The First Purge (Full Review)

It’s easy to tell when a franchise has lost its luster. Things begin to feel redundant and the themes start to lose subtlety. When The Purge was released in 2013, it created an interesting concept. What if all crime, even murder, was legal for one 12-hour period each year? The Purge: Anarchy and Election Year expanded upon that concept. But having milked that premise in a trilogy, not even a prequel can keep this series from starting to feel stale.

The_First_Purge_posterThe First Purge takes place nearly a decade before the first film. With the aid of a psychoanalyst (Marisa Tomei), the radical government regime known as the New Founding Fathers of America decide to use Staten Island, New York for the first experimental purge. Once they realize more citizens are interested in partying rather than committing murder, the NFFA takes matters into their own hands by bringing in trained killers and white supremacists. Caught in the chaos are an activist (Lex Scott Davis) and her drug dealing brother (Joivan Wade), a single mother (Lauren Velez), and the island’s biggest kingpin (Y’lan Noel).

In case it wasn’t made clear earlier in this review, The First Purge is redundant and lacks any subtlety. There is virtually nothing in this film that will be considered refreshing or exciting to anyone who has seen any other Purge movie. We’ve already seen both skilled combatants and mere civilians stuck in the streets during the Purge in two other movies, so it adds no real intrigue here. The concept of the government masquerading as purgers as a means of population control has also been used before. So aside from gangster movie cliches, more creepy masks, and some fresh faces with decent acting chops, there’s absolutely nothing this movie has to add.

What makes matters worse is the ending. Y’Lan Noel’s character going full John Wick to save his friends from a pack of neo-Nazis in an apartment building, makes the film go from typical Purge movie to an outright ridiculous 90’s Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. If all the creators of this franchise can do is come up with different ways to get people out on the streets during the Purge, then it is definitely time to put it to rest before it gets any more unbearable.

FINAL GRADE: D

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Ant-Man and The Wasp (Full Review)

Welp… someone had to draw the short straw. 2015’s Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, mainly because it relished in being a comedic heist film more than an outright superhero movie. But this time around, Marvel’s shrinking hero has the unenviable task of following up the two highest grossing films in the history of comic book cinema. And while no intelligent person should be going into Ant-Man and The Wasp looking for it to be as thematically profound as Black Pantheror as epic as Infinity War, it is fair to expect a film equally as fun, or exciting, as the first Ant-Man.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAfter aiding Captain America in Civil War, ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. Determined to finish the last days of his two year sentence and spend more time with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has given up the moniker of Ant-Man. But, having escaped the subatomic quantum realm in the first film, Scott is also the key to helping the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), rescue his long lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the same mysterious dimension. With the FBI, a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a villain who can phase through solid matter (Hannah John-Kamen) standing in their way, Scott takes up the mantle again with Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as his partner.

Calling Lilly’s Wasp the “partner” is actually pretty ridiculous. By the first action sequence, it becomes clear that the movie should be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. She is tougher, smarter, and more heroic to the point that it relegates Lang to being, not only more of the sidekick, but inherently mere comic relief and a plot device for her adventure. And that would all be fine if this sequel had the same narrative flow as the previous film. But it never rightfully gives her the tonal forefront.

Miguel Peña, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, and Davis Dastmalchian all return as Lang’s goofy, ex-con coworkers. Laurence Fishburne appears as a former colleague to Dr. Pym. Oh… and Randall Park also plays a bumbling FBI agent. By the end, there are just too many characters and story threads. The over-reliance on quips and gags makes for a ton of disjointed scenes that, like in Thor: Ragnarok, undermine serious stakes. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins and his crew of buffoons seem to be onscreen only to provide henchmen to beat up, which only wastes the potential of John-Kamen’s visually stunning, but underdeveloped villain, ‘Ghost’.

