Teen Titans Go to the Movies (Full Review)

I get it, fellow millennials, you hate what they did to your beloved Teen Titans. Yes, the original cartoon that ran from 2003 to 2006 was a fantastic, anime inspired, action show. But, have you actually watched Teen Titans Go? This goofy, comedic retooling is actually pretty hilarious. And if you can put your saltiness aside for an hour and a half, you’ll find that this movie adaptation of the popular Cartoon Network series is actually a lot of ridiculous fun, too.

TTG_Movie_Poster_5Robin (Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), and Raven (Tara Strong) are determined to prove to the Justice League and the rest of the world, that they are more than just a group of quirky sidekicks. Robin also wants to show a Hollywood superhero movie director (Kristen Bell) that he and his team are worthy of a big screen adaptation like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The arrival of villain Slade Wilson (Will Arnett), might just be their big chance if they can take crime fighting seriously.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies knows exactly what it is, and it flings its wild style of animation and outlandish brand of comedy at the audience with no apologies. In many ways, it acts as a kid friendly version of Deadpool, throwing in fourth wall breaks and poking fun at the DC universe and the superhero genre as a whole. From surprise cameos, to several hilarious musical numbers that rival “Pyramid Mummy Money” and “Catching Villains” (Google it), the movie manages to play out like a classic episode of Spongebob.

Make no mistake, this movie is made for the current generation of youngsters who enjoy the show. But there is enough clever humor involved that folks of all ages should be left grinning throughout. And for nerds like me, who know obscure DC characters like The Challengers of the Unknown, there is enough references to find subtle comedic moments. It even goes out of its way to throw fans of the original show a bone with an interesting mid-credits scene. So, yes… Teen Titans Go! does make a mockery out of your favorite action cartoon. But instead of being an old curmudgeon about it, just sit back and enjoy the tongue and cheek fun.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Full Review)

The Mission: Impossible franchise has been one of the best in the spy genre for over twenty years. From Ethan Hunt dangling from a wire in the 1996 film to hanging from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the character has given us some of the most intense and jaw dropping action sequences in the genre. And just when I thought Tom Cruise’s stunts couldn’t get more outrageous… he ups the ante like never before for Mission: Impossible Fallout.

MI_–_FalloutFallout begins by placing IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his usual allies Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames) on a mission to keep the last remnants of the terrorist organization, The Sindicate, from getting plutonium for nuclear weapons. When Hunt is forced to give up the plutonium for his friend’s life, the head of the IMF (Alec Baldwin), sends his team on a mission to meet with a shady arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby), in hopes of extracting and interrogating the leader of the Sindicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). But Hunt and his team aren’t alone this time. Determined to fix Hunt’s mistake, CIA head Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) sends her top agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) along for the ride.

The story can certainly get convoluted at times, especially for anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise. It also doesn’t help that not all of the plot twists land. But story isn’t as important to these films as the obstacles for the protagonist. And Fallout has plenty of obstacles for Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise brings his all and seems to operate with the sole mission to bring more incredible stunts to Fallout than any action film that came before it. And he absolutely succeeds. There is hardly a dull moment, with each action sequence bringing vigor whether it be via stakes or the captivating camera angles.

Director Christopher McQuarrie also manages to bring the same touch of character charm that was felt in Rogue Nation. It helps that Fallout brings back its best character from its predecessor. Rebecca Ferguson’s returns as the English double agent, Ilsa, with the same stunning femme fatale energy. The supporting characters, both old and new, all bring charisma and well timed comedic flare. Combining that with the sheer passionate, recklessness of both Tom Cruise and his character, means that while there might be better spy films and perhaps smarter Mission: Impossible movies, you’d be hard pressed to find one more entertaining than Fallout.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Equalizer 2 (Full Review)

So what, if Denzel Washington is 63-years-old? He could be an 80-year-old, blind, paraplegic and he’d still be able to sell himself as an action star. Few actors can command a scene like Washington. So even though he’s getting up there in age, it’s still exciting to see him reunite with Director Antoine Fuqua and reprise his role as Robert McCall for The Equalizer 2.

The_Equalizer_2_posterWhen Robert McCall isn’t spending time exacting vigilante justice on bullies and gangsters who prey on the little guy, he’s ferrying people around as a Lyft driver and mentoring a young artist (Ashton Sanders) who lives in his apartment building. But that all changes when McCall learns that his closest friend and former colleague (Melissa Leo) has been murdered. With only the help of another former partner (Pedro Pascal), McCall begins a violent mission to avenge his friend.

It should be no surprise that Washington is once again magnetic as McCall. The wholesome charm and calculated intelligence he brings to the character reminds you of a guardian angel or the father figure everyone would want. The action sequences also don’t disappoint… unless you’re actually looking for the hero to be challenged (Hint: It’s not that type of movie). Like John Wick or Liam Neeson in Taken, Denzel moves throughout this film punishing his enemies with inventive fight choreography and some keen camera work to highlight each move.

But there is one massive problem with The Equalizer 2. It barely has a story. The first third of the movie feels like snippets of a T.V. show with McCall playing nice with uninteresting side characters and beating up random bad guys. Sure, it’s important to show audience members who skipped the first Equalizer that McCall is a badass, but one scene of this nature would suffice. We also don’t need to have a bunch of minor characters for McCall to connect to when one (Sanders) is clearly established as the most integral to the plot.

While the first film didn’t have an intricate plot by any stretch, it still maintained a focus around Chloe Graze-Moretz’s character. Yes, Denzel Washington is fun to watch in his return to the role, but it appears as if his character doesn’t actually have anything interesting to do this time around. It shouldn’t take an hour for a film to find its focal point, and when it does, it’s hard for anyone to stay interested regardless of who is in front of the camera. Equalizer 2 has some exciting moments, but it’ll be one of the last movies you’ll remember from 2018.

FINAL GRADE: C

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

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

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