B
There's a certain charm to movies that were restricted due to war efforts, especially European films made during World War II. The 1946 French version of "Beauty and the Beast" is possibly the best example of that, with its grand fantastical scope while being made under Nazi occupation, while others like "Rome, Open City" and the entirety of the Italian Neorealism film movement changed the way on-location filming was handled.
But British filmmakers handled it differently from the French and Italians. In France, they most made films to distract from the war and take the audience away from the pain. Italy embraced that pain and suffering, showing just how terrible war can be on the common man. But the British chose to focus on telling grounded yet sympathetic stories where our cast of characters often find hope in a bleak world where love seems lost.
One of the best examples of this is David Lean's "Brief Encounter," a tale about Laura (Celia Johnson), a married woman trying to lead a normal life in the middle of WW2, whose life becomes far more complicated when she has a chance encounter with a complete stranger, Alec (Trevor Howard). The two slowly but surely fall in love and this leaves Laura in a difficult position with her husband and children.
"Brief Encounter" is like if "Mrs. Miniver" was made on an extremely limited budget and did not have the benefit any big name stars, instead relying on realism and film noir-like lighting and sets. Laura desperately tries to run her life like the war does not exist, but it is taking a colossal psychological toll on her. Without ever showing a bullet or bombshell explosion, this movie emphases how bleak and empty life is when there's someone so close by that wants to exterminate your way of life.
Yet at the same time, the film offers a ray of hope and optimism with Alec, who makes every moment matter. The relationship between these two feels genuine, especially when you see the utter joy Alec brings to Laura's life.
I'd recommend "Brief Encounter" over "Mrs. Miniver" because of how authentic and genuine Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard's performances feel, as well as David Lean's superb use of camera angles and lighting. The film is minimalist, but that certainly gives it a distinct charm.
Final Grade: B-
A word to the wise - to all the children and adults of the 21st century: whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hand and knees and wear diapers, or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There's a wonderous magic to "Baby Driver" and there's a special power reserved for Edgar Wright. In short, there's nothing mightier than these high-octane thrills powered by the largest variety of music you will ever hear in the cinemas.
The full enjoyment of "Baby Driver" is better left to visuals, not words. A review cannot do this film justice. I can only say that "Baby Driver" is like if the "Fast and Furious" franchise and "Singin' In the Rain" had a crazy love child that was directed by Edgar Wright, a man who takes visual storytelling, compostion, and editing to an entirely different plain of existence.
Do yourself a favor and go experience "Baby Driver." Because this film leads to the astonishing top of reality: you're on a through route to the land of the different, the bizarre, the unexplainable. Go as far as you like on this road. Its limits are only those of mind itself. Ladies and Gentlemen, you're entering the wonderous dimension of imagination. Your next stop, "Baby Driver."
Final Grade: A
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
This is one film that gets better the less you think about it and the absurd premise. Science and reality are thrown out the window for entertainment’s sake, but "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" handles this by balancing difficult moral decisions with impressive special effects.
One of the richest and intellectual minds in the world, Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) has designed the most advanced nuclear submarine the world has ever seen, the Seaview, including going to unthinkable depths in the arctic sea. Nelson plans to see how long the Seaview can last underwater without radio contact, but after a few days of underwater testing, the Seaview is forced to the surface when the ice caps around them start to break down. The crew finds that the sky is on fire and the surface temperature at the north pole is nearly 120 degrees and rising.
The crew arrives in New York City to find that the whole world is experiencing this deadly heat wave. Scientists have estimated that the Earth will become uninhabitable for any life within three weeks. One Russian scientist proposes that just two days before that time, this heat will just go away and everything will return to normal – thus humanity should do nothing but wait. But Nelson and the crew are against this plan and come up with their own – fire a nuclear missile into the atmosphere at just the right moment in just the right place, from the deepest point of the Earth just before all life is wiped out.
The governments of the world refuse to approve this plan, which leads Nelson to take drastic actions and steal the Seaview and her crew, as they make their way towards the Marianas trench near Guam in an attempt to save humanity.
The main theme of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" is power and how much one man should have of it. Nelson not only builds a one-of-a-kind submarine that outclasses everything the military had built up to the point, but he takes it upon himself to save the world from an event that he feels only he can stop. Anyone else is inadequate or not intelligent enough to carry this burden in Nelson’s eyes. He betrays the advice and authority of the United Nations to go on this mission, and even challenges the integrity and courage of the Seaview’s crew, feeling that they will be the downfall of this mission and thus ending all life on the planet.
