Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham has been delivering top notch comedy for a long time, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he would eventually cross over into film. What is surprising is how beautiful, heartfelt, and true this movie is.

Burnham is not only a great writer of comedy and mining all that is awkward about literally the most awkward period of our lives, but he proves himself an amazing director, especially of star Elsie Fisher. This is not an overstatement that her performance here as Kayla is Oscar-worthy as she encapsulates exactly what it is to be a young adolescent, especially in 2018, but the themes here are fairly universal.

If awkwardness was a fruit, and you could press it into a juice, then reduce that into a syrup and serve it over pancakes, that would be the essence of this film. Every moment — mean girls, stupid boys, being misunderstood and lonely — rings 100% true and is uncomfortably funny.

The film actually captures such realism as Fisher’s actual acne and wearing ill-fitting bathing suits and having normal 13 year old bodies. But perhaps most surprising is its depiction of social media, phones, and texting and how it absolutely nails how this generation interacts with these things.

Personal story time: I have a daughter about to enter 8th grade. This film gets her and her generation in a way nothing else ever has. And unless you’ve been watching lots of YouTube and Vine and Instagram, you don’t understand where their media is coming from. And everyone wants to have their own channels and break out and be a star, but no one is watching.

Thirty or forty years ago, a protagonist may have written in her diary, fifteen years ago on her blog. Here we get her youtube channel, where she is free and her best self and giving advice to people she is obviously trying to take herself. And while she’s a star in her bedroom alone on her laptop, her class votes her “Most Quiet.” The tension between that is the key to her story and growing up– how much her self-perception differs from how people see her.

We also see some other somewhat shocking elements played off as totally normal and mundane. They have a schoolwide lockdown active shooter drill and actually pretend that children are dead in the hallways, during which time the boy she has a crush on asks her to send nudes if she wants to be his girlfriend. If the latter shocks you more than the former, you missed part of what the film is saying.

And through all of this we have Kayla’s dad. He tries so hard to connect with her and do the best he can and I literally have never connected and empathized with a movie character more in my life. There is a scene between the two of them as they sit around a firepit in their backyard that will make you cry, and also laugh a little in its over-the-top emotional stakes that overstate everything as the worst or best thing ever that is the essence of being thirteen. And of course it’s still glazed in that lovely awkward syrup that is lovingly drizzled over everything in this film.

There are a lot of amazing indie films out there that you need to see. This is one of the best films of the summer and deserves to be checked out. As great as this is, I expect even more from Bo Burnham in the near future. The kids are alright.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Skyscraper

skyscraper_ver2Skyscraper is that type of movie that if you put any thought into it all, it completely falls apart. But if you can somehow manage to prevent your brain cells from firing to notice the numerous high-rise-sized plot holes, you might be entertained by the dazzling spectacle of a ginormous building on fire, people being heroic, and dazzling stunts. It is not high art.

Our protagonist in this story is the building, known as The Pearl, Hong Kong’s newest skyscraper which comes in at approximately three times the size of the Empire State Building. In this movie, the building actually gets more backstory and character development than any of the humans.

Those humans include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who is playing a security expert evaluating the safety of the building. But of course some bad guys want some sort of undisclosed MacGuffin held in the most secure part of the building by the buildings eccentric and rich owner, and so they do what any bad guys would do – they set the building on fire. So The Rock has to scale the building, at times aided only by a rope and duct tape — yes, duct tape, who is arguably the true hero of the movie — to save his family, including Neve Campbell and some really adorable kids. Like, seriously, I’d jump into a burning building to save these kids.

To help the exposition along, we have TV news crews shooting the antics from every conceivable angle outside the building and broadcasting it to multiple screens around Hong Kong. In case you, the audience. don’t know how to react, or when to cheer, or when to clap, they’ve provided a handy bad 80s sitcom style laugh track to the movie to tell you when the jokes land. Did I say jokes? I meant stunts.

That being said, those action sequences are harrowing. And if you’re at all agoraphobic, this movie is sure to make you wish you weren’t looking down, over and over and over again as The Rock precipitously dangles by his fingertips off the edge of the building. The movie is cut from the same cloth as the giant spectacle disaster movies of the 70’s and 80’s– swap out ol’ Chuck Heston for The Rock, and we got ourselves a picture!

This films writer and stunt coordinator also seem intent on showing you that all of the skills you were supposed to learn in elementary school gym class were actually the most important ones. Balance beam, climbing a rope, doing a pull-up, and so on. For those of you who got the Presidential Fitness metal, this movie salutes you. You too can save your family from a burning state-of-the-art skyscraper!

