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Did hell just get a little colder?
My first intro to the Dark Horse character Hellboy was with the 2004 film by Guillermo del Toro. While not the first hell-spawned hero, he stood out from the rest, largely due to Ron Perlman's performance and the world he inhabits. It spawned a sequel as well as two animated features, all of which are solid watches. It's a shame a third for each series was never made because this time we were given the first reboot directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers). Needless to say, it left me and certainly plenty of others begging for the OG Hellboy's continuation.
Plot: Hellboy (David Harbour), a demon turned paranormal agent, begins to question his place in the world and his relationship with his adopted father Professor Broom. This internal conflict escalates when he is tasked with tracking down the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), who takes a special interest in him for her diabolical ambitions. Together, Hellboy and his band of supernatural misfits must battle their way through all sorts of things that go bump in the night in order to stop the evil witch.
The film adds more stuff from the comics as well as blood + gore to stand out from previous films, a valiant attempt that feels wasted. When I saw the trailer to this reboot, I could tell that it was damned from the start. In fairness, the action is pretty good, the creature designs and visuals are cool, there are a few clever lines/jokes, and there are decent performances (Harbour is OK, just not Perlman). I daresay the story had a potential, challenging Hellboy's beliefs of whether or not he's just a weapon and if monsters really deserve to die. However, it's one thing to have the ingredients, knowing how to properly mix them is another. There are many pointless elements like the fight with the giants and Hellboy's right hand. The attempt at moral ambiguity and existentialism isn't resolved in a satiating way and dialogue scenes feel repetitive. Much of the humor is flatter than paper and the constant swearing gets old fast as if a thirteen year old wrote this. The quality of the CGI ranges from adequate to downright awful (like late 90s bad), opposed by practical effects that are more consistent. Did I forget to mention that this film loves flashbacks because, holy crap, there's a lot of them, which messes up the pacing. Don't even get me started on the blatant sequel-baiting finale and end credit scenes.
If there's such a thing as purgatory, then it looks more like a pleasant day off compared to this. Not the worst superhero ever made (*cough* Catwoman), but Hellboy 2019 is a mediocre film at best. Back to the drawing board.
Bloody superhero inversion.
What if Superman as a kid turned bad? The answer came in "Brightburn", a superhero horror flick produced by James Gunn. The strange fixation of an evil Superman or at least a darker one, while interesting in of itself, kind of got tedious with the oversaturation of media that play around with this idea lately. Nevertheless, the premise of this film did catch my attention, though I waited for it to be in the rental store rather than watch it in the theater.
The film stars Elizabeth Banks and she does a good job playing the adopted mother of Brandon, the alien child with incredible power and a sinister nature lurking beneath. As someone who raised this child, I understand her reluctance to accept that her "son", when he reaches a certain age, changes for the worst. The film does decently creating creepy imagery with good lighting (and lack there of) during the horror scenes. This kid's expressions, blank stares, and raggedy costume alone wave red flags. The body count throughout the film is unexpectedly low, but it does feature gore that, rather surprisingly, made my stomach a little queasy and this is coming from a guy who's seen the gore fest that is John Carpenter's "The Thing". That being said, I didn't feel an overwhelming sense of fear from "Brightburn". In a lot of ways, this is pretty standard fare for the genre from simplistic side characters I felt little attachment to, who will predictably bite the dust (or the steering wheel in one case), and I pretty much guessed how it would end long before seeing it. The film attempts to make Brandon seem sympathetic at times and he could've been with a rewrite (therefore making his turn to the dark side more impactful), but ultimately what drives him into murder is an external force and he doesn't go through much of an internal struggle of what he should do with his power.
All in all, "Brightburn" is a unique spin on the superhero story, but beyond that it's nothing groundbreaking. The humorous mid-credit scene leaves an opening for a possible expansion of the universe this is set in. That said, this is a passable film with a few thrills to offer.
The Lion King (2019)
The Circle of Life begins again.
With all the live-action remakes Disney has been making as of late, it seemed inevitable that "Lion King" would be given the same treatment. Question is how do you even redo a film beloved by most, the very height of the Disney Renaissance? Jon Favreau took on the task having previously done "The Jungle Book", though I'd hesitate to really call this live-action given that it's mostly animation.
I'd be lying if I said watching this on the big screen didn't make me feel nostalgic, getting chills when scenes like "Circle of Life" and the wildebeest stampede come around. Hans Zimmer's music is still a blast to this day. I also got some laughs out of the new jokes, including references to both the Broadway show and another Disney classic; Timon and Pumba are still pretty funny. The new cast gets credit for their vocal performances with only a few lines that felt off. Certain characters, dialogue, and moments were changed albeit minimally, occasionally to give new contexts or more believable actions such as Scar's plot to take the throne.
Apart from one added scene, though, it's still the same movie, which may disappoint those expecting something truly new. Another issue is the crew's insistence on making this realistic led to a problem: most of the animals, despite their vocal inflections, lack facial expressions, making it harder to connect with them in the especially emotional scenes. It's strange given that Favreau allowed the animals in "The Jungle Book" a much wider range of expressions. Some aspects like "Be Prepared" and Rafiki aren't as impactful as they did in the original and, while graphically detailed, the visuals don't pop as much, particularly during song sequences.
"Lion King" 2019 is a case of what I call giving a classic a new coat of paint. It looks nice, but it's still fundamentally the same thing. This left me conflicted. I still enjoy it, but at the same time I think more could've been done.
Shin Seiki Evangerion (1995)
An anime landmark, but not without flaws.
"Neon Genesis Evangelion", Hideaki Anno's magnum opus and a reflection of his depression at the time. Long have I heard of this legendary anime, but never felt the drive in giving it a try until recently. Is it worth it? Well, yes but in some ways no.
Plot: Years after the apocalyptic event known as the 2nd Impact, the story concerns Shinji Ikari, a lonely boy who is suddenly summoned by his neglectful father Gendo, the head of the group called NERV. The reason: to pilot a mech called an Evangelion (Eva for short) to combat unusual creatures called Angels alongside brash Asuka and stoic Rei. Despite considerable reservations and low self-esteem, he agrees, going on a journey involving giant-sized battles, unnerving revelations, and a dive into others' inner demons.