Nelson’s power is questioned further when they rescue a scientists stranded on the ice, Alvarez, who spouts on about how this heat wave is God’s will and that he has chosen to end all life on the planet – Who are we to go against the will of God? Yet, despite all this, Nelson pushes forward to prove that man has the power to make his own destiny, despite the will of others.
Robert Sterling plays Captain Lee Crane, who runs the Seaview and her crew, but is constantly battling Nelson’s decisions, especially with how he treats the crew and constantly puts the ship in danger, like when the sonar and radar go out and this leads the ship into a mine field they didn’t see coming. Sterling plays to the emotional side of the film, always understanding and compassionate towards his crew while focusing less on the mission, while Nelson is the cold, logical yet twisted side, always one wrong calculation away from breaking but has to keep his eyes on the goal at all times.
This makes the character struggles the most interesting part of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," especially as the film reaches its climax and the odds keep staking against them. Certainly worth checking out if you’ve got nothing else to check out.
Final Grade: B-
Thursday, June 15, 2017
At long last, a DC movie that doesn't make you want to claw your eyes out. It has been a long time coming, especially since the company has been trying to years to make audiences take them seriously, and failing for the most part - While movies like "Man of Steel" and "Batman vs. Superman" have their share fans and defenders, the general consensus is that those are the bottom of the superhero barrel, at a time when this genre is at its peak.
Part of the reason DC has been like this is due to the success of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, which were moody, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. Clearly, with how movies like "Suicide Squad" turned out, they wanted to build off what Nolan's movies started. Another factor, whether DC wants to admit it or not, is Marvel studios and DC attempting to not make their movies in the same vein. But the results up to this point have been dull grey movies where you can hardly tell what's going on, about a bunch of whiny power-hungry man-children who act more like villains than the actual antagonists, and then spend the rest of their time brooding or sulking, making for an unenjoyable or unpleasant experience.
But thank the gods, DC seems to have finally gotten over that dark phase with their newest entry in their cinematic universe, "Wonder Woman." What a complete change of pace from their previous movies - filled with a diverse range of colorful characters, led by a strong yet flawed woman, while at the same time being a period piece that can easily switch between war scenes, comedy, and some slice-of-life quieter moments. I got everything I wanted out of "Wonder Woman" and it was a joy to sit through.
The film begins on the island of Themyscira, a magical island hidden away from the rest of the world, inhabited by the Amazons, an all female-race created by Zeus to protect humans from the god of war, Ares. Since Ares hasn't risen in centuries, the Amazons have lived peacefully on Themyscira without aging, but still train and are prepared for when the time comes that they are needed. Their queen, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), decides she wants to raise a daughter, thus scuplts one from clay and is brought to life by a lightning bolt from Zeus, giving birth to Diana.
As Diana (Gal Gadot) grows older, she learns about Themyscira and how Ares corrupted the otherwise good hearts of men, as well as the one weapon that can stop Ares - the Godkiller. But when a airplane crashes through the magical barrier protecting Themyscira, Diana goes out to rescue the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he tells the island about the terrible war going on throughout the world. Diana is convinced that Ares is to blame for this world war, and sets out to bring him down, believing that the war will end the moment Ares is killed.
Gal Gadot and her performance as Diana is the charm of "Wonder Woman." Her wide-eyed innocence is cheerful and infectious, but never to the point where it was annoying. One of the better small moments is when she has her first taste of ice cream and is blown away by the taste, saying to the chef that he should be proud of the work he does. There is love and affection in every thing she says, and you really get the impression that she cares about every person out there. On her way to the battlefield, she nearly stops to help any person who is suffering, which is pretty much everyone, even if she cannot help all of them.
This is a woman who would selflessly put the needs of anyone and everyone ahead of her own, and always believes in the goodness and kindness in every living being, even if that gets her into a lot of trouble.
Gadot also has wonderful chemistry with Chris Pine, who acts as the straight man to her antics in London. One of the best scenes in the movie is the two of them sharing a boat ride to London, and they share more of their backstories - Diana explaining she was created by a lightning bolt from Zeus leads to some great reactions from Steve - as well as the difference between their worlds, and a discussion on "the pleasures of the flesh," which given that Diana grew up on an island of only women leaves Steve in an awkward position.
The war sequences are beautifully shot, especially the trench warfare scene that showcases Diana's full potential and her 'never-give-up' attitude - only armed with a shield, sword, and lasso, taking on a battalion of well-armed Germans on a desolate and barren landscape. The music amplifies the intensity of these scenes and makes every punch and bullet feel far more powerful.
