Bumblebee (Film/Movie Review) – The First Good Transformers Film

Bumblebee is a sci-fi action film directed by Travis Knight. It is the sixth instalment in the live-action Transformers movie franchise and, thankfully, the first not to be directed by Michael Bay. The movie stars Pamela Adlon, John Ortiz, James Drucker, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena and Hailee Steinfeld. Angela Bassett, Dylan O’Brien, Justin Theroux and Peter Cullen also star in voice roles.

The story of Bumblebee is set in 1987 where the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons on Cybertron is reaching a critical point. Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) is tasked by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), heroic leader of the Autobots, to establish a base on Earth.

After taking severe damage, Bumblebee seeks refuge in California and is discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager still struggling with the loss of her father. Charlie and Bumblebee forge a friendship and work together to achieve Bumblebee’s mission and protect Earth from the Decepticon threat.

My Expectation For Bumblebee

While not exactly the pinnacle of cinema, I will always have a soft spot for Transformers and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The same cannot be said for the abysmal Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, I hated the latter so much that I did not bother seeing Transformers: The Last Knight. Judging from the reviews for The Last Knight, that was probably for the best.

So, five films in and my enthusiasm for the Transformers film series was completely gone. That was the case until the marketing campaign for Bumblebee began. I saw promising signs from the trailers that Travis Knight could bring his brilliant work on Kubo and the Two Strings over to Bumblebee and the positive reviews Bumblebee received got me really excited. It was possible that Bumblebee could be the first legitimately good Transformers movie.

My Thoughts On Bumblebee

As it turns out, Bumblebee is indeed the first truly good Transformers film. However, I will say that the best film it could have been was its very first scene. The first scene shows the Cybertronian Civil War and I wished it was the whole movie. I felt that there was some superb action with dramatic weight in this scene and I was kind of gutted that it ended so quickly. Still, the film we got in the end was enjoyable.

As the film progressed, one thing was very clear to me; Bumblebee is not a prequel to the 2007 Transformers film. It is instead a soft reboot of the Transformers movie franchise. Indeed, the credits scene is overwhelming proof of this if anyone needed more confirmation and the credits scene brilliantly sets up sequels to Bumblebee.

The heart and soul of Bumblebee is the relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie and Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is key to the success of this film. Certainly, unlike every other Transformers film, this movie puts character first which was quite refreshing. I also liked the 80s setting and the nostalgic moments deliver whether it was the music or the consistent references to The Breakfast Club.

In terms of influences on this film, you can see how similar Bumblebee is to a movie such as The Iron Giant and, in terms of more improvements over previous Transformers movies, the comedy in this film is much better. This was not a particularly hard thing to accomplish and not every comedic moment delivers, especially with John Cena who was very hit and miss in Bumblebee.

My Final Thoughts On Bumblebee

Nevertheless, in the end, I was relieved at how much I enjoyed Bumblebee and I hope there are sequels because this movie is a good base for more Transformers films to be made. If you had gone sour over the Transformers films as I did, give Bumblebee a chance. I do not think you will regret it.

bumblebee review

 

Westworld: Season 2 Episode 4 (Television Review) – The Best Episode So Far

In my opinion, Season 2 of Westworld has been great so far but it is evident to me that Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford is severely missed. He was, by far, the best thing about Season 1 and the death of Robert Ford has created a void that Season 2 has yet to fully fill. However, compelling characters still exist, especially when it comes to Bernard and the Man in Black/William. It therefore comes as no surprise that this episode, titled ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’, which heavily focuses on these two characters is the best episode of Season 2 so far.

My Thoughts On ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’

When it comes to Bernard, this episode picks up right after the events of ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ and the battle between the Confederados Hosts and the Humans. Bernard, with a little “guidance” by Clementine, ends up in a cave where he is reunited with Elsie who is chained up. We last saw Elsie in Season 1 with her fate left uncertain after being mysteriously attacked and it was Bernard who did this when he was under Ford’s control.

Suffice to say, Elsie was not ecstatic to see her captor again but Bernard had no recollection of this incident. They form a uneasy truce and eventually find a bunker full of dead scientists as well as a Host version of James Delos. The way this mystery unravelled throughout ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ was very compelling and it was cool to see how it linked to the Man in Black/William’s story in the past. Indeed, it was William who was responsible for the creation of Host James Delos.

Shannon Woodward as Elsie and Jeffrey Wright as Bernard in Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 The Riddle of the Sphinx

In the past, we see that William and Delos are attempting to recreate James Delos’ consciousness in a host. In essence, a path to immortality is trying to be established. No matter how many times this is attempted, it always fails and this venture is eventually shut down by William when he is played by Ed Harris rather than Jimmi Simpson. This shows how long this experiment has been going on for and, while a failure, it seems like achieving immortality through the Hosts is an important priority for Delos.

The Mystery Of Bernard

However, as we saw with Bernard and Elsie’s story in ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’, the Host James Delos was kept alive for years after the program was shut down and became deranged. He is found and eventually killed by Bernard and Elsie. After this, Bernard is able to recollect scattered memories from his past and remembers that, before Ford’s death, he was sent by Ford to retrieve the control unit of a second host-human hybrid. However, he cannot remember who that was for.

If I was to guess, I would assume that this second control unit would be for Ford or Arnold but we shall have to wait and see what transpires with this element of the story. We also find out through his scattered memories that the dead scientists in the bunker were killed by Bernard. Clearly, there is so much about Bernard that we do not know about and it will be interesting to see how much more we learn about his past and what it means for his future.

Jimmi Simpson as William in Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 The Riddle of the Sphinx

The Ruthlessness Of The Man in Black/William

The same can be said for the Man in Black/William who was absolutely ruthless in ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’, both in the past and the present. Certainly, he was remorseless in the past with his decision to end the program with Host James Delos and, in the present, he showed no mercy when he killed the remaining Confederados who were spared by Teddy. Indeed, he and Lawrence are captured by the Condederados at Lawrence’s home and are held hostage with its residents which include Lawrence’s family.