Peyton Reed returns to direct, and he tries mightily to give this film the same tone. But at its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a heist film. With Hope and Dr. Pym’s emotional journey to reunite with their lost matriarch being the main focus, The Wasp should’ve been the main character. Rudd’s Lang is still charming, and his endearing relationship with his daughter was enough of a subplot to bring him along for the ride, but he needed to take more of a backseat. Continuously giving screen time to clownish characters is frequently becoming Marvel’s biggest weakness. And here, it squanders the showcasing of its tremendous female lead. It certainly has some fun moments, but there’s too much going on for Ant-Man and The Wasp not to land near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Uncle Drew (Full Review)

Many of my favorite comedies are some of the dumbest movies in creation. To be a good comedy, you just have to strike the right chord for the right audience. I remember the firsts time I saw the Pepsi Uncle Drew commercials with NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving dressed as an old man. They were hilarious. For a film version to work, they just needed to keep that same energy.

Uncle_Drew_posterFoot Locker employee, Dax (Lil Rel Howery), is down on his luck and putting everything he has into managing a streetball team that can win a tournament at New York’s famed Rucker Park with a $100,000 cash prize. But when his rival (Nick Kroll) steals his star player (Aaron Gordon) and his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish), Dax is forced to find a new team. Luckily for him, he stumbles upon 70 year old, streetball legend Uncle Drew (Irving). Drew agrees to play in the tournament, but only with his old teammates, which include a preacher (Chris Webber), a blind shooter (Reggie Miller), a man who doesn’t walk or talk (Nate Robinson), and a 7-foot karate instructor who has beef with Drew (Shaquille O’Neal).

The story is as formulaic as they come, but Uncle Drew succeeds in doing what comedies are supposed to do. The laughs are plentiful and organic from the start. The most prominent comedy with NBA players that I can remember is Space Jam. And while it is a cult classic, none of the players in it did a very good job on the acting front. That isn’t the case here. Retired NBA vets, Miller, Robinson, Shaq, and Webber are all absolutely hilarious. WNBA legend Lisa Leslie also adds comedic flare as Preacher’s tough as nails first lady. The simple fact that they are all clad in makeup and acting like old people while showcasing their ridiculous basketball ability, only adds to the fun.

Uncle Drew doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. It has a central character that audiences can root for, and a supporting cast that each have their own unique quirks. If Shaq playing a karate instructor, Chris Webber doing a baptism by putting a baby through his legs, Kyrie Irving singing and dancing to music from an 8-track player, and Reggie Miller yelling swish while blindly bricking shots at an arcade, are not funny to you… then you should save your money. But if you found the Uncle Drew commercials goofy and fun, then this film has enough to make your sides split in laughter even if you aren’t a basketball fan.

FINAL GRADE: B

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Full Review)

Few expected Jurassic World to be the worldwide box office success that it was. But thanks to the charm of Chris Pratt and some well played nostalgia, the movie managed to recapture the essence of the original Jurassic Park. But just like with the original Jurassic Park sequels, it’s tough to keep the franchise from becoming stale when the dinosaur theme park isn’t the focal point. With a weaker storyline, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes dangerously close to crumbling under the weight of its own outlandishness.

Jurassic_World_Fallen_KingdomA few years after the foolish decision to create a mutated dinosaur led to catastrophe and the closing of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar find themselves facing extension thanks to an active volcano. With the U.S. government refusing to get involved, a wealthy benefactor (James Cromwell) and his financial successor (Rafe Spall) launch a secret expedition to save the dinosaurs. To accomplish their mission they recruit raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt), former park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a hacker (Justice Smith), and a dino veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). It doesn’t take long for the dino-loving group to learn that the organization has dangerous ulterior motives.

Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, clearly the best two films in the franchise, worked because they kept things simple and played on the fear of people who thought they were going to experience a fun zoological atmosphere. Like Jurassic Park 2 and 3, Fallen Kingdom falls into the same plot pitfalls that make it teeter on being ridiculous. The motivations of the antagonists are beyond stupid, but they successfully set up what you come to these movies to see: people running in terror from carnivorous dinosaurs.

