Wednesday, April 6, 2022

'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore' Blends Political Espionage with the Wizarding World

This is easily my favorite Fantastic Beasts and one could say that doesn't say much because its first two are lackluster but this is a confident return to form by David Yates and the whole production. While it still has not reached the heights of the Harry Potter series and even if the titular secrets are not that intriguing nor surprising, overall The Secrets of Dumbledore blends a compelling political espionage with the ever adventurous and beguiling wizarding world. It has the right balance of layered stories from family affairs, legendary wizards and witches that are deep rooted from where everything is based on to new characters and beasts that are indeed fantastic.

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J.K. Rowling's detailed writing is still apparent as this instalment has the vibe of what reading a novel feels like. This time, Newt Scamander and his friends are not solely on the forefront and Dumbledore and his not-entirely-shocking lover Grindelwald take the spotlight. The film revolves around their falling out which fascinatingly branches out to other storyarcs including Credence's family origins, new beasts that are pivotal to the film's climax, and Newt's mission to help defeat the rapidly growing evil force Grindelwald.

Also noteworthy is its parallels to the world's current climate where dangerous people are often triumphant during dangerous times. Yet even with this serious message, the film has returned to its adventurous side, something fans have missed after The Crimes of Grindelwald. The visual effects are wild and playful. The side missions are a combination of dangerous and fun. If only the cast of characters match the charisma of the main Harry Potter series.

Even then, what is most admirable about The Secrets of Dumbledore is it is not entirely a fan service in a sense that it could stand on its own even without nostalgia gimmicks most franchises overuse in their instalments nowadays. There are a lot of stories to hook about. There are a couple of characters and beasts to root for. And there is almost no need to rewatch the first two just to be engaged with this third instalment. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

'Sonic the Hedgehog 2': Review

This sequel would not surprise anyone who watched 2020's Sonic the Hedgehog as its end credit scene previewed that Dr. Robotnik's villainous ways ain't over yet. No one would also be surprised if there's a third instalment as anyone could pigeonhole this movie as one who's yet again join the numerous franchise the movie industry is known nowadays. There will be a third instalment and it's best to watch 'til the end.

Yet the journey to this movie's ending is fun. A barrage of jokes throughout even in its most climactic moments. Some worked, some didn't, but its weirdest moments that are not necessarily related with the hedgehog characters worked in odd ways. Natasha Rothwell for one is nowhere near any of the forefront characters but her character's wedding is a huge out of place moment that worked for me immensely. Her moments are probably my favorite in the movie which wouldn't be a shock since they obviously were added for the adults because this movie based from the Sega videogame is surely made for either kids or kid-at-heart folks who enjoyed Sonic when they were kids. Even then, this is a massive improvement from the first. The addition of Knucles and Tails made for a great adventure for Sonic. Their scenes together are way more entertaining compared to Sonic's scenes with the humans. So the next one would probably still be as fun because of this threesome.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

'The Batman': Less Superpowers, More Heroism

Here's another Batman superhero movie that naturally aims to be another hit but does not walk the conventional route. Matt Reeves' The Batman is less interested in the ‘super’ and ‘cool’ and is more focused in ‘heroism and justice’ and an intriguing detective drama, yet not devoid of visual appeal and Batman tricks.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

It is also that Batman movie that finally is more about Batman himself and Gotham city, and less about its villains who usually steal the spotlight. That even if it has both The Penguin, The Riddler, and other corrupt Gotham civilians, it managed to put Batman in its heart. Even his sidekicks Alfred (Andy Serkis) and Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) have more airtime, especially the latter which fits the film's overall detective fun side. Catwoman's story arc also adds another layer to the film's overall drama without being out-of-place. Her relationship with Batman helps both Batman's investigation and Bruce Wayne's overall frame of mind.

Visually, this is also a standout from the usual slick Batman appearance. His batsuit doesn't look shiny or expensive. Instead it looks a little more metallic which again deviates from the typical costume we've seen before. Even the design of Gotham city looks grimy as hell and yet Greig Fraser's framing made it look arresting. The grainy appearance of the half-lit city from Batman's rooftop is just breathtaking. Michael Giacchino's score on the other hand is a little familiar compared to the rest of its technicalities. Its uncanniness with John Williams' The Imperial March is a little distracting.

In all of its positives, what's most respectable is it freed itself from the cheap and tired humor superhero movies tend to over infuse just to fit in a certain superhero movie trope. It is very serious. When it's not busy investigating Gotham's mysterious killings, most of the time it revolves around Gotham's politics and Bruce Wayne's trauma. Which perfectly fits Robert Pattinson’s appeal and performance. It's also about time a Batman movie puts its titular hero on the forefront instead of being outshined by its villains. It’s a Pattinson movie through and through and his turn is someone both fans, even his doubters, are probably going to appreciate. That's not to say the supporting characters are sidelined. Zoë Kravitz' face is perfect for Selina Kyle's seductive character and she brings depth and emotions apart from Catwoman's criminal ass-kicking skills. Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis as Batman's sidekicks are aces. While villains Paul Dano and Colin Farrell also delivered. Colin Farrell's airtime is just the right amount before he becomes overbearing.