Further on in the episode, the Man in Black/William gives a superb monologue about death which sets up his brutal killing spree of the Confederados. He saves the town’s residents and Lawrence’s family but Ford, through Lawrence’s daughter, tells him that one good deed does not redeem him. It seems that we have more to learn about the Man in Black/William too, particularly as he is now reunited with his daughter.

Indeed, the Man in Black/William meets Grace, the woman who killed the tiger in ‘Virtù e Fortuna’, who is actually Emily, his daughter. We know that the relationship between the two is not exactly warm and amicable and I am sure that it will be developed throughout Season 2 of Westworld. Something which I really liked was how the Man in Black/William was developed in this episode as he became more than just the imposing force that he is. He was more fleshed out as a person when it came to his family.

Ed Harris as William/Man in Black Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 The Riddle of the Sphinx

My Final Thoughts On ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’

All of the things which happened in ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ were of such an amazing quality that, as well as being the best episode of Season 2 so far, it may also be one of the best episodes of Westworld in general. The dense and convoluted lore and mythology of this show has been deepened and the mystery of Season 2’s plot, while teased, is still intact and I am still committed to going on this journey.

Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 The Riddle of the Sphinx Review Pin

 

Westworld: Season 2 Episode 3 (Television Review) – The Mythology Continues To Be Expanded

One of things which has really impressed me with Season 2 of Westworld has been the way in which it has expanded the mythology of this world. This has been done through the development of what we know about the characters as well as the history of the park and Delos. In this third episode, titled ‘Virtù e Fortuna’, the continuing expansion of the mythology is now being done through the reveals of more parks besides Westworld. This was something that was teased in the Season 1 finale and we have now seen it for real in ‘Virtù e Fortuna’.

My Thoughts On ‘Virtù e Fortuna’

This episode began in a British Raj park. We see a woman called Grace flee from a rogue host and she then ends up being chased by a tiger which is eventually killed by her. It is the same dead tiger we saw in ‘Journey Into Night’. Even this early on in Season 2, mysterious things are being explained. Although, more questions have now been raised about the importance of Grace and her role in the wider story being told in Season 2 after this episode and the wider story continues to intrigue me.

Firstly, it turns out that I was right about how the flash Bernard scenes in ‘Journey Into Night’ showed us glimpses of the past and the future. Indeed, one of those flash scenes involved Bernard and Dolores and she stated that “there is beauty in what we are”. We got to see that scene play out in ‘Virtù e Fortuna’. Yes, Bernard and Dolores are reunited in this episode after Bernard gets separated from Charlotte (In the future timeline, those two reunite at Park HQ, aka the Mesa).

Grace in the British Raj Park in Westworld Season 2 Episode 3 Virtu e Fortuna

Bernard and Charlotte had Peter Abernathy, Dolores’ father, but he along with Bernard were taken by the Confederados to Dolores. I always found the scenes between Dolores and Bernard to be amongst my favourite character interactions in Season 1 and it was great to see them together again. We also got to experience an emotional scene between Dolores and her father which humanised Dolores and this moment was in stark contrast to the scenes where we continue to see Dolores’ ruthless nature.

Abernathy Has Vital Information Within Him

Certainly, there seems to be nothing which will deter Dolores from her path. She uses the Confederados as pawns in the battle that occurred in the 3rd act of this episode between the Hosts and the Humans (which was awesome by the way) and she then proceeds to wipe them all out. Well, all except those few spared by Teddy who is more and more out of his depth as Dolores’ conquest continues. Dolores sees this act of mercy by Teddy and I feel as though it will lead to Dolores making a difficult choice with Teddy later on in Season 2 of Westworld.

Dolores is also going to now have to find a way to rescue her father who was taken by the humans but not before Bernard found something within Abernathy’s code. It looks as though it is extremely important as Bernard was utterly shocked with what he found. The information within Abernathy seems to be vital when it comes to the larger story being told and this mystery about him just adds to the compelling nature of this season of Westworld.

Samurai World in Westworld Season 2 Episode 3 Virtu e Fortuna

Samurai World

We also get to focus on Maeve in ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ and, for me, her overall storyline is good but the weakest storyline so far in Season 2. However, in her quest to find her daughter, Maeve is reunited with Felix and Sylvester, the two lab workers from Season 1. I always enjoyed the dynamic those three had together so I look forward to seeing more of that this season. I hope it improves Maeve’s storyline and the way ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ ends certainly points to a step up in its quality.

Indeed, Maeve’s group is attacked by a samurai in an intriguing, cliff-hanger ending which sets up Samurai World and I cannot wait to this in future episodes of Season 2. If those future episodes can keep the same consistency we have got so far or even improve on what we have seen up to this point, then Season 2 of Westworld will be a worthy continuation of Season 1.

Westworld Season 2 Episode 3 Virtu e Fortuna Review Pin

 

Westworld: Season 2 Episode 2 (Television Review) – More Timelines, More Mystery

You can never judge the overall quality of a season of television until it has finished. This is certainly true for a show like Westworld. In its first season, each episode deepened the mystery of the story and the season had multiple timelines within it. This meant that it would be unfair to judge the season until the stories in those timelines had come to some sort of resolution and connected in some way. Season 2 is absolutely continuing what Season 1 established in this regard.

Arnold and Dolores

In ‘Journey Into Night’, we saw that stories were being told in two different timelines. Now, after the second episode, titled ‘Reunion’, more timelines have now been re-introduced. Indeed, the distant past was a big focus in Season 1 of Westworld and it provided some interesting backstory to characters such as the Man in Black, or William as he was known back then. This also continues in Season 2. However, before going back to continue William’s story from where that ended in Season 1, we went even further back in time to when Arnold was still alive and before the park had been built.