On the surface, this seems like a standard action series, but it's really a character study filled with religious parallels, psychological analyses, and sexual elements. Most of the major characters suffer from some shortcoming and have different ways of coping. My favorite is Misato, a woman who is both head of operations against Angels and Shinji's caretaker/mother figure; she shares common ground with him, is a risk taker, and has relatable flaws. Shinji, though, is a divisive figure as your enjoyment of the show depends on how much you invest in or even tolerate him. Having "hedgehog's dilemma" among others, he hesitates on things from fighting to getting close to anyone. While at times understandable, it does try one's patience (he's more tolerable after the first few episodes). There are scenes that offer levity with light-hearted moments, which I appreciate. While sometimes short, the battles alone are worth a watch with neat strategies, gruesome bloody violence, and a pantheon of monstrous Angels whose designs are as alien as their origins and motives. Outside the fights, though, the animation tends to be minimalistic. In fact, many scenes involve still shots that go on for too long, which bugged me. There's also no real explanation of why the Evas have to be piloted by 14-year olds and some side characters are written out in a way that doesn't feel conclusive.
"Evangelion" has two endings. First, the show's last 2 episodes are an abstract mind trip where the staff literally ran out of money and scraped together. The second is the movie "End of Evangelion", which is more grand and decisive, but also VERY trippy. Analyses from other people helped me understand the film, but it's not satisfying entertainment-wise. I'm curious about the remake "Rebuild of Evangelion", but that's for another time. While not for everyone, the anime certainly earned its reputation.
Holy shell shock, Batman!
"Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Man, even just saying that feels weird, but, yeah, this is a thing. This animated flick is an adaptation of a six-part comic series made back in 2015. Given that I'm a fan of both, I had to check this out.
Plot: There is trouble brewing in Gotham City. The Shredder, leader of the Foot Clan, allies with Ra's al Ghul, head of the League of Assassins, to bring a new form of terror to the streets. The Heroes in a Half-Shell follow their ninja nemesis to uncover this nefarious plan only to find themselves butting heads with the Dark Knight and his sidekicks Batgirl and Robin (Damian Wayne). Can these two heroic forces combined give their enemies a much needed shell shock?
This is definitely one of the most fun entries of both franchises I've seen in a while and a lot of that fun comes from the characters acknowledging just how wacky their respective worlds and inhabitants are. The way the Bat Family and the Turtles bounce off each other led to lots of great moments both funny and epic (Mickey annoying Alfred, Donnie's and Batgirl's intellectual fortes, etc.), helped by excellent voice acting. Basic character arcs and dynamics are executed with grace and the comedy got me laughing throughout. Balancing this is how the film gives time to let things be serious for both drama and high stakes with the heroes struggling to overcome their flaws and differences, plus Shredder and Ra's al Ghul making a lethal pair despite their own opposing traits. In fact, things can get dark at times with fight scenes that can get unexpectedly violent (nasty blows and the occasional gruesome death).
Speaking of which, the fantastic battles offer plenty in players, gadgets, and environments. There's a great mix of martial arts with classic elements akin to Batman and TMNT and different sweet matchups (Batman vs Shredder, Turtles vs Arkham inmates and so on). Fans will also recognize the abundant nods to previous media from both franchises. Props to the art style and animation, giving characters distinct designs, fluid movements (with only a few lapses), and striking colors and shadows that manage to make it appear that these heroes inhabit the same world despite being owned by different companies. While the film is an hour and a half, a lot happens, but thankfully it is well-paced and gives major elements their due.
All in all, this film is a mutated thrill ride you do not want to pass up. The filmmakers took an out-there concept and somehow made it work. At the moment, I can't think of anything major to criticize about this film, so I'd say check it out. COWABUNGA!
Monster Island (2019)
Even for The Aslyum, a letdown.
I first came to know of The Asylum through their infamous Mega Shark series and other wacky monster films, which were fun trash to watch (key word being "fun"). So, when I heard they were doing their own version of the classic Monster Island (an idea first introduced in the Godzilla franchise), I was curious to see. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
So, the plot goes that a deep-sea prospecting expedition disturbs a kaiju, which threatens the world. While the military tries in vain to kill the creature, a team of scientists heads out to find an equally powerful beast to stop it. Sounds like a nice setup for all kinds of crazy carnage, right? Too bad, barely anything happens. The Asylum is known for making films featuring mass destruction and over-the-top action but this film surprisingly underplays it. Anything that is remotely exciting happens literally for a few seconds at a time with the rest just being the characters just observing and talking for long stretches of time. Monster Island itself isn't even the main focus, only appearing within the climax of the film and the actual "battles" between the monsters are uneventful and last as long as a blink of an eye.
I'll give the film credit that the graphics and animation have improved somewhat since the first Mega Shark, the creature designs are decent, most of the acting is adequately straightforward with a few silly performances, and the kaiju lore is okay if derivative. Sadly, this is all bogged down given how there's little payoff or excitement to be had here. All in all, "Monster Island" is a snooze and should simply be skipped.
Hail to the King, baby!
After years of waiting, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" has arrived, my most anticipated movie of 2019, perhaps more so than "Avengers: Endgame" (I know, blasphemy). This is a continuation of the Monsterverse, a shared universe of kaiju consisting of "Godzilla" (2014), "Kong: Skull Island" and several prequel comics, and is helmed by Michael Dougherty (Trick o' Treat, Krampus). This one promised to show more of the monster action many people craved from the previous film. Does it achieve this? In short, yes.
Plot: Five years after Godzilla's battle in San Francisco, the world now knows of the existence of giant prehistoric beasts aka "Titans" and the organization Monarch is doing everything it can to manage it. However, thanks to an eco-terrorist group, Godzilla's most hated enemy, the 3-headed dragon Ghidorah, is freed from his icy prison and threatens global extinction, reigniting their ancient grudge match. Joining this clash of titans are divine insect Mothra and speedy pterosaur Rodan. What can man do but LET THEM FIGHT!
I heard complaints about the humans from others, but if you ask me they're fine. I grew like the new faces as they, though simplistic, offer both amusing and thoughtful banter with returning actor Ken Watanabe giving the best performance. I also found the conflict of the divorced couple (Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler) and their daughter (Milly Bobbie Brown) interesting with their opposing ideals and character arcs. The eco-terrorists, led by Charles Dance, while not given much screen time, are serviceable as villains and have a point of how the darkness of man overshadows the chaos of beasts, making them a sort of dark foil to Monarch. All in their own ways serve to emphasize the film's central theme of man needing to maintain a delicate balance with nature. I do think there are one or two characters that could've been cut out, though.
