‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Movie Review

transformerslk_03Monday evening, I attended the press screening of ‘Transformers: The Last Knight‘. Now, I grew up with Transformers. I watched the cartoon series every weekday when I came home from school, I had the toys, I saw the 1986 movie when it came out in the theaters and I still, to this day, own the entire run of Marvel Comics 1 – 80 with all of the specials, crossovers and 3-D issues. When a live-action film was announced back in 2002, I was intrigued. When I finally saw it, I was crestfallen. And each time a new installment of the franchise comes out, it’s like Michael Bay himself is stripping away another layer of my soul. With all of that said (because I believe in full disclosure) this latest entry of the franchise may be the very worst ‘Transformers’ film yet. I wish I was kidding. And BTW: I would say that this review might contain spoilers if not for the fact that nothing I tell you could possibly spoil this movie any more than the studio already has. Let’s begin:

 

The story opens during Medieval times with a epic, fierce and fiery battle. I was hoping this would be a story involving possible time travel like the comics did in issues #33 and #34 and perhaps even lead into a Hasbro Cinematic Universe by bringing in ROM The Space Knight in some fashion. The always fabulous Stanley Tucci shows up again (just a cameo this time around) as the “wizard” Merlin begging a Transformer for help in battling the enemy army of King Arthur. The Transformer gives him a staff that will allow him to control a Transformer dragon. We then jump ahead to present day and the whole movie quickly devolves into what can only be referred to as “explosion porn”. I won’t give you the blow-by-blow but we are introduced to some new characters (Isabella Moner, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Santiago Cabrera) sprinkled in with the familiar faces (Mark Wahlberg, Glenn Morshower, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro). All of these actors are phenomenally talented people and do as good of a job as they can within the film, but sadly, the writing and dialogue are such that they merely insist that “this person cares about this person” and “a bond is now formed between these 2 characters” and “this group are now uneasy allies”, etc, without ever letting it happen or even giving the actors time to emote anything which translates to the audience never truly being invested in any of it. The film hurries along during it’s 2 hour and 30 minute run time but because everything is so rushed and jumbled you get the impression that a lot was left on the cutting room floor including a coherent plot. If you can overlook ALL of that and just decide that you want to spend nearly 3 hours of your life on mindless “fun” and watching stuff get blown up, then this is the film for you. Allow me to go full “Stefan” on you for a moment and tell you all the things you’ll see in this movie:

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Knights, Vikings, Submarines, Nazis, Aston Martins, robotic ninja butlers, jet fighters, abandoned churches, drones, poor attempts at humor, car chases, pyramids, bullet time, space battles, zero gravity environments, secret passages, Anthony Hopkins giving people the middle finger, children being sassy and the love child of BB-8 and Wall-E. Oh, and did I mention that Earth is Unicron? Yeah… Just to give you an idea of how bad this movie is, Cybertron is moving towards Earth with the intention of merging with it. Mind you, according to the film, only the final event of the merge will be what kills people. No mention is given to the fact that a large celestial object being in Earth’s atmosphere would cause massive cataclysmic damage as gravity goes haywire and the tides sweep over the land, etc. Heck, even the 80’s cartoon episode “The Ultimate Doom” took basic physics into the equation when this same thing occurred. But nope! It’s a bright sunny day as the military fighters attack the focal point of Cybertron’s energy transfer just a few miles above Stonehenge.

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In one of the more ridiculous scenes (which is saying something), Josh Duhamel and Megatron meet with a group of lawyers to negotiate which of the Decepticons the U.S. Government is willing to release to help them track down Mark Wahlberg’s character. We end up getting a ‘Suicide Squad‘-esque ripoff as an introduction to these Decepticon characters, one of whom was imprisoned for bank robbery. <eye roll> Basically this movie resembles something that a group of 14 year-old boys made while hopped up on Red Bull and Fun Dip in order to entertain a group of 10 year-old boys. Of the films I’ve reviewed so far this year, I’d actually put this one below ‘Baywatch‘ and only give it a score of 3 out of 10. If you’re somehow invested in this franchise, if you’ve sat through the last 4 and want to continue your streak or if the A/C in your home isn’t working and you just need someplace cool to sit for a few hours without the need to think about anything, then please, go see this film. Otherwise, you may want to give this one a very:

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MegaCon Orlando 2017

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Another con in the books! MegaCon Orlando 2017 was a success. It was well attended and had a great variety of vendors, artists and guests. The main draws for me this year were actors Brent Spiner (‘Star Trek: TNG’, ‘Outcast’), Nicholas Brendon (‘Buffy’, ‘Criminal Minds’) Caity Lotz (‘Mad Men’, ‘Legends Of Tomorrow’) & Tom Cavanagh (‘Ed’, ‘Royal Pains’, ‘The Flash’) and comic creators Bob Layton, Scott Snyder, Greg Rucka and Howard Chaykin. But the guest list had a very impressive number of celebrities including the always popular Stan Lee and the cast of ‘The Dukes Of Hazzard‘ just to name a few. There was a lot to try and get to this time as I was only able to be there for Friday and Saturday of this 4 day event but I was determined to make the most of my time.

Knowing Saturday to always be the busiest day of any convention, I went to the celebrities to try to grab interviews that I could use for Saturday’s live broadcast of my radio show (follow me on Twitter @GeekToMeRadio for details on how to listen each week). I was able to get a brief interview with Nicholas Brendon as well as Greg Rucka and Howard Chaykin. Saturday was significantly busier and there were a great number of celebrities in attendance (some can only do Saturday and Sunday). The staff was very helpful but information wasn’t readily available and some volunteers could only offer educated guesses instead of solid answers to some of my questions beginning with “Where do I go for my press credentials?” to “Where do I find Bob Layton?” Another thing I noticed was the lack of signage in the line-up area for the celebrities. Most other cons have some sort of stand-up sign detailing when the celebrities would be at their booths and what the prices were for autographs and photos. These were not to be found anywhere on the floor and the program did not have pricing listed either. This caused some confusion for a few guests who made it up to near the front of the line before being told they had to pay money for a selfie (granted, they should have known this, but still…).
Another surprise I had not expected was being told that all of the press and interviews were already done. Considering I was emailed and asked for my “wish list”, I assumed that I might get the chance to interview one or two of the 12 celebrities I had inquired about in my reply. Finally I found the set up a little wonky. There seemed to be more room than needed in the autograph area for the celebrities but a little cramped in the vendor area and at Artist Alley. The need to walk around the entire building to enter in the nearly empty back area rather than using the ample room in the front hall also seemed to be a waste of space and I heard several other con goers voice the same complaint. Overall, I’d have to rate MegaCon Orlando a 6 out of 10 compared to other cons I have experienced this year. There was great potential, but seemingly a lot of missed opportunities and hiccups as well. Hopefully next year will be better.

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‘Cars 3’ Movie Review

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That’s right: ‘Cars’ now joins ‘Toy Story‘ in a very exclusive club of Pixar trilogies with the release of ‘Cars 3‘ which arrives in theaters this weekend. It’s been 9 years since the first film raced into the cinema. Evidently that’s enough time for one-time great Lightning McQueen (voiced again by Owen Wilson) to become a thing of the past as new generation of high-tech racers begin to take over the track. McQueen’s newest rival is the slick and streamlined Jackson Storm (voice by Armie Hammer). One by one, Lightning’s contemporaries begin to retire as they are unable to keep up with the new kids on the black. Lightning refuses to give in and ends up wiping out, unable to race for the next 4 months as he idles around his home in a base coat of primer. After a pep talk from his girlfriend Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt), Lightning decides to get back to it with help from new sponsor & financier Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion) who, with the help of trainer Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) aims to secure Lightning’s legacy… as a spokesman.

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Unsatisfied with this arrangement, McQueen makes a deal with Sterling: Let him race one more time and, if he wins, then HE decides when he retires – not Sterling. Reluctantly, Sterling agrees and McQueen sets off to rediscover his mojo as Cruz reluctantly tags along. After some road trip worthy hijinks involving accidentally entering into a demolition derby and seeking out his mentor Doc Hudson’s mechanic & crew chief: Smokey (voiced by Chris Cooper), Lightning makes his way to The Florida 500 and his last chance to beat Jackson Storm.