Indeed, Arnold was setting up a showcase for Logan to convince him to invest in Westworld with the help of Robert Ford and it was awesome to hear a younger version of Ford. I do not know if Anthony Hopkins came back to do the voice for the younger Ford but it sounded exactly like him. So, either Hopkins did come back or they got a tremendous voice actor who can imitate a voice on the same pitch-perfect level as, for instance, Stephen Stanton did for Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars Rebels episode ‘Twin Suns’. I also liked how the relationship between Arnold and Dolores, who was meant to be a part of the showcase to Logan, was developed in this timeline.

Jeffrey Wright as Arnold and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores in Westworld Season 2 Episode 2 Reunion

William

We get to see Logan again in the other timeline that takes place in the distant past. As I said earlier, we follow William after the events of Season 1. Logan is out of the picture and William now has access to Logan’s father and he shows him how the parks can be used to spy on guests and collect data on them. As William says, the parks are where people show who they really are and this whole conversation between William and Logan’s father was very timely when you consider the revelations that have come out about Facebook recently.

William takes control of Delos and Dolores, at a party celebrating this, finds a despondent Logan who believes that humanity in now doomed. He may turn out to be right and all of what we saw in the distant past in ‘Reunion’ continued to provide some fascinating backstory which I am sure will connect to what is going on in the present timelines.

The Present

The other storylines that were continued from ‘Journey Into Night’ were the ones which focus on Dolores and the Man in Black. When it comes to Dolores, she is continuing to expose Teddy to more of the truth about what they truly are. She also runs into Maeve and they have an intriguing discussion about their newfound “freedom” which is an important theme of Westworld. Dolores also tries to recruit more Hosts to her cause of finding the “valley beyond” which houses a weapon she intends to use against the humans.

Ed Harris as the Man in Black/William in Westworld Season 2 Episode 2 Reunion

This goal and her whole arc in ‘Reunion’ was intrinsically linked to the past timelines as well as the Man in Black who reunites with Lawrence. He also tries to recruit Hosts, loyal to the new El Lazo, to aid him with his game and reach the “pearly gates”. On a side note, it was awesome to see Giancarlo Esposito, Gus from Breaking Bad, portray the new El Lazo. It was a cool cameo. However, the Man in Black’s plans were foiled. Robert Ford was not allowing any of this to happen and he kills his recruits.

Even though Ford is dead, his spirit still lives on and it raises some questions over how dead he really is. Despite this setback, the Man in Black goes forward with his quest to destroy what he sees as his greatest mistake. This may be the park itself or perhaps the weapon Dolores is seeking and, in the distant past, we saw William take Dolores to this special project he was constructing which may well be the weapon. Both the Man in Black and Dolores seems to be heading towards the same destination with different ambitions in mind.

My Final Thoughts on ‘Reunion’

I really liked ‘Reunion’. It provided us with more interesting backstory, it deepened the mystery of the story being told and the episode was quite different from what I believed we would get based on where we left off in ‘Journey Into Night’. Certainly, more periods of time will be focused on than I originally thought and while all of these convoluted timelines could have been confusing, the way they linked together in ‘Reunion’ was well executed in my opinion.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores and James Marsden as Teddy in Westworld Season 2 Episode 2 Reunion

Because of Season 1, it is much easier to follow what is going on in these different timelines. I cannot wait to see how everything established so far in Season 2 of Westworld will all link together in the end, especially when it comes to finding out what the weapon actually is.

Westworld Season 2 Episode 2 Reunion Review Pin

 

Westworld: Season 2 Episode 1 (Television Review) – A Superb Start

The first season of Westworld was superb television to watch. The technical quality of it was undeniable and the themes that were explored in the mysterious narrative really made the entire season an enjoyable watch, even in its more slower moments. As you can imagine, the hype for Season 2 of Westworld was quite high and I was excited to come back to this show, especially as we have had to wait some time for it to return.

However, the wait is now over and ‘Journey Into Night’ was the episode which kicked off this second season of a television series that HBO is really pushing to become one of its leading lights. This is particularly the case when you consider that Game of Thrones is coming to the end and the void left by its end needs to be filled by one or more shows on the scale of Westworld.

My Thoughts On ‘Journey Into Night’

Sometimes, the first episode in a new season of television can be the weakest episode of that season. If this is the case with ‘Journey Into Night’, then we are in store for a phenomenal season of Westworld. I loved this episode. From its very first scene, it was compelling. Certainly, an episode of Westworld which begins with a past conversation between Bernard/Arnold and Dolores is a fantastic way to start this second season.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores in Westworld Season 2 Episode 1 Journey Into Night

I say Bernard/Arnold because I am not sure whether that conversation took place in the distant past when Arnold was still alive or, more likely, with Bernard in the more recent past. Either way, it was a fascinating scene which showcased how Westworld is a cut above the overwhelming majority of TV shows currently airing. The acting and dialogue between Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood in this scene alone was mesmerising and, for me, it foreshadowed what is to come in Season 2.

Indeed, Bernard/Arnold stated that he was frightened about what Dolores might become and what path she will take. Obviously, we have seen already what Dolores is capable of and this scene may have indicated that much worse is in store. Another subtle element of this scene that I appreciated was how the framing was different compared to the rest of ‘Journey Into Night’.

Two Timelines

After this scene, we saw flash scenes of both Bernard and Dolores. Now, I did not have the opportunity to watch the first season of Westworld again before Season 2 began. I was able to recognise that some of these flash scenes were from Season 1 but others were not as recognisable which make me believe that we got glimpses of the future. However, I understand that I may be completely wrong about this.