There is not a single scene that feels wasted in "Wonder Woman," with something of value coming at nearly every moment. Whether that is Gadot's acting, the charming yet hard-hitting screenplay, the chemistry between Gadot and Pine, the quieter moments of reflection and fondness, the fascinating Greek mythology on display, or the well-executed action sequences, "Wonder Woman" has plenty to offer audiences of all types.
Even if you are not a fan of super hero movies, this one is a departure from the Marvel and DC movies in the past, and is more of an uplifting war movie that personifies innocence, mythology, change, and love, without ever feeling ham-fisted or forced. This one is a blast from start to finish and might even be worth checking out multiple times. You will not be disappointed by "Wonder Woman."
Final Grade: A-
Monday, June 12, 2017
"Do you remember how much fun we have when you poisoned me?"
This is the line that perfectly encapsulates the lunatic chaos of "House on Haunted Hill" and upgrades it from being just another B-movie with laughable special effects to a confident horror film about psychological warfare and greed.
The line of dialogue is spoken by Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) towards his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), both of whom clearly despise one another and what they've resorted to, just to get what they want. This quote, and the playful banter they have about their attempts at murder, makes it clear that they've tried to kill each other multiple times in the past and want nothing more than to be done with their spouse. Frederick, a wealthy playboy, has been married three times, with the fate of his previous wives being unclear. Annabelle only married Frederick for his money and thinks she'll get a lot more if he dies unexpectedly.
The two share how they would go about killing the other in a kind yet off-putting demeanor, like how Frederick could accidently shoot and kill Annabelle with a champagene bottle cork and how that would make a great headline in the papers. These two get a sick enjoyment out of torturing the other, and it seems to have brought them closer than ever before, as they share a few intimate moments in the creepy, supposedly haunted, mansion they rented for the evening.
Annabelle wants to throw a party in this haunted mansion, but Frederick decides to spice things up. He invites five very different people to the mansion, all in desperate need of money, and tells them if they can spend one night in this mansion then he'll give each of them $10,000. Once inside, Frederick locks the doors and gives the key to the servants, who at one point warns a guest to get out before "he kills you too."
The guests are given "party favors" - a loaded gun, for protection of course. One of the guests reminds Frederick that these would not work on the dead, only the living, so the guns are just escalating the fear everyone is currently feeling. But is it fear of the ghosts or fear of each other?
"House on Haunted Hill" plays out like a cheaper version of "The Haunting," with more emphasis on the thrilling moments instead of the psychological elements. Both films share the mentality that these mansions could be haunted by ghosts, and leave it up to the audience to decide if the ghosts are real or not. It is clear that this movie had a miniscule budget, due to its cheesy special effects that would make Ed Wood laugh out loud, but the film more than makes up for that with atmosphere, tension, and wonderfully creepy dialogue.
This movie is ultimately about the games that are being played by a handful of greedy, self-absorbed yet curious individuals. And when you have that many egos floating around, all of whom want something, the rules keep changing, especially for Annabelle who faines ignorance that this is not her party when Frederick corrupted her idea and turned it into a struggle for survival. Everyone in this situation is out for something, but only cares about themselves. It certainly does not help when one of the guests, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook), constantly talks about the seven other murders that occurred in this house, or the tank of acid in the basement, or how the house is coming to kill them all.
While corny at times, "House on Haunted Hill" is a great haunted house tale with loads of atmosphere and character dilemmas to keep the entire film fresh and exciting. The relationship between Frederick and Annabelle Loren is the best part of the movie, especially how much they love to hate each other. The mystery of the house is basic but well handled in its simplicity, and it compliments the strange greedy personalities inside the house playing their games. This is one of the cheap horror movies out there.
Final Grade: A
Monday, June 5, 2017
Imagine a sequel to "Rosemary's Baby" if they decided to ramp up the violence and the idea of demons and satanic cults, and you would probably get something like "The Omen."
While "Rosemary's Baby" was more-so about the mystery of what was happening around Rosemary and the fate of her baby, "The Omen" is all-in on the fear and making you genuinely afraid that the Antichrist is coming and that the end of the world is upon us.
On the night that the son of American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is born, Thorn is told the baby died moments after the birth. With his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) unaware that their child was stillborn, Robert is convinced by a priest to adopt another new born child whose mother died during birth. The two raise their adopted son, Damien, in the United Kingdom, though Robert never tells Katherine that Damien is adopted.