Of course, the real stars are the monsters and, boy, are they wonderful. Their respective relationships, powers, designs, and personalities are true to their Japanese incarnations and the effects used to bring them to life are stunningly detailed. There are tons of references to both the classic films and the previous Monsterverse entries that eagle-eyed fans will easily spot. Furthermore, the established lore is expanded upon to fascinating areas such as the titans' history with man and offers room for greater exploration. The action scenes up the ante with the monsters literally ripping each other apart in savage fights and widescale destruction across the world (refreshing locations like Mexico and Boston included), often seen from the humans' POV to truly emphasize their sheer scale and power; we are but ants to them. Compared to 2014's darker lighting, the titans' glow and distinct colors make the fights easier to see. The music is a spine-chilling blast, classic themes from the original films (particularly Godzilla's and Mothra's) updated and combined with a tribal-style choir chanting the monsters' names to give a sense of awe, wonder, and dread for these giants (about time since previous U.S. adaptations neglected to do this) as well a remake of Blue Oyster Cult's "Go Go Godzilla".
The humor is really the one thing to me that's hit-or-miss with some jokes being "meh" while others did make me chuckle.
The team behind this film are true fans who went out of their way to make this a dedicated tribute to the franchise. It made my inner child giddy and I can't wait to see "Godzilla vs Kong". By all means, this MUST be seen on the big screen. All hail the King of the Monsters!
Gojira: hoshi wo kû mono (2018)
The King faces the golden demise.
At last, the final chapter of the Godzilla anime trilogy was released, a very different take on the franchise that has gotten mixed feelings. In "Monster Planet" and "City on the Edge of Battle", Haruo leads humanity's return from space to a post-apocalyptic Earth to reclaim it from Godzilla's rule, a mission that brought heavy losses and unexpected revelations. Now, in "The Planet Eater", he and his remaining forces are lost and divided. His longtime friend, Exif alien priest Metphies, gains a loyal following by proclaiming God will come to save them all. This "god", however, turns out to be Ghidorah, the 3-headed devourer of worlds. As Godzilla takes a stand against this otherworldly creature, Haruo must overcome his personal demons and confront Metphies.
The previous films explored themes of man vs nature, evolution/creation, hope, sins of the past, sacrifice, and abuse of technology. These continue with the addition of religion and nihilism; when combined, these two can lead to horrific results for those who blindly fall into their grip and there are some disturbing things here (deaths included). Metphies, arguably the most developed antagonist in the franchise, enforces this when he summons Ghidorah and attempts to force humans to accept their "golden demise" by taking advantage of their despair. By contrast, Haruo is on a crossroads of creating a brighter future for mankind in the face of all the blood on his hands in his quest to kill Godzilla. This is helped by his developing relationship with twins Maina and Miana, who put things into perspective through both their optimism and their closeness to him, though the execution of this aspect gave me mixed feelings.
The conflict between Haruo and Metphies parallels with the battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah; while admittedly not the most exciting fight and does drag in the middle, it has cool moments like when they engage in melee combat. This version of Ghidorah is radically different, very alien and Lovecraftian in design and presentation, but retains core elements of his character (3 heads, gold, destroyer of worlds, etc.) and is honestly kind of scary. Godzilla is a little livelier this time around, showing more emotion, and his role as man's enemy takes an interesting turn as the planet's only true defense. The lore is also expanded, particularly with the Houtua culture and the Exif's grim philosophy. I also like the music, which brings the right sense of dread in scenes like Ghidorah's arrival and soothing in others. The song "Live and Die" by Xai is the best in the trilogy, having a somber, transcendent vibe to it with lyrics that complement the narrative. I'll also give kudos to the ending, one that is thematically appropriate for Haruo's harrowing journey.
Following this trilogy to its conclusion has been an interesting experience as a fan. It has been both an entertaining sci-fi action/adventure and a meditative think piece, reminding me of Matrix in that regard. While there are definitely areas of which it can be improved such as the pacing and further development of side characters, I found it satisfying. Though this may not be for everyone, any Godzilla and anime fans out there should at least give it a try.
A colorful web-slinging adventure into the multiverse!
In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Spider-man, which became a unique phenomenon within the superhero genre. From his amazing powers to his colorful cast of villains, he has been one of the most enduring characters in Marvel's history, but why is that? This surprise animated film, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", answers that with its own quirky flair.
Plot: Our protagonist is teenager Miles Morales, who finds himself struggling finding out what to do with his average life. Shortly after gaining powers from a radioactive spider bite, he finds his world turned upside down when he meets a disgruntled Peter Parker and several other alternate versions of the famed wall crawler. As they unite against the Kingpin and his forces to prevent the destruction of reality, he learns what it truly means to don the mask.
The first thing that stands out is the animation, a unique style of CGI with a 2D aesthetic. It's all really gorgeous; heck, the scenes where Spidey swings through the city alone are breathtaking and I honestly can't think of any other film that looked this. Everyone has a design that is recognizable and able to stand out from previous incarnations (the only one I'm not fond of is Green Goblin). The film pays homage to various media and even pokes fun at a couple things (really like the jab at "Spider-Man 3"), which is all part of the hero's appeal.
The Spider Gang is very much like a web, each strand is distinct yet has a connection with the rest, physically and character-wise, and this becomes the basis of their kinship. They learn from each other and for Miles, it becomes exactly what he needs to fulfill his destiny. Miles himself is pretty relatable as we all have that stage in life where we are unsure of our place in the grand scheme of things. With both the animation and cast, the action scenes offer enough thrills and chills to satisfy practically any fan with multiple Spider-men and villains going at it left and right with different powers. For all the light-hearted humor and quips thrown into the mix, there are genuine stakes involved with both reality collapsing and a few characters dying in shocking ways. Kingpin in particular is an imposing figure with an unexpectedly sympathetic motivation that thematically connects with Spider-man. The rest of the villains have cool designs, but due to the already large cast, mostly serve as simple minions with the exception of Prowler who is both competent and a little scary.
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is a fun, visually-appealing animated feature that embodies the best qualities of the friendly neighborhood superhero, paying homage and innovating at the same time. I can definitely see why audiences are buzzing over this one. Two thumbs up from me!
Finally the Transformers movie we deserve.