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard in Westworld Season 2 Episode 1 Journey Into Night

Still, what was completely apparent about ‘Journey Into Night’ is that, at least for now, we are following two timelines in Season 2 of Westworld. One of them takes place in the immediate aftermath of the death of Robert Ford at the end of Season 1 and the other is set around two weeks later where the humans are trying to regain control of the park. What we saw in the latter timeline was at the beginning and the end of ‘Journey Into Night’ so the real meat of this episode took place right after Ford’s death.

The Hosts Take Control After Ford’s Death

In this time period, the Hosts are in total control of the park and they have wiped out almost all the Delos board members with only a few surviving the massacre that began with Robert Ford’s death. As expected, the Man in Black/William is having a great time with this new reality. It was what he wanted all along as we saw in Season 1 of Westworld and, in ‘Journey Into Night’, he had a great discussion with the young Robert Ford Host where he learns that an entirely new game solely for him has just begun.

Bernard and Charlotte are together and they try to deal with the repercussions of Ford’s death. They eventually find safety and learn that they have to find Peter Abernathy, the Host who played Dolores’ father in Season 1, and give him to Delos to secure help and extraction from the park. Maeve has to go on a journey of her own to find her daughter and Dolores, with the bemused help of Teddy, is charting her own course and wishes to go beyond the park and take control of the human world.

Young Robert Ford Host and Ed Harris as the Man in Black/William in Westworld Season 2 Episode 1 Journey Into Night

Clearly, a lot of things are about to go down in Season 2 of Westworld given what has been set up in ‘Journey Into Night’ and I loved where our characters are at in this timeline. It has established some exciting narratives and I am fascinated to see what unravels in this timeline going forward.

Bernard + The Military Team

In the time period that takes place two weeks after Ford’s death, Bernard wakes up on a beach with water rising around him which establishes a good amount of mystery about how and why this happened, especially when one thinks about where he was in the other timeline with Charlotte. Additionally, it was a visual which linked back to the very first scene of the episode where he described a dream he had to Dolores that was exactly like the situation he found himself in at that moment.

He encounters a human military team from Delos who, as I said earlier, are attempting to take back control of the park from the Hosts. Bernard eventually leads them to a lake of dead Hosts who he claims to have killed. To see where Bernard starts in one timeline and then get to the place where he was in the other is going to be fascinating to experience.

Dead Hosts in Westworld Season 2 Episode 1 Journey Into Night

My Final Thoughts On ‘Journey Into Night’

In both timelines, the outstanding quality of this show is still clear to see from a technical perspective. From a storytelling viewpoint, Westworld continues to explore themes such as existence, consciousness and meaning in a deep and layered way. ‘Journey Into Night’ did a tremendous job at reintroducing us to these themes as well as providing a great platform for the characters, and the story they are in, to flourish as Season 2 progresses from episode to episode.

Westworld Season 2 Episode 1 Journey Into Night Review Pin

Ready Player One (Film Review) – Fun + Extremely Rewatchable

Ready Player One is a science fiction adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The film is based on the 2011 novel of the same name and stars Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn, Olivia Cooke, Tye Sheridan. The story takes place in 2045 where humanity uses virtual reality software called the OASIS to escape the harsh and dystopian reality of the real world.

The protagonist of Ready Player One is Wade Watts/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) who uncovers clues to a hidden game within the OASIS. The winner of this game will gain full ownership of the OASIS. Wade, with the help of his allies, tries to win the game before players working for a company run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) can do so.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Ready Player One

I said this in my review of The Post and I will say it again now; Steven Spielberg is the greatest director of all-time. He has made amazing films in literally every genre of film there is and, in some ways, he was going back to his roots with Ready Player One. Indeed, Spielberg made a name for himself with adventure films such as the Indiana Jones trilogy and Jurassic Park. From the trailers, Ready Player One looked like a fun adventure film and the reviews for the film confirmed that it was quite entertaining and a throwback to Spielberg’s earlier work.

Tye Sheridan as Parzival in the OASIS in Ready Player One

I could not wait to see what was in store, especially when it came to finding all of the pop culture references and Easter eggs. Moreover, I had never read the novel on which this film is based upon so I had no preconceived notions about what the film had to do in order for it to equal or better the novel. I did not expect Ready Player One to rank amongst the best of Spielberg’s diverse filmography. Instead, all I wanted to watch was an entertaining film with high re-watchability.

My Thoughts on Ready Player One

By a long way, Ready Player One is the most entertaining, fun cinematic experience I have had in recent times. I was grinning from ear to ear for the majority of this film and it is absolutely one of my favourite films of 2018 so far. For me, re-watchability is important in the overall quality of a film and Ready Player One is eminently re-watchable. This is just for trying to find all the pop culture references alone. Truly, the film is littered with them and trying to find as many as I could kept me engaged throughout.

Still, while this was fun to do, it was not what fully propelled Ready Player One to a place where it was one of my favourite films of 2018. It was the story and the amount of world-building in the film which did this. Every time I was in the OASIS, I was hooked from a visual perspective. I loved how vibrant it was. It left me longing for a world where virtual reality technology like the OASIS exists but I guess I will have to be patient in that regard.

Tye Sheridan as Wade and Olivia Cooke as Samantha in Ready Player One

I also found the story in the real-world to be captivating due to how it contrasted to the OASIS. The OASIS was full of imagination and possibility whereas the real-world was, to be honest, quite depressing. I connected to the characters in both worlds and loved how the story interconnected between the two.

Pop Culture Commentary + The Cast of Ready Player One

As the film progressed, I also noticed how much Ready Player One was a commentary on pop culture and fandom. This was interesting to me given how Steven Spielberg has had such a big role in shaping both of these things as we know it today. It was a theme in Ready Player One that gave the film some meaning and depth, especially towards the end of the film where the cast really shined for me.