But on Damien's fifth birthday, things take a turn for the hellish when his babysitter throws herself off their mansion's balcony. After this, Robert is visited by an Italian priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who warns Robert that Damien must die in order to save him, his wife and the world from the Antichrist.
What sold me on the terror of this situation was the prophecy of the Antichrist, in particular how he would take over the world, and how it matched up with the life Damien was leading. It was a simple yet effective technique, since a five-year old couldn't show demonic powers and the apocalypse by himself.
There was also this constant ominous atmosphere to Robert's search for the truth, like he was always being watched by this entity that could strike him down at any moment. By that entity holds back, letting Robert uncover so much before doing anything about it. Is it because of the importance Robert must play in Damien's growth? Or maybe because this force just loves toying with people and showing their lack of control in the world? Either way, this force looms over the entire film like a stalker, waiting for just the right moment to sink his claws into his prey and getting the most enjoyment out of it.
Overall, "The Omen" feels like a middle ground between "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist," filled with mystery and intrigue, but also with the fear of a parent helpless to stop unspeakable horrors and monstrosities. With the satanic chorus, gothic architecture and ever-present demonic atmosphere, this does feel like one of the most evil movies I have ever watched.
Final Grade: A-
It is funny that I mentioned Douglas Sirk in my "An Affair to Remember" review, and then I watch my first film by Douglas Sirk in years shortly after that review. Going into "Imitation of Life," I had no idea that it was a movie by Sirk, a director who certainly left his mark on the romantic genre and the portrayal of strong women that didn't follow the norms of society back then.
"Imitation of Life" follows widowed mother Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), who takes in Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a black single mother, and her daughter, who has fair skin that passes for white and takes advantage of that at every opportunity. Both mothers do their best to make a living for their daughters and try to be someone that their daughters can look up to. As they grow older, their daughters drift away from them, especially Annie's daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), who is tempted by the seedy side of town.
This is ultimately a film about motherhood, and all the triumphs and baggage that comes with it. The reason Lora and Annie work so well off each other is because of their determination to make the best possible lives for their daughters, but both eventually realize the insurmountable odds they have to face to get there; which is why they need each others strength. Lora's devotion and patience combine with Annie's kindness makes the pair the highlight of the movie.
To witness "Imitation of Life" is to appreciate all the effort and pains mothers must go through. To watch these women realize that they here, not just for themselves any longer, but to care and nurture another life.
Final Grade: B-
If you didn't get enough blood, gore, and samurai dismemberment in the first "Lady Snowblood," get ready for even more in the sequel, plus nudity, long take fight sequences and very 1970s style filmmaking with "Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance."
Set after the events of the first film, Yuki (Meiko Kaji) has been sentenced to life in prison for the crimes she committed. But when the secret police learn of her talents, they reach out to and give her an ultimatum - Spend the rest of her life in prison, or work for them and have her sentenced reduced.
What stood out to me in this film, outside of the up'ed level of violence from the first film, was the cinematography and the style in which of the flashbacks are shown. There are lots of great uses of color here, including some beautiful shots of the bright red sun setting on the ocean, or the dark blue colors of night. The flashbacks reminded me of "Under the Flag of the Rising Sun" in how stylized and unique they got, with strange camera angles, even weirder editing styles and lack of color.
"Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance" offers exactly what we got in the first film, with plenty of rage and violence to go around, but presents it in a far more captivating style. Now there's far more that catches the eye outside of the bright red blood splatter.
Final Grade: B+
John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.
Oh wait, my bad. That's the plot synopsis for Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo." Here's the details on Howard Hawks' "El Dorado."
John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.
Yeah, right away I began to notice a lot of similarities between "El Dorado" and "Rio Bravo," especially in terms of plot and story. Although "El Dorado" adds in new characters, including a family that is caught in the middle of this feud, and the outlaw being a business man planning to buy out all the water in the area, instead of a loose-cannon gunman.
But where the two differ is in their tone and atmosphere, as well as the acting. Outside of the comedic scenes between John Wayne and his ex-lover, "Rio Bravo" took itself very seriously, like the whole state of Texas was on the line if they failed their mission to bring this criminal in to face justice. The film reminded me a lot of another Howard Hawks western, "Red River," with its somber yet meticulous pacing where dread and terror could be around any corner.
