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

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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

Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler Free) Review

The word ‘Ambitious’ isn’t quite enough to describe it. Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige probably couldn’t have imagined that this vast cinematic universe would become as successful as it is when Iron Man first released ten years ago. Along with a host of incredible directors and acting talent, he has carved out a collection of unique films that seamlessly blend into one cohesive story. It has all led to a film that holds no punches.

Avengers_Infinity_War_posterThanos (Josh Brolin), an intimidating force who has been pulling strings behind the scenes in several films, has finally come to the forefront. Hell bent on wiping out half of the universe to create balance, he along with his minions, are out to capture the Power, Space, Reality, Soul, Time, and Mind infinity stones. Standing in their way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Braldey Cooper, Pom Klementieff, and Vin Diesel) along with a horde of supporting characters from the MCU (Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba).

Anyone familiar with comics knows that you have to often suspend your notions of practicality to enjoy the overarching stories and their themes. Avengers: Infinity War is no different. The movie moves at a sometimes disorienting pace that will leave those who aren’t familiar with these types of films in the dust. There are so many characters, that the movie can’t help but feel complex and at times muddled. But after eighteen films of character building, Infinity War serves as a visual narrative treat to those who have been there every step of the way.

The vast collection of cast members intermingle with characters they’ve never been on screen alongside with an almost flawless chemistry. We get Thor teaming up with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Iron Man with Dr. Strange, The Avengers with the army of Wakanda. When fan favorites arrive on the scene there’s a nostalgic sensation that is enough to make fans absolutely giddy. So even at its rare hokey moments (one character does something atypically stupid and a new character feels completely out of place), Infinity War revitalizes the same fun, awestricken feeling audiences got with the first Avengers movie.

The humor feels organic, but make no mistake, this movie raises the MCU stakes unlike any other. Thanos, off nothing more than sheer might, determination, and intimidation, manages to cement himself as one of cinema’s most daunting villains. The heart pounding climax of the film is sure to leave audiences frozen in their seats as the credits role. For a franchise whose biggest flaws have usually revolved around lack of strong antagonists and unwillingness to sacrifice major characters, the Russo Brothers (Captain America Winter Solider and Civil War) manage to create a film that serves as a middle finger to anyone who ever criticized. The result is a sometimes uneven, but overall shocking, emotional roller coaster that feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the superhero genre.

FINAL GRADE: A

Rampage (Full Review)

I remember playing Rampage the arcade game at Chuck E’ Cheese. You could choose between a giant gorilla, lizard, or wolf and the object of the game was to destroy buildings and eat people. Yep… that sounds exactly like the type of thing that would get turned into a movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2018.

Rampage_teaser_film_posterJohnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who looks after a rare albino gorilla named George at the San Diego Zoo. When George is exposed to a dangerous chemical that alters his DNA, he becomes violent and starts to grow exponentially. Along with a mutated wolf and alligator, George goes on a rampage through Chicago. To save his primate friend, Davis teams up with a genetics expert (Naomi Harris) and a federal agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to find the cure within the shady company that inadvertently created them.

It’s hard to remember a movie with more incoherent plot threads than this one. Not the inexplicable opening street race in Fate of the Furious, not even the plots to the last four Transformers movies. They all pale in comparison to this nonsensical mess. The villains, a Research Company CEO (Malin Ackerman) and her useless, dimwitted brother (Jake Lacy) are the stupidest, most annoying antagonists I can fathom. Forget the fact that a reasonable motive is never given for why they’d even be experimenting with a substance that creates massive murderous mutations, when things go haywire Ackerman’s character’s solution is to draw the three creatures to Chicago to cure them. That’s right. The villain actually thinks signaling giant monsters to a major U.S. city is a great way to get away with creating giant monsters.