The entire ensemble cast gave very good performances. I liked Tye Sheridan in the lead role but my favourite performance was given by Mark Rylance. He played the character of James Halliday who created the OASIS and some of the stuff he was involved in during the film was very touching, particularly in the third act. He was a character I could really relate to and he was just one element of many in Ready Player One that I absolutely loved.

The Iron Giant in Ready Player One

If I am going to be a bit nit-picky, the only thing in Ready Player One that annoyed me was an incredibly cheesy line of dialogue in a scene between Wade and Samantha (Olivia Cooke) towards the end of the film. I understood why it was said but it was too cringe-worthy for my liking. Still, that is an incredibly minor issue in an otherwise fantastic film that you should absolutely see as soon as you can.

Ready Player One Film Review Pin

Stranger Things Season 2 (Television Review) – Better Than Season 1

Undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated television shows of 2017 has been Season 2 of Stranger Things. The first season was a cultural phenomenon and, if you read my review of the first season earlier this year, you will know that I really liked it. A big reason why Season 1 was so good was because of the kids and the chemistry they had together and they were all back for Season 2.

Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) return for Season 2 in addition to Winona Ryder and David Harbour as Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper respectively. Noah Schnapp has a bigger role as Will Byers in Season 2 of Stranger Things and we have new characters such as Bob (Sean Astin), Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) making their debuts too.

The story of Season 2 of Stranger Things is set one year after the events of the first season and the focus is on Will who is still recovering from his harrowing experience in the Upside Down. We find out that Will still has a connection to and is influenced by the Upside Down which leads to the characters finding out the shocking truth that a larger threat from the Upside Down exists; the Shadow Monster. In order to save Will, the Shadow Monster must be defeated.

Noah Schnapp as Will and the Shadow Monster/Mind Flayer in Stranger Things Season 2

My Knowledge and Expectation for Season 2 of Stranger Things

As I said above, I watched the first season of Stranger Things on Netflix and, after finishing what I thought was a very good season of television, I was intrigued to see where the story would go. Obviously, I had high expectations given how much the first season impressed me with its characters and world-building. I wanted more of the same in this regard but I also wanted this second season of Stranger Things to move away from its reliance on 80s nostalgia.

Clearly, a big reason why the first season of Stranger Things was so widely loved was because of its ability to pay homage to 80s pop culture. However, as I look back at the first season, I do feel as though its reliance on 80s nostalgia to pull people in meant that the story was never given the chance to be its own unique thing. I hoped that Season 2 of Stranger Things would find a better balance of paying homage to the 1980s while being its own story at the same time. Moreover, I still wanted the show to have that great blend of science-fiction and horror.

My Thoughts on Season 2 of Stranger Things

I have to say, there are not a lot of weak points in Season 2 of Stranger Things. This is a pretty flawless season of television that continues the greatness of the first season but it also improves on the first season due to the fact that Season 2 does not rely on 80s nostalgia. Obviously, it does pay homage to the 1980s through its brilliant synth score and music choices which included bands such as Metallica, The Police and Scorpions (a band that was also featured in GLOW).

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven and Finn Wolfhard as Mike in Stranger Things Season 2

Season 2 of Stranger Things is also influenced by movies such as Aliens and Ghostbusters. However, it does not rely on these things to shape the story like Season 1 did. The story of Season 2 felt much more like its own thing. One of the brilliant aspects of Season 2 which cemented how special this season of Stranger Things felt was the arc of Will Byers and the brilliant performance Noah Schnapp gives as this character.

Will Byers

Truly, Noah Schnapp gives one of the best child performances I have ever seen. The levels that he goes to while playing Will is extraordinary and it pushes him right to the forefront when it comes to award recognition. Additionally, seeing Will struggle with what is essentially PTSD from his time in the Upside Down was very gripping and set the stage for what was quite a harrowing arc for his character.

Indeed, he becomes possessed by the Shadow Monster and the Shadow Monster is actually feeding off Will who is, in some sense, a host for this mythical creature. Some of the scenes in Season 2 of Stranger Things which showcase this are very disturbing and it proved how great an actor Noah Schnapp is for his age.

Noah Schnapp as Will in Stranger Things Season 2

This was particularly evident in the eighth episode of Season 2, titled ‘The Mind Flayer’, where the possession of Will by the Shadow Monster is at its peak. It made for some quite emotional scenes involving the people who love Will as they try to get through to him by recalling their most cherished memories of him. For me, this eclipsed any moment in Season 1 of Stranger Things.

It was also great to see Will spend more time with Dustin, Mike and Lucas and the chemistry between the kids is still fantastic and helps Stranger Things be as great as it is. Whether it was them turning up to school as the only ones dressed up for Halloween or obsessing over who beat the high score at Dig Dug, the moments they shared as a group were very funny. If Stranger Things is to have more success in the future, then these kids are vital in achieving this.

Hopper and Eleven

Additionally, it is easy to see how the whole cast feels like a family both on and off-screen. All the relationships in this show are very authentic and this is especially true for the relationship between Jim Hopper and Eleven. I did not expect these two to be together in Season 2 of Stranger Things. This made it quite a nice surprise when we found out in the first episode, titled ‘MADMAX’, that Eleven has been in hiding and Hopper is looking after her.

David Harbour as Hopper and Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things Season 2

I loved the relationship they had. Obviously, it had a father/daughter vibe to it and, as Season 2 of Stranger Things progressed, you could tell how much Hopper cared for Eleven. This made complete sense given the tragedy which surrounded his own daughter and this affection he has for her was especially evident in ‘The Spy’ which was the sixth episode of Season 2.

It was also cool to get flashbacks of Eleven’s time on her own after she escaped the Upside Down and before Hopper found her. One of the funniest moments in Season 2 of Stranger Things happened in one of these flashbacks. Indeed, in the second episode, titled ‘Trick or Treat, Freak’, we see a squirrel being flown into a tree by Eleven (I know, it is a horrible thing to happen but it was so funny!).

