Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

You really emBARK on a journey!…..shut up.

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

“Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film written/produced/directed by the famous Wes Anderson, and it stars some big names like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as some very good boys (dogs). Set in a futuristic Japan, the conflict involves young Atari Kobayashi, nephew and ward of the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, searching for his dog on the isolated Trash Island, where all dogs have been exiled to due to a dog-virus that causes everyone to be scared of their own pets.

Personally, I’ve actually never seen a Wes Anderson film before (that might surprise some of you, but anyone who grew up in the area that I did could vouch that none of us were really talking about that style of film when we were in high school) but I do love stop-motion animation and I do understand Anderson’s credibility as an artistic filmmaker. Upon seeing trailers I was also interested due to the setting being in Japan, especially since I enjoyed Laika Animation’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016), a stop-motion film having a Feudal-Japanese setting. Besides, despite me being a “cat person” (because you apparently have to pick one), who doesn’t love good dogs?

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The film follows characters in two settings, Megasaki City and Trash Island. Starting with the latter, Atari crash lands on the island and is found by the five dogs who roam in their own pack. All are enthusiastic about helping Atari except Chief (Bryan Cranston), but he reluctantly accepts the task anyway and the crew travels deeper into Trash Island to find Atari’s old bodyguard dog. Meanwhile in the city, we see the political side of the decision to outlaw dogs with dictator-like policy from Kobayashi, opposed by a “Science Party” that is making strides to cure the dog viruses and bring the pets back. The film also spends time on a foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who is the only student vocalizing concerns over the Kobayashi dynasty.

Throughout these different sub-plots and stories we get, I personally enjoyed the moments with Atari and the dogs. Anderson takes the time to give these dogs different personalities and backgrounds and the interactions they have with the boy Atari make this a very charming film. For example, Chief tends not to get along with the other dogs or always has a different opinion because he’s a stray. Anderson makes sure that the audience’s immersion is through the dogs themselves by giving them very human characteristics. The animation itself is precisely executed and ended up being very visually appealing and a contributing factor to the movie’s adventurous feel.

Anderson makes an artistic decision to have mostly all the human characters only speak Japanese, and I liked this for two reasons. One being what I mentioned earlier, the audience’s perspective is further drawn towards that of the dogs. Secondly, it gives the animation more time to shine because you start to look for visual storytelling rather than exposition. I also think the film is structured very well with a relatively short runtime of 1 hour and 41 minutes, because there are elements to unpack and I didn’t feel dissatisfied with any sub-plot being ignored or incomplete. Everything does seem to tie up in the end and I’ve gotta give it to Anderson for that one.

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While I did enjoy this film and don’t think this movie had any malicious intent or should cause any rioting, I do have to point out what I thought was a little problematic with the use of the Japanese setting. After the movie was done and my brain went into “what was wrong with it?” mode, I ended up asking myself one big question: “Why Japan?”

This movie is about a psuedo-facist leader outlawing a largely innocent group and getting away with it by brainwashing the public that doesn’t seem to know any better. To be completely honest, this sounds a lot more like America than Japan. While Anderson used things in the culture like taiko drums, haikus, cherry blossoms, etc…all of this seemed to serve no real purpose other than to be an aesthetic. Think of it like when you have this amazing picture ready to upload to instagram, and while searching for the right filter there was one called “Japanese” and that’s the one you decide to go with. Again, I highly doubt any of this was intentional, but using the “Japan implies that a foreign setting was required to make us believe an outrageous policy like fear-mongering the public to dislike dogs…and unfortunately Japan took the fall on this one for a story that I could have very much believed happening in the Western world (apparently Anderson has done a similar thing with India in “The Darjeeling Limited”…guess I should check that one out).

I’m all for having an homage to another culture and for having more movies be international, but the culture or its members didn’t play the significant role in the movie that I was led to believe…it just coexisted while we focused on the Dogs. This is so odd to me because I commended Anderson for being more focused and humanizing the dogs, and having the humans speak only Japanese up above…but at the same time it feels a little gross because you dehumanize the people of the culture but still use the culture as a setting for the film.

