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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO...

Benicio Del Toro reprises his role as the hired assassin named Alejandro in SICARIO 2: SOLDADO.

So I just found out online this morning that the 2015 action crime drama Sicario was given a sequel! Sicario 2: Soldado is set to hit theaters nationwide on June 29 of next year...with Benicio Del Toro reprising his role as the hired assassin named Alejandro, Josh Brolin as CIA operative Matt Graver and Jeffrey Donovan as fellow CIA associate Steve Forsing. While Emily Blunt won't be back as FBI agent Kate Macer, Catherine Keener (Get Out), Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises) have joined the cast. Awesome. Oh, and Stefano Sollima follows in Denis Villeneuve's (who helmed the first Sicario movie and this year's Blade Runner 2049) footsteps as Soldado's director. Check out the new trailer at the bottom of this entry.

Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Donovan return as CIA operatives bent on taking the war to a drug cartel in SICARIO 2: SOLDADO.

Two Black Hawk helicopters fly across the desert in SICARIO 2: SOLDADO.

A gunman prepares to open fire on a city street in SICARIO 2: SOLDADO.


Friday, December 15, 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI - Movie Review

A group of First Order AT-M6 walkers wage battle against an old Rebel base on the planet Crait in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Last night, I attended an advance screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi...and needless to say, it was an absolutely amazing film! Just by watching this eighth installment in the Skywalker saga (and ninth live-action movie in the Star Wars franchise), you can see why Rian Johnson would get Disney and Lucasfilm's blessing to produce his very own Star Wars trilogy—the first episode of which Johnson himself will write and direct next decade. While obviously paying homage to the Original Trilogy and prequels before it, as well as expanding upon the events depicted in 2015's The Force Awakens, Episode VIII also veers into uncharted territory as we see the power of the Force as never before, and the war between the Resistance and First Order taken to new levels. Rian Johnson created a Star Wars movie that puts the franchise on course for new and more exciting directions.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) holds the lightsaber hilt that once belonged to his father in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

In terms of the characters, The Last Jedi nicely develops the majority of folks previously seen in The Force Awakens. Of course, we finally get to hear Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) speak...and when he does speak, he has some memorable and funny one-liners. From telling Rey (Daisy Ridley) that there's a reason why he traveled "to the most unfindable place in the galaxy" (the planet Ahch-To) to chastising her and even Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) by mentioning that "everything (they) said (about the Force) is wrong," Luke still has that spunk he first showed when he was a Tatooine farm boy in 1977's A New Hope. In regards to Rey and Kylo Ren themselves, these two have the most interesting relationship in The Last Jedi. I won't spoil how this occurred, but something happens with the Force that causes the aspiring Jedi and would-be Sith Lord to communicate with each other (and briefly touch hands) even though they are literally light-years apart in the galaxy. It is this connection that prompts Rey to leave Ahch-To—home of Luke and the first Jedi temple (as well as some very adorable Porgs)—and confront Kylo in the final act of the movie. It is when they're together that the most memorable events and action scenes take place in The Last Jedi...and the sequel trilogy for that matter.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) prepares to fight an old Jedi foe in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Also getting a bigger role in The Last Jedi is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)...who started off as a "trigger-happy flyboy" before becoming a potential leader of the Resistance by the end of the film. He clearly has to be the Han Solo of the new trilogy—since he's apparently the first character in the Star Wars franchise (unless I misheard the line) to say "ass" in a movie. (The actual term he used was "big-ass door;" I won't elaborate on which door he's talking about). Rey, General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) or Kylo Ren wouldn't have gotten away with uttering a real-world swear word like that. But maybe Finn (John Boyega) would. (He does say "bastard" in the film.) Speaking of Finn, John Boyega once again did a nice job portraying the stormtrooper-turned-freedom fighter. Even though he's separated from his best friend Rey for much of the movie, Finn gets to team up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)...a Resistance mechanic who, in the words of Finn back in The Force Awakens, thinks the ex-stormtrooper is a "big deal." As a fellow Asian-American, it was cool to see an Asian actress have such a huge role in a Star Wars film. And I'm proud to say that, spoilers ahead, Rose will be back to help the Resistance continue battling the First Order in 2019's Star Wars: Episode IX.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) uses Kylo Ren's lightsaber to take on Supreme Leader Snoke's Elite Praetorian Guards in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Going back to General Leia Organa herself, it was bittersweet to watch Carrie Fisher give her last performance as the iconic figure. On the plus side, we get to watch her exhibit some amazing Force powers over the course of the movie. And yes, we get to see a nice reunion between her and her brother Luke (somewhat) towards the climax of the film. Like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, Leia will live on following the events of The Last Jedi. The sad thing is, we'll never get to see what's next for this beloved character in the sequel trilogy. But at least the princess of Alderaan had a happy ending in Episode VIII.