If you’re going to commit to cheesy, dumb fun, then don’t have your two leads taking things seriously. Pretty much every character other than Johnson and Harris is a buffoon. There’s the generic military general (Demetrius Grosse) who would rather get countless soldiers killed and bomb a heavily populated area than listen to literally the only two characters with knowledge on the situation. As for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s cartoonish cowboy spiel, it would work if Johnson didn’t constantly undermine it by acting like he’s fully committed. Morgan’s character makes dumb decisions too, like bringing a violent gorilla, he plans on killing anyway, aboard a plane. Why not just shoot it after you manage to sedate it?

When Dwayne Johnson’s tough guy routine feels like the most intelligent thing in a movie, you know you have a problem. Between moronic characters and plot points that make absolutely no sense, the only thing to enjoy about Rampage is the CGI destruction in the last twenty minutes. A few scenes of bonding between Johnson and the CGI ape make for some mild endearment. But is that where we are with movies now? Is a few jokes and a tough guy all audiences need to ignore plots that don’t even try to add up? If so, then I can see why Hollywood keeps crapping out Transformers and Fast and Furious movies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this monotonous mess turns into a franchise.

FINAL GRADE: D

A Quiet Place (Full Review)

Silence is pretty terrifying when you think about it. Who hasn’t been alone in an empty home at night and been freaked out by a noise coming from an unknown place? Director John Krasinksi (The Office) takes that concept and adds elements of horror and science fiction to create a simplistic, but eerie thriller.

A_Quiet_Place_film_posterA Quiet Place is set in a world where most of humanity has been killed off by blind alien creatures that are attracted to any sound above a whisper.  Living on a farm with his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and young son (Noah Jupe), Lee Abbott (Krazinksi) must find a way to protect his family from the deadly creatures while also carrying on day to day life in virtual silence.

As you might expect, the premise of the film can make for a slow burn at times. With limited dialogue and only a hand full of characters to focus on, things can feel a bit dull between the more suspenseful moments. But when those suspenseful sequences do come, they are ‘edge of your seat’ captivating like the raptor scene from Jurassic Park on steroids. And even through the film’s more sluggish moments, Krasinksi, who also wrote the film, does a wonderful job revealing important details and building character depth without the use of heavy dialogue or flashbacks.

The runtime isn’t dragged out and dedicates itself solely to its self contained story for better and worse. You may find yourself leaving the movie with questions about the film’s universe and character pasts. But such specifics aren’t the point of Krasinksi’s story. A Quiet Place is, above all, about family, sacrifice, and survival and with some classic monster movie elements, it carves out enough of a framework to make it both entertaining and memorable.

FINAL GRADE: B

Blockers (Full Review)

Every parent wants their child to obey, but also feel comfortable enough to confide and be truthful once they’re older. Every high school kid wants nurturing parents who will still give them the freedom to venture out and learn their own lessons. This universal dichotomy is the framework for Blockers, a movie that manages to blend just enough family endearment with its raunchy blend of comedy.

Blockers_(film)Kay Cannon, writer of the Pitch Perfect movies, makes her directorial debut in this story about a trio of parents hell bent on keeping their daughters from losing their virginities after they learn of a Prom night sex pact. Lisa (Leslie Mann) is a single mother whose afraid that her daughter (Kathryn Newton) will go far away for college and make the same mistakes she did. Mitchell (John Cena) is happily married with a newborn child but is afraid his oldest daughter (Geraldine Viswanathan) is going to sleep with a student known for cooking up drugs. Then there’s Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a down on his luck divorcee who just wants back into his daughter’s (Gideon Adlon) life.

There is a moment where multiple characters projectile vomit, a scene where John Cena’s Mitchell has beer poured down his rectum, and gratuitous sex jokes a plenty. But Blockers actually works best when it isn’t being raunchy and just feeds off of the surprisingly fluid chemistry of its lead actors. John Cena is hilarious every time he speaks, owning the role like he’s back in Wrestlemania. And while Leslie Mann has portrayed manic mother’s seemingly a million times, here her knack for playing vulnerable OCD characters brings the film’s overarching theme home better than anyone else.