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Truthfully, I could’ve ignored ALL of this if it weren’t for one thing that tipped me over the often blurred line between appreciation and appropriation…and that is the use of Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy Walker. The fact that a character from Ohio (because Lord knows OHIO is the most woke place on the planet) is the only one amongst the masses that can see the corruption of the Kobayashi dynasty really leaves a sour taste in my mouth, similar to when I see the “White Savior” trope. Sure, Atari is the hero to the dogs…but he spends most of the movie with them on Trash Island being out of the spotlight to the rest of the characters while Tracy is over in Megasaki City actually getting people to rally behind the cause. By doing this, the film really does show that the use of Japanese culture is poorly thought-out despite the use of Japanese actors and imagery, because at the end of the day they could’ve done this with ANY foreign culture and it wouldn’t have made a difference. This belittles everyone into this one bubble of “Eastern” rather than showing what is unique about the hundreds of cultures that aren’t in the West.

While definitely being a little problematic, “Isle of Dogs” still manages to be a technically impressive and positive story with its own unique charisma. With all things considered, “Isle of Dogs” gets a 7/10.

 

2018 Best Picture Nominees – The Shape of Water

On second thought, maybe I don’t want fried fish for dinner.

If you’re following my takes on the Best Picture Nominees, here’s what I have so far:

old review on Dunkirk

Darkest Hour

Link to the podcast where my co-host and I talk The Post

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[NO SPOILERS]

“The Shape of Water” is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and is a Fantasy/Drama film about a mute woman who falls in love with a…well…you’ve probably heard by now.

So when it comes to Guillermo Del Toro, I’ve always disagreed with some of my peers. For anyone just joining us on this review, I don’t do the “film school” type of reviews and I’ve emphasized quite often that I’m just a regular guy who loves movies. That being said…I did not care for “Pan’s Labyrinth”. I don’t know why, I just thought it was dumb. Maybe it wasn’t for me, maybe I watched it in a bad mood, but for whatever reason I didn’t see what the big deal was. So right off the bat, my relationship with Guillermo Del Toro wasn’t a great one.

So when I sat down to watch “The Shape of Water”, I did my best to go at it with an open mind and take it for what it is. In the process of doing that, I can very easily see why this film seems to be the “favorite” for many people among this year’s nominees. However, it fell short for me and so far I’d put it as #2 on my list of the 5 I’ve seen (I haven’t done a review for my #1…but we’ll get to it eventually). While being a consistent, beautiful, sometimes breathtaking story with great characters, this film tends to have me hooked and then lose me with certain decisions or scenes I found ridiculous. It felt like eating an amazing candy bar and at some point finding a random raisin in it. The raisin doesn’t offend every fiber of your being, but still messes with the experience and you remember the raisin every time you remember the candy bar as a whole. If you’re already confused/annoyed…it gets worse. So maybe we should do positive points first.

There is a consistent theme here that I interpreted as being the concept of loneliness, and the movie makes sure we see how these different characters deal with that. Everyone here feels empty and wants to feel full (not from candy bars…and most certainly not from raisins) and they find that through the various things that come their way. The main character Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, obviously finds her comfort and fulfillment in the creature himself. Whereas the antagonist Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, finds his comfort in his professional success and in being superior to others. Not only do both characters have the similar feeling, but both rely on the creature for their fulfillment and the two forces clash very well and make for drama that the audience can get emotionally invested in. It also helps that both Hawkins and Shannon have put on performances that put them as the top contenders for the acting awards, especially considering that Hawkins is playing a character that doesn’t have dialogue.

The romance aspect of the film itself (initially what I wasn’t looking forward to) was something that I could actually believe by the end. While I think some viewers may struggle with a sense of disbelief, I don’t think this was the case for me and most others because of the way it is presented. My only wish was that they spent a little more time showing us the little things that cause the romance to blossom and why Elisa specifically feels love towards this creature, as opposed to those things being in a montage to progress the story to the actual point of conflict. Even then, Del Toro did a phenomenal job of exploring and showing a romance between two individuals that don’t really have anyone else, and I think that message really sticks with viewers and fosters the love for this film. That’s honestly the main thing, this whole movie is just very sweet and that’s something we genuinely don’t see as much. Add in all the magnificent visual storytelling that Del Toro has a knack for and it’s no surprise that you end up having a movie that could walk away being the best picture of 2017.