(Pulls out imaginary social justice warrior soapbox) Where this film excels, however, is in its depiction of those with physical limitations. The Rock’s character has a prosthetic leg, which if you think about it is actually a really cool idea to break down ableism. The problem is, it treads into that trope of “disability as superpower,” which is very dangerous territory. (Insert “autistic genius who solves everything” cliche here) You can make a drinking game out of the number of times that his prosthetic leg saves him.

However, I mean this in all sincerity and while I know this review has mostly been incredibly snarky, I really do hope that this helps. And it’s important to have someone of The Rock’s celebrity and physical stature show that a prosthetic limb does not preclude you from being a superhero. I only wish it had been done a little more deftly, and in a far better movie. But for those for whom this resonates, this is likely an important representation for them on the big screen, and we shouldn’t just gloss over that.

That being said, this movie is horrifically dumb. It’s not the dumbest movie of the year – that title is still held by Den of Thieves – but even compared to other recent disaster porn movies starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson, this sticks out as being egregiously IQ-challenged. This makes Rampage look like it got a master’s degree, and San Andreas graduated top of its class from Harvard Law.

That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a movie being just some cheap thrills and spectacular stunts, but when your other choices in the theater right now include The Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and even the incredibly-smart-looking-by-comparison Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, let’s just say you have some other options to seek those thrills.

2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Perfectly adequate. That’s the best way to describe the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp. I loved Ant-Man, as the film in 2015 was one of the earliest to shake up the Marvel movie formula in many ways. The movie still stuck to a lot of what we’ve seen, evil corporate bad guy (who wears three piece suits and is bald), it broke the mold by adding in comedic aspects. The movie was the first real comedy released featuring a more relaxed style and visual jokes, not to mention a dialed back villain that lowers the stakes of it all. Ant-Man and the Wasp takes a lot of that formula to give us a family friendly film that has laughs but misses some of the charm of the original.

Taking place after Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is on lockdown attempting to stay out of trouble and be a father. Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym are on the run and need Scott’s help to find Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife. The villain is two fold. Ghost, a character who needs Hank Pym’s technology to cure her and Sonny Burch, a technology dealer who wants Pym’s technology to sell to the highest bidder. Then there’s the FBI who wants to arrest Hope and Hank for having the tech they have.

The story is a bit convoluted and is best to not think too hard about. Things are either over explained or not explained enough and we’re expected to roll with it. Each aspect feels like an excuse to present so visual gag involving size or explore the Quantum Realm, the place Scott shrunk to in the first film and where Janet is lost.

While Ghost is a potentially interesting villain, the actions taken by her leave you wondering why she wouldn’t just reach out to Hank to help to begin with instead of attempting to steal his technology? There’s a backstory but much feels watered down and lost from the original comics’ tech focused anarchist who presented as originally released would have been a much more interesting villain. Burch, as played by the always entertaining Walter Goggins, feels like the villain version of Michael Peña‘s Luis whose entire aspect is to give us a moment of respite (the ongoing jokes about a truth serum) or to set up some action sequence.

And that’s the issue at the heart of the film, it provides little new and you feel like you’re sitting there waiting for the next gag or in my case Michael Peña’s rants. Yes, he steals the show as usual delivering entertaining recaps and there’s far too few of them. There’s an energy about his performance where he immediately creates a spark in any scene he’s in. It’s a fun energy that feels like it’s missing everywhere else and the closest we come is Paul Rudd as he interacts with his daughter with childlike fun.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the film but it’s clear this is the family friendly release of the year to change things up, much like the original. After the weightier films that are Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a film geared towards families with younger kids who’ll laugh at the visual gags. Ant-Man and the Wasp is empty entertainment that’s a step back from the original missing… something.

The visuals are entertaining and we get a new world to explore in the Quantum Realm but overall the film feels like empty calories that will fill you up temporarily but in the end leave you wanting an hour later.

Overall Rating: 6.95

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant-man-and-the-wasp-posterThis is the palate cleanser we needed after the heaviness of Avengers: Infinity War, and like the first Ant-Man, guaranteed to leave you smiling ear to ear. However, as a film, and grading on the curve of what we expect from recent MCU movies, it falls a bit short of the recent genius of Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok. 

But is that really fair? Do we judge the sorbet, pickled ginger, or simple fruit compared to the course before it? If you eat some apple slices after a particularly hearty main course, shouldn’t you just compare it to other apples? Ant-Man and the Wasp is a particularly good apple, even if it’s a lesser part of the feast of the MCU.

