Doctor Stranger (2016)

The latest Superhero to join Marvel’s fold is Dr. Stephen Strange. Marvel has dipped some toes in the mystical/magical with Vision and Scarlet Witch but here they dive right in. There are some Tony Stark vibes going on with Strange, a brash egotistical guy who wants everything for himself. Sure, this is the about the 14th film in the MCU and Robert Downey Jr. is nearing the end of his time as Iron Man so they are looking for  a new “star” to fill the role. Clearly Benedict Cumberbatch is a very likeable person and we’ve seen him in just about everything the past couple of year. Spoilers to follow.

The film begins with a monk stealing some pages from a book and then we are introduced to Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), he is a brilliant neurosurgeon and his hands are his life. Unfortunately on the way to a speaking engagement he is talking on his phone and subsequently crashes his car and his hand go through the dashboard. It’s not looking nice until one day at therapy Strange hears about a paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn who went away and came back able to walk, he searches Pangborn out and finds out about Kamar-Taj. This lead Strange to go on a journey to find Kamar-Taj. He finds it and learn from the Ancient One (Tida Swindon) about the general idea of mystical things, Strange is taught by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) how to harness these powers. The bad guy who stole the pages from the book at the beginning are trying to connect with the dark dimension to overthrow the Ancient One. Things happen and Strange learns how to be a sorcerer, but we all expected that to happen in the film. Other things happen as well but Dr. Strange will return in the new Thor movie this November and the next Avengers film next May.

I enjoyed this film more than the Guardians Vol. 2  but perhaps that’s just the cool action bits in this one provide a better story. You should probably see this one before the next Thor or at least before the big team up film coming next May.

Silence (2016)

Silence is the Martin Scorsese film based on the Shusaku Endo book of the same name. I have previously written about the book and it bring out some big questions. Spoilers to follow. So I was looking forward to seeing a film adaptation of the novel. According to Wikipedia this film is the third in Scorsese’s trilogy of film epics about religious figures struggling with challenges to faith with Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Scorsese has said that the film is about “the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience”.

The film follows the plot of the book but adds parts of the appendix to tell the whole story of Father Rodrigues.  We begin the film with news coming in about Father Ferreira (Liam Nesson) being lost, rumor has it he has apostatized. Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) are tasked with finding out if there is any truth to these rumors. Rodrigues and Garupe set off from China with Kichijuro (Yōsuke Kubozuka) a drunken Japanese fisherman. They arrive in Japan and the Padres minister to the Christians hearing confessions and celebrating all the other sacraments as well. This is the story of the hidden Christians of Japan. Eventually, the Padres are separated and both captured and forced to refute their beliefs and step on an image of Christ “Fumi-e”. The story is Father Rodrigues as we follow him as the Inquisitor tries to get him to deny his faith and using the other Christians that they captured and pawns to get him to refute as they would be set free if and when Rodrigues refutes his faith.

This would be a great film to watch during Lent or if you have some passing interest in Japanese history or religion. Sure people have compared it with The Mission but it’s a completely different story told a world away. This is a book that is a great read so if you watch the film maybe take some time and read the book as well.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The sequel to the surprise hit film from 2014 came out on Friday and it has been getting decent reviews from just about everywhere but most note that the sequel doesn’t live up to the original being weighed down by expectations, narrative problems and CGI bloat.  So I went to see it this weekend. Spoilers to follow.

The film is about family and who makes up a family we’ve got almost all characters doubting who they are. The movie begins with the team tasked on a mission by the Sovereign to protect some batteries from an inter-dimensional beast.  They win in the end and are thanked for their help, but Rocket steals some of the batteries and as they leave this leads to the team being chased after by the Sovereign’s ships, they are all destroyed by a mystery man “who is about an inch tall.” After the team’s ship crash lands, we learn that it was Star-Lord’s father who helped them escape. The team breaks up with Peter, Drax and Gamora going with Ego, Peter’s father to Ego’s world while Rocket and Groot are left to repair the ship and watch on their prisoner Nebula, Gamora’s sister. It’s a bit complicated as Ego want Peter to help him re-make the universe in his image. I find this bit the central problem of the film they never really explain why Ego needs to remake the world (or did they) I mean he can live forever until the light of his world is gone why not continue to do that instead of conquering the known universe. As expected The Guardians win in the end and will return in Vol 3 with music from a Zune.