In 2007, Michael Bay showed the world that today's technology could bring the famed Transformers to life on the big screen. Sadly, he has the finesse of a brick to the face as his subsequent films for the most part are rusted pieces of scrap due to his crude style of filmmaking, lack of focus, and narrow demographic, leaving fans with only the 80s animated movie as the true "good one", that is until now.
Plot: Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teen girl struggling to move on after her father's untimely death, encounters the fugitive Autobot Bumblebee and the two form a heartfelt bond, which will be tested as they are hunted by both the secretive Sector 7 and a couple of Decepticons.
Knight knows what makes a film truly stick with people and that is in the story and how one tells it, something he excels at. He gives his films heart, thus the relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee feels natural. The central focus is this friendship with many scenes that are charming, funny, and hit hard in the feels. Unlike the stuttering and super uptight Sam Witwicky, Charlie has a lot of spunk and pathos. While having a predictable character arc, John Cena did a nice job with his role. I love that this film is not only set in the 80s (when the show came out), but lives and breathes pop cultural references and classic songs from that era (including a great callback to Stan Bush). While Bay's action focuses on huge zany explosion-fests that push believability and heavily involve the human military, here the action is smaller and much more personal, strictly Autobot vs Decepticon as it should be since it was what the franchise was built on. In fact, the portrayal of the Decepticons has improved; not only can I tell them apart this time thanks to their varied designs and color schemes, but they're given more personality and actually live up to their name.
The only thing that has me puzzled is the continuity as there's confusion over whether or not this is a reboot or a prequel given some conflicting elements. That being said, this is, in many ways, the Transformers movie I've been itching to see for a long time. I'd like to see more directors present their takes on the franchise and go to places both familiar and new as long as Bay stays out of the directing chair. To sum it up, Bumblebee's got the Touch.
Behold the power of Atlantis!
The DC Extended Universe has a spotty record to say the least: "Man of Steel" had mixed reception, "Batman v Superman" divided critics and fans alike, "Suicide Squad" was an overall failure, "Wonder Woman" brought hope, and "Justice League" underperformed financially. It was an uphill battle from there and, thanks to James Wan (Saw, Insidious), this latest entry struck the right chords like a tidal wave.
Plot: Arthur Curry/Aquaman was born a child of two worlds, his father an ordinary lighthouse keeper and his mother queen of the legendary Atlantis. Now, he must rise up to realize his destiny as the bridge between land and sea. He must journey across the world with the sexy princess Mera in order to prevent his half-brother Orm aka Ocean Master from bringing together the seven undersea kingdoms in order to wage war on the surface.
Like "Wonder Woman", this film was not bound by excessive sequel-baiting or studio intervention and instead told a complete story into itself and, boy, was the story something to behold, one of love and legacy. This film embodies everything that makes Aquaman such a grand and badass hero (he rules 2/3 of the planet after all) and added enough flair and compelling character writing to make it a phenomenal work of art. The underwater world is a splendor filled with stunning technology, fantastical creatures, wonderful colors, varied environments, and a lore worthy of this world. The music by Rupert Gregson-Williams definitely left an impression, providing the right feelings in every scene. All the actors did a terrific job portraying these larger-than-life characters, especially Jason Momoa who made me cheer, laugh, and root for him in every conflict, carrying the right balance of drama and humor. And let's not forget the actions scenes, which got me excited every time fists, water, and laser blasts fly; the Black Manta fight and the climactic undersea war had me pumped. I also gotta give creds to all the little nods to classic nautical tales and ancient mythology.
Amazing doesn't even cut it for this one. By the time it was over, the audience gave an applause, something I rarely see in theaters and it's well-deserved. Just like the princess of the Amazons, the king of Atlantis revitalized my faith in the DCEU. I give this aquatic superhero venture a 9 out of 10.
A shining light in a sea of darkness.
In popular media, sometimes the most obscure can pick up one's interest. That came when I randomly encountered the Blu-ray of a 2015 Spanish film called "Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (Psiconautas, los niños olvidados)". It is based on a comic by Alberto Vázquez and serves as sort of a sequel to a short film made by him and Pedro Rivero simply titled "Birdboy" (can be found on youtube), which I recommend seeing before jumping into this film if you want some extra context (though the film itself works without it).
Plot: An industrial accident turns a once peaceful island of anthropomorphic animals into a harsh, near-lifeless dystopia. The orphaned outcast Birdboy tries to get by in life and keep the demon inside him locked away. Meanwhile, his loving friend, a mouse named Dinky, plans to leave the island with her friends to start fresh in the outside world. Little do both know that their destinies are intertwined in ways they cannot imagine.
Full warning: This is NOT a kids movie. It's a world that embraces the dark and macabre with elements of drugs, blood+violence, language, and minor sexual elements. The society is one of denial, desperation, corruption, and waste, rotting inside and out. But, the film's tagline "There is light and beauty, even in the darkest of worlds" is present in different ways such as Birdboy's beautiful grotto, Little Fox, and mild humorous touches, fragments of hope for the forsaken island that may or may not come to pass. The art style would make Tim Burton proud, decay and dark shadows at nearly every corner with simplistic and ideal character designs that often fit their thematic relevance and lifestyles. Abundant themes are woven into both the world and narrative such as addiction, adolescence, environmentalism, conformity, freedom, prejudice, family troubles, and the darkness within us, all seen from the perspectives of the two protagonists. I also gotta give props to the music, the emotional tone of which is a mix of eerie and soothing.
Birdboy is one of the most unique and intriguing fictional characters I've seen, silent and reclusive yet so full of nuance and pathos. He's flawed but he persists in bettering things even when the world and his frightening demon are against him. Dinky complements him with her desire for a new life, seeing nothing of value beyond those closest to her and doing what she can to achieve her goal. While not seen together that much, their relationship drew me in. The side characters are also interesting with their own problems, though I felt that a couple of them could've used more development such as Dinky's friend Sandra who suffers from schizophrenia.
"Birdboy: The Forgotten Children" is a creature unlike any other, both strange and inviting. It managed to win Best Animated Feature among other awards and, for me, it's easy to see why. I was regaled and intellectually challenged by this one. If you want to try a new visual experience, then give this and the prequel short film a watch. Just keep it away from children.
The Predator (2018)
Fallen prey to bad direction.
"The Predator". What is it with sequels having titles practically identical to the first films' despite having a different story? Anyway, Shane Black, an actor from the 1987 action-horror classic, directed this film and, while that sounds like a good idea on paper, his execution leaves much to be desired.
