Spoiler Free Review of Spider-Man Homecoming

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The big question out there with geeky fans such as myself was whether Sony could work with Marvel to integrate Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinema universe.  Also looming like a shadow over the Spider-Man franchise was whether the first new Spider-Man movie would be able to stand on its own given its predecessors.  We all wondered what direction it might take.  How would this reboot work?

I’m happy to say that this was a fantastic film.

From the opening during the Marvel credits when they played the Spider-Man cartoon theme song, this is a well crafted story that stands completely on its own.

We didn’t get a whole origin story – thank God.  We all know it anyway.  Radioactive spider bites kid, he gets powers.  In a remarkable move, we didn’t get dragged through that in his film.  Instead this film focuses on a solid plot and characters.

I was concerned with the trailers and the emphasis on Iron Man/Tony Stark.  I was concerned that this would be Iron Man 4 rather than Spider-Man 1.  I was not disappointed in the least.  This was a movie where the supporting cast (Ned and Happy) really help add to the mythos of Spider-Man.  We got just enough Stark in this film, and in all the right way.  A man that is aging, coming to grips with the fact that his recruitment of 14 year old Peter Parker in Civil War put the young man at deadly risk.

The performance of Michael Keaton as the Vulture was great as well.  He plays a great villain who starts out in an almost Breaking Bad formula – being bad for good reasons.  That devolves as the character changes.

This movie is all about characters growing and evolving.  It is a fun romp in the Marvel universe.  We have a new Spider-Man for the new generation.  I took my young grandson to the movie and his take was that the movie was great, but they almost used a bad word at the end.  I wouldn’t say it is for every kid, but we had a blast.

Five out of five stars.  Go see this film!

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Wonder Woman – Spoiler Free Review

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Four quarts of awesome sauce

I went in to the theater filled to the brim with skepticism.  The mental trauma of Batman v. Superman had just fully healed.  On the CW, Supergirl has gone from being a good television show to being a preachy political drama, constantly thrusting the issue of illegal aliens and homosexuality in our face every week.

I was worried that in this age of political correctness, this would be a movie about women, women’s rights, women in a man’s universe.  I’m not saying those things are important, but you have to remember one thing.  Women are not the big readers of Wonder Woman in comic form.  You don’t see a comic shop packed with females.  It is male readers that kept that comic alive over the decades.  If they went down the woman-in-a-man’s-world rabbit hole, they risked alienating the true fans of Wonder Woman. Thankfully, someone at DC had half a brain and avoided making that kind of movie.

To be blunt, DC needed a hit, if only to keep the embers of hope with the upcoming Justice League movie burning.  Wonder Woman was the best part of Batman vs. Superman.  We demanded…no, desperately needed a good DC comic book movie.

Wonder Woman is that hit.

Now, I’m a WWI historian and I could easily go off on a rant on the inaccuracies in the film; I’m entitled to do that.  I won’t, because in the end they don’t matter.  This was a solid movie with a good plot and fantastic performances from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.  I feared it would be a thinly veiled rip-off of Captain America, The First Avenger.  You have to admit, the potential for that was there.  Fess up.  You thought it too.  DC dodged that shot as easily as Wonder Woman deflects machinegun fire.

This was a story built on solid characters and a good story line.  It was not driven by CGI or special effects, but on the evolution of the characters.

DC finally gave us a movie in their new rendition of their universe that met, if not exceeded expectations.  I give it four-point-five out of five stars.  (The WWI historian in me held back that half star, just to be a douchebag.)  The only thing lacking in the film that prevented it from being perfect was no cameo from Linda Carter.  What were you guys thinking?  She had to appear, if only in the background.  Doh!

Review of Hidden Figures

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I love a good story, great characters, and something based on true events.  Hidden Figures had all of that and much more.

This the story of three women of color, working at NASA in Langley Virginia at the start of the US/Russian Space Race.  The story is not just about getting a man in orbit, but of the struggles and obstacles that these brave women had to face and overcome.

In honesty I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the film – that it would be too preachy and be about race more than character.  I was wrong – dead wrong.  This film is about the indomitable character of these three incredible women.   Race is an issue, from the opening scene on, but these women are trailblazers in a very different and endearing manner.

