Movie 411: The Great Wall

Directed by:

Yimou Zhang (Hero)

Screenplay by:

Carlo Bernard (Prince of Persia), Doug Miro (Prince of Persia), and Tony Gilroy (Rogue One)


Rated: 

PG-13

Release Date: 

December 2016

Genre: 

Action, Adventure

The Hook:

Nothing really. Just action, adventure, and the need to catch a movie.

On a quest to hunt down black powder, a group of mercenaries find themselves caught in the desert lands hunted by nomads. Their party of four is quickly cut down to two people when something attacks them. A day later they find themselves at the Great Wall (of China, in case you’re wondering), the violent nomads at their backs and a whole army in front. Taking their chance with the army at the wall, these two mercenaries find a whole lot more than black powder.

The Review

This was another of those movies that weren’t exactly on my to-watch list, but in need of something to do this was the number one choice. And it made for a fun evening.

The Plot . . .

Very interesting story. Cough it up to the history buff in me mixed with the myth and legend side of me and you have the me that totally geeks out. That’s what this story was. As I admitted, this movie wasn’t exactly one I was dying to watch (and I’m admitting it now. Asian movies is that particular genre that I have to be in the mood to watch. They just aren’t my cup of tea, so to speak) but the idea of a myth or legend explaining the Great Wall of China did appeal to me. And I’m don’t know much about Chinese myths and/or legends so wether or not this particular myth is unique or not, I cannot say, but I did like the concept of it. An elite army defending all of China not agains the Huns, but . . . other things, is just fascinating. It seems a unique and original story, at least to me. It’s the first movie I’ve seen, or even heard about, that addresses a myth or legend about the Great Wall so . . . high marks in my book.

. . . and Presentation

The portrayal of medieval China (I’m taking a stab at the era and I know I’ve probably made an incorrect guess, but I’m too lazy to look up this fact right now. I have an excuse. I’m typing this through a headache) was amazing. The costumes, the weapons, the personality. I loved it!

Matt Damon (William) and Pedro Pascal (Tovar) worked well together. And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too sure about Matt Damon starring in a Chinese-ish movie, even though he was playing the part of European mercenary. And I’ll be honest (times two), I really hope to see more of Pedro Pascal. He did a great job playing the comic relief and the added tension to the plot.

Tian Jing (Commander Lin) was brilliant! I haven’t seen her act before this and she did such a good job standing up with actors like Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe (Ballard). It was nice to see this dynamic.

Action shots were well done. Not too fast and not drawn out either. It moved the story along nicely and kept things interesting. Great work!

The Verdict

If we’re talking a must watch, yes. This movie definitely is a must watch. If we’re talking about a must add, that’s a tougher one. I think this is worth adding to your movie arsenal. It’s a great action flick, the plot is unique, and the acting isn’t horrible. It’s a great movie for those kinds of nights (or days, or whatever) when you have no clue what to watch. I think it’s worth the investment.

Photo Credit: Impawards.com

Movie 411: Hidden Figures


Directed by:

Theodore Melfi (Saint Vincent)

Screenplay by:

Allison Schroeder (Mean Girls) and Theodore Melfi


Rated: 

PG

Release Date: 

December 2016

Genre: 

History, Drama

The Hook:

NASA! And “based on actual events.”

 

Three strong women of color are employed at the prestigious NASA during the Space Race of the Cold War. Having the brains and determination to get themselves there, they face unique challenges because they are intelligent, African-American, and female in a mostly dominated male profession. Their story demonstrates the strength these women had to not only get to the top of their respective field but to gain the respect of their peers in a time when civil rights were challenged and when the role women played were questioned.

The Review

I must admit. This movie wasn’t on my radar on my list of must-see movies. It was one of those “what movie shall I watch. Oh, this one looks okay” kind of nights and this was the pick. And I am glad to have watched it!

The Plot . . .

