Wonderfully weird, mindlessly marvelous
Aquaman (2018): Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.
So for those that have been following my reviews over the years, you know that I don’t exactly have the best relationship with comic book movies. So that should lend some credence to the notion that I actually enjoyed James Wan’s Aquaman, because cynical Joe can still have fun watching movies. That's exactly what Aquaman is: fun. How do you make a film with a standard cookie cutter story enjoyable? With great execution, amazing colors, and over-the-top sequences, that's how. I think Warner Brothers has finally discovered a formula for success with these spin-offs: limit Zack Snyder's involvement while simultaneously allowing the directors of these films be themselves. We can thank Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman - check out Peter Kosanovich's review here) for that.
So what makes this film so enjoyable? James Wan's fingerprints are all over this film. In a nutshell, the accomplished director takes the Furious 7 formula (his previous big budget action movie) and puts Aquaman in it. And since Furious 7 was a wonderful bit of mindless fun, that means Aquaman is that, but with even more money. My favorite thing about this film are the colors. The production design here is out-of-this-world (or, in the depths of the sea? Does that work? Shut up, Oscar.) and makes the film infinitely more enjoyable. Had Zack Snyder been given more leeway in this project the sets would've been disastrous, given the fact that it's hard to find natural light underwater. (And thus justification to shoot an underwater scene "during the day") But James Wan makes sure every set, regardless of natural lighting, is lush and colorful and fun to look at. Mad props to production designer Bill Brzeski. If this film deserves any recognition from the Academy, it should be for its mesmerizing production design. Or special effects. Those are pretty dang good too. The third act in particular has a ton of absurd sequences that would've looked absolutely ridiculous were it not for the great special effects.
Also, the cast is great. Jason Momoa is fantastic as Aquaman, bringing a level of suave and charisma to a character that's never been known for it. (Deeeeeem abs doe.) The writing is where this film really flounders, (more on that in a sec) but one character that does receive a great arc and a ton of depth is King Orm. (Patrick Wilson) While this villain isn't quite as dynamic as Killmonger from Black Panther, King Orm's motivations are grounded in real-world problems and thus make him a far more sympathetic villain. (2018 has definitely been the year of the villain in superhero movies.) However, King Orm is about the only character who's arc is even remotely interesting. Aquaman goes on a dullishly ordinary hero's journey, and Mera (Amber Heard) is all but wasted as the sidekick that (predictably) falls in love with the male lead. You're never taken by surprise with this story, but, similar to that of Furious 7, you still find yourself having fun with all the mindless action. It is undoubtedly well-made and executed, with a charismatic (though dull) lead and an interesting villain. What more could you ask for out of a big budget action movie?
The Critique: Despite a cardboard cutout of a story, Aquaman delivers a ton of mindlessly enjoyable moments thanks to incredible production design and stellar visual effects.
The Recommendation: if you're looking for a fun popcorn flick this holiday season, look no further!
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Almost Great
A total disaster
Fantastic Beats: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018): The second installment of the "Fantastic Beasts" series set in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.
I was actually pretty excited to see this new entry into the Fantastic Beasts series. I was a shockingly huge fan of the original installment, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in part due to the magical performances of Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, and especially Katherine Waterston. The dynamics between Newt, (Redmayne) Tina, (Waterston) Quennie, (Alison Sudol) and "muggle" Jacob (Dan Fogler) were compelling to me, and were reminiscent of the wonderful relationship of Harry, Hermione, and Ron which grounded the original Harry Potter series. However, writer J.K. Rowling, (who was given full autonomy over this film's script and the direction of this series, for that matter) and director David Yates clearly did not see the groundwork of this series the same way I did. Instead, they chose to focus the second installment of this franchise on the weak and uninteresting villain, Grindelwald, so they could hand over the face of this franchise to.......Johnny Depp? Seriously? (Oscar! Is that really Johnny Depp helming a major movie franchise in 2018? ARE YOU SURE?) I mean, I know there are like five more of these things, but why go all-in on freaking Johnny Depp? No wonder J.K. Rowling went out of her way to defend Johnny Depp after he found himself on the wrong side of the #MeToo movement. Most of the decisions made in this film make no sense, and it's all covered by this weird level of "prestige." As if J.K. Rowling fully believes this franchise will be every bit as culturally impactful as the original Harry Potter franchise. All of this combines for an installment that is so bad it honestly makes me want to revisit the original Fantastic Beasts and figure out why I liked that one so much. I am questioning my very sanity, right now. It's not good.
So, uhhhhhhh, good things. Ezra Miller is good! I mean I think Ezra Miller should be in everything ever so of course I would enjoy Credence. Honestly, Credence is basically the only saving grace of this film. His arc is far more interesting than what I remember in the first one: he's more of a flawed character struggling to find his purpose versus a sort of comic book villain that everyone is seeking for some reason. While it will be largely overshadowed by how much of a comic book villain Grindelwald is, J.K. Rowling is doing a pretty good job with Credence thus far. Minus the completely RIDICULOUS "twist" at the end of this film. Also, Dumbledore is cool. Jude Law is essentially playing himself, but I'm ok with that. Also, the "fantastic beasts" are still cool! They look good, as they should in a big budget film in 2018, but it's still worth mentioning when you're struggling to find anything decent to mention in this dumpster fire.
And that's because everything else is awful. Let's start with the core characters: Newt, Tina, Quennie, and Jacob. Their dynamics are not built upon in any way, (it also doesn't help when Tina is only actually in the film for like 30 minutes, but that's neither here nor there) as instead J.K. Rowling chooses to create division between Quennie and the rest of the group that isn't earned in any way and totally contradictory to her character in the first film. I mean, imagine if in The Chamber of Secrets Hermione had decided after reading a few books written by Tom Riddle, "Ya, actually all of these wizards being turned to stone deserve it because y'all have been mean to me, so I'm joining the Death Eaters now." Sure, it would've delivered the shock value in the moment, but it absolutely would've sacrificed the arc of her character in the long run. That's exactly what happens to Quennie here. Her character does a complete 180 for the sole purpose of delivering shock value in this installment. SPEAKING OF SHOCK VALUE. The twist at the end is hilariously awful. Like, I almost laughed out loud at the screen. It doesn't fit into the world at all and does nothing except tell us that J.K. Rowling is all out of original ideas. Finally, gotta take a second and talk about the uninteresting Grindelwald. Why did J.K. Rowling go all-in on this character? He's not interesting or unique and is nothing more than a comic book villain. He's decided that wizards are better than humans, but for some reason isn't immediately rising up against them because........reasons? In the climax of this film it takes like 30 wizards to stop him from destroying all of London, why doesn't Grindelwald just jump into the muggle world and announce he's a wizard and going to take over the planet? Like, even the Transformers franchise figured out that there was no way these giant robots were going to be able to "sneak" around the earth two films in. It doesn't help that Grindelwald is portrayed by Johnny Depp, a dude who has had one single decent film (Black Mass) since he debuted his character in the original Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, Johnny Depp showed us he was the symbol of white male entitlement even before he weathered the #MeToo movement. Now, his overbearing presence dates the film while you're watching it, and the incomprehensible decision by Warner Brothers, J.K. Rowling, David Yates to double-down on the decision to stick with Depp may even spell doom for this franchise.
In case that wasn't enough, this movie isn't even all that good from a technical perspective. Sure, the effects are decent, but the lighting, production design, and cinematography are all..... bad. There are a TON of corners cut in these departments by David Yates, with the highlight being one of the worst chase sequences I've ever seen to literally open the film. This opening scene is shot at night, in the rain, and is so muddy, dark, and incoherent it would make The Lone Ranger proud. Speaking of incoherent, why is this film so dark? From start to finish, so much of this film is shot in dark corridors and on dark sets. Not only does the lighting crew fail to show up at points, but the production designers failed to put any vivid colors on set. Everything is brown, grey, or black. That's something of a trivial complaint, but if you're going to give us a convoluted story and force us to watch Johnny Depp for two hours, at least give us some pretty colors to look at!
In conclusion, in case you haven't figured it out yet, Fantastic Beasts: The Crime of Grindelwald...... it's not good. It's not even worth watching once it hits streaming services. I'll give this franchise one more go because I am somewhat interested in what they do with Credence, (stupid plot twist aside) I am exactly the demographic that grew up reading the Harry Potter books, and hopefully they'll realize we need more of Newt, Tina, Quennie, and Jacob, but I won't lie: we're on thin ice now. I can hardly recall a time a franchise has crashed and burned so spectacularly. (Sure, The Hunger Games comes to mind, but we all knew that Mockingjay was going to be a crapshoot. That makes it somewhat easier to bear.) What a shame this franchise has fallen so hard. Hopefully now it can pick itself back up.
The Critique: A disastrous sequel, Fantastic Beasts 2 loses all the charm of its predecessor, in part, because of ignoring its core characters and instead focusing on its unimaginative and dull villain.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage.
Nowhere near enough Venom
Venom (2018): When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego "Venom" to save his life.
Ok, seriously: what was that? Because I have no idea. I'm sitting here in Darkness Brewing. There's a heavy metal cover of Maroon 5’s “Misery” playing as I type this, and it's not the weirdest thing to happen in my life this evening. It's been a solid 30 minutes since the movie ended, and I still haven't the faintest idea what I just saw. What WAS that? Was it a comedy? A romance? An action flick? I don't know, and I'm pretty sure the movie doesn't know either. To say Venom is a mess is something of an understatement, and there's no doubt that your mileage will vary tremendously with this abomination. That said…..did I have fun? …...kind of? I think I was having fun at the movie’s expense, but fun is fun is fun is fun. Right?
Let me first say that before you completely dismiss my opinion because of my (self-admitted) preconceived biases against the avalanche of comic book films we've seen in recent years…..Venom has always been my favorite supervillain. And I actually quite enjoyed Tom Hardy's erratic and unpredictable interpretation of the antihero Eddie Brock. He is undoubtedly the best thing about this very raw and messy film, as director Ruben Fleischer clearly gave Hardy total creative freedom in portraying the character. Your mileage will vary with this polarizing performance, and, fair warning: if you're not a fan of it, there really isn't anything else here to enjoy, because the rest of this movie suuuuuuuuucks. We'll get to that. But first, I have to send some shoutouts: to Riz Ahmed, who portrays a rather entertaining villain Carlton Drake, as well as the great Michelle Williams as Anne. Anne is not given the screen time she deserves, however I mention her because she's played by Michelle Williams, and I love her and she needs to be in literally everything. Carry on.
You know what is bad, though? Every second of this movie where Eddie Brock/Venom aren't together. Which is…… a lot. Specifically, for the first 45 minutes of this thing Fleischer and co. RUSH through a meaningless backstory for Eddie Brock that features some hilariously bad montage sequences, dialogue, and plot points. Honestly, this would've been a better film had we simply started with Eddie/Venom merging together, because after the first 45 minutes trying to be a cheesy soapbox romantic drama, the film veers HARD right into a shockingly entertaining comedy. I was never really sure if I was laughing with the film or at the film, but I knew I was laughing throughout the second act. That's really all that matters, right Oscar? Doesn't matter how you have fun just as long as you have fun? Well, this fun quickly dissipates in the final act as Venom falls victim to some horrific CGI sequences that even give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a run for its money. Which makes even less sense than it does already because the second act had a fairly enjoyable action sequence in it as Eddie learned what Venom could do on the fly while he mowed down baddies in true PG-13 fashion.
Which brings me to my original point: what is this film trying to be? As it incomprehensibly moves from act to act, from sequence to sequence, the only thing that is certain is that your guess is as good as mine. And that Tom Hardy is nuts when he wants to be. OH. Oscar! Can I talk about the post-credit scenes? Because I want to talk about the post-credit scenes. Because oh my GOD they are TERRIBLE. The first introduces Woody Harrelson and a HORRIFIC wig in a shameless attempt at sequel-baiting that does anything but get me excited for Venom 2, and the second is a tease for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. So literally nothing but long teasers for upcoming Sony/Marvel films. Seriously?????? That's what these obligatory post-credit scenes have become? Teasers for upcoming films? Siiiiiiiigh. Anyway, where was I, Oscar? Right. This movie is unashamedly outlandish and it all hinges on Hardy's polarizing performance. If you're into it, there's enough here to like in between the useless opening act and CGI-thon of the final act, but if not? Stay VERY far away
The Critique: pinning its hopes on a uniquely bizarre performance from Tom Hardy, Venom is an incomprehensible mess of a film that still manages to be somewhat fun, even if you are having said fun at the movie’s expense.
The Recommendation: Seriously. Wait until this thing hits streaming services so you can skip through the first 45 minutes and the ridiculous CGI onslaught at the end.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average.
A Disaster on Every Level
The Predator (2018): When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe's most lethal hunters' return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.
I'm not gonna sugar-coat it: this movie sucks. It's filled with unlikeable characters, bad (and at times downright embarrassing for 2018) special effects, and an incoherent plot. Combine that with the…. Uncomfortable real-life storyline surrounding director Shane Black hiring a sexual predator to be in this film, and you have a mess of a film that never stood a chance.
There's not a lot of good to talk about here, but the highlight is certainly the character Nebraska Williams, played by Trevante Rhodes. The actor follows up his career breaking performance of Black in 2016’s Moonlight with the most gripping,charismatic, and memorable character in this dumpster fire. He's the only one with any semblance of a character arc, and the only one I felt any resemblance of a connection to. Literally everyone else here is either despicable or feels like a robot. (cough cough how is Boyd Holbrook a thing cough cough) I think director/writer Shane Black realized this as the shooting went on, because Nebraska’s presence significantly increased as the film went on, and his finale was easily the best of any of the supporting cast. Oh! Oh! Jacob Tremblay is in this as Rory! I love him and he needs to be in everything!
Unfortunately, he's given absolutely nothing to do! As is Dr. Bracket, (played by Olivia Munn, though we do just have to get TWO different scenes where she's naked…. When are we gonna be done with blatantly objectifying women in film for no reason? Siiiigh.) Emily, (Yvonne Strahovski) Coyle, (Keegan Michael-Key) and everyone else in this travesty. They're either forgettable or unlikeable. Let's take a minute and talk about Baxley. (Thomas Jane) There is a “joke” in this film with his character where he talks about a certain part of Dr. Bracket’s body that shouldn't be reiterated here because this is a family review, but it was disgusting, and the people in this scene (besides Dr. Bracket, of course) laugh it off and quickly move on like it was nothing. Combine this with the fact that director/writer Shane Black was totally ok with having a sexual predator in his film until someone noticed, and how the cast has treated Olivia Munn after she spoke up about it and it highlights the glaring and disgusting misogyny of this film.
But hey, at least the cast is kind of diverse, right? Even if the “villain” of the film, Traeger, (played by the great Sterling K. Brown) has literally ZERO reason for being a villain. Shane Black doesn't even bother to give Traeger a single line about why he's acting like a jerk to everyone, and what happens to him involved some hilariously shoddy editing and visual effects. That's right, folks. If you've been sitting here thinking, “Joe, it's a mindless popcorn flick! Treat it as such!” Well, how can I do that when even the visuals are terrible! There are some sequences here, particularly in the third act, that would've looked bad in 2008, let alone 2018. And the film takes itself WAY too seriously to be enjoyable even from a mindless perspective.
That's it. I'm done thinking about this movie. Not even Trevante Rhodes (get this man some work, please!) can save this thing. The Predator franchise has been in a rut (arguably) since its campy 1987 debut with Arnold Schwarzenegger and it's not being saved by Shane Black's iteration. Combine the bad effects, muddy story, and its terrible treatment (both on screen and in real life) of the only woman in the supporting cast, and it leads to a terrible film. Avoid it like the plague!
The Critique: Another horrific installment to this franchise, Shane Black's The Predator is flawed from the ground up, from the robotic and unlikeable cast to the hilariously incompetent visual effects.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Every Sci-Fi Trope You've Ever Seen, Packed into one disappointing mess
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018): Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.
These raw thoughts come to you from the bedroom of my apartment immediately after seeing the film. (Netflix is a wonderful thing)
STOP IT. STOP WRECKING MY BELOVED WORLD OF CLOVERFIELD LIKE THIS. The third installment in the Cloverfield franchise lands with a thud after another wonderfully Cloverfield-esque marketing campaign. (aka shooting the entire film in secret) Announcing this film at the freaking Super Bowl was brilliant, and would make the franchise proud. (Both of the previous films had similar surprise releases.) Unfortunately.....everything else about this crapshoot is massively disappointing. There are aspects of this film that are interesting. Elizabeth Debicki's character is somewhat fascinating, (when you can move past her absolutely absurd character introduction) and the film's investigation into its "paradox" is somewhat cool. Unfortunately, these two good ideas are surrounded by a(n accidentally) HILARIOUS amount of sci-fi cliches. UGH. STOP IT!
I hate this movie. If you couldn't tell. I've only seen a few films in 2018, but this is an early heavyweight contender for biggest disappointment of the entire year. Let's travel back to 2008 for a minute. You just saw this little sci-fi movie called Cloverfield. (Which, fun fact, I've reviewed twice on this blog accidentally. First review, second review! It's a decent look into how one's feelings on a film change over time.) What made it so great? There's a lot of reasons, but I think it starts with the mystery and intrigue surrounding the monster itself. So, needless to say.... giving us an origin story for the monster is going to put this film at a disadvantage right out of the gate. But, even still.....this is bad. I mean....think back to Cloverfield. The setup before the part where "things go down" was about 15 minutes. This movie is built on setup. We don't even see the monsters of this universe until the ACTUAL last shot of the film. How can it be a good origin story when you don't see the creature your making an origin story of? Even if you remove the cloud of mystery surrounding the actual monster.....the monster is the most interesting part of this franchise! Why do we now have two feature-length films where we get basically ZERO shots of the freaking monster??? At least in 10 Cloverfield Lane you had a pretty enjoyable thriller that did not rely solely on tropes and cliches and is buoyed by a great performance from John Goodman. The least interesting part of that movie was the lore, and here that's ALL we get within this crappy origin story. It's just not interesting at all! How is this lore, with all the titanic names attached to developing it, not even remotely interesting??? COME ON, Bad Robot! Cloverfield is one of the early reasons why you're so successful today! Why can't you make lore that's even remotely interesting for this universe? And I love this diverse cast, don't get me wrong, but none of them put in a John Goodman-esque performance, so there's nothing there to keep me invested either. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw a lot, and I LOVE that she's the lead here, but none of these performances wow'd me. Though, to be fair, they had some pretty crappy dialogue to recite, so that didn't help. Honestly.... the dialogue, effects, editing, score, and cinematography were ALL lackluster at best, and downright awful at worst. I knew we were in for a rough ride the second I didn't see Michael Giacchino's name attached to the score in the opening credits. It's not THAT big of a deal, but Giacchino did give this franchise a FANTASTIC theme in the end credits of the original, and I don't fully understand why these guys haven't reprised that theme in any way in the second or third installment of this franchise. I think that's an example of the larger problem of this franchise: no one really, actually cares about it. No one bothered to think, "Man, Michael Giacchino gave us a really great theme in the first movie. We should bring that back!" (Which they should be able to do no problem, because Paramount should own that theme) There wasn't much "source material" in the first Cloverfield. But what little "source material" there was has been tossed aside for....whatever this is.
GAH. WHY IS THIS SO BAD? This film is set inside a world that has a very interesting monster, so why is literally everything surrounding this monster uninteresting? Heck, even something like Prometheus gave us a more interesting investigation into the Alien franchise than this. At least there are a few bright spots. As I mentioned previously Elizabeth Debecki's character is somewhat interesting, and the overall sci-fi theme this film investigates is kind of cool. Here there were a few cool scenes where you didn't really know what was happening in what world, and there are a few (cheap) "Got you!s" within this feeling of unknown. But that's really about all this film has going for it. Oh! And the cast is fine. Nothing special, as I said, but fine is still fine.
I don't know. Maybe this is all part of a long-con by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company. Maybe we'll be able to look back on this film within the context of a major saga and see its brilliance. But.....I doubt it. There's just nothing interesting here, right now. And it's not even told in an interesting way! The film hand-feeds us exposition in the most uninteresting and bland ways possible. From the texting sequences to the interviews that feed us exposition, it felt like absolutely no thought was put into how to best deliver the lore of this world to the audience. Seriously.... some of the exposition here gives Bright a run for its money. It's forgettable, filled with cliches and bad dialogue, and poorly edited. The FEW interesting qualities are massively outweighed by the negatives, and when you add the fact that this is set within the Cloverfield universe and AGAIN we only get a teaser of the actual monster???? It's unforgivable. I love the original too much to abandon this franchise just yet, but after this trainwreck (and the lackluster lore of the second film) I'm on thin ice with it. Please, please, PLEASE give us something better next time, Bad Robot.
My Number: 3/10 Bad.
A beautifully unorthodox love story
The Shape of Water (2017): In a 1960s research facility, a mute janitor forms a relationship with an aquatic creature.
Oscar season is (finally) in full swing. I have a lot of movies I have yet to see, but if the early awards season is any indication.....The Shape of Water will be making some serious waves (tehe) this year. After seeing it, I can understand why. The brainchild of the great Guillermo del Toro, (and almost certainly his best work to date) The Shape of Water shows us an imaginative love story between a mute and an amphibious creature. That's really all you need to know about the story going in. The greatness of this film is with the relationship of its lead characters, its spectacular visual effects, and its wonderful production design. So, without further ado, let's dive in and discuss The Shape of Water! (Don't worry I'll be here all night with these water puns)
Sally freaking Hawkins. I must admit I am not very familiar with this talented actress. Heck since starting this blog I've only seen her in Godzilla and Blue Jasmine, and she didn't really stand out in either of them. So I feel like I can't say this is "the performance of her career," but I will say I can see why many other people (people whom are more familiar with her work) are saying that. She gives Ross Lynch in My Friend Dahmer a serious run for his money in terms of the best performance I've seen in 2017. Hawkins plays a mute, and the fact that she couldn't speak didn't slow her down at all. She conveys so much emotion throughout this film with just her face it's incredible. Like, Nicole Kidman in Lion kind of incredible. There's one scene in particular where she's yelling at Richard Jenkins's character, and even though she can't talk.....you really feel like she's yelling at him! It's one of many fantastic scenes throughout the film. Doug Jones plays the mysterious amphibious creature, and he does an outstanding job too. The freaking visual effects, man. Dunkirk has some company for the best effects of the year. You get almost as much emotion out of the creature as you do Sally Hawkins, and the scenes where it's just the two of them are simply terrific. Del Toro and company did an incredible job here showing off what you can do in 2017. Man have we come a loooooooong way. Additionally, the supporting cast is not only strong, but they have some great character arcs as well. Richard Jenkins leads the way. He plays Hawkins's neighbor, and has a wonderful story arc himself as a man struggling to cope with his homosexuality in the 1960s. He may make some waves this awards season with this performance, as it's certainly one of the best of his distinguished career. Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg are great as well. Honestly this film may make some waves for the ensemble award as the SAG Awards, because all of these actors are great and each have (mostly) good character arcs on top of it.
Finally, this film also features terrific production design, as well as one of my favorite scores of the year. Alexandre Desplat (who's been a busy man recently with a whooping six film scores) adds another fantastic score to his portfolio, which certainly adds to the ambiance of the film. It also reminded me a lot of the opening of Up, and anything that makes me think of one of the best sequences ever made is certainly a good thing. While there have been some other great scores this year, The Shape of Water will almost certainly be a tidal wave this awards season in this department. As for the production design.....the freaking colors, man. The film looks very grimy and worn down, and every choice of color adds to this. I think there's a good essay somewhere about del Toro's color palette, and why certain colors were used in this film. (Looks at every college student studying film)
THAT SAID. There are some imperfections here. Most notably in Michael Shannon's character. I get that this is a fairy tale, but his character has some cartoon villain-esque traits that make him not feel like a real person. Shannon plays the villain spectacularly well, and his character is written with a LOT of ties to modern America, which I appreciated, but still. It just felt a little too over-the-top for me. (Though I expect many will disagree.) Michael Stuhlbarg was also a little underdeveloped for how prominently he's featured in this film, and his character's arc ended in a really disappointing fashion. He became a plot device after starting out as a major supporting character, and that irked me a tad. Also. (Warning: I'm going to throw a spoiler in here, but it occurs within the first ten minutes of the film and doesn't impact it at all later on so it's minor) I appreciated the ties to modern America, (of which, there are many) but......did we really have to get full frontal nudity (in rather excruciating detail, I might add) of Sally Hawkins within the first five minutes of the film? That sequence felt awkward and out-of-place. It doesn't last too long, but to me it felt like nudity for the sake of objectification. Ugh! Fortunately, this sequence doesn't last very long and I was able to move past it.
All of those complaints, though, are relatively minor in scale. This film is one of the great movies of the year, and deserves all of the awards hype it is receiving. Guillermo del Toro has crafted his best work to date in the style that only Toro himself knows best, and is well worth your time. Check it out!
The Critique: Buoyed by fantastic visual effects and a spectacular performance from Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water is a charming and unorthodox love story that will keep you engrossed from start to finish.
The Recommendation: If you like a good love story.....what are you waiting for? Check this one out!
The Verdict: 9/10 Amazing
UPDATE: So I originally gave this film an 8/10, but then I saw The Greatest Showman and saw how poorly it handled some of the ties to 2017 and realized that The Shape of Water did this part so much better that it's borderline hilarious. So I had to up my score a bit for my own sanity.
Boldly original for a film of this stature
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017): Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
The biggest movie of the year is finally here. And boy is it a decisive one. First off, to everyone who isn't a hardcore Star Wars fan, let me say this: you will enjoy this movie. Even if you're a somewhat big fan, (which is probably where I would categorize myself) I think you'll still (at least) like it. The mega-fans, though, are where the division lies. There are some things that happen in this episode that have upset a lot of people. Here's my take: in modern Hollywood, a film like The Last Jedi doesn't get made. Look at Justice League. (My official punching bag for 2017 in case you didn't know already.) That film had obvious corporate mandates written all over it, which takes away from its authenticity. Director (and writer) Rian Johnson was given an unprecedented level of freedom to make whatever he wanted with what will undoubtedly be the highest grossing film of the year. I can REALLY respect Disney/Lucasfilm for doing that. I also think that people got way too into The Force Awakens. I've watched a few videos of people listing their complaints about The Last Jedi, and when they get to their "missing Episode VII" story-lines complaint, they start rattling off things that even I have no memory of. Really? You're upset that they didn't include the 45th subplot in TFA? Look. This is not a perfect movie. Heck, it's not even a great movie, in my opinion. But the good (and great) moments of this film still far outweigh the bad. Episode VII was far from perfect and played things really safe. That's J.J. Abrams style. He's a crowd-pleasing director. Episode VIII isn't perfect, either, but it took risks. Rian Johnson played fast and loose with the Star Wars lore, and I can't help but respect his vision for the universe far more than I did for J.J. Abrmas. And Disney! I really cannot believe they green lighted this, but geez am I glad that they did.
Let's start with the good. Before we get to a brief (to keep it spoiler-free) discussion of the story, let's talk about other elements of this film. The acting. The "new school" class of in The Last Jedi are awesome once again. Even better than they were in TFA honestly. Poe is still my personal favorite. Oscar Isaac is so charming and charismatic it freaking hurts! He continues to be one of my favorite actors in show-business, and I hope he ends up with a career as distinguished as someone like Harrison Ford. Domhnall Gleeson, one of my complaints from TFA, fills out his shoes far better here as General Hux. I actually kind of like Hux in this movie. He's not as awkward as he was the first time around, and the fact that he doesn't have to deliver that really forced Hitler-like speech helps. (Let's be honest-the entire concept of Starkiller base was silly from TFA.) The other stars (Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega) are just as good as they were in TFA. I really like these actors, and I hope they all manage to have good careers in Hollywood after this Star Wars trilogy is over. The big newcomers, though? Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran? All great in their roles, but none of them have very fleshed-out character arcs. Del Toro and Dern are basically just plot devices, so you're not going to get good arcs for them, but the real loser here is Kelly Marie Tran. She plays Rose and has a story-line with Finn that's.....well.....we'll get into that later. Moving on. Let's talk about one of my favorite parts of Episode VIII: the score. (Cues the trailer for the music) John Williams knocks this one out of the park! I was somewhat disappointed with his score of TFA because I felt (and still do) that it failed to capture the magic of previous Star Wars scores. (The music of Star Wars is my favorite music of any film, so I hold these to a far higher standard than I should) Fortunately, Episode VIII knocks it out of the freaking park in this regard. The score here is awesome, combining some of the best themes from the original (IV-VI) trilogy with some of the better themes of Episode VII. There's one sequence in particular involving the Millennium Falcon that uses a classic theme from Episode IV that made me grin from ear to ear. It was one of my favorite moments of the film. Speaking of! The cinematography is also fantastic. And if that sequence with the Falcon isn't my favorite moment of the film, then another that has this absolutely beautiful shot combined with a stunning moment of silence right in the middle of the climax of the film is. Yes, silence! I LOVE that Rian Johnson wasn't afraid to have the (objectively) best moment of this film be accompanied by total silence. I've seen this film twice, and both times you could hear a pin drop in the theater in this moment, despite it being a full room both times. It's a haunting and beautiful sequence. Finally, the set piece on the mineral planet was amazing. Thanks to the red salt against the white ground, we get some absolutely gorgeous shots throughout this. I mean, look at the picture below! It's so byotiful!
But now let's talk about the story. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you absolutely don't want to know anything, then skip this paragraph. There's a lot of good in this story, but there are some misfires here as well. First off, the good. Personally, I love Kylo Ren's arc. I wasn't entirely on board with him in TFA, but I am now. He has some awesome moments in this film, and his character goes in a direction that (at least) I wasn't fully expecting, and I love it. Give me more Kylo Ren, please! Additionally, (and this is one of the more polarizing arcs in this film) I like Luke's arc tremendously. Mark Hamill plays Luke exceptionally well, and I really appreciated what his character goes through and where he ends up. Luke's final scene in this film is, in my opinion, perfect, and I can't wait to see what part he plays in Episode IX. Also, I like Snoke in this film. I won't say anything more, but I thought he was kind of dumb in TFA, and I really appreciated where he goes in The Last Jedi. The people complaining about him are silly. After all did The Emperor get any real screen time in any of V and VI? No. HOWEVER, there are some real misfires. Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is a mere plot device, and Rian Johnson does make her have this kind of silly little subplot with Poe that doesn't add too much to the film. But this makes me upset more so because I love Laura Dern than anything else. There are two rather big misfires here in my opinion. The first (and lesser of the two) is with a rather large subplot involving Finn and Rose. I wasn't on board for much of any of this admittedly long sequence, (so it does throw the pacing off in the middle of the film) but I will say it had some good CGI and cinematography, and it had a good score to back it up. It also did lead to a cool (but otherwise meaningless) post-epilogue scene, so at least there's that. The worst misfire, though, is with Leia. Her entire story arc feels wrong and out-of-place given what happened to the late, great Carrie Fisher. (RIP) Fisher herself is great. This is probably Leia's best film in the Star Wars universe. But....I wish it had been changed. She also has not just the dumbest moment of this movie, but quite possibly the dumbest moment of the entire Star Wars saga. (A saga which has also produced Jar Jar Binks and the casting of Hayden Christensen so that is a fairly impressive feat.) Ugh! Why did you treat Leia like this, Rian Johnson? I want to like it, but I just can't.
So now that we're talking about the bad, story aside, let me bring up two other negatives. First, the CGI. Most of it is pretty good, (definitely better than TFA out-of-place CGI) but there is one sequence where it is TERRIBLE. It doesn't help that this is a bigger moment for the film, but unfortunately it comes off as kind of corny because the CGI is hilariously bad. The other complaint I have is with the humor. Most of the time, I laughed so it wasn't all bad. But! There were a few sequences where the humor felt forced, especially surrounding Finn. He has a lot of (unfortunately) forced gags in this film. This is the M.O. of Rian Johnson, though, so it shouldn't be too surprising. However, other than that, I really don't have any complaints. The silly and dumb do detract from the film overall, but not to the point of it being "worse than the prequels" or anything like that.
In conclusion, I do believe The Last Jedi surpasses its predecessor overall. There were a lot of silly J.J. Abrams story-lines that Johnson wasn't afraid to do away with, and I respect him for shaking things up as much as he did. I wish Rian Johnson was directing Episode IX instead of Disney handing the reins back to Abrams, because I fear he may try and undo a lot of what Johnson did in VIII. It could lead to a tonal mess between the three films. I know this movie has received mixed reviews from the audience, but I actually kind of like that. That was the risk Disney took when they gave Johnson total control of this movie. He got to make the movie he wanted to make, and that just doesn't happen nowadays. Abrams knows how to make a crowd pleasing film. "Hey, you don't like the prequels? Well let me just rehash Episode IV for you." But for as many movies as I see, and how cynical I can be with corporate mandated filmmaking, (cough cough Justice League cough cough) I really prefer the balls-to-the-wall creative style of Johnson over the crowd-pleasing style of Abrams. I will admit that nostalgia got the better of me when I was reviewing TFA, and I ended up giving it too high a score. I gave it an 8 when I should've given it a 6. That won't happen here. The Last Jedi is a good film, with some faults, but it does manage to surpass its predecessor because it doesn't play things safe, and it isn't just a simple rehash of Episode IV or V. It's its own thang, and I love and respect the risk Disney took with Rian Johnson to make it so. See it with confidence, just maaaaybe temper your expectations a tad.
The Critique: A crazy and original film, The Last Jedi manages to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way, despite some faults of its own.
The Recommendation: As if everyone in the world isn't going to go see this film. It did just open to over $220 million domestically. Maybe make it a double feature and show better films like The Disaster Artist some love while you're at it though, ya? Sorry. Couldn't keep my cynical side at bay forever.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjk2MjI1MzgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzczMjIyMzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_.jpg (Rey + Luke)
All the Superheroes
Justice League (2017): Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.
You can probably guess where this review is going to go. Justice League is........fine. It has some decent action set pieces, a good cast, and some good effects. (Good in the sense that never once did I sit there and think everything in front of me was CGI, so kind of a low bar there) But there's a lot of problems too. The film is, once again, ugly to look at, everything feels rushed, (again) and the witty dialogue WB marketed the crap out of feels out of place. Especially coming from Thor: Ragnarok just a few weeks earlier. But, at the end of the day.....the superhero movie fatigue is in full swing at this point. I'm glad DC is only releasing one film next year, though we'll get no shortage of Marvel movies so I don't expect this fatigue to go away anytime soon. Anyway, let's dive into it, shall we?
First off, the good. Let's start with the cast. The cast for this film is massive, and I managed to have some fun watching big names like Diane Lane, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, and Billy Crudup all show up for a scene or two. Ironically, Diane Lane provided the most emotional moment of the entire film in one of her two scenes. While Amy Adams was definitely sleepwalking in her role as Lois Lane, (though she's still a great actress in her sleep so that's not saying much) most of the new members did everything they could to establish their characters for the upcoming films in the 2-3 scenes they got. Additionally, the main cast was pretty good. Ben Affleck is......Ben Affleck, but the rest of the crew seems right at home with their new roles. Ezra Miller stole the show here for me personally. His portrayal of Barry Allen was fantastic! I think DC may have found lightning in a bottle again with that casting. (Pun intended) They need it, too, because there's really only so much Gal Gadot can do to carry the DC franchise. (Though the execs at WB definitely realize that Gadot as Wonder Woman is DC's equivalent of the Wolverine/Iron Man portrayals so they are trying to get her as much screen time as possible.) Ray Fisher was fine as Cyborg, but there's only so much you can do when all you get to work with is half your face. He was definitely featured enough, but.....eh? Not much you can do with that character. He's just a cyborg. Jason Momoa was as charming and charismatic as Aquaman as you would expect. But, because they're not around water in the major battles, he basically just flew around and did ridiculous things during the set pieces. It was cool, but again.....eh? Speaking of! The set pieces here are way better than that of Batman vs. Superman. WB figured out that they were being rightly criticized for that final battle in BvS because it was shot in rainy darkness for some inexplicable reason, so they told Snyder to not only film this final set piece during the day, but have the sky be a BRIGHT color so we could see everything! Yay! To be fair, though, I'll take that over what we got in BvS. Finally, the effects were pretty good. I WISH we had a chance to see Ciaran Hinds as the villain, Steppenwolf, because he was so covered in makeup and effects it was only after I watched the movie and entered it into IMDB that I realized "Hey! That was Ciaran Hinds!" But his bug-like minions looked pretty good, and he did too.
But now it's time to talk about the bad. Let's talk about how rushed this movie feels, shall we? The negative of having this giant cast in Justice League means this film is inevitably going to feel very bloated. It definitely feels like the crew is trying to set up 18 films at once here, (hey, they are!) and it definitely makes me a tad cynical as I'm watching this. It's like watching teasers for upcoming films while watching a movie. Those work, right? Additionally, even though the final set piece was decently shot, there's still a lot of Snyder-esque scenes throughout this film. It worked for Watchmen, but it STILL doesn't work here. We don't need shot after shot at night or in the rain, do we? Do we really? Also, can we PLEASE get some silence every once in a while! There are several attempts at some intimate scenes scattered throughout this film, but there's still so much extra crap going on in these sequences (like the forgettable and unnecessary score underneath and all these grand shots with a lot of action happening in them) that you can't really appreciate them. It's like watching Michael Bay try and have an intimate moment surrounded by explosions. It just doesn't work! Diane Lane almost makes it work as there's a close up of her in one of the more emotional moments, but then we cut to a wide shot of corn! And wind! And a grand sunset! You just can't really get those intimate, emotional points across with so much crap happening. Also, can we take a minute to talk about the humor? Because.....it's here, but dear GOD does it feel out of place. And it's not even all that good! I think I chuckled maybe 4 or 5 times? But it was definitely unnecessary and out-of-place for our heroes to be cracking one-liners as the world is falling around them. This was a mandate from WB, and it feels very, VERY forced most of the time. Humor just doesn't work in Zack Snyder's world.
All of this combines to make Justice League a fine film, but not one that I plan on seeing again any time soon. At least this one was shorter, clocking in at exactly 2 hours. Sure better than the 150 minute endeavor that was BvS. I don't even know what they could do to make the DC Universe better. Wonder Woman worked because of its star and its director, so maybe Snyder is the common thread in all of this? I really don't want to just blame him for all of DC's problems, but him being out of the picture entirely, and WB being willing to take a chance, like Marvel did with Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok, may make this franchise feel less cynical than it is. Hey! James Wan is leading Aquaman, so maybe it'll be good! I just don't know how many more chances I'm willing to give DC/WB.
The Critique: Despite a huge and great cast, Justice League still feels corporate-mandated with out-of-place humor and a rushed and bloated story, which, combined with the Zack Snyder's dismal touch, leads to an average film.
The Recommendation: If you want to see this you probably already have, but there are DEFINITELY better films out there at the theater right now. Like Thor: Ragnarok! And Lady Bird! And heck, I've heard Wonder is pretty good so spend your money on that before you go see this.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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The Best Marvel Movie Yet?
Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
Hey, look! A superhero movie done the way a superhero movie should be done! Light, refreshing, and fun to watch, filled with charming and charismatic leads and a great villain. It seems simple, right? Well, that's exactly what Thor: Ragnarok is. This film, which is the only Thor film worth watching, moves briskly through its 130 minute run-time and is full of witty dialogue spoken by a cast that just seeps charisma, even from its relative newcommers. I mean in a cast that consists of Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, (oh, and an AMAZING cameo) you know you have lightning in a bottle when Tessa Thompson steals the show. In other news.....welcome to Hollywood, Tessa Thompson. And welcome to A-list status, Taika Waititi. What a great choice to have him direct this!
So, what makes this movie so good? Well pretty much the entire planet has already seen this sucker, but by far the biggest thing is the fact that it's FUNNY. This movie is laugh out loud funny from start to finish. It might as well be considered a comedy.....and honestly it was funnier than Guardians 2. Now this humor does hurt it at points, as the heroes would be in a life threatening situation and still spouting off one-liners, but is that really that big a deal? No. Also, this movie is colorful! I mean just look at the pic above. So many different colors. All the suits are diverse and are quite nice to look at. The movie is well acted by all parties involved, with Tessa Thompson leading the way. But really the strength of this movie can be traced to director Taika Waititi. Marvel took a big risk with this guy.....before this movie, his highest grossing film made somewhere around $5 million. But the guys over at Marvel knocked this one out of the park, as having Taika direct was a superb choice. I expect he'll have a lot more directing gigs in the future. Also, and this is just a minor thing, but I LOVED the fact that Doctor Strange was in this. It was a brief cameo, sure, but I just really appreciated the fact that FOR ONCE someone did something in the MCU, and another superhero actually acknowledged it! THANK YOU.
There's not much to say that's bad about this film. I guess my biggest complaint is that there's not enough of the villain in it. I LOVED Cate Blanchett as Hela. She's an extremely strong villain, but was not in this film NEARLY enough. It's really funny to me that this is the case, because a typical complaint of Marvel movies is that they have a very underwhelming villain. Well here, they finally have a great villain, but they just don't feature her enough! Geez, guys! Other than that, I guess the only thing I can say is I am starting to get fatigued as a whole about superhero movies. I'll keep seeing them, obviously, but it's getting harder and harder for me to not look at the latest Marvel movie as "just another Marvel movie," and I have a feeling that outside of Avengers: Infinity War, that feeling is just going to get worse and worse as time goes on. But still. This is a great movie, and that complaint doesn't do anything to diminish that. Just.....don't forget about other movies, please?
The Critique: Taika Waititi directs another strong addition to the Marvel franchise filled with great humor and entertaining action.
The Recommendation: At this point, I might as well ask.....who isn't going to see this movie?
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
A Towering Visual Spectacle
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.
Ok, first off, GO SEE THIS MOVIE. It's not doing all that well at the box office and that is a HUGE SHAME because this movie is a visual masterpiece! You don't need to have seen the original Blade Runner to follow along here. I can speak with personal experience on that one, because that's exactly what I did. But.....look at that picture! Doesn't that shot just look stunning? The film looks like that basically the entire movie! So stop reading this review and GO SEE IT. NOW.
Ok, now that you're back, let's talk about Blade Runner 2049. First off, the good! As I may have mentioned, the calling card of this film is the cinematography. Master sci-fi director Denis Villeneuve brings one of the greatest cinematographers ever into the fold in Roger Deakins to film this movie, and this may be his best work yet. From the lush colors to the incredible wideshots, there is not a single ugly shot in this entire film. And while the film has these unforgettable wide shots, it makes sure to knock the intimate close ups out of the park too. Seriously.... you could watch this movie with no sound on whatsoever and still be entertained. I feel confident when I say this film will be a favorite to win Best Cinematography at the Oscars, because it is one of the best visual works I have seen in a long while. (At least since 2015's The Revenant) But that's not the only thing this film has going for it, because if you turn the sound off you will miss out on the other great thing here: the score. This film's score definitely follows up the original's iconic score, as (once again....the dude is on fire this year between this and Dunkirk) Hans Zimmer creates a dark and eerie soundtrack that somehow rides the line between sounding similar to the original, while not being just a carbon copy of it. Simply incredible. No doubt Zimmer is on the top of his game right now, and he's making a strong case for winning his first ever Academy Award this year as well.
But that's not all. In addition to the cinematography and score, this film features an incredible set design and great costumes. I mean, look at that picture I used! It's beautiful! There are some scenes that take place in a Vegas casino, and the set design of those scenes is pretty amazing as well. Ironically, the blandest costume in the entire film is worn by Harrison Ford, but that was certainly intentional. Speaking of Ford, the acting is also fantastic. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford are great, and Ana de Armas plays her role well too. Sylvia Hoeks is a newcommer for me, but her performance was excellent as Wallace's right hand replicant. She's definitely a bona fide badass, and I look forward to seeing what she does next. Jared Leto is the screen hogging to the max (as usual) and I can't help but love it, though I think his performance will become somewhat dated as time goes on. OH! And Barkhad Abdi is in this!!!! We finally get an appearance from this great Somalian actor! Woot woot! Buuuuut he did not tell Gosling or Ford that he was the captain of this film now, so I was a little disappointed by that. But seriously, Hollywood: get this guy more work! He's great!
I do have a few faults, though. By far my biggest issue with this film is with Arma de Armas's character. She's basically Gosling's projection girlfriend, but she has a really sloppy and shallow character arc that is "resolved" in a very mute and messy way. It's the focal point of some backlash against the film, and I can kind of see why. As great as Armas portrays the character as this childish and somewhat naive projection that matures throughout the film, the movie itself could not care less about her and her existence. Sadly she's just there to be sexy, but thanks to the talent of Armas she makes it a bit more than that. However it's still easily the weakest point of the film. Really, that's the only major complaint I have with this movie. I wish they had shown us some off-world colonies, but wishing for more film is hardly a gripe to have. Oh! Here's something else: the final climatic battle scene was kind of poorly shot compared to the rest of the film and was a little too chaotic, but given the beauty of virtually everything before it I'm more than willing to forgive that. That sequence is shot at night and I understand why, but I still kind of wish it had just been shot during the day so we could see everything. Ultimately, Denis Villeneuve leads a talented group and creates a gripping and immersive sci-fi drama that falls just short of perfection thanks to some shortcomings in the character arcs. However this film is MORE than worthy of your time and money, and is certainly worth going to the theater to see just to stare at its beauty and listen to the score. Make the time to see this one.
The Critique: A marvelous visual spectacle, Blade Runner 2049 is more than worthy of your time and is headlined by incredible cinematography and a fantastic score.
The Recommendation: You guessed it: an absolute must-see for everyone. There's more than enough to like here for all.
The Verdict: 9/10 Amazing
Oscar Talk: I think this film will get an easy nomination for cinematography, and it may very well earn Zimmer a nomination for the score as well. (Though the Academy may go for the more commercially successful film of his and give him a nod for Dunkirk) I could see costumes and production design, but this film may be coming out too early for that. We'll see!
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