Review: ‘The Mummy’ 2017 (See Tom Run)

When you announce your new “smash hit” film franchise, maybe stay humble for a bit… until you actually succeed.

Somewhere in modern-day Iraq, American soldier Nick (Tom Cruise) lures his recon buddy Chris (Jake Johnson) out to a remote village in pursuit of treasure via a stolen map. When the location ends up being overrun with insurgents, a drone airstrike saves their bacon but also reveals the entrance to a tomb… with ancient Egyptian motifs. The US Army arrives shortly thereafter with an assumed archaeologist, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), who demands to explore the hidden catacombs. What they find there sets in motion a series of events that will change the world or utterly destroy it… but not if the Prodigium and its mysterious benefactor (Russell Crowe) have anything to do with.

Back in 1999, Stephen Sommers wrote and directed a remake of the 1932 Universal film The Mummy, repurposing the Boris Karloff horror film into an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure with horror elements. The success of that movie and its sequels prompted Universal to dust off their remaining old monsters and load them into a similar framework; the result of that debacle was the ill-fitting and ill-fated Van Helsing — which we’ve long since forgiven Hugh Jackman for. Undeterred, Universal launched Dracula Untold, again reworking the horror into adventure and making a hero of the main villain, but the results were tepid at best with audiences although an interesting period piece and retelling. Now in 2017, Universal reboots again with their announced Dark Universe franchise and Tom Cruise headlining an all-newish Mummy film, but can a hefty price tag and star-power jump-start a feature franchise like Marvel did with Iron Man or will they be left struggling in a sandstorm the way DC/Warner Bros. have with their Justice League prequels?
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Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ (Believe It)

At long last: we can rank a DCEU superhero movie over some of the best the MCU has to offer… and actually mean it.

Somewhere in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, a courier delivers a briefcase to the offices of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). Inside is a photograph taken a century earlier — of herself and four compatriots — yet she hasn’t aged a single day. Prompted by a note attached to the gift, Diana recalls the events that occurred before and after the plate image was exposed: being raised as the only child on an island of warrior women, hearing of “the war to end all wars” beyond the safety of their sanctuary borders, and leaving paradise behind to do what’s right. One of the men left a more lasting impression than the others: Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the lens through which Diana learned what was good and evil in the hearts of all men… and her purpose in their world.

Seventy-five years is how long it took from the first appearance of Wonder Woman in the funny pages until her big screen debut headlining her own feature film. Her too-few scene-stealing appearances in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of the more compelling yet sadly unexplored treats of that movie — until now. With Marvel still unleashing men’s club origin stories, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel years away, and studios waiting with bated breath to see if another lady-led franchise can duplicate the success of The Hunger Games, is it fate or fortune that Wonder Woman is finally being unleashed in 2017?
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Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (If Only)

A film for fans who don’t want the ride to end.

“The Dutchman must have a Captain” we were all told, and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) willingly took on that role to ferry the dead at sea into the afterlife; his only son, however, isn’t willing to let his father go so easily. Grown into a young man, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) hones his seafaring skills in the British navy until their ship runs afoul of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish pirate hunter cursed with undeath by a strapping young rogue named Jack… the Sparrow. Meanwhile, the now much-older Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) is down on his luck, unable to free his beloved Black Pearl from its bottled prison… yet inadvertently frees Salazar in a moment of weakness (and a convenient loophole). All of this has something to do with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a self-proclaimed woman of science that everyone accuses of being a witch on sight, never mind that the British navy as well as Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) have an actual witch (Golshifteh Farahani) in their employ who isn’t constantly being threatened with hanging. Got all that? And wacky adventure ensues…

The first Pirates of the Caribbean was a joy to behold; who knew a simple theme park ride could be translated into a big screen adventure and spawn a franchise? Hint: not the makers of The Haunted Mansion. Pirates mixed with the supernatural were the right ingredients blended together with Johnny Depp’s devil-may-care buccaneer antics, but complications over the first three Gore Verbinski-directed films stretched the concept thin and over-the-top. The fourth film, On Stranger Tides, was generally well-received but seemed lacking and underperformed, prompting this reportedly final film in the franchise to wrap up as much as possible. Was a fifth film necessary? Should they have stopped at three? Should they have stopped at one? Let’s explore.
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Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ (Prometheus Continues)

With zero surprises, the alternate-universe origin story of Alien expands.