The New Characters

Aside from the characters we know and love, I also thought the new characters that were introduced in Season 2 of Stranger Things were good. I liked Max (Sadie Sink) and her interactions with the group of kids. She added a bit of spunk to that group and to see Mike be really annoyed with having another girl around was interesting because it confirmed that he had still not got over Eleven.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin and Dart in Stranger Things Season 2

While the character of Billy was a complete prick, the performance that Dacre Montgomery gave as that character in Season 2 of Stranger Things was excellent. To see why Billy was as horrible as he was made me empathise with his situation but it did not take away from the fact that the way he treated Max and others was awful. I thought I hated Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in Season 1 but Billy surpassed Steve in the douche-bag category.

Undoubtedly, my favourite new character was Bob, i.e. Bob the Brain. Bob was played by Sean Astin who is most famous for his role as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Clearly, this would always influence my thinking that Bob was a legend. But, the matter of the fact is that he was a legend and his heroism and sacrifice in ‘The Mind Flayer’ was proof of this.

Dustin and Steve

In terms of the recurring characters, Dustin is still the MVP. I love this guy and his whole thing with Dart, the baby demo-dog, in Season 2 of Stranger Things was weird but cute at the same time even if Dart did kill a cat. However, it was his dynamic with Steve that was one of the best parts of Season 2 and it might have been the best relationship that was developed in this season of Stranger Things.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin and Joe Keery as Steve in Stranger Things Season 2

They had such a great rapport when they were together and, while I did not like Steve as a person in Season 1 of Stranger Things, he has grown on me because he has redeeming, likeable qualities. These qualities were most evident when he was with Dustin and the other kids. He is still a bit arrogant but he is getting better.

Eleven and Episode 7

While Dustin is probably my favourite character due to his personality and the humorous moments involving him (I mean, seeing Dustin theorise that the Shadow Monster was a Mind Flayer and explaining what that meant was priceless), Eleven is the character with the most depth. Her arc in Season 2 of Stranger Things proved that. We talked about the flashbacks we saw of Eleven surviving on her own in the woods which was cool. Yet, it was really the journey she took to find her mother once she knew of her existence which started this great arc.

I feel as though Eleven went through a lot of soul-searching in this season of Stranger Things and her experience when she met her mother showed this as well as what this meeting led to. Indeed, we find out that there is another girl like Eleven out there in the world and we saw her in the opening scene of this season of Stranger Things. Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) was the name of this girl and, like Eleven, she was a patient at the Hawkins Lab who escaped.

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things Season 2

Obviously, The Duffer Brothers, who are the show-runners of Stranger Things, felt that the stuff with Kali/Eight and Eleven’s journey to find her was very important because an entire episode was devoted to it. Yes, now we get to talk about the highly controversial Episode 7. Indeed, this episode has been very divisive for fans of Stranger Things and it is considered to be the weakest episode of Season 2 and the series in general.

For me, it is the weakest episode but I do not get how some people hate on this episode to the extent that they do. I still think that it is a very good episode. I really liked the punk vibe and I feel that the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ will have a lot of significance in future seasons of Stranger Things. In fact, I do feel as though this episode was establishing stories that we will see next season which is a reason why ‘The Lost Sister’ was the weakest episode of Season 2.

Linnea Berthelsen as Kali/Eight in Stranger Things Season 2

Having one episode which focused on Kali and Eleven killed the momentum that was being built with the main story-line back in Hawkins. I wish that the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ had been spread out across a few episodes of Season 2. It would have been better this way rather than just having one standalone episode. If it was blended into the other story-lines, I feel as though some fans of Stranger Things would have less of an issue with this aspect of Season 2.

Season 2 of Stranger Things Ends Well

Nevertheless, the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ led Eleven to the stage where she knew that she needed to help her friends who were in a desperate situation. We saw this situation in the last two episodes of Season 2 which were fantastic. One could argue that ‘The Mind Flayer’ and ‘The Gate’ are the best ever episodes of Stranger Things. The final two episodes were tense, dramatic (Poor Bob) and they were great pay-off for the story in Season 2.

Moreover, it solidified my belief that Season 2 of Stranger Things is better than Season 1. Even the weakest elements of Season 2 were still very good and this season built upon the greatness of Season 1 while improving on the weakest point of Season 1 which was its over-reliance on 80s nostalgia.

Still, even though the end of Season 2 is a shot of the Mind Flayer looming over our characters, I do wonder how The Duffer Brothers will be able to pull-off a third season of Stranger Things. Perhaps moving away from Hawkins will benefit the show. That is why I believe Episode 7 is important in addition to the story that involved Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer).

Natalia Dyer as Nancy and Charlie Heaton as Jonathan in Stranger Things Season 2

The purpose of the mission they embarked on was to expose the government cover-up of the events of Season 1 (Justice for Barb lives on!). I believe that the success they had in doing this will have ramifications which will be explored more in Season 3. Despite my concerns about how Season 3 will be executed, I am defiant in my belief that Season 2 was a brilliant season of Stranger Things. While I do not expect Season 3 to be better than Season 2, I hope that Stranger Things continues to be great television to watch and an event which we all look forward to.

Blade Runner 2049 (Film Review) – A Sequel That Surpasses The Original

Blade Runner 2049 is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Dave Bautista, Ana de ArmasSylvia HoeksRobin Wright, Mackenzie DavisCarla JuriJared Leto, Lennie James, Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. This film is a sequel to the cult classic Blade Runner and it is set thirty years after the events of the original film.

The story focuses on K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant blade runner who discovers the remains of a once-pregnant replicant; Rachael (Sean Young). K must fulfil his mission to find the child and eradicate all evidence related to it. This eventually leads him to discover that the child is linked to missing blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

My Knowledge and Expectation of Blade Runner 2049

I must make a confession. Up until a couple of weeks before its release, Blade Runner 2049 was not a film that I was desperately craving to see. This was down to one reason; I had never seen Blade Runner in its entirety. Consequently, l lacked both the emotional connection that many film fanatics have for the original and anticipation for the sequel. I knew I had to watch The Final Cut of Blade Runner before I watched Blade Runner 2049.

