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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The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Full Review)

There are few actors with the comedic exuberance of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Putting the two personalities on the same screen and giving them guns and cars sounds like a match made in buddy cop genre heaven. Even with a B-movie drop back, when two actors have the right chemistry, it doesn’t take much to be entertained.

220px-HitmansBodyguardIn The Hitman’s Bodyguard Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a topflight bodyguard whose career takes a tumble after one of his shady, high profile clients is killed under his watch. Two years later he is summoned by his Interpol Agent Ex-girlfriend (Elodie Yung) to protect incarcerated hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). Kincaid has made a deal with Interpol that will free his wife (Salma Hayek) from prison if he can make it across Europe to testify against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman) who wants him dead.

Production value seems to be the film’s biggest flaw as it carries itself like a B-movie from its stock music to its occasionally flimsy use of green screen. The story is also carried out with few surprises and although Gary Oldman is a phenomenal actor, his villain is grossly underutilized. But if you’re coming to see an action movie with Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson, should plot and ambiance really be your number one priority?

The dynamic between the two leads works just as well as you’d hope it would. So even though the script doesn’t do anything otherworldly, it succeeds in letting both actors be themselves. With Reynolds being snarky and passive aggressive, and Jackson a foul mouthed loose cannon, the film strikes the perfect comedic chord to keep the film thoroughly entertaining even through a relatively generic two hours of over the top action sequences.

Credit is also deserved for making the two leads more than just comedians. With Jackson’s Kincaid being a murderer of corrupt men and Reynolds’ Bryce being a protector of those same men, the film manages to raise some surprisingly interesting questions about the nature of good and evil. So even though it often carries itself like something you’d find in the bargain bin, The Hitman’s Bodyguard actually ends up being a fun ride worthy of the full price of admission.

FINAL GRADE: B

Kong: Skull Island (Full Review)

The last time King Kong was on the big screen it was in a three hour long Peter Jackson film with a few goofy characters and some glaring plot holes (Still trying to figure out how they got that giant gorilla back to New York City). The best parts of that film were easily the action sequences that saw Kong battling monsters and destroying planes. So this time around, in this rebooted origin story, they’re giving the people more of what they want.

Kong_Skull_Island_posterKong: Skull Island takes place in 1974. Two scientists (John Goodman, Corey Hawkins) looking to prove the existence of giant monsters, journey with a survivalist (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer (Brie Larson) and a few soldiers fresh from the Vietnam War (Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham) to an uncharted island where they come in contact with the mighty Kong. After their helicopters are quickly demolished, the military colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) vows to kill the beast while a long lost soldier stranded on the island for 30 years (John C. Reilly) seeks to warn them that Kong is actually protecting the island from creatures much more deadly.

As I mentioned before, this movie is all about the action. There are several battles between Kong and a heap of slivering monsters that are just as exhilarating as the Kong vs. T-Rex fight in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong. The early sequence that sees Kong destroying helicopters is also a fun experience. So if you’re here for that then you won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, that’s essentially all this Kong film has to offer. The characters, from their dialogue to their personalities all seem too much like clichés to be memorable. The lone exception is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a comically noble yet relatively senile character with an endearing personality and back story the audience can actually get behind. There are other attempts at endearment, but his is the only one that doesn’t fall flat.

The film does well to keep things moving, spacing out the sluggish dialogue and weak characters with suspense and eye popping action. It goes without saying, in a movie about a giant gorilla, that some parts require you to turn your brain off and just watch. Sometimes summer popcorn movies are released in March, and Kong: Skull Island is a perfect example of a moderately fun film that’s worthy of at least one viewing.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Full Review)

I always wondered what it would be like if Tim Burton ever directed an X-Men movie. The master of weird takes on Ransom Riggs’ best selling young adult novel about a group of special powered children called peculiars. But this time, Burton doesn’t have the help of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to help pick up the slack whenever the narrative falls flat.

miss_peregrine_film_posterMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with a young boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who pretty much is your run of the mill lead character in a young adult film based off of a book. He is socially awkward and has a rocky relationship with his parents. His closest friend is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) who has spent years telling him stories of his days in the 1940’s spent living with a group of unusual powered children known as peculiars. While Jake’s parents brush off the tales as myth and the product of post World War stress, Jake is determined to believe in his grandfather.

When Abe is mysteriously murdered, Jake journeys with his father (Chris O’Dowd) to the place where Miss Peregrine’s special home once was. There he discovers that all of the peculiar children are still alive and haven’t aged at all, thanks to a special time loop created by their guardian Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) that kept them safe in the midst of World War II. When Jake discovers that he too has special abilities, it is up to him to help defend the home and the other children from evil, cannibalistic peculiars led by a man named Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).