Any blockbuster with a flimsy plot has to tow the line between between being stupid and being big dumb fun (just ask Michael Bay). Fallen Kingdom manages to fall into the latter thanks in large part to the cast. Pratt once again delivers a charismatic tough guy performance that keeps the tone light. The newcomers, Smith and Pineda, are surprisingly welcome additions. Pineda adds wit and Smith brings a ton of sidesplitting physical humor. Thus, when things go inevitably haywire, we enjoy seeing them run and scream on screen with Pratt playing the infectious hero.

Decisions by characters we don’t care about are beyond dumb, like a hunter entering a cage of a vicious dino-hybrid to collect a tooth as a trophy. At times it almost feels like characters should turn and wink at the camera before they get eaten. But that’s part of the fun. Even when you can see the outcome a mile away, Fallen Kingdom works its way through the suspense with chilling cinematography and lighthearted quips. So while this unnecessary sequel doesn’t reinvent the wheel or create the same fun as its better predecessors, it is still an absolutely exciting summer ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Impossible Task… Ranking the Pixar Films

There is no studio quite like Pixar. Not only have they been the gold standard for cutting edge animation, but they have also routinely given us heartwarming stories that are entertaining for moviegoers of all ages. With 20 films under their belt, I decided to try my hand at ranking them. Full disclosure, making this list was like splitting hairs as most of them are sensational. Nevertheless, here is my countdown of all of Disney/Pixar’s full length films.

20. CARS 2

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Easily the black sheep of the Pixar family. While it’s more boring than terrible, this unnecessary sequel is neither thematically profound nor is it clever. Making Cars sidekick, Mater the lead and shifting the plot to being a spy film rather than focusing on racing were two mistakes that made it feel like a direct to DVD Disney film rather than a Pixar masterpiece.

Best Moment: Mater experiencing a Japanese toilet for the first time warranted a chuckle, I guess.

19. CARS 3

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The only Pixar movie that actually made me doze off upon first viewing. The story, which puts the focus back on Lightning McQueen being an athlete fading from his prime, is endearing enough. But the movie itself doesn’t have nearly enough humor or exciting moments to be considered entertaining for anyone other than young children.

Best Moment: The final race where Lightning McQueen coaches up Cruz Ramirez to victory was a nice touch.

18. THE GOOD DINOSAUR

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This movie was incredibly heartwarming and carried the Pixar torch of making audience members tear up. The problem is, it isn’t nearly original enough. A studio known for its unique characters and stories managed to make a film that ended up being a mashup of a bunch of other Disney movies we’d already seen.

Best Moment: Arlo and Spot go on a pretty wild trip off some poison berries.

17. BRAVE

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Princess Merida was a great character and her triplet brothers were hilarious. But this movie wasn’t particularly memorable. There wasn’t a ton of exciting moments and even though there were some good laughs, it can’t outweigh the fact that Brave isn’t nearly as rewatchable as many of the other Pixar movies.

Best Moment: Princess Merida makes a trip to see the quirky wood carver who moonlights as a witch.

16. CARS

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Sorry to pick on the Cars franchise, but these movies aren’t as great for audiences members of all ages. The first film in the trilogy was good, but not great. The plot was sound, and of course the animation was gorgeous, but there just wasn’t enough clever humor to make it a masterpiece. Most of the humor came from car puns and it kind of got old in this movie’s lengthy run time.

Best Moment: Guido performs the most epic pit stop ever.

15. RATATOUILLE

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The characters were fun and quirky and the animated food looked incredibly appetizing. But again, great film, not particularly memorable for being funny or exciting. This was one of those movies everyone should see, but it isn’t exactly one you’d be dying to own.

Best Moment: Remy cooks up a dish so spectacular that it makes food critic and French curmudgeon Anton Ego reminisce to his childhood.