Ryan Gosling as K in Blade Runner 2049

So, five days before I was going to see Blade Runner 2049, I watched Blade Runner and, while I do not see it as a masterpiece, I liked the film. This was especially true of the cinematography and the score which were fantastic. Still, what prevented me from loving the film was a story that, to me, lacked a little bit of purpose and a relationship between Deckard and Rachael that I did not buy.

I did believe that, if I liked Blade Runner 2049, then it could potentially improve my opinion and appreciation of Blade Runner. Moreover, it is unlikely that a better director could have been picked to helm this film in the form of Denis Villeneuve. Certainly, he is quickly becoming one of the best directors that is working in the film industry today and he is building an impressive filmography. Indeed, Sicario was arguably the best film that I saw in 2015 and Prisoners was a great film that really left an impact on me.

Still, while Villeneuve is an extremely talented director, he has made films which fell below the lofty standards that Sicario and Prisoners established. For instance, while I liked Arrival, I came to eventually feel that it was a bit overrated and I did not like Enemy at all. Still, despite this, Villeneuve has done enough brilliant work with Sicario and Prisoners to make me extremely confident that he would do a tremendous job with Blade Runner 2049.

Ana De Armas as Joi in Blade Runner 2049

Additionally, he had an extremely talented cast to work with. Certainly, Harrison Ford is a legendary actor and Robin Wright has more than proven herself to be an accomplished actress both in films and television. Both Jared Leto and Ryan Gosling have also impressed me as actors. Leto was brilliant in Dallas Buyers Club and Ryan Gosling made all the headlines with his role in La La Land.

Yet, it was in films such as Drive, The Ides of March and The Big Short where Gosling really impressed me as an actor. With all of this in mind, I had a lot of hope that Blade Runner 2049 would be a great cinematic experience. I also took the time to watch the three short films that were released prior to the release of Blade Runner 2049 and I thought they were all very enjoyable and interesting. I was sure that they would elevate my appreciation of Blade Runner 2049.

My Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is a phenomenal film and it accomplished a very difficult feat in being a sequel that surpasses the original. Truly, this is a near-flawless film which equals the best aspects of Blade Runner and improves on others. I mentioned above how the cinematography and the score in Blade Runner really impressed me. The same can be said for Blade Runner 2049. This film is a visual masterpiece that perfectly captures the essence of the lived-in world that was established in Blade Runner.

Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton in Blade Runner 2049

Every shot is so beautifully crafted and artistic that Roger Deakins, the cinematographer, is an absolute lock to get an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. I will go even further than that. If Deakins does not win the Oscar for this film after being nominated thirteen times, then there truly is no justice in this world. Hans Zimmer also delivers a great score for Blade Runner 2049 that recaptured what made the music that Vangelis composed for Blade Runner so brilliant.

Across the board, the performances in Blade Runner 2049 are amazing. No one took me out of the film with poor acting. Leto, Gosling, Armas, Ford, Bautista, Wright, Hoeks; they all delivered. I have been very impressed by how far Dave Bautista has come as an actor and, in his short role in this film, he gave a performance with a lot of depth. I really want to see him in many more films in the future because I think he will get better and better as time goes on.

Ryan Gosling gives a great performance as the lead character and continues to go from strength to strength as an actor. I hope that the performances given by Ana De Armas and Sylvia Hoeks are breakout performances that propel these two into stardom. I had seen little of these actresses before this film and they were big surprises. They were very captivating in their roles.

Farm set on fire in Blade Runner 2049

Harrison Ford

Another surprise was how little Harrison Ford’s role in Blade Runner 2049 was. Indeed, Harrison Ford was only in the third act of the film which threw me off guard. I was kind of expecting Blade Runner 2049 to rely on Ford for a good majority of its run-time but, in the end, I was perfectly happy with the role he played. He was brilliant when he was on screen and the smaller role that he had allowed the other cast members to shine.

As I said, the whole cast were great and helped to tell the story in this film that itself was a perfect continuation of Blade Runner. The premise of Blade Runner 2049 was fantastic. I had no idea about the plot of this film before seeing it which made the revelations that occurred throughout this film very impactful and shocking.

The premise of this film as well as the surprising revelations were huge factors in why I was much more connected to the story in Blade Runner 2049 than I was in Blade Runner. I was enthralled and engaged with this story from beginning to end and I would say that the strength of the story in this film is the main reason why I believe that Blade Runner 2049 is a better film than Blade Runner.

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049

The Minor Flaws of Blade Runner 2049

Still, as much as I have praised Blade Runner 2049 and stated that it is a near-flawless film, I have some minor issues. For one, while I was enthralled with this film from a story perspective, I do feel that this film could have been trimmed by 5-10 minutes as some scenes did go on for a bit longer than they needed too.

Yet, my issue with that was always negated by the fact that I was also enthralled from a visual perspective. I never got bored while watching this film as there was always something for me to admire. Another small issue that I have is that there was no scene in Blade Runner 2049 as memorable or iconic as the “tears in rain” monologue that was delivered by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner.

However, Blade Runner 2049 is a consistently better film than Blade Runner so that was not a big deal. Watching this film was a wonderful cinematic experience. It is competing with Wind River as being the best film that I have seen so far in 2017 and it is competing with Sicario in regards of being my favourite film directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Ana De Armas as Joi and Ryan Gosling as K in Blade Runner 2049

I would be stunned if this film does not get a bunch of nominations at the Oscars. Surely, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography nominations are forthcoming? This film is brilliant and I hope that you get to experience Blade Runner 2049 where it deserves to be seen; on the big screen.