BB-8 and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) scurry down the hallway of a Resistance cruiser in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

To prevent this review from getting too long, I'll mention all the other characters in this paragraph: Domhnall Gleeson once again gave a great (and very funny) performance as the sniveling General Hux. Gwendoline Christie was awesome as the forever-underused Captain Phasma (but at least Christie finally got to reveal her face, somewhat, in The Last Jedi). Laura Dern was commendable as heroic Vice Admiral Holdo. Billie Lourd (Fisher's daughter) was cool as Lieutenant Connix, who was first seen in The Force Awakens. Benicio Del Toro was the Lando Calrissian/Boba Fett of Episode VIII...delightfully stuttering as he "helped" Finn and Rose in their mission to infiltrate a First Order Star Destroyer. And lastly, Andy Serkis once again did a fantastic job performing the motion capture for Supreme Leader Snoke...who was both funny and terrifying while it lasted.

Rose Tico (Kellie Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) share a moment on the planet Canto Bight in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

In regards to the action scenes of The Last Jedi, they were nicely executed in the movie—particularly during the final act. The opening space battle was fantastic, even though it was sad to see the Resistance bombers quickly get picked off by the First Order as if this was an outer space equivalent of the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. The scenes on the casino world of Canto Bight looked gorgeous, even though the time spent on this planet could've been shortened a bit. The Battle of Crait—where we see Resistance ground forces take on towering AT-M6 walkers—was almost as intense as the one on Hoth over three decades earlier. But the action scene that definitely takes the cake is (big spoiler ahead) the multi-person duel between Rey, Kylo Ren and Snoke's Elite Praetorian Guards. As a sign that The Last Jedi isn't a blatant remake of The Empire Strikes Back, Rey and Kylo Ren briefly team up to engage in a lightsaber duel with the red-clad warriors. However, this alliance is short-lived as Kylo Ren goes back to his villainous ways and, like his grandfather Darth Vader before him in The Empire Strikes Back, wants Rey to join him and the Dark Side after the duel is won. But hey, at least neither of them lost a hand during the fight!

A Porg rides shotgun with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) aboard the Millennium Falcon in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Musically, John Williams created more memorable tunes for The Last Jedi than he did with The Force Awakens. We obviously hear motifs from the previous episode such as the Resistance, Kylo Ren and Jedi Step themes from the end of Episode VII. We also hear Leia's theme, the Rebel fanfare from the Original Trilogy and even Yoda's theme...for a very good reason. (I can't wait to get my Last Jedi soundtrack CD in the mail after Amazon ships it today. Hopefully today.) Visual effects-wise, The Last Jedi looked stupendous! Not a surprise though... Episode VIII was originally set to be released on May 26 (in celebration of A New Hope's 40th anniversary this year) before it was pushed back to this weekend. So Johnson—who completed the movie for a targeted Memorial Day debut—had lots of extra time to work with Industrial Light & Magic to make The Last Jedi's visual effects as spiffy-looking as possible. This film definitely needs to be one of the five contenders for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars next year.

Resistance bombers as well as A-Wing and X-Wing fighters take on First Order forces in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

All-in-all, The Last Jedi was an awesome film. Fittingly, Luke Skywalker resembled Chuck Norris in his most badass moment towards the end of the movie. Kylo Ren evolved from a Darth Vader wannabe in Episode VII to a legitimate threat, akin to Count Dooku of the prequels, to the entire galaxy. Rey is truly on the path to becoming the newest Jedi hero like Luke, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi before her. And Leia will live on in Star Wars lore as the Resistance leader who survived to fight another day; even though sadly, we'll never get to see her fight on the big screen again. And it remains to be seen how Finn, Poe and Rose will rise up to take on Kylo Ren, General Hux and their evil forces once more in Episode IX. But in the meantime, go to the theater and watch The Last Jedi right away to see how Rian Johson expanded on the Star Wars saga...while saying farewell to much of what came before it. May the Force be with you.

4.5 out of 5 stars. ****1/2

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) fought for the galaxy one final time in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Disney Acquires 21st Century Fox...

