Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: Fate of the Furious (PG13 – 136 minutes)

Hard to believe, but we are on the eighth film in this franchise!  It’s far and away Universal’s biggest franchise, and amongst all other ‘summer tentpole’ movies – features the most diverse cast, and the most global appeal.

In 2001, we were introduced to undercover cop Brian O’Conner who tried to break into a street-racing crew led by Dominic Toretto.  Brian fell in love with Dom’s sister Mia, and over the course of the next seven movies, the crew developed into a tight-knit family, and we learned that there is nothing more important than family, because it’s mentioned over and over again.

This movie picks up where the previous movie left off – Brian and Mia have retired from ‘the life’ to raise their children in peace.  Dom and Letty are on their honeymoon (even though they got married back at the beginning of movie 4 – in the meantime they had a whole movie of her amnesia and recovery to deal with) in Cuba.  While there, Dom’s cousin (how have we never met this kid before if he is family!?!) accidentally gets Dom involved in a street-race with a local hoodlum.  Dom wins, but lets the guy keep his car, because – respect, and it will come into play later.

Meanwhile, DSS agent Luke Hobbs is coaching his daughter’s soccer team when he’s approached by a government agent to take on another job that has to be ‘off the books’.  He recruits the crew to come help remove an EMP from a Russian base.  They successfully grab the EMP, but what they don’t realize is a mysterious woman approached Dom in Havana, and shown him something that forced him to work with her, and he promptly steals the EMP from the crew and delivers it to ‘Cipher’, who we learn is the world’s greatest cyber-terrorist.

Well, that doesn’t sit well with the family, but they don’t really believe that Dom turned against them, and they scramble to figure out Cipher and Dom’s next move under the guidance of Mr. Nobody, who has a new recruit, referred to only as Little Nobody.  Dom and Cipher break into their base and steal the ‘God’s Eye’, the item they spent all of the last movie chasing.   The gang then tracks Dom to New York, where he is going to steal a nuclear football (suitcase of codes) from a Russian ambassador with the assistance of Cipher hacking all the computers of local cars, causing hundreds of ‘zombie cars’ to chase the ambassador’s limo around town.  The crew almost catches up to Dom, but he manages to get away from them.

Finally, Cipher and her evil crew plus Dom head to Russia to steal a submarine that has nuclear weapons on board, and our family is forced to use their cars (because they have to use their cars) to attempt to stop Cipher from stealing a submarine while Dom finally figures out a way to get out from under Cipher’s control to get back with his family and put an end to her plot.

If that sounds over the top – you’re absolutely right. It has to be, each of these movies has been bringing bigger and bigger stunts into play, and this one is no exception.  The street-race in Havana at the beginning is a great action sequence.  The escape in the very beginning when Dom first turns against them is fantastic.  The scene in New York with the zombie cars is really cool – and something I had not seen before.  But really – the climax chase with the submarine is absolutely fantastic.  Yes, over-the-top, but that is just perfection where this movie series is concerned. 
This one is directed by F. Gary Gray, who knows how to direct car-heist movies thanks to his experience on the Italian Job.  The action is great, and honestly, I felt that some of the performances were better than I expected this time around.

  • Vin Diesel plays Dom, and while at no point does his family believe he has truly turned against them, he does a pretty convincing job of being torn when forced to work with Cypher.

  • Jason Statham returns as Deckard, one of the villains from movie 7 – there were a few of them.  Honestly, he stole most of the movie for me. This is back to early Transporter Statham as he Stathams his way through this movie.  The prison break sequence at the beginning with he and the Rock trash-talking each other, and then hand-to-hand combating through a bunch of prisoners is just fantastic.  And, without spoiling it, his action sequence at the end was probably my favorite bit of the movie.  Yes, it makes no sense that the crew would be willing to work with this guy, since it is all about Family, and he did kill Han three movies ago, but hey – sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend. 

  • Dwayne Johnson – let’s be real, we’ll just continue to call him the Rock – plays Hobbs, who started out chasing the team in movie 5, and by the end of this one is officially part of the family. I enjoyed his bit with the girls’ soccer team at the beginning, charming and fun. His interactions with Statham were fantastic, and if they don’t get to do a spin-off together, then I really want an action buddy-cop movie with the two of them. Their on-screen chemistry is outstanding!

  •  Michelle Rodriguez is back as Letty, despite being dead for movie 4 and 5, amnesia-victim for 6, and amnesia-recoverer for 7.  I have to say, I thought her performance in this movie was better than I have seen her in any of the others. Her pain at Dom’s betrayal felt real, even when she wanted to believe he would never turn against them.  Which he wouldn’t.