The music is great and there are a few funny bit but the movie felt over done complete with the five mid/post credit scenes. There were several places where it should have been trimmed like the bit with Groot going and coming back several times to get Yondu’s fin. The film was fun and better than the over-bloated Avengers 2 (Ultron). There are two more Marvel movies this year (Spider-Man and Thor) and three more a year until 2020 perhaps we should slow down with these films and get some smaller films a chance to do something. It also seems like unconventional families seem to be the it thing to do in films nowadays.

Five Came Back (2017)

The latest documentary Five Came Back on Netflix focuses on five directors who went to and fought in World War II and came back from it alive. This documentary was interesting as when it comes to World War II we some 70 years out all know the broad strokes of it, there Hitler takes power, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Holocaust, Bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Sure HBO’s two brilliant miniseries focusing on the Army (Band of Brothers) and the Marines (The Pacific) telling the stories of the two theaters of war and there are a bunch of great films on World War II but this documentary tells an interesting story of the people who went to war and how it changed them.

Five Came Back focuses on John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens all of whom are directors who joined the War effort Ford joined the Navy while Wyler, Huston, Capra and Stevens all were members of the Army Signal Corp. All of them were involved in filming World War II. The documentary features famous directors all talking about one individual Steven Spielberg talks about Wyler, Francis Ford Coppola talks about Huston, Guillermo del Toro talks about Capra, Paul Greengrass talks about Ford, and Lawrence Kasdan talks about Stevens. In the first hour we hear about how they made names for themselves before the war, the second hours is about their time at war and the third hours from D-Day to after the war and what became of them afterwards. If you are a fan of film history this is a very interesting film to watch.

One of the coolest things that I’ve discovered after watching is that you can watch the films that they made during WWII which were talked about in the documentary on Netflix as they have a handful available to watch. If you have some time I would recommend that everyone watch this.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Since Kubo was nominated for an Oscar I though that I should watch this movie it’s the only film that might have had a chance to beat Disney. Kubo comes from Laika which has put out some remarkable stop motion films all of which have been nominated for Best Animated Feature but they have yet to break though and beat Disney. Spoilers to follow.

Kubo and the Two Strings is set in ancient Japan is about stories. As the film begins we have a great hook “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned: If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you – even for an instant – then our hero will surely perish. ” Then we see a mother and her child trying to escape something and they wash up on shore. Time passes and Kubo is a young boy with one eye and he lives with his ill mother, Sariatu in a cave atop a mountain by a village. Everyday Kubo goes down to the village where he goes and tells the story of Hanzo, a brave samurai who happens to be Kubo’s father using origami and music. As the bell rings signaling sunset Kubo need to head home as his mother warns him that her sisters and father would come and try and steal his other eye. After hearing about the Bon festival, which is a Buddhist custom that honors the spirit of your ancestors, Kubo decides to talk to his father’s spirit however father doesn’t answer Kubo leaves angry but it’s too late as it is after dark and his aunts attack him. Kubo barely escapes with the help of his mother who sacrifices herself so Kubo can go find the magic armor that his father was looking for.

Kubo is awoken by a monkey, it is his monkey charm that has been brought to life. So Monkey and Kubo begin on their quest after a day they rest and over night Kubo dreams and a little Hanzo has been folded and came to life. Little Hanzo now leads them on the quest for the armor. As they follow Hanzo, Kubo falls and stumbles upon a giant beetle, a samurai who was cursed and was an apprentice of Hanzo. After hearing that Kubo is Hanzo’s son Beetle decides to joins the quest. They go out to look for the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and Invulnerable Helmet. Will they find them before Kubo is discovered by his aunts and the Moon King takes his remaining eye?

The film is about stories and memory as most of the stories that are told are memories of Hanzo. If you want to watch a film that’s gotten raves from everywhere that’s not from Disney this is where to start. It’s a simple story but it has such emotional depth and reflection upon what is family. Kubo is a great little film and if you haven’t seen it you are surely missing out.

Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street is the latest film from John Carney, director/writer of Once and Begin Again. This is the other musical which was nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Once again focusing on music but this time in the 80s in Ireland. We have a story of a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. Spoilers to follow.