So, here's the gist: Soldier Quinn McKenna stumbles upon a crashed alien ship, its contents, and its less-than-friendly occupant, making him, his family, and band of crazy cohorts not only targets for a covert government agency, but also an all new, more powerful breed of Predator.
Positives I found in this installment: Solid production value overall, decent action scenes, nice bits of fan service (one of which made my jaw drop) that thankfully don't go as overboard as "Predators" (2010), great costume design, okay acting with a few likable characters, and a few neat additions to the Predator lore.
Of all the sequels, this one struggles the most. The film starts with a scene straight out of Star Wars, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the story. It has the most humor and that is the biggest strike against it even though a few jokes did make me chuckle. Being too light-hearted made it harder to take anything seriously given that there are alien sport hunters killing people. In fact, only one death scene got a slight emotional reaction out of me; if only the other deaths tried as hard. Both the Loonies and the human villain are over-the-top and thus hard to invest in. Yes, the other films had humor, but they kept it to a bare minimum, allowing for the suspense and horror to take center stage yet this went the opposite route. A real head scratcher involved a lobotomy on a character, leading to contrived circumstances. While the practical effects are solid, the CGI gets wonky in certain shots, particularly when lit. The use of the F-word goes too far, showing a distinct lack of colorful language. The ending with the big revelation of why the Predators came to Earth this time made me think "WHAT?" (a result of reshoots and a rewrite of the script). Also, how come we never get the classic Predator roar these days?
First Alien failed to impress last year and now the Predator takes the spot this year. While I did not have much hype, the film only barely kept me entertained. The new material had potential, but was simply taken in the wrong direction. Apparently, this was due to serious studio intervention, which has unfortunately become much more common in cinema these days. The expansions in the comics and novels offer more to the franchise than "The Predator" could, which makes me want to see those adapted to film.
Quite the killer.
Being that it's October, the month of monsters, there couldn't have been a more appropriate superhero to come out than Venom. Easily one of the most popular Spider-man characters, he made his big screen debut in 2007's "Spider-Man 3", which not only failed to impress audiences, but proved to be a great disservice to Venom. Luckily, Sony makes up for this grave mistake with this new film.
Plot: Tom Hardy is Eddie Brock, a journalist digging into the dirty secrets of the shady corporation, the Life Foundation, where he becomes an unwilling host to an alien Symbiote brought to Earth by a rocket ship. As the unlikely pair of man and ravenous parasite endeavors to find a compromise, they must become one as Venom to both survive and prevent more symbiotes from making Earth their new home.
Right off the bat, they got Venom right; the internal struggle, the design, and the twisted sense of humor. Hardy gives a well-acted performance as both Eddie and the Symbiote, the two halves bouncing back and forth in a terrific fashion. They alone sell this flick. The supporting cast holds up too with Michelle Williams as Anne Weying doing a good job playing the love interest with a believable relationship. The nods to previous media are also welcome with the mid-credit scene making me geek out. One word best describes the action: savage. The movie works around its PG-13 rating with some satisfyingly kickass fight scenes that get away with nasty-looking deaths (would've preferred rated R, but it works nonetheless). "Venom" starts a little slow, getting you into the cast and story organically, but once the titular anti-hero comes out to play, things become seriously fun. An issue that didn't really ruin it for me was that the climax has Venom battling a similarly colored villain (Riot) in a night setting, which made it tricky to see what was going on at times (a differently colored nemesis would've fixed this). The music fits the film as well, having a cool edgy, pseudo-horror vibe to it.
All in all, "Venom" is a killer good time. Future films are already planned, so I look forward to seeing the toothy alien freak in action once more.
The Meg (2018)
A tale of deep sea terror.
There is little doubt that one of the most terrifying creatures that ever lived on Earth was the Megalodon, an enormous, whale-eating shark whose name literally means "big tooth". Steve Alten knew this very well when he wrote his acclaimed series "The Meg", though it surprisingly took a while for the prehistoric sea monster to make it to the big screen. In this tale of deep sea terror, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is called to rescue a team of scientists from the same creature he encountered years before only for the situation to escalate as the Megalodon sets its sights on a nearby population.
In a world of shark films that take things to ridiculous extremes (i.e. Mega Shark vs, Sharktopus, and Sharknado), it's refreshing to see a brand new shark movie that takes a more serious turn. The cinematography and effects are sufficiently executed in showing just how gigantic and frightening the Megalodon is when on the prowl; it certainly unnerved me a little (though not nearly as much as my mother, who was hilariously jumping and screaming. LOL!). There's also a good amount of scientific explanations of how this could all happen, allowing for a sense of reality to an otherwise standard monster movie plot. I'm proud to say the cast holds up nicely. All the characters, Statham included, are well-acted, have believable chemistry, and just downright likable, which makes the perils they're in and any deaths all the more effective. While the film is largely serious and tense, there are some sprinkles of humor that for the most part got a chuckle out of me, serviceably lightening things up, and there's a romantic subplot that I found cute and charming. Another nice touch was the film dabbling into social commentary, particularly man's strained relationship with the ocean, which is much appreciated.
In short, the Meg is a film guaranteed to bring both thrills and chills. I highly recommend watching it on the big screen if only to make the scale of the shark feel more impactful. I heard there are some differences between it and the novel, so if you're a purist I don't know how you will react to this. As for me, definitely one of the best shark movies out there. Just don't blame me if you find yourself too scared to go into the ocean after watching this.
Kaiju Wars: Godzilla Strikes Back.
The 2nd chapter of the Godzilla anime trilogy, "City on the Edge of Battle", has finally arrived. Last time on "Monster Planet", humanity lost against the kaiju and escaped into space with 2 alien races. Failing to colonize another world, they return to reclaim Earth only to find that it has changed in their absence and Godzilla is still king. Now, picking up where Part 1 left off, our heroes hide with a surviving human remnant, the Houtua tribe, after suffering a crushing defeat. After more exploration, they soon stumble upon a mechanized city, created by what's left of Mechagodzilla via advanced alien nanometal. The human-alien forces plan to use it to kill Big G once and for all, but things are not as clear cut they seem.