14. INCREDIBLES 2

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Pixar’s latest film is really fun and exciting. It’s arguably funnier than the first and the action scenes are some of the best in the history of animation. But as plots go, this is probably Pixar’s weakest non-Cars story.

Best Moment: Baby Jack Jack vs. the Raccoon

13. MONSTERS INC.

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Baby Boo was adorable and Sully and Mike were a fantastic onscreen duo. It’s almost crazy to me to put this movie so low on the list, but it isn’t quite as funny or thematically groundbreaking as the movies above it.

Best Moment: “Welcome to the Himalayas! Snow cone?”

12. TOY STORY 2

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One of the few animated sequels that lived up to the hype. But in hindsight, it’s the weakest of the Toy Story trilogy. Jessie and Bullseye were great additions to the franchise and there are plenty of laughs in this film. But I can’t help but feel like Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s toys took too much of a backseat to Woody in this one.

Best Moment: Buzz Lightyear #2 vs. Zerg

11. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

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I was surprised at how much I loved this movie. The collegiate theme to the movie was a great aesthetic. It made the film feel more unique than any Pixar sequel and managed to create more depth and nuance to Mike and Sully’s already wonderful chemistry.

Best Moment: The snail monster “rushing” to class.

10. INSIDE OUT

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Now we’re really starting to split hairs. I absolutely loved this movie. That it barely cracks the top 10 is a testament to Pixar’s films since it’s release. A creative story and a beautiful message about the importance of every emotion manages to outweigh the lack of laugh out loud moments in comparison to other Pixar films.

Best Moment: If Bing Bong’s epic sacrifice doesn’t get you in your feelings, you have no soul.

9. A BUG’S LIFE

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One of the most rewatchable animated movies ever. The characters are fun and quirky. The story is smart and funny. And, above all, Hopper is a sensational villain and the studios best antagonist to date.

Best Moment: Hopper demonstrates why the grasshoppers need to keep the ants in line after one of his foolish subordinates suggests taking time off.

8. WALL-E

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Sure, there isn’t a lot of dialogue. But I’ve watched and enjoyed several silent films, so that doesn’t bother me. This movie is arguably Pixar’s most endearing and manages to be smart and humorous despite its unconventional method of storytelling.

Best Moment: WALL-E adorably tries to woo Eve with dancing and a flower.

7. FINDING DORY

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This movie was as heartfelt as it was hilarious. It successfully built its narrative around the previous film’s incredible supporting character. It is a model of how you make a sequel while placing a different character at the forefront (Looking at you Cars 2).

Best Moment: Hank the octopus experiences Dory’s short term memory loss for the first time when trying to get her tag.

6. COCO

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One could make the argument that this is Pixar’s best film and I wouldn’t argue with you. It doesn’t have as many laughs and memorable characters as other movies in the gallery, but it is still an absolute masterpiece. The visuals, the tear inducing story, and the beautiful representation of Mexican culture should all be applauded.

Best Moment: Mama Coco remembers her father when Miguel plays “Remember Me”

5. TOY STORY 3

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This movie had a lot of elements from Toy Story 2, but with better execution. Transplanting Jessie’s arc to the villain was an upgrade, and the movie gave Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s toys, a fun and humorous arc. For anyone who ever had a favorite toy, the finale is still enough to bring even the toughest of personas to tears. This movie was so good that I have no desire for Toy Story 4.

Best Moment: The toys in the furnace is a gut punch of emotion.

4. UP

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No opening scene in cinema has a more gut punching intro. From there, Up set the stage for one of the most endearing stories to date. Even without the heartwarming elements, this movie would stand the test of time for being a fun, family adventure.

Best Moment: The opening montage with Carl and Ellie… duh.

3. TOY STORY

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The film that started it all. Great characters. A ton of memorable, hilarious moments. A great story with a good lesson for people of all ages. Toy Story had it all. Over two decades old and it still holds up as a cinematic masterpiece.

Best Moment: “Don’t you get it! You see the hat! I am Misses Nesbit!”

2. FINDING NEMO

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The beginning may not be quite as tear inducing as UP’s, but it isn’t too far behind. (Disney sure likes killing off parents). Finding Nemo has one of the best assortments of supporting characters of any film ever made. Despite having a ton of characters, every single one that comes on screen leaves a mark. It paces seamlessly and provides some fantastic laughs throughout making it as close to a perfect movie as one can fathom.

Best Moment: The initiation of “Sharkbate”… or anything involving Dory.

1. THE INCREDIBLES

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Maybe I’m biased because superheroes are my favorite, but no animated film is as rewatchable for me as this one. The characters are fun and unique, the laughs are plentiful, the music is sensational, and the design is flawless. Throw in a well paced story, some exhilarating action, and a fantastic villain and you have Pixar’s most fun and memorable film.

Best Moment: Dash escapes Syndrome’s henchmen is a close second… but superhero costumed designer, Edna Mode steals the show.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know what Pixar films make your Top Ten.

Tag (Full Review)

Everyone played tag growing up. It’s a fun game, but few could take it to the level of a group of friends who have played the game for over 30 years. It’s a wildly exciting true story published by the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to connect with your best friends. So taking this story of friends reconnecting and keeping the childlike fun alive and turning it into a comedy with an all-star cast is a recipe for a fun ride.

Tag_(2018_film)Every May since they were kids, five guys get together and play tag. It doesn’t matter that they live in different states and have careers and lives of their own, the game will still be played. But one skilled player, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), has never been tagged. With his wedding approaching, his friends Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), and Sable (Hannibal Burress) team up to finally tag him. With Hoagie’s super competitive wife (Isla Fisher) and a Wall Street Journalist (Annabelle Wallis) along for the ride, the guys scheme out a plan to end Jerry’s perfect streak.

Tag moves at a sometimes uneven, often unbelievable, but pleasantly quirky pace. It takes a while for the cast to find their chemistry, but once they get their footing, everything works. Each character has individual moments that will make you chuckle, especially Hannibal Burress and Isla Fisher. The movie is at its best when it isn’t cramming unnecessary subplots, like a love triangle between Hamm’s Bob, Johnson’s Chilli, and an old flame played by Rashida Jones.

The nuance of the cat and mouse nature of the movie is nice. And there are plenty of funny moments, which is one of the most important things for a comedy, but that isn’t what makes Tag memorable. Once the climax roles around, the film finally hammers home its emotional core. The final scene is a wonderfully heartfelt ode to friendship that makes every weak moment in the movie evaporate amidst the pure joy that everyone onscreen is having.

FINAL GRADE: B

Incredibles 2 (Full Review)

The wait is finally over! It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird directed the Disney/Pixar classic. Most of the Pixar films are brilliant, but The Incredibles is my all time favorite. But not all Pixar sequels are created equal. So despite deep excitement, Incredibles 2 had to live up to lofty expectations of being more like Finding Dory than Cars 2.

The_Incredibles_2Super strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his super stretching wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his force field creating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) jump back into action to save the city from the evil Underminor (John Ratzenberger). But their destructive heroics are unfortunately met with more government scrutiny that forces them back into hiding. Luckily for them, Elastigirl is approached by a pair of siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to use their Telecommunications company to prove to the world that superheroes are still necessary. While she battles a new villain called the Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible has to handle the equally arduous tasks of helping Dash with his homework, dealing with Violet’s teenage angst, and figuring out baby Jack Jack’s unhinged new powers.

The film’s plot isn’t as concise and its biggest flaw is its villain. The “twist” can be seen a mile away by any viewer who isn’t in grade school and the horde of new characters never make their mark outside of showcasing some visually appealing superpowers. Thus, Incredibles 2 never quite comes together as well as its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute fun, family film.

The action, which is more plentiful this time around, is absolutely stellar. Elastigirl being at the forefront creates several exhilarating moments. Her powers are far more interesting than Mr. Incredible’s, so we are treated to some very creative sequences like a fantastic motorcycle chase scene. There are also plenty of laughs. Baby Jack Jack gets more screen time and absolutely steals the show. His interaction with Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the hilarious superhero fashion designer from the first film, is one of the funniest scenes in either movie.

It’s no shame not living up to a transcendent previous film, so don’t feel too disappointed if Incredibles 2 isn’t quite a homerun. Maybe a decade from now when they greenlight Incredibles 3, we’ll get a story that resonates a little more. But, if great humor and eye-popping action with endearing characters is all we get out of this long awaited sequel, we should count ourselves lucky for the experience.

FINAL GRADE: B

Ocean’s 8 (Full Review)

Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s 11 is one of my all time favorite films. With charisma and a brilliantly clever heist, the film cemented itself as one of the best in the genre. Now it’s the ladies turn. With Gary Ross (Hunger Games) at the helm and a wealth of talented actresses to work with, Ocean’s 8 looks to rekindle the magic that Ocean’s 12 and 13 couldn’t quite recapture.

OceansEightPosterAfter serving 5 years in prison for fraud, Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is back in the family business. With her best friend and fellow con-artist, Lou (Cate Blanchett) at her side, she plans to steal a $150 million necklace from celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the annual Met Ball in New York City. To pull off the elaborate heist, she recruits a former thief turned housewife (Sarah Paulson), a down on her luck designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), and a brilliant hacker (Rihanna).

In an industry of shallow and unnecessary remakes (The Mummy), it’s a breath of fresh air that Ocean’s 8 never feels like a cheap knock off. From the style, to the humor, to the endless celebrity cameos, the film manages to feel organically similar to Ocean’s 11, but the diverse and fantastic cast creates a unique feel. Even characters like Debbie and Lou, who have identical personalities to George Clooney’s Danny and Brad Pitt’s Rusty, work well off of the strength of the chemistry and wit of Bullock and Blanchett. It only takes one, early shoplifting scene for Bullock to cement herself as a worthy successor to the franchise. As for the supporting cast, it’s surprisingly Rihanna who stands out the most. Her performance as the hacker named 9 Ball, is smart, sly, and fun making it clear she’s having a blast every minute she’s on screen.

Things aren’t completely rosy. With such a large cast, it’s easy for at least one character to slip through the cracks. Here, it’s Mindy Kaling’s Amita, who unlike her co-stars, never really gets a chance to let her personality shine. The heist itself also feels almost too easy for the ladies and somewhat undermines the suspense. So while it might not be quite as clever as Ocean’s 11, this reboot manages to properly re-establish a franchise that provides some wonderful humor and a fun cinematic experience. And it’s one of the few reboots that isn’t a waste of time and money.

FINAL GRADE: B

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Han Solo is one of the most popular characters from the original 1970’s Star Wars trilogy. The slick talking, charmer and his furry, temperamental partner Chewbacca, are two of cinema’s greatest outlaws. So, there is perhaps no characters worthier of a spin-off movie. With Harrison Ford far too old to reprise the role that launched his career, Aldin Ehrenreich has the lofty task of portraying the character in this prequel adventure.

Solo_A_Star_Wars_Story_posterSolo: A Star Wars Story introduces Han as a young, wannabe pilot, looking to free himself and an old flame (Emilia Clarke) from a life of servitude. Han’s mission to procure a ship and escape life working for the Empire, leads him to his future partner Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and a crew of thieves (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau). Eventually, Han finds himself working for a vicious gangster (Paul Bettany) who needs him to pull off a virtually impossible heist. To accomplish the job, Han will need the help of famed hustler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and their impressive ship… the Millennium Falcon.

