Baywatch

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★★★

“Sounds like a far-fetched and yet entertaining television series”. This is said during the movie Baywatch which is also far-fetched and entertaining. Like the movie 21 Jump Street, Baywatch resembles little of its source material, a once popular television show, and instead uses the subject matter for shallow comedy. The humor is low brow, toilet and raunchy. There is also excessive swearing. But it’s the splapstick humor and character quirks that i found quite funny. And for the rest of the time, it is able to hold curiosity for the story’s outcome.

Directed by Seth Gordon( who directed Horrible Bosses), the plot is about a group of beach lifeguards who train three new recruits to join their team but later find themselves investigating organized crime on the beach. The story goes at an irregular pace because it must, i suppose, split attention between showing the lifeguards on regular duty and watching them stealthily investigate a complex criminal. The dangerous master villain is Victoria Leeds, a business woman who deals drugs, bribes politicians, and intends to buy all of the beach property.

Mitch is the team leader of the lifeguards, played by Dwayne Johnson who balances a cross between a smack talking tough guy and a role model athlete. Working with him are Stephanie Holden(Ilfenesh Hadera) and C. J. Parker(Kelly Rohrbach). Their superior is Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) whose priority is about making his department look good.  The new recruits are Summer(Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie(Jon Bass), and disreputable Olympic swimmer Matt(Zac Efron). Effron is good in exaggerating his vanity for effective comedy. Bass as Ronnie is a physically unfit nerd with a lot of heart. Their training is rigorously unconventional as Matt finds out the hard way- he is forced to carry refrigerators. The team discusses the true nature of their role and agree that investigating a drug trade on their beach is part of their job. It’s a film that unfolds without realism as the focus is on skits of humor. Much of the time, Johnson and Effron exchange insults and call each other funny names. But Effron gets humbled when he begins to respect the work in being a lifeguard. Although the plot is not original or with clever dialogue, i was amused by the idea of lifeguards investigating dangerous criminals. As one funny beat cop tells them “There is no such thing as Lifeguard pursuit. You’re just a bunch of guys chasing another group of guys!”.

 

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Smurfs: The Lost Village

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★★★

The Smurfs were a flourishing toy merchandise for the younger imagination. Decades have passed since then but their recent movie, Smurfs: the Lost Village, regained my curiosity. Perhaps because there have been three Smurf movies, it could indicate a series that’s diverting enough for adults who once enjoyed playing with Smurf toys. And this third entry proved to be just that kind of film.

Smurfs: the Lost Village is entertaining in its own way with impressive animation, brisk momentum, and a unique story. It begins by briefly reintroducing the Smurf community before centering in on the protagonist. A reminder should clarify that the Smurfs are mainly a male species, led by a Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), who are named after their personalities. The main characters, for example, are Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer). There is only one female, Smurfette, on whom the narrative centers on. When her lack of belonging turns into an issue, she questions her place among the Smurfs. She even asks about her name – What does the “ette” mean? Then the plot thickens when she and three others are captured by the evil mage Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) who plans to invade a hidden village of mystery Smurfs.

Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato, is determined to learn about her origins. She also decides to own responsibility in venturing to the undiscovered smurf village and warn them about the invasion. The other three Smurfs Brainy , Hefty, and Clumsy accompany her. Brainy tends to challenge Smurfette’s values, particularly towards Gargamel and his cat where in one sequence they could have been defeated if not for her sympathy. Gargamel is bent on capturing Smurfs for biological purposes because it turns out that their bodies are a source of power which he can harness and use to becoming more powerful. It is unclear as to what he intends to do with all that power. And underlying this plot, there is a certain message in the film that reinforces the strength of feminism. But that would be in addition to what i found to be an already interesting narrative. It is a children’s movie directed by Kelly Asbury (director of Shrek 2) with a fun sense of adventure that i was able to go along with.  

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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★★★1/2

The 1991 Beauty and the Beast, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, impressed the hearts of so many viewers that it was bestowed with numerous forms of appreciation. Apart from being the first animated film to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, it was selected for preservation at the National Film Registry for its aesthetic significance. It therefore comes with this kind of nature that these type of films be revisited or remade.