Our story centers back on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, finds himself in the last few days of a two-year house arrest, during which time he has had no contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) or Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). They are reunited after he has a vision of Janet (Michelle Pfieffer) whom Hank and Hope have been trying to rescue from the quantum realm, avoiding detection by the authorities with a truly “mobile” lab they can shrink to a rolling suitcase.

Unfortunately, their activities have also attracted the attention of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) a former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, who needs their tech to fix her condition which allows her to phase through solid matter, but is also extremely painful. They’re also being pursued by billionaire Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and FBI Agent Woo (Randall Park) and aided by Scott’s friends from the previous movie, led by Michael Pena. And we get a glimpse into Hank Pym’s past with the introduction of Dr. Bill Foster (Lawrence Fishburne) who previously used Pym’s technology to grow larger and become “Goliath.”

It’s a lot of characters. And most of the movie ends up being a giant game of keep-away with the lab/suitcase while our stars tell jokes and superhero wackiness ensues. While the first Ant-Man played like a generic heist film, this is more reminiscent of the specific sub-genre of a 60’s caper film which was as much about the romantic chemistry of the two leads as its plot.

Full of sight gags and visuals of little things turning big and vice versa, the film plays with its main conceit of being able to shrink and grow at will, sometimes almost to a fault. It also uses its setting of San Francisco to great effect. The film also depends on the audience being willing to accept a lot of super convenient plot turns to keep everything moving, including the biggest deus ex machina of the entire MCU to resolve its central conflict.

One of the biggest impressions we’re left with from this film is “women do it better.” Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp is infinitely better at her job than Scott is at being Ant-Man, and Ghost as an antagonist is infinitely better than Corey Stoll’s super-weak Yellowjacket in the last Ant-Man film.

The other important thing here [possible spoiler alert?] is the idea that this film exists without a singular villain, continuing Marvel’s recent spate of complex villains with an actual beef and moral weight to their arguments. While Ghost is certainly the antagonist, she is a person acting out of severe pain from her “powers” and more akin to a terminal patient looking to do anything to get palliative medical care. And Goggins, while always fun to watch in a villain role, really doesn’t do enough to qualify as a “villain” in the true sense– other than just being a greedy capitalist.

So this movie has a lot of heart, spectacular visuals, great jokes and performances from its supporting cast, and some nice character moments, but falls short of some of the spectacle, fun, and other recent MCU films.  But as a palate cleanser? It works really well.

Until [again, possible spoiler alert, but this is predictable] in the post credit scenes we see what happens in this corner of the universe when Thanos snaps his fingers. Then it leaves that ashy, sad taste in our mouth again. If you want to preserve the fun and good feelings this movie gives us, you may want to leave at the credits, just this one time.

This is a fun movie which should keep you smiling for almost the entirety of its runtime. While not as good as, say, Incredibles 2, it’s worthwhile just as some fun escapism from the heat and the stresses of summer 2018.

3.5 out of 5

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic-world-posterYou can never go home again. But apparently you can keep mining the same basic premise — crazy scientists reinvent dinosaurs, put them in a park, park breaks down, dinos eat people — until you hit bedrock. Or, in the case of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, until you hit magma.

This is perhaps the laziest and most paint-by-numbers of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. It is, however, pretty dumb– at least as dumb as its giant rampaging beasts, with plot holes equally as large. Perhaps, like the stegosaurus, it has a brain the size of a walnut and a secondary “brain” in its tail?

But that doesn’t make it not enjoyable. There’s two ways to enjoy this movie– you’re either a 10 year old, or an adult.

For a kid, or someone who can tap into their inner child easily, it’s like a eating a giant bowl of jelly beans doused in Mountain Dew and shoveling it in your mouth like a kid eating cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons. There’s no layers here, no nuance, no deeper meaning. As much as I would like to salute the stinging indictment of the 1% and global military-industrial complex in this film, that’s even more of a reach than I’ll normally make. This is sugar on top of sugar on top of sugar with a dollop of high fructose corn syrup. And that’s it.