After the colony ship Covenant suffers damage due to an unforeseen anomaly on-route to a new homeworld, their “synthetic” named Walter (Michael Fassbender, suspiciously) wakes the crew to attend to the emergency, but the current captain is among the casualties… of course. After patching up the ship to continue their journey, a weak signal is picked up that might otherwise have been missed: a human voice singing. The origin is a planet with near Earth-like conditions that shows more promise than their actual destination — not to mention it’s a lot closer — so why hadn’t anyone discovered it before? With a weary crew of survivors still shaking from their ordeal and less willing to jump back into suspended animation for another seven years, they opt to check out the signal and a promising new world. What’s the worst that could happen? First there’s the running — and then screaming…!

2012’s Prometheus opened to mixed reviews but also genuine excitement over writer/ director /producer Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe he began. Since the original, it has expanded in various directions, including movies versus those other well-known space critters we call Predators. The original Alien lent itself more to horror than sci-fi (and even invented a few of the genre’s best-loved tropes), but exploration of the mysterious “Space Jockey” shown in passing back in 1979 must have inspired Scott with a need to fully explore it: who were the ancient astronauts infected with Aliens and shuttling them across the universe? While Prometheus explored the existential origins of humanity and offered the terrifying intent of disappointed creators, how will Covenant’s return to familiar Alien territory fare while still exploring the consequences of android David (Michael Fassbender) and his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce)?
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Texas Frightmare and Comicpalooza 2017

And fun was had by all.


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Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ (Family First)

Paraphrasing from director James Gunn: if Vol. 1 was about finding your family, Vol. 2 is about holding it together.

After completing a mission for The Sovereign, the Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves in hot water after Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) slights their oversensitive leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). Crash-landing on a remote planet, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meets Ego (Kurt Russell), a man claiming he had paid Yondu (Michael Rooker) to make a special delivery: his Earth-born son. While Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) accompany Quill to resolve long-unsettled daddy issues, Rocket and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) repair the Milano while watching over Gamora’s wanted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), but Yondu has been hired by Ayesha to take down the Guardians once and for all…

The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a surprise hit. While it was Marvel continuity and provided an excuse to explore the rest of the universe beyond Earth 616, no one was quite sure how it would be received… plus it was a pure joy to watch. It wasn’t long before director James Gunn was tasked to duplicating the success of his mix-tape-inspired space opera, but could he expand the Guardians universe while topping the bliss of the original?
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Review: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (Machines With Souls)

Neither “The Six Million Dollar Man” nor “The Bionic Woman” ever saw this coming.

In a very likely future made possible by Hanka Robotics, biomechanical upgrades to humanity have been commonplace. They have one miracle yet to accomplish — the complete transplant of a human brain into a cyborg body — and The Major (Scarlett Johansson) becomes that miracle, one performed by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). A year later, Major has joined anti-terrorism squad called Section 9 with her partner Batou (Pilou Absaek), taking orders from Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). Tough, agile, armored and well-equipped, Major is happy to do as she’s told to save others and protect the city, but images begin to haunt her waking memories, making her question both her programming and her sanity. What Major is unaware of is that her latest case against a master hacker bent on destroying Hanka isn’t just an assignment; it could be her salvation.

We’ve seen this kind of story before — the purest science fiction there is: humanity surviving encroaching technology. Writer/illustrator Masamune Shirow created the original manga in 1989 as a serial, drawing inspiration from Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine; the title Ghost in the Shell, while not the original title of the comic, was always intended to reflect its inspiration. After a series of anime movies, it took almost thirty years and star Scarlett Johansson attached to get Hollywood on board with a live-action treatment, but can the decidedly Japanese story survive the culture jump and “white wash” casting to become a cinematic hit?
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