The Kid Who Would Be King

Written and directed by British filmmaker Joe Cornish best known for 2011’s sci-fi movie Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is a surprisingly well-done and fun family-friendly adventure film with a very creative take on the iconic British legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The film follows a young teenager named Alex, played by newcomer Louis Ashbourne Serkis, living in London who leads a fairly typical adolescent life until one day he discovers the magical sword Excalibur previously possessed by the legendary Arthur. Along with his bullied best friend Bedders, Alex is unwittingly tasked with saving England by fighting off the magical evil force of Morgana, played by Rebecca Ferguson, who is the half sister of King Arthur and the mortal enemy of the wizard Merlin. With the discovery of Excalibur, she and her magical zombie army are awakened from the depths of Earth after a centuries-old spell to avenge Arthur’s curse and destroy Great Britain during a solar eclipse. The fatherless Alex is told this unbelievable story and how he is a descendant of the great King Arthur from the famed wizard Merlin who is disguised as a older teenage student, played by the film’s comic relief Angus Imrie. When he is not trying to blend into modern-day England, Merlin appears either as an owl or an older man, played by the great Patrick Stewart. Eventually, Alex and his best friend are reluctantly partnered with the school bullies Lance and his girlfriend Kaye to go on a perilous journey to locate and kill Morgana. In the process, the four of them learn moral lessons to overcome their challenges with each other to become lifelong friends despite being enemies prior to their quest. Overall, although it is definitely geared to be a wholesome family movie, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it to be a terrifically entertaining adventure story also appealing to adults looking for a fun time at the movies.

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Aquaman

The sixth installment in the DC Extended Universe comic book movie franchise first started in 2013 with Man of Steel, Aquaman is yet another superhero movie that is stuffed with an overabundance of CGI but slightly departs from the many others by embracing the fun and silliness of the genre. The movie begins in 1985 on the remote coast of Maine when the lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry rescues the mysterious Atlanna, played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who is discovered to be the underwater princess of the mythical world of Atlantis. They have a child together named Arthur, but Atlanna is forced to leave her family to return to her father who is the king of Atlantis. As he grows up with his father and is occasionally trained by an advisor of Atlantis named Vulko, played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, Arthur, played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, learns he has great superpowers as a half-Atlantean who can swim fast underwater without having to breathe air. At this point, the movie follows the typical formula of a superhero origin story in which the protagonist plays with his newfound powers and eventually discovers he could use his very special skills for good by saving sailors and fishermen. Aquaman, which becomes Arthur’s superhero alter-ego, enjoys a relatively peaceful life on the surface world until his half-brother Orm, played by Golden Globe nominee Patrick Wilson, sees him as a threat to his legitimate claim to the throne of Atlantis. Orm has a stereotypically villainous plan to overtake rulership of all the seven underwater kingdoms by starting a war with the surface world and humans who are polluting the oceans. Over time, Aquaman is joined by the beautiful Atlantean Mera, played by Amber Heard, who is originally betrothed to Orm by one of the other rulers who happens to be her father, played by Dolph Lundgren. Over the course of the spectacular and quite frankly over-the-top underwater CGI sequences, Aquaman along with his new love interest Mera fight to save both the underwater and surface worlds from the destructive designs of his half-brother. In addition to the surrealistic visuals in which sea creatures come to life, the script, with its self-referential humor and quite silly jokes, lends the movie a certain quality of not taking itself too seriously and thereby promoting the inherent ridiculousness of the story. This aspect of purposely pointing out the ludicrous nature of what takes place on screen helps the movie overcome simply being just another bad attempt at exploiting the superhero genre to make a boatload of cash. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining film that, despite its generic stereotypes, makes for an enjoyable distraction from reality, led by a charismatic actor who truly looks the part of Aquaman.