"El Dorado" on the other hand never takes itself too seriously, with Wayne having a lot more time for banter among his buddies, including the druken sherriff (Robert Mitchum) and a skilled knife marksman (James Caan). The pace is far more leisurely, taking its time to build things up and often going off to do things that don't have an immediate payoff, like an injury that Wayne sustains early on, or the way that Wayne and Caan's characters meet out of the blue. This makes "El Dorado" far more pleasant to sit through than "Rio Bravo" and offers a lot more that made me smile, especially through humor and simple conversations.
"El Dorado" also gets bonus points for having some better performances than "Rio Bravo," namely from Robert Mitchum. His character goes through many different shades, from patient sherriff with wit, to a drunk man who has nothing to lose, to a old man looking to redeem himself, and Mitchum makes each of these sides feel like one whole man, filled to the brim with successes and failures. While "Rio Bravo" had Dean Martin as its drunk gunman, who nailed the humor and banter with Wayne, Mitchum nailed the tragedy of this character and poured on the sympathy.
But the biggest reason I take "El Dorado" is because there was no petty scuabbling between Wayne and his ex-lover like in "Rio Bravo," which was so irritating and insufferable that it almost made me want to turn off the movie. Instead, "El Dorado" was a supportive, almost motherly figure with Maudie (Charlene Holt), who isn't afraid to snap back at Wayne but knows that she cannot change his mind.
Overall, while "Rio Bravo" and "El Dorado" have their share of similarites, the two certainly set about it in different ways. One is a darker, tense tale of redemption and justice, while the other is a more pleasant, humorous romp about making things right. They're both great movies in their own right, certainly worth checking out if you're in the mood for a classic western. It is hard to go wrong with Howard Hawks directing John Wayne.
Final Grade: A-
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
I'll be the first to admit that I was unnecessarily hard on "Guardians of the Galaxy," painting the movie in broad strokes and calling it a good "popcorn flick." And while the film does mostly aim for that demographic, after taking some to time to realize just how outstanding the good parts are, I realize now just how effective that film was. The characters are all given plenty of time to shine, the plot is refreshing filled with far more humanity than I gave it credit for, the comedy is surprisingly timeless, and the soundtrack is now classic.
While "Guardians of the Galaxy" is still certainly a popcorn flick, it is arguably the best one in the last several decades and right up there as one of the best Marvel movies to date.
This brings us to "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" which I feel is best described as more of the same. More one-liners and quotable scenes, more comedy, more of our "heroes" simply sitting down and trying to have a normal conversation, and more great uses of music. And while this does make for a great experience, it does leave me feeling like we've been down this road before, which somewhat taints the movie.
Now that our group of ragtag and misfit Guardians have made a name for themselves across the galaxy, Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and baby Groot (Vin Disel) have been taking on stranger and more dangerous missions, which eventually leads them to encounter a powerful being known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Starlord's father. Ego takes Peter, Gamora, and Drax to his planet, where he intends to prove he is ready to be a dad, while Rocket and Groot repair their damaged ship and are hunted by the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker).
Like with the first movie, what I found to be memorable was the comedy and the character interactions. How these vastly different personalities and quirks bounce off one another while Starlord tries to make everyone try to act like humans. Peter has clearly been teaching Rocket to understand sarcasm better through winking (though he always ends up winking with the wrong eye), as well as getting Drax to lay off his barbarian nature and learn when others are joking.
Some of the better lines come from Drax, who takes great joy in watching others suffer, whether through physical beatings or emotional assaults, while things like dancing or physical beauty repulse him. Yondu also gets some great moments, especially when we finally get to see him get to put his arrow abilities to full use. They make Yondu a much more sympathetic character in this movie instead of the vulture-ous character we got in the first film, to show that he's always had good intentions but has been normally given by greed or power, showing him for the misfit he truly is.
But my problem with "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is similar to my feeling on "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and how that film up'ed the ante of "The Avengers" by taking everything that movie did but making it feel bigger.
In nearly every regard, "Age of Ultron" did everything "The Avengers" did, but better; yet we look back on the first film with awe and admiration, while the second one is just fine. The reason for this is because "The Avengers" was an experience, watching all these characters from five different movies come together in such a spectacular fashion for something unique and exciting. "Age of Ultron" was a sequel to an experience, and it does everything a good sequel should do - bigger stakes, bigger fights, more of what made the first one so good.
But everything it offers is something we've already seen, so that same magic that the first film had isn't there. We're not watching this one with fresh eyes. For all of its good points, "Age of Ultron" was just trying to be "The Avengers" again. Did it work? At times, yes, but the filmmakers we trying to recapture lightning after it had left its jar.