Interestingly enough this was a good history film, blending science, technology and historical context.  As an IT person, I remember programming with punch cards when I worked for the DoD.  It is stunning to think we put a man in space with less technology than most of us carry in our pockets on a daily basis.

These are exactly the kind of stories that need to be told.  I felt a bit ashamed at seeing Virginia during segregation but the film didn’t force that issue.  It did with style and grace.  This is not as much a film about race as it about the emerging role of women as well.

I found the acting superb.  The story of Mary Jackson, the fledgling engineer, was fantastic and a credit to Janelle Monáe.  Her court scene was inspiring.  Kevin Costner was solid as well, but this was not about the men – it’s all about the women.  Even the soundtrack was well chosen.

This is a film chocked full of visual metaphors.  My favorite was near the end of the movie when the young white male was sent to run the 1/2 mile across Langley to track down one of the women.  We see that trek throughout the movie but it never seemed longer than it did in that scene.  It was a perfect piece of writing and directing.

The audience we had applauded at the end of the film – if that is any indication of how good of a film this is.  I have to give this five out of five stars.

Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars Rogue One

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Jedi?  We don’t need no stinking Jedi! 

Summary:  This is the story of an ingenious administrator who dedicates his life to the creation of a tool that will bring peace to the galaxy.  He is opposed by a group of terrorists and quasi-religious zealots bent on plunging the known universe into civil war.  The terrorists kill hundreds of patriots in a mission of sabotage, chaos, and carnage.  Ultimately the administrator loses his life but lives long enough to see his dream brought to life as his tool is proven effective.

Alright…onto the real review.  This is not your “typical” Star Wars film – as evident from the very beginning. This is a carefully crafted prequel to A New Hope.  For the record – Disney did it right.  Boy did they do it right.  The fact that this doesn’t fit the normal Star Wars mold is fantastic.

What drives this is the characters.  Each one grows and evolves in the intricate plot.  The droid in this film, K-2SO, is sarcastic and snarky…actually giving it a unique personality from what we’ve seen with other droids.  The blind monk-like warrior, Chirrut Imwe, is awesome.  His chant of “I am with the Force and the Force is with me,” is going to appear on T-shirts in a matter of days.  These heroes are not your standard Star Wars fare and that works with me.

This story is huge in scope, taking us to a number of new worlds in the Star Wars universe.  The details are incredible.  You see a massive statue of Jedi laying in the sands on one world – each planet coming off distinct and different.  The Screen Artists Guild deserves drinks on Mickey Mouse for these scenes.

The best is the linkage to Episode IV:  A New Hope.  I told my wife years ago that in my lifetime I would see a new John Wayne western because of CGI.  I am now convinced of this even more.  One of the coolest secondary characters was played by Peter Cushing, and he has been dead since 1994!  In only one scene was I able to see that it was, indeed, CGI.  Otherwise I was convinced he was there.  Disney, you magnificent bastards, I salute you.

We all know Darth Vadar is evil.  We never really can get enough of this.  Rogue One provides us a bad-ass, ass-kicking Vadar that is vicious, cunning, and dark.

The incorporation of Red Leader was so cool, so subtle, and so perfect…I was pleased.  I only wish Porkins had been there!

So, the short version – this is a great movie – five out of five stars.  Go see it – twice!

Movie Review – Sully

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“Houston we have a…oh, wait, wrong film…”

Tom Hanks finally shakes his string of travel films gone awry – having nearly died in Apollo 13 and being stranded on an island in Castaway.  Hanks, playing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, does what we all expected in the film – making a water landing on the Hudson and saving the lives of all his passengers and crew.

We all think we know the story.  We don’t.  This film does an absolutely fantastic job of opening the curtain and taking us behind the hell of a man suddenly thrust into the media spotlight while being drawn into the bureaucratic scrutiny of his peers.  What we see, when the curtain is pulled back, is an outstanding acting performance by a seasoned veteran, well worthy of Oscar consideration.

What makes this movie work is that we all know the story.  Rather than lead off with the 208 seconds that made Sullenberger and his co-pilot heroes, this film tells that story throughout.  The viewer is given many different perspectives of this crisis, each one rewarding and satisfying on a whole new level.

When the movie was over – there was applause in the theater.  Seriously.  Not since Joy have I heard that in a theater.