  • Tyrese Gibson plays Roman Pierce who started out as Brian’s buddy in movie 2. Yes, he’s still charming and hilarious. He charms his way through the movie, but I have to say, seemed to be snacking a lot less. And I missed his snacking. But – I did love his action sequence in his bright orange Lamborghini.

  • Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays Tej Parker – who continues to be a world-class tech guy and hacker, despite being introduced in movie 2 as a garage owner.  He and Roman still have a fun back and forth with Ramsey.

  • Nathalie Emmanuel plays Ramsey, who was introduced as a world-class hacker in movie 7.  Because Tej is a world-class hacker, there seems to be very little for her to do.  Also – she doesn’t seem to drive. Ever, at all.  Which is odd, because the majority of this movie is how our family drives for all their adventures. I’m hoping for the next movie, she gets her own car. And, does not end up with either Roman or Tej.  Because, while their back and forth is somewhat entertaining, it’s also demeaning and I would be happier if she chose to not be with either of them.

  • Elsa Pataky is back briefly as Elena – who was a Brazilian cop that Hobbs used as a partner in movie 5, then hooked up with Dom at the beginning of 6, then let him go find and be with Letty.
  • Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody, who was first introduced as a shady government operative in movie 7. He’s just fantastic in this and really looks like he is having the best time.

  • Scott Eastwood joins in this movie as Little Nobody, a new recruit that Mr. Nobody is training. He’s really bland, boring, doesn’t fit in and seems unnecessary.

  • Luke Evans returns briefly as Owen Shaw who was the main villain of movie 6.
  • Kristofer Hiyju plays Connor Rhodes, Cypher’s henchman number one, who is basically around to glare at Dom and make some smart-ass comments.  You can guess how that goes for him at the end.

  • Charlize Theron plays Cipher – and chews all the scenery she can find. It is fantastic for this movie, and perfectly fits the tone. Plus, there are several scenes where she just doesn’t blink while saying her lines. It makes her look like a complete psycho. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t get to drive, but hey – she commands her airplane in a very terrifying way.

Overall, it was absolutely fantastic. There is the hole missing that was the late Paul Walker, but there are lots of little tributes to him throughout the movie.  Early on, someone says, “Brian would know what to do” which I interpreted as both the characters and the actors being a little bit lost without him.  There are little bits here and there that were questionable:  Would they really work with Deckard after he killed Han? Would they really forgive Dom that quickly? Why not simply get out of the cars in New York and punch somebody? Would the cars really outrun that sub? Can the Rock really manhandle Scott Eastwood that easily? Yes.  And honestly, I could do without another scene of two hackers staring at screens attempting to out-hack each other while saying things like “oh, she’s good”, “this is impossible”, and “I’m in!”  That has happened in far too many movies and shows lately.  Let’s get away from it now.  But, really – none of that matters.  This is a big, giant, popcorn movie.  Sit back, turn off the brain, and enjoy yourself.

9 out of 10- bonus points for Helen Mirren.  Spoiler alert – there’s some Helen Mirren in this…but not nearly enough! And yes, I’m taking off a point for the booty scene.  There’s always a scene in these movies of some chick starting a street race in booty shorts. I’m over that.

Cast Interviews:

Extra Special Bonus - the LAMBcast podcast discussion of the entire franchise, which I was lucky enough to guest on.  https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-04-27T15_32_16-07_00

Friday, April 21, 2017

Retro Movie Review: Inferno (2016 – PG13 – 121minutes)

The great thing about long plane flights is catching up on movies you missed.  Flying back from Slovakia last week, I was able to catch up on a couple of things, one of them being Ron Howard’s Inferno – something I meant to see in the theater, but somehow missed. 

Inferno is the third film based on the Dan Brown novels of the adventures of symbologist Robert Langdon. The first movie was the second book – The Da Vinci Code. The Second movie was the first book (and my personal favorite) Angels and Demons.  This one is the third movie and based on the fourth book, Inferno.  Incidentally – the third book, The Lost Symbol, is just not as good as the others.  The fifth book, Origin, should be out later this year.  I love Dan Brown’s books, mainly because they are heavily based in Italian Renaissance Art History, which is what I minored in college.  I still dream of writing an exhaustive study of the Announciation in Italian Renaissance Art. 
One of the preeminent artists of the renaissance was Sandro Botticelli.  He very famously painted a vision of Hell as described in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. If you are unfamiliar with the Divine Comedy, essentially, Dante dreamed he was guided through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.  His journey through hell was guided by the poet Virgil, and is the most vivid description of hell put to paper.

