Archive for the ‘Concert/Film/TV Reviews’ Category

PacificRimUprising_JaegarFormation

It’s been 10 years since the humans won the battle to end all battles against the alien colonizers known as the Precursors. The rematch commences this weekend with the long-awaited sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising. The kaiju are bigger, the action more fierce and the weapons far deadlier. But does the larger scale devalue the intriguing story we discovered in the original?

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In a word — maybe. The film begins with us focusing on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the legendary martyr of the resistance John Pentecost (Idris Elba). But Jake doesn’t start off with the heroic qualities of his father — he’s a shameless smuggler, con artist and womanizer. His shady dealings bring him into contact with a brilliant young loner in Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has built on very own smaller Jaeger from scratch in anticipation of the kaiju’s return. The little sister-big brother chemistry is almost immediate and one of the film’s bright spots. They’re bouts of annoyance with each other over miscommunications (one of which lands them in jail) and affectionate teasing builds to a satisfying climax when the pair has to unexpectedly “drift” in the legendary “Gipsy Danger” Jaeger to stop a monstrous kaiju.

Unfortunately, the Jake and Amara’s relationship is one of the few fully developed characters arcs in the film. There’s a group of ambitious young cadets who don’t get enough time to showcase their backgrounds. Ivanna Sankho, who plays the elitist and ambitious Cadet Viktoria, and Karan Barar’s Cadet Suresh, a nerdy, good-hearted son of plastic surgeon constantly on the end of playful, are the only memorable ones.

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However, the biggest disappointment is the handling of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). The original film went to great lengths to develop her character by showing her overcoming the loss of her parents and the protective nature of her adoptive father (John Pentecost) to become one of the saviors of the resistance. Now a high-ranking general, there was a lot of potential in seeing how her leadership style contrasts with her father. Instead, her brief role serves as a catalyst for Jake to finally get his act together and lead the young cadets into battle. For such a beloved character with emotional depth and complexity, it felt cheap to see her screen time so diminished.

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Where Uprising excels the most is with the action. The plodding hand to hand combat of the first film is gone. Instead of waiting until near death to bust out swords, the Jaegers start off their battles with weapons drawn, ranging from chain swords and plasma cannons to cluster missiles and whip blades. The Jaegar are more nimble and can roll with the kaiju’s punches to recover quicker. And this agility led to some thrilling sequences where the Jaegers hit their foes with tag team moves.

Despite the Jaegar-kaiju fights being the centerpiece, the best action comes when the Jaegers battle each other. Early on, the main foe is a mysterious”rogue Jaeger,”  and we get some intense combat with the Gipsy Avenger and said antagonist exchanging sword parries and hand to hand combat.

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Of the cast newcomers, the big standout for me as Tian Jing’s turn as the morose Liwen Shao. She’s the leader of the Shao Corporation, a company looking to end the use of human-driven Jaegars. Her ice-queen demeanor is a match for her capitalist ambition and you start to question her true motives as it becomes more and more clear that the recent unrest is due to a conspiracy. As the plot builds, Jing gets the opportunity to add some depth to her character’s motivations and transform a potential stock character to one that could play a pivotal role in the next film.

Yes, I said a third film. The producers have stated if this film does well, they’re hoping to create a full cinematic universe with potential spinoffs. And considering the final scene explicitly states this war will be taken to interdimensional levels, the possibilities are limitless.

Character development issues aside, Pacific Rim: Uprising does its job in moving the plot forward with subversive, counter-intelligence threats to go along with the monsters. Bigger might not be better, but it’s still lots of fun.

stars-3

 

 

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CloakandDagger

And then there were two. We finally have an official trailer for the upcoming FreeForm Marvel series Cloak & Dagger, starring Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph. For the uninitiated, the story revolves around two teenagers from contrasting backgrounds brought together by newly acquired supernatural powers. As their bond deepens, feelings of love and the tragic history of their powers further complicate matters.

What are these said powers? Cloak is the living personification of darkness and can use it as a deadly weapon that envelops enemies and manipulates environments. Dagger is his opposite in that she personifies light and uses it to create weapons (as briefly seen in this trailer).

It’ll be interesting to see if show opts for a main antagonist like the Netflix shows, or goes the route of the early 80s comics which focused on the duo combating the drug trade. All questions will be answered when the 10-episode series debuts on FreeForm June 7.

ChanteAdams

In the early 80s, there was no concept of a female Hip-Hop star. That changed with Lolita “Roxanne Shante” Gooden, who emerged from the Queensbridge projects on the strength of the classic “Roxanne Roxanne.” Her story finally takes center stage with the new trailer for the biopic Roxanne Roxanne (March 23).

The Netflix original was written and directed by Michael Larnell, and produced by the makers of Fruitvale Station and Dope. The films stars Nia Long, Mahershala Ali and newcomer Chante Adams as Shante.

 

 

Atlanta – Season 2 Trailer

Posted: February 18, 2018 by Ismael AbduSalaam in Concert/Film/TV Reviews
Tags: , , ,

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In less than 2 weeks, Robbin’ Season begins. The official trailer for season two of the critically-acclaimed series Atlanta is here. We’re low on plot details, but after that first season, do we really need any? Season two premieres on March 1.

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After the emotional gut punch that’ll likely occur in May’s Infinity War, Marvel fans will be treated to more light-hearted fare this summer with Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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The sequel to the 2015 hit finds Scott Lang (Antman) struggling to adjust to civilian life after his role in Civil War. When a new threat arises from the anti-capitalist mercenary Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), Lang’s mentor Hany Pym (Michael Douglas) enlists his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to assume the mantle of The Wasp to even up the odds. The history of Wasp will get further backstory courtesy of Michelle Pfieffer, who plays Janet Van Dyne, the wife of Hank and the original Wasp who was lost to the Quantum Realm years ago during a botched mission.

