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Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Solid Sequel but the Original Wreck-It Ralph has the High Score
Just like all big budget Disney animated movies, Ralph Breaks the Internet has all the visual eye candy to spare. The world they bring you into looks great, it doesn't break completely new ground (we've seen a couple of animated movies try to create the world of the internet) but the world is bright and beautiful nonetheless. It never fails to deliver fun character design or update previous Disney favourites and bring them into this world through some funny cameos. Ralph even boasts a couple interesting action set pieces and a musical number that did enough different to catch me off guard. While I was let down by a couple of other aspects of the movie, its visual style was consistent and brought what I wanted to the table.
So much of the comedy of the original Wreck-It Ralph came out of nostalgic references to older videogames but the jokes worked more often than not. The potential for comedic gold is much higher in this one, you've got the internet and the whole of pop culture as your character's playground. The problem that I had with this is that the movie doesn't have either the story (more on that later) or the funny dialogue to really keep the viewer's attention (outside of the kids who may just be entertained by the references and the pretty visuals). The movie does have its share of funny moments but the only laughs I got were when the screenwriters were lampooning Disney tropes with the various Disney princesses that cameo in the movie. I will begrudgingly say that those bits were very funny, but it also felt like Disney picking at low hanging fruit when they went back to that well over and over. I'm also a sucker for meta jokes so while there were plenty of times that the movie hit the wrong comedic notes, during the parts where Disney references their own catalogue of movies, I was giggling along with the rest of the audience.
They were able to rope in a few more stars to do some of the voice work in Ralph and they're used appropriately to help bring the movie to life. John C. Reily is still charming and affable as Ralph even though the material is a little weaker this time around. Taraji P. Henson does a good job as Yesss and although their screen time is limited, bringing back Jane Lynch as Calhoun and Jack McBrayer as Felix were nice touches. Also returning is Alan Tudyk in a different role as KnowsMore and he's so good at voice acting that he could have done it in his sleep. I also enjoyed whoever played Spamly (its rumoured it was Bill Hader, but the role is uncredited) who is appropriately slimy but in a funny way. The standout for me was Sarah Silverman reprising her role as Vanellope who was great at getting across the varied emotions her character was feeling throughout the movie. The only performance that stood out to me in a negative way was Gal Gadot. I like her as an actress, but her voice doesn't have much inflection and while I'm sure she was trying, it partially led to her character coming across as a little flat for me. I also liked Jason Mantzoukas in his small part as Hey Nongman.
Getting down to what I didn't like about the movie, the story of Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn't hold water, especially against the studio's recent output. The through line of saving Sugar Rush is dropped 2/3 of the way through the movie, it relies on the oldest storytelling cliche in the book (the overheard conversation taken out of context) as a driving force for the climax of the movie and even though the message about Ralph and Vanellope's friendship is inherently sweet, the movie bungles it through clunky dialogue and a nonsensical ending (I get its a kids movie, but how the movie describes the inner workings of the internet left me shaking my head). I would never say the original film's plot was a wonder of storytelling, but they did a much better job of building up the stakes and the drama in the story. This movie was admittedly more about being a light and breezy couple of hours at the movies, but it felt closer to being some various skits involving famous online properties or services on the Internet instead of there being a story to tell. I also thought the pacing was pretty poor. I was happy they got into the internet quicker than I had expected but once they get there, there are scenes where the movie drags badly. I heard more than a couple of people behind me complaining about how long the movie was and how it dragged in the middle when I was leaving the theatre.
Maybe I'm going to come across as a nitpicker for this review, but I left the theatre disappointed after having seen this movie. It never fell into being a complete wreck (pun intended) but it didn't have the same creative spark the first one did. You've got all the visual tricks and your favourite returning characters to help the movie reach its target audience. But the slack pacing, the absence of the funny dialogue (outside of cameos and references) and the lack of a decent story brought the grade down considerably for Ralph Breaks the Internet. I might be the outlier here but between this and the original Wreck-It Ralph, its a clear victory for the original. I still think kids will get a kick out of this however and I liked it enough to grade it as a 6.5/10 rounding up to a 7/10.
Inspired, Adeptly Written and Completely Hilarious
I've never seen the Teen Titans show in any iteration and the trailer didn't catch my attention either. The marketing screamed that this movie was just for kids and it felt like another release that was cranked out trying to capitalize off the superhero genre. But this was one of those movies where the high RT score caught my eye and a few of the choice critics I listen to went on and on about how funny the movie was. So, I picked it up as a rental and Teen Titans Go! to the Movies completely surpassed my expectations.
When you think of the best movies out there, the immediate assumption is that they tell an engrossing story. While that's maybe the most important part of creating a great movie, having some smartly written dialogue that can make the audience laugh can go a long way. This movie is downright hysterical when its poking fun at the superhero genre and there were times I was rolling around on the couch laughing. I'll admit, the comedic style of this movie is right up my alley. I love movies that know how the cliches and the tropes work and will find unique ways to make fun of them (e.g. 21 Jump Street or Deadpool). The dialogue and the script are not only good, they're exemplary. I haven't laughed this much since I saw Game Night, and that's pretty high praise for me.
I haven't seen the show, so I don't know how faithful Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is to the source material but I thought they did a decent job developing the heroes as a team. They're surprisingly incompetent (something the movie isn't afraid to point out) but their hearts are in the right place and while they're flawed, at least they're flawed together. Their friendship is legitimately fun and portrayed in a way that's good for kids to see. I also like that the movie was brave enough to put the hardest member of the team to like as the main character. Robin (Scott Menville) is willing to throw his friends under the bus at any opportunity to get what he wants. He's a straight up jerk and I actually appreciated that. It was a way for the movie to sidestep the kid-friendly material and while the movie brings it around to deliver a positive message for the kids, his comeuppance is largely ignored in another nice touch.
There aren't many big names at the centre of the Teen Titans vocal cast (except industry vet Tara Strong who's always wonderful) but there are some surprisingly big names in the smaller roles. The main members of the cast all do good work. The biggest name for me in the cast was Will Arnett as Slade Wilson whose performance elevates the character. I thought the material for Slade the character was pretty mixed, but Arnett's delivery makes it work. Kristen Bell did a solid job as Jade Wilson in a relatively thankless part. Nicolas Cage was a nice tip of the hat casting choice as Superman, he was decent. There was also a cameo from a fan favourite Marvel veteran that was played perfectly.
I have few negative things to say about this movie, its far from perfect but when you get a pleasant surprise, nitpicking it feels petty. The first minor negative is while the animation is fine, its not spectacular. It looks on par with the commercials I've seen for Teen Titans Go! T.V. show but if you're looking for something that will blow you away visually, this isn't that movie. The next is while the movie boasts a notably sharp script, not every single joke is gold. There are small number of jokes that they run into the ground and there were a few sour notes in an otherwise well composed sheet of music. However, even the best comedies never score 100% of the time so that may be expecting too much.
I can't tell the fans, or the critics Teen Titans Go! show how to feel about this. I'm coming at this from a fresh perspective and this movie was great. I was so happy I gave this a shot and while it may or may not be a top 10 film for me this year, I'll be going back to this for sure. If you really enjoy meta humour, are tired of the routine in the superhero genre or just in the mood to watch a really funny animated movie, give this a shot. It reminded me a lot of the underrated Captain Underpants movie that came out not too long ago where it goes in different directions with the jokes and the overall sense of humour is just bonkers. I'd give this an 8.5/10 rounding up to a 9/10.
Overlord Balances Horror, Action and Drama and Ends Up Being A Fun Mix of Genres
The first thing that is going to catch your eye in Overlord is the beginning sequence. I'm not going to spoil anything but like many war movies before it (Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates etc.) Overlord begins with an action sequence that gives you a glimpse of how terrible the situation was for Allied soldiers coming into battle. I think that director Julius Avery and his team do a solid job introducing us to the main players in this story and then throwing them into an all-too-real situation that claimed many lives. We see this hellish event through Boyce's (Jovan Adepo) perspective and the chaotic nature of it is sobering. I don't think its on par with the storming of the beach in Saving Private Ryan but that's not a fair standard to hold every war movie to. Opening the movie with this stunt piece was a good choice and it made for a strong beginning to Overlord's story.
The plot of Overlord is definitely intriguing but its really reminiscent of the Call of Duty video game franchise, especially zombie mode. I don't consider this an insult however, the movie never descends into all out camp (something my friend who I saw the movie with was disappointed about) and while you never can take it as a completely serious war drama, it straddles that line in an adept manner. Its a more effective telling of that kind of story and with the war/action scenes being well choreographed and filmed, it helps the story be a little more palatable. You get both sides of the coin with the mix of genres and while the movie is a work of fiction, they're building off a series of events that happened on a smaller scale (I've read books on the scientific experiments the Nazis conducted during WW2 and how they tortured their test subjects with little sympathy for those people). I would never call Overlord anywhere close to factual, but they embellish on something that went on and create an interesting story out of it.
The cast of Overlord is filled with actors that you will probably recognize from other things, but you'll have a hard time remembering their names. Jovan Adepo does a solid job as Boyce. Boyce is the greenhorn of the crew and while Boyce comes across as a little naive, Jovan does a good job of portraying his horror and confusion at how the events of this movie unfold. Wyatt Russell also performs competently as Ford. He's building a varied and impressive resume and he did a surprisingly good job as the no nonsense leader of this crew of misfits. I hadn't seen Mathilde Ollivier before, but she also gets the job done in what would be a forgettable role in another war drama. She helps her character come across as knowledgeable yet sensitive enough to care for her family. I liked Pilou Asbaek quite a bit in his villainous role. I left Ghost in the Shell wishing he had more of a chance to shine but he got the screen time in this to standout. We've had so many performances of villainous Nazi commanders, but I think he brought something to the role of Wafner and he was a good fit for this movie. I also would like to say that while he walked the tightrope between chewing scenery and being funny, John Magaro was another bright spot as Tippet. The movie needed a performance like his to keep it from getting bogged down and he does a lot of the comedic heavy lifting.
Overlord is a movie that doesn't have many obvious flaws or things I can gripe about. It never reaches the height of being unforgettable, but it never feels unfinished or less than complete. My biggest complaint is that the ending goes on too long, it builds up Wafner too much and while we get a couple of nice moments with Ford and Boyce sprinkled in, I think they could have cut it down and still gotten the point across. The next thing is that all the main members of the cast are given interesting backstories, they definitely piqued my curiosity, but I was a little let down when we didn't get to see any of them through flashbacks or that they didn't play any role in the story. The best movies show us these things instead of relying on just telling us, and it was a minor disappointment that the screenwriters bring these ideas into the movie without capitalizing on them.
Overlord is a competently shot war movie that dabbles in both action and horror effectively. I've seen more shocking and scary horror movies and I've seen deeper and more effective dramas about WW2, but this is a well rounded and well put together movie. There is a lot the movie does right, and conversely the movie makes few missteps. I commented on the ending running long and drops tidbits of cool stories of where our characters came from without taking advantage of them but that's about all the negatives. Overlord hits hard, packs enough blood and guts to satisfy horror fans (even if the movie is never truly frightening) and is dramatic enough in some moments and lots of fun in others. This mix of ingredients won't appeal to everyone but if some historical science fiction mixed with some body horror and some action sounds like your cup of tea, I'd have no hesitation recommending Overlord to you.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Bohemian Rhapsody is a Triumphant Movie With a Fantastic Lead Performance
Queen has iconic hit after iconic hit and with the awesome trailer they put together to market this, the excitement for Bohemian Rhapsody was at a fever pitch. Going to see this with a friend, we arrived early for a late showing and it was sold out. We still wanted to see this, so we drove over to the next town and the theatre was still packed. The mediocre reviews and the news from the behind-the-scenes were mildly troubling but it did little to dampen my enthusiasm and I'm so glad I got to see it opening weekend.
This is Freddie's (Rami Malek) story and I liked how they presented his journey. Freddie's portrayed as a complicated individual, he loves performing but gets defensive when the press pries into his private life. He has this magnetic energy where people flock to him but he's never sure of himself and a big part of the movie is him grappling with his sexuality and balancing his interpersonal relationships (this was all done in a surprisingly respectful manner). Maybe the most notable is his romance/friendship with his former wife Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). This is a sympathetic look at Mercury and even when the movie shows him at his most self-indulgent moments, I still was in awe of him as a performer and respected his ability. I also liked all the other members of the band. They aren't given a lot of time respectively, but they all get a few moments to shine. The movie is surprisingly funny, it doesn't carry the same vibe as other musical biopics like Ray or Walk the Line. There are dark moments but there's a surprising amount of levity and most of the best comedic moments are either the band interacting with each other or the whole band standing up to some bigwig or corporate stooge.
If you love Queen's music, you're going to dig the score. I was in that camp, but I also thought the movie used those songs effectively throughout. We get all of Queen's hits, but they interweave them into the movie to great effect. Commenting further on the audio and visual sensibilities of the movie, I also thought they shot this movie with a sense of style. The best moments are the concert sequences, especially the LIVE AID show that bookends the movie. The CGI on the crowd looks better in some moments than others but the energy is undeniable and those were some impressively filmed scenes.
The reason to rush out to see this movie though is Rami Malek's unbelievable performance as Freddie Mercury. I really hope he gets some recognition at the various awards ceremonies for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody. He does a masterful job bringing Freddie's manic performing style to the movie and equally nails both the comedic and dramatic moments. This might sound a little trite but there came a point in the movie where I forgot I was watching an actor and not the actual Freddie Mercury. Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello are all solid as the other members of the band Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon respectively. They have a lot of chemistry as a group, they all have some memorable comedic lines and they all deserve praise for their portrayals. Lucy Boynton gave an emotional and well-rounded performance as the love of Freddie's life. Allen Leech was appropriately slimy as Paul Prenter. Aidan Gillen and Tom Hollander both had their moments as the band's manager and lawyer. I also really liked Mike Myers in his small role as Ray Foster. He was very funny, and he was memorable in a relatively thankless part.
Critics have railed against this movie for being too conventional and for following the same beats as most musical biopics. As much as I enjoyed this movie, their criticism is valid. This movie has so much going for it, but it does fail to transcend some of the genre clichés. Stepping back from the movie and looking at the product as a whole, the same beats of the rise and fall story do apply and while I think this movie executes the formula well, I'll concede the point it can be formulaic. There's also a small nagging doubt where it feels that we didn't really dive into the ugly side of the band's lifestyle. This had to be made with the permission of the band members and Freddie Mercury's estate, so they probably wouldn't allow the dirtiest bits of the journey the band went on. So, we might be looking at Freddie's life through rose coloured glasses but I'm not an expert on the band, so I was willing to set that aside.
I've loved Queen's music since I was a teenager, when everyone was listening to rap music, Queen's greatest hits was in my CD player. I knew walking into this I was going to enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody at a minimum but so much of this movie was done so well, it soared past even my high expectations. The strongest aspect is Rami Malek's performance which will hopefully get the attention it deserves. Its the best lead performance I've seen this year and when this movie intermittently stumbles, he brings it back. This is a funny, poignant and interesting story about a man who was larger than life trying to figure things out as he goes. I think even if you're not a big fan of Queen's music, you'll still enjoy this and the friend I saw this with wasn't a fan. He walked out and begrudgingly admitted it was great. I left the theatre humming Another One Bites the Dust with a big smile on my face. I recommend this wholeheartedly and I'm happy to give it an 8.5/10 and I'll round up to a 9/10.
First Man (2018)
A Pretty Good Movie About a Defining Moment in Human History
My expectations of seeing First Man was that I was in for some heavy drama, learning not only about Neil Armstrong but about all the trials and tribulations that everyone had to go through to achieve success with the Apollo 11 mission. I did get that, and I'll talk more about that later but my favourite parts of the movie were actually the action scenes taking place during the test flights. If you get motion sickness or suffer from claustrophobia, they might be a little hard to take as they help illustrate how much danger these people were placing themselves in. There's a lot of shaky cam but it didn't detract from how impressively filmed those sequences were. I was holding my breath at several points and wincing and moving in my seat in other instances because it was so hard not to get caught up in them.
The most successful part of First Man had less to do with framing the achievement of getting to the moon or showing Neil Armstrong's perspective on the journey. The most effective part was how it showed these exemplary people as being human. We rarely get a movie that shows that being an astronaut isn't a lot of fun (Apollo 13 is the only other one I can think of off the top of my head that doesn't fall into the science fiction). The sacrifice that these men and women made are pretty incredible and, in this movie, we get a biopic that doesn't feature a generic arc that hits the same old beats. I appreciated that, and I wish more movies would approach these larger than life stories from that direction.
I talked about in the last paragraph how First Man succeeds in showing these people as heroic yet flawed people. This is great but there is a flip side to it. I respect Neil Armstrong (played here by Ryan Gosling) immensely, he achieved something few have and deserves as much credit he has gotten if not more. In this movie however, he doesn't always make for a compelling main character. He has suffered tragedy and I get that but so much of this movie is him looking sad off in the distance. We don't get to experience as much of his inner pain along with him because he internalizes it so much. I get that this may be an accurate portrayal of Neil and if so, I salute the creative team for showing that. But while I respected him, he wasn't always fun to watch or that compelling as the focus of the movie. Most of the supporting characters aren't given much screen time or character development (the exception being his wife Janet played by Claire Foy) so the movie rests on him as a character. This works in some scenes, but it causes the movie to drag pretty badly at other points.
Ryan Gosling headlines the movie as Neil Armstrong and there was a lot of hype around his performance. I like him as an actor and while I'm happy he'll get some buzz for the big awards, I don't think this was his best work. He did a solid job, but I thought this character was firmly in his wheel house and played to his strengths as an actor. I would have liked to see him stretch a little more in this but that also could just be the character. Claire Foy also did decent work in this, she gets some nice moments where we get to see how much pressure Janet is under and how she struggles to cope with the possibility that her husband might not come back. I liked Jason Clarke as Ed White, he gets the most personal scenes with Gosling and they work well together. I felt for a lot of the supporting cast, we get some amazing character actors: Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Pablo Schreiber and Shea Wigham. They all get some time but not enough to really justify their inclusion. I especially wanted more time with Corey Stoll who was playing Buzz Aldrin, he was portrayed as a brash and confident character and I wanted a little more of his backstory.
I had heard opinions ranging from "Oscar favourite" to "overrated and boring" on First Man when I walked into the theatre. I got to see this with a friend and we walked away from the theatre shrugging our shoulders and muttering how it was pretty good. Considering the hype, it may have been a bit of a letdown but that doesn't take away from the fact its an amazing story that's captured well. This movie could have user another pass in editing however, it ran long and by the end I was getting antsy for First Man to wrap up. It doesn't always paint Neil Armstrong as a compelling protagonist at the centre of this story but you have to take the bad with the good. I don't think this will make a 2018 top ten list for me but if you're interested in seeing this, I would say you should catch it on the big screen to help get the true scope of what's being shown in this movie. I'd give this a 7.5/10 rounding up to an 8/10.
Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
Definitely Worth Checking In to the El Royale
This movie had an awesome trailer that got me excited to see the movie. The moody atmosphere, the characters all giving each other the shifty eye, the anonymous threat and then the visible one with Chris Hemsworth walking in like he owned the place. The first thing I want to talk about with Bad Times is the top notch visual and audio work. The movie looks excellent, they made good use of a mid range budget and delivered some beautiful cinematography, some solid set design and even some great sound editing (the violence is packs a punch, the gunfire cracks and fights have some good sound work). I also really dug the soundtrack of the movie. It had a similar vibe to Guardians of the Galaxy where it fit the movie perfectly and had me tapping my foot despite its not the kind of music I typically listen to. It didn't hurt that Cynthia Erivo was singing most of it, she anchored the movie with her performance and her vocal work was just as good.
This movie boasts a pretty big cast and we don't have a true protagonist, so the movie functions as an ensemble. Cynthia Erivo maybe gets the most amount of screen time as Darlene and she's excellent both by herself and with the other heavyweights in the cast. Her character is easy to like and that's also a credit to her performance. Jon Hamm is always charming, and it was cool to see him get to do something a little different with his character. Jeff Bridges was also good, I would expect nothing less from him. His characters eccentricities were handled in an off way that didn't seem authentic, but his performance was solid. It was also nice to see Dakota Johnson in something different, its hard not to immediately associate her with the 50 Shades franchise. She did her job capably and I'm glad she can put that franchise behind her. This is a step in the right direction for her. Chris Hemsworth is the actor performing most outside his comfort zone and I think he largely pulled it off. He's a better actor than he's given credit for (check out Rush to see how much range he has outside of Thor) and I think this was a good showcase for his ability to do different types of roles. He makes a threatening villain and I think his performance will be one of the things people are talking about when they leave the theatre. I also think Lewis Pullman does good work as Miles, he's pretty expressive and I think he made the most of a character that has much more to him than meets the eye.
Most of the criticism surrounding Bad Times is that the plot and how they segment the story is something you might see in a classic Quentin Tarantino film. That criticism has some merit but if you turn on this movie for that reason, you're the problem, not the movie. There are a bunch of genuinely surprising twists, they create some interesting characters with complex motivations and there was never a point in the movie where I wasn't interested in what was going to come about next. Writer/director Drew Goddard knows how to build tension and the movie does a great job of playing with your expectations. Bad Times does rely on segmented storytelling, but it isn't done as a ripoff, they frame it with their own device and it plays well. I didn't love this movie wholeheartedly but to just dismiss it as a Tarantino knockoff isn't fair. This is a really good dark thriller and I enjoyed this more than The Hateful Eight.
The biggest criticism I can lobby against Bad Times at the El Royale is that the movie needed to move at a quicker pace. I sympathize with director Drew Goddard, there isn't much obvious fat to trim, but the movie did drag even though I was enjoying it through to the credits. A couple of instances is that I enjoyed the opening scene with Nick Offerman, but it went on too long and undercut how well filmed it was. The other one is how long it takes Billy Lee to actually get to the hotel, Hemsworth gives a charismatic performance, but I did get tired of waiting for him to show up. His character is worth the wait, but it might have benefited the movie to have more of him in it or to get him to the central conflict a little quicker.
I got to see this with my best friend and while I liked it a little more than he did, his comment walking out was that the movie did almost everything well, but it wasn't special in any way. I generally agree, its a well rounded movie that's shot well, it has solid acting, enough mystery to keep the audience engaged and intriguing characters that you want to more about. But its not as tightly edited it should be and although I'm happy to actually give it an 8.5/10, it does feel like there was a little bit of missed potential with this project. That's why I'm rounding down to an 8/10. Its too bad this isn't doing better at the box office, but it does fit in an awkward spot where it may not be arty enough for critics but not as action packed as audiences want. I still really enjoyed this, and I get the feeling I might like it even better after a second viewing. Its worth paying to see, I'd even chip in the extra dollar for the room in California.
A Flawed Movie That Was A lot of Fun to Watch
In most big budget action movies, the first complaint you hear is CGI overload. This is one of the rare occasions where I can say the CGI being so impressive was one of the best parts of Venom. Venom looks awesome as a creature, the way they chose to animate his look and his movement was impressive. The movie is also shot pretty well, they shoot in a lot of dingy locations before Eddie (Tom Hardy) interacts with Venom to help ground the movie, and I thought the action was handled pretty well. I wish that we had got the R-rated version to really see the potential of what Venom could do as a villain, but I liked the majority of the action scenes regardless.
We get to spend a decent portion of the movie with Eddie before we get introduced to Venom and while the overall plot isn't completely fresh, I didn't think it was as bad or as routine as the critics did. They aren't breaking new ground in the genre with Eddie's story from laughing stock to redemptive hero, but it gets the job done. We get some unique banter from Eddie and Venom that had me laughing at different times in the movie. It was also a little hit or miss (which is true for all the dialogue in the script), but I chuckled like everyone else in the theatre did. Did Venom have a few plot holes? Yes, it did but the movie doesn't linger on them and with Tom Hardy's crazy performance, I was able to go along for the ride
Venom's cast features actors and actresses that I wouldn't have pictured being interested in this movie. Tom Hardy is a great actor and I think casting him was a good decision. He brings something to this role and he does as much as he possibly can with this material. My only note is that Eddie as a character seems to act like he's a little younger than Hardy, so he may be a little old for the part. But otherwise, he was one of the best parts of the movie. I really like Riz Ahmed too, he's transitioning to bigger and bigger projects and I've yet to see him in anything where he wasn't a standout (check out The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Night Of). I think he's miscast here; the character calls for him to be a little more sinister and animated yet he's oddly reserved. He had his moments, he gives a speech to a test subject about the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac that was well delivered but they needed another actor. Michelle Williams rarely appears in blockbuster movies, she does her job capably, but she gets the short end of the stick. Her character is a little generic and aside from one scene, there isn't much for her to do here. I will also credit Jenny Slate who did a solid job in her scenes.
The most pronounced criticism that the critics have lobbied against this movie that I can agree with is that the scene transitions in Venom are oddly sloppy. When I say that, I'm not referring to character decisions or to tonal swings (both have their off moments going into the final turn, especially with Eddie/Anne romance) I mean the movie just doesn't flow from scene to scene. There could be pieces missing that fill in the blanks (Tom Hardy's comments about the movie seem to indicate as much) but a good movie compares to an orchestral music piece. Despite so many elements being brought together, there's harmony. Venom lacks that consistency, you'll be wondering how characters arrived in certain places or how time is passing in an uneven way. I usually believe its poor editing, but I thought the fight scenes were cut together surprisingly well. I don't know whether to point the finger at the editor, the studio or the director but they could have done a better job, especially with such a big project.
I don't want to make excuses for Venom but the last not I'll make was the movie was fun the whole way through. I never got the impression that the movie was taking itself very seriously (the interplay between Eddie and Venom was a little tongue-in-cheek) and that helped me get on board. Despite this not being a landmark for superhero movies, not every movie in the genre needs to be Infinity War and with the different vibe Venom goes for, there's enough here to keep you happy for the whole picture.
Despite the negative word of mouth surrounding Venom leading up to the release, I was rooting for this movie. Walking out of the theatre, I thought of another film Ruben Fleischer directed called Gangster Squad. Similar to Venom, that movie had a lot going for it but tripped up in a couple of key areas (the worst being the horribly hammy dialogue). The character design, the CGI, the action and even the central performance are all good to great here, and I liked the fact that we're getting more anti-heroes instead of boy scout superheroes. But Venom also stumbles over corny dialogue, some miscast actors and actresses and a lack of polish that the top end superhero movies have. I would really like to see a sequel to this, maybe they'd be able to iron out more of the kinks on the second try and go for a little more edge. Venom is a mixed bag, but I think the good outweighs the bad easily and the critics were too harsh on this. I'd give Venom a 7.5/10 but I can't quite go to 8 on it so I must round down. If you're interested, go check it out but if you're not sold, waiting for it to be on your preferred streaming service isn't a bad idea.
A Simple Favor (2018)
My Favourite Kind of Theatre Going Experience
Its always better to be pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed. I walked into A Simple Favor with a friend knowing little to nothing about the plot and trusted it was going to be good. The trailers pitch you on the movie while refusing to give away even the hint of a spoiler (a wise decision in retrospect). The other promotional material is eye-catching but non-descriptive. Its a different experience going into a movie expecting it to be good and having those expectations met. But taking that chance and getting the goods is much more rewarding and A Simple Favor delivered that result.
Depending on which trailer you saw for this, you could think this movie is anywhere from a rom/com to a dark thriller. A Simple Favor can't be neatly put into either category because its more a unique mix of a few different genres. One of the parts that makes this movie a different kind of success is that it can get dark and heavy in a specific scene yet have you giggling just a minute later. Some movies start out light and fluffy and then they hit that crucial point where the comedy just stops dead. Even past the 3/4 point of this thriller, there are still funny moments and even though part of it must be credited to the charm of Kendrick and Lively, it was such a rarity that the movie succeeded so completely on both fronts. You have to be ready for a wide range of outcomes with A Simple Favour and if you can be adaptable to all the different directions the movie decides to explore, you'll be rewarded for that patience.
Paul Feig is famous for his work in comedy with big hits like Bridesmaids and Spy. While he certainly still has that sensibility, this movie is a different kind of animal and he rises to the occasion. A Simple Favor has a sense of style that you would expect from an indie filmmaker with the bright colours, the flashy outfits and the tight cinematography but its a credit to Feig for working outside of his wheelhouse and showing what he can do. I did think the soundtrack was a little funny, but it fit the sensibility of the movie and might just have been a case of personal preference. I could go on and on about how strong the material is for the cast to work with, but I was completely blown away by both Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in this. This movie is a nice showcase for how much range Anna Kendrick has. She's so inherently sweet (at least the majority of the characters she plays are) and easy to like and the creative team capitalizes on that, so they can play with your expectations. But she can perform the whole gauntlet of emotions and she not only pulls it off but excels. Lively is just as much the powerhouse in this. She helps mold Emily as this complete enigma yet she's a force of nature. She's a jerk and completely aloof but you can't help but be as entranced by her as Stephanie is. She has wonderful chemistry with Kendrick and sells the darker and more dramatic side of her character. This was a step forward for Henry Golding as Emily's husband Sean, he's more expressive in this than he was in Crazy Rich Asians and he gets the job done. Linda Cardellini is fun in a different type of role than we're used to seeing her in. That covers the main cast, but I also wanted to credit Bashir Salahuddin as Detective Summervile and Rupert Friend as Dennis Nylon. Both deliver something fresh and unexpected in their supporting roles.
Parts of A Simple Favor are very reminiscent of a Gone Girl type of thriller. It can be very dramatic, and the stakes continually rise making things more and more tense. The best similarity that A Simple Favor shares with that type of film is the twisty nature of the story. Character motivations are complex and the wrap up is neither "simple" or easy to guess. This is a mark of any good thriller but the closest thing I have to a complaint about this movie is that so many things explode (metaphorically) at the climax, the resolution still doesn't explain everything. I left the theatre still confused about why this character did that and while it didn't affect my overall enjoyment, I still had some questions.
I don't have much else to say about this movie. While being primarily marketed towards women, I do think that the mystery that this movie is built around is intriguing enough for A Simple Favor to be appealing across the board. The mystery is enveloping, the acting is top notch from 2 charismatic lead actresses and the fact it was a surprise made it even better for me. I wholeheartedly recommend checking this out in the theatre. I can't call it a perfect movie, but it was easy to grade this out at a 9/10.
The Predator (2018)
Funny Dialogue and Zany Characters Distract From a Largely Mediocre Action Movie
I'm normally a big fan of Shane Black's work. The Nice Guys was in my top 3 favourite movies from 2016, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an underrated gem and even though parts of it were problematic, I really enjoyed Iron Man 3. So even though I have little familiarity with the Predator franchise, his involvement as a writer/director pushed me to check this out with a friend in theatres as opposed to waiting for it to come out on Blu-Ray or Netflix. This movie oozes Shane Black's sensibilities and while that equals a solid movie more often than not, The Predator came out as more of a mixed bag.
Starting with the plot of The Predator, there's a more concerted effort to firmly establish the Predator's motivations than I expected. There hasn't been a lot of continuity with this franchise (even more so considering the AVP spinoff) and the movie clearly explained why the Predators were here and even worked them the current landscape in a topical way. As a novice, it was a plus as I didn't have to start from scratch and there wasn't much ambiguity as everything unfolded in a straightforward manner. The story suffers from a few problems that are typical of the genre (a little scattershot, dragged in the middle) but I didn't think it really stood out in a good or a bad way.
With the large budget and the history of the franchise rooted in action/horror, I was excited to see what kind of action the Predators would get into. I'll give the movie some points for the unflinching and creative nature of how the Predator dispatches of its enemies. This is a movie that earns the R rating and although some of the more important character as taken care of abruptly, there were a couple of HOLY $#!* deaths where there is no cut away. While I did like that aspect, the problem is that the action isn't filmed as creatively or even all that well throughout. The editing is choppy in sections, it can be hard to tell the characters apart and this is one of the rare occasions that the CGI in a big budget action movie just didn't hold up. The action wasn't terrible but with all the choices we have in terms of big action movies, The Predator lacked the polish of a tentpole superhero movie or the inspiration of a John Wick, The Eqalizer or Atomic Blonde.
While the horror or the action elements lack a distinctive feature, just like in any Shane Black movie, the real star is the comedic dialogue and the distinctive characters. I was never blown away by the action, but both my friend and I were cackling through the whole movie. Not every joke hits but I got a laugh at least once every 5 or so minutes. Black's got a gift for writing funny tough guy dialogue and that carries over into The Predator.
You also get some crazy characters that help the movie get over some hurdles. Our protagonist Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) is lumped in with a busload of crazies and each of them have a distinct personality and reason why they've been removed from society. Some of them border on the cliché (despite a committed performance from Thomas Jane, Baxley's material covers the basics of a guy with Tourette Syndrome) but they helped keep the movie above water when the rest of its issues were trying to drag it under water.
The cast is largely composed of talented and well-respected actors. Boyd is solid as the lead in The Predator, he gets the balance the movie trying to strike and can handle both the comedy and the action. Trevante Rhodes had his moments as Nebraska, he works well with Boyd and transitions into his character smoothly. Jacob Tremblay is one of the better kid actors out there, but I don't think this is his best work. His character's competency is all over the place and he wasn't as memorable here as he was in some other movies. My favourite performance came from Keegan-Michael Key as Coyle. He was a riot and he sold his material completely. I already touched on Thomas Jane, I wish Sterling K. Brown had been given more to do as Traeger. I think he did what he could but other than a few witty lines for him to deliver, he was just a forgettable villain. I saved Olivia Munn for last because while I feel she was trying here, she still comes off as a little bland. She still hasn't found the right vehicle to put herself over-the-top and while she's fine in this as Casey, this isn't that vehicle.
I walked into this expecting to really like it, but I walked away mildly disappointed. The strengths The Predator has are real strengths (the comedic dialogue and performances) but the rest is very mediocre. The action is alright despite the iffy CGI, the plot is fine but lacks anything that will stick with you and the ending was really scattershot minus a funny stinger when it wraps up. I can see diehard fans of The Predator franchise getting angry about this and while I can't say I side with them totally, I at least understand where they're coming from. The staples of Black's body of work that are implanted in this save the ship from sinking but I don't think this is one that you have to see in the theatre. My real rating for this would be 6.5/10 rounding up to a 7/10.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Solid Rom-Com but Lacks any Game-Changing Element
If you're familiar with the book that inspired this movie, when you looked at the trailer, you were going over the characters or the difference between book and movie. The thing that caught my eye was the environment and style of the movie. Singapore is known for its unique architecture and style and with the movie being mainly filmed in Singapore and Malaysia, the setting is as much a character as Rachel or Nick. This movie captures these places beautifully and the movie flaunts how extravagant the lives of the social elite are. This is a strength of the movie, it has all the first-class trappings (with the decent sized budget and the unique settings) and it uses them to its advantage. I wasn't envious of the stars, but I couldn't help but appreciate how cool everything looked.
The characters that populate the movie are a mix of the familiar with a couple of twists. Rachel is your fresh face in a new setting protagonist, but I liked how she was neither helpless or stupid. She's impressive in her own right (only movie I've seen where no one is impressed by a beautiful economics professor) and while she's vulnerable to the pressure, she isn't a flake or without any agency. Nick is your spoiled rich adult who is trying to find something real. This also isn't a new idea, but I liked how he was more compassionate and down-to-earth than your typical rich snob. He's still not a strong character but there were nice touches in his development. I'll cover Eleanor in another section but another character I liked was Astrid and the relationship she has with her husband (until the turn). She's wealthy and she has expensive taste, but she genuinely cares about the happiness of her family and her husband which was good considering how vapid and self-centred the rest of the supporting cast is.
Crazy Rich Asians boasts not only a talented group of actors and actresses to fill out the cast, but it represents a step forward for diversity. There aren't many movies with all Asian actors/actresses, but they not only pull it off, they pull it off completely. Constance Wu is strong as Rachel, she's a little restricted by her character (it leads to a lot of typical fish-out-of-water comedy), but she's given enough, and she capably carries the movie. Henry Golding is pretty good for a newcomer as Nick Young. They never miss a chance to shoot him without a shirt on or to show off his looks, but this is par for the course and he's still decent as an actor. Michelle Yeoh is appropriately cold and steely as Eleanor, I wish she had gotten to show a little more vulnerability, but she got the job done. Awkwafina gets a couple of funny moments in this, it was a step up from her performance in Ocean's 8 for me. Gemma Chan was a standout for me as Astrid, I thought her subplot with her character and her husband had more honest emotion than the main arc and I liked her a lot. I also want to credit Nico Santos who is playing a stereotypical character, but he also had his share of funny moments.
Most of my criticism that's directed against Crazy Rich Asians is stuff I would say about any formulaic romantic comedy. I was initially impressed that they weren't creating an over-the-top villain in Eleanor Young (not a spoiler, its in the trailer). They do show you her perspective and while I was never on her side, it was a departure from a typical genre cliché. This works until they push her into being a manipulative jerk just, so they have somewhere to go with the plot. This is one of the worst tropes of the genre and it just made me groan. The next thing is that while there are minor twists and turns, the big beats of the plot are predictable for Rachel and Nick. These aren't the biggest problems, but this movie has been hyped as "The Return of the Rom-Com" and I think when you strip away the charming cast and the fun visual sensibility and look at the story, its your same generic rom-com plot. That doesn't make the movie bad but with all the hype, I wanted something surprising or new with the story and Crazy Rich Asians doesn't deliver that element that could have pushed this to the next level.
This is another case where the movie doesn't equal the sum of its parts. There's a charming cast, some effective humour sprinkled in and enough window dressing to keep anyone entertained. But the result is a solid but forgettable movie for me. This could also be a situation where my expectations were too high for this. There have been a couple of movies over the past few years where the hype has been relentless and full of hyperbole and yet all I see is a good movie that isn't the classic I thought I was in for. I liked this enough to recommend it, but I don't think its a must-see movie at a theatre. Catch this on your preferred streaming service if you haven't seen it in a theatre already.
Tells the Story it Wants to Tell and Executes it Well
The story centres around our main character of Kena (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is the son of Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) the chief of their tribe. He has recently come of age to hunt and despite his slight build and his timid attitude, his father sees an inner strength and believes he will step up when given the chance. When the hunt takes a bad turn, Kena is assumed dead but he survives by hanging off the side of a gorge. He's forced to fight a wolf pack and while he gets away, he injures one of them. Instead of killing it, he tries to befriend it and the two of them try to make the journey home. The plot of this movie is a beauty in the eye of the beholder situation. It's very streamlined, it doesn't get bogged down but at the same time... that's it. I found myself with the opinion that I appreciated the movie's simplicity but it relies too heavily on the great cinematography and long shots of the environment to fill out the run time.
Speaking of the cinematography, it's the real star of the movie. Despite the overuse of environmental shots (it skates around padding out the run time but only just), they were all gorgeous. The visual effects team pulls out a couple of tricks that really accentuate this obvious strength. Between the barren snowy environment, the grassy plains or the dingy caves , there wasn't a moment where something wasn't visually striking or eye-catching.
The cast of Alpha is small and the movie focuses mainly on 2 actors. I thought the stronger of the 2 performances was from Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as he looks closer to being period appropriate and he displays a lot of warmth despite being a stern father. I wouldn't throw awards in his direction but he definitely brought something to what could have been a very one note part. I think Kodi-Smit-McPhee did a solid job, he does as much as he can with the material. He seemed a little miscast but part of that may be the character, he just seemed a little soft for someone born into this harsh period in history. But he sells his relationship with this wolf and in the end he got the job done.
I have very little to criticize Alpha for because it doesn't have a whole lot else to say besides telling this story. I thought the passage of time was handled in a weird way, the movie jumps around with scenes featuring Keda and Alpha and the transitions are a little rough or fail to come together seamlessly. This seems like a stylistic choice however, so rough editing or intentional choice? You be the judge.
Alpha is a film that I can't find much wrong with it but I only ended up liking it instead of falling in love with it. The dynamic between Keda and Alpha is endearing and I want to credit the movie for showing the harsh and unforgiving environment in a way that looks beautiful while dangerous. I did want Keda to make it and despite the lack of a deeper story, I didn't lose focus or have any trouble paying attention. Alpha clears the bar it sets for itself and I enjoyed the 96 minutes I spent watching it. If the marketing for Alpha caught your eye, I think its worth a trip to the theatre, but if not I think this would be a good movie to catch on your preferred streaming service.
The Happytime Murders (2018)
A Movie That Ends up in the Middle Despite a Ton of Potential
The people responsible for these puppets include some famous names with Brian Henson (Jim Henson's son) directing The Happytime Murders with The Jim Henson Company doing the puppeteering for the puppet characters. The biggest compliment I can give The Happytime Murders is that the puppets look great and they perform great. Each character has a unique design and even when the movie hit its lowest points, the fact that they were bringing some crazy character in the next scene kept me interested. While I wouldn't stack it up against Hollywood's biggest action franchises, I though the action with the puppets was surprisingly well done. It didn't look as awkward as I was expecting it to and despite some dodgy CGI (there's a car bombing that looks fake as $%**) the movie is shot well overall. They brought in somebody who had a lot of experience working with this style of entertainment and I think he and his team performed capably.
If you read into the production of this movie, it was developed for 10+ years with several other stars and directors attached. I respect the passion to finally get The Happytime Murders made and the movie had some definite strengths (the puppets and the puppeteering being the biggest). The biggest disappointment was that they needed to spend some of this time punching up the script. There are plenty of funny moments but there are some jokes/bits that are so painfully awkward that I found myself turning away from the screen. The overall mystery fit the bill (even if it wasn't anything special) but the movie is pretty predictable when you start examining the plot. Sure, this is poking fun at noir and the tropes/clichés that show up in the genre while still functioning as a noir film, but that balance is so hard to achieve, and this movie can't walk that line. It just comes down to this movie not really capitalizing on the potential of what they set up. I walked away from The Happytime Murders satisfied but at the same time, I couldn't help but be disappointed.
If you're sickened or turned off by the trailer for The Happytime Murders, don't go see this. The flavour of the movie's humour is decidedly sour, and the movie flaunts how raunchy it is. The sense of humour doesn't change or fluctuate, and this works sporadically. There are moments where the movie had me laughing out loud (my favourite was probably the seedy poker game which is featured in the trailer) and yet there were times where my friend was covering her eyes. The Happytime Murders is a case of what you see is what you get, watch the marketing ahead of time and enter at your own risk.
The internet seems to really despise Melissa McCarthy, so many were rooting for this to fail because of her involvement. I like Melissa but since her breakout in Bridesmaids, minus Spy (which if you haven't seen, go watch that instead) her output has ranged from mediocre to bad. I don't think she was exceptional in this and she stumbles when she's responsible for carrying the film, but I think she did a decent job considering what she had to work with. She's charismatic and funny in the right vehicle and while this isn't going to be a smash hit, its nice to see her trying different things out. I want to credit the voicework of Bill Barretta as Phil Phillips, he gets what he needs to do and while what he has to say isn't snappy enough, he delivers it capably and got the job done. I felt so sorry for the supporting actors and actresses in this movie, they brought in some real talent in to fill these nondescript parts that were beneath these people. Joel McHale and Elizabeth Banks get the worst of it, McHale isn't an A-list talent but he's just embarrassing himself here. Elizabeth Banks is very underrated as an actress, she's adept at both drama and comedy and I was shocked at how little quality material they gave her. I also felt bad for Maya Rudolph, but she at least gets a few moments elicit some laughs. She mostly suffers because of her character.
I left the theatre not really knowing how to feel about this movie. On one hand, there were a few really funny scenes, the puppets were well designed, and the puppeteers performed well and the movie delivered on the trailer's promise of being really raunchy. But it never lives up to the full potential of the premise, for every hilarious bit, there's another one that's equally as awkward or unfunny and both the story and the jokes could have used some more work. Add on top of this the waste of some excellent supporting actors/actresses and the movie left me trying to decipher how to grade it on the drive back home. I can't recommend everyone seeing this in the theatre, although I'm more positive on The Happytime Murders, I can see why the critics railed against this. A large segment of the movie going population is going to be disgusted by this and they will hate it completely. If you love bizarre and quirky adult oriented material, The Happytime Murders might be your kind of film. I won't judge either way, I went to see this with a friend because of how crazy the trailer looked, and she largely had the same comments when we were discussing it after. Sometimes its actually hardest to review the movies that end up falling in the middle, there's just so much more material when something is a masterpiece or a complete piece of $#!T. In the case of The Happytime Murders, I have to split the difference and I begrudgingly give it a 6/10.
The Meg (2018)
A Compentent Entry in the Genre but The Meg Needed a Sharper Edge
I went to see The Meg with a friend more because of how excited he was about it. The marketing for the movie reminded me of Deep Blue Sea and while I do enjoy that movie for its campy glory, I didn't need to see a lesser version in the theatre. But after seeing the first part of the movie, I was surprised that it was put together competently. The first thing that caught my eye was the CGI and that it was consistently good throughout. The movie obviously boasted a big budget and I'm happy to say it was put to good use. The long shots of the open water, the plant life, the underwater research station and the environment were all passable and I didn't see anything that was less than impressive.
I'll have some further comments about the nature of the action later but what they decided to include in the movie also did the trick. The sharks are animated appropriately, and they are at least threatening throughout the run time. It helps that you have an experienced action movie star like Jason Statham in the lead to add a little bit of credibility at the forefront, but I think the Meg cleared the bar they set for themselves. The movie definitely makes you nervous but they balance it with a few well-placed moments of levity. I'm going to also add a small disclaimer for safety, if you need complete realism from your action, this is not one of those movies so take heed of that going into the theatre.
What I have to say about the cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Jason Statham was the right guy to lead this movie. Jonas Taylor is a very Statham character and Jason is one of the best in the business at this type of movie (action/thriller that borders being campy). Jason's guilty of coasting a bit on his natural charisma, but he's a more than capable lead for The Meg. Bingbing Li is decent as Suyin, her dialogue is a little forced with her accent and her part seesaws into being cliche but she does what she can with what she's given. I also thought they made a good choice deciding to cast Rainn Wilson as Morris, he would be an all too easy to peg character if they had gone with more traditional casting. But he shines through with his ability to be funny and at least brings in some doubt to who Morris is with his performance. They brought in some recognizable actors to fill in the supporting cast including: Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Masi Oka and Page Kennedy. There isn't a bad performance among them, but they also aren't given much screen time. I would describe them as suffering from their characters being underdeveloped. I also like Robert Taylor normally, but his character was so annoying that I couldn't enjoy his acting choices.
The trailer for The Meg advertised a movie that could have been the right kind of crazy. While the movie isn't devoid of tension and there are moments where you're afraid for the characters, this movie was too content to play in the shallow end instead of venturing out into deeper into the violent nature of the premise. I understand the studio's decision to keep it in PG-13 territory, its a safer investment and it will reach a larger audience. But that decision also prevents The Meg from living up to its true potential. This is supposed to be a prehistoric shark that is bigger and more violent than anything living in the ocean today and considering the subject matter, it comes off tame compared to other R rated shark movies. I don't need to see something on the level of the Piranha franchise, but this is too safe. I was disappointed that Eli Roth was considered to direct but dropped out, not because I'm a huge fan of his (I'm more down the middle on his output) but a filmmaker of his style would have pushed the envelope to make this movie memorable.
I have a few minor complaints about other parts of The Meg. Despite both Jason Statham and Bingbing Li turning in decent performances, they have very little romantic chemistry and their budding relationship feels forced. The movie is obviously focused on playing toward the international market and they aren't exactly subtle about it. Some of the dialogue is corny and there were a few character decisions that were uneven (they couldn't seem to decide how big of a jerk they wanted to make Morris, there are scenes where he's laid-back or compassionate and then others where he's a gigantic tool). Also, while the ending finally had that dose of unbelievable action that I had been hoping for, it was too little too late for me.
A common closing thought for some of my reviews is that if you saw something you liked in the marketing, you'll probably like the movie. The Meg might be the exception to the rule. My friend left the theatre disappointed with the movie because he wanted something off-the-wall bonkers from this premise (which didn't happen). I went in with low expectations and walked away pleasantly surprised even if I can't highly recommend the Meg to everyone. If you want to see a shark movie with a decent cast, some capably filmed action and a few scenes that will scare you without going overboard, The Meg might be for you. If you're expecting an exploitation movie or a campy thriller, you're going to be disappointed.
Fallout May be the Best Entry in a Franchise That Continues to Deliver
As much as this is Tom Cruise's franchise, the biggest reason to go see the new Mission Impossible movie is the stunts. McQuarrie, Cruise and the creative team found new ways to push the envelope even farther and it made for a thrilling trip to the theatre. I can't go into specific set pieces without spoiling things, but not only do they go as big as they can but they way they decided to film these scenes was just as impressive. If you consider that Cruise did many of the stunts himself, what they accomplished here becomes even more credible.
Character development is rarely the focus of action movies. They made some interesting choices here and one of them was the inclusion of Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan). I won't go deep enough to spoil her entire arc, the main purpose of her character is to humanize Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) a little. She hasn't been a featured character since Mission Impossible 3 but she's a fun character to bring back and her inclusion brings a new set of problems for Ethan. Another area of focus is the differing ways that Ethan Hunt and August Walker (Henry Cavill) take care of their jobs. Walker is a force of nature and rarely leaves anything but dead bodies when he exits a mission. Hunt cares about the individuals and the movie poses the question which is the more effective philosophy for a spy? It's not essential to the plot but I thought it was a nice touch.
Tom Cruise is a controversial figure, but if you put that aside, there's a reason his movies continue to top the box office (can we all just forget The Mummy?). He's great again as Ethan Hunt, he's not Cruise's most layered character but between the action and his interactions with his team, he pulls it off. Simon Pegg is his typically charming self again and he even gets a chance to do some more regarding the stunts. To say that he nailed his role again isn't newsworthy. Rebecca Ferguson comes back and continues to shine as Ilsa, she's very smooth and capable as a spy but she has enough warmth to have great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble. Ving Rhames is solid again as Luther, he also has a couple of nice moments and is a central figure in the cast. Henry Cavill still isn't the most expressive actor and the trailers for the movie almost spoil where his character ends up going but he's a good fit here. He has a lot of physicality and I think he does his job capably. Sean Harris carries over his good work from Rogue Nation as Solomon Lane and I enjoyed Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett and Alec Baldwin in their supporting roles.
I don't have much to criticize Fallout for, it's not a perfect movie but there aren't many glaring flaws. The end has a couple of moments where the laws of physics don't seem to matter but this is something that every action movie is guilty of. Its not always about whether everything is accurate to the smallest detail, its often about whether you can distract the audience or coax them to believe it when they know it isn't true. There isn't anything here so egregious that it ruined the movie for me. I would also say that the movie does take a little while to warmup. Previous entries in the franchise began with a big set piece but Fallout goes in a different direction. There is a good payoff though, so my advice is to have some patience and it will be rewarded.
I was blown away by Fallout and while it doesn't re-invent the Mission Impossible wheel, it represents an almost flawless execution of the formula. This is a step up from Rogue Nation (which was a solid film as a standalone) and clears the high bar that this franchise has set for itself. The action and the stunts are jaw-dropping intense, there's some nice moments of comedy (mainly from Pegg and Rhames), the cast is excellent, the characters are developed further (as much as they can be in an action movie) and while there are moments that stretch plausibility, the rest of the movie is executed so well that I could easily look past it. If you're a fan of the franchise or just enjoy big action that will get your pulse racing, this is worth going out of your way to see. I'm happy this is doing well at the box office and I can't wait for the next installment.
Cheesy Fun if Expectations are Kept Low
Skyscraper's premise is pretty easy to put together, the poster for the movie almost encompasses it entirely. With a high rise building on fire, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) must save his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and his kids from a team of terrorists led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller). This isn't new, you've got the classics like Die Hard and this movie uses them as a foundation to build upon. Does it differentiate from those movies? I think it does but not always in a good way. There are times where the screenwriter (Rawson Marshall Thurber pulling both writing and directing duties) seems to be tipping his cap to the audience (the jokes around duct tape work the best) but as the movie slips farther and farther into cliche and implausibility, the more difficult I have extending that praise. How in on the joke was the creative team? I honestly don't know, I want to believe they were but some of the decisions the characters make contradict that line of thinking (this is a continual problem not just a one off).
Getting past whether the writer/director was aiming for this kind of film or if they stumbled into it, I have to credit the cast for making lemonade out of lemons. Dwayne Johnson is a bona fide movie star and he gives a decent performance. He tries as hard as he can, and he works in this more often than he doesn't. I thought Neve Campbell was pretty good, she had believable chemistry with Dwayne and she breathes life into what could be a stale character. Chin Han was solid, it was nice to see him in a bigger part and he does his job. Skyscraper doesn't do Noah Taylor or Roland Moller any favours in their respective roles as Mr. Pierce and Kores. I think Roland comes off a little better, but Noah is doomed by his higher profile and you can see where he's heading from moment one. I also felt bad for Pablo Schreiber as Ben, he's a great actor but he hasn't had the best of luck picking projects now that he's transitioning to movies.
Skyscraper has a sizeable budget and the quality of the visual effects benefits for the most part. There was never a point that I was put off by a bad piece of CGI or disappointed from a visual standpoint. The movie has a few nice cinematography moments (they make the most out of the hall of mirrors room cliché) and the fights were okay. Dwayne wasn't 100 percent consistent in acting like an amputee (he's really limping in some scenes, in others not so much) but the action is passable.
I do have plenty of complaints when it comes to Skyscraper, but I can't get deep into them without spoiling big moments in the film. Most of them centre around character motivations (is this really the easiest thing the terrorists could think of to get what they need?), character decisions (I admire Will's commitment to his family but considering what happens, why would he believe his family is still alive at the midpoint?) and really cheesy choices that undermine the thriller aspects of Skyscraper. They would have derailed the movie for me if I hadn't been having such a good time laughing and wondering where they would go next.
I didn't give this movie a high rating, but I was genuinely surprised with how much fun I had with Skyscraper. Did I feel bad for giggling at the implausibility of the plot? A little... the theatre was 1/2 full but the friend I saw this with had the same reaction. Expectations are key when deciding to watch this movie. If you've seen some movies like Skyscraper, the plot twists are going to be obvious, the sentimentality is going to make your eyes roll (even if the actors and actresses are selling out to make it work), and there are going to be some head shaking moments that will try your patience. But I give the cast, the visual effects department and the screenwriter a pat on the back for doing their best and taking what could be a trainwreck into an enjoyable 1hr and 45minutes at the theatre. If you're looking for a turn-your-brain-off style action/thriller with high production values and a talented group of actors, this movie could scratch that type of itch.
The First Purge (2018)
Another Solid Entry for the Purge Faithful
Instead of repeating the same crazy and hysterical night, the writer and creator of the Purge franchise (James DeMonaco) went back and they created a prequel with the First Purge. This was probably to avoid stagnation with the franchise and I can get on board with that. When it comes to the writing in this entry, I thought they did a decent job of filling in some of the previous cracks in the mythology. They give the residents of Staten Island a reason to participate in the experiment and the rollout of the idea is done carefully (as much as it can be). I also appreciated that this movie provided a glimmer of hope in terms of human nature. Most people are at least initially reluctant to participate and that's one of the first admissions by the creative team that all of humanity isn't morally abhorrent. So, while I was impressed by some aspects of the writing, they do continue with the same hammy dialogue that all the other movies feature. I respect DeMonaco as a writer and director (even though he's only handling screenwriting duties in this one) but bringing in someone to be more understated with the dialogue would be appreciated going forward.
The First Purge features a couple of twists that I won't spoil but I thought they were well handled for the most part. Conversely, The Purge franchise isn't one you can rely on to create memorable characters. The closest we got to a returning hero was the Sargent/Leo Barnes played by Frank Grillo. The First Purge centres around Dmitri (Y'lan Noel), Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and Isiah (Joivan Wade) and how effective their characters are is decidedly mixed. Isiah is almost the audience avatar, anyone who watches the Purge movies likes to think that they'd be out there running the show but as Isiah learns the hard way, its all well and good until you run into some seriously crazy people and you realize how out of your league you are. Nya is probably the most generic of the 3, she's the anti-purge activist and is responsible for delivering the message of the movie. I want to get into Dmitri more later, but while he has a clear motivation and you can understand his point of view, the method to his madness is flawed.
One of the returning issues from other Purge movies is that a lot of the acting borders if not falls into chewing the scenery. The most annoying part was Rotimi Paul as Skeletor. I don't want to completely blame him, part of it was his character but I couldn't stand him and when he makes a surprise appearance at the end, I was rolling my eyes so hard. I did enjoy Y'lan Noel as Dmitri, he made for a charismatic lead despite his character and his work in the action scenes closer to the end could have qualified him for a reboot of the Punisher. Lex Scott Davis conveyed a lot of compassion and righteous anger well as Nya and Joivan was capable as Isiah. I was disappointed Marisa Tomei didn't get more to do as Dr. Updale. Casting her as the scientist who came up with the Purge was inspired but she only acts steely and reserved until an improbable tangent undercut her character.
The politics surrounding the Purge franchise are never subtle and while I wish they could be woven into the plot with a lighter touch, that idea being shoved in your face continues in The First Purge. If this makes you angry or you disapprove, nothing I can say will change your mind. Maybe putting this franchise in different hands would help it be more organic. I do think that Dmitri is an interesting character, but I also agree with the criticism that he's a drug lord and the movie wants you to just forget that he's destroying his neighbourhood (the movie points it out but at the end, he's celebrated like a hero and it rings somewhat hollow). So, if you're turned off by the message this movie is championing, that's your choice and I won't convince you of anything different. But this franchise has had 3 movies already and if you're shocked that there's a heavy political slant to this, you obviously haven't seen the other 3. I find all the outrage directed at this entry to be puzzling, why is this a surprise to anyone? This was the rhetoric since 2013.
The Purge franchise continues to soldier on and while this is a middling entry, I still enjoyed it. The action scenes toward the end were filmed in an interesting way, Y'lan Noel gave a solid lead performance despite the contradictory nature of his character and I still love the potential of this premise. It was one of the big ideas to come out of horror and it's a license to do anything or go any direction and I think we need more of that. The biggest problem with this movie is that instead of dialing up the horror and the thrills (like my favourite Purge movie, The Purge: Anarchy), they doubled down on the politically charged momentum of The Purge: Election Year which wasn't the best aspect of that movie. This movie has a lot to say and isn't afraid to say it and I don't disagree with that message. I want this franchise keeps going but I hope it attracts some bigger name talent. If you got some high calibre actors and a punch up writer for the dialogue, I think they could create something special. If you're a Purge fan, I think you'll enjoy this, but I wouldn't expect this to win over many new converts.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Light and Breezy Fun but Ultimately a Forgettable Entry in the MCU
There are movies in this genre that pride themselves on being edgy or gritty and that works to mixed results (the Dark Knight absolutely pulls this off, BvS.... not so much). Ant-Man and the Wasp goes the other way and especially with this movie, creates something for the whole family. I don't mind that idea, not everything has to be adult oriented and this movie does a better job than it doesn't in that regard. There's a bigger focus on family dynamics and scenes between Scott (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) or Scott and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) work more often than they don't. I do think some of the comedic value suffers but that' a relatively small complaint (more on that later).
While the original Ant-Man boasted some creative action scenes, I think that department is the one area than Ant-Man and the Wasp ramps up. They play with the shrinking constantly and they use it to fun effect. Moments like the gag with the salt shaker or the Hello Kitty pez dispenser (which you see in the trailers) play out with a different and entertaining rhythm. Most of those moments were the highlights of Ant-Man and the Wasp for me.
Despite being disappointed by the movie overall, I can't blame the cast. The first person I want to credit is Evangeline Lilly who really steps up in this movie. I really like how they expanded on her character, but she gets her shot in this and she runs away with it. Hope is the focus in this movie instead of Scott and I didn't mind that. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are both decent, they seemed to be more toned down, but they're both appropriately cast and perform their parts well. Michael Pena stole so many scenes in the first one and while I do prefer him in the original, he brought some needed levity and he's got huge range as an actor. Most of the new additions to this franchise are great. Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen work really well together and there are a few emotional beats with them that I dug. Michelle Pfeiffer made the most of her screen time and while we had to wait longer than I wanted to for her appearance (minus the flashbacks), it was worth it. Randall Park walked a fine line between being funny and unrealistically stupid as Jimmy Woo and Walton Goggins excelled in his supporting role.
Most of my issues with this movie aren't outright missteps or mistakes, they're the result of heightened expectations and then the movie coming up short. I mentioned above that they found new ways to ramp up the action scenes and they packed a lot of excitement. The flipside of that is that they spoiled all the best moments in the trailer, if you've seen the marketing for Ant-Man and the Wasp, there won't be many surprises when it comes to the set pieces (big or small). The movie lacks a true antagonist with 2 or 3 characters filling that role and while they buck the trend with that decision, there isn't anything to compensate for that. But I will admit that one of the few problems with the original was that Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) was ageneric villain so there's not a huge slide in this regard. There are exposition dumps in here that don't serve a purpose because they're filled with so much technobabble. Every superhero movie has some of that but there was so much here that I couldn't help but notice. They did a great job of expanding on Hope's character but to make her more competent, they dialed back Scott's ability. He's way more of a passenger in this and he comes across as a buffoon when he's supposed to be a brilliant engineer. I also think the movie lacks the sharp comedic dialogue the original boasted. Michael Pena, T.I., Randall Park and David Dastmalchian are more than capable but their jokes just didn't hit like they did before, and I thought most of Paul Rudd's comedic material was downright lame.
I enjoyed Ant-Man and the Wasp, and I can understand why the collective audience was happy with this entry in the MCU. Its very family-friendly, there's some new characters that got a chance to shine and it has its share of thrills. But I thought the first Ant-Man was a more inspired and better film overall. Fitting it into the heist genre gave it a different tone and made the film standout in bigger superhero blockbuster game. While the cast was great, and I wanted to spend more time in this universe, this is not going to be one of the Marvel movies I revisit frequently. I would absolutely recommend this to families but unless you loved the original Ant Man or a diehard Marvel fan, I would say you have to catch this opening weekend.
Carried by a Talented Ensemble Cast, Funny Jokes and a Nice Message
Tag banks on the premise of this group of guys all playing a game of Tag that has lasted 20+ years. There isn't much of a story developed other than a couple of events to escalate (Jerry's wedding and potential retirement doesn't develop things, it only serves as a catalyst to throw the game into overdrive) and this is one of the few movies where I appreciated that. Tag is at its best when the characters are dropping one-liners at each other's expense or playing the game itself. Its when they try to bring in other elements to the story that Tag gets bogged down. The streamlining of the plot helped the movie operate at a quicker pace and I enjoyed that part of Tag.
The action scenes in this movie are improbable and stretch plausibility. The scene in the woods encompasses this the best. But there is one standout aspect to them. Jeremy Renner's character of Jerry is a generational talent at the game of tag and he can anticipate the strategies and movements of his friends before they even happen. The scenes featuring Jerry are a sneaky satire of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies and even though I really dig those movies, the scenes were hysterical. They had a fun flow to them and despite the rest of the ensemble acting like goofballs to sell how awesome Renner's character is, they were some of the best parts of Tag.
Tag brought together a mix of established comedians/comediennes and a few unexpected dramatic actors/actresses to cut loose. Ed Helms is playing a very Ed Helms character as Hogan, he's a little more animated than usual but he's a veteran and performs capably. The same goes for Jake Johnson as Randy 'Chilly' Chillano. I liked him here, he tends to be someone who needs good material to be effective, but he did his job. Jon Hamm seems like an odd choice (considering his age and his dramatic background) but it was also fun to see him do something unexpected in this. He also had his moments where he was just as funny as everyone else. My 2 favourites members of the cast were Hannibal Buress as Kevin Sable and Jeremy Renner as Jerry. Buress isn't stretching but his dialogue and his delivery were on point and he probably had me laughing the hardest out of anyone. Jeremy Renner also looked like he was having a blast cutting loose in this. He's usually very stern and low-key and he was great as this guy whose ability transcends this game. I also want to compliment Isla Fisher and Leslie Bibb as Anna Malloy and Susan Rollins respectively. They were both very funny in their own right (especially Isla) and it would be great to see them both take on more comedic projects like this.
Tag has more than enough stuff to enjoy but it did have some problems that brought the movie down a little. Most of the subplots fall flat on their face. I couldn't have cared less about Annabelle Wallis' character Rebecca or the fact that she was covering this unusual story. Callahan and Chilly fighting over Cheryl (Rashida Jones) comes across as half-baked and felt like it should have been cut out of the movie. They gave Isla Fisher and Leslie Bibb great moments, I just wish Annabelle and Rashida could have some strong material to work with as well. I also thought the ending got a little melodramatic, I definitely liked where the movie was coming from emotionally but the drama surrounding Hogan felt tacked on and just out of left field (especially since the movie has no problem mocking chancy material throughout).
Lastly, I liked the message/underlying theme that Tag is promoting. Whether you think a group of grown men playing tag is awesome or shockingly immature, the message of lasting friendship was heart warming. As the movie addresses, when you're young, you think you're going to have the same group of friends forever. This is almost never the case, but I liked the camaraderie this group had and I can see why someone looked at this story and was inspired by it.
I got some big laughs out of Tag and that was enough to make it a worthwhile trip to the theatre. This won't be a transcendent comedy where I watch it regularly but I'm happy I took a chance on it. If you're looking for something to get a few belly laughs out of and don't mind seeing something a little on the immature side, give this a shot. My actual rating for Tag is 7.5/10 rounding up to an 8/10.
Hit a Goofy Sweet Spot For Me
I haven't read Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice and I've never had the urge to. I read Sense and Sensibility and it wasn't my cup of tea. So, I turned this on with the hope that having a more contemporary element would make a story that clearly wasn't written for me, easier to sit through. I'm happy to report that it did and a large part of that was the humour that they incorporated into the narrative. Maybe other people saw it differently, but it just made me smile to watch people in this elaborate gowns and debonair dress slicing and dicing the undead. They establish the mythology (which was tightly written enough to satisfy me) and while they follow the beats of the original story, the zombie fighting is squeezed in and it works better than I thought it would have. It wasn't perfect, but I thought it was a pleasant surprise.
So, while this movie departs from the classic story, my problems with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies don't have anything to do with those changes. The most noticeable flaw with this project is the sub-par effects and makeup. The budget on this is relatively low at $28 million (which was good considering how few people saw this in theatres) and unfortunately it shows. The costuming is good but with so many competing zombie TV shows (The Walking Dead) and movies (Zombieland) doing zombies so much better, it makes P&P&Z look even worse by comparison. I was also disappointed that the ending fizzled out. This could be blamed on the source material, but I don't see how. There's a considerable buildup with the rivalry between Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and George Wickham (Jack Huston) and the movie seems to be preparing you for a bad@$$ zombie fight. But there's almost nothing when the resolution hits and while I can appreciate a credit stinger that seems to set things up for a sequel, I wanted more.
Through the positives and the negatives, the big thing that this movie brought to my attention was how talented Lily James is. I had seen her in supporting parts in Baby Driver, Darkest Hour and the Exception (Downtown Abbey isn't my thing) but she's the lead heroine here as Elizabeth Bennet and she knocks it out of the park. She anchors this movie capably and I don't know if this movie would have worked without her. She's turning into a performer that I would tune into a show or movie I didn't know about just because of her involvement. I largely liked the rest of the cast, but I also want to credit Matt Smith as the Bennet's wimpy cousin Parson Collins. I'm not familiar with him as an actor but he had me laughing in almost every scene he appeared in. This is a movie full of strong characters and Parson is conversely so pathetic that it becomes easy to mine laughs out of him being such a tool. I also enjoyed Bella Heathcote, Charles Dance, Jack Huston and Lena Headey in their supporting parts.
I can understand die hard fans of Pride and Prejudice turning their nose up to this. But I'm not in that camp and this movie made the Pride and Prejudice story palatable for me. I liked the tongue-in-cheek humour, how they decided to work in the zombie elements in and the movie boasts a dynamic lead performance from Lily James. Is it a landmark in screenwriting? Absolutely not but I did enjoy this movie from beginning to end. My true rating for this would be a 7.5/10 but I'll round up to 8/10. I would recommend this to people looking for an interesting mashup of genres, but I would also warn you ahead of time, if you're a fan of the classic novel, this film probably will seem like blasphemy.
The Spectacle is Still Fun but Fallen Kingdom's Problems are all Self-Inflicted
Instead of another theme park, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes us in a new direction. The movie centres around the debate on whether these dinosaurs should be saved from an extinction level event. This is an interesting idea and an appreciated twist on the Jurassic Park formula. I did have issues with the idea that the dinosaurs should be saved (Jeff Goldblum returns as Dr. Ian Malcolm and he summed up my line of thinking in an all too brief appearance) but I did my best to keep my mind open. We do spend some time on the island but most of the movie is set on the mainland. The mission to save the dinosaurs isn't what it seems (which is obvious to everyone but the characters in the movie) and things spiral out of control from there. They also explore ideas in weaponizing these dinosaurs and what the implications of that would be (the original Jurassic World dipped their toes into that but Fallen Kingdowm dives into the pool). So as much as I didn't agree with the line of thinking the movie promotes, I did appreciate the attempt to bust out of the formula.
Director J.A. Bayona comes from a horror background and one of the reasons I was rooting for this movie (he made A Monster Calls which was one of my favourite movies of 2016). One of the best aspects of Jurassic World 2 is that they do a good job of showing a more horrific side of these dinosaurs. The film is impressive between the visual effects and the cinematography and there are some really nice shots where the dinosaurs are presented like a monster in a horror movie. There was an interesting sequence where a carnivore is creeping through a tunnel and the light is flickering in and out. The movie is surprisingly violent for a film that you can bring your kids to and it had the right idea to bring the focus back to the potential danger that these creatures could possess. We all love watching dinosaurs but the context of what they would mean to the world is more accurately presented here.
One of the things that makes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom so disappointing is that the cast is so good across the board. Chris Pratt is charming and fun to watch even when he's dialed back the funny banter that you're used to seeing from him. I'm a fan of Bryce Dallas Howard and while despite the problems I had with her character from the first entry, she's just as good if not better in a more sympathetic turn as Claire. Rafe Spall comes out of the gate strong and just avoids descending into becoming a cartoon by the end. Danielle Pineda was so strong that one of my biggest disappointments about the movie was we didn't get to spend more time with her. James Cromwell is surprisingly warm as Benjamin Lockwood, Toby Jones is underused but effective and while I found his character unbearable, I credit Justice Smith for giving it his all as Franklin Webb.
It was hard to stomach so many things in this movie. The pacing is all over the place, the first act is so slow and the 2nd act moves so fast that its here and gone (its especially disappointing when the trailer features so much of that surprisingly short sequence). While many critics praise the 3rd act, I thought it just fell into nonsense. There's some nice shots and the ideas that drive the plot are fresh for this franchise. But there's plot hole after plot hole and stupid sequence after stupid sequence, I was honestly shocked that someone didn't fix these problems while the script was being written let alone when it was filmed. One of the characters expects the villain to call the police on himself when there is no logical reason to do so (that's just one example of many). I saw this with a friend and over the course of the ride home, we must have come up with 10-15 separate issues. There's a bombshell dropped that's so bizarre and its never addressed again. Plus, there's a decision made at the end that could cause the deaths of so many people and it's the good guys that put these people in jeopardy. I can't go into it more without going into spoilers, there are movies that can distract you from logical leaps, but Fallen Kingdom just couldn't do it for me and it left me shaking my head.
This is the most conflicted I've felt about a movie for a long time. There's plenty of good reasons to go see this movie. The big names in the cast all perform capably, there's some really creative cinematography, the action is decent, and they swung for the fences by taking the plot in a different direction. But I can't excuse the gigantic plot holes, the poor decisions by so many important characters, pacing problems and Fallen Kingdom can't hurdle the problems with the premise, let alone the ones that crop up over the course of the movie. If you can't stand the latest entry of the Jurassic Park franchise, I understand that line of thinking and if you can get around some of the obvious problems with Jurassic World 2 and enjoy it for what it is, I can see why. I have to split the difference and give this a 5/10. I can't recommend this though; the movie had become so unbelievable by the end that I was having to avoid snickering and laughing on the way out to the parking lot.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
A Great Sequel but Just Falls Short of Incredible
The animation in the original was great but this movie took it another leap forward. Having seen the original so many times, it took me a bit to adjust to it, but the movie never ceased to beautiful or have something imaginative. The attention to detail is insane (Bird has a reputation for being nitpicky, so much so that the animators of the original partially modelled the character Syndrome after him) and there was never a moment was I wasn't impressed or even blown away by how stunning this movie was. Adding on top of that, I would stack the action scenes in this movie up against any modern superhero blockbuster. They are thrilling, and I would even say astounding. My favourite was the runaway train scene. I hate to keep playing the same note, but I think the visual style in Incredibles 2 is as impressive if not more than any animated movie I've seen in the past couple of years. I also understand the worry about triggering epilepsy because one of the fights features a lot of flashing lights. I thought it was a sensational scene but the warning is warranted.
Moving from the animation to the characters, Bird and his team do a good job developing the familiar and introducing the new. Instead of Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) being the main character, the focus shifts to Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). I was worried when I saw the trailer, not because Helen was the hero, she's a great character and my trepidation was never about the story having a feminist slant. But the husband not being able to handle the family duties is a tired thing, it's been done over and over and this movie calling attention to it seemed counterproductive. Is anyone offended by a stay-at-home dad? It was a temporary arrangement and I feel like we've gotten past that being weird. Anyway, Elastigirl is a great hero and her narrative was compelling. I liked how she bounced off of her new corporate backers Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) and while those character play to the actor's strengths (Winston isn't Saul Goodman but he's not too far off), they had plenty of personality. I'll talk more about Bob later, but I also liked how Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) hugged the line between having issues yet not being too bratty. Violet is pretty moody throughout the course of the movie, but they give her a nice moment near the end that compensates. Luscius/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is a funny returning character but he drifts in and out of the movie, I would have liked him to have more screen time. Everyone's favourite characters are back in Edna Mode (Brad Bird) and Jack-Jack. Jack-Jack was a riot and I loved almost every second we got to spend with him. Edna stole the show in the original and while she doesn't get more screen time, her appearance is pitch perfect. They go with the less is more plan with her and she's just as effective as Bob's suit designer/confidant.
Looking back on the trailer, a lot of the more annoying moments actually ended up being some of the better bits of the movie. Bob trying to handle Jack-Jack's endlessly varied power set was hilarious and although the movie centres around Elastigirl, the war on the home front occupied my attention completely. I still did find some minor problems however. Incredibles 2 shows off Helen's abilities superbly and she capably anchors the film. But on the downside, I thought the movie betrayed Bob's abilities as a superhero. He defeated a robot in the original that killed dozens of other heroes, yet he can't handle someone who has never tested their abilities in the field? I approve that the movie put Mr. and Mrs. Incredible on more equal footing (I'm also good with Helen being the more professional hero which is what Incredibles 2 seems to insinuate) but they didn't have to bring Bob down to build up Helen. I wish we had gotten more opportunities to see the family fight together as a team. As the trailer shows, the family each has their moments but rarely as a group. It doesn't detract from the action but the fight scenes with the group together were wonderful in the original and I wanted more of that. I would also comment that a lot of the subtext is going to fly over a younger kid's head. Its nice that they include adult friendly banter about complex issues, all the best family movies can appeal both to adults and kids. But I doubt kids are going to understand much of the debate that fuels the villain's motivations.
I watched the original entry before going to see this and it only inflated high expectations. The Incredibles is a masterpiece and it should be regarded as one of the best superhero movies ever made. This movie had a lot to live up to and despite some minor stumbles, I think Incredibles 2 comes close. It boasts some phenomenal action, the animation is top notch and while some of the story elements were better handled then others, I still left the theatre impressed. At worst, I took a couple of small issues with the progression of some of the characters, which is a relatively minor complaint. If you've been waiting for another adventure with the Incredibles, I think you're going to be pleased. Pixar makes phenomenal movies when they're firing on all cylinders and this movie is no exception. I highly recommend this to fans of the original and newcomers alike.
Ocean's Eight (2018)
Rocky Execution but Manages a Clean and Successful Getaway
I don't know if anyone was asking for this movie, but I can understand the idea. I love a good heist film and while I really enjoy the previous Ocean movies, I walked into this one ready to give it a chance (I had low expectations, but I tried to be as impartial as I could). The plot centres around a recently paroled Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) getting a crew together to grab an expensive diamond necklace off the neck of celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). This includes her best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), con woman Tammy (Sarah Paulson) and pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina). With all the pageantry surrounding the Met Gala, a lot of this movie wasn't geared towards me, so I had to focus on the heist to get through the dull points. They do a few things differently which I liked but the movie is paced so slowly that my mind started to wander. Although the movie clearly had a sense of style (it was familiar, but it capably aped the previous Soderbergh movies) it needed a tighter edit or some funnier jokes.
Even if you're attached to the previous Ocean films, there's some interesting names in this cast that may pique your interest. Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Rihanna are big enough stars to draw people in by themselves, let alone in an ensemble. I'll get to the highest billed actresses but for me the standout was Anne Hathaway. She's great at playing a vapid and self-centred celebrity but she's beautiful and she's got great comic timing. Sandra Bullock was fine as Debbie Ocean, she was oddly restrained, and I wish she had gotten more chances to show her abilities. She's very confident but she never cuts loose and because of that she's a little robotic. Cate Blanchett was also solid as Lou and they played off each other as a pair well enough for you to buy them as best friends. After Anne, Helena Bonham Carter was my next favourite as disgraced fashion designer Rose Weil. She had her own way of making Rose pathetic, but she was fun to spend time with. She was more vulnerable than the rest of the cast and Helena sold how uncomfortable her character was taking on this burden. I felt sorry for some of the supporting members of the cast, I felt like Mindy Kaling (who can be very funny) got almost nothing to do. While Rihanna and Awkwafina might not be as experienced as Bullock, Blanchett and Sarah Paulson, they got few opportunities to stretch or play against type. I'll also give credit to James Corden whose appearance breathes life into the movie when Ocean's 8 start to wear out its welcome.
The biggest problem with Ocean's 8 is that the setup for the heist just fails to be interesting. The comedy (aside from Hathaway's bits) mostly falls flat and they lack the interesting characters to carry the movie until the action gets going. We don't get much backstory on any of our crew, even our main character Debbie is defined by missing her brother Danny and her anger at being betrayed by Claude (Richard Armitage). The previous movies in this franchise relied on the group chemistry of the cast and how eccentric the characters were. Ocean's 8 lacks those key ingredients. There are talented people here who do their job capably but instead of fire, there's only sparks. But when the heist finally propels the movie forward, things become more compelling (the heist isn't plausible but all you need is plausible deniability) and the comedy begins to gel. They also introduce a couple of twists that they think are more mysterious than they are, but they did add to my enjoyment of the movie. With an unexpected appearance by a former member of the franchise, the ending twist did put a smile on my face. It wasn't enough to elevate it to the level of the Soderbergh films, but it helped bring the grade up from passable to fun to watch.
I've been pretty critical, but I would also admit that Ocean's 8 was better than I was expecting. I saw this with a friend and we both walked out pleasantly surprised. This movie can be picked apart and coupled with the long runtime, it drags really badly at points. But I as a fan of the previous trilogy, I liked it more than I didn't, and my actual grade would be a 6.5/10. I want to go up to a 7 but with how long it took to get going, I'm rounding down to 6/10.
Hotel Artemis (2018)
Great Concept, Compelling Characters, Solid Screenwriting and Mixed Execution
The biggest star of Hotel Artemis is the central premise. The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista) run an exclusive hospital for criminals. This leads to an interesting clientele including a bank robber named Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), an assassin named Nice (Sofia Boutella) and an angry/arrogant arms dealer named Acapulco (Charlie Day). Taking place in the near future during large riots over water prices, the place is a fortress under the guise of being a hotel. I loved this idea even if its similar to the Continental in the John Wick franchise. These extreme and dangerous characters bouncing off each other was what made the movie fun. They're almost trapped together and each is used to being the alpha male/female so there's lots of tension. Each character is unique and has their own motivation and with the arrival of the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) imminent, this leads them into making dangerous decisions to escape what should be their sanctuary. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with all of these people even if I wouldn't want to be in the same room with them in real life. Hotel Artemis reminded me a lot of a 2016 movie named Free Fire, most of the characters are awful people trying to escape an unbelievable situation (Hotel Artemis is in the noir genre where Free Fire was more action oriented).
I was surprised that Hotel Artemis wasn't set in modern day. The movie doesn't fit into the science fiction genre but there effectively use some fragments of it. The characters are stuck in the Artemis because of riots over water shortages, that's not impossible in the future if you've been following the news about the drought in California. They also automate a lot of the medical procedures and are using 3D printers to produce organs, this may not be available now but again, its not as far away as you think. There's a lot of creativity when it comes to finding out how this hospital would work and I appreciated the thought that went into it. Add in that the production design was great and you have an appropriately grimy movie with imagination and solid cinematography.
If you love movies, I think you're going to see the names in this cast and be a little intrigued. You've got some TV stars in Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day and Brian Tyree Henry and some memorable character actors from summer blockbusters in Dave Bautista, Jeff Goldblum, and Sofia Boutella. At the centre is Jodie Foster as Nurse and I was really impressed with the work she did here. I thought she vanished into the character and performed well in a very atypical role for her. I thought Sterling K. Brown was great, his performance was so good I was wondering how he hasn't become a leading man in film yet. Sofia Boutella is playing a role suited to her as Nice but she does it well. She also gets a decent action scene toward the end. Charlie Day is also good at playing a scumbag and while his character's arrogance was irritating and I got tired of him shouting all his lines, that was the intended effect. Dave Bautista continues to grow as an actor and he actually had a lot of chemistry with Jodie Foster. Jeff Goldblum was pretty solid in an all too brief appearance and Jenny Slate was fine despite her character being lacklustre.
Getting to what I didn't like about Hotel Artemis, there are times I think the script for this really shines but there are points of more mixed execution. There are some really funny jokes but there are just as many times where the jokes or the dialogue falls flat. Hotel Artemis also has some characters that feel tacked on. I liked Jenny Slate's performance and I appreciated Zachary Quinto trying something different but their characters both could have been cut out of the plot. They also hype up the arrival of the Wolf King but his screen time is short and considering all the buildup, his arc fizzles instead of working like other parts of the Hotel Artemis plot.
Hotel Artemis features a great premise, some interesting characters and committed performances. It falters at points, the trailers sold a bunch of action that is barely present and I didn't think Hotel Artemis fully delivered on the potential it had. But I still enjoyed Hotel Artemis way more than I didn't, I think it stands out from similar titles (namely John Wick) and the focus on the characters pays off. It's a fun noir romp with some sci-fi touches thrown in. If you think the trailers are interesting or looking for something more low-key to take a break from blockbuster season, I would definitely recommend this.
Action Point (2018)
Action Point is Like Going to the Carnival for the 5th Time in a Week, a Disappointing and Completely Half-Baked Adventure
The positives of Action Point are few and far between. I liked the idea for this movie, lets try Jackass with a plot about an amusement park. Its cool that they decided to do Action Point as a period piece (you couldn't do it as a modern day movie which D.C. even points out). Also, as much as I wouldn't cast him in a Scorsese movie, Johnny Knoxville is still fun to watch. He has a certain kind of charm and there were a few points where we were laughing because of how well he sells his stunts. That's all the nice things I can say about Action Point.
Action Point is best summarized as if the Jackass movies tried to work in a coming-of-age story and lets save the rec centre as a through lines. I thought this was an interesting idea, if done right you could get the outrageous fun of Jackass with some effort to create an actual movie (I enjoy the Jackass movies but they're a collection of skits, there's no plot). The problem is that the plot is so simple and nonsensical that you can't form the emotional connection to D.C.'s (Johnny Knoxville) and Boogie's (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) relationship that the movie is counting on you to have. Why should I care if Boogie gets to go to the Clash concert? Why should I suspend my disbelief enough to buy these brutally incompetent villains not being able to shut this park down immediately? Should D.C. be the primary guardian for Boogie when it's obvious so many blows to the head have decreased his capability in almost everything? I came to watch the mayhem and if you're going to commit to a story, put in a more concerted effort to tell something interesting.
I don't want to say much about the acting, the cast as a whole is decent. I've already thrown some credit Knoxville's way and I liked the performance of Eleanor even if her character and her motivations were run-of-the-mill. The rest of the cast deserved better, to their credit they didn't just phone it in but I didn't think there were many standouts.
This movie was pretty bad but I never got angry with it. This was mainly due to the stunts, even if some of them were tame compared to Knoxville's previous work and they spoiled the best ones in the trailer. I'll also credit most of the cast (especially Knoxville and Eleanor Worthington-Cox) for putting some effort in (just past the bare minimum) when it would have been easy to just throw whatever up on the screen considering how weak the material turned out to be. I saw this with a friend and we agreed it was pretty bad but we got enough laughs to avoid calling the trip to the theatre a total waste. I can't recommend this movie though, if you want to see something wild, watch Knoxville and his crew's old stuff. If you're interested in this story, read up on the park that inspired the movie. Unless you're dying to see this, you're better off skipping Action Point.
Far Cry 5 (2018)
Tons of Choas and an Interesting Characters Trade Off for a Thin Plot and a Disappointing Ending
The concept of Far Cry 5 was the primary reason I picked up Far Cry 5 but a friend of mine recommended highly as well. I wasn't familiar with the Far Cry series but having played Far Cry 5, I loved the open world mechanics of it. I think it stacks up to the best in the genre (Rockstar's titles, Ubisoft's other franchises etc.). There's a chaotic nature to it that's a lot fun and there's always something going on. This is true of other open-world games, but I also loved the setting. Setting it in Montana, the lush forests and American Midwest setting offer a lot of unique wildlife and creative environments to travel through. It added to a different feel than other sandbox games I've played.
The plot of Far Cry 5 is best looked at one of two ways. The plot has a good setup, you're trying to dismantle the cult piece by piece (even if you have to ignore the plot hole that your character should be high-tailing it out of the state for help the first chance he/she gets) and take care of the villainous Joseph Seed and his lieutenants John, Jacob and Faith. You get the choice of which area to go to (its divided into 5 areas, each of the lieutenants controls a portion of the map then Dutch's island and the actual compound for Eden's Gate cult) and the game plays out in the same way no matter where you go. Other than taking these people out and saving your friends, there is no progression until you hit the ending conflict. This is too bad, but I think the game compensates by giving you interesting friends (my favourites being Cheesburger the bear, Peaches the cougar and Boomer the dog) and interesting villains. John, Jacob and Faith are all vile in different ways but they all suffered from various forms of abuse and Joseph preyed on that to indoctrinate them into his twisted way of thinking. You fight them, but I did find that I could either relate to them or sympathize with them even if it was just for fleeting moments. Joseph is a monster, but he was formed to be that as opposed to just being born that way. This is a trade off, but it was more than enough to keep me going.
The reactions to Far Cry 5 have been mixed and while some of that can be chalked up to the "politically" charged nature of it, I have to agree that the criticism of the ending is valid. The game offers 2 endings depending on a final choice (there's also a hidden ending that you can get at the beginning) and I picked the "true" ending. They leave you some bread crumbs to hint at it if you're listening to the radio, but I found it to be such a shock. I thought about it for a while and I do like the dark nature of it, but it doesn't seem to fit the rest of the game. It nullifies most of the story and while it didn't wreck the total experience, I didn't enjoy it and I agree with the negative reviews on this point. My final reaction was: "Did they really think this was the best way to end it?"
This is one of those games that comes down to a simple calculation for me. The pros outweigh the cons by a decent margin, even if it wasn't everything I wanted it to be. As someone who hadn't played any of the previous Far Cry games, this was fairly easy to pick up, it played in a different environment and gave me interesting friends and foes to bounce off of. The variation in the missions helped keep things fresh and I liked how I could do anything I wanted at any time. The trade off for the characters is that there isn't much progression in the plot and while I thought the ending is unique and very dark, it didn't work for me and I felt like I got sucker punched by it. I would still recommend this game, I'm going to be playing it again and while it wasn't the whole package, I'd grade it at around an 8.5/10. I'm rounding down because of the sour note it ended on.