The film begins at a family meeting where we meet Lawlor’s who are on hard time so they take their youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and place him in a free state-school, Synge Street CBS, run by the Christian Brothers. Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) rubs this in, joking about pedophilia, but also laments about the state of the family which is in a rocky state. On Conor’s first day at school he runs into trouble with the school principal, Brother Baxter, who reprimands him for not wearing black shoes as indicated in the school dress code, Conor also run into the school bully. This leads Conor to met a budding entrepreneur Darren (Ben Carolan), who has also been bullied and Conor and Darren become friends. The next morning or so meeting up before school Conor ask Darren who the girl across the street is, Darren doesn’t so Conor goes over and talks with her, she’s an aspiring model named Raphina (Lucy Boyton) Conor asks her if she wants to be in a music video for his band, she agrees.

The only problem is that there is no band. Conor and Darren go about assembling a band from the school.  They start with Eamon (Mark McKenna) a multi-instrumentalist, who has all these instruments around, and round out the group with the black guy in school, and two other guys who sort of are just there to fill out the band. As they get together they begin as a cover band but after Conor brings a recording of the band for Brendan to listen to, and Brendan isn’t a huge fan as they are just a cover band and cover bands are a dime a dozen. This inspires Conor to begin writing his own music and with Eamon’s help they are pretty good at it as well. After the first song is written they film a video and Raphina shows up. With each new song the band’s style evolves while Conor and Raphina get close at the same time Conor’s home life implodes. However, the closer they get Raphina seems all to motivated to leave for London to become a famous model and one day she leaves. Conor is heart broken and can’t write or play music but Brendan inspires him to write so someone can get out of this place. Will Conor write or ever see Raphina again.

If you have a brother this is a wonderful movie to watch, even if you don’t have one or you are one it tells a timeless story of love and family. Fans of the music of the 1980s should give it a look as well as those who have enjoyed other John Carney’s movies I hope that you take the time to watch the film.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One marks the beginning of the deep probing of everything Star Wars to decide what essentially makes good movies and television shows. This film although not connected to the main series Episodes I-IX, it is pretty closely connected, expanding on things that we know are going to happen and elaborate a bit more on some lore.  Disney and Lucasfilm will be doing this over the next at least 4 years with a saga film (VIII) coming in 17, a Han Solo movie in 18, followed by IX in 19 and another new spinoff film in 2020 (Obi Wan, Ahsoka, Boba Fett, Yoda?) Spoilers to follow.

We all know where the story is going most is not all these characters will be dead by the end of this film and they are going to be getting the Death Star plans. As the end of the film has us on Tantive VI escaping just barely from Darth Vader. It ends like 10 minutes before A New Hope begins so it adds some urgency to the beginning of A New Hope.  The film begins fifteen years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) this is how the Timeline of Star Wars works. We met the Erso family Galen, Lyra and Jyn as Krennic comes to being Galen back to work on the Death Star. Galen and Lyra tell Jyn to go off and hie and wait.  Lyra is killed and Galen agrees to come with Krennic. Jyn is rescued by Saw Gerrera ( a character from the animated Clone Wars series). Time shifts fifteen years Jyn (Felicity Jones) is broken out of an Imperial Prison camp by the Rebels, because there has been a message brought by a defecting pilot from her father to Saw Gerrera. Cassian Andor and his droid K-2SO go along to “help” Jyn, as they need her to talk with Saw Gerrera to get the pilot. On the moon Jedha, thought to be the location of first Jedi Temple due to the abundance of Kyber Crystals which are used in lightsabers and also in the Death Star, Jyn and Cassian meet up with guardians of the Wills Monks of the Church of the Force. They get brought to Saw and Jyn sees the hologram message where we learn that Galen has put in a hidden weakness into the Death Star and the plans are in the Imperial archives at Scarif.  This is a cool battle as it takes place on the beach.

There are a bunch of cool things in the movie from some Classic characters showing up,Jimmy Smits show up as Bail Organa, Chopper and The Ghost from Rebels are both in the film. Gizmodo/Io9 complied a whole list of these you might have missed it connections. If you like Star Wars this is something you will enjoy. It will tide you over until next year’s installment of the Saga film.

Paddington (2014)

Paddington is the movie about the famous bear from the Paddingtion Bear books. Now I remember the cartoon from the 80s and the books, but when this film came out I wasn’t sure it was going to be good especially with Colin Firth, originally cast as Paddington,  being dropped so late in the production. Spoilers to follow.