I wonder if the Giant Pet Ant will make an appearance this time around. We’ll find out when Ant-Man and The Wasp hits theaters on July 6.

 

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10 years after they first terrorized our hearts on the big screen, the heartless masked family know as the Strangers return for the much-anticipated sequel Prey At Night.

We start with the same premise from the original. Happy couple seeks a quiet weekend in a residence far from civilization, only to receive a creepy knock at the door from the monotone daughter of the killers. Then the fun begins. We see images of the victims being stalked in a swimming pool and a car crashing through the living room.

But things are also different this time. The victims are a family of four and have several guns to combat their assailants. Have the Strangers finally met their match? We’ll find out on March 9.

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After four days, we’ve reached the final day of the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. While this day was shorter than day three, we were treated to a creative block of “weirdo” shorts and a full-length feature that takes horror to the rodeo.

RANDOM WEIRDOS

As the title implies, this final block of short films was for every off the wall submission that couldn’t be easily defined.

“Cold Process,” by William Pisciotta, goes back to a simpler time when we had door to door salesmen. This one was heavy on Southern charm and attempting to sell beauty products to a lonely housewife. They flirt, but there is a sinister flair to the banter, and we find out it’s due to the salesman hawking bath products made from human flesh. Seeing the victim’s last moments juxtaposed with the salesman’s pitch is particularly effective. Another subtle theme is our insatiable consumerism and general disregard about where our products come from (diamonds, for example).

“Alfred J. Hemlock,” by Australia’s Edward Lyons, follows the story of a woman being propositioned by a demon. Hemlock is said demon, and he preys on people during their weakest moments. In this case, the woman had just been dressed down and abandoned in a dark alley by her abusive boyfriend. Hemlock’s hook is his promise to give you power over those who have wronged you. But when the woman resists, we get to see how evil (and funny) Hemlock can be. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were related to Beetlejuice.

***

GrinningMan

Imagine being the only one who can see this face. Matthew McGahren’s “Grinning Man” tells the story of a young girl terrorized by a ghoulish figure only visible to her. Unfortunately, The Grinning Man can do more than just look menacing as he slaughters the girl’s entire family in her bedroom.

At 21 minutes, Vanessa Ionta Wright’s “Rainy Season” is the longest entry. It also follows familiar ground as a rendition of the Stephen King story. We find a young couple arriving at the small town of Willow. Upon visiting the local general store, they are warned to leave for at least one night. Of course, they disregard it and are in for a night of terror at the hands of unseen monsters. Overall, the story reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery” in that we see how evil a societal tradition can be.

***

My absolute favorite was Samuel Goodwin’s “Homesick.” Over the course of this festival, I’ve watched numerous films that feature kids getting terrorized. But this is the first one where we see a kid fight back. The 12-minute film finds the young child spending time alone waiting for the return of his mother. As night arrives, we begin to wonder where are the adults and why the child seems on such high alert. We discover it’s because this world is infested by zombie-style monsters. But no need to fear, this child was well-prepared by his mother, and shows how deadly he can be in putting down a threat.

FILMS

Lasso

Lasso: I have a confession to make. I wasn’t looking forward to this film. I mean, horror set at the rodeo? How creepy could that possibly be? Well, I’m happy to be proven wrong, because Evan Cecil’s Lasso had a gumbo mix of legit perilous moments for the heroes, gruesome kills (on both sides) and a transformative journey for the main character.

The plot centers on Kit (Lindsey Morgan) and Simon (Andrew Jacobs), two young chaperones for an Active Senior Tour group that is visiting a remote, small-town rodeo festival. Kit is hands-on and personally invested in the group while Simon is aloof and clearly there for the paycheck. Things take a turn for the worse when the cowboys turn out to be bloodthirsty maniacs who want to treat the group like human livestock.

Initially, you’re expecting Kit to be the focus since a pretty young woman in distress is a straightforward horror trope. But Lasso gets creative by splitting Kit and Simon up to lead separate groups once the killers arrive. From here, we see Kit is much more valuable in a crisis — she works to keep the seniors calm, tries to fix the broken down bus, and later searches for an alternate escape route. In contrast, Simon is indecisive and cowardly when confronted with any of the killers (even when he has a numbers advantage).

Luckily for Simon, early on he’s surrounded by his own group that includes the most formidable good guys in the flick. Enes (Sean Patrick Flannery) is a one-armed cowboy who’s still deadly enough to take down a few killers himself. Trish (Skyler Cooper) is a transgendered female bull rider who more than holds her own in hand to hand combat. And rounding out the crew is Rosheen (Heather Mignon), a self-centered rodeo queen that knows the area.

A male lead in a horror film is always challenging since we instinctively don’t give them liberties to be afraid. When Kit flees, we’re rooting for her to get away. When Simon ran away or hesitates to fight one of the killers, I heard audible sighs from others in attendance bemoaning his cowardice. It became more galling when his shortcomings lead to others being killed. However, it builds a gradual but steady redemptive climax for his character where he has to outwit the killer cowboys’ strongest fighter one on one.

Kids and seniors are considered the most vulnerable members of our society, so inserting a group of them in a horror setting made for some dismaying kills. Most simply didn’t have the physical ability to keep away, and we see a variety of brutal deaths befall them (taser, bludgeoning, skull fractures).

Fortunately, the killer cowboy group gets their comeuppance in satisfying and macabre fashion. All the survivors get in on the fun, which includes dismemberment and a cow brand to the face.

You won’t like Simon for most of the film (hell, you still might not like him by movie’s end), but he will have gained your respect for saving the day.

***