So what’s the issue? Even after me admitting all of this, why would I still have anything wrong with this? To be fair, they are little things, but they bothered me nonetheless. I feel like at some points the movie sacrificed subtlety and executed its points in a very obvious, cheesy, and sometimes predictable manner.  Without being too specific to avoid details, there is a point where Elisa feels something towards this creature…and instead of showing us her expression and letting her feelings be obvious that way (which I KNOW the actor and director are capable of) instead we get the most out-of-place musical number ever (I’m not kidding). There was more than one moment like that which just took me out of the emotional ride the movie put me on, and sometimes I feel like these things happened all for the sake of being abstract, which is fine..as long as it stays within the boundaries of what was presented and created in the first place. Even with that aside, while I think this was an incredibly creative movie and I admire it, I always want a “best picture” to do something different and stun me in a way I didn’t think about before. In that context, I think this movie is amazing but the overall premise feels a little familiar to me and it didn’t help that some of the story beats were mentally being laid out in my head before it happened on screen.

That previous paragraph aside, I still do mainly think of the positives and find this movie a beautiful piece of art. Even if it didn’t have that final x-factor to make it my favorite this year, I’m still giving “The Shape of Water” a 9/10.

 

The Thing about Cinematic Universes..

Let’s ignore the fact that I disappeared for a few months because life is crazy and just go into a deep dive on Cinematic Universes. So I recently, like a few optimists out there, watched the movie known as “Justice League”. I also, like a majority of the population, saw “Thor Ragnarok”. Additionally, me and a few other nerds on r/marvelstudios spent weeks praying for a trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” that was given to us last week and blew all of our minds…and just happened to break the record for most viewed movie trailer on Youtube.

I know that not writing reviews for either Thor or Justice League were very out of character for me (although not as out of character as Batman was…), so just to be really quick about it:

  • I loved “Thor: Ragnarok”. It was unexpected, the improv feel made me happy, I got to see more obscure comic book things I never thought I’d see on the big screen, sure it was pretty weightless on the universe when compared to the Ragnarok comic book but I’m fine if we goof off with Thor and Hulk before we get real for “Black Panther” and before the potential for a major shake-up in the next two Avengers movies. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum is a national treasure and I won’t accept anything less.
  • “Justice League”…I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated. There is a decent movie in here bogged down by unfortunate tragedy behind the scenes, bad production decisions separate from that, and absolutely horrible executive decisions. However, the more I think/talk about it, the more I actually do get mad because it finally became very obvious that whoever is making the decisions behind the DCCU doesn’t actually care about the characters and what they’ve done for people (there is an entire generation of us that grew up on the Justice League Animated Series). I’m sick of being an apologist about it, this thing was a mess and frankly I’d be okay if they cancelled the DCCU.

Between the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios (coming up on their 10th anniversary) juxtaposed with the potential $500k loss on “Justice League” for the DCCU, the laughably bad attempt at a “Dark Universe” by Universal, Sony literally making a deal with Disney so that Spider-Man can be better, and the upcoming X-Force from Fox that spawned from the success of “Deadpool”…It’s becoming obvious that studios are struggling and scrambling to achieve what Marvel Studios has. In this post I’ll attempt to limit being an MCU fanboy/gushing over my idol Kevin Feige to try and pinpoint why studios that are trying this “Universe” thing are failing.

(P.S: Vanity Fair published this article for the MCU’s 10 year celebration, I’ll be referring to it quite a bit.)

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Making a Franchise Before Making a Good Movie

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Take a good look at that picture. That was a promotional image released by Universal for their “Dark Universe”. Objectively it looks cool, especially the inclusion of A-list celebrities, so what’s the issue? This thing was circulating the internet BEFORE the first film in the franchise, “The Mummy”, was even released. Universal jumped the gun to announce and plan this multi-billion dollar list of movies…and the box office revenue/critical reception to the first film speaks for itself. Here we are now with rumors of the thing possibly being cancelled due to top members of the production teams wanting out.