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The previews that I’ve seen so far made the movie seem like it was a bit darker than previous ‘Cars‘ films or any other features from Pixar for that matter. While the movie wasn’t dark, it definitely had moments that I found… depressing. (I say that as someone in their middle-age years who may be able to relate a little TOO well to what Lightning is experiencing.) The comic relief of Mater (voiced by Larry The Cable Guy) was present and there were certainly fun moments but the film definitely had a heavier feel than previous installments of the series. As is to be expected from Pixar Studios, the voice acting was pitch perfect across the board and the animation was flawless and smooth. Of course this is an animated film so it’s not necessarily going to surprise anyone that the story line offered few surprises with one slight exception to the ending of the film which I can’t mention without spoiling the final outcome (which I am very careful not to do in my reviews). With ‘Wonder Woman‘ now entering her 3rd weekend at the box office and with the number of kids who will be clamoring to see anything from Pixar, I would expect that ‘Cars 3’ will take the #1 spot at the box office thus relegating ‘Wonder Woman’ to 2nd place. Overall, while the movie was enjoyable, I don’t think it was anything innovative or special enough for me to give it anything but a 6.5 out of 10.

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‘The Mummy’ Movie Review

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Admittedly, Universal was taking a risk with this film. It was another reboot of a movie that has been done (not counting spin-offs) 5 times since the original debuted in 1932. But for the most part, I think the risk paid off for them. If you are looking for a fun, new summer movie, then this updated version of ‘The Mummy‘ may be the one for you. The opening excitedly sets the stage for what I was hoping would be a good old-fashion horror movie that quickly takes a bit of a turn and heads more into the action, adventure realm that the Brendan Fraser one was (only less stylized). Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, a military man who also deals in black market antiquities with the help of his partner Chris Vail, played wonderfully by Jake Johnson. While looking for treasure in a hostile part of Iraq, they end up discovering a hidden Egyptian tomb (which is odd since they are in what used to be Mesopotamia.) The military comes in to assist along with archaeologist Jenny Halsey, from whom Nick stole the map after a one-night stand. Halsey (played confidently by actress Annabelle Wallis) realizes that it isn’t a tomb, but a prison. In an effort to quickly extract their findings before insurgents sweep in to overtake the area, Nick unknowing releases Ahmanet (divinely portrayed by the sublime Sofia Boutella) which begins to allows her, and the curse she carries, to awaken!

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The whole idea behind this reboot is to make a connected movie universe using Universal Pictures “Monsters” in an effort to mimic the success enjoyed by Disney with their Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a concept I think would be a lot of fun if they get it right. Overall, with one or two hiccups in this movie, I’d say they are off to a decent start. This means we may end up seeing a Dracula VS The Mummy film or Creature From The Black Lagoon VS The Wolf Man feature in the not too distant future. Given the success of their “Monster” brand, it sounds like a gold mine of an idea and the writers and producers did a great job giving us a little taste of what that might look like within the course of this film along with a great turn by Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry (wait for it…) Jeckyll.

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From the premise of this being an opening gambit for what they are referring to as their “Dark Universe“, the film does a fine job in setting the stage. All of the acting is solid and the Easter Eggs given (more in-your-face than subtle) are still very cool to behold. The plot is a little choppy and some of this new Mummy’s powers are rather inexplicable given what we are used to from previous versions of this creature that we’ve seen. I also would have rather seen a more horror laden film as opposed to the action-adventure flick sprinkled a little too heavily with comedic moments that we actually ended up with in the final product. That being said, I think that most people will enjoy ‘The Mummy’ for what it is and be able to look forward to what monster Universal has in-store for us lurking in the cinematic shadows.
**TWO THINGS TO NOTE**
1) I saw the movie in 3-D and I will say that it was NOT a movie that needs to be seen in that format. If you have a problem with 3-D viewing or just don’t want to spend the extra few bucks for the upgrade, do not.
2) There are NO post-credit scenes. I stuck around until the very end hoping to see something since this is the beginning of a connected universe but, to my dismay, nothing was shown. Feel free to head to your car as soon as the first credits begin to roll.