While the first film had lots of set-up time and had both a dull color scheme and a static cast, here the drama is more engaging and a greater variety of color is used. Characters have greater emotional range and are a bit fleshed out more, including protagonist Haruo who is just starting to undergo a change beyond his "We must kill Godzilla" mentality that frankly made him stale first time around. More world-building is brought in and it's pretty interesting, particularly the Houtua culture and the further look into the aliens' views and backstories. There's also a conflict that happens between the characters that shifts the dynamic of their campaign, which I found engaging. There are fascinating themes at play with elements of evolution, religion, individualism, nature vs technology, and what truly separates man from monster. As for Godzilla, whenever he's on-screen, he is still both powerful and intimidating, not to mention pulls a couple of unexpected moves.
Sadly, weighty flaws hurt Part 2. First off, the film repeats the same basic story beats of Part 1 down to a similar climax. Like before, Godzilla doesn't come around until the climax, so waiting is in order. There's also misleading marketing in that Mechagodzilla, despite all the advertising, plays no active role; in fact, he's barely seen. Evidently, the filmmakers don't entirely know what they got on their hands, not taking full advantage of this world they made (the prequel novels seem to have more going on in them). Characters tend to repeat things over and over and most (Haruo aside) don't change much from their starting roles and personalities. Moreover, there's a romantic subplot that I don't feel entirely works, mainly because the relationship between the lovers in question isn't fleshed out.
"Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle" can be best summed up as one step forward, one step back. The new stuff is mostly good, the action is entertaining enough, and there's more going on thematically and drama-wise, but the film's reluctance to go further and instead repeat what was done before, coupled with the absence of substantial character progression, held it back. The after-credit scene promises the arrival of a classic Godzilla foe, putting pressure in the final entry of this trilogy to really deliver, which I hope it does.
Life finds a way.
It seems that, to Ian Malcolm's chagrin, the dinosaurs and the franchise they star in just won't die, hence "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom". In this continuation, Owen and Claire set out to save the dinos from Isla Nublar's now active volcano. However, the men backing them have more sinister motives behind this venture in mind, leading to a nail-biting confrontation with a new hybrid, the Indoraptor.
The studio heeded the fans as practical effects are much more prominently used in this film than the last one, allowing for more effectively intimate moments between humans and dinosaurs and, boy, do they look fantastic (the CG is good too). As always, we also see new species in this series from horned predator Carnotaurus to bone-headed Stygimoloch with Rexy and Blue back to dominate the spotlight. The way the action was handled is interesting, going from the grand scale of a volcanic eruption to the smaller, claustrophobic tension of the new facility with the animals. The Indoraptor, while more-or-less a smaller version of the Indominus Rex, is effectively scary, has more personality, and isn't as ridiculously overpowered as its predecessor. Creds to the music as some tracks stuck out like the grim choir singing in the hybrid's scenes. JW also managed to muster a few powerfully moving scenes, one of which nearly made me cry. Bravo! The cast all did their jobs well given the material at hand, though Justice Smith did annoy me a bit and it's a little jarring that Owen and Claire's relationship has taken a step back when the film begins.
I do have a few bones to pick with this one (no pun intended). As usual, there are slimy corporate villains which, while competently acted, aren't engaging/entertaining to watch. There are a few idiots that make obviously dumb decisions that lead to very predictable outcomes. The one thing that nagged me throughout is that the film doesn't acknowledge the second island Isla Sorna, which is full of dinosaurs, which made the rush to save the ones on Nublar exaggerated. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is a plot twist involving Isabella Sermon, which, while an interesting idea for the franchise, isn't explored nearly enough as it could've been.
Flaws aside, "Fallen Kingdom" is a step up from the last one, which suffered from numerous contrivances. It delivers on thrills, likable-enough characters, and does ask a good question about the dinosaurs' rights of simply existing. I'd say give it a watch if you already haven't.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
A glorious continuation of a classic.
You know what's incredible? That it took 14 years to get this long-desired sequel. About dang time! Anyway, "Incredibles 2" is finally here and I got to see it in the cinema. Normally, when Hollywood takes years to get a sequel out it tends to suck, but thankfully that is not the case here. Director Brad Bird was very mindful of what worked in the first film and continued the story in the appropriate manner.
Plot: Picking up right where things were left off, the superhero family still faces difficulty wanting to save the world when supers are still banned worldwide. It is here that they are approached by Winston Deavor, TV tycoon and longtime fan, who wants to improve the public image of supers by broadcasting their endeavors in the hopes of making them legal, to which Bob and Helen agree to play along. Things seem to be looking up for them until the mysterious Screenslaver decides to complicate matters.
Bird makes the interesting choice of reversing the roles of the parents, this time having Helen/Elastigirl playing hero and Bob/Mr. Incredible caring for the kids. This led to some great development since they are now somewhat out of their established roles in the first film and facing the inherent challenges that come with them; Bob struggling to raise his kids is both endearing and relatable to anyone who has children. The kids themselves have more to do this time around as well, especially baby Jack Jack with all the crazy powers he's gaining. Most of the actors return to their roles with one exception and they all fit like a glove; Sam Jackson and Bird as Frozone and Edna are still fun to watch. New heroes are introduced as well and each brings their own flair to the table, though only one, a portal-opener named Void, is fleshed out. The villain, while not as entertaining as Syndrome, definitely stands out and offers both substantial threat and interesting commentary, though the character's motivation does overlook a vital detail within the world's lore. The action and animation are top notch as ever as they take full advantage of the characters respective abilities, especially the train scene involving Helen on a motorcycle, and the music is still catchy as hell.
Part of me was afraid that this film wouldn't live up to the hype and my expectations, but that was all laid to rest after watching this. "Incredibles 2" is a worthy sequel through and through. If you love the first film, then do see for yourself.
Dare to journey into the unknown?
It has been a while since I saw a film that challenged me intellectually or one that straight up messed with my mind. Well, here's one that does both, "Annihilation", based on a book by Jeff VanderMeer.
Plot: Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a former soldier turned biologist who joins a five-woman group sent to investigate the source of the Shimmer, an expanding otherworldy force altering the landscape and wildlife in radical ways. As the group draws closer to their goal, they themselves undergo changes both mentally and physically.