It was pretty gutsy of them to go for the power move, but now it just looks silly. Its even more embarrassing than that scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Harry literally walks down the aisle of Sony’s slated “Sinister Six” movie that we now know never happened and never will.

It’s great that you want to be ambitious and bold, even Feige took a huge risk with the initial phases of the MCU. Still, we come back to the fact that that first Iron-Man movie was absolutely amazing and is still the gold-standard for superhero origin movies, not to mention that the Avenger initiative wasn’t brought up once in the movie until the credits rolled. In some of these other franchises…the first movie wasn’t exactly great (“Man of Steel”, “The Mummy”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and felt the need to rub their non-existent franchise in your face. It was a “start smaller and build” strategy for Marvel, versus a “We have a Franchise coming up, the first movie will be out in a year” strategy for the others, and that is a HUGE difference when it comes to building fans as well.

Overreacting and Overcorrecting

If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that a very common theme in production for the DCCU movies included extensive re-shoots and even re-writes. Justice League had to go through so many changes that they had to use CGI to remove Superman’s mustache that actor Henry Cavill needed for another role. The “Suicide Squad” script was heavily revised after the accidental enormous success of Fox’s “Deadpool”, and a ton of movies were announced and had casting rumors after response to “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, notably an Affleck directed Batman movie and a possible Gotham City Sirens movie starring Margot Robbie. At some point, it felt like DC was making it up as they went along and that isn’t on accident.

By changing their scripts, movies, and production plans on a whim, Warner Bros. showed us that this giant narrative they’re trying to accomplish wasn’t being given much thought. Rather, they were being extremely reactionary to the criticism and little praise their movies got. Now obviously things change for studios and it is good to cut what isn’t working and what is, but it’s like they would open up Facebook the day after their movie showed, compile every stupid comment they could find, and make huge executive decisions off of those.

For example: Suicide Squad’s reception was bad > but people liked Margot as Harley Quinn > Let’s announce “Gotham City Sirens” > What about all the issues about this movie? > They wont care once we announce “Gotham City Sirens”, we’ll seem progressive and it’ll be fine.

Similarly, think about the X-Men movies and “Days of Future Past”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a damn good comic movie, but it arguably did seem like a response to the frustration behind “The Last Stand” and the success of “First Class”. If that doesn’t seem odd to anyone, think about “Apocalypse” (yikes) and the hinting of a very obvious intention to re-start the Phoenix Saga in a future movie…even though it would make more sense to do something new rather than to keep fixing Brett Ratner’s screw-up.

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Interfering with Creators

It’s such a shocker that the most successful movie DC had was the one where Warner Bros hired a good director and gave her a lot of creative freedom! That was sarcasm, that isn’t shocking it all. It also isn’t surprising that the less-than-successful MCU movies were the ones where Feige was least involved and Ike Perlmutter was still making huge decisions. I really don’t have to emphasize that the most successful comic-book movies had talented directors with creative freedom, that should be obvious. Yet somehow, bad decisions kept being made and in 2017 I got to see Batman suck in a movie for the first time since I watched “Batman Forever” (so many regrets).

Actually Caring

It warms my heart to read the Vanity Fair article and find out that Feige, like so many comic-fans/movie-nerds, is just an innocent fanboy with a desire to see his favorite characters represented properly on the big screen. That is the kind of person that should be in charge that rarely ever gets to be. What needs to be realized is that a lot of these characters that studios can “build a universe” around are all unique and can hold a lot of significance to a lot of people. Often times, people don’t even want to see a character in a live action movie because they’re scared it’ll be ridiculous (such is the case for me and Batman Beyond). So when executives view these characters as simple cash cows or good PR for their corporate image, it feels a little insulting to the fans. Again, this should be obvious, yet here we are.

Well that’s enough rambling about comic movies for now, see you soon for my review of *inhales*…THE LAST JEDI!!!!