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‘Wonder Woman’ Movie Review

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FINALLY!!!!! Finally, after two lackluster attempts to launch a movie that successfully captures the true spirit of the DC Comics characters that Warner Bros has in their stable, finally they get a win. A true win in every sense of the word. ‘Wonder Woman‘ is outstanding which not only lit the embers of hope for the struggling DC Cinematic Universe, it blazed them into a raging inferno. This is a film that not only truly captures the essence of Princess Diana of Themyscira, it perfectly balances exactly what she was meant to be: an emissary of peace, a symbol of hope and a warrior without peer. Patty Jenkins is to be commended for her insightful directing and for carefully crafting a comic book movie that stacks up solidly against some of rival studio Marvel’s top-rated films to date.

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Within the seemingly fast span of the film’s 2 hour 21 minute run time, we get a comprehensive origin story, a fully-fleshed out cast of characters, a compelling narrative that is neither too simple nor overly complex and a stunning finish that hits all the proper notes that one would hope to see from a movie that has been as highly anticipated as this one. Gal Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life before our eyes and carries herself throughout the film with the proper poise and grace of the warrior she is supposed to be while still displaying those small signs of understandable uncertainty as she takes on the new world into which she has flung herself. Chris Pine is his usual charming self and displays an understated urgency to his role as Steve Trevor. It’s always a pleasure to see Robin Wright on screen and her versatility as an actor shines yet again in this role as the Amazon General Antiope who takes it upon herself to train Diana for what is to come. The villains played by Elena Anaya and Danny Huston are classically evil and never over-the-top or silly (looking at you Jesse Eisenberg‘s Lex Luthor).

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I have been saying for some time now how much of a DC Comics fan I am and how desperately I want the films to be good. Now, I am proud to say that they are getting there. Whatever the formula was that brought us this nearly perfect comic book film needs to be the formula that Warner Bros and DC stays with going forward. At no point did the movie ever drag, it never felt too dark or heavy (which is interesting given it was set against the backdrop of The Great War) and, perhaps most importantly, it raised the bar for future films to be headed by a female lead. I am very, very pleased to say that ‘Wonder Woman’ scored a solid 10 with me and it will also be the first film from the DC Cinematic Universe that I will be going back to see in theaters for a second time. And maybe a third. Possibly a fourth. The only downside I foresee is that we’ll now have to deal with all of the people who are suddenly Wonder Woman fans just like real Cubs fans had to put up with when the team finally won the World Series this past season. #WWFanProblems. (P.S. There were, sadly, no stingers or post-credit scenes at the end of the film so feel free to disperse as soon as the credits begin to roll. You’re welcome.)

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Review of ‘Arrow’ Season 5, Episode 23: ‘Lian Yu’

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So the Season 5 Finale of ‘Arrow’ ended with a BANG. Quite literally. We witnessed the end of Oliver Queen’s 5 years away with the flashbacks concluding in his escape from Constantine Kovar who had followed Oliver back to Lian Yu to torture him. Oliver then kills Kovar, manages to signal the boat that was scheduled to pass by and be “rescued” from the island. We even witness a touching moment as he calls his mother, Moira Queen, to inform her that he is alive and on his way home. It was great to see Susanna Thompson return for the scene and put a nice coda on Oliver’s “5 years in hell.”

Moira Queen wasn’t the only familiar face we saw in the finale. Manu Bennett returned to play Deathstroke (now free of the Mirakuru that turned him evil) & Nick E. Tarabay reprises his role of Digger Harkness who Oliver recruits to help him, Nyssa & Malcolm free his friends and beat Adrian Chase once and for all. The finale was breathless, exciting and seemed to shift effortlessly between flashback to present day even more so than past episodes.  Whether this is due to the flashback sequences finally catching up to where the series first began or if it was just the nature of the action in this particular episode is anyone’s guess. Everything that this season had been hinting at or building up to finally came to a head. It was great seeing Oliver ally himself with his former enemies and rivals and we got some spectacular battles as a result including the NEW Black Canary (played flawlessly by Juliana Harkavy) VS Black Siren (an evil version of Laurel played by fan favorite Katie Cassidy) as well as a battle between Talia Al Ghul and Nyssa Al Ghul. The final battle between Team Arrow and Prometheus’ gang was excellently staged and climaxed with a showdown between Oliver & Chase as the latter attempts to escape on a boat with Oliver’s son, William.