For cynical adults, however, this film is more along the lines of going to see a concert of one of your favorite bands from 90’s. Yeah, they’re going to play the hits– all of your favorites– but you notice they don’t quite sound the same any more. They’ve lost a little bit of that verve. And then when they tell you, “And here’s a song off our new album,” you know you can check out for a moment or go grab another drink. This is like that.  (Apologies if you feel I’ve maligned your favorite 90’s band.) But this movie is like the lyrics from 90’s band Gin Blossoms, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”

Our story– if it matters? and yet it’s also needlessly complicated– is our beloved dinosaurs are in danger. This time the abandoned park on Isla Nublar is in danger from a (very convenient) volcano which threatens to destroy the island. While the world debates whether to let the animals become re-extinct, a fate which returning champ (and drastically underused) Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) explains in what is essentially an extended exposition cameo. Former park manager Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard) is now an animal rights activist working to save the dinos. She is enlisted to help save them and take them to a sanctuary on another private island by eccentric dying billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) former partner of John Hammond in the dinosaur-making business. To rescue the dinos, they will also need velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), as they seem very interested in his raptor buddy Blue.

owen and blue

And this movie spends a lot — a lot — of time with Owen and Blue. It is almost a boy-and-his-dinosaur movie. While this is likely designed to be a selling point, one of the biggest tragedies of this movie is the best character arc of the film is reserved for a dinosaur. That’s ok. We love Blue. He’s great. But this is too much of a good thing. The human characters, however? They’re basically set dressing to move the action scenes along and provide snack-shaped macguffins for the thunder lizards to chase.

And where do they chase them? Well, towards the setup of another obligatory sequel, of course. Sure, there’s bad guys who get chomped, and a few twists and turns about what’s actually going on, but it’s really predictable the same way you’ll never be surprised by a meal at Applebees. They’re also joined on this quest by paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), computer guy Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), and army guy Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). And, because it’s a Jurassic Park movie, Dr. Wu (BD Wong) is back, as is obligatory-child-in-peril Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon).

The action setpieces are dazzling if a bit unharmonious. The first half of the film is a slow build to the rescue from Isla Nublar against the backdrop of an apocalyptic volcano. It’s big dumb action fun that would make Michael Bay blush. Have you ever said, “Hey, what Jurassic Park needs is to have is the dinosaurs attack while lava threatens everyone!” Well, this is your movie. As is The Land Before Time as well as that scene from Fantasia with the dinosaurs set to The Rite of Spring. Enjoy! as an incapacitated Chris Pratt slowly rolls away from molasses-paced lava! (Seriously) Actually, it’s kind of fun. But it is really dumb.

Are you sensing a theme?

You also get a lot of sense of “been there, done that” as you get “characters” who seem to only be there to fit a stereotype or move the story along. Ted Levine (remember when he was the grumpy police captain on Monk? Or Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs?) seems determined to copy bits and pieces of Sean Pertwee and Pete Postlethwaite, but never really becomes anything more than “Army guy who is hunting dinosaurs.” Ditto with Justice Smith, whose only purpose is to be scared and fix the computers.

And then there’s Daniella Pineda, whose character seemed like she might break the mold and actually be interesting. . . and then no. Unsurprising reports have surfaced that a scene was cut “for time” where she reveals she’s a lesbian. This is only unsurprising because major studios seem so unwilling to put anyone who isn’t heterosexual in their major tentpole releases. However, this goes to the broader point– the fact that she’s gay was cut “for time” as opposed to any of the filler “action sequences,” some of which get ridiculous. The film approaches character and development as purely secondary to more overt explosions and dinosaur attacks.

The film’s approach that more is more is on full display as the island is filled with lava and overtaken by toxic gases from the volcano’s pyroclastic flow. There is a moment where they escape from the island and a scene with a sauropod that will break your heart. Or, turn your stomach, depending on how cynically you approach the film. Your mileage may vary. My ten year old cried. My inner ten year old did, too. It’s not quite at the level of “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark. . . ” but almost.

And that’s the first half of the movie.

The second half of the film is so tonally dissimilar from the first half that it feels like two different films. The second is basically a monster movie with a dinosaur villain that has probably been spoiled if you’ve seen the marketing for this movie, but whom I will not spoil here because it is a nice reveal. The dino isn’t the problem, though, and neither are the cold techno-lab setpieces in the basement of this giant Hearst-Castle-esque estate which gets a cool haunted house vibe (although those are also a bit of a tonal shock as well). The real problem, as is the theme of all Jurassic Park movies, are the humans. Especially the human villains are the least interesting and compelling major franchise villains outside of a Transformers movie we’ve had in a long time. Not compelling, not memorable, and their motivations are just stupid. Toby Jones even tries to show up 2/3 of the way through the movie as an ancillary villain to try to save it. Spoiler alert: he can’t.

There are also pieces here that you want to say are “callbacks” to previous films, but really? They feel almost more like cliches and obligatory fanservice. If you had asked me to make a list of everything that is a staple of Jurassic Park movies, I would give you a list of a dozen or so items. Jurassic World was partially so successful because it played with those tropes. This one just leans into them. Some are done well. Some are done less well.