With Disney's acquisition of X-MEN and FANTASTIC FOUR (as well as DEADPOOL), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) should be complete.

So as of today, Disney not only owns Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the majority of the Marvel film franchise, but it now has total control over The Simpsons, Aliens, Avatar, Independence Day, Family Guy and the rest of the Marvel film franchise (Sony owns Spider-Man but Marvel Studios is allowed to use him in its own movies). All I can say is, offer Hugh Jackman a huge paycheck so he can play Wolverine one last time in Avengers 4, make sure that Deadpool remains R-rated, ensure that James Cameron's Avatar sequels don't conflict with the release dates of future Star Wars movies (i.e. Rian Johnson's new trilogy) and (this is a NO-BRAINER) make sure that the next Fantastic Four and X-Men flicks (Will next year's Dark Phoenix be canceled? Of course not) are officially included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, and create an Independence Day sequel that's as good as the first one! Carry on.

And yes, I will be watching The Last Jedi during a 7 PM screening at AMC Theatres tonight.

Like Johnny Depp with the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels, Disney needs to cut Hugh Jackman a huge paycheck to have him play Wolverine again in the MCU.

I reckon Disney will ensure that the release dates for the AVATAR sequels won't conflict with those of future STAR WARS films... Will a third INDEPENDENCE DAY movie become a reality? Only if it's more faithful to the 1996 blockbuster hit.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

THE LAST JEDI Update: T-Minus 7 Days and Counting...

Rey (Daisy Ridley) uses Kylo Ren's lightsaber to take on Supreme Leader Snoke's Elite Praetorian Guards in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

One week from today, I'll be at the local AMC Theatre catching an advance screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi at a 7 PM show. Despite the fact I wish that Disney didn't spoil the awesome shot above (sorry for the crappy quality of this pic) by putting it on a TV spot that aired during shows like The Big Bang Theory tonight, this obviously whet my appetite in terms of what happens during the rest of this scene. Of course, if these two screenshots below (from the final theatrical trailer) are any indication, Rey (Daisy Ridley) probably wished that she didn't try to pull a badass but risky move on Supreme Leader Snoke's bodyguards like that. Can't wait to see how she gets out of this sticky situation seven days from now! Happy Thursday.

Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced and motion captured by Andy Serkis) unleashes the Dark Side of the Force on Rey (off-screen) in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
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Rey levitates and screams in agony as Supreme Leader Snoke unleashes the Dark Side of the Force on her in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Return to TITANIC...

A screenshot from TITANIC...which celebrates the 20th anniversary of its original theatrical release this month.

Earlier today, I went to the local AMC Theatre to once again watch James Cameron's Oscar-winning film Titanic on the big screen. The last time I saw this movie at the theater was in the summer of 1998 (after I graduated from high school and obviously before I started my first year in college)...months after Titanic took home 11 trophies, including one for Best Picture, at the Academy Awards that year. I was planning to watch this flick when it was shown in 3-D at theaters nationwide in 2012...but health issues prevented me from doing so.

A behind-the-scenes snapshot of a miniature model of Titanic being prepped at Fox Studios in Baja, California...where TITANIC was filmed.

It was awesome to see Titanic on the big screen again—especially in Dolby Vision. The image and sound quality were absolutely crisp. Titanic was shown on 35mm film when it opened in theaters 20 years ago this month, and still looked totally amazing in digital projection this time around (though I remain a huge fan of movies that continue to be shot on celluloid). What definitely stood out to me was the music score by the late James Horner. Even to this day, his immensely powerful music, with its beautiful themes for love and tragedy, still gets to me. And the sharp audio quality of Dolby Vision only enhanced the epic scope of this memorable score.

A behind-the-scenes snapshot of director James Cameron speaking to Kate Winslet (Rose DeWitt Bukater) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson) during the filming of TITANIC's climactic scene.

Much like what I did during Titanic's original theatrical run in 1997-'98, I plan to see this movie additional times on the big screen during its 7-day engagement. James Cameron brought this terrific film back to theaters for its 15th anniversary in 2012 (which also marked 100 years since the actual sinking of the Titanic...on April 15, 1912) and of course, its 20th anniversary this week. I plan on watching the tragic tale of Jack and Rose on the big screen again if Titanic returns in 2022 for its 25th anniversary. Happy Friday!

A behind-the-scenes snapshot of James Cameron directing Kate Winslet during the filming of TITANIC's climactic scene.