Movie Review – Ingrid Goes West

#Blessed #Ootd #TheWorldIsANightmare

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW]

Hello again after a long time! Apologies for those of you who’ve been awaiting the return of Soggz-Blogs (an estimated ~2 people out there), but I took a break from the theater and reviews to keep my mind fresh and actually watch some TV for once! Regardless, I am back doing what I love: going to movies and bringing you my thoughts!

So without further ado, “Ingrid Goes West” is a film that first premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January, and later got a limited release in August. The story follows Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) as a social media stalker who just found her new obsession in Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), and moves to LA with the sole purpose of befriending Taylor. The movie also stars O’shea Jackson Jr, who I absolutely loved in “Straight Outta Compton”, and overall I was pretty excited to see this movie due to the potential for topical humor. I’ve got to say, I was definitely not prepared for what I got.

This movie ended up being an extremely dark comedy that touches on mental health, the toxicity of social media, and how ridiculous the world is in general. What was insane to me was that despite the fact that all the characters were just really bad people in their own rights, I was actually sympathizing with them and the themes that director Matt Spicer chose to explore. By the end, I was pretty much floored in a similar manner to when I watched “Get Out”, scared but oddly accepting of it.

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In terms of getting the “typical movie stuff” out of the way first, the acting performances were fantastic and really helped sell the characters. Aubrey and Elizabeth were great, and a huge shout-out goes to my man O’Shea…I really hope this guy gets bigger roles in the future because he’s definitely killin’ it. It helps that he had some of the funniest lines in the movie, so props to the writers there. While the plot may have gotten a little predictable and the movie seems like it can put itself in a box sometimes, I do think Spicer made some great directing choices. Specifically, the color scheme in this movie is very bright and vibrant, which directly conflicts with the darker tone of the comedy and plot. This works so well due to the theme of social-media and fake personalities; what you see is vaguely positive vs what is actually going on is super screwed up. This brings me to my next point of something I really appreciated.

Remember “La La Land” and how beautiful it made Los Angeles look? One critic I believe described that whole movie as “A love letter to the city of LA”. So, I’m an LA native and definitely feel that whenever a movie comes out about how great Hollywood and sunny Los Angeles is. This movie did the complete opposite and chose to highlight just how crappy LA can be sometimes and I admired that. Seriously, as much as we all like to think that LA is this magical “City of Stars”, any of us that work/live in LA can point to multiple days where we’ve felt miserable because of the city, people, culture, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I can only think of 2-3 other places I’d want to live at some point in my life…and if I do end up never leaving LA county I wouldn’t really complain, but man it SUCKS sometimes. “Ingrid Goes West” captured that and I found it funny and relatable. Hell, these characters themselves are all just crappy people, but in the moment I found myself not thinking that because they were just doing what stereotypical LA people do.

I usually stay away from plot details except for what is already revealed in trailers, but I REALLY don’t want to go over any plot this time because I want people to see this movie and enjoy the ride. If you’ve read my “What is Soggz Blogs?” section, you know I do this because the theater/cinematic experience means a lot to me and I love it when my readers see a movie because of one of my reviews. With “Ingrid Goes West”, I’m not recommending that people see it to be entertained…I’m recommending it because of how sad it is that these ridiculous antics and crazy things that happen to these characters are very much a problem in the modern world.

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I know it can be an incredibly cliche “pseudo-intellectual” thing to complain about social media. I know that social media has its huge perks and I think the intention behind creating various platforms was good initially. That being said, it has gotten to a point of being extremely dangerous and “Ingrid Goes West” really gets that message across, sacrificing subtlety in the plot to do so. In the same way that you would see a movie character in a crime-thriller deal with a drug addiction, the character of Ingrid Thorburn’s “drug” is her instagram account. It messes with her life, people shame her for it without understanding her, others glorify it, and every time something bigger is happening, the only thing that makes her happy is her phone. The movie perfectly portrayed an exaggerated, but entirely plausible, look into society’s obsession with “likes”, social media icons, and a false sense of security.

Before even knowing how hefty this movie would be, I actually took a 2 month break off of instagram myself this summer…and when I came back I found myself caring about a lot of stupid things that I didn’t care about when I wasn’t constantly looking and scrolling. The drama this movie used to make a point wasn’t even that far off from the obscurity found in reality, and that’s what made “Ingrid Goes West” such a hidden gem for me.