 

What a story! When watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking about all those sports movies in which the underdog prevails at the end. You know what I’m talking about. Not only sports movies, but basically any movie where the main character is snubbed only to knock-it-to-them in the end. This movie was just like those movies except in the field of math and science. I love it! You get to see a little bit of the behind the scenes of NASA, or at least a fictional-maybe-a-bit-exaggerated behind the scenes, and the different departments that helped NASA operate. And it’s not your typical day at NASA either. You’ve got the backdrop of the Space Race to set the mood, tension, and plot.

The story is great for film and even better that it’s based on a book, HiddenFigures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margaret Lee Shetterly.

It was good to see these women get recognized and it amazed me at what they did during the time they lived in. Simply amazing. I’m not sure whether the story was good because it was based on actual events or because their story made it to the big screen and a wider audience. As with all movies tied to real world possibilities, it may not be completely accurate, but it gets people thinking and asking questions.

. . . and Presentation

 

Well done. I haven’t read the book or thumbed through it either, but to translate a non-fiction read into an entertaining and inspiring movie script takes a certain finesse and Melfi delivers. He unpacks the story in an easy to follow narrative and adds humor, tension, and seriousness in all the right places.

I enjoyed the energy and humor Octavia Spencer (Dorothy) brought to The Help and she does an excellent job with Dorothy’s character as well. Acting with her were Taraji Hensen (Katherine) and Janelle Monae (Mary), whom I have never seen before. They do an excellent job adding to the on-screen chemistry among friends who are taking on NASA. The supporting characters of Kevin Costner (Al), Jim Parsons (Paul), and Kirsten Dunst (Vivian) helped move the story along and worked well with the dynamics of the story and of the leading actresses.

The Verdict

A really great movie to watch. If only once. It’s a great story so that itself is worth giving it a go. As much as I enjoyed this movie, I don’t think I’d add it to my library. Everyone loves it when the underdog rallies back and actually knock the smug smile off the faces of those who questioned, mocked, and/or humiliated. While mostly everyone. At least I do anyway. But it’s not the kind of movie that I would go to whenever I’m stumped on what to watch, you know? It’s that movie you watch when a group of you are trying to decide on a movie. Not really something I’d say “Oh hey, I want to watch this movie.” To me it’s the kind of movie to share with others and not really keep to yourself.

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

 

Movie 411: Moana

Directed by:

Ron Clements (AladdinTreasure Planet, The Princess and The Frog) and John Musker (AladdinTreasure PlanetThe Princess and The Frog)

Co-Directed by: Don Hall and Chris Williams

Screenplay by:

Jared Bush (Zootopia)

Rated: 

PG

Release Date: 

November 2016

Genre: 

Family, Adventure

The Hook:

It was about Maui, a demigod I’ve been learning about for as along as I can remember. Near and dear to my Hawaiian heritage, I couldn’t not watch it.

The Summary

Moana is the daughter of an island chief destined to rule the people someday, but she also has her own destiny waiting for her. A darkness is slowly creeping up on her people, threatening their way of life. What used to work for them in the past isn’t working anymore and against the wishes of her parents, Moana sets off to chase a legend in hopes to restore nature’s balance.

and The Review

From the moment I heard about this movie, I wanted to watch it. Growing up in Hawaii, which is part of the greater Polynesia, Maui was definitely a part of our story-telling culture and definitely a part of the ancient religion of the Hawaiian people. I was so curious to see how this childhood story and my local culture would translate to the big screen.

Plot . . .

I love this story! I was about to type that the plotline is nothing new, but then again, what story is actually new, you know? Hasn’t all stories, at one point another, been told before?

This plot is packed with adventure and true to Disney’s style packed with a fun soundtrack. I love the telling of the story and the focus on kupuna and the knowledge of our elders. Family history has always been a big part of my life (and partly responsible for the history geek in me) so to see that being a huge part of the story had me smiling for most of the movie.