What’s interesting and fun here isn’t necessarily new. And what’s new and unique isn’t necessarily fun.

The fact that Blue is basically the film’s deuteragonist next to Own Grady is somewhat refreshing. Let’s give them an unreliable dinosaur sidekick! Ok. But it only works so long. You really have to buy the premise to buy this bit.

But the film seems to not understand its basic concept. While Jurassic World embraced the idea that “dinosaurs are boring, so we need to make a hybrid dinosaur– bigger, scarier, more teeth!– to make a new monster” as its sort of meta-concept, they try to do that same concept, but to less effect. The Indominus Rex was new. What they gave us in this movie is a literal mishmash of everything before thinking it would work again.

But nature is unpredictable and can’t be controlled by man. And our filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel that they didn’t ask, ahhh. . . if they should.

It sounds like I’m being harsh to this film. Perhaps I am. But basically this is on the level of a Fast and Furious movie. It’s fun and it’s sugary. But it’s not substantive nor near as interesting as previous installments. It does, however, look great. But so do Fast and Furious movies. In fact, director J. A. Bayona (who previously did great work on A Monster Calls and The Orphanage) has a lot in common with Fast and Furious mainstay Justin Lin. They’re both strong directors with great visual style who know how to balance action and comedy, but most importantly know how to keep a franchise movie moving– as long as it’s in the direction of more! more! more! and to put lots of butts in seats buying giant tubs of popcorn. There are much worse things in this world.

But the end of the film also replays some of Ian Malcolm’s words from the beginning, as though he’s Shakespeare at the end of The Tempest: “O brave new world, That has such [dinosaurs] in it!” But perhaps when embarking on the next (super obligatory) sequel (because this film is destined to make T-Rex sized mountains of cash), they should ask themselves, “Should we?” And unless their ideas exceed recycling the greatest hits of the franchise before, maybe they should wait.

Regardless, if you can leave any cynicism or expectations behind at the concession stand, you’ll likely be smiling most of this movie. It is a lot of fun. The bowl of pure sugar. The 90’s band concert. There are much worse things. And a little escapism with dinosaurs isn’t so bad. But compared to some of the sheer genius we’ve seen the last 4 months in movie theaters, this doesn’t quite measure up.

3 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Tag

tag posterIt’s rare for a movie with so simple a premise to be not only uproariously funny but also heartfelt. The based-on-a-true-story of childhood friends who have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years is one of the funniest comedies of the year and pushes the boundaries of good taste in numerous ways.

One key theme here is these middle aged dudes all play a child’s game to try to stay young. This captures that fun and sense of play. It also captures that perfect sense of what it was to be young and have absolutely no filter– an 11-13 year old boy has probably the foulest mouth and mind on the planet, and most of these guys never completely grew up from that. It also features a great throwback soundtrack featuring hip hop and hard rock tracks from the 80’s and 90’s, giving the film a specific sense of nostalgia. Also, stick around during the credits to see/hear the cast sing a rendition of the Crash Test Dummies “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” See? Specific. We’re ready to party like it’s 1994, around which time our team of dummies ostensibly would have graduated from high school.

On our team of tag players are successful veterinarian “Hoagie” (Ed Helms) and his overly competitive wife Anna (Isla Fisher). They first recruit health insurance CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) when they crash an interview he’s doing with a reporter from the Wall St. Journal (Annabelle Wallis) who joins their game as she smells a story. (This is based on the true story that was published here) They track down stoner burnout “Chili” (Jake Johnson) and crash Kevin’s (Hannibal Burress) therapy session. The goal of all of this to to finally tag their one friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) who has never been tagged –and they have the perfect opportunity to do so at his upcoming wedding.

And hijinks ensue.

The film, while definitely a comedy which tries to pack as many jokes into every minute as possible, plays out almost more like an action movie. This is in itself incredibly funny, as we see these middle-aged men play tag with all the style and staging of The Expendables or the most recent Fast and Furious movie. Every time they think they have Renner’s character cornered, time slows down and we see inside his mind as he anticipates every move, a la Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr. It’s a fun device which never gets overused thanks to the comedy always focusing on the characters and these mens’ relationships with each other.

Case in point, in an attempt to sew discord among the group, Jerry invites Cheryl (Rashida Jones) a former flame of both Bob and Chili’s to the wedding. It, of course, works to distract them because “lol these idiot man children playing a game are so predictable.”

What isn’t predictable are exactly the lengths Jerry has gone to in order to plan quick escapes from various situations and the theatricality with which he pulls them off. This includes a showdown in the woods where he literally pulls out a boombox and starts playing Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” to play with their minds.

