Thursday, May 31, 2018

Movie Review - "My Fair Lady" (1964)

"My Fair Lady" is based off the famous stage play, featuring one of the same actors to reprise their role on Broadway (Rex Harrison as the intelligent yet self-absorbed professor Henry Higgins), though nowadays seems more known for how it messed up its casting of the lead actress.

On Broadway, the role of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney uncultured flower girl the professor takes in to teach her how to speak properly, was played by Julie Andrews. While Rex Harrison was immediately offered to play the same role, the studio didn't do the same with Andrews. Ultimately the studio gave the role to Audrey Hepburn, who could barely sing and had to be dubbed over during all of her musical scenes.

This actually worked out for Andrews, as it gave her a chance to play the role she has become well-known for - "Mary Poppins" which she won Best Actress for, while Hepburn didn't even get a nomination. And while "My Fair Lady" won Best Picture, among seven other Academy Awards, the poor casting choice has certainly tainted its legacy.

Beyond this though, "My Fair Lady" is a charming film about the class divide in England and how both the rich and poor divide themselves. There's an air of snobbishness to both Professor Higgins and Eliza, like they both think they're better than the other and their way of life is superior. Higgins preaches about intelligence and culture, while Eliza and her father (Stanley Holloway) see nothing wrong with a little hard work and adversity, and both are too stubborn or proud to give the other an inch, making their working relationship as fiery as their personalities and as loud as their screaming.

The music is as classical as its time period, showing off its colorful language and vocabulary while remaining whimsical and enchanting. It follows the pattern of speaking its music, rather than singing, especially from Rex Harrison as the music plays to his tune rather than the other way around, but that makes this musical even more unique and fascinating. Rather than the music serving as a emotional punch to many scenes, it showcases the power of the English language in all of its subtleties and complexities, much like what Professor Higgins is trying to do for Eliza. The music is a tool that, when used effectively, adds another layer of wit to this movie.

Hepburn is fine in the role of Eliza Doolittle, as I found her Cockney side endearing and oddly natural while her drive to improve herself is admirable. Even if Hepburn couldn't sing, its her non-musical scenes that really stand out.

Though the real star of the picture is Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, who goes all in on being the most irredeemable man on the planet. He is set in his ways and refuses to budge for anyone, wanting to share his knowledge and insight with the rest of the world, though does so in the most condescending manner possible, all while giving Eliza endless reasons why he treats her like a worthless bug. He's a man who believes he's thinking with his heart, but cannot get past his own ego and intellect.

Overall, "My Fair Lady" is a charming experience with a sordid history. I have no doubt this would have been much better with Julie Andrews in the leading role, but on its own this film does not disappoint. Its strange use of singing works surprisingly well and the performances are stellar. As a film about the class difference, it has a unique way of going about it by showing that one side isn't necessarily better than the other. Even if this didn't win Best Picture, I'd still highly recommend checking this out.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Movie Review - "Gamera: The Brave" (2006)

I didn't think it was possible to hate another daikaiju movie almost as much as I despise "Godzilla: Final Wars," but then along came "Gamera: The Brave," a film so insufferable and insipid that it makes me weep at how bad mid-2000s monster movies were. There is no joy to be found in this film, nor any love for Gamera's past. It doesn't even feel like a monster movie most of the time, just a slow and forgettable Japanese drama that relies way too much on terrible child actors.

I'd rather watch the cheesiest and most obnoxious 1960s Gamera film ten times before I watch "Gamera: The Brave" again. At least those movies are fun in a "so bad, it's good" way, especially when they think traffic safety is as big of a problem in the world as war and pollution. There's a certain charm to those movies, especially with their light-hearted and carefree tone - they're perfect for rainy day monster fun. "Gamera: The Brave" on the other hand, rams its message of children saving the world down our throats to the point that it is poisonous to this film, all while forgetting that the audience is here for Gamera.

The film follows a young boy named Toru (Ryo Tomioka), who lives in a small Japanese village and is mourning the death of his mother. Toru eventually swims out to a nearby island and finds an odd egg, which hatches into a baby turtle that he takes in and names Toto. He falls in love with his pet turtle and shows him to all his friends, especially when Toto starts to fly and grow very fast.

Toru learns from his friend that Toto might be a reincarnation of Gamera, Japan's favorite fire-breathing flying turtle, after Gamera sacrificed himself to stop a flock of murder birds thirty years ago. Toru refuses to believe that his friend is Gamera, because that means he's a monster and apparently monsters always have to sacrifice themselves? Either way, things get more complicated for Toru and Toto when a giant man-eating monster shows up to terrorize their town, forcing the growing turtle to step in.

A big problem with "Gamera: The Brave" is that it is slow and takes far too much time and effort to set up these kids that we have no reason to care about. The film spends about 25 minutes setting up Toru's life in his town with all the passion of a bad after-school special, all of this before introducing the monsters. Even after Toto shows up, it follows the same antics of a kid trying to hide is new pet from his parents, all while Toru shows as little emotion as possible. This goes on for more than half of the runtime before the idea of Gamera is even brought up.