You have a young woman who’s trying to save her people. She accepted responsibility for her people and she had to be brave enough to break tradition. Do something different to ensure survival. You cannot help but be a little curious to see how this story played out and it’s done well in this film. It moves along nicely and doesn’t drag on, too much.

. . . and Presentation

I love how the Polynesian culture was presented. Mostly, I love that it raises questions about our culture. It allows an opening for discussion and I love the opportunity to do so. I’ve had people ask me how I feel about it since I’m part-Hawaiian and I’ve got no complaints. I’m sure Disney stayed as true as they could to certain parts of the legend, but I also recognize the fact that this is a fictional story and not a documentary so there may things that contradict what I know. And that’s okay. As mentioned, it allows our culture to be open to discussion and gives me a chance to talk about my Hawaiian heritage, what I know of it.

Dwayne Johson and Auli’i Cravalho did a great job adding personality to Maui and Moana, respectively. The rest of the cast of characters were also done well. Family is an important part of the culture and to see Moana’s grandma guiding her through her decision, ensure that she was aware of all pieces of her ancestry, that was awesome to see. Well done.

The Verdict

Of course this is a must watch, must add. It was well worth seeing in theaters and I would be happy to add it to my library because it is definitely a movie I’d watch again and again.

Movie 411: LaLa Land


Directed by:

Damien Chazelle

Screenplay by:

Damien Chazelle

Rated:

PG-13

Release Date:

December 2016

Genre:

Musical, Drama

The Hook:

Musical!

 

An aspiring actress and determined jazz pianist cross paths while pursuing their careers in the heart of Los Angeles. They fall in love and together they weave through the ups and downs of the entertainment business.

The Review

As soon as I saw the preview I just had to watch it. In theaters. Because I’m a fangirl of musicals. Well, most musicals. The really good musicals. Anyway. Not only was it a musical, it was the kind of music that got me. I’m a sucker for this type of sound and couldn’t wait to see how this enhanced the movie. Never mind the plot! Oh, and it had two of my favorite movie people, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Sold!

The Plot . . .

It’s your typical boy meets girl, they fall in love, they have some problems, they have some big problems, they have a big decision to make, dot-dot-dot to be continued. It wasn’t really a “to be continued” in the normal sense of the phrase. Ah, I’ll explain that in a bit. So, it’s your typical romance plot. In this case, it follows an aspiring actress and an aspiring musician and it’s set against the backdrop of LA.

It’s pretty straight forward as far as the story goes. Where it shines is in the presentation.

. . . and Presentation

It’s a musical. The End.

Of course, I’m kidding.

There are so many good things about the presentation that I’m not sure where to start. The story unfolds at a good pace from  the beginning. From the first meeting (traffic!) to setting the character background (a café, an audition, a restaurant, another restaurant) to the moments of song scattered throughout the movie, fabulous.

Before I go any further, however, I would like to say that Emma Stone (Mia) and Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) are awesome! I think when your focal point of the story is a romance, you hope to see that chemistry between the leading lady and the gentleman because, well, that’s your whole movie. And they nailed it (unlike some other movies I know off. Disappointing, really, they are, but not this one!)! Stone has this . . . feisty? . . . energy that shines through this movie and Gosling balances and grounds it, which results in a really solid on-screen duo and a wonderful Hollywood romance.  A modern day Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The music score is awesome. I can’t say enough about it. It has that old-school jazz with a modern day edge to it and I absolutely love it. It works. It just works. And these musical moments are well executed. It was just so fun to watch!

And here is where I’m throwing a spoiler alert warning because it is this moment that I think is pure genius. The moment that had me #mindblown.

#SpoilerAlert

So, yeah. Good acting, check. Good music, check. Good story, check. Check, check, check.

The Verdict

This is an absolute must watch, must own for anyone who is a fan of movies and who can handle musicals. It’s so well done. I can see why it’s won the recognition it has. It’s brilliant!



Photo Credit: ClickTheCity.com

At the Movies: La La Land

After spending some serious brain power writing my final paper comparing semantics and morphology of Russian and English for my linguistics class I’m taking a much needed study break to watch this. In theaters. I’ve been waiting for this to hit theaters since I saw the trailer.