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While being simple and even a little flawed sometimes, “Ingrid Goes West” gets an 8.5/10 for being very thought provoking and unique. 

Movie Review – Atomic Blonde

I guess blondes have more fun after all.

“Atomic Blonde” is directed by David Leitch and stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in an action flick set in the Cold War era (1989). Although, upon watching, this movie has more of an espionage-esque “spy movie” feel to it rather than something like “Die Hard” or anything…okay I’m gonna come clean, I’m a little behind on the action genre (as in I haven’t seen John Wick or Kingsman)…but the point is I watched “Atomic Blonde” anyway and I had fun! Let’s get into details:

Even though it is fairly obvious for these two actors at this point, I feel the need to praise both Theron and McAvoy anyway for being so good at what they do. It’s always harder to play something like a “no nonsense spy/cop” because with most people its just so hard to take seriously, especially if they’re given silly dialogue. Theron and McAvoy were BOTH given some lines I didn’t particularly care for, but I still bought their performances the entire time. Theron’s character of Lorraine Broughton is brutal, intelligent, and ferocious..whereas McAvoy’s character of David Percival is a mystery hiding behind a front he puts up, and this is conveyed pretty well. Great acting always makes movies like this a lot more fun, and I’m glad this casting worked out the way it did.

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The fight scenes are so ridiculously entertaining, and it feels realistic for a few reasons. For one thing, it is so obvious that Theron put in the time, effort, and work in to train for these scenes. She gave us an intensely physical performance and that alone makes this movie worth the watch. Additionally, Theron’s character doesn’t just breeze her way through every fight with multiple armed/trained KGB agent…she gets punched…a lot. It didn’t feel like a “Black Widow” situation to me where she’s almost never in any trouble even when she goes up against aliens, it felt like this really was a woman who’s mastered her craft and that makes her perfectly capable of fighting multiple bigger opponents at the same time.

Despite these great fight scenes, like I mentioned before, this had more of a spy-movie feeling to it, and a rather gritty one at that. There isn’t much color, and I think that works due to the setting being Berlin (before the wall came down). Even with a more “gray” color scheme, the music and sound design are so delightful because it is engineered to go with the action. So the music will be loud and fun, cut out when someone slams a door, cut back in when Theron throws a punch, etc. Whatever vibe they were going for, it ended up being a lot of fun. There were a few moments where the editing was off and it made a fight scene look more choreographed than natural, but it only happened about once or twice.

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The narrative structure of the movie was kind of weird, and I’m not really sure if it worked for me. Agent Broughton is in an interrogation room recalling the mission with her MI6 superiors, and the actual mission is told through flashbacks. The issue I had is that when the story would get good, there would be a flash forward back to the interrogation room where John Goodman got a line in and looked tense about something, and then we’re back to the mission. I’m not quite sure how they could’ve told the story better, but I just know the back-and-forth took me out of it sometimes, especially when I was hyped after a good scene. In the end, there’s nothing too compelling or original about the narrative either. They tried, but that brings me to my next point.

Who’s bright idea was it to “shamalamadingdong” the ending and throw in 3-4 (I lost count) “twists” in the last 10 minutes of run-time? Seriously, this movie’s ending is so weird and I’m quoting the friend I saw it with: “Wait…so what happened?”. It’s not that they were subtle or they were obvious either, they just..existed. I would’ve rather had them beat me over the head with it with more “on the nose” writing and stop after the 2nd twist instead of doing what happened here. Considering that this was the last part of the ride, the landing just didn’t stick and it left me feeling unsatisfied.

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Despite that rather hefty disappointment, I was along for the ride and felt good about it. If you’re looking for some cool secret-agent moments with great acting and well-choreographed fights, check this movie out. As for me, I’m gonna go ahead and give “Atomic Blonde” a 7.5/10

Guest Post – Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

If you weren’t hyped over a Matt Reeves Batman film…well you should be now.