The film begins with a newsreel about an expedition to darkest Peru, where the explorer meets a unique clan of bears, the explorer befriends the bears and teaches them all about London and Marmalade. As the explorer leaves for London he promises that there will always been a warm home for them in London. Years later in Peru we meet Paddington living with his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo, it’s marmalade day and they are busy throughout the day but that evening an earthquake comes and destroys their home. Aunt Lucy goes to live in the home for retired and sends her nephew to London, after they can’t find Uncle Pastuzo. Paddington stows away on a ship with a lot of marmalade and when he gets to London goes and waits in a train station, like children during WWII did. Here is where the Brown family meet him and they name the little bear Paddington, after the station where they found him. Paddington wants to find the explorer who came to Peru and the Brown family helps him. We all basically know where the story is going, Paddington will eventually end up with the Brown family but it sure is a fun journey to get there.

Around the world this film has been met with praise. Sure, it’s a gentle parable about xenophobia, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it over and over again. If you have kids coming over for the Holidays this is something to watch, it’s great for the whole family as well.

 

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In Captain America: Civil War the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I have seen we are treated with something that should have been called Avenger 2.5. It deals with the consequences of the events in Age of Ultron.  Spoilers to follow.

The film begins in 1991 with Bucky killing Iron Man’s parents and stealing some Super solider serum for Hydra. Then we return a year after the events in the last Avengers movie the Avengers are confronted by the World saying that there needs to be some sort of agency behind the organization, as when the Avengers show up there is going to be a big mess to clean up. As after their latest mission they accidentally blow up a building and kill several civilians.  This is the Sokovia Accords, where  a UN panel will over see and control the team. This idea causes friction between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as Tony is all for the oversight and Steve wants the independence. At the signing of the Accords Bucky or so we are lead to believe sets off a bomb and all hell break loose. Captain America and Falcon go off and with the help of Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) locate Bucky Barnes, the Winter Solider, since they want to help Bucky. Cap and Falcon get some help from Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Ant-man. Stark on the other side want Bucky in custody, so he get the UN approval to set up his own group with War Machine, Vision, T’Challa (The Black Panther), Spiderman and Black Widow although she doesn’t really care who wins and help Cap and Bucky get away at the airport. So they go after the bad guys what’s his name, Baron Zemo, who wore a Bucky mask when he planted the bomb. He also found a video tape of Bucky killing Tony’s parents which Tony watches. Tony, Steve and Bucky get into a big fight. This film really does nothing as several people have pointed out it is basically Batman V Superman all over again it’s a weak story with an even weaker reason behind the fight.

It’s been 13 film so if you’ve been watching you are stuck currently as there doesn’t seem to be any end until at least the Untitled Avengers movie in 2019 or 20. If this story was told over several films it would have had a better impact overall there was just not enough time for Tony and Steve disagreement to really matter. So it seems like the Secret Avengers are a thing with Cap and his crew perhaps now living on the Raft,  while Tony and the Avengers with UN oversight will be the Avengers. Since it seems like everyone who has ever been in one of these MCU films will be back fro the Avengers 3 and 4. If you haven’t watched any of the Marvel movies good for you,  but don’t start now as you have a lot to catch up on before really understanding what’s going on. I mean I’ve seen them all and am still a bit confused as to why things happened.

Jedi Junior High (2014)

Jedi Junior High has got to be the coolest movie I’ve seen this month. Jedi Junior High is a documentary about the production of a musicalized version of The Empire Strikes Back with kids in California. Back in 2009 at the Arts & Learning Center in Costa Mesa they came up with an audacious idea make a musical version of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. This is a clever thing as it is something that would attract boy and girls. The documentary talks about the importance of children exploring the world of theater and how it can turn awkward kid a bit less awkward. As far as the musical aspects they took already written Showtunes and changes the lyrics to make it more “Star Wars-y”. sort of like how The Simpsons had “Luck be a Lady” turn into “Luke be a Jedi tonight”. Now the sad part is that we don’t get to see the whole show which would have been awesome. If you are a fan of Star Wars and musical theater this is a must watch. A clever thing is at the end we go back to some of the kids featured in the movie and hear about how they have changed in the four years since doing the show.