I want to say that "Gamera: The Brave" was trying to replicate the tone of the first Gamera film, which spent a considerable amount of time setting up a little boy and his pet turtle, but even that film gave us some good old-fashion monster action that was interjected throughout that film. For the first half of this movie, it doesn't do anything with its monsters, instead giving us a tepid melodrama that is hindered further by bad pacing and even worse acting.

Even when it does get to the monster scenes, they're just as slow and low energy as the rest of the movie that they come across as uninspired. The movement of the monsters is janky and the color palette ranges from gray to dark brown. This gets even worse when the film tries to shoe-horn in as many children as possible into the finale to preach its cringe worthy message about the power of children and their connection to Gamera.

The filmmakers somehow make their children worse than the 1960s Gamera films, where the kids always seemed to have military clearance and the approval of the Japanese government, by showing they are more powerful and important than any adult in this movie, and doing so in the most over-the-top manner possible. This movie loves kids, but can't understand why they're so great.

I hated "Gamera: The Brave" from start to finish. If it wasn't confusing about it's "monsters always sacrifice themselves" message, it was boring me with its horrendous pacing and acting, all while never embracing its monster heritage. It hurts to see so much potential after the 1990s Gamera trilogy wasted on such a disrespectful movie. There is nothing fun or enjoyable to found here and it is best left forgotten and alone.

Final Grade: F

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Movie Review - "Deadpool 2" (2018)

Depending on your knowledge of comic book superheroes, 2016's "Deadpool" either took you by surprise or gave you exactly what you expected from a movie about the most off-the-wall and unpredictable character in fiction. For me, "Deadpool" was exactly what I expected from the merc with a mouth, while offering a surprising refresshing love story at its center and tearing down the cliches and expectations we've come to know and love from Marvel films. Nothing too special, but a nice breath of fresh air while still satisfying that R-rated superhero craving we've always wanted to see in full effect.

But the success of that film makes "Deadpool 2" an odd film to say the least. One could argue that it is more of the same, giving us the same over-the-top zaniness of the first film that hasn't deteriorated in any way and might even be bolstered by having the same guy who directed "John Wick." Yet at the same time, the story of "Deadpool 2" is simultaneously better and worse by giving our favorite anti-hero a redeemable character-arch that is hindered by a crazy time travel plot and loads of secondary characters.

They clearly attempted to up the ante with the sequel while remaining close to the heart with its message about children and our future, but at the same time moved further away from the unpredictable nature of the character.

This film picks up roughly two years after the events of the first film, when the wise-cracking indestructible mercenary Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has become so successful that he has other mercenaries trying to hunt him down. But deep down Deadpool has remained a softy and is still madly in love with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and the two decide they want to start a family, just as Deadpool figures its time to do some good and reach out to the X-Men. Though he faces problems right away as a cybernetic solider (Josh Brolin) travels from the future to stop his world from being destroyed by a dangerous mutant.

The crazy thing about "Deadpool" is that, as absurd as the main character's claim that it was ultimately a love story is, he wasn't wrong - the relationship between the two leads was the best part of the story. "Deadpool 2" works in very much the same way by openly saying this is a "family picture" which is followed by the anti-hero killing a whole gang of mobsters with his twin swords. Fun for the whole family!

And yet, the strong bonds developed between these characters is surprisingly endearing, especially the sibling-like rivalry between Deadpool and the newly introduced Domino (Zazie Beetz). She describes her power as "being lucky," to which Mr. Pool argues to no ends that that cannot be a super power and is thoroughly proven wrong on multiple occasions. The bickering between these characters and their need to show off that they're better than the other works in a dysfunctional family way that makes their comedy feel natural.

The laughs are plentiful here, though not quite as uproarious as the first film. There's an endless stream of references, including towards Marvel, DC, Cher, My Little Pony and Ryan Reynolds' questionable career choices. The film takes every opportunity to break the fourth wall, though not quite to the same degree as the previous entry. Honestly, some of the better moments are between Deadpool and Domino, as she plays the straight woman to his maximum effort. Beyond that, the comedy remains equal between the two films.

My biggest problem with "Deadpool 2" is that most of the time it takes itself too seriously, especially during the first act. The mood is dark and dreary in the beginning of the film and it takes a while before the cloud clears up and we get to the good bits with Domino and Cable. There's a big emotional shift at one point and the filmmakers attempt to alleviate that pressure with a scene of Deadpool riding around in Professor X's wheelchair that doesn't feel sincere.

"Deadpool" did a fantastic job of balancing its R-rated story and comedy, blending the two together seamlessly through its witty character. But now, he feels more like a clown instead of the world's greatest stand-up comedian mercenary. As a result, the jokes don't hit quite as hard as they did before, even if the story is an improvement.

Overall, "Deadpool 2" is good R-rated fun that we've come to expect from Ryan Reynolds at this point. It gives us more of the same, but shows that it is still just as good the second time around. The story works well because of the strange bonds these characters form, bolstered by some great acting from Zazie Beetz and Josh Brolin. I wouldn't call this an improvement over the first film, but it certainly isn't a downgrade either.