The film certainly contains the lore of a vast and fairly interesting universe and also carries Tim Burton’s trademark eeriness. But as stories go, this one’s pretty dull. The movie takes far too long to include action or suspense and spends way too much time focusing on the lackluster relationship between Jake and his dumbfounded father. The characters, though creative, aren’t exactly the most useful or interesting either and meager child acting doesn’t help to make them memorable.

Samuel L. Jackson helps breathe life with a charismatic turn as the villain, but his character’s motives seem relatively dumb and poorly executed once you stop and think about them. Coupled with uninspiring special effects and a climax that is vastly underwhelming, this movie ends up feeling like a monotonous plot centered around a world that in itself is full of potential. Maybe the book is better, but the film is a bore.

FINAL GRADE: C-

The Legend of Tarzan (Full Review)

If you’re like me, the only big screen memory you have of Tarzan is the 1999 Disney animated film. So, unlike the majority of Hollywood’s remakes and reboots, it actually seems like the right time to make a live action film about the man raised by Apes in the jungles of Africa. With David Yates (Director of the last 4 Harry Potter films) at the helm and Rise of the Planet of the Apes-style technology at his disposal, the elements are there for Legend of Tarzan to at least be a viable summer adventure.

The_Legend_of_Tarzan_posterThe Legend of Tarzan begins with Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) now going by his birth name, John Clayton, and living happily with Jane (Margot Robbie) in his late parents’ London estate. While there are flashbacks shown to give the character’s origins, this movie is not an origin story. It probably should’ve been though, because the plot is ridiculously too complex for its own good. And it’s noticeable pretty early on.

Sure, some are familiar with the Tarzan story, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be retold or re-imagined. Instead of getting a simpler story that focuses more on the characters and Tarzan’s growth and inner struggle to find his identity, we get a bunch of flashbacks that often disrupt pacing. The actual plot involves Belgium’s occupation of the Congo and a corrupt Belgian captain (Christoph Waltz) attempting to trade Tarzan to a rival African tribal leader (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for access to diamond mines. And none of it works. The drawn out set up makes the first half hour a bore and when the set up of a movie is dull, what reason is there to care about the rest of it?

It would be nice if the action were a saving grace. But the CGI is noticeably not as strong as anticipated and several of the battles make no physical sense. Sure, being raised by apes makes Tarzan strong and his reflexes elevated but no human being would be able to survive a vicious thrashing to the spine by a full grown gorilla let alone be able to stand and fight shortly after.

Samuel L. Jackson brings welcomed humor and fun to the film as George Washington Williams, a real life African American journalist who penned a letter to Belgian’s King regarding the inhumane treatment of the tribal natives. And for what it’s worth, none of the other performances are bad. But an overly complicated plot coupled with a poorly put together narrative and clunky action makes The Legend of Tarzan feel like one big, forgettable attempt at something that could’ve been really good.

FINAL GRADE: C-

The Hateful Eight (Full Review)

I consider myself a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films of all time, and I absolutely loved the Kill Bill movies, Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, and Reservoir Dogs. But 2007’s Death Proof, his only film I flat out despise, also showed me that the films by the stylistic director can sometimes be an acquired taste if you’re not used to him and irksome even if you are.

The_Hateful_EightTarantino’s newest film, The Hateful Eight, takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming where union soldier turned Bounty Hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) crosses paths with famed Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his $10,000 bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the midst of a blizzard. The weather causes the two men and the prisoner to seek refuge in a small haberdashery with a dopey, newly elected Sheriff (Walton Goggins), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a quiet loner (Michael Madsen), an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern), and a Mexican caretaker (Demian Bichir). But it doesn’t take long for the two bounty hunters to realize that one of their new counterparts is in cahoots with their prisoner.

The film serves mostly as an old western/mystery. That unique quality alone makes it intriguing. But it does feature all of the things many find irksome about Tarantino’s films. For one thing, the director is excessively methodical, from the film’s dialogue to the often 90 second tracking shots, it’s clear QT has no respect for your notions of a proper film’s runtime. Then there’s Tarantino’s trademark gore and rampant use of the ‘N-word’, neither of which bother me and if you saw and liked Django Unchained, they shouldn’t surprise or distract you either.