War for the Planet of the Apes (Film Review) – A Fitting End

War for the Planet of the Apes is a sci-fi drama directed by Matt Reeves and it is the third instalment in this reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. This film is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It stars Woody HarrelsonSteve Zahn, Amiah MillerKarin KonovalJudy Greer, Terry Notary and Andy Serkis. The story of War for the Planet of the Apes focuses on Caesar (Andy Serkis) who is leading the Apes in a war against the human military faction known as Alpha-Omega for control of Earth and to become the dominant species.

My Knowledge and Expectation of War for the Planet of the Apes

For me, this is a film which had a lot going for it and a lot going against it. In one sense, War for the Planet of the Apes had a great foundation to establish this trilogy as one of the best that has ever been made. I think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good film and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a very good film and they both helped set the stage for War for the Planet of the Apes to close out this trilogy on a very strong note.

However, that comes with a lot of pressure too as there have been times when the third film in a trilogy is bad; very bad. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Matrix Revolutions, X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3 come to mind when thinking about weak third instalments in a trilogy. Still, despite this, I had faith in Matt Reeves to deliver once again and I had no doubt that Andy Serkis would give us another superb performance as Caesar whose arc in these films has been fantastic.

Rocket, Caesar and Luca in War for the Planet of the Apes

My Thoughts on War for the Planet of the Apes

In the end, War for the Planet of the Apes brought this trilogy to a fitting conclusion. While I prefer Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes is a good film that sets itself apart from a lot of the films that have come out this summer. The reason why this is the case is because of its depth. Indeed, this film is much more of a drama than a war film and it shines through its highlighting of themes such as internment, slavery and revenge to name a few.

The characters in War for the Planet of the Apes also elevate the quality of the film. At the core of this film is a brilliant and captivating central performance by Andy Serkis. His portrayal of Caesar through motion-capture technology has been consistently fantastic and he continues this trend in War for the Planet of the Apes.

The acting by Serkis is brilliant and the effects which are used to bring Serkis’ performance as Caesar to life as well as the other Apes are extraordinary. They look so realistic that it is difficult to comprehend that they are not real Apes! Moreover, the interactions that Caesar had with The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) were very engaging and Harrelson did a good job in his role as the villain.

Woody Harrelson as The Colonel in War for the Planet of the Apes

The Flaws of War for the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis is a big reason why War for the Planet of the Apes is a good film, despite its flaws which I must get into. Firstly, I thought that the films’ narrative could have been told in a much tighter way. I should say that I adored the first act of the film. It was gripping, emotional, the action was great and it put the film in a position where it could have been better than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. However, the second and third act of the film could have been cut down which would have vastly improved the pacing of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Additionally, I could have done without the character of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) because I have never thought that comedic relief was necessary in these films. While I did not hate Bad Ape, I wish more time would have instead been devoted to other characters such as Maurice (Karin Konoval) who is a character that I have loved in this trilogy. His relationship with Caesar has always been engaging and authentic and I also liked the relationship that he had with Nova (Amiah Miller) in War for the Planet of the Apes.

Maurice and Nova in War for the Planet of the Apes

The score in War for the Planet of the Apes, which was composed by Michael Giacchino who also worked on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Spider-Man: Homecoming, was good. But, I did not love it as much as others did. In fact, that is my general feeling about War for the Planet of the Apes. I liked the film. It is good and brings Caesar’s story to an appropriate conclusion.

However, I disagree with those who believe it is better than Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Still, this only shows how consistently good this trilogy is. If you are a fan of these films, then I urge you to see War for the Planet of the Apes because the good in this film far outweighs the flaws. Moreover, while this film brings an end to Caesar’s story, there are more stories to tell in this reboot series and I hope that there is more to come.

Colossal (Film Review) – Original but Weird

Colossal is a sci-fi black comedy directed by Nacho Vigalondo and stars Dan StevensAustin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway. The story focuses on Gloria (Anne Hathaway) who is an unemployed writer struggling with alcoholism. She is forced to move back to her hometown after breaking up with her boyfriend and she finds solace in the seemingly genuine kindness of childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). However, at the same time, a monster is attacking the city of Seoul, South Korea. The monster and Gloria are connected and Gloria must find out why before things get worse.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Colossal

I had heard from film critics/pundits that I like and respect that Colossal was an extremely original, wacky film that was worth seeing. I tried to avoid knowing too much about the plot as I wanted to go into the film not knowing what to expect. Additionally, I knew nothing about the director of this film. Still, with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis in the lead roles, I was hopeful that Colossal would be a nice surprise.

Anne Hathaway in Colossal

My Thoughts on Colossal

Well, Colossal was a surprise though nice is not the word I would use to describe it. While I commend the film for its originality, I was not entertained and it did not connect with me. Of course, the originality of the story in Colossal is undeniable and it deals with some important issues such as control, abuse (both mental and physical) and inner strength.

The performances in the film are fine. No one is spectacular but the characters played by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are layered to some extent. I thought that the supporting cast were serviceable as well and the visual effects were very good, especially when you consider that Colossal was made on a small budget.

Jason Sudeikis in Colossal

The Flaws of Colossal

Despite this, my biggest issue with Colossal is that the story is told at a very leisurely pace and this was a real detriment to my viewing experience. It dragged on for far too long and I feel like Colossal would have worked better as a short film. Additionally, I did not find the film to be particularly funny. The comedy fell flat which was a shame as good comedy can elevate the quality of any film. All of this made Colossal a film which I have no desire to watch again.

Still, I feel that you should see Colossal for its original and unique concept alone. Certainly, it is very different to what is in cinemas at this moment in time. If you have become bored or fatigued by the films you have seen recently, then Colossal might be for you. However, I found it to be too weird even for me. I do not think it will be a film that I revisit again and again.