Category Archives: Movies

Baby Driver (2017) – Movie Review


From writer/director Edgar Wright, comes one of the most original and exciting action movies this year. Baby Driver is the story of a young man, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is the best getaway driver in Atlanta. His iPod playlist is his inspiration for getting and staying ahead in any chase situation.

Release Date: June 30, 2017
Writer: Edgar Wright
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

In hopes of paying off his debt to the crime lord, Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby drives criminal passengers to and from Doc’s target, mostly banks.

Baby Driver shines in three ways. One, the action is amazing. While the Fast and the Furious is a testament to what CGI can do with car races, Baby Driver is all real driving frame to frame. The sequences are like puzzles; Wright carefully places the pieces down to create a stunning chase sequence in cars and even on foot.

Two, the movie’s soundtrack drives the action. The film starts with the song “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The song creates the Baby’s required intensity in the preparation of the chase and soon explodes into the actual chase through the streets of Atlanta. Then we shift to “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl, which Baby uses to get the coffee for his criminal compatriots. “Harlem Shuffle” is a visually gorgeous one-shot title sequence.

Third is the story of our young hero Baby. Soon the movie sets us that final heist, which will seemingly payoff his debt to Doc. Unfortunately, he is forced to team with Bats (Jamie Foxx), who is BAT-S*** crazy. Clearly uncomfortable with the unpredictably violent nature of Bats, Baby knows he’s just one job away from freedom.

Soon things get complicated when Baby becomes enamored with the cute waitress Debora (Lily James), who works the late shift at Bo’s Diner. Debora dreams of getting out of town with just her car and her music. Baby dreams of being the one who can make that dream come true.

Baby Driver is a film with amazing chase sequences and an equally solid story to support it. The love story between Baby and Debora is sweet and of course involved music. It is the love story that ratchets up the tension as Baby’s escape from his criminal life stays just out of reach.

Baby Driver’s success also falls on its supporting characters. Kevin Spacey manages to play the bad guy perfectly holding freedom over the head of Baby. As the irredeemable Bats, Jamie Foxx just makes you feel uncomfortable every time he is on screen. Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez play Buddy and Darling. This criminal duo is spicy together and almost become brother and sister to Baby. Then there’s Joseph (CJ Jones) playing Baby’s deaf and elderly foster father. Not wanting to know what Baby does at night, Joseph is the only moral compass that Baby has left in the world.

While Baby Driver is not a perfect movie, it is a great movie. The key to any action movie is tension. Tension escalates when Baby’s world is exposed when our gang stumbles into Bo’s diner and they realize that Baby and Debora know each other. Baby Driver is fun to watch and will have you on the edge of your seat. Wright also changes things up with an unexpected U-turn to start the second act and an ending that ties up loose ends in Baby’s life.

Despicable Me 3 – Movie Review

Newly married ex-villain Gru (Steve Carrell) discovers he has a twin brother in Despicable Me 3.

Release Date: June 30, 2017
Writer: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon
Cast: Steve Carrell, Kristin Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Pierre Coffin

Despicable Me 3 starts a few months after the events of Despicable Me 2, but that really doesn’t mean anything other than Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are married and now a crime fighting team. This introduces us to the film’s villain Balthazar Bratt, voiced brilliantly by Trey Parker. Bratt is a former child actor, who starred as a really bad villainous child. His show ended once puberty kicked in and is no longer a cute child. Now he is just a villainous villain looking to destroy Hollywood with a giant robot likeness of himself.

When Gru and Lucy fail to stop Bratt from stealing a giant pink diamond, they are fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL) by its new leader Valarie da Vinci (Jenny Slate). Before I go one, this begins the start of four parallel plots.

The first is defeating Balthazar Bratt. Bratt wants revenge on Hollywood for canceling his show and ending his acting career. He plans to destroy the city using his giant robot and his giant laser. The giant laser can only be used with the giant diamond, he stole.

Second, the recently fired Lucy is finding it difficult to be the mother to Gru’s kids: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith and Agnes. She gets along with them fine, but she is unable to be a parental authority to the children.

Third, now that Gru is no longer a hero or villain, the minion lead by Mel (Pierre Coffin) quit and look for a new villain to follow. This leads them to slapstick hijinks on their path to jail for more slapstick hijinks.

Fourth, Gru discovers that he has a twin brother, Dru (Steve Carrell). Dru was raised in the country of Freedonia, the world’s largest producer of pigs. Dru feels like a failure in his father’s eyes because he never became a great villain like his brother Gru, Gru tricks drew into stealing the diamond from Bratt…in a villain-like way to foil Bratt’s plan and hopefully get his job back at the AVL.