Negatives aside, as I mentioned before, I consider myself a fan of Tarantino. And as such, I can recognize all of the elements that make him, in my mind, one of the best working Directors in film. From the costumes, to the attention to character details, to the scenery, The Hateful Eight carries an authenticity and tangible nature about it that makes it feel as if you’re right there with the characters. The acting is also solid, thanks to wonderfully charismatic performances by Jackson, Russell, Goggins, and Roth as well as a gross and gritty, yet lovable job by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tarantino then the violence and three hour runtime with often slow pacing will make you want to leave halfway through The Hateful Eight. But if you’re familiar with the director’s style, then there’s plenty to love about his eighth film. It’s certainly no Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, but the latest film is certainly another worthy addition to Tarantino’s impressive archive.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Full Review)

Remember the old James Bond movies? Not the gritty, intricate Daniel Craig ones that are all fantastic, but the colorful unrealistic ones with Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery. Those were the films where villains threw razor blade hates and had metal teeth. Those movies in comparison were completely outlandish (Like contrasting Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever). But, they sure were a lot of fun. Kingsman: The Secret Service harkens back to the old days when action movies didn’t have to be straight laced to be entertaining.

Kingsman_The_Secret_Service_posterDirector Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) knows what he has here, and treats it like those quirky action movies of old. Like Men in Black with no aliens, Kingsman tells the story of a secret organization of spies. Colin Firth (in his first ever role as a badass) takes on the role of the wily veteran agent who recruits the troubled son of a former member (Taron Egerton). Together with other members of the agency (Jon Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson), they must stop a megalomaniac’s (Samuel L. Jackson) global plot to create mass level extinction. Sound enough like a throwback Bond movie?

While a proper homage to the classic spy genre, at times Kingsman follows every cliché imaginable. But what it lacks in plot and story, it makes up for in its characters. Taron Egerton is suave and stylish as the young lead, Eggsy, even if the rest of the young cast is forgettable. The real showstoppers are the villains. Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as the eccentric, billionaire psychopath with a heavy lisp and a poor stomach for violence. He carries the charisma that all good spy movie villains must have. His henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), an amputee with blade legs, helps create some jawdropping action sequences. And there are plenty of those to go around, especially in the exhilarating final act.

If ludicrous plots, excessive violence, and use of the F-word in every other sentence are not your forte, then you should run as far away from Kingsman as possible. But if you’re looking for some swift action and a bit of self-referential humor (and if you don’t want to sit through Fifty Shades of Grey) then Kingsman is a great time. It is violent, gratuitous, excessively loud, and it’s the most fun film to hit theaters in 2015.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Full Review)

ImageThe opinions on Captain America: The First Avenger are mixed. Some found it cheesy and boring. Others basked in the nostalgic feel and endearing story. As my list of the Top 15 superhero movies will tell you, I lean heavily to the latter. But even I can admit that there was something lacking from Cap Part One. After watching Disney/Marvel’s latest venture (I say Disney/Marvel because X-Men, Spider-man, and Fantastic Four are not owned by the same studio), I now know what that missing link was, because Part Two was fully injected with it as if it were the super soldier serum itself.

First off, as with all superhero movie sequels, it helps if you’ve seen the previous outings. So don’t sit and watch this film without at least viewing Captain America (2011) and Avengers (2012). Unlike Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, this film deals more directly with the aftermath of Avengers, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, now working directly with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (the visually flawless Scarlett Johannson), Maria Hill (Colbie Smoulders) and the secret agency organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. Series newcomer Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) also plays an effective Robin to Steve Rogers’ Batman.

While Cap is no longer a social fish out-of-water, emotionally he is as conflicted as ever, because in today’s day and age the bad guys are no longer so clearly defined as much as the Hitlers and Red Skulls of his old days. In today’s world, the “good guys” can be just as twisted and corrupt as the terrorists they strike. “This isn’t freedom,” Cap says in the film, “This is fear.”

Winter Soldier takes that concept and runs with it as the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. turns on our hero led by organization head Alexander Pierce (Roebrt Redford) and his secret weapon The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The result is an action packed thrill ride that is every bit James Bond and Mission: Impossible as much as it is a comic book fantasy. The fight choreography is better than anything Marvel has ever done, but the movie also manages to maintain just enough heart to be more than just a comic book Expendables. There are plot turns and surprises that should satisfy diehard fans and newbies while also setting up changes that will ripple throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Make no mistake. The game has thoroughly changed. And Disney/Marvel are the ones who changed it. The recent announcement of Spider-Man movie spinoffs, X-Men movie spinoffs, and Batman vs. Superman are all Sony, Fox, and Warner Bros. attempts to catch up to what Disney/Marvel Studios is already running to perfection. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and S.H.I.E.L.D.) is more than a collection of movies. It’s a live action look into the comic books and cartoons we grew up loving, but on a larger, bigger-budgeted, and more cohesive scale. And if Winter Soldier is a sign of things to come, then Disney/Marvel might as well surgically strap the Box Office Championship Belt to their figurative torso.