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Meanwhile, Felicity & Curtis have realized that Chase rigged the entire island to be blown up with plastique explosive charges set ALL OVER the island and if Chase dies, the bombs will go off. Oliver manages to wound Chase without killing him in order to save William but Chase is once again “ten moves ahead” and uses a hidden gun to kill himself. Oliver and William watch in horror from the boat as explosions rip across all of Lian Yu making it appear that none of Oliver’s friends could have possibly survived. The episode, like the one that preceded it, was pitch perfect and may very well be some of the finest comic book television that we’ve been treated to since ‘Arrow‘ kicked off this small screen DC Universe just a hair under 5 years ago. Obviously we are left with questions about who will survive the events witnessed here as well as what, if anything, will take the place of the flashback sequences that have become a staple of this show? It seems like the adrenaline fueled finale has somehow closed the book on the first volume of the story of Green Arrow and leaves us open to a bold new direction for the show and the characters’ storylines. The hard part now will be waiting to see how the show and the characters move forward from here in a way that we have yet to witness in the “Arrowverse” to date. Regardless, THIS is how you do a season finale and I have no choice but to score it as a perfect 10! Bravo to the entire cast, crew and all of the writers. You all have surpassed yourselves and I, for one, can’t wait to see how you top this.

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‘Pirates Of The Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Movie Review

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Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales‘ will be in theaters this weekend. The 5th installment of Disney’s popular franchise has been highly anticipated and previous films have broken box office records across the globe. While this current offering is on-track to an $80 million opening weekend domestically and $175 million internationally, that still puts it below the last 3 iterations and I predict a sharp decline after that. Here is my spoiler free take on ‘Pirates 5’:

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As a fan of the original trilogy, I was looking forward to seeing more of the same breathless adventure that I’d come to expect from Captain Jack Sparrow & Company. With the exceptions of the always outstanding Geoffrey Rush and the intriguing new villain played brilliantly by Javier Bardem, it seemed like the rest of the cast was tired and almost bored. Even the youthful injection of Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites as Carina Smyth and Henry Turner, respectively, weren’t enough to ever propel the film forward with any compelling amount of vigor. The plot also seemed a little muddled and gave the impression that there were too many strings that had to be pulled together to make the story cohesive. I didn’t feel invested in the movie until a little past the half way point when we see Javier Bardem’s character of Captain Salazar tell his origin story. The action from there picked up significantly and the film ended on a strong note while, naturally, leaving the possibility of another movie should Disney decide to go there.

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The film also gives us a look at how Jack Sparrow became Captain which is tied directly into the back-story of Bardem’s creepy, yet majestic Captain Salazar. While the movie’s first half seems to drag and Johnny Depp himself seems to have lost that whimsical spring in his step that we’ve come to expect from Captain Jack over the years, the film will no doubt dominate the Memorial Day box office just as the Bond movies continue to do well each time a new one is released. If you are a fan of the ‘Pirates’ franchise, then this movie is definitely worth your time, but it ends up being my least favorite installment to date and probably not one that I would revisit until it hits Bluray. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ fails to get the gold and, for me, sails in at only a 6.5.

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‘Baywatch’ Movie Review

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Okay! Summer is just around the corner so bring on the season’s blockbusters. But before those come out, we have ‘Baywatch‘. I’ll preface this review by saying that I am a movie fan and so even when a movie is bad, it’s never all bad. That being said, ‘Baywatch’ is still a decent “bad movie.” I would also say that I’ll keep my review spoiler free, but unless you are expecting an awesome action film, then it’s hard to spoil this one at all. There is action, there are explosions, there is comedy and some fun to be had, sure. But overall, I think this is one you may want to hold off on seeing until it hits Netflix or Redbox. The cast are all great at their parts and the movie does a fine job of never taking itself too seriously which was its main saving grace. No matter the role, Dwayne Johnson always seems to have fun on camera and that oozes through the screen making it nearly impossible to hate any movie in which he appears. That holds true here as he takes on the role of Mitch Buchannon (originally played by David Hasselhoff in the TV series) who is the lead lifeguard of Baywatch and maybe takes his role as the bay’s protector a little too seriously.