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" falls into the same category as "Age of Ultron" - trying to be far too much like its predecessor that it hardly creates its own identity. The first film was magical in its character interactions and writing, so I cannot blame James Gunn and crew for wanting to recapture that whimsy. But the tone, style, and sense of humor were so identical the previous movie that it feels like a watered-down version of the first movie.
Don't get me wrong, I still had a blast watching this movie. There are lots of memorable moments, some of them quieter heart-to-heart scenes between Gamora and her sister Nebula. I never once thought I was wasting my time or that this was a bad movie. I'm just a bit disappointed this one wasn't as much of an experience as "Guardians of the Galaxy."
Final Grade: B
For a time, it felt like Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" was one of the more divisive films of 2012. While the idea of humans exploring the cosmos to find our creators, in whatever form or shape they might come in, is certainly an ambitious move, I felt that Scott didn't fully explore this concept to its fullest potential and focused more on the origin of the Xenomorphs, which I'm still unsure if people wanted to see that (I know I didn't want to). Part of the reason "Prometheus" did little for me was due to the incompetence of its cast of "geniuses" and how quickly it resorts to horror movie clichés, thus making everyone look like idiots.
If I had to describe "Prometheus" in one word it would be "stupid."
Of course "Prometheus" left a lot of questions unanswered and just made us far more confused as to how the events of that film tied into the creation of our favorite murderous aliens, which leads us to its sequel, "Alien: Covenant." I'm not sure if Ridley Scott intended for this origin story to be told through two movies or if he made this film to explain away all the problems people had with "Prometheus." But in any case, "Covenant" is more competently handled than its predecessor and actually gives audiences what they came here for - alien action and gore.
Set ten years after the events of "Prometheus," the colonization vessel Covenant is on its way to Origae-6, with more than two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos onboard, with the intention of forming a new society on a different planet. But after a random solar event, the main crew of the Covenant is forcibly woken up. They eventually discover a rogue transmission from an alien planet and learn that this world is much closer than Origae-6 and the crew decides to take a look. When they get there, they soon discover wheat but no sign of any other life forms, except for the transmission signal emanating from a nearby spaceship.
Coming out of "Covenant," my first thought was: It still has its problems, but at least it was better than "Prometheus."
This movie shares some of the problems of the previous one, in particular the characters still acting like morons who probably couldn't tie their shoes if you put them under the smallest amount of pressure. For example, their acting-captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) ignores the logical reasons presented to him against going to this new world from his second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston), like how this could be trap. You would think the first danger flag would pop up when the alien starts to sing "Country Road," but our brave captain pushes to stupidity and beyond.
Part of the reason this is big deal for me is because my favorite film in this franchise is the first film, "Alien." It is one of the smartest horror movies of all time, where the actions of every single make logical sense and you can sympathize with every single one of them, including the alien itself. That movie prided itself on showing just how versatile and cunning humans can be in the face of imminent danger, never sacrificing one bit of intelligence for the sake of cheap horror.
Yet here we are, watching a couple make out in the shower while a monster is on the loose, or seeing our captain just stare at a deadly alien pod like nothing bad has ever happened to him. These moments don't happen nearly as often as they did in "Prometheus," but still enough that the lazy writing pokes through every once in a while.
That being said, the best part of "Covenant" was Michael Fassbender, playing two androids, the supportive yet rough Walter, and the megalomaniacal David, returning from the previous movie. It is fascinating how different these two are, yet still so much alike. They're both devoted, but to vastly diverse things - Walter is programmed to be loyal and to follow his duties, while David is programmed to be man's greatest achievement, something better than we could be; perfect. You can see the logical jump the android creators took, going from the life form that sees us as inferior creatures to the slave-like creatures meant to preform the tasks we cannot.
Fassbender steals the show as David, mostly because we just want to see how far his hatred of other beings goes. He seems to programmed to respect all life forms, showing everyone kindness and answering everyone's questions, but his new personality and ego trump those values in the end to show what he wants to be - a creator. To give the universe something new and to make his mark.
And hey, we actually get to see some aliens doing what they do best. That's more than I can say about "Prometheus."
Overall, "Alien: Covenant" certainly isn't a bad experience and an improvement from many of the previous Alien movies, with some great acting from Fassbender, Waterston, and Crudup. But it still gives in to many horror movie clichés and tropes and ends up dumbing down most of its cast for the sake of moving the story forward, which is disappointing to see from the creator of "Alien."
Final Grade: B-