Final Grade: B

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Movie Review - "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018) *SPOILER FREE*

As bold as this statement might be, "Avengers: Infinity War" might be one of the most ambitious movies of all time, and certainly the most ambitious blockbuster. This film takes what nearly 20 other Marvel films have established and creates a bold concept to have them all collide. "Infinity War" has over 50 major characters and roles, each with their own quirks, subplots, and backstories, some of which haven't been addressed since the end of their last movie, like the Asgardians at the end of "Thor: Ragnarok" or what Captain America has been up to since "Civil War." Throw all of that into a story about a threat to the entire universe, and you've got a movie with a lot to live up to.

And yet, "Avengers: Infinity War" not only lives up to that hype, but just might have surpassed it by giving us way more than expected. What could have been just a mindless action flick featuring a bunch of famous actors and recognizable faces, the Russo brothers turn into heartwarming, brutal, funny and always entertaining flick. It packs a punch, while always keeping you emotionally invested in each of the many plots going on, whether that's through comedy or drama, like the Marvel films have always done extremely well.

But the real strength of "Infinity War" lies in its magnificent pacing, as it turns a nearly three-hour experience into something that never felt boring or repetitive. It never felt like we lingered on one plot over the other, with each getting the proper amount of screen time without it ever dragging. This film honestly moved so quickly that it felt like it was barely an hour-and-a-half, not three hours. Some will say that this movie is overwhelming and has to juggle far too many plots, but because each of these plots was so enjoyable and rich with character that I didn't mind all the back-and-forth, as it connected this universe in ways it has never been before.

I will say that "Infinity War" certainly benefits from having seen every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film, including the bad ones like "Thor: The Dark World." This one does its best to bring new viewers up to speed, but there's only so much it can do. Outside of that though, there really isn't much going against this movie. It is one of the most entertaining movies Marvel has ever come out with, while also remaining touching and human, never getting too caught up in the scope to forget about the little people.

Without writing a novel about the story of "Infinity War" and everything that's going on with its 50 main characters, the central plot revolves around a villain that has been hinted at since "The Avengers" - Thanos (Josh Brolin). He is finally putting his plan into action, collecting all six of all-powerful Infinity Stones throughout the galaxy, so that he can use their power to remake the universe how he wants it. Due to the events of previous Marvel films, two of these stones are on Earth, one with the mystical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and one with the android Vision (Paul Bettany). After finding out about Thanos' plan, Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is sent to Earth to warn the Avengers and other heroes of his impending invasion, while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) does the same with the Guardians of the Galaxy, resulting in every known character teaming up in one way or another to stop Thanos.

With a film of this size and magnitude, it's difficult to say who the main character is. One could say Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is, as he personally takes everything as if this is all on the weight of his shoulders, while others might say Thor goes through the most personal journey of reflection after events of "Ragnarok."

But I feel the main focus of "Infinity War" is on Thanos and how he goes about getting each of the stones, as well as the personal struggles he's had to endure throughout his tortured existence. This is very much his movie, which is unique for Marvel - one devoted to a villain. The strangest part about that is they give Thanos so much character and depth that you see where's coming from. He's not like Loki or Ultron, who just want to be powerful or evil, Thanos truly believes that what he's doing is for the greater good of the entire universe. He's sympathetic yet menacing, doing something that only he feels he can do and does so without passion or prejudice.

Let's face it though, people didn't go to "Infinity War" to see Thanos, but for their favorite heroes, and even though this is an epic with a cast of thousands, every big-name hero gets a moment to shine. Whether it's Spider-Man (Tom Holland) calling back to more "old" movies, War Machine (Don Cheadle) standing up for his teammates in the face of the government, or Drax (Dave Bautista) being the lovable gruff oaf, there's something for everyone. The equally impressive part is that the tone of each franchise is kept intact, like how the comedy and atmosphere of the Guardians of the Galaxy is maintained without losing anything. There are some heroes that don't get as much screen time as others, like Captain America and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), but they all still play a vital role to this picture.

But what makes me the most happy is that Doctor Strange's cape, which I lovingly nicknamed capey, has just as much character and charm as he did in the last film. He's still the sarcastic yet sadistic piece of clothe we all know and love!

This is the power of "Infinity War" - it's been days since I saw the film, and I'm still giddy about what happened. Little moments like the heart-to-heart between Thor and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), or Star Lord (Chris Pratt) learning the truth about "Footloose," bring a smile to my face. As much as all blockbusters try to do this, very few succeed, and "Infinity War" does this better than any other blockbuster I've seen in a long time. This makes it not only worth seeing, but worth seeing two or three times.

"Avengers: Infinity War" not only masterfully handles its herculean task of combining dozens of franchises, plotlines and characters into one coherent picture, but does so while balancing its rather dark looming atmosphere with the charismatic charm we've come to expect from Marvel. This is far more than just another summer blockbuster, but an ambitious and satisfying experience.

Final Grade: A-