Dante describes hell in nine circles growing ever smaller as they head down to the center.  Each contains souls guilty of various sins.  The first circle was Limbo, meant for those who were not necessarily sinful, but did not accept Christ.  Limbo is not that bad, but it’s not heaven either.  The second circle holds those guilty of lust – whose poetic justice punishment is to be constantly pushed around by terrible winds. The third circle holds the glutton sinners, who have to lie in a slush of garbage while Cerberus flays them from time to time.  The fourth circle holds the greedy, who constantly have to push around really heavy money bags.  The fifth circle holds the wrathful, who constantly fight each other over the river Styx.  Passing over the Styx, the sixth circle is for those guilty of heresy, who are trapped in flaming tombs. 

Once you get over the Styx, the circles get a little more complicated and the layers have sub-circles.  The seventh circle holds those guilty of violence, and has three sub-circles – violence against others first (submerged in boiling blood), violence against self second (fed upon by harpies), and against God, Art, and Nature third (the Plains of Burning Sand).  The eighth circle holds those guilty of fraud and again has 10 sub-circles – 1, panderers and seducers (whipped by horned demons); 2, flatterers (buried in excrement); 3, simoniacs, or those who sell religious favors (placed head down in holes with flames at their feet); 4, sorcerers and fortune tellers (heads twisted around on their bodies and so have to walk backwards for eternity); 5, barrators or corrupt politicians (immersed in a lake of boiling pitch); 6, hypocrites (walking with heavy lead robes); 7, thieves (pursed and bitten by snakes and lizards); 8, fraudulent advisers (inside individual flames); 9, sowers of discord (hacked and mutilated by a large demon); 10, falsifiers (horrible diseases).

The final circle, the ninth, is all ice and contains those guilty of treachery and is divided into 4 sub-circles: 1, traitors to their kindred (trapped in ice); 2, traitors to their country (also trapped in ice); 3, traitors to their guests (lying down in ice, crying tears of ice); 4, traitors to their lords (fully trapped in ice with their bodies contorted).  At the very center of the bottom of the circles is the Well of Malebolge – containing Satan himself, who has three faces, and in each of his mouths is constantly chewing a great betrayer: Brutus, Cassius, and in the center face with the worst of all punishments - Judas Iscariot.

Now, what does this have to do with the movie?  Nothing, really.  But now that’s information you have and can use to impress folks at dinner parties.  At one point in the movie, Langdon uses Botticelli’s illustration as a clue.

This movie begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence with a head injury. He can’t quite remember how he got there or what he was doing.  He’s talking with doctor Sienna Brooks, and she helps break him out of the hospital as someone is about to shoot him.  At her place, he finds a projection device that shows Botticelli’s map of hell, but with extra letters hidden in it hat then lead them to the Uffizi Gallery.  There, he slowly pieces together where he was and what he was doing. Encountering a staff member who is surprised to see him back so soon, she leads them to Dante’s death mask, which she says he and his friend were looking at the other night.  However, the mask Is gone, but in looking at security video, they realize that he and his friend stole the mask. 

They learn they are also being pursued by the World Health Organization.  Once all the pieces come together, Robert finally learns he was helping the WHO solve a riddle started by a billionaire named Zobrist, who had become obsessed with the idea that that world is critically overpopulated.  Zobrist created a virus that would wipe out a huge chunk of the earth’s population.  Zobrist was working with a collection of people called the Consortium, but once they realize the madness of his plan, they assist Robert in finding the hidden location of the virus and attempting to stop it before it is released.

Inferno, like the other two movies in the series, is directed by Ron Howard. Ron Howard is the perfect director for these stories.  Usually, the format is that someone approaches Langdon for assistance with solving a riddle or clue that is based in art history symbology in one way or another.  In this one, the twist of Langdon not knowing what that situation is at the beginning adds a sense of desperation to the story. The action is well done, and the puzzle is entertaining.  I do not think it is as good as Angels and Demons, but I do think it is as good as The DaVinci code.  At this point, Howard and Hanks have worked together so often that they are a clearly reliable combination for a quality movie. The rest of the cast is also pretty good.
  • Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon for the third time, and while Langdon should still be David Duchovny, Hanks is just fine, and you can easily believe him as the smart riddle-solver, I’m just not sure on the action bits.

  • Felicity Jones plays Sienna Brooks, the doctor who assists Langdon in the front half of this adventure. She’s capable and interesting, and provides a great partner to Hanks.