Let’s start with what’s great about Despicable Me 3. It’s funny. The minions are back with their cuteness and their adult-type humor. I laughed a lot. The kids in the theater laughed and laughed. I had to buy my daughter a minion plush after the movie. Trey Parker is also brilliant as Baltazar Bratt in his first voice role not created by him. He vocally exemplifies evil childishness. He is also accompanied by an awesome 80’s soundtrack. Like the movie, Baby Driver, he can only commit his crimes while playing songs like Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The problem with Despicable Me 3 is the sweetness of the relationship he has with the kids is now passed on to Dru, which is not as sweet. Also, the fact that there are four plots in this movie means that sufficient time is not available to adequately address each plot. Every conflict is resolved quickly we are unable to connect emotionally. That was the charm of the first two Despicable Me film, Gru trying to win the hearts of the three girls.

Despicable Me 3 is a great film for kids and a good time will be had. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the emotional punch behind it that made us love the previous films.

Cars 3 – Movie Review

The third installment of the Cars saga follows Lightning McQueen at the twilight of his career. McQueen’s ego is challenged with younger, more efficient cars invade the racing tour.

Release Date: June 16, 2017
Writer:  Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
Director: Brian Fee
Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Christ Cooper, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion

For years, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has dominated the Piston Cup racing series. Life is good. He is still the hero of Radiator Springs and loved by all including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Things take an ominous turn with the arrival of Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Storm is the latest product of 21st century efficient and aerodynamic design as well as state-of=the-art cyber training.

With Storm’s arrival, more and more old racers are being replaced with newer cars and McQueen is struggling to stay relevant. In the final race of the Piston Cup season, McQueen’s attempt to beat the younger Storm results in a horrific accident. This forces McQueen to reflect with his friends at Radiator Springs and face the ghost of Doc Hudson’s past.

Deciding to give it one last try, McQueen finds himself at the new training facility run by the new owner of McQueen’s sponsor Rust-eze, Sterling (Nathan Fillion). He introduces McQueen to his new trainer Cruz (Cristela Alonzo). The two don’t quite see eye-to-eye.

Cars 3 is a fun and poignant member of the Cars trilogy. It focuses directly on McQueen’s personal journey, instead of the comic adventures of Mater in Cars 2. From the very beginning fans are rooting for Lighting to win and throughout the film, they root for his journey back to the top.

Cars 3 also introduces us to a lot of new characters, almost to the film’s detriment. There is his new trainer Cruz, who wanted to be a racer but the sexism of the racing circuit dashed her dreams instantly. There are also Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper), who along with River Scott (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (Margo Martindale) serve as Doc Hudson’s voice and motivation for McQueen.

One thing that stood out in Cars 3 were its visuals. A lot of effort from Pixar animators went into making the world of Cars look real. There were moments in its numerous outdoor and forest settings that the backdrop looked real and not like a photo mural behind the action. The scenery is breathtaking and beautiful.

There is a demolition segment in the middle of the film that is fun to watch, a source of great humor and beautiful to look at. It was real talking cars, in a real mud pit and really wrecking each other up using real car physics.

Cars 3 has heart. It is the story of coming from behind and never giving up. In the first movie, Lightning was a victim of his own grand view of himself. In Cars 3, he is a victim of age and better technology. The only downside is that it can be a little predictable. As the movie progresses, you realize that every misadventure and mishap is just another lesson to winning in the end. The ending itself is revealed a little too soon and its explanation was a little clunky. Can’t say much more without giving it away.

The only other problem is too many characters old and new. The gang from Radiator Springs feel like cameos, the two villains, who never meet, are almost carbon copies of each other and Doc Hudson’s friends are just too much. By the way, Lightning meets them in a “biker” bar with a ton of other characters. It’s just too many characters that we’re required to follow.

Cars 3 is a fun movie with a simple lesson to tell for the kids. The quality of animation continues to cement Pixar as the best in the business. It has enough heart to make you feel good about yourself and buy a lot of Cars merchandise.

Imitation Girl – 2017 Dances with Films – Natasha Kermani – Writer/Director Interview

Imitation Girl is the story of a young woman and her alien doppelganger. It screened as part of the narrative competition at Dances With Films and we spoke with its writer/director Natasha Kermani.

A mysterious young woman materializes in the middle of the Southwestern desert, where each step teaches her about her new world and her new body. As she assumes her new life, she discovers she has a twin with whom she shares more than just an outward appearance.

Alan Ng spoke with Natasha about her film and the filmmaking process at Dances with Film 2017.

http://www.illiumpictures.com/imitation-girl-feature-film/

John Wick Chronicles – VR Experience at the 2017 E3 Expo

The Geek Lab was privileged to dive head first into the world of the Continental with the John Wick Virtual Reality Game. We played John Wick Chronicles now on Steam and HTC Vive.

Available for $19.99, John Wick Chronicles gives players the opportunity to explore the iconic Continental Hotel and tasks them with assassinating seemingly unbeatable targets that only John Wick himself could handle.

While you’re at it. Pick up on the game and the movie on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.

Steam Order: store.steampowered.com/app/382360
Website: JohnWickVR.com
Geek Lab Movie Review: John Wick – Chapter 2

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Wonder Woman – Movie Review

Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air…when it comes to DC movies. It used to be that we looked forward to how good a Marvel movie would be and how bad a DC movie would be.