Matt Reeves' The Batman is above serviceable overall. With its 3-hour running time, it rightfully accomplishes enough intrigue, drama, visual flair, action, and entertainment viewers may or may not be looking for. There is not much of a surprising factor but its above and beyond quality from its predecessors is enough to commend it.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

'The Invisible Man' Shows Elisabeth Moss's Most Cutthroat Performance

What you can't see can't hurt you. Or does it?

Photo Credit: United International Pictures
Elisabeth Moss's character Cecilia, in this Universal Horror movie remake proves that wrong, as she gets out from a controlling and abusive relationship with a millionaire scientist who's both insanely intelligent and arguably insane. So when her ex replicates a thing or two from what seems like an entry from Amy Dunne's diary in Gone Girl, Cecilia suspects that it's only a vengeful plan to trap her back in their hypermodern house where every move is being watched by computers and CCTVs.

In its two-hour entirety, the film doesn't waste any second. From the get go, we see Cecilia maneuvering her way out of their house and as soon as she got out successfully, the intensity of the film just grows even bigger. There are no ghosts in this film and yet there are sequences that would give you eerie vibes. Director Leigh Whannell knows how to use his cinematographer's lenses and utilizes creepy silence to create a sinister feel surrounding Cecilia's life.

Thankfully, our protagonist knows her ex so well so she never makes any idiotic decisions that make the audience's viewing experience miserable. Unfortunately, it's different for her friends and family who despite being supportive of her, even when her claims about her ex seems impossible, her invisible ex is always one step ahead in making her look crazy and bad to the people around her.

So as much as the invisibility is scary, what's even more frightening is what a bitter ex could do to win a nasty breakup. The technical aspect of The Invisible Man is probably its weakest. The invisibility doesn't always look believable. Then again, Whanell makes up for it by establishing suspense in Cecilia's life--whether it's with her family, her friends, or with her ex.

In the end, it's going to astound because of Elisabeth Moss. The caliber of her acting here is nothing we've seen before. She's always been given this kind of faux-crazy material anyway. But she rises again in the the film's last act where she gave a cutthroat performance that will put her in the same league of epic femme fatales in film. She turns the stress around just by being good, both her character and her as an actress.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

'Little Women' is Cinema's Gift to Humanity

Being astonished by the grandness and extravagance of Greta Gerwig's direction of Little Women might be a pompous thing. After all, this is the same woman who wrote and directed Lady Bird and has shown that she's totally capable of turning simple things into gold just by her words and vision. But it is. It's truly surprising that she made this big, capital, marvel of a film, not because she's a woman, but she conceived this after her small but intimate freshman stint. Needless to say, this film is a gift.

Photo: Columbia Pictures
'Jo March' Saoirse Ronan, 'Amy' Florence Pugh, and 'Laurie' Timothée Hal Chalamet are right when they said during their press tour that the film is extraordinarily universal. The nostalgia in this hits too close to home whatever one's gender or age or religion is. It's almost basically what happens to Gerwig's Christine of Lady Bird after moving to New York City. Except Little Women goes way back to 1860s when author Louisa May Alcott's novel of the same name was penned. But there's almost no difference, especially when Gerwig's approach felt nothing short of current, timely, and relatable. It's still a period film but with the vigor of modernity. As a viewer, you could identify with any of the characters, or any of the March sisters, as their actions as young humans affect their lives as adults. It demands you to reflect, and it's mainly because of the timeline jumping back and forth--a Gerwig touch that fleshed out the book's essence even sounder.

Photo: Columbia Pictures
The adjacency of  the past and present is a genius stroke of Greta--from the representation of the golden slumber warmth of the past to the icy dark bluish atmosphere of the present; when Jo returns to their home, alone, for Beth, apposed to her walking with her sisters happy with their slight troubles; when Amy secretly painted Laurie from afar during their day at the beach vs her, painting Laurie by her side away from her sisters and most especially Jo; when Meg struggles to live with their lack of fortune only to be reminded that having her own family has always been what she wanted; and finally, when Jo reflects on her loneliness and somewhat regrets that she passed on the chance to be in a committed relationship with her childhood love--Greta knitted these pair of scenes so perfectly that the emotions are much more resonant, and the impact, stronger. Her way is the best way to tell Little Women. Yes, even after it's told several times in the past.

I guess it has to be said that the time jumps are not at all confusing. There's literally a "Seven Years Ago" inscription in its first flashback. It's not at all hard to keep up. Add the actors' bravura in portraying their characters in different ages. Everyone delivered. Emma Watson as Meg is perfect. Eliza Scanlen as Beth is aptly serene but never fades into the background. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, whose characters were mostly written to the forefront, are commanding and excellent. The whole ensemble brings warmth and joyful spirit to their characters that it transcends from the screen like a happy pill.
Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, Photo: Columbia Pictures
There's so much more to admire in this film, and by a lot, I mean the score, the script, Meryl, Laurie's obsession with Mr. Bhaer, etc. It's perfect. A true gift. I have a feeling this is going to be rewatched a lot and its effect is going to last for many years to come. Greta created a classic in her Little Women.