  • French actor Omar Sy plays Christoph Bouchard, who works for the WHO and is trying to assist Langdon – or is he?

  • Irrfan Khan plays Harry Sims, the leader of the Consortium who, once he learns what Zobrist’s plans were, does his best to make sure they do not happen.

  • Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Elizabeth Sinskey – another WHO agent who is really trying to assist Langdon - or is she?  The WHO agents are a little confusing in this.

  • Ben Foster plays Bertrand Zobrist – a crazed billionaire convinced that killing millions is the only way to save billions.  I found him eerily believable in this role, and it may be the first role I’ve seen him in that his slightly crazed demeanor really fits perfectly, and doesn’t work against the character.

  • Ana Ularu plays Vayentha, who is essentially an assassin after Sienna and Robert.  

Overall, the story is pretty good – and yes, there are some major differences from the book, but honestly, in this case, I liked the differences and thought they made the story move a little quicker.

7 out of 10 – it’s fine, not spectacular, but entertaining enough.  Gained points for Omar Sy and Irrfan Kahn reuniting after Jurassic World.

Bonus – Cast Interviews!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Movie Review: Life (R – 104 minutes)

Movies that take place on a spaceship while an alien lifeform wipes through the cast one at a time all owe a debt to Alien. It might not be the first that did it, but it sure did it the best.  And that’s both the blessing and curse, nothing else can really come close to that movie, despite how hard they try.

In Life, the crew (Sho Murakami, Rory Adams, Miranda North, David Jordan, Ekaterina Golovkina, and Hugh Derry) of the International Space Station is ready to receive an unmanned vessel is returning from a trip to Mars with some important samples when it is hit by some random meteorites. With the vessel damaged, the crew sends out Rory to use the arm of the station to catch it. 

They immediately start to work on the samples.  Imagine their surprise when scientist Hugh finds a single-cell organism in some of the rock/dust samples. It bears some resemblance to earth-based protozoa and he feeds it some glucose.  Sure enough, the organism starts getting bigger and since every cell of it does everything, essentially, it’s all eye, all brain, and all muscle.  The crew is entranced because as it gets bigger it grows little wing-like appendages and starts creepily caressing Hugh’s finger.  The ISS is in constant communication with earth, so some elementary school kids who won a contest get to name the alien, and name it after their school, Calvin.

Well, since no one in the crew has ever seen a movie, Hugh continues to feed and experiment with Calvin.  After he goes non-responsive when his tank accidentally loses air, Hugh decides to poke him with an electrical rod. Calvin doesn’t like that, promptly grabs Hugh, crushes his hand to a bloody pulp, then figures out how to grab a sharp thing to cut the glove and squish himself through a tiny hole.  

Since he’s trapped in the lab with an unconscious Hugh, he goes after the resident lab rat, and crushes/consumes it – getting even bigger. Rory decides to go in after Hugh – he gets Hugh out, but gets stuck in there with Calvin.  He attempts to burn Calvin, who dodges him by whipping around the lab like one of those sticky octopus toys you used to throw at the wall.  Sure enough, Calvin flips the script and goes inside Rory, to consume more and get bigger. 

Calvin, now looking mostly like a squishy malevolent space butterfly, starts looking for an exit.  He tries getting out the air vents of the room, which the crew can only shut one at a time, because, drama. Calvin is just too fast for drama, and gets out of the last one prior to it being shut. The crew figures out that he seems to be looking for water/oxygen/coolant to consume.  They try to send a distress signal, but communications are down, so Ekaterina decides to go outside to correct the issue.  When she gets outside to fix the communications, for some reason she has to open a tube, and sure enough – Calvin explodes out of it, sticky-grapping her suit to get at her coolant.  Rupturing her coolant causes her suit to flood from the inside. She makes it back to the hatch, but refuses to let Calvin in, so David gets to watch her die.   

Calvin still has four crew members to kill and starts trying to get in through the thrusters. Sho figures out how to prevent this, but then Miranda reminds everyone that they are the last line of defense, and they absolutely cannot let Calvin get to earth, so they agree to let him back in the station.  They come up with a plan to get him trapped in a room, suck the air out, and suffocate him.  A solid plan, but he evades them by hiding on Hugh’s leg (Hugh’s paralyzed, so he can’t feel his legs) to sneak into a room with them.  Sho gets separated from Miranda and Dave, who try to convince Calvin to get off Hugh’s now dead body – but he’s even bigger now and more flappy and less sticky. 