This is a story H.P. Lovecraft would be proud of in terms of a cosmic force twisting the perception of those in contact with it. The affected land combines awe-inspiring beauty with unsettling horror, especially where the few creatures seen are concerned and the effects used to bring them to life combined with the natural setting are a real beauty. The explanation of how things work is equally interesting and the source of this bizarre phenomenon is treated with an ambiguous, less-is-more nature. Lena's personal journey is pretty well-crafted, though I feel that there's one aspect regarding her marriage with Kane (Oscar Isaac) that could've been handled differently. Most of the film has this quiet, somber feel with little music used, allowing the atmosphere to settle in and put you in the characters' positions, walking a blurry line between marvel and uneasiness.
My main criticism would be while the acting is fine, some of the cast don't leave much of an impression, especially Jennifer Jason Leigh as the rather lifeless Dr. Ventress. Another one would be one or two decisions made by members of the group being shortsighted and rather predictable.
All in all, "Annihilation" is a mind-boggling, thought-provoking venture into the unknown and a nice piece of pure sci-fi storytelling. If you can handle a little disturbing imagery, then you may find enjoyment in this adaptation.
Ratchet & Clank (2016)
An unremarkable space adventure
If there's one thing a movie should never do, it's make you bored. Sadly, that's how I felt watching the "Ratchet and Clank" movie. This one is an interesting case as its both a big screen adaptation and a reboot to the famed video game series. Ideally, this would be a good marketing strategy. However, while I can't speak for the game given that I've never played it or any prevous installments, the film fell flat. So there's a furry alien named Ratchet who wants to be a galactic ranger and gets his chance when he meets a defective war bot named Clank. Together, they join the rangers to stop the villainous Chairman Drek and Dr. Nefarious.
While the overall aesthetic is unique, the animation doesn't "Wow" me in any way, looking pretty stale in comparison to other animated films or even modern video games and much of the camera work is bland. Same can be said for the humor as the best jokes barely got a chuckle out of me. While Clank, Grim, and Nefarious are the most engaging characters, the rest of the cast, some played by celebrities, offer nothing worth investing. The most annoying was the petty Capt. Qwark, who makes me want to punch him in the face every time he shows up (apparently, he's like that in the games too). The film also doesn't seem to take advantage of all the crazy weapons and tools, most of which were brought in to be simple gags and fan service. Most disappointing of all when you get down to it is that, despite the title, the relationship between Ratchet and Clank doesn't feel nearly as fleshed out as it could've been despite hitting all the familiar beats, probably because they spend a great amount of time apart from each other.
Aside from the abundant action and the simple novelty of seeing these characters take on cinematic life, "Ratchet and Clank" is a rusty piece of entertainment, though be fair it's inoffensive and sticks close to the source material as opposed to other video game movies like "Super Mario Bros". I'm sure your kids will get a kick out of it.
Violet Evergarden (2018)
A literal emotional journey.
Much as I enjoy sensational action and fantastical worlds, once in a while I'll delve into something more laid back, especially in the realm of anime. One such recent endeavor was a new show titled "Violet Evergarden", based on a light novel series, which I watched on Netflix.
Plot: In a Victorian-style world, Violet was a nigh-emotionless teen soldier fighting in a war that took her arms. Now that the war ended and she is outfitted with robotic arms, she follows her major's last order to live her life. Violet takes a job as a ghostwriter in order to not only try to reconnect with the major but to also understand life outside of war, particularly human emotions which are foreign to her.
The big draw of the series is Violet herself. Though mostly human, she acts like a machine, accentuated by her lack of expressions, eloquent vocabulary, and practical way of thinking, which can be mildly amusing at times. She isn't without depth, however, as her dedication and willingness to learn new things allows her to gain experiences previously unfelt before; as the series progresses, she becomes more and more human (and more expressive). Her actions influence others (each fine in their own right) as many episodes revolve around a side character's point-of-view and subsequent change of heart/perspective having interacted with Violet and she does the same, both gaining something from each other. In fact, her job essentially is about bringing lives together, a contrast to her previously separating them via the war. There are several drama scenes that moved me, especially one episode where Violet meets a girl with a dying mother, and the soft music that plays during these scenes elevate them to new heights.
I also gotta talk about the animation, which is breathtaking. Lively colors, intricate details, great use of lighting, steampunk elements, and lifelike environments, like something out of a Renaissance painting. I especially love the water effects, starry skies, and the designs of the characters eyes which look like precious gems. There are a few action scenes, though they are not treated as glorious but rather how an actual war would feel. The show also reveals the effects war can have on a person and those around him/her, a confusing state of being to say the least, emphasizing the need to be able to move on when peace settles in. I'm also pleased to see little fan service beyond the designs of a select few characters, a problem most anime suffer these days.
I had a good time watching this series. I can relate to Violet in terms of trying to find a purpose in life and took great pleasure at watching her journey. Overall, nicely done.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
To Infinity and beyond!
There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they can make the universe that nobody else would, to see if it can be more than a franchise. On that day, when Hollywood's most brilliant filmmakers came together to win box offices the way no one could. On that day, they made the MCU. All theatrics aside, this is an achievement unlike anything seen before. For ten years, we have had the pleasure of a consistently good series of films starring superheroes, many of whom were virtually unheard of or overlooked by the general public from "Iron Man" to "Black Panther". Now, the hype has reached its highest point yet when the Avengers and others must band together one more time against their greatest challenge yet, the mad titan Thanos, who seeks ultimate power by collecting the Infinity Stones, which power a Gauntlet that will allow its user total mastery of the universe.
Words may not be sufficient for what I experienced, but I'll do my best nonetheless (without spoilers of course). Seeing all the faces we've come to know and love come together, in some cases meeting for the first time, and playing off each other was beyond amazing, their chemistry practically flawless and well worth the wait. They also provide beautiful combos of skills and powers to the table with even minor characters like Nebula and Falcon having their moments to shine on the battlefield. The music perfectly accentuates many scenes from the epic to the tragic like Capt. America's first appearance and the comedy is top notch. Plot twists are at an all-time high here as there are many things that utterly shocked me to the core, one of which made my jaw drop. In fact, the drama is arguably as strong, if not stronger, than the action scenes with plenty of heart-wrenching moments and dialogue.
So, after all the buildup, how does Thanos hold up? Enough to hold up the very heavens. Josh Brolin brings an astonishing depth to a menacing villain who is almost the protagonist in this story, his backstory and motivations making complete sense when you think about it. You also empathize with what he's going through as he is not going on his campaign unscathed, physically and emotionally. He's not doing it out of a clichéd bad guy desire but out of sense of what he believes is right (different from his comic counterpart but still effective).