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Joining him are Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden (played by Alexandra Paul on the series for those keeping track at home), who is sadly under utilized in the film, and Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker (played by Pamela Anderson in the series). They have 3 openings for new trainees on the team and one of those new trainees is disgraced Olympic Swimming star Matt Brody. Zac Effron channels his inner douche to a tee as he takes on this role and his interactions with Dwayne Johnson’s character provide equal parts comical and “buddy cop”-esque. Several laughs also come from Jon Bass‘s character of Ronnie Greenbaum as the tech kid with gumption and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II‘s portrayal of Police Sgt. Ellerbee who continually has to remind the gang that they aren’t actual law enforcement agents. Rounding out the cast is Priyanka Chopra who you can tell is doing her best to have fun with her role as an over-the-top and not very well written villain looking to buy up all of the property on the bay and start selling drugs out of her lavish club.

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All of that being said, the overall movie is predictable yet still fun. The jokes along with the copious amounts of skin (but hey… it’s ‘Baywatch’) and use of the “F-bomb” (I’m no prude, but it’s needlessly overused) seem mostly designed to be appreciated by the age 12 – 24 male audience but that’s not to say it isn’t a fun movie to watch. For those who enjoyed the TV series, there are some enjoyable cameos by both “The Hoff” and Pamela Anderson as well as some clever nods to the show. But if you’re looking for a movie to see this weekend, I’d recommend holding off on this one unless you’ve already seen everything else currently in theaters. On a scale of 1 – 10, I’d have to sadly give ‘Baywatch’ a very middling 5.

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Review of ‘Arrow’ Season 5, Episode 22: ‘Missing’

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Last night, ‘Arrow’ gave us what may have been the best episode of the season thus far. All preparing us for next week’s Season 5 Finale! After having finally captured Adrian Chase (aka: Prometheus), Team Arrow can begin to relax and start planning for the future which includes celebrating Oliver’s birthday (with a cake from Lord Mesa Bakery – an inside joke but quite brilliantly played) and discussing summer plans. Quentin is worried because Rene didn’t show up to his custody hearing and Dinah is a no-show to Oliver’s surprise party. When Curtis leaves to check on Dinah, he is attacked which alerts the team that Prometheus must have someone on the outside who is picking off the team one-by-one. Quentin and Thea head to an ARGUS safe house and Oliver orders Felicity and John to leave the state. That plan fails to work out when Evelyn and Black Siren along with Talia & The League of Assassins end up capturing all of them anyway. When Oliver confronts Prometheus about his friends’ whereabouts, Prometheus reveals that he also has Oliver’s son William. He promises to tell Oliver where everyone is once he is released. Oliver teams with Malcolm Merlyn to free Prometheus and then also brings Nyssa in to aid them in stopping Chase and freeing his friends. The trio realize that Chase has taken his prisoners to Lian Yu and they head there themselves to get one more person to help them stop Prometheus once and for all – Slade Wilson.slade_01
This episode was about as perfect as it gets for me. It had the full roster of guest appearances & familiar faces, the classic superhero / supervillain team up, the struggle of doing what is right vs what is necessary and it’s all leading up to what promises to be an incredible season finale. I’ve been very impressed with this season over all and I believe that the writers, actors, fight choreographers, etc, have all upped their game significantly. This is especially important since Season 4 felt like such a disappointment for most of its run. The flashback scenes in this episode with Kovar drugging and torturing Oliver on the island is set to bring everything full circle to where we first joined in for the start of Season 1. In the end, unless something goes terribly wrong with next week’s finale, I think Season 5 may go down in the books as possibly the strongest and most consistent season of ‘Arrow’ since Season 2. Given the immense amount of talent that this show has brought us over the past 5 years, that is really saying something and it speaks volumes about why this show is considered the touchstone of the DC TV Universe. Due to the strength of this episode, the phenomenal acting and the tense build-up that was perfectly orchestrated leading into the finale, I would rate this one a straight up 10. Now have some cake!