What also is not predictable was just how sweet this movie is at its heart. Amidst reports like this article from The Boston Globe saying “The Biggest Threat to Middle-Aged Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity – It’s Loneliness” it is truly great to find an inspiring story of how friends have managed to stay together. And watching the actual friends who the story is based on and their antics in the credits makes this even more worthwhile. While the end of the film gets a little bit tropey and sappy and you realize what’s actually going on, you might feel a little manipulated and tricked, but it’s mostly forgivable due to how fun the rest of the film is.

The cast really makes this film work. Hannibal Buress once again proves he is one of the funniest people on the planet, and his understated delivery and perfect timing are elegantly used here. Whether in a comedy special taking center stage, as the co-host of The Eric Andre Show, or as Peter Parker’s gym teacher, he is comedy’s secret weapon. Oh, and speaking of Spider-Man, it’s worth noting that Jake Johnson, who you may have only recognized from New Girl or Jurassic World is playing Peter Parker in this fall’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseIsla Fisher is also hilarious and pitch perfect– mirroring in a lot of ways her breakout performance in Wedding Crashers. She also plays up the angle that, as a girl, she’s not allowed to play– and that the rest of the group are completely terrified of her because of how competitive she is. It begs the question why Buress and Fisher aren’t in more films.

This sounds silly, but this movie will make you want to play tag with your friends. In this day and age, that is not such a bad thing. It’s simple, wacky, filthy, irreverent, and utterly fun — just like playing with your friends in elementary and middle school.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Incredibles 2

14 years is a long time between films and I would wait that length again and again if it meant I continued to get more films based on the Incredibles. Incredibles 2 is the rare sequel that improves upon the first in every way. The topics broached, the animation, the action, the humor, the family dynamic, even the end credits, they all come together for an even stronger film.

The Incredibles to me is one the best superhero films out there. It takes familiar characters and situations and improves upon them all with a nice little twist on fandom. A not so veiled spin on the Fantastic Four, the Pixar film out marvel’s Marvel. The family dynamic, the situations, the powers, it’s all just so good. So, I was nervous going in to this sequel and walking out I immediately bought tickets to see it again.

The movie is beyond self-aware packing in so much with a lot to say. That’s what happens when you wait 14 years to talk I guess. While sequels tend to suffer when they go bigger, this is the rare case when bigger is better.

The film picks up from the end of the original and goes from there. It riffs on Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War while also taking on politicians, gender roles, media and technology, and more. There’s a lot to take in and it’s a film you can spend hours discussing after. What’s better is, like other Pixar films, you can go in and just enjoy it.

The opening of the film is where the first signs of improvement come in with animation that just looks better. The lighting, the action, it’s an opening statement that the film is taking advantage of what’s been learned between the two and has no problems using the latest technology.

What’s interesting though is that the politics of the film are up front and center. The basics of the story is that superheroes are still outlawed but there’s a plan to turn that legislation over and Elastigirl is put out there to show superheroes can do great things. Mr. Incredible isn’t digging that as much as he wants to get out there and be a hero too. Instead, he has to take care of the kids. And that leads to jealousy as his wife is supporting the family. The fragility of men, woman empowerment, gender roles, these are all very important aspects of the film and all of it is dealt with intelligently. The film some how seems to address both the women can kick-ass crowd in Elastigirl as well as white working class America in Mr. Incredible.

Our use of technology is also addressed in the villain Screenslaver who uses screens to enslave individuals. But, at times it’s technology that helps save the day too. It’s an interesting dynamic and there’s hours of thought to be decompressed and dissected.

There’s also an introduction to the superhero world as a whole. New characters are introduced and every one seems to riff on existing ones with a dose of humor about it all. Usually when we see so much introduced it falls flat but here every character has a use and a moment that makes their inclusion more than welcomed.

The film brings a massive amount of humor along with the action with that mostly focused on Jack-Jack who’s coming in to his powers. The moments are great and the character is a driver in many ways of the shaken up family dynamic. What should Mr. Incredible tell his wife? Can he handle being the main caregiver? Again, a lot to dissect.

The film is just… incredible. The music, the end credits, this is just a fantastic film and one that I want to watch again and again. We’ll hopefully get more and hopefully it’ll be sooner than 14 years but if whatever comes next is this good, I’m more than happy to wait.

Overall Rating: 10

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

We’ve all heard the rumors and know the reality that Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry into the yearly Star Wars movie release schedule, was a full on production disaster. Directors were replaced. Rumors of actors unable to do the basics and in need of coaches. A script that was a mess. With all of that you’d expect what has wound up on screen to be an utter disaster. But, that’s the farthest thing from reality. Solo: A Star Wars Story is actually pretty fun.