The surprising standout in Blockers, however, goes to MADtv alum Ike Barinholtz. He delivers funny, yet timely dialogue and physical humor while also managing to give a heavy dose of heart whenever the story focuses his way. Along with Cena, Mann, and a cast of youngsters whose characters all hold relevant narratives, this film manages to make its many outrageous scenarios believable simply because we care about the folks involved. So even though there aren’t a ton of truly side splitting moments, the hearty chuckles will come often enough to keep you entertained while the endearing tone does the rest to make Blockers memorable.

FINAL GRADE: B

Ready Player One (Full Review)

Steven Spielberg knows how to make an adventure film. For decades he has created and adapted unique worlds for the big screen that have become iconic in pop culture. So there is perhaps no one more equipped to tackle Ready Player One, a 2011 novel written by Ernest Cline that is bursting at the seams with 80’s nostalgia and nerd culture.

Ready_Player_One_(film)Ready Player One takes place in the 2040’s where most of humanity spends there time engulfed in a virtual world known as the OASIS where they can be whoever they want and gamble away their money playing games. After the creator of the OASIS (Mark Rylance) dies, he hides an Easter Egg within the game that will make the finder the wealthy sole owner of the OASIS. Living in poverty with his aunt, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) joins forces with a group of other gamers (Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki) to find the egg before the greedy head of a rival company (Ben Mendelsohn) can.

This film celebrates nerd culture like nothing else, at times for better and worse. The character arcs get a bit cheesy at times and if you’re not into gaming, the whole experience might be overwhelming.  This movie is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for MMO players and the people who understand most of the references in Family Guy, but what makes it work well is the story it tells. Sure, the effects are breathtaking and the pop culture references are fun, but without an intriguing narrative, the film would be a bore.

Ready Player One manages to weave a likable tale with surprisingly heartfelt themes thanks in large part to Mark Rylance’s James Halliday. The brilliant, but socially awkward character uses the game as a means to teach an endearing lesson about connection and taking chances. Rylance’s quirky, loveable performance makes the overall journey one worth taking even if you aren’t a fan of video games or can name all of the characters that pop up in the background. Combined with thrilling visuals and some well timed humor, Spielberg’s latest film ends up being an absolutely blast for anyone who just enjoys a good treasure hunt.

FINAL GRADE: B

Love, Simon (Full Review)

It doesn’t matter who you are. High school is a whirlwind of angst and drama. Finding your individuality and navigating the awkward landscape of social interaction is something every American can identify with. This is why a well written teen comedy with endearing characters can be some of the most compelling cinema, and it’s why Love, Simon is one of the best films of 2018 so far.

Love,_Simon_posterSimon (Nick Robinson) is a high school senior with loving, successful parents (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner), a little sister who is an aspiring chef (Talitha Eliana Bateman), and a loyal circle of best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). He is also hiding his sexual orientation from all of them, afraid of how things might change if his peers know the truth. When an anonymous classmate posts on a blog that he too is gay and afraid to come out, Simon creates an alias and forms a romantic bond with the secret student via email. But after another, socially awkward, student (Logan Miller) stumbles upon his secret and threatens to blackmail him, Simon is forced to finally confront his frightening reality.

All great teen comedy/dramas have a main character that is charismatic and easy to route for. Love, Simon is no different. Nick Robinson’s emotionally earnest portrayal is absolutely magnetic. He brings quirky humor and tear jerking compassion that should make any person with an ounce of heart admire and gravitate toward his journey. The supporting players hold their weight as well. Each performance has depth that makes them feel real and not just characters in a story. Jennifer Garner and Jush Duhamel are specifically marvelous. The heartfelt scenes they share with their onscreen son after his inevitable coming out are nothing short of beautiful.

Love, Simon is the first major release that tackles such a pertinent subject matter and it explores its themes with sensational nuance. Robinson’s character does not exemplify many of the stereotypes associated with homosexuality which helps the film serve as education for viewers with misconceptions while also giving representation to an unfairly scrutinized community. It teaches us how to be tolerant and supportive of things we don’t identify with or understand. And even though it gets a little sappy, Love, Simon proves to be a transcendent love letter to everything that makes the genre emotionally captivating.

FINAL GRADE: A