Mortal Engines

Co-written and produced by legendary filmmaker Peter Jackson who is best known for directing the massively popular and acclaimed Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series, Mortal Engines is a visually arresting and creative blockbuster movie that follows in the long line of post-apocalyptic films based on young adult fiction, but, ultimately, the weak script filled with plot holes and devoid of truly compelling characters is a recipe for a massive flop. Based on the Mortal Engines novel quartet written by Philip Reeve beginning in 2001, the plot revolves around the young revolutionary Hester Shaw, played by Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in which most of humanity lives on massive mobile cities that rove the so-called Great Hunting Ground and must take over smaller settlements on wheels in order for the larger communities such as London to survive. The visuals very much reminded me of the Mad Max movies in which elaborate machines built from a hodgepodge of antiquated technology move across desolate and immense landscapes. The protagonist Hester is on a revenge mission to kill one of London’s leaders named Thaddeus Valentine, played by the only recognizable actor Hugo Weaving, who was responsible for her mother’s death years ago. At the same time, she sympathizes with the opposition Anti-Traction League whose people live on static settlements behind the Shield Wall in what used to be Asia. Rather stereotypically in movies in this genre, the young heroine must fight off evil forces who pose an existential threat to the good guys. The secretly malevolent Valentine whose own daughter Katherine does not really know his intentions is in search of Old-Tech weapons that can wipe out the Anti-Tractionists living beyond the previously impenetrable Shield Wall. Eventually, Hester along with an apprentice historian from London named Tom, played by Irish actor Robert Sheehan, team up with a revolutionary leader named Anna Fang, played by South Korean musician and actress Jihae, who pilots a fantastical aircraft. There are several other subplots involving formulaic romances and unusual guardians that, rather than adding to the story, bogs down the already messy storyline. Overall, it is a rather large disappointment for a Peter Jackson-produced fantasy movie that relies too heavily on elaborate CGI, which are rather spectacular and unique even for the genre, and whose creative imagery and premise is not done any justice by the overall poor quality of the story and acting.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The tenth overall installment in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World movie franchise beginning with the first Harry Potter released in 2001 and the sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a surprisingly complicated mess of a movie that tries to recapture the magic of the hugely successful Harry Potter universe, and the only real merits are to appeal to Harry Potter fans and the use of fantastical CGI. Set a few years after the original Fantastic Beasts and many decades before the appearance of Harry Potter, the plot follows the exploits of the lowly wizard Newt Scamander, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, who must track down and disrupt the malevolent desires of the recently imprisoned dark wizard Grindelwald, played by the always creepy-looking Oscar nominee Johnny Depp. Suspicious of his connections to Grindelwald, the British Ministry of Magic also tries to find the villain of the first movie Credence, played by Ezra Miller, who they believe may be working with and for Grindelwald. Newt is surprised to run into his non-magic Muggle friend Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, and Jacob’s magical girlfriend Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, who join the investigation into Grindelwald and the manipulated Credence. In a nostalgic nod to Harry Potter fans, Newt eventually meets up with a young Dumbledore, played by Oscar nominee Jude Law, at Hogwarts School made famous in Harry Potter because it is believed that only the powerful Dumbledore can defeat the equally powerful Grindelwald. As they continue to pursue Grindelwald, Newt along with Jacob and Queenie as well as his love interest Tina, played by Katherine Waterston, find themselves in Paris and trying to find information at the French Ministry of Magic. From there, the characters are taken to the climax of the movie where Grindelwald has gathered all pureblood wizards to join his plot to take over the Muggle world. He uses his dark magic skills to practically force wizards to take up his cause, and Newt along with his allies engage in a battle with Grindelwald in a fantastical CGI sequence. Overall, I found it to have an overly complex storyline that was often hard to follow for the average moviegoer not well versed in the Wizarding World, and strangely there were not many scenes with the titular character Grindelwald or much about his so-called crimes. Unfortunately, I felt that the franchise is reaching a point where it is overextending itself in order to simply make money at the box office and appease the rabid fans of anything related to Harry Potter.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