Is it high art? No. Is it as good as the original trilogy? No. But, it’s a solid popcorn film that has enough new and enough winks and nods to make Star Wars fans and non-fans happy.

If you go into the film expecting what has come before, you’l be disappointed. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a departure from what has been released in many ways. While it is the second stand-alone film, Rogue One being the first, it’s also the first real stand alone film. Rogue One was a prequel to the original trilogy tying directly into it with its final scene and delivering a pretty key story to the adventure. Solo is something different. While the film obviously ties into everything that has happened, it also isn’t a vital tie-in. It’s a film set in the Star Wars universe as opposed to a film that’s a must watch fleshing out the story of the original trilogy.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is interesting in so many ways because of all of this. The film is the right direction for the franchise and while it stumbles at times, it’s entertaining. The story follows Solo as he joins the criminal underworld and we see key moments of his career. There’s his meeting of Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian but there’s also a lot that’s new. There’s also some interesting fleshing out of the Star Wars universe with hints and direct tie-ins that should make long time fans happy.

Solo is a gangster/crime/heist film set in the Star Wars universe. At its heart there’s little that’s new. A job is screwed up and the crew must make up for it with a bigger heist. That plot has been seen before. But, it hasn’t been seen in a Star Wars film. The heist plot has been seen in the animated spin-offs though and this film feels like it has more in common with Star Wars: Rebels, the latest animated television series, than anything else.

The film hits the right notes and at times things feel like a checklist when it comes to that. We get Chewie, Lando, and the Kessel run. None of it is surprising and it’s all fan service. But, it’s a fun ride with some great visuals and a presentation that feels unique.

The cast is all over in their ability. Alden Ehrenreich steps into the role Harrison Ford made as Han Solo and at times he channels Ford and at other times he’s about as far away in delivery as one can get. It’s not bad but it’s also not a star-making turn. Joonas Suotamo repeats as Chewbacca and the character feels appropriately younger and more physical. Woody Harrelson as Becket is the gang leader and he brings his curled smile that he delivers in so many roles. Emilia Clarke is the love interest who is good but something is missing that we get at the end of the film. Where her character goes is what we should have seen more of. Donald Glover steals the show as Lando Calrissian. He channels Billy Dee Williams at times sounding exactly like Williams. Glover’s performance emphasizes how off Ehrenreich’s Solo is at times. Glover is so good it makes every else look far behind (other than Suotamo). Thandie Newton‘s Val is underused and Paul Bettany‘s creepy Dryden Vos is a sleezy mob boss and great on screen. The film’s break out star is Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s L3-37, the film’s robot compadre. L3-37’s belief in robot rights and being convinced of Lando’s crush is the thing of entertainment and delivers something special to a film which would be so much less without.

As I mentioned, the film visually is great and the characters and sets look fantastic. This is a grittier film in many ways showing the coldness of space and the Empire’s machine. This is a Star Wars universe I want to see more of. We can have stories set in the world that isn’t just an extension of the original trilogy’s story. We need spin-offs that can stand on their own.

The film isn’t perfect, far from it, but it is fun and entertaining. There’s some great sequences and it’s possible my lowered expectations due to the on-set drama may have had me expecting very little. While it may nit be as good as the original trilogy it’s definitely better than the prequels and well worth the price of admission. And, the film has me wanting to see what’s next.

Overall Rating: 7.0

Movie Review: Deadpool 2

Deadpool is not a comic character I generally enjoy. There’s some iterations where he’s more the loose cannon with some slight humor I enjoy, for example as a member of Wolverine’s X-Force. But, the pure comedic/slapstick take in comics I just don’t find funny. What’s weird is, the humor I don’t enjoy on the page, I do enjoy on the screen. While it’s a bit less Looney Tunes when it comes to live action, the jokes work due to the excellent comedic timing of the various actors.

Deadpool 2 ups that humor to 11 but it’s at the expense of a plot. So, this sequel both succeeds and fails spectacularly at the same time.

The general plot involves time travel and a new character Cable traveling back to stop a mutant from going bad and killing a lot of folks. Deadpool thinks that kid has a chance at redemption and to stop Cable he needs to form a group. There’s really no reason he needs a group, it’s just an excuse to go bigger in the end and sets up one of the best jokes of the film.

And the setting up of jokes is what the film is about. It’s a comedic porno in that it’s goal is to set up the next scene and the money shot. That’s it really. The action is over the top. The acting is ho-hum. It’s all fan-service by introducing characters and namedropping locations and other comic Easter eggs to make the fans excited. There’s no real reason for any of these things other than fan service.

With more fourth wall breaking and meta jokes, the film feels like the jokes came first and the sequences and plot came second. As I said above, the plot is pretty thin. It’s basically a reverse Terminator (pretty sure that joke is mentioned). But, like the Looney Tunes Deadpool emulates, the film is all about the gags and for the most part, they land. There’s a lot of jokes and I found myself laughing a lot. Like cry/piss your pants level of laughing. The film is a success in that way.

And those jokes are interesting. There’s the macho/borderline homophobic jokes from the first film like a “dick in the mouth” but the film also is shockingly progressive. It’s almost self-aware about it all.

The first LGBTQ character in a live action comic adaptation (I think) is introduced with Negasonic and her girlfriend Yukio and Deadpool doesn’t care. He congratulates her. There’s an entire speech about the lack of plus-sized superheroes. There’s ongoing jokes about Cable being racist. Deadpool multiple times comments about the “Men” in X-Men and how it’s sexist. But, there’s also pedophile jokes and some other borderline ones. The film seems to cover it all in a weird way.

Generally though characters are presented as parts of jokes or to play off of. Cable is too much of a straight man and too serious. Domino is underused. The rest of X-Force… well, just see the film. Negasonic and Colossus are good foils and play off of Deadpool well in similar chemistry as the first film but again, not really needed. It’s all there to get that key shot and up the cool factor.

The best part of the film is the end credit scenes which really sum up the humor of it all. The admission is worth it for them alone and had me leave the movie with a smile.

The film isn’t bad. It’s quite funny. There’s just little plot, something that’s a big step backwards from the original. The movie delivers the humor and a surprising amount of heart and while is a distant third of Marvel film properties to see this year (so far), it’s still worth checking out. It’s just a lesson that turning things to eleven is not always the best course.

Overall Rating: 6.0

Movie Review: Life of the Party

Life of the party posterMelissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people working today. But even a cast full of some of the best comedic talent assembled for any film in 2018 can’t save this movie from wearing a little thin on its premise.

McCarthy is Deanna, who, upon dropping her daughter off for her senior year of college, is hit with an ultimatum from her husband (Matt Walsh) for a divorce. He has fallen for the local realtor with her face on all the bus benches (Julie Bowen) and they’re already in the process of selling the house. With nowhere else to go, Deanna decides to re-enroll in college to finish the last year of her archaeology degree, and not enough wackiness ensues.

Maya Rudolph tries to steal the movie as McCarthy’s best friend, as do Stephen Root, Gillian Jacobs, and Heidi Gardner. But the film’s premise ultimately wears thin — it’s a middle aged mom going back to college!! — and it relies more on uncomfortable, cringe-worthy humor of a mom embarrassing herself in front of her daughter.

What is refreshing, however, is that this is exactly the same type of movie we would’ve seen in decades past with male leads — Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield in the 80’s, Billy Madison with Adam Sandler in the 90’s, 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatutm and Jonah Hill — but this presents a female-centric story with a really sweet heart.  Unfortunately, it also falls into some of the same traps and tropes of these older films, too — if the girl just lets down her hair and stops wearing glasses and frumpy sweaters, then suddenly she’s attractive? Ugh.

In fact, it’s the character-driven, more dramatic moments of growth that really work in this movie, such as Deanna hooking up with a much younger college guy who absolutely worships her. McCarthy shows off her dramatic chops a little, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows her from Gilmore Girls or saw her opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent. There’s also an ongoing storyline about dealing with the campus mean girls and eventually winning them over that is nice. But the film threatens to lose a lot of that goodwill when, during the third act, the girls get high and then crash and ruin a wedding.

It also feels like the film might be holding back a little bit. Obviously going for a PG-13 rating, they never really get dangerous with their comedy.  With McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone getting writing credits (Falcone also directed and shows up in a brief, but perfect, cameo), it’s fairly obvious they wanted to work with a giant group of actors famed for their improv skills.  If there are R-rated outtakes from this movie, I want to see them.

Because otherwise the film is just sort of bland. While not a failure by any means, it just doesn’t go for the comedy jugular the way some other of McCarthy’s previous comedies have. But, at least it’s not as bad as Tammy, which remains the unequivocal nadir of McCarthy/Falcone’s collaborations.

This film gets a genteleman’s C — nay, make that a gentlewoman’s C. It passes, just barely, but it feels like it just sort of showed up despite amazing talent, it could’ve achieved great things if it had applied itself a bit more.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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