Hopefully my mind will process it fast enough write about it later, but for now … shhhh, it’s about to begin.

Movie 411: Star Wars, Rogue One

Directed by: 

Gareth Edwards

Screenplay by

Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Rated: 

PG-13

Release Date: 

December 2016

Genre: 

Sci-Fi, Action

The Hook: 

Um, because it’s Star Wars

Summary

Members of the Rebel Alliance decide to steal the building plans of the Death Star after finding out there may be a design flaw that could destroy the weapon. Intel is questioned when the source is known to be an Empire scientist who helped build the weapon.

The Review

All right. I’m just going to come out and say it. This one wasn’t on the top of my list of movies to watch in the theater. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the Star Wars franchise. I may not love it as much as others who are die-hards in this fandom (like, from the beginning beginning and not just in this past decade), but I do enjoy the movies. It just isn’t on the top of my list because there are other movies I wish to see on the big screen and this one I am good with waiting for the DVD or Netflix to pick it up.

That said, I am so glad I did watch it on the big screen because this is my favorite one yet.

The Plot . . .

I have to say that I appreciate this story line in the franchise. It’s the event that set things in motion. Though I don’t think that’s entirely accurate when you consider that it really has nothing to do with the conversion of Darth Vader and such. That part of this universe was in motion before this so allow me to rephrase. This event turned the tide for the Rebel Alliance and fills the gap between Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to Episodes 4, 5, 6. Anakin is already in Darth Vader mode, but Luke and Leia haven’t really entered the picture yet (for those of us who need to get our bearings  in this world because we aren’t die-hard Star Wars fans. And please feel free to correct me if I’m not quite getting it either). Rogue One revolves around the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans from the Empire so that Luke can blast at the Death Stars vulnerability and–ka-boom!–that is the climax of Episode 4: Star Wars. This story gap is brilliant. Who doesn’t love a good underdog-in-your-face kind of story? I mean, we all can guess what happens, but it still makes for an exciting adventure albeit a tragic one.

. . . and Presentation

I feel Garth Edwards is genius in his execution. He added his mark on this franchise and deserves all the accolades tossed his way. Weitz and Gilroy did a great job translating this story into a script Edwards brought to life. The story moved along at a steady pace and I felt the character introductions were done nicely and the plot points were well placed. Intense scenes were balanced with humor and I couldn’t help but admire the way things came together. This coming from my mind where I kind of knew what the ending would be and yet couldn’t help but watch, cheer, and get all pumped when our team accomplished its mission.

Of course, picture and story mean nothing without a cast who can carry the storyline to completion. Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso) did such a good job in this leading role. I haven’t seen her before this film so I can’t compare with past performances, but I can’t wait to see her in Inferno (which is on my list of theater-going movies because I am a huge fan of Robert Langdon, of the books–not that Tom Hanks isn’t doing a good job portraying this beloved fictional character of mine. I digress). Diego Luna (Cassian Andor) also does a good job acting Jones’ opposite. This duo did a good job leading this story and their chemistry blended well with Donnie Yen (Chirrut), Wen Jiang (Baze), and Alan Tudyk (the voice of K-2SO. And he did a great job for a robot voice. Great job meaning he brought personality to this robot voice and the comedic timing and tone on his lines were on point. So there.). Appearances by Forrest Whitaker (Saw Guerrera) and Mads Mikkelson (Galen Erso) added just the right touch to move the story along and give us fans more characters to . . . appreciate.

The Verdict

It is definitely worth the investment to add this to your library and I know that goes without saying (and not even a question) for this fandom. As I mentioned earlier, this one has to be my favorite one in this saga. It may be because I find this one the different from the rest. Unique. A divergence of the original story line (sort of). But that would be irrelevant if it weren’t for the way it was brought together so kiddos to Gareth Edwards and his production team for giving us another one to add to our library.