Sho (who of course just had a baby (this movie uses all the stereotypical character tropes it can find) is hiding in sleeping quarters and Miranda and Dave are in with the computers.  They can see Sho on the computer layout of the station – as well as Calvin – who seems to have sucked Hugh’s locator out of his leg. Gross and convenient.  In any case, suddenly a rescue pod shows up from the surface. However, Miranda tells Dave they are not rescue. They received part of the distress signal, and since they are the final line of defense (this is mentioned several times), the pod is just going to push the station out of orbit into deep space. Sho doesn’t know that, and heads towards the pod to get rescued, right through the room that Calvin is hanging out in with Hugh’s body.  Calvin goes with Sho to the pod and makes quick work of the two in the pod and Sho. 

With only Dave and Miranda left, and oxygen running out through the station, everyone is starting to need some air. Dave and Miranda come up with a plan to use the two lifeboats. Dave will lure Calvin with him using Oxygen torches, which are these neat little tube deals that give off oxygen, and Miranda will take the other one to earth.  This all goes pretty well, since Calvin is all about hugging the torches.  
He even looks pretty cute while doing that with his sticky, flappy wings and artichoke-like face/head.  Dave gets him in the pod and they head off into deep space, while Miranda makes it to the other lifeboat/pod, swiftly recording a message to let everyone know what they found is dangerous, in case she doesn’t survive reentry.  The station is breaking up as they are pushing off, and the two pods cross back and forth several times. 

Spoiler alert here – but of course, you can tell what’s going to happen.

The next shot is a pod landing on earth in water near a fishing boat, and two fishermen motor up to it, looking into the window, they see Dave wrapped up in Calvin’s loving embrace Dave screams for them to not open the door – they sure do open the door – and we see Miranda in her pod screaming as she realizes she is heading into deep space.

It’s a twist you see coming, but is still well done.  Director Daniel Espinosa also did Safe House, and has a gift for tense claustrophobic action pieces.  The tension builds as the movie progresses, and the scenes of them attempting to find Calvin on the station as he hides from them are pretty great.  The design of the station was also wonderful, and really added to the tight enclosed nature of the movie.  The opening single shot following the crew members from room to room is really interesting.  They have to be weightless for the whole movie, and is believable for the most part.  The look of Calvin is interesting as well. I will say that we did not need the Calvin POV shots - he seems to see as if he is underwater, and that was distracting rather than engaging. Overall, the movie is serviceable, the story standard, and the cast decent.
  • Hiroyuki Sanada plays Sho Murakami, and yes, if you count Sunshine, this is the second time he’s played an Astronaut.  He seems to be the chief engineer of the station, and since his wife just had a baby, he’s really motivated to get back to earth.  He’s great, very stoic, and does get to die being sucked out into space as Calvin uses him as a ladder to get back inside. Pretty epic as death scenes go.

  • Ryan Reynolds plays Rory Adams, but was supposed to play Dave. He had a scheduling conflict so took a smaller role in the movie. Reynolds seems to be the most practical person on the station: “Don’t call it Calvin”, “Don’t poke it with that electrical rod”, etc. So of course, because he’s the most practical, he’s the first one to die.  I will admit that I closed my eyes as Calvin sneaks down his throat and seems to devour him from the inside out.

  • Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, and is the last line of defense for the station (enough already, we get it!).  She is all business, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Calvin does not get down to earth.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal plays David Jordan and as the movie begins he’s being lectured on how he’s been up there too long, and so he has some complicated backstory issues about not really liking humanity and not really wanting to go back to earth. As such, he’s the perfect one to sacrifice himself to get Calvin away from earth. 

  • Olga Dihovichnaya plays Ekaterina Golovkina, and she seems to be the commander of the station, but also after Rory gets killed, the one most qualified to go out in a spacesuit to repair the communications system.  She tough and smart, and sheesh, drowning in your space suit is a horrific way to go out.

  • Ariyon Bakare plays Hugh Derry and he does a good job of being happy to be in space, since his not-functioning legs are not nearly the detriment in zero gravity. But, every step he makes with Calvin was just suspicious. At some point you have to realize that feeding and cuddling your potentially deadly space butterfly is a mistake.

Overall, the movie is just fine. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. It’s an interesting story that you’ve seen a couple of times before.  I did read somewhere online that the showrunners were not denying that it could be seen as a prequel to a Venom-style symbiote movie.  Very interesting, and in that case, wouldn’t Gyllenhaal be playing John Jonah Jameson Jr.?  Well, maybe not, but I certainly enjoyed that angle.

6 out of 10 - Gained points for the possible Venom connection, and for Calvin cuddling the oxygen torches – adorable.

Cast Interviews: