Why does this exist other than to make Marvel $$$?
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.
Ahhhhhhhhhh yes. Another movie that could be summed up in two words: it's fine. But you don't come here for two word reviews, do you? So I will do my best to elaborate on this fine Ant-Man sequel. Ok so before you discount everything I'm going to say simply because I have superhero fatigue, (and I'll politely remind you about the fact that there are now 20 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 20!) keep in mind the fact that, after Thor: Ragnarok turned that franchise around, Ant-Man became the weakest superhero in Marvel's catalog. I think that's a pretty indisputable statement. And, unfortunately, Ant-Man and the Wasp is simply more of the same. If you liked the original, 2015’s Ant-Man, you'll like the sequel and have probably already tuned me out. And if you didn't care for it? Or found it ok, like I did? You'll find this one merely ok as well. However, combine this mediocrity with my cynical superhero fatigue, and you have one frustrated moviegoer.
So, let's start with the positives. Paul Rudd continues to be the best thing this franchise has to offer. His casual and light-hearted demeanor is perfect for a Marvel movie, and Paul Rudd delivers his humorous lines with the delivery you’ve come to expect from Paul Rudd. He made me laugh on several occasions, which is always nice. It's still very weird to see Michael Douglas in a superhero movie, but at the end of the day I’m still not complaining. And Michael Peña is still hilarious. How this dude is not a bonafide A-list star is beyond me. The film also features a decent villain, Ghost, and is portrayed exceptionally well by Hannah John-Kamen, but her motivations are rather shallow and pale in comparison to the previous three villains Marvel has put on screen. (Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War, Killmonger from Black Panther, and Hela from Thor: Ragnarok.) Honestly, Ghost falls into the “it's fine” category far as villains are concerned, but she is saved by Hannah John-Kamen’s performance, as well as some some good editing/CGI. Everyone else is…..fine, but there’s not much to speak of with them. (Including Evangeline Lilly….she’s fine but doesn’t stand out at all.) Outside of the performances….meh? The dialogue is pretty sharp, but I think that's benefited by the actors saying said dialogue. There's also some cool visuals littered throughout the movie. The film is a good showcase for what CGI can do in 2018, but it doesn't really push any boundaries, and the quantum realm it investigates still feels like it's “colorful simply for the sake of being colorful” so it doesn't really add to the film at all. And we don't have any over-the-top performances to entertain us like Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster did in Thor: Ragnarok, so….again. Meh?
When my “positives” paragraph gets mixed in with negatives, you know my cynical side is out in full force. But it's not my fault! Again, like with its predecessor, I felt like Ant-Man and the Wasp was not much more than a bottle episode for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, designed primarily to make Marvel / Disney as much money as humanly possible. And it will still make boatloads of money, despite the fact that this is the 20th installment in the MCU. The story feels like a boilerplate superhero story, and very little happens outside of this standard formula. The villains are boilerplate villains (the other villain of this film, Sonny Birch, was as boilerplate as they come and Walton Gibbons cliché portrayal didn't help matters) and the hero overcomes all adversity to win the day (and the girl) at film’s end. The only scene of consequence in this film occurs in the credits, which is a little frustrating because the events over other recent Marvel films could have (and should have) been utilized better here. Because of the placement of this scene, the sequence doesn't do much outside of wipe out the events of the entire movie preceding it, making this movie pretty useless at the end of the day. And that should be your biggest takeaway from Ant-Man and the Wasp: it has some witty dialogue and some decent visuals, but it adds very little to the overarching MCU. At the end of the day, your money is better spent elsewhere. Also, Stan Lee is in this movie. Again. Marvel seriously needs to stop with his cameos, PLEASE. There's no real reason to wait on seeing this Marvel film until it hits Netflix, (or Disney's impending streaming service) and there are plenty of other films in the theater right now that are more deserving of your money. Sooooo that's my roundabout way of saying “it’s fine” to sum up this Ant-Man sequel. And there's a lot better than “fine” at the movies right now.
My Number: 5/10 Average.
Quick Reviews, Summer 2018, Part 1: How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Hotel Artemis, The Incredibles 2, Tag, American AnimalsRead Now
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Let the past die
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): When the island's dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
Let me start by saying this: I had VERY low expectations heading into the latest installment to the Jurassic Park franchise. (There are now five of these damn things.) I was not a fan of the “reboot” of this franchise, 2015’s Jurassic World, primarily because it was a mindless popcorn flick that tried so hard to be more than that. The film tried to recapture the magic of the original Jurassic Park, which is (objectively) one of the best summer blockbusters ever made, and naturally looked like a complete fool in the process. HOWEVER, much to my amazement, after 25 years of living in the shadows of Jurassic Park, Universal Studios, Collin Trevorrow (who merely co-wrote this one….J.A. Bayona sat in the chair this time around) and everyone else involved finally accepted the reality: Jurassic Park will never be topped or followed up. And, instead of trying to live in its shadow, it does what every other sequel in this franchise should've done: it leans into the over-the-top, CGI dino porn aspect of it all and embraces the fact that it's nothing more than a mindless popcorn flick. That's right, folks: I actually liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I'm honestly just as surprised as you are.
Now, that's not say it's a great film by any means: there are PLENTY of eye-roll worthy moments that will likely bother me more on future viewings. On quite a few occasions I found myself thinking, “That's not how any of this works!" whether it be with things like "Chris Pratt crawls away from lava" or really anything relating to science in the movie. (There's a big one involving one character that from a science perspective is a huge revelation that the film could not be less interested in.) Ya, don't expect much in the science or ethics department. Also, the motivations of the villains are really dumb and one-dimensional. “Bad guys want to sell dinos and make money for the sake of making lots of money. And will stop at nothing because of money.” Several great actors are wasted because of this. (Looking at you, Toby Jones.) SPEAKING OF cashing it in, Jeff Goldblum. The dude phones in a totally unnecessary and silly reprisal of the classic Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park. I don't even know why he's here! For the marketing, of course, but not much else. Finally, there's a huge moment at the very end of the film (that helps to justify the inevitable sixth installment) that had the potential to be a wonderfully complex and emotional ethical quandry. It was the only time I thought the film was really trying to tackle the ethical questions that Jurassic Park addressed so effectively, which (naturally) led to a SOLID swing-and-a-miss from writers Trevorrow (who may be the worst thing about this franchise) and Derek Connolly. Like, swing-and-look-like-Bartolo-Colon kind of swing-and-a-miss. But, it sets up a TOTALLY absurd sequel that I'm actually excited to see. Because the rest of this movie is just plain, Fast and Furious-esque fun.
Also, PSA moviegoers: I do not understand why parents think it's a good idea to take their five year old kids to this movie. These dinos are scary! Unless your kid really wants to go to this thing, don't force them to it. It's not as bad as something like Deadpool, but there are plenty of horror-esque moments to be found, and there were several crying kids that had to be escorted out by their parents in my screening. Just because you wanna see it doesn't mean your kids want to! Anyway, moving on.
The "fun" aspect is where Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom excels. It's just that: fun, (mindless fun, but fun is fun is fun is fun) and that's really all J.A. Bayona and co. are going for this time around. My enjoyment of it starts with the cinematography. Mad kudos to cinematographer Oscar Faura, who didn't hold back at all with the totally ridiculous over-the-top shots. (One good example is in the trailer and the pic I used for the banner of this review-a wideshot of a T-Rexstanding over a dead dinosaur while a giant volcano erupts in the background. Why is this T-Rex still hunting as the island he lives on is literally exploding? Who cares, honestly.) This film is full of visual overload-shots that Michael Bay dreams about but could never execute because Faura somehow manages to keep the frame chaotic but comprehensible. Oscar Faura honestly makes this film for me, and seeing it in IMAX made these absurd shots that much better. Universal also realized that they had two charming leads on their hands that they didn't let be themselves last time around, so they changed that: Bryce Dallas Howard (in her boots instead of heels, which the film made sure to remind us of) and Chris Pratt are both really solid. They bring a great blend of charisma, wit, and the wherewithal to actually get out the situations they find themselves in. Even better are franchise newcommers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda. While Smith did occasionally have the stupid moment, he's still a far cry from Jake Johnson. (Not to mention Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins…..yikes remember when that was a thing?) Daniella Pineda, though, stole the show. Her trash-talking, fend-for-herself, no holds-barred portrayal of Zia was extraordinarily topical for the times. (Her character even called herself a “nasty woman” at one point.) She made this film that much more entertaining to watch, and that's really all that matters. This is the first thing I've ever seen Pineda in, but I suspect it won't be the last.
Finally, the biggest strength of this film is what I've been alluding to this whole time: after 25 years, the filmmakers actually decided to lean into the mindless popcorn flick aspect of it all. The film rapidly transitions from one major CGI dino setpiece to the next, only slowing the pacing to take a breath in the final act. (Primarily to set up the next one.) Unlike its predecessor, which featured a lot of eye-roll-worthy moments leading up to its final exhilarating sequence, this film effectively intersperses many fun and exciting sequences among the eye-rolling moments. Many will probably say this film is “the death of the franchise” because it's the one where the filmmakers finally gave up trying to be like Jurassic Park and embraced being a big, stupid, dino movie. I can understand where they’re coming from. I now hold this franchise in the same realm as something like The Fast and the Furious. If you read that and felt like banging your head against your desk, I get it. It takes time to go through the five stages of grief. But if you can reach that fifth stage, if you can accept the fact that this franchise will never even set foot on the volcanic mountain that 1993’s Jurassic Park stands atop of again, you'll have a good time (maybe even great time) with this latest installment. I've accepted this franchise for what it is now - well-made and executed CGI dino porn - and had a shocking amount of fun because yes, this movie is a mindless blast to watch and an over-the-top exhilarating spectacle. I'm not looking for much more out of a summer blockbuster nowadays. You may still want this franchise to deliver a follow-up worthy of the 1993 classic, but if you let the past die (kill it, if you have to) and accept this franchise for what it is today, I have very little doubt that you're gonna have a good time. Jurassic Park is dead. Welcome, to Jurassic World.
The Critique: After 25 years of trying to set foot on the mountain Jurassic Park stands atop of, the franchise has finally embraced what it was destined to become: epic, over-the-top shots of CGI dinos just being awesome. If you can accept what this franchise has become, you're gonna have a surprisingly good time.
The Recommendation: If you've hit that wonderful final stage of grief, it's well worth a watch on the biggest screen you can find. If not, stay away and complain about how bad it is in the comfort of your own home when it hits Redbox.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
My Number: 7/10 Good
It'll haunt you to your core
Hereditary (2018): When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
Wow. What a film. So before I even start talking about Hereditary, do yourself a favor: if you have even passing interest in horror, drop everything and go see it right now. This film is EASILY the best horror film since 2015's classic It Follows, with the same levels of fear and terror attached to it all while being significantly more daring and creative in its storytelling. It Follows made its scares on the viewer being able to see the monster methodically and deliberately walking towards its main characters, while Hereditary does basically the exact opposite. Rather, Hereditary takes a The Blair Witch Project-esque route and has its supernatural being be implied and, for the most part, off-screen. This is a significantly harder kind of scary to pull off, (the big pop scare from It Follows is still etched into my very soul) but first time director/writer Ari Aster (OSCAR! Is this seriously his first film? Well done, A24) delivers the kind of "haunt you to your bones" kind of scary that many horror fans, including yours truly, have been yearning for. So, I'll say again: if you have even a mild interest in the genre, go see it now, and deal with the consequences later. I mean, it's worth it, right?
So let's talk about Toni Collette. The veteran actress is erratic and irrational as lead character Annie Graham. She goes all-in for this role and delivers an unforgettable performance that is as meticulous as it is insane. This is by far the best performance I've seen in 2018 so far, and probably the best performance I've seen in a horror movie from a veteran actor, ever. The recognizability of the Oscar nominated actress brings with it a certain level of expectations for the role, but the raw audacity of her performance blows all those expectations out of the water. The looks on Annie Graham's face at several points in this film is etched into my very soul, and we all have Toni Collette to thank for that. (If you've seen the film, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about too.) Newcommer Milly Shapiro (another great find for A24) is haunting as daughter Charlie, (kudos to the makeup team on this one too) and Alex Wolff delivers the performance of his young career (previously seen in the massively underrated My Friend Dahmer) as son Peter. But the real hero here is first time feature director/writer Ari Aster. (Which is still impossible to comprehend for me, Oscar. I don't believe you.)
The craft here is simply masterful to watch, and the story is as daring as it is creative. This story has proved to be decisive among audiences - the film currently boasts a D+ on CinemaScore, somehow - but I believe the truly great works of cinema often are divisive when they're immediately released. (Let's not forget The Blair Witch Project, now considered a pioneer in the horror genre, was criticized upon release as well.) The scares here are not the mainstream "in-your-face pop scare!" kind. There's very little "slow pan right where a demonic creature is standing, then disappears to build tension" kind of cheap shots. You actually hardly ever see the monster, so for those of you that are skittish at the idea of jump scares, you can rest easy (somewhat) knowing that there are very few of them here. (I wrote a piece on the current norms of the horror industry centering around Unfriended - which is now getting a sequel, proving my point further - which Hereditary does everything it can to break.) No, the scares here are the thoughtful, resonating kind. The kind that keeps you up at night looking at the ceiling in a restless trance rather than staring at the door. The ones that you affiliate directly with the movie, versus just creating some demonic presence in your mind that is whatever you want it to be. These, are the best kinds of scary.
The story here is brilliant, but not necessarily designed for mainstream audiences. There were people laughing towards the end at some points in my screening, and the people sitting next to me couldn't help but comment about how much they hated the thing when it was all said and done. (Hence that D+ CinemaScore) My only complaint about it (and really about the film in general) is the fact that Ari Aster felt the need to overexplain things a few times. (I'm guessing this was a mandate from A24 when they realized they had one of the best films they've ever released on their hands and wanted to market the crap out of it to as mainstream an audience as they could.) There are a few cumbersome voiceovers that are basically just describing what you're seeing at that moment that were distracting and unnecessary, and of course we had to get the stereotypical "Character A finds a book and reads aloud the thing that's going on for the audience to understand" sequence. Also, the film has a lot of technology in it, and it's unfortunate that given how innovative this film is in other aspects that Aster didn't do much from an editing standpoint to show the technology to the audience in a creative way, but that's a rather trivial complaint. This film is absolutely brilliant - the best I've seen so far this year - and if you have even a minor soft spot for horror it's well worth the watch as.....yes. This is the best horror film I've seen in at least a decade. Move over, It Follows.
The Critique: Lead by a brilliant performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is the best film of 2018 so far and the best horror film of the decade with its unorthodox "haunt you in your bones" style.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for horror fans if you haven't seen it already.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
This is what a popcorn flick should be
Ocean's 8 (2018): Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City's yearly Met Gala.
For those of you who think I can't have fun watching a movie anymore, I present to you Ocean’s 8. This movie is a BLAST. Sleek, shiny, lighthearted and exciting. Does it have some shortcomings? Sure, but Ocean's 8 is already making a strong case for the best summer film of 2018 (it certainly is so far) because it embodies everything a summer popcorn flick should be, and it knows it too. (Which I think is the most important part.) When you're looking for some a/c to get out of the heat, you're not looking for a film trying to make a grand statement on society, or some deeper theme or meaning....you're just looking for some good ol' fashion fun. And that's exactly what Ocean's 8 is.
Now, since you know we can't have all the nice things, there were a few things that didn't work. First off, the movie does slow down a bit during the third act. During this final act, the film introduces a new element that, given everything leading up to this point in the film, should work really well. However, for some reason it feels largely wasted as the plot is wrapping itself up. This new element also takes away from the diverse and interesting core group of characters, instead taking a rather safe and predictable track from a writing standpoint. It was a good idea in practice, (obviously I'm trying not to spoil, but those who have seen it probably know what I'm talking about here) but the execution was rather lackluster, especially given how enjoyable the other core characters were. Additionally, this film lacks the... "shine" of Steven Soderbergh's classic Ocean's Eleven. I think director Gary Ross was trying to go for that Soderbergh look with the lighting and production design, as well as the witty dialogue, but here it does feel like someone trying to imitate someone else at times versus be its own thing. But I really only felt that way at a few different moments, like the fact that the opening here mimicked the opening of Ocean's Eleven, or the fact that some of the one-on-one scenes between Debbie Ocean (Bullock) and Lou (Blanchett) resembling the interactions between Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty. (Pitt) Otherwise, though, I wasn't thinking all that much about this film's predecessor's. For the most part, Ocean's 8 does feel like its own thing versus walking among the shadows.
One of the strongest aspects of Ocean's 8 is the depth of its main characters. Every one of the core members of the heist have a memorable and unique personality to varying extents, and are all given adequate screen time to flesh out said personalities. My favorite was Constance, played wonderfully by the erratic and unpredictable Awkwafina. I freaking loved Constance, and Awkwafina brought an incredible amount of swagger and individuality to the role. Fortunately, Bullock was able to lived up to the pressure of having to play a relative of one of the most charismatic individuals ever seen in a film. (It's no easy thing to have to say you're film-related to George Clooney and carry that burden of responsibility.) Finally, there are a ton of cameos in this (to an almost distracting extent) but there's one from the original Ocean's trilogy that's one of the better cameos I've seen recently in film because it actually played into the plot of the film. In the final cut it's a rather subtle cameo that may be missed by casual Ocean's fans, but it was a savvy choice from screenwriters Ross/Olivia Milch. Unfortunately, after the reveal of this cameo it made me wish that the third act had instead been spent developing this cameo a bit more as opposed to the one it did develop. A real missed opportunity, yes, but it's certainly a good thing to be wishing for more screen time in any film. Also, gotta say that I loved the score here from Daniel Pemberton. He does a great job of imitating David Holmes's incredibly underrated score from Ocean's Eleven, while still bringing a good amount of originality to the betting table.
That's actually a good way to sum up Ocean's 8. For the most part, it does a good job of imitating its predecessors while still bringing a good amount of originality to the roulette table. (I'll be here all night) I had an absolute blast watching this film, and I think it's well worth the watch if you're into a good ol’ fashion popcorn flick disguised as a fun, lighthearted heist film. This summer has consisted mostly of mediocrity to this point, but Ocean's 8 is easily the best blockbuster so far, and it's one that's not to be missed.
The Critique: Featuring a strong cast that packs a ton of unique personality, Ocean's 8 is as fun and lighthearted a popcorn flick that you'll be able to see this summer.
The Recommendation: I really don't think anyone would dislike this one, and it's a light PG-13 too, so bring the whole family!
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
More of the same, but is that a bad thing?
Deadpool 2 (2018): Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.
It's tough capturing lightning in a bottle twice. The original Deadpool took the world by storm and was a box office smash, crushing all R-rated box office records and paving the way for the R-rated superhero movie. So does Deadpool 2 successfully follow up the formula of its predecessor? Well…..yes and no. It feels like something of a cop out doing the exact same thing again. But hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it right? The formula of Deadpool is light and fun with a ton of strong jokes littered through its 119 minute runtime. Personally, I think this is exactly what a superhero movie should be. (See Thor: Ragnarok)
That said, it's not without faults. The biggest of which involves the fact that TJ Miller is STILL involved with this project. Seriously?? If All the Money in the World could remove a top billed actor in 6 weeks, then Deadpool 2 could've easily removed TJ Miller in the 6+ months they had since he was caught on the wrong side of the #MeToo movement. And he was featured heavily in the marketing campaign as well! Miller's brand of stoner humor is easily replaceable, and if Silicone Valley could figure out a creative way to write him out of their show, (before the bad stuff about him even came to light, I might add) then Deadpool 2 could've easily done the same. Speaking of marketing campaigns, I was disappointed at how little the X-Force was actually utilized in the film. Yes, they get some really good jokes out of the group, but there was absolutely a lot more content there that they let slip by, and for how much they were featured in the marketing it felt a little….lazy to me. Speaking of, there is some lazy writing in this film.... to the point that Deadpool breaks the fourth wall to point that out a few times. Yes, it's funny the first time, but that crap gets real old, real fast.
There are a lot of positives here too. For starters, Cable is a rather interesting villain, and is played well by Josh Brolin. He's basically playing himself here, but that's honestly better than “Thanos without the makeup.” Which would've been easy to do with his two superhero villain portrayals coming out a mere two weeks apart. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but I swear it's not. I really like Josh Brolin, so I have no problem with seeing him play himself. And the writing behind his character is really strong, despite his origins being straight out of Terminator. But his character arc and relationship with Deadpool plays out in an interesting and (relatively) unique way. Also, Zazie freaking Beetz. Her breakout performance as Domino is easily the best part of this film. If the Atlanta star isn't overloaded with work after her smart, sleek, and snarky portrayal of the lucky heroine, then I don't know what will do it. If you're really into discovering new superheros, then Domino is worth the cost of admission alone.
You may have noticed that I haven't really mentioned Deadpool to this point. That's because his character is where the “more of the same” mantra really applies. Yes, Ryan Reynolds is funny, but he doesn't experience much of a character arc or really any sort of variability from his character in part 1. (Other than a major thing that happens at the start of the film that puts him on the "revenge" path.) It's just…..more of the same. Which is an easy way to summarize Deadpool 2. If you were a fan of the first one, you'll be a fan of this one. But if you're not? Or jf you're becoming cynical with the sheer volume of comic book films being released? At best, you'll shrug and move on. At worst, you'll nod your head disapprovingly. As for me? *shrugs*
My Number: 6/10
Quick Reviews, Spring 2018, Part 3: You Were Never Really Here, The Death of Stalin, RBG, Fahrenheit 451, UpgradeRead Now
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Already Becoming burned out
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018): During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
Another year, another Star Wars film as the Disney empire sinks its teeth further into the beloved franchise. Now, until this point, I haven't really felt any sort of burnout from these unnecessary films. However, I really started to feel it here as Solo reached the end of act 3 and it became painstakingly apparent that there was going to be a sequel made. (I really hope you don't think that's a spoiler.) Word is they're going to make a trilogy out of this spin-off, and I'm just like....why? Who asked for this? Sure, there's a pretty awesome cameo at the end that will have a bigger role in the inevitable sequel, but my cynical side just won't let this one go. I freaking love Star Wars, (and still fully believe The Last Jedi is the best installment in the franchise since Empire) but now we're getting trilogies out of already unnecessary origin stories. Could you imagine if an IP like Harry Potter drew an origin story out to 5 parts? Wait. They're doing that too..... Uhhhhhh...... Anywho, I don't mind studios betting on sure things. I promise I don't. And Solo does everything a sure-thing studio film should do. It's fun, lighthearted, and charming. The charisma oozes off it leads Alden Ehrenreich (Solo) and his counterpart Donald Glover, (Lando) and the film has a wonderfully over-the-top villain played by Paul Bettany. (Dryden Vos) But, the cynicism is already starting to set in, (I blame Marvel films) and the fact that these unnecessary spin-offs aren't going anywhere anytime soon doesn't do much to help quell it. But, cynicism aside, it's time to look at what's in front of us and talk about Solo: A Totes Necessary Star Wars Story. Ok, now cynicism aside.
First off, let's talk about the good. Alden Ehrenreich is TERRIFIC as Han Solo. I was really worried that he wouldn't be able to fill the shoes of one of Hollywood's greats in Harrison Ford, but Ehrenreich's Solo is just as charming and charismatic while also being a little bit more raw and unrefined that Ford's was. Which makes sense because a younger Han Solo should be exactly that. Ehrenreich had huge shoes to fill, and he did so marvelously while making himself the best thing about the film in the process. (Which is good since he's literally the title of the movie.) I also loved Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos. Bettany was clearly having a blast playing a character where we could actually see his face (for once) and made sure to remind us that he can play a terrific villain. His character description wasn't much deeper than "crazy" but I'm more than ok with that. I couldn't help but grin ear to ear whenever he was on screen. Speaking of grinning.....Donald freaking Glover was just as sleek and sexy as Lando Calrissian as I'd hoped he would be. Though I will say there were times where it felt like Glover was really straining to play a character, whereas Ehrenreich felt more at home in the lead role. But that's ok because it's Donald Glover and the man is just so freaking beautiful. I mean, look at that face! Just look at it!
Oh! And Phoebe Waller-Bridge delivered some great one-liners as L3-37. Can't forget to mention that. They seemed to be improv'd too, (may have been a relic of the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller version of the movie) and led to easily the funniest moments of the film. I am not familiar with Phoebe Waller-Bridge at all to this point, but I sure am now.
Story-wise....eh? I think there's more faults than pluses to be had here. Emilia Clarke's character, Qi'ra, is where the fact that this is ultimately "Part 1" of a trilogy becomes painstakingly obvious, as her character receives very little development or backstory. Least, I hope her character is more fleshed out in Part 2, because if not then it's part of another big problem in Solo: all the female characters are incredibly shallow. There are basically two female characters, and neither receive much of anything resembling a backstory, and both are in relationships with the leading men. It does feel like kind of a step back for a franchise which has usually been pretty close to the forefront of Hollywood when it comes to having diverse characters. Technically, though, is where my biggest complaints with this film lie. The lighting / color palette of the production design here is downright awful. I know it wasn't our specific room because when there was FINALLY a shot outside in daylight, everything was fine! But some of these artistic choices made the film borderline unwatchable. You just couldn't see anything! They even managed to make the scenes in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon dark. How are cockpit scenes in the Millennium Falcon in The Last Jedi or even in the original trilogy better than these? HOW? Finally, the score was mediocre at best when it wasn't ripping off the original saga melodies. John Williams has already said he's done with Star Wars after Episode IX, and seeing what Michael Giacchino did with Rogue One and now John Powell with Solo does not make me confident that the series will be able to continue to deliver the iconic themes it has given us in the past.
All in all, Solo is a mixed bag for me, and when you add the fact that it's kicking off a new origin trilogy for the Disney moneymaking machine does not make me too enthused with the end product here. It's fine, but I don't want my Star Wars films to be just "fine." I leave that for the now 19 (!) Marvel Cinematic Universe films we have. It is a little better than Rogue One, admittedly, (which I was too high on when it came out) but so far neither of these spin-offs have wowed me to the point that I feel like they are actually necessary installments to this beloved franchise. They just feel like they exist solely to make money for the Disney empire. Call me cynical, but as a great man once said....that's, just like, your opinion, man.
The Critique: Despite a terrific performance from Alden Ehrenreich in the title role, Solo falls short of greatness thanks to shallow female characters, its open-ended storyline, and an unbearable color palette.
The Recommendation: You really don't need to see this one in the theater. Wait until its on a streaming service. Never thought I'd be saying that so soon about a Star Wars film....
The Verdict: 5.5/10 Slightly Above Average
A Charming Adult Comedy
Tully (2018): A mother of three hires a night nanny to help with her newborn.
Tully is a beautiful little film starring the wonderful Charlize Theron and reunites director Jason Reitman with Diablo Cody. The two have previously worked on films like Juno and Young Adult, which now creates something of a trilogy of motherhood, with Juno tackling the insecurity of being pregnant in your teenage years and Young Adult tackling coming to grips with leaving your perceived “best years of your life” behind for what's ahead. Tully focuses on motherhood and is a wonderful adult comedy in a space that is sorely lacking some quality content. Is it a game-changing film? No. But it is still a humorous journey that will leave you in a contemplative state of mind. It also happens to be the perfect date film in cinemas right now.
The best part of the film has to go to the breakthrough performance of Mackenzie Davis. She plays the title character and has a glowing persona that was mesmerizing to watch. The presence of Tully is felt regardless of whether she's actually on screen or not, and the level of sincerity Davis approaches the character makes her grounded and believable. If it's not the breakthrough performance Mackenzie Davis needs to really vault her into A-list celebrity status, then I don't know what is. Speaking of A-listers, Charlize Theron is her usual, wonderful self here as Marlo. She is on a roll recently with raw and unpolished roles between this and 2017’s underappreciated Atomic Blonde. Ron Livingston brings it too but his character is (justifiably) pushed to the side in favor of Marlo and Tully's relationship. The writing (until the final 15 minutes) is very sharp and grounded. There's one scene in the middle of the film that is rather tonally jarring, but otherwise the writing never strays very far from the theme, which I appreciated. Until the end.
Unfortunately, the ending of this film also happened to be the weakest part for me. While I think many will be willing to accept what is revealed in the final minutes, the “Sixth Sense” kind of twist that is included felt like nothing more than a distraction to me that detracts from the overall narrative. Does that mean it's bad? No. It just comes out of left field and went against the overall theme of the film in my eyes. However, your mileage will vary, and while the ending prevented the movie from achieving greatness in my eyes, the journey was still enjoyable and funny. It'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry. It'll make you yearn for your younger years while also reminding you to be grateful for what you have now. At the end of the day, isn't that basically what every film sets out to achieve?
My Number: 7/10
Bloated Entertainment With Some Painful Faults
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
The following is my best attempt at a spoiler free review, however there will be a spoiler section at the end. Think of it as a post credits scene? Does that work? Ya, we'll go with that.
It's here! 10 years and billions of dollars in revenue later, Marvel finally drops the penultimate chapter of its original vision started 10 years ago in Avengers: Infinity War. I went into this with relatively low expectations: after all, it is part 1 of a 2 part film story, (with the untitled second part coming in 2019) and the film features over 70 characters....45 of which were main characters in previous stories. It is basically impossible to have any sort of meaningful character developmen in a 2.5 hour film when you have that many main characters. Fortunately, though, I was pleasantly surprised at what the Russo brothers were able to conjure up here. Infinity War is very bloated and slightly overlong with some erratic pacing, but it is a very enjoyable ride nonetheless. It's far from "the greatest thing since sliced bread," (and I think those saying that it is will change their tone once the grandeur of it all wears off) but it's still a fun superhero movie that never felt unwelcome or unnecessary, and builds to a great "water cooler" moment in the final act. So, without further ado, let's talk about the good and bad of the latest from the behemoth known as Marvel!
The undeniable highlight of this film is in the principal villain, Thanos. Played by Josh Brolin in what is EASILY the best CGI character portrayal in cinema history, (and the standard going forward for the potential of these characters-seriously, where was this for poor Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse?) Thanos is the best villain Marvel has ever put on film. He's menacing and diabolical, but his belief that he's trying to do the righteous thing in committing mass genocide really grounds him in something palpable and almost even relatable. After all, most people committing evil and heinous acts believe they are doing the right thing, so this motivation makes Thanos feel actually real and not just a cardboard cutout villain. Even if there are some frustrating shortcomings to his character arc. I also really enjoyed some of the pairings the Russo brothers and (credited) screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely chose. I'll omit who's paired with who in case someone thinks that's a spoiler, but I enjoyed basically all of them, and it made an otherwise kind of slow developing first/second act fun and enjoyable. The humor was hit-and-miss for me this time around, but when it hit I was laughing pretty hard. Though it's safe to say the Russo brothers should've brought in Thor: Ragnarok's director, Taiki Waititi, to help with some of the jokes. And how about the score? The Marvel execs finally realized that having a memorable score can boast the overall film. I found myself humming along to the great Avengers theme on more than one occasion. Only took them 19 films to realize they had a great theme that they should feature heavily in the score! Better late than never, right? Finally, the cinematography behind the final climactic setpiece (the one from the trailers) was awesome. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch did a great job showing the chaos of this final setpiece while also showing all the heroes involved kicking butt and taking names. If only the cinematography of the other big setpieces were as good....
Great segue to the bad, right? I know, I do my best. So we gotta talk about shaky cam, for some strange reason. It's 2018, guys. Why hasn't every director in Hollywood, let alone the Russo brothers, realized that SHAKY CAM SUCKS AND DOESN'T ADD ANYTHING TO AN ACTION SEQUENCE. STOOOOOP IT. The shaky cam, combined with horrendously fast editing (seemingly every frame has an edit at points) makes some of the early setpieces almost indecipherable. I don't understand why this is still a thing. No, adding shaky cam and incoherent cuts does not add to the tension of an action scene. I thought we established this like 10 years ago! STOP IT. Also, freaking Stan Lee is in this, which really ticked me off. The fact that a bunch of people cheered at his cameo was equally frustrating. Remember the part where he was accused of sexual harassment? I do. I really thought they were gonna remove his cameo after that, but I guess its harder to remove prominent white men in power than I initially thought. GET STAN LEE OUT OF THIS UNIVERSE. However, my biggest problem with the film is this: the movie builds to a great final moment (that is executed marvelously) but along the way sacrifices a lot of character arcs to get there. It felt like the last 20 pages of this script were written first, and the crew worked backwards from there. There are several major head scratching moments along the way, particularly surrounding Gamora and Doctor Strange. Yes, I get that the film is leading to its big final moment, but I think a few of these sequences could've been done in a much better way than they were. Also, because the film features almost 50 main characters, no one really has an identifiable character arc outside of Thanos, and his is good, but not great. I expected that, but it doesn't change the fact that that's exactly what happened.
I've stopped thinking of Marvel films as, well, films. To me, they're big budget 2 hour film episodes, and Infinity War is the "stuff goes down" episode of the show. Its easy for us to go back and say The Red Wedding is the best moment of Game of Thrones, but if someone just watched that episode without any context they wouldn't appreciate it, and thus be able to identify its faults as an individual episode, as much as a Game of Thrones fan would. I also fear that this film will ultimately meet a similar fate that many other "Part One" films do, and given its big final moment, it seems hard to envision a reality where it doesn't. (I'm trying so hard not to spoil anything, guys) This is why I think most people will ultimately feel the way I do about Infinity War. It's bloated and enjoyable, yes....but when the grandeur wears off, its problems become painstakingly apparent. It does require two watches to take it all in, but after that just wait to see what Part 2 does before revisiting.
The Critique: Anchored by a terrific villain, Avengers: Infinity War brings the bloated Marvel Cinematic Universe to a thrilling penultimate conclusion, despite some painful faults along the way and serious risk of falling into irrelevancy by the upcoming Part 2.
The Recommendation: See it twice, then table it until the next part comes out.
Rewatchability: TBD by Part 2
The Verdict: 6.5/10
SPOILER ALERT: BELOW ARE SPOILERS FOR INFINITY WAR. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Ok, so, Thanos succeeds, and half the universe dies. It's a great moment, sure, but seems impossible to last beyond Part 2. Most of the new Marvel characters that will be leading the way in Phase 4 disappear, which makes it inevitable to me that they will be brought back thanks to the time stone. (or something else) Black Panther just made Marvel a bajillion dollars. Do you really think they're not going bring Chadwick Boseman back for a sequel? And we already have a third Guardians movie confirmed and another Spider-Man film coming. Do you really think they're going to do the later without Tom Holland? Or the former without Chris Pratt? Of course not! Yes, you could go really savage and say that the heroes could be replace, but these actors delivered iconic performances in these films, and would be a big reason the film would still make a boatload in the future. Maybe they do nothing but origin stories pre-Thanos, but with the time stone on the playing field, I just don't see that being in Marvel's future. And if they do just use the time stone to undo the actions of Thanos here, it'll make this film completely irrelevant. Also, Thanos conveniently having feelings for the soul stone and Doctor Strange giving up the time stone instead of, you know, using it to go back in time and do that battle over again was dumb. And where was Thor at the end when literally every other Avenger was taking on Thanos? Yes, these are all plot devices to get to ensure Thanos succeeds and we have that final moment, but that doesn't mean they could have done it better. Thor's god-ax was as wasted as Vision's character was, and if it doesn't go anywhere in Part 2 then that plotline was as irrelevant as the casino plotline in The Last Jedi. Except without any meaningful character development. Just Peter Dinklage. (Though I do want Vision / Scarlet Witch's love story now. Let's make that a thing, eh, guys? Phase 5 or 6 maybe?) Finally, if Captain Marvel is going to be a thing in Part 2, what was she doing in Part 1? Was she just not around any kind of technology, or civilization, to realize all of this was going on? Given that her character is basically Marvel's Superman, she runs a real risk of simply being nothing more than a "god card" against Thanos that could've been used in Part 1 but wasn't since, you know, we gotta have a Part 2! Because money. Who knows. Maybe Marvel will stick to its guns and actually allow Thanos to wipe out half the universe. If so, it'll make Part 1's staying power be that much better. I just don't see it.
A Quiet Place
Quick Reviews, Spring 2018, Part 1: Tomb Raider, 7 Days in Entebbe, Isle of Dogs, Best F(r)iends, UnsaneRead Now
7 Days in Entebbe
Best F(r)iends: Volume One
Mindless fun at its very best
Ready Player One (2018): When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune
This post initially started as a Raw Thoughts piece then became a full review. The Raw Thoughts came to you from Brothers Bar & Grill immediately after seeing the film.
Wow. This movie is a lot of fun. The latest from Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is a beautiful and pulse-pounding tribute to the world of science fiction. It's told in video game-esque style (which may not be for everyone) and looks absolutely stunning as it moves from sequence to sequence. The huge action setpieces are the centerpiece of the film, and is where it truly shines. Michael Bay wishes he could make setpieces that look this good. While there are a few problems with the film, (one in particular stands out…. We'll get there) this is a must-see for anyone who has even a slight liking of sci-fi, or really anyone who has a soft spot for the 80s. This is Spielberg at his best.
I'm gonna start with the negatives this time around. My biggest problem with this film is not with something it did. Rather, it's with something it didn't do: T.J. Miller. Why the F is he in this? Yes, he's funny here as one of the villains. T.J. Miller being funny is nothing new. However, he's been accused of sexual assault, and if the live-action All the Money in the World could replace Kevin Spacey in 6 weeks, Ready Player One absolutely could've removed T.J. Miller. C'mon, guys! Other than that, my issues with this film are relatively minor. Some of the dialogue is a little weak and leaves a bit to be desired. The ending sees a massive 180 in the main villain that isn't even remotely earned, and is just there because Spielberg wanted one more “gasp!” moment. Also, the easter eggs are fun, but if you are looking for any depth to them at all, move along. You won't find it here, and I do think that will turn some people off. But these complaints (outside of T.J. Miller being a thi-OSCAR! How is T.J. Miller still a thing? Can we stop that, please??) are relatively minor in scale for me. The rest of this film is amazing, and I love it.
Let's start with the effects. The VFX of this film is definitely its calling card, and well worth the price of admission. I stuck around through the credits to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of people that contributed to making the VFX of this film, which combines stunning special effects with motion capture in a way that we haven't really seen before. I'd say expect to see a Best Visual Effects nomination for this come Oscars 2019, but then again I though Dunkirk / The Shape of Water were going to be nominated this year so what do I know? But this film is built on some incredible visual effects, so SURELY I'll get this one right. Anyway, the film also has some amazing motion capture performances from Tre Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. These two are spectacular, and are certainly making a name for themselves here. (Though all I could think of was Cooke’s deadpan performance from Thoroughbreds when I saw her on screen here. She's definitely a lot more fun to watch in that film.) Spielberg really tugs on your nostalgia strings, and I couldn't help but grin ear-to-ear at some of the reference. Like when the Iron Giant takes on mecha-Godzilla. Who doesn't want to see that? Or how about an entire sequence in The Shining? If you've been living under a rock for the last 3 decades and have no idea what any of these things are, it's safe to say you will be extremely lost during this film. But I caught a lot of them, and had a blast watching this film. Sometimes, it's nice to turn the brain off and enjoy a fun popcorn flick.
End of the day, Ready Player One is a technical marvel, and well worth a watch on the big screen. While it doesn't feel as groundbreaking as something like Dunkirk, the fact that I think this film is almost on par with arguably the greatest technical film to date certainly bodes well in this department for Ready Player One. Sure, this film is ultimately "just" mindless fun. The screenplay is a little weak overall in between the big setpieces. The romance between Wade (Sheridan) and Samantha (Cooke) is.....shallow, to say the least. And the 180 from the villain (played by villain actor Ben Mendelsohn) at the end is silly. But it's a lot of fun to watch, and I'll defend it the same stubborn way I do the Fast and Furious franchise. (Don't give me any grief about that, Oscar!) If you're even remotely a fan of science fiction, drop everything and go see this. Even if you're not, I think there's a lot to like here. See it with confidence knowing you're seeing one of the best films of 2018 so far.
The Critique: Ready Player One is the popcorn flick at its very best, featuring exhilarating action sequences and spectacular visuals, despite a rather shallow screenplay.
The Recommendation: If you're a sci-fi fan, it's a must-watch. If you're a fan of '80s films it's a must-watch. Everyone else? I say check it out, but you may not have as much fun as you would if you fell into either of the former categories.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Someone forgot about the Kaiju
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018): Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
Hey, Oscar! I have a really good idea for a Pacific Rim sequel. Now, bear with me for a second because FOR SOME REASON this is really hard for Universal//Legendary to wrap their minds around: in a universe dominated by giant robots fighting giant monsters....you ready for this idea? This is going to blow you away: why don't we make a film with a bunch of giant robots fighting a bunch of giant monsters? WHOA. I know, I'm a genius. Wait......you want to first make a Pacific Rim installment featuring a bunch of boring lore and bad character development, and exactly ONE giant action sequence? Are you sure that's what you want to do? Are you SURE? I guess so, because that's exactly what we have here, and it makes absolutely no sense to me. WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? Haven't we learned anything from the Alien franchise? You don't marginalize the best aspect of your world in a sci-fi movie! For some reason, there's exactly one giant action sequence in this film. That's inexcusable and completely mind-boggling! It's tough to look past this horrific miscalculation, but even if you do.....there's not much to keep anyone engrossed in the sequel to 2013's Pacific Rim.
For the record, I enjoyed the first film, but I do think it's a tad overrated. But at least in the original Pacific Rim we had a significant amount of giant action sequences featuring robots and monsters, which were, amazingly, the best part of that movie. I wish I had been in the writer's room as they were conjuring up the script for the sequel. Somebody should've done us all a great service and been in that room to say NO when the idea of having one giant action sequence in this two hour movie was pitched. And accepted! UGH.
I don't understand why Universal/Legendary thought this was a good idea. What's even funnier is that the marketing team behind the film understood the draw of Pacific Rim better than the studios did. After all, they marketed the CRAP out of the one giant action sequence we did get. Yes, there are a few other sequences of robots fighting other robots, but.....that's not why we're here, guys! We're here for robots fighting monsters. That's it! That's all you had to do! You had one job, and you couldn't do it.
So, what do we get instead? A lot of boring "world-building." The lore of this film is not very interesting, sadly. Early on there's a few good moments that I enjoyed, particularly around the introduction Amara, played well by relative newcommer Cailee Spaeny. She's a pretty awesome female protagonist that reminded me a lot of the badass Izabella from Transformers: The Last Knight. (I know, interesting analogy, but she was the best part of that film) But, unlike in Transformers, where the young actress Isabella Moner is uncomfortably objectified by some the men of the film because Michael Bay can't help himself, Amara is just.... there. Never once did someone remind her that she was a woman. Never once did someone hit on her in a really uncomfortable way. She was just the protagonist alongside Jake Pentecost. (John Boyega) I really appreciated that, and I hope we reach a point in film where all female characters (and characters of color, for that matter) are not type-casted for specific roles tailored to them. Instead, they're cast simply to play "the protagonist." So kudos to director Steven S. DeKnight and co. for writing Amara the way they did. Sadly, though, they couldn't break free of this trend completely, as one of the other three women in the film, Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona) is only there to be oogled at by the male leads. One day.... Anyway, I did also love John Boyega's performance. The dude is so charming and charismatic, and he tries as hard as he can (along with Cailee Spaeny) to carry this film. Hopefully he decides to pursue the action star route outside of Star Wars, because I would be VERY ok with that. The rest of the cast is whatever. There is a mildly interesting twist with one of the cast members, but otherwise they're pretty forgettable. Burn Gorman/Charlie Day are nowhere near as good together here as they were in the original, but I'm not too mad about that. Especially given the fact that I'm still mad at Charlie Day for enthusiastically showing up in I Love You, Daddy. STILL MAD AT YOU, MAN.
When we did FINALLY get to the giant monsters vs giant robots action sequence, I had a ball of a time. There's no denying that it's so much fun seeing a big budget action film with giant robots fighting giant monsters in a huge city. (Tokyo, in this case) At one point one of the robots (though I've already forgotten which because who cares) uses some gravity weapon to bring down skyscrapers on a Kaiju, and I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. We don't need those, right? And hey: they did give us a throwaway line about how the entire city of Tokyo was evacuated in like 5 seconds, which is absurd obviously but enough for me to just turn the brain off and have a good time watching all the destruction. (Looks at something like Batman V. Superman) But, in order to get to that awesome final sequence, you have to sit through what basically amounts to 90 minutes of dull dialogue and lazy lore. (That was coincidental, I swear.) Is it worth it? I say no. Wait until the final sequence hits YouTube in a few months, and just watch it there. Otherwise, don't bother with this garbage. Let the Asian markets carry it to a decent gross, and hopefully in the third installment the studios will realize that Alien-ing this franchise is NOT the way to go. Hard pass.
The Critique: Despite a thrilling final sequence and great performances from John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny, Pacific Rim: Uprising lands with a thud thanks to dull dialogue, lazy lore, and nowhere near enough giant robots fighting giant killer monsters.
The Recommendation: Check out the final action sequence on YouTube whenever it gets there, otherwise stay away.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Quick Reviews, Winter 2018: The Commuter, The 15:17 to Paris, Game Night, Red Sparrow, Thoroughbreds, GringoRead Now
The 15:17 to Paris
Not quite the follow-up we were hoping for
Annihilation (2018): A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
Wow. I don't even know where to start with this film. In this case, I think that's a good thing. Annihilation is a bold film. Director/writer Alex Garland has crafted an ambitious sci-fi film that embodies its genre to the fullest extent. I will warn you: if you're anything short of a die-hard science fiction fan, you will likely not enjoy this. It's a deep watch in every sense of the phrase. It's ambiguous and very science-y, (for lack of a better word) which a lot of people will enjoy, including me. I was completely engrossed, and there's no doubt the execution of this complex premise is fantastic, even though the film can come off as self-aware. Alex Garland knows how to craft n engrossing sci-fi film, and he knows it. For better or for worse. One thing's for sure, though: can we get more films like this, please?
There are some shortcomings here for sure. Alex Garland knows how to make a good genre film, but his “character development” writing is not as strong. In fact, it's pretty disappointing. Natalie Portman plays her character marvellously, but there are certain aspects of her origin story that make very little sense, and certainly aren't relevant to the overall story. In Garland's previous film, Ex Machina, the viewer knows very little about the characters involved. This is a strength of that film: it gets its characters right into the crux of the premise with very little setup, which allows Garland to focus on the AI instead. In Annihilation, though, we spend a good amount of time developing characters (Portman most of all) before they begin the primary mission, and during this first act the film does leave something to be desired. And once they do get into the primary mission, the film has a tendency to come off as pretentious and self-aware. There's still a lot to like here, but I think a lot of people will be turned off by its indulgent storytelling style.
That said, I'm not really one of them. I had a blast and was totally engrossed by the concept of this film. It is absolutely spectacular to look at too, featuring beautiful cinematography and spectacular production design, with a good score and sound design to boot. While this will be a decisive film, there's no doubt there will be a consensus with how it looks. Once the main characters finally enter The Shimmer, that is. Also, I really enjoyed the dynamics between the characters once they did enter The Shimmer, and how it affected them individually was really interesting to me. However, it all leads up to this climatic third act that will be really decisive depending on which side of the fence you fall on. Initially, I really enjoyed it, but the more I've thought about it, the more I'm “on the fence” versus anything else. I think there's a way to better execute the finale, but regardless, it's definitely resonated with me more so than most big budget sci-fi films out there. (Looking at you, superhero movies. How about that totally unnecessary shot, eh Oscar?) The finale here worked for me until the final shot, which adopted the “gotta leave this on an unnecessary (and unexplainable) cliffhanger” kind of ending ripped straight out of Inception. But I had enough fun to look past this. End of the day, this is a good film that is quite thought-provoking (for better and worse) that did have a real shot at greatness. Sadly, though, it is held back by a decisive third act, disappointing character development, and an overarching self-indulgent style. See it if you're a fan of sci-fi, but everyone else? Stay away.
The Critique: While boldly original, Annihilation's overall pretentious and self-absorbed manner in which it tells its engrossing story holds it back from the greatness it could (and should) have achieved.
The Recommendaiton: For hardcore sci-fi fans only. Not much else to like here for everyone else.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Creative to a fault
A Wrinkle in Time (2018): After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.
I really don't know what to say about this film. On the one hand: it's REALLY messy. The film bites off WAY more than it can chew and feels frantic, chaotic, and incoherent. On the other hand, it is really creative and has a lot of visually stunning setpieces. This feels like 2018's version of Cloud Atlas: director (and real-life warrior) Ava DuVernary swings for the fences with this version of A Wrinkle in Time and this kind of over-the-top big budget film is rarely seen in Hollywood nowadays. Especially with someone like Ava DuVernay leading the way. I'd say if you have kids, you should go without question: support the personnel behind this film and the choices made and your kids will have a ball as they see their imaginations come to life. I was in a full room for this, and the children around me were enthralled, to say the least. Juuuuuust don't think too much about it, because it is pretty absurd.
Let's go against my usual MO and start with the bad. The film does bite off WAY more than it can chew. The pacing is disastrous, and every scene feels like it should be its own movie. This really tanks individual character arcs, to the point that even the main characters can be pretty forgettable. The character Calvin (played not-so-well by Levi Miller) is the quintessential example of this. Calvin's arc is practically nonexistent to the point that I actually forgot all about it before the movie ended. At the end Calvin reminds us of his arc and I said to myself, "Oh ya, that was a thing!" This guy is one of the three main human characters in this story! I mean, I get that Levi Miller didn't portray him particularly well, but he didn't get any decent writing behind him, either. (He's the "token white guy" that's just there to "look pretty" and support the protagonist, so I can't complain about that being a white male for once.) Also, the other male character, Charles Wallace, wasn't played very well either. Poor Deric McCabe. He wasn't very good, but he didn't have any good dialogue to work with either. Hey, a note to any prospective screenwriter out there: if you're going to have novice child-actors in your movie, you have to give him some good dialogue to say that they would actually say. Here it is obvious that an adult is writing their lines. From the actual first line spoken by Charles Wallace, I was thinking to myself, "Nope. No child would ever talk like that." The biggest problem with this film, though, is also its greatest strength for a younger demographic: the setpieces. We'll get to the positives of them in a moment, but the negatives are impossible to ignore: each setpiece feels like its own movie, and we're never in a new setpiece long enough to truly appreciate it. We travel to 3 (I think?) different worlds throughout the brisk 109 minute runtime, but we never spend any more than 10 minutes at any of them. Because of this, the "rules" of these worlds feel haphazard, and only there to service the overall story. Never once did I think to myself "Oh, how are they going to get out of this?" because I knew a convenient "rule", like flowers being able to band together (really?) to break someone's fall would come in and save the day.
THAT SAID. This is also the part that kids will love, because they aren't thinking about the "rules" of an individual world when they see it. They'll just be in awe of these setpieces. I don't blame them: the worlds we visit throughout the runtime are breathtaking. The visuals are incredible, and I did wish we had spent more time investigating these landscapes. Oprah Winfrey literally towers over everyone as Mrs. Which, (my favorite part, by the way) and Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling clearly had a blast portraying Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, respectively. And Ava DuVernay found herself (and Hollywood) a STAR in Storm Reid. Her portrayal of the main character, Meg, is the hero we all need, and one that I think a lot of people (myself included) can relate to. If there's one thing to come out of this film, I hope it's the rise of Storm Reid. Meg is a strong protagonist that doesn't need men to come in and save the day. I loved how she even used science to get out of certain situations, even if that science was.....shoddy, to say the least. I haven't felt this excited about a child-actor since Jacob Tremblay burst onto the scene back in 2015's Room. For all the film's faults, and for all its shortcomings with the other two main characters, it did manage to knock its main character out of the park. Expect Disney to milk that for all it's worth.
In conclusion, while A Wrinkle in Time does bite off more than it could chew, (I think it could've benefited from being split into two films, believe it or not) it does so from the stance that Ava DuVernay and company left it all out on the table. I respect that, and I think because of this the film is still worth a watch, even if it is on Netflix/Disney's upcoming streaming service in a few months versus in the theater. There is a difference between "swinging for the fences" (ex.: Cloud Atlas) and "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks." (ex.: Last Flag Flying) The former is much more enjoyable to watch, but it's also much tougher to do. Unfortunately, "swinging for the fences" and missing still leads to the same result as "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks" and missing. The former just managed to look a lot cooler as it unfolded.
The Critique: A Wrinkle in Time is creative to a fault. Incoherent (but beautiful) setpieces dominate this overly ambitious film, and poor dialogue sinks the performances of two of its three child-actors, despite the excellent performance of its third, Storm Reid.
The Recommendation: I do think it's worth seeing if you have kids. It's going to be better than a lot of the kids movies that are out there. Everyone else? Buy your ticket for A Wrinkle in Time at the theater to support it, then go and sneak into Black Panther again.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
One of the best movies I have ever seen
Phantom Thread (2017): Set in 1950's London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
This initially started as a "Raw Thoughts" piece, which came to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after the second viewing of the film, but have since been edited after watching the movie for a third time. This is the best film of 2017, so it's too good for just a "Raw Thoughts" piece!
Phantom Thread….is a masterpiece. The great Paul Thomas Anderson is back, and this time he's paired, once more, with the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis. Their last film, There Will be Blood, is widely considered one of the best films of the 21st century, so to say there was some hype behind this one is something of an understatement. Anderson’s last film, Inherent Vice, was a rather messy endeavor that was a little too incoherent and loose with its style for my tastes. But I think P.T. Anderson realized that, too. This time, his cast is waded down to three from the enormous supporting cast of Vice. This allows Anderson to intimately focus on the intricate and dynamic relationship between the leads of this film, Reynolds and Alma.
Let's start there. These two are the reason to see this movie. Their relationship is the centerpiece, and these characters are played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps, both of which put in the best performance of 2017. Freaking Vicky Krieps, guys. We all know Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest method actors in the history of Hollywood, and he reminds us why (again) here. That's honestly assumed at this point. He may win an Oscar for this performance, (probably not - Gary Oldman has been sweeping the awards season so far) but when Daniel Day-Lewis decides to put himself in a film an Oscar is basically the bar for him. But I can't even imagine what it must've felt like to have to play opposite of a man as intense as he is. (Apparently Daniel Day-Lewis insisted on meeting Krieps for the very first time on set filming their first scene together.) Well, Krieps more than holds her own and creates an utterly fascinating character in the process. There's so much intrigue and depth to her character, and the relationship between her and Reynolds is intoxicating. The whole film is about their back-and-forth power struggle, and Alma's transformation from shy waitress to muse on equal footing with the demanding Reynolds is simply incredible. And, of course, it's absolutely marvelous to see Daniel Day-Lewis on screen once more. He spent a year studying couture preparing for this role, and his attention to the most minute of details are ever apparent. The relationship between these characters will be analyzed for years to come, and every scene involving the pair, even down to a simple look between them, is mesmerizing. Daniel Day-Lewis has said this is his last role, but as one star rides out into the sunset in triumphant fashion, another rises to take his place. Welcome to the top of the world of A-list movie stars, Vicky Krieps. What an incredible casting choice from Paul Thomas Anderson. The sheer unknown that comes with Vicky Krieps as an actress is undoubtedly a strength of the film, but having to play opposite a man of Daniel Day-Lewis's caliber.....well, it has certainly proved to be too much for people in the past. Fortunately, though, Krieps knocked this one out of the park and rocketed herself into stardom in the process.
You know who else is really interesting in this film? Lesley Manville as Reynold's intriguing sister, Cyril. There's at least one thesis paper waiting to be written on the relationship between her and Reynolds. Despite how demanding Reynolds is, both Cyril and Alma find their own ways to have power over him, and it's simply magnificent to watch. GAH! I love this film, if you can't tell. It has this alpha male lead with Reynolds, but it's really all about the women in his life and how they find various ways (some more extreme than others) to get him to do what they want. It's amazing. On top of their incredible and dynamic relationship, you have, well, EVERYTHING else. Like the set design! Everything about this set is meticulously chosen by P.T. Anderson. The costumes are brilliant and tell their own story. The freaking food choices from Reynolds tell their own story. Everything has a purpose here. I've seen this film multiple times now and I know there are still dozens of details that I've missed! And the score. Holy Jonny Greenwood the score! Hey, Jonny: can you PLEASE wade into Hollywood films more than just in P.T. Anderson flicks? Because this is easily the best score of 2017, and it comes from Radiohead's lead guitarist. I mean, who needs John Williams, right? It's mysterious and memorable just like Alma, and demanding and intrusive like Reynolds. On the second viewing I already found myself humming along to it, too. I freaking love it! I'm going to be listening to it for months and years to come. I haven't liked a score this much since Junkie XL's haunting score for Mad Max: Fury Road.
About the only complaint I have with this otherwise perfect film is with the third act. There's something of a pointless MacGuffin thrown in as “jealousy” is seemingly introduced into Reynolds and Alma's relationship, but it doesn't really go anywhere. However, this fault is well into the third act and relatively minor overall, and I'm sure it does serve some purpose that I just haven't figured it out yet, so it's not enough to take away from this masterpiece of filmmaking. In conclusion, this film is the very definition of the (often overused) word "masterpiece." It is the best film of 2017, and is every bit worthy of the hype it has garnered. Take the opportunity to go and see this one in a theater, guys. I think 10 years from now you'll wanna be able to tell people you saw this one when it first came out.
The Critique: Featuring an intoxicating relationship between its marvelous leads, Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson at his best and is easily the best overall film of 2017.
The Recommendation: Easy. An absolute-must see for all!
The Verdict: 10/10
Some of the best world-building yet from Marvel
Black Panther (2018): T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
These raw thoughts come to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after seeing the film.
I'll start this review by saying this: I can't help but be cynical with superhero movies nowadays. And in a “bottle episode” Marvel film like this, my cynicism is on full display. After all, in terms of the overarching Marvel cinematic universe, exactly one thing of note happens here. So, for those of you calling this Marvel's best and loving the film, take my feelings with a grain of salt. However, I can't deny my cynical side is conflicting mightily with the side of me that feels relieved and overjoyed to see that there is FINALLY a big budget action movie that is centered around a black protagonist and a country in Africa. I am also happy that it is going to make a bajillion dollars. That's a nice plus, and a big ol' F U to the studio heads who don't think movies with black protagonists will sell. To say this reckoning is long overdue is something of an understatement. So, I'm gonna let both sides come out here and see if I can decide what I think about this thing.
Let's be happy first. Yay happiness! FINALLY, we have a film centered in an African country, and the world-building of Wakanda is where this movie really shines. The culture of Wakanda is simply fascinating, and it allows conflicts within certain characters, like the one played by Daniel Kaluuya, to feel earned, developed, and have a great climatic conclusion. (Climatic conclusion - sounds like a marketing buzzword...) A character like his fails in most films because they're not given the screen-time and world-building to go along with their actions to validate them, but not in Black Panther. The intimacy of this film is where it shined: it's a bottle episode, but because of that it allows individual characters to be fleshed out, which make their decisions carry some weight by the end of it. This intimacy is something the Marvel franchise hasn't experienced in a while, so it does feel like a breath of fresh air for them. The action is also (mostly) enjoyable. My cynical side will remind me that the final boss fight takes place in darkness and is rather poorly shot, and it's the closets thing to the DC problem of having "two gods fighting each other," but all of the other scenes were awesome. The ritual fights around the waterfall in particular were GORGEOUS. Also, Chadwick Boseman was awesome as Black Panther. He is such a great actor, and I'm glad he is getting the recognition he deserves. Michael B. Jordan was awesome, too! He shined as the “villain” Killmonger, but the writing behind this character makes him easily the most dynamic and complex villain Marvel has ever seen. The real world ties with Killmonger make him fascinating and impossible to simply view as a cardboard villain, which is something that befalls so many Marvel villains.
Though he did fall into a few stereotypical villain tropes, which is where my cynical side takes over. It is easy to sum this film up as “just another comic book movie,” and that phrase is increasingly wearing on me. At the end of the day, in terms of the overall Marvel cinematic universe, not much happens. After literally 30 comic book films since Iron Man, it can be tough for me to swallow another “bottle episode” within the MCU. And that last boss fight....what was that? Surely director Ryan Coogler (who I LOVE, by the way. He deserves this recognition after the Academy glanced over his role directing Creed a few years back) could've found a better way to film this final sequence. Though my optimistic side will be quick to remind me that it is resolved SO beautifully. Oh, right! The score! I liked how the score had a lot of cultural influences within it, but too many times was it just like every other Marvel score: just there to be there. Why couldn't this score go all-in on its world and its African influences? Fresh off hearing the lovely and culturally influenced score from Coco, this time around I couldn't help but be sorely disappointed. Despite the fact that this is arguably the best score I've ever heard in a Marvel movie. (Low bar outside of the main theme) But I will admit this film largely avoids most of the standard comic book film tropes. Even Killmonger only felt like a cardboard villain once or twice, and the struggles some of the characters around Killmonger went through as his plot developed did do a good job to offset them.
I think this is a sign that my cynical side is losing out this round. Yes, Black Panther is a good movie buoyed by the wonderful world-building surrounding Wakanda. Chadwick Bosenan, Lupita Nyong’o, and the rest of the cast were AMAZING. I freaking love this cast! And Martin Freeman being the only white guy led to some pretty hilarious moments that we're used to the sole black guy in a film experiencing. Buuuuut I can't deny the fact that, at the end of the day, it is “just another superhero movie” and the tropes that do come out of this prevent the movie from achieving greatness. See it for the awesome world-building, just make sure to turn it into a double feature and see something like Call Me by Your Name while you're there, ya?
My Number: 7/10 Good.
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