The 2017 movie, a live action version directed by Bill Condon, follows the beats of the 1991 film very closely and i was very entertained.   Belle is the lead character, the attractive villager who is frowned upon by others for her love of reading books. But when her eccentric father disappears in the forest, she travels far away to find him locked inside a palace that belongs to a grumpy beast. An introduction gives an explanation for the origins of the beast and that of his servants who have been transformed into talking artifacts. The only way to reverse their curse is if the Beast were to fall in love with a woman who also loves him. Time is essential, for if a particular rose withers all its petals, the Beast and servants shall never return to human form. This becomes more unlikely with the Beast’s difficult personality and the villagers who become threatened by its existence.

Emma Watson plays Belle as independent and brave while the Beast, a CGI appearance with the voice and human counterpart of Robby Benson, contains ire and lost hope. Their interactions are convincing as they despise one another and then realize the value in one another’s companionship or inner beauty. The Beast’s servants retain their upbeat personas and they are all there – the clock (voiced by Ian McKellen) and the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), a Wardrobe (Audra McDonald), teapot (Emma Thompson), teacup (Nathan Mack) , and a Harpsichord (Stanley Tucci). Gaston is performed by Luke Evans like a conceited villain and Josh Gad as his mocking sidekick LeFou.  Some of the settings are created using splendid computer effects like the dim interiors of the castle with its elegant lighting and ornaments that evoke an atmosphere between reality and animation, a suitable look for fantasy. And crucial to the films enjoyment are the same musical tracks from the 1991 Oscar-winning score by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken. I was pleased with the films sound, presentation, and homage to its fairy tale. It retains the moving emotions and joy in its music.

Alien Covenant

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★★★

Alien Covenant is the sixth movie in the series. It follows Prometheus, the prequel for the events of 1979’s ‘Alien’, that suggests the origins of the monster known as the Xenomorph and pushes the ideas into the realm of alien-creators referred to as Engineers. Alien Covenant has reason to expand on that but surprisingly retracts, instead returning the narrative to a more traditional form.

Following a brief introduction with the android David and his creator, Covenant begins with a large space ship of human colonists that suddenly gets damaged, killing some of the crew. After undergoing repairs, the ship receives a mysterious transmission from an unknown planet which leads the crew to visit it for colonization purposes. But soon after landing, they are invaded by dangerous particles that produce dreadful aliens. David appears out of nowhere, wearing a robe and displaying long hair, and offers the colonists refuge in his hideout from the terrifying beasts. They are safe for a while but later face a more unexpected threat.

The director Ridley Scott, who made Prometheus and the 1979 Alien, directs an atmospheric feature with a setting that is much like earth’s surface.  An ordinary forest. The archaic hideout of David looks like an abandoned and bleak stone fortress. Its action scenes are more violent than other Alien movies i think. And one creature, the Neomorph is chillingly disturbing. These are just observations. However on the base premise of space explorers who are trying to survive an ordeal, i liked the movie. It has a captivating story behind David, suspenseful build-up, and actors believable in their emotions of fear. Michael Fassbender plays two androids, David and Walter, in a creepy dual role that works seamlessly by performance and special effects.  Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and Demián Bichir are among the space colonists and are able to perform their role functions well. However I did miss the sympathetic characters from the first two movies of the series.  Crudup, as the group’s decision maker, is given a few moments to establish his character as a man with uncertain leadership skill. And Waterston, who plays his second-in-charge, is in a constant state of grief due to the recent loss of her partner (a cameo of a sleeping James Franco). If Alien Covenant is said to be a bridge-film between Prometheus and the 1979 Alien movie, there is still reason to believe that further bridge-films could be made. I still hope they create another one, continuing to take chances and expanding ideas as they did with the unforeseen wonder of Prometheus, and to a lesser extent with this film.