This Piece is written and contributed by one of my best friends, Andrew Park! Andrew currently works as an account executive for the Ontario Fury, a professional indoor soccer team in southern California. Passionate for all things sports, Andrew aspires to turn that passion into a profession of writing for websites such as The Ringer. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s in industrial and labor relations, and currently writes for his own blog and podcasts occasionally. Show him some love by clicking here!

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The highly-anticipated third act of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, director Matt Reeves returns from his success after being brought on for the same role in the second installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A franchise which traces its origins to the novel, La Planète des Singes (translated to Planet of the Apes), by French author Pierre Boulles, the Planet of the Apes, has experienced its most successful stretch of movies in its history. Having been a fan of the first two installments of the reboot franchise, I came into the movie with fairly high expectations, and left — for the most part — satisfied.

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For the uninitiated, the Apes (note: will refer to the franchise as this from now on) premise is that apes of all kinds around the world have gained a heightened level of intelligence due to the spread of an Alzheimer’s cure gone bad, which has turned into what is known as the “Simian Flu”. Humans have had a fairly negative effect from the virus — death. Heading into War (shortening this too for convenience sake), we find that the humans have decreased even more in number, and are shown as a military faction Alpha-Omega, lead by the mysterious Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The main protagonist of the trilogy, the chimpanzee leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), is joined by the clan of sentient apes he leads, as well as returning characters such as Rocket (chimpanzee) and Maurice (Bornean orangutan). The movie follows Caesar’s journey that hopefully bring two main goals: closure and survival.

As with the previous two installments of the rebooted franchise, War boasts of absolutely incredible CGI and visuals. The movie takes place in wilderness of northern California — Muir Woods to be exact — amidst a very snowy winter. With a movie like Apes, where the movie centers around sentient primates, one would have to assume that the actual apes would not be simply actors in mere costumes, but enhanced with the technology of CGI. The closeups of the faces of characters such as Caesar and Maurice are able to show the subtle changes of emotion where — for lack of a better word — they are certainly “humanlike”. It’s absolutely incredible where cinematic technology has gone, and this movie is the most recent poster child of said technology. The part I was the most blown away was that at times, I felt that Maurice — a completely computer-generated character — felt more realistic than Serkis as Caesar. That’s how amazing the CGI was for this film.

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Yes, that’s all CGI. Incredible.

Speaking of Serkis, ever since his performance as Gollum/Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems that his main calling card has been these CGI roles — one that he does not seem to get enough credit for. Serkis again delivers a masterful performance, further showing that CGI’d (if that is even a word…it is now) actors have as much impact on movies as regular actors. Even as Caesar, who at this point can speak English in full sentences, the list of lines pales in comparison in terms of pure volume as that of a traditional role. But Serkis shows that less is more, and is able to show a leader who is constantly haunted by his checkered past, but still has to maintain an air of confidence as the undisputed and beloved leader of his species.

War brings the “quality over quantity” aspect of screenplay to the table, as the few lines that are uttered by Caesar or acted out via sign language from one of his cohorts still have hard-hitting impact. With the least amount of humans on-screen, despite having the least amount of dialogue of the trilogy by far, it holds up as the most thought-provoking.

This all goes to say that this film definitely has its own flaws that keep it from becoming an absolute masterpiece. Because of the sparse dialogue and frequent subtitle-aided sign language, a more casual viewer is likely to miss certain lines communicated between the apes, as well as the pure facial expressions. The lack of lines places heavy emphasis on the actions of the characters, which does have an effect of drawing out certain sections of the movie. The film ended in a fairly abrupt and convenient manner, which is always a disappointing result to have after such beautiful build-up to the climax.

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Ultimately, I had a great time watching this — especially having invested time in the two previous installments — and would ultimately recommend this to others who have done the same. Some of the best CGI I have ever seen on the big screen, with some of the best lines and moments of the film delivered without a single word being spoken.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes an 8.5/10.

Movie Review – Baby Driver

Nobody puts Baby in a corner…what? Wrong movie?

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW]

“Baby Driver” is written and directed by the talented Edgar Wright and stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a partially-deaf getaway driver for a crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. The film also stars Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx as a few of the interesting criminals that Baby has to work with on these jobs for Kevin Spacey.