Ron Howard stepped in to take over directing duties for Phil Lord and Christopher Miller after most of the film was already shot. The changes in direction are a bit noticeable in the film’s overstuffed plot. It takes a while to get going, and newcomers will likely find themselves scratching their heads at the many unexplained plot elements that Star Wars purists will fully understand. But when Solo manages to find its footing, it is actually one of the most fun, visually appealing, and exciting Star Wars films.

The set pieces and action sequences make the film feel like a cross between a gritty western and a space age, heist caper. As for Ehrenreich, he holds his own in a role that is essentially impossible for anyone to truly embody better than Ford. He brings enough charm, and the script gives him enough moments, to make the entire journey feel like an organic Han Solo story, even if the absence of Harrison Ford makes things feel a tad off.

The new characters in Solo don’t quite do enough to become memorable. L3-37, a witty droid hell bent on freeing her fellow robotic brothers and sisters from servitude, is easily the most enjoyable. But she doesn’t get the screen time to quite steal the show. The rest of the faces all feel like stock counterparts only there to further the plot, with the exception of Glover’s fantastic embodiment of a young Billy Dee Williams. The movie also succumbs to the popular prequel problem of trying too hard to weave in threads from other movies in the series.

With plenty of charm and some exhilarating action to counterbalance some obvious flaws, Solo is a movie that will entertain most casual fans of the genre, even if we all wish Harrison Ford was a few decades younger to breathe more life into it. Solo won’t be considered a top shelf sci-fi entry, or even an upper echelon Star Wars film. But for a film that isn’t holistically necessary, it deserves credit for having some incredible moments.

FINAL GRADE: C, Not bad, but highly flawed.

Deadpool 2 (Full Review)

For fans of Marvel Comics’ Deadpool, the 2016 film was a violent, raunchy dream come true. For newcomers, it was a surprisingly fresh subversion from the typical superhero flick. Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice, Deadpool 2 reunites the foul mouthed, fourth wall breaking mercenary with the original cast and also introduces a host of intriguing new faces.

Deadpool_2_posterRyan Reynolds returns as Wade Wilson, a former cancer victim turned into the virtually, unkillable anti-hero, known as Deadpool. Under the guise of his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Deadpool takes it upon himself to protect an orphaned young mutant (Julian Dennison) from Cable (Josh Brolin), a cybernetic mutant sent from the future. To ensure the kid’s safety, Deadpool forms the X-Force, headlined by a luck manipulating mutant named Domino (Zazie Beetz).

David Leitch takes over for Tim Miller as director, and it feel noticeable. At times Deadpool 2 threatens to falter under the weight of its overwhelming meta-humor. The fourth wall breaks, pop culture references, and potty humor come in an often overwhelming wave that doesn’t feel nearly as organic as it did in the first film. The movie’s disjointed plot doesn’t help matters, at times feeling like two separate movies.

But never fear, Ryan Reynolds is here. The actor’s charm and wit again radiates in this role he was born to play. And he isn’t the only player that shines. Zazie Beetz is stylishly brash and enticing as Domino. She pulls off the femme fetale roll effortlessly while bringing enough comedic timing to work as Deadpool’s perfect counterpart. The movie also does a marvelous job in implementing her unique superpowers to enhance action sequences.

Many of the new characters fall flat. Josh Brolin is fine as Cable, but doesn’t get enough to do other than be brooding. And Julian Dennison’s performance dangles between comedic and annoying. These uneven moments, however, end up being counterbalanced by hilarious performances from the returning cast. Karan Soni’s cap driver, Dopinder and Leslie Uggams’ Blind Al, seem to bring laugh out loud moments every time they are on screen.

Despite going overkill with the meta-humor in spots, the laughs do land more times than they don’t. Brilliantly funny cameos, a few hilarious twists, and genuine charisma from most of this cast make Deadpool 2 a film that only mildly succumbs to sequel-itis, but still manages to be wildly entertaining and worth a several viewings to take it all in.

FINAL GRADE: B