FINAL GRADE: A

P.S.: As always, stay after the credits to get a cool look at two new characters coming to Avengers: Age of Ultron next summer.

RoboCop Full Review

Okay… let’s quickly review Robocop… because, apparently there aren’t enough remakes out already.

ImageIf you’ve never heard of the late 80’s/early 90’s pop culture sensation that was the Robocop movies then you, my friend, are either under the age of 21 or at some point in your life have lived under a rock. But even if you aren’t familiar with Alex Murphy, the cop who barely survives attempted murder before being turned into a cyborg by a corrupt corporation of law enforcing robot builders, then congratulations… director Jose Padilha is here to redo it just for you.

This time around, relative no name Joel Kinnaman plays the titular character. Kinnaman isn’t bad, but he also doesn’t bring anything to the role either. In other words… he’s pretty forgettable. His suit and the action sequences, however, are anything but. Most of the other characters from the original films are altered, but the essence is still there. Michael Keaton plays the greedy head of the corporation that builds Robocop in attempt to apparently sway Congress to get robot law enforcers out of the Middle East and into American streets. Abbie Cornish is tough and genuine as Murphy’s wife and the mother to their son (Not really sure why these characters have changed names… but whatever). Samuel L. Jackson channels his inner Bill O’ Reilly as the host of a political talk show in support of robots. And Gary Oldman, in perhaps the most welcomed change to the series, plays the scientist and doctor behind the world’s first cyborg policeman.

The biggest differences between the original and this film, other than the drastically toned down violence, is the focus on what makes the metal man tick. There’s much more science and psychology to this film than there is gunshots and explosions. Whether that makes it better or worse is up for debate. I, for one, never found the 1987 version to be anything remotely ground breaking so to think this film somehow falls short is a bit baffling to me. What the Robocop remake is, is a decent two hour February action film. And let’s be honest, along those lines, there’s probably nothing better in theaters until April.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Spike Lee’s Oldboy… Full Review

Make no mistake about it, the original Oldboy is one of the most disturbingly twisted films ever created. It is also a violent, but masterful tale of karma and revenge. So, needless to say, Spike Lee’s remake has some lofty expectations to live up to.

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Like the 2003 Korean-made original, Spike Lee’s Oldboy is the story of a degenerate businessman who is kidnapped after a drunken bender and imprisoned for twenty years. Here, that man is Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a sleazy advertising executive who neglects his three year old daughter and verbally assaults his ex-wife. Brolin portrays Doucett’s psychosis and post-traumatic paranoia and anger with fervor. It’s the drunken degenerate part of the character that comes off a little awkward for him. For twenty years he is confined to a window-less hotel room where he is fed the same meals and subjected to the same TV shows over and over again until one day he is abruptly released. This sets in motion a wave of violent cat and mouse games (This film isn’t remotely for the squeamish) that sees Doucett attempting to track down his captor and find his long lost daughter.

It’s inevitable to compare this version to the original, after all, it follows its predecessor almost to a tee with only a few necessary variations here and there. But somewhere along the way, something feels unpleasantly different. It’s still suspenseful and filled with gory action sequences, and the twists will be equally shocking to any newcomer who is unfamiliar with the South Korean version. But one can’t help but feel as if Spike and co. missed the point of it all.

Brolin’s Doucett is tormented, and his miscreant lifestyle makes it more than understandable as to why he could be subjected to such a horrendous punishment. However, the other characters seemed to be lost in translation in this version. Elizabeth Olsen’s Marie helps Doucett along his quest, but we never get a strong reason as to why she’d bother putting herself in harms way to help a violent stranger. Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) is affectively creepy as Doucett’s captor, but unlike the Korean persona, we never get a sense that he feels tormented by his own lifestyle and decisions. The narrative also seems to clump together and at times seems to try too hard to convey the same message. Do we need five minutes of a drunken stupor to realize that Joe Doucett is a douche? It also would’ve been nice if, like the original, they explained why the movie is even called Oldboy.

These imperfections may seem nitpicky, but they’re so very important. With a subject matter so illicit and vulgar, there has to be a sense of purpose and reason in all of it. Otherwise, the audience just leaves feeling confused and disturbed rather than awkwardly amazed. The original provided the latter, Spike Lee’s version… not so much.

 

FINAL GRADE: C+