I had only heard small things about the premise of this movie before actually sitting down and watching it, although I instantly became a fan of Edgar Wright after watching “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” to the point where I tried to flag some of the scenes he may have been responsible for before leaving while I was watching “Ant-Man”. I very much enjoy what Wright does in his films in terms of cinematography and direction.

The gimmick that Wright goes for in this movie involves something everybody can relate to: music. Baby drowns out the perpetual ringing in his ear by listening to music, and Wright exploits this to make some of the most riveting and breathtaking sequences I’ve seen in a movie. You could argue that this movie IS a musical because of how important the tunes are to this movie, and this is what piqued my interest initially.

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Like pretty much everyone even mildly interesting, music has played a giant role in my life. Many may not know this about me (its something I don’t talk about much anymore) but I actually used to be a dancer on a collegiate team that participated in competitions. I wasn’t the most technically gifted, in fact I had to learn most things multiple times before it sank, but my favorite part of dancing was really listening to music and finding things I wouldn’t have heard normally, like a little off-beat, bass, or an instrument that’s tucked away in the back. Dancing forever changed the way I listened to music, and that hasn’t changed regardless of me not continuing to practice. Because of this, I’ve got to say…from the first 10 minutes of “Baby Driver”, I was instantly hooked.

Edgar Wright unleashed a volley of originality and creativity with the incorporation of the soundtrack into his direction here. So many times I found myself tapping my foot along with what I was hearing and seeing, only to have Wright catch me off guard with a subtle sound effect from a prop used by a character (gun, car door, etc.). Seriously, these sequences are visually stunning and are literally (and figuratively) music to your ears that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction and wonderment.

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Initially I was a little worried about Elgort being able to carry his own movie alongside actors like Spacey and Foxx, but I definitely ate my words because Elgort really sends a message with this introverted, confident, and empathetic character he plays. If I’m remembering correctly, Baby doesn’t even have much dialogue compared to the other characters, but he’s a surprisingly real character. To go deeper in to the acting part of it, particularly with Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm…pay attention to the first time you see their characters and the last, because Wright does some flips on us if you see things from Baby’s perspective (tough to explain without spoilers), which shouldn’t be difficult considering that the movie really explores what this kid is going through and the things he notices. Lily James is also in this movie as Debora, Baby’s eventual love interest…and despite being an English actress, she really made me believe she was an innocent, sweet southern girl for the entire movie.

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Even with how much I’m gushing over this movie so far, I do NOT think it’s perfect. Edgar Wright is often criticized for being “style over substance”, obviously not as much as someone like Snyder, but it still is something you hear about him. Because his style is so unique and is sure to make people smile, I don’t exactly mind…but if you’ve been reading Soggz-Blogs for a while now, you know how much I love characterization. Unfortunately, aside from the character of Baby, this movie lacks a bit in that department. It is there if you look, but often times it is rushed or glossed over to make the film more compact or use the time for the admittedly awesome action…which aren’t necessarily bad things, but it did make me feel “cut-off” in a sense. The best example I can think of is actually the character of Debora: Wright spends the time to make this blossoming love between Baby and Debora so important…that at some point you ask “Why exactly is she so quick to rush to Baby’s side, even when it poses a threat to her?”. Even with the criminal characters…at the end of the day I refer to them as “Jon Hamm” or “Jamie Foxx” rather than how I refer to Elgort as “Baby”. I guess that’s the biggest difference…the characterization for Baby was really good, but everyone else seemed to be there or be the way they are because “reasons”. Additionally, the ending of the movie felt very rushed and abrupt. It wasn’t like “Mass Effect 3” levels of unsatisfying, but it still was confusing enough for me to mention it. Despite this, I think the actors themselves and how entertaining they all are make up a little bit for the missing characterization I was looking for and still made “Baby Driver” an awesome experience for me.

This is in my top 3 movies of the year so far, along with “Get Out” and “Logan”. Go see this movie, everyone. “Baby Driver” gets a 9/10.

I had a lot of people telling me to see this one, and I don’t regret it at all. If you have something coming out this summer that you’d like me to review, let me know!