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‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’ Movie Review

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The highly anticipated sequel to Marvel Studios‘ smash hit ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy‘ lands in theaters this coming weekend. Expectations are high given the success of the original film which broke several box office records when it was released in 2014. James Gunn has done a great job of keeping things under wraps and has tried his best to make sure that the movie’s more surprising moments remain a surprise. I always endeavor to keep my reviews spoiler free so don’t be concerned about reading onward from here. Comparing this current film to its predecessor is difficult on several fronts. The original movie was a shock to most in so much as very, VERY few people had heard of The Guardians outside of those in the comic book crowd which meant that Marvel took a very big risk by including them in their cinematic world. That gamble paid off in spades as the favorable reviews came pouring in partly from people who went in not knowing what to expect and who ended up getting a fun, full-fledged space adventure the likes of which few had seen since 2009’s ‘Star Trek’ reboot.  That being said, even without the surprise factor, ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2‘ is a solid film that gives us all of the elements we loved in the original while still moving along the larger narrative within Phase 3 of the MCU and pushing us ever closer to ‘Infinity War’.

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The film opens on our heroes being contracted to keep a planet’s power batteries from being devoured by a giant space monster. Hilarity and the opening credits ensue. The Guardians are successful in their battle and receive their payment – a captive Nebula, Gamora’s evil sister. But after Rocket Raccoon steals some of the batteries upon leaving, they are all branded as criminals and hunted by the planet’s inhabitants. After crash landing on an alien world while making their escape, the Guardians are approached by a being called Ego who claims to be Peter Quill / Star-Lord‘s biological father.  Star Lord, Gamora and Drax agree to accompany Ego and his companion, Mantis, back to his home world while Rocket & Groot stay behind to guard Nebula and repair the ship. To go much further into the details of the story would risk tipping you off to a spoiler or two so I’ll stop there. Needless to say that I didn’t find too much about the movie that I didn’t enjoy. The epic music soundtrack was well utilized just as it was in the first film and rolled right along in lockstep with the plot. James Gunn did a terrific job of maintaining the balance of humor, feels and action as a writer and an equally admirable job of mining each actor’s talents and range as their director.

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All of the actors now seem comfortable in their roles and play their parts to a tee. Kurt Russell almost seems like he’s been waiting for a role in the MCU his entire career and delivers a fun and noteworthy performance as Ego. Dave Bautista‘s performance as Drax is even more enjoyable in this 2nd installment than it was last time around and his interactions with Pom Klementieff‘s nuanced take as Mantis were delightful to behold. Of all of the actors in the movie, the standout for me was Michael Rooker as Yondu who finally gets the extra film time he so richly deserves and seems to savor each second he spends on screen. Karen Gillan also enjoys more time on camera as her character of Nebula has a bigger role in the sequel. Her ruthlessness and ferocity on full display while portraying Nebula’s revenge-obsessed sister makes you realize just what a fantastic actress Karen truly is. The comic book fan in me also “squeeed” a little at the nods to the 90’s version of The Guardians of The Galaxy within the film. Sylvester Stallone & Michael Rosenbaum as Starhawk & Martinex? Yes, please!!

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If I had to point to anything negative, I feel that the use of Groot as comic relief may have been carried as far as it dare be pushed. Adorable as Baby Groot was and as funny as the schtick they used him for ended up being, we don’t want to run the risk of veering into Ewok territory because, as any Star Wars fan will tell you, it’s just a small shuffle from there into full-on Jar Jar land. The viewing I went to was in 3-D and, given the CGI special effects used in a film like this, it made for spectacular visuals and helped rather than hurt the movie. Marvel seems to be able to do well when it comes to creating sequels that are equal to, if not better than (I.E. ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier‘) the original. If you enjoyed ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ the first time around then you will certainly not be disappointed with the 2nd installment of the series. And remember: There are FIVE, I say again, 5 post-credit scenes so stick around for ALL of them! Remember – Stan Lee IS “watching”….

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