It's funny how these movies played out as a trilogy, not just literally but in a state of being; the 1st had the spectacle in seeing these heroes come together (body), the 2nd was more philosophical (mind), and the 3rd hits you in the heart (spirit). The film ends on an open, ambiguous note, so we'll have to wait for the 4th Avengers to complete the story. Some of you should have spare underwear and be ready to empty your tear ducts for the awesomeness and tragedy to come. The tides of the MCU have changed and we must be ready for anything.
A monster of a good time!
The giant monster craze lives on with "Rampage", this one being based on a video game series dating back to 1986. With a few exceptions, video game movies tend to fail with audiences and fans, either because they stray too far from the source material or that, despite getting the visuals and worlds right, the narrative structure + direction aren't cohesive. Rampage is unique in that it never had much in the way of story with the monsters' origins changing with each version, allowing for creative freedom. Thus, we have this film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson playing a primatologist whose friend, albino gorilla George, is mutated by a strange chemical, not only growing bigger and stronger, but also more aggressive. Making matters worse, a wolf (Ralph) and a crocodile (Lizzie) are also exposed, which leads to all three, as the title implies, going on a rampage.
So, does "Rampage" manage to break free from the video game movie curse? In short, yes! I had lots of fun with this movie. It keeps the spirit of the games while telling its own story. What surprised me was how invested I was in the characters. The Rock gives a solid charismatic performance as expected as does Naomie Harris, both of whom work nicely as a pair and have some pretty engaging drama. The standout is Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government agent who doesn't just chew the scenery, he eats it all up (think Negan from "The Walking Dead" as a good guy); I smirk every time he's around. The villains are the weaker characters, cartoonish in their performances and plans (to be fair, the games were cartoony too), but they are serviceable in their roles.
Now for the monster role call: George is the most relatable of the trio with a likable personality, more than sympathetic enough to root for and having a good friendship with the Rock. Ralph, though always my least favorite, is quite the menace, giving any foolish soldier stained underwear. Lizzie, my favorite of the bunch, sports the most wicked design and, despite only appearing in the third act, dominates the show and her mutant cohorts. The film certainly lives up to the title as it offers up a fine dish of action and mayhem, complete with moments perfectly replicated from the games like when the trio climb a skyscraper and just wreck the hell out of it and the detailed effects are handled elegantly. There are one or two moments requiring suspension of disbelief, but then again the franchise never aimed for complete realism. There's some good humor here too as I found myself chuckling several times.
I'm happy this film didn't become a heap of trash like "Doom" and "Super Mario Bros". It delivered what it promised and offered a little extra for good measure. I dare say it has earned its place among kaiju films. Perhaps there is hope for video game movies after all.
The Shape of Water (2017)
An unconventional beauty.
Among my favorite directors is Guillermo del Toro. The guy has one of the most unique artistic and cinematic visions in the world of film. His inspiration to become a filmmaker was "Creature from the Black Lagoon" of all things. Del Toro's love the Gill Man translated to his passion for monsters, though he felt sad that the famed amphibian never got a happy ending. Initially, he was brought in by Universal to remake it, but that deal went south, so he decided to more-or-less tell his own version of the story, adding a new spin that surprisingly won over both audiences and awards. That, folks, is "The Shape of Water", a movie I've wanted to see since its inception.
Plot: In this variation of beauty and the beast, a mute janitor named Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who works in a government facility, meets the Asset (Doug Jones), a fish-like humanoid from South America, and the two form an unconventional relationship. With the Asset under threat of death and subsequent vivisection by the unstable Col. Strickland (Michael Shannon), Eliza will go to great lengths to ensure the creature's survival and happiness, but will she succeed in a world so unwilling to accept that which is different?
This is, indeed, a masterpiece. The Asset is an amazing character with a stellar design and a performance that feels believable (animal yet human-like). Props to Jones and the effects team for making the suit and facial expressions work with flying colors. Sally Hawkins gets high marks from her own performance, a mix of sign language and heartstring-pulling facial expressions. The pair work well together as much as their characters. The rest of the cast did very well too from Shannon's execution of a threatening villain who feels unfulfilled (a product of the era) to Octavia Spencer's humorous inflections to sympathetic portrayals by Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg.
There is also much needed credit to the world itself. It replicates the time of which the story is set in very well with many great uses of color, music, and an assortment of objects that are relics by today's standards. The best part of it all is that a majority is physically built with not much in the way of CGI save for backgrounds and a few other aesthetics. Color is also used to convey mood or symbolize a character's status (physical or emotional) and water, as the title implies, is very prominent and more or less serves both a physical and symbolic purpose as well. What little lore that exists in this world intrigues me to no end with many open-ended questions, especially in regards to the fish man. As the film is set in the 1960s, themes of racism/sexism, Cold War tensions, minor religious references, and the classic question of what separates man from monster are explored, all done with superb execution in this case. Heck, the Asset is ideal in that he can represent just about any group that suffers unjust oppression.
Fair warning that, unlike Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", this is not for children. There is a little blood + gore, language, and sex/nudity (especially one controversial scene involving the latter in a bathroom).
All in all, "The Shape of Water" is, like the abnormal pair, a thing of beauty, one that I imagine will be marveled for generations to come.
A nuanced dive into the unknown.
One of the great things about science-fiction is its ability to take a look at some aspect of reality to a heightened extent, keeping things grounded while at the same time entertaining. I came across such a thing in the form of the 2016 film "Arrival" starring Amy Adams.
Based on a 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, it revolves around linguist Louise Banks (Adams), who is brought before one of twelve strange alien vessels and its equally bizarre occupants with the task of decoding their language in order ask one important question: What is their purpose for coming to Earth?
Though small, the cast does a fantastic job portraying characters that are mostly nuanced and relatable. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner especially have great chemistry as they go along this journey of understanding their new visitors, who sport designs and presence that can be best described as, appropriately, "alien". The way the creatures communicate is also unique, allowing them to stand out more from your garden-variety extraterrestrials, and the mystery surrounding them is really engaging. The film also pretty much sums up how the world as a whole would react to a situation like this, that is to say going absolutely apes***.
In a way, "Arrival" is the perfect blend of simplicity and complexity, the basic ideas easy to understand and the details, once understood, enhance the story. The movie challenges you into questioning your place in the universe and how one can contribute to it despite insurmountable odds. In terms of pure sci-fi storytelling, this definitely ranks high on my list.