Release Date: June 2, 2017
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright

Wonder Woman follows the demi-god, Diana (Gal Godot). She lives on the island of Themyscira with her fellow Amazons including her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright). The island is mysteriously hidden from the rest of the world, while the rest of the world slowly destroys itself during World War I.

Wonder Woman is an origins story. It starts by lumbering through an explanation of the Greek Mythology, of Zeus, and of his son Ares. But the real story here is Diana’s struggle to become the greatest warrior of the Amazons and the mystery as to why Queen Hippolyta will not allow this to be.

Meanwhile, as World War I comes to an end, American spy and pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his damaged plane off the shores of Themyscira while fleeing a squadron of German fighter planes. Diana rescues Steve and vanquishes the German soldiers with the help of her fellow Amazons. Untrusted and captive, Trevor tells Diana about the “war to end all wars.” He pleads with her for his release so he can deliver the stolen formula of a potent nerve gas that Germany will use as a last-ditch effort to win the war.

Diana helps Steve escape in order to help him win the ultimate war. After proving herself to her mother, Diana leaves the island as a warrior and with an ominous warning about ever returning. Eager to become the heroine, she is destined to become, Diana finds herself increasingly impatient with Steve’s stalling and British bureaucracies.

Demanding to head directly into action, Steve teams her up with a motley crew of fighters including Sameer (Said Taghmaoui)-master of disguise, Charlie (Ewen Bremner)-PTSD scarred sniper and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) – Street-smart trader of goods. That’s Wonder Woman.

I mentioned in my Man of Steel review, that Zach Snyder’s depiction of Superman is not Superman. As good as Henry Cavill was, the man on screen is not the Superman I came to see. Thankfully, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Beauty aside, she is a convincing warrior with moral conviction. She has the confidence and strength to be a hero. She has charm and Patty Jenkins masterfully tells a brighter story in contrast to the dark overtones of Man of Steel. DC finally made a hero that girls (and boys) can admire.

A pre-requisite of a superhero film is good action scenes. The battle on Themyscira was fantastic showing Amazon cunning in a fight of guns and mortars versus swords and arrows. The movie’s set pieces of Diana leading the charge into “No Man’s Land” is a spectacular display of Wonder Woman’s power, strength, and fighting ability.

I have only two minor complaints about Wonder Woman. I won’t belabor it because this is an exceptional movie. One, the origin segment at the start and its mythology, just needed to move a little faster. I think we’re proving that origins are not necessary for all hero movies.

Two, there is a moment when Diana is in London and she is the fish-out-of-water moment. It’s played for laughs and at the expense of this strong character, Jenkins had established for over an hour. While humorous, the sequence is not very original. She is portrayed as a little naïve when she could have been portrayed as regal.

Wonder Woman is a straight up superhero film. It is a story about Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman. It’s not making a statement about gender. While Diana is a woman. She has no hang up about gender inequality, she’s a powerful confident person with all the experience of being female. She is not fighting men, she is fighting evil. She is not fighting for women only but fighting for all people in hopes bringing peace to a war-ravaged people.

‘Imitation Girl’ – Sci-fi Tale Screens Tonight at Dances with Films

A mysterious being appears in the Southwestern desert and assumes the identity of the first person she sees – a woman on a magazine cover. Taken in by Iranian immigrants, she forms an understanding of her new surroundings and comes to appreciate the beauty and the sadness of her new world. At the same time, Julianna, Imitation’s world-weary earthly double, knows both glitz and grit working as an entertainer in New York City, where her fraying life and relationships threaten her dreams for an audition that might finally set her on a happier path. On learning of Juliana’s existence, Imitation heads to New York, where only by sacrificing themselves to each other can the cosmic twins complete a full portrait of a woman.

This is the first feature film of Iranian-American filmmaker Natasha Kermani. It stars indie horror actress Lauren Ashley Carter. “Imitation Girl” makes its Los Angeles premiere at Dances With Film at 7:15 pm – TCL Chinese Theaters. Director Natasha Kermani, producer Tim Wu, and talent Neimah Djourabchi and Sanam Erfani will all be in attendance and will be present for a Q&A after the screening.

‘Save My Seoul’ Documents The Hidden World of Prostitution and Human Trafficking in South Korea

Save My Seoul screened as a participant in the documentary category of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I spoke with its director Jason Lee.

Save My Seoul follows two Korean-American brothers as they discover rampant prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul, South Korea. With the use of hidden cameras and access to pimps, johns, and sex-workers, Eddie and Jason explore and unravel the complexity of the sex trade in Seoul. They learn that this problem is rooted in issues far deeper than lost girls and lustful men. Instead, it’s a consequence of the broken Korean culture that turns a blind eye to and condones one of the biggest human injustices of our generation.

Check out the Geek Lab’s other filmmaker interviews.