In a summer where Hollywood has struggled to get our attention and keep it – with retreads of old films, Sully is a solid feel-good film.  There are moments of humor that shatter the thick underlying tension of the movie.  We are sucked into one man’s personal hell, and he emerges on the other side an even greater hero.

Sully is a five out of five stars.  Go to it.  Take your kids.  You’ll be gripping your hand-rests and your eyes will water at all of the right times.  #Sully

Non-Spoiler Review of Star Trek Beyond

Just a wee scratch
Yeah – that’s not going to buff out…

Disclaimer – I’m a Treker…always have been, always will be.  This new film is the third in the rebooted Star Trek universe and I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed.

The movie finds the crew of the USS Enterprise in the middle of their five year mission and feeling the loneliness in the vastness of deep space.  Some relationships are strained.  Others are more solid than ever. You get a sense that these characters have been through a lot together – beyond the films.

The plot is solid.  This is not about starship combat – it is about loyalty, commitment, and honor.  The writing is almost perfect.  Bones and Spock have some wonderful one-liners between the two of them.  There was a lot of different pairing that takes place in this film that we haven’t seen before in a Star Trek film.  That made it neat and fun to watch.

I was not a big fan of the action/fighting scenes.  The way some were filmed I lost track of who was hitting whom because of camera angles and jostling.  It is a very minor nit to what is a top-notch film.

What I really like is this film stands on its own. It is not a sequel as much as a continuation of the story.  They incorporated the death of Leonard Nimoy perfectly, making it a key plot point in the film.  There’s even a homage to the original series of movies here with a single photo that says more than any dialogue in the movie.

I particularly liked the fact we saw an NX class starship here – albeit a precursor to TV’s Enterprise series.   I know a lot of people hated Enterprise, but I have come to like it quite a bit and this nod to that era was well done.

We got a new character, Jaylah, who was awesome as well.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see Dr. Marcus still with the crew – nor did we learn her fate.  Again, such a minor nit that it hardly is worth mentioning.

All of the internet hype about Sulu being “Openly gay” in the film was, for the most part, inconsequential.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the hype I probably would have missed it entirely.  The internet breeds cynicism.  It turned out to be a big non-moment in the film.  Stupid internet trolls…

Overall, I give Star Trek Beyond a solid five stars.  A great film for a hot summer weekend.

Non-Spoiler Review of Ghostbusters

Jillian
Reminds me of my help desk days…

With all due respect (none) for the internet trolls that panned this movie based on its first trailer, I actually enjoyed the new Ghostbusters.  It is not a sequel but a reboot of this franchise, and yes, they have laid the foundation in the post-trailer credits for a sequel.

The film is good – not great.  The strengths – Kate McKinnon as the mad-scientist engineer of the group, Jillian Holtzmann.  Yes, it’s the Egon role, but she brings us a new quirky character that made me laugh several times in the film.  When she licks her guns before shooting – priceless – a move I intend to lift at GenCon when I’m role playing next month.

The special effects are awesome.  My wife and I saw it in 3D and this is one of those rare films where 3D works well.  The special effects aside, the film has a solid plot.  It’s not a rehash of Ghostbuster’s films, but breathes fresh life into it.

The cameo’s make the film.  Even the fleeting homage to Harold Ramis is well-done, tasteful, and not overpowering in the film.  Everything was done respectfully, as it should be.   Even the Ghostbuster’s iconic firehouse manages to stir emotions with the viewers.  It’s like when you see the USS Enterprise in Star Trek – it is a character all on its own.

My only complaint was that Chris Hemsworth as comedy relief was okay (lukewarm at best), but not great.  Put on the wig and pick up Mjolnir Chris – you are a perfect Thor.  Trying to fill the Annie Potts/Rick Moranis roles is not your thing.  Please, go get your hammer.

Comparisons to the original 1984 film are almost impossible to avoid, but I will.  This film stands on its own.  The writing was solid – as was the acting and character development.  Now that we have cleared the hurdle of the film being its own entity, we can move forward with sequels.

I rate this a solid 4.5 out of five stars.  Funny, good pacing, a rollicking fun romp through your memoires of the original film.   A total protonic reversal on the cynical internet trolls!

#Ghostbusters