The Lost City of Z

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★★★1/2

Based on a non-fiction book by David Grann, The Lost City of Z is an adventure drama based on the true story of a man’s repeated expedition into the Bolivian jungles. His initial mission was to map the boundaries between Bolivia and Brazil but he continued afterwards in a quest to find an ancient civilization. The film is about some of his journeys including his last. His name is Percy Fawcett.

The narrative follows his path from being a ranking British army officer to a determined explorer. By an assignment from elite members of the Royal Geographic Society, his travels take him on dangerous rivers, dense jungles, and tense communication with a plantation owner (played by Franco Nero) and cautious tribes people. The conditions are harsh and the characters are often starving if not concerned for food. As one boatman hopelessly observes, “it’s like a green desert”. But Fawcett comes upon evidence of an undiscovered primitive civilization and it becomes his unwavering objective to find it.

The film’s director and screenwriter is James Gray who directed  ‘We Own the Night’ and ‘The Immigrant’. I like the visual qualities of those films, particularly the cinematography and lighting which I could even describe as elegant. And with the Lost City of Z, I think Gray has created a better looking motion picture than those mentioned. It is not a quick moving film, being a drama, but the natural surroundings are a challenging obstacle for the characters and the protagonist has a strong desire that is interesting to observe. Percy Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam in a confident and strong performance. The personality is that of a go-getter, an optimist, and daring. Accompanying him on the expeditions is Corporal Henry Costin played by Robert Pattinson who is not easily recognizable under a thick beard and dialed down performance. Back in England are Fawcett’s wife and three children.  The wife Nina is played by Sienna Miller as the authority of the household and is as strong a leader perhaps, as Fawcett. His eldest son Jack (played at different ages by Tom Holland, Bobby Smalldridge, Tom Mulheron) seems to possess his father’s tenacity which explains why he gets taken along on his last trip to the Bolivia. Their final moments onscreen includes a comment by a tribal chief that brings a thought of existentialism to Fawcett’s character. Whether this story aligns well with the facts of the book, I am unsure of. It is said that Fawcett had travelled seven times in search of the missing civilization that he called “Z”, a belief that was said to have been ridiculed for many years and then was proven to have some validity based on much later findings. Regardless, I find this to be an absorbing film with noteworthy acting and my wish is that it should had been a bit longer to show more accounts of his journey. 

Kong: Skull Island

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★★★

There have been seven King Kong movies, the first one in 1933, and they are not easy to enumerate.  I only remember three and they are the original, the 1976, and 2005 versions. Others might recollect the Japanese movie King Kong vs Godzilla which borrows the giant ape character for a completely different story. Regardless of how they have been made, whether they impart terror or tragedy, these movies are able to deliver an impact to the viewer. Which is probably why Kong: Skull Island exists. It doesn’t follow the traditional story that culminates with Kong protecting his female captive up the top of the Empire State Building. This one is about Kong in his natural habitat, being fierce and dominant.

Kong: Skull Island is an engaging blockbuster. Although i didn’t like the way it began nor was i too fond of the first half, it got more exciting and progressed to an impressive finale. I was thankful for that. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, there is plenty of action, hardly a dull moment, and admiration must be given to the special effects team who create some magnificent spectacles. Some scenes are of Kong doing battle with unique creatures while others are of brief moments in passing, like when a buffalo-like animal drinks at a river or when an octopus suddenly emerges. The story is basic because it is once again about a group of explorers (and soldiers) who encounter the giant ape in his home of Skull Island. But their reasons for travelling there are interesting and King Kong isn’t the only giant they run into.

The characters are played by John Goodman, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Ortiz and many others. Hiddleston, as fine an actor as he is, i thought seemed miscast as a tracker. But it is Samuel Jackson and John C. Reilly who are compelling. The former is an embittered Lieutenant who seems to be cooking bad ideas throughout the story and the latter is a stranded war veteran who has moved on to a peaceful state of living with the islands natives. I also liked some of the performances by the supporting cast who give subtle impressions about their mission and part in the Vietnam War. Which brings about an effective mild undercurrent that i did not expect in a monster movie – an antiwar sentiment. So i liked the movie overall, and had the first half been a bit more creative, perhaps i would have liked it a lot more.