15271994927256606803560990010701.jpgDirected by critically acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard who won the Academy Award for 2002’s A Beautiful Mind, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an entertaining movie in the Star Wars saga with plenty of adventure and CGI-enhanced action sequences but underwhelms compared to the original and most recent installments. As the second standalone anthology film in the series, the movie is more of a origin story that follows the early exploits of Han Solo, played by the up-and-coming charismatic Alden Ehrenreich, and how he evolved into the famous character portrayed by Harrison Ford in the original trilogy. We first meet Han trying to escape a criminal organization with his girlfriend Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame, and travel to another planet where he can pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. For a time, he is a soldier for the Empire, but he eventually becomes a deserter to join forces with a group of criminals led by Tobias Beckett, played by Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson. He also meets his future famous copilot Chewbacca, and they enter in their friendly rapport with humorous back-and-forth as depicted in the first movies. The rest of the movie follows the formula of a heist film in which Han and his new outlaw friends must steal the valuable so-called hyperfuel coaxium for yet another criminal syndicate known as the Crimson Dawn led by Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany. Things get increasingly complicated for Han, and he must team up with the notorious smuggler Lando Calrissian, played by Emmy winner Donald Glover, who provides him the means of piloting the well-known Millennium Falcon spaceship. Towards the end of the film, there are a few plot twists and not all of the characters are as they appeared in the beginning. The story appeases Star Wars fans with the appearance of characters and new details that refer to the nine other installments and may not have as much significance for general audiences. Overall, I found it to be a satisfying cinematic experience that had enough excitement to make up for the shortcomings of being sometimes too formulaic and not adding much depth to the already complex Star Wars franchise.

Avengers: Infinity War

The nineteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that started with 2008’s Iron Man and the third film in The Avengers franchise since 2012, Avengers: Infinity War is an entertaining comic book superhero movie whose title is particularly apt as a result of the seemingly infinite number of Marvel characters all appearing in their greatest war yet. The plot revolves around the appearance of the most threatening villain Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, and his quest to capture all six Infinity Stones, mystical stones imbued with great magical powers, in order to control the universe and remake his own planet. Practically all of the superheroes who have had their own Marvel film seek to prevent the god-like Thanos from destroying half of humanity in his ploy to solve overpopulation. The ensemble cast is jam-packed and features Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Chris Evans as Captain America, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, and Chris Pratt as Star-Lord. Although the plethora of superheroes and storylines is at times over-the-top and complicated to a casual viewer, the filmmakers are able to present a somewhat surprising cohesive story by having several of the characters grouped together and involved in separate parts of the film. When the superheroes do all come together, the audience is in for spectacular CGI-enhanced action sequences that can be best described as comic book porn. The movie also has aspects of a drama in which the powerful protagonists display raw human emotions, including grief over fallen comrades. However, there are several moments of trademark tongue-in-cheek humor for a comic book movie, especially when it comes to the characters from the more comedic Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Overall, I was impressed by the sheer amount of superheroes assembled for a motion picture and found it to be a largely enjoyable experience despite probably jamming a little too much into one bloated comic book lovefest.

Annihilation

annihilation_xlgDirected by Alex Garland who is best known for the 2015 Oscar-nominated film Ex Machina, Annihilation is a visually dazzling and thought-provoking sci-fi movie notable for its rather strange and frightening story and a terrific performance from Oscar-winner Natalie Portman. Based on the acclaimed 2014 novel of the same name written by Jeff VanderMeer, the plot revolves around Portman’s character Lena who is a biologist and former American soldier that unexpectedly becomes involved in a highly classified mission to study and prevent the spread of a scientifically unexplained phenomenon known as The Shimmer located along the American coast in a rapidly expanding region known as Area X. After her husband Kane, played by Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac, mysteriously returns a year after going missing on an expedition into Area X, Lena is recruited to go on another mission to study The Shimmer and determine whether it is earthly or extraterrestrial. It is a particularly dangerous operation because no one besides her husband has ever returned after that many failed attempts. Led by the stone-faced psychologist named Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, the all-female group of scientists is comprised of a paramedic named Anya, played by Gina Rodriguez, a physicist named Josie, played by Tessa Thompson, and a surveyor and geologist named Cass, played by Tuva Novotny. Immediately after venturing into Area X, Lena and the rest of the team notice that things are very abnormal, including the plants and animals exhibiting perplexing biological mutations. The filmmaker mystifies the audience through the realistic and often beautiful depictions of these strange creatures; towards the end, reality and the laws of nature become further blurred as emphasized by the ever increasing mind-blowing imagery witnessed by the characters. Not just purely science fiction, the film contains several suspenseful and often terrifying moments that could come from a horror flick, especially the scenes involving mutated animals and the psychoses experienced by the team members. Overall, I found it to be a riveting and creative work of science fiction that surprisingly delves deep into philosophical issues of humanity and our relationship to the environment, while also catering to fans of sci-fi and horror with its mesmerizing visual effects and creation of horrifying creatures.