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Movie reviews from Bob Garver

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

            For about a year now, I’ve been hearing about the impending release of “Crazy Rich Asians”. I tried to get into an advance screening last week, but it was sold out on two screens. I was almost shut out of a Wednesday screening this week, but I was able to get one of about a dozen remaining seats with over 90 minutes until showtime. Clearly this was going to be an event movie, and since I knew it was based on a series of books, I likened it to “The Hunger Games” or “Twilight”. The film’s national box office ultimately fell well short of those other franchises, but in a way it did remind me of them. Stay tuned to the end to find out how.

            The story follows humble, hardworking NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she travels to Singapore to meet the family of her seemingly equally humble boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). Surprise, surprise, it turns out that the Young family is one of the wealthiest families in all of Asia. Not only is Rachel going to spend the weekend in the lap of luxury, but Nick is in line to take over the family business, and it looks like a proposal is on the horizon. She may be on the verge of a lifetime of crazy richness.

            With the story needing some sort of conflict, it isn’t all about first-class flights and mansion parties. Rachel wants desperately to impress Nick’s family, especially his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and grandmother (Lisa Lu). And why shouldn’t they like her? She’s armed with a fluency in Cantonese and an inspiring story about overcoming adversity to become a respected educator. But no, Eleanor subtly hints (and sometimes outright says) that she doesn’t approve of Rachel for various reasons: that she seems too driven by her career to want to raise a family, that she’s American and Western culture promotes selfishness, that she’s not rich and in fact from a highly questionable background. But it’s really about how no woman will ever be good enough for her baby.

            Rachel doesn’t just have to worry about Eleanor, she has to contend with a whole public perception that she’s only dating Nick for his money. She has to put up with accusations of gold-digging from Nick’s extended family and circle of “friends”, most of whom are moochers and gold-diggers themselves. But she does have a few people in her corner. Nick’s kindly cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) makes time for Rachel despite some drama in her own life. Nick’s less-respected cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) helps her find the right look for a friend’s wedding. Rachel’s best friend Goh (Awkwafina) advises her to stand up to Eleanor to earn her respect. And of course Rachel’s mother (Tan Kheng Hua) is always there for support.

            Characters like these make “Crazy Rich Asians” an enjoyable movie. And the spoiled, meaner characters are at least fun to detest. And the two leads are no slouches either. And even the often-chilly Eleanor is never portrayed as monstrous or unloving. What I’m saying is that there’s a long list of affable characters in this movie. I want to see what happens with them next, even if their adventures here aren’t really for me. It’s not “bad”, it’s just pretty by-the-numbers lighthearted romance stuff. But as with “The Hunger Games” and especially “Twilight”, the material was elevated by the infectious reaction of fans in the crowd. You try calling a movie middling when it’s garnering applause every other minute, it can’t be done. Both the movie and experience of watching it are just so much fun that it can be forgiven for not really covering any new ground.

 

Grade: B-

7:42 pm edt 

The Meg

            Early on in “The Meg”, it occurred to me that sharks just aren’t very scary. I don’t mean this movie’s shark (although some unconvincing CGI doesn’t help), but all sharks. Their teeth are always so small in proportion to the rest of their mouths that they don’t register the way they’re supposed to, and their eyes and faces perpetually have this expression that tells me they’re just minding their own business. Even definitive scary shark movie “Jaws” knew to keep actual shots of the creature to a minimum or else people would stop taking it seriously (and the legendary deficiency of the mechanical shark certainly didn’t help). So this movie is already hurt by being a monster movie with a nonthreatening monster.

            Jason Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, an underwater rescuer in need of redemption. We see his initial failure at the beginning of the movie, where he’s forced to leave two colleagues behind to die. The sequence is so choppy and poorly-edited that when another colleague rhetorically asks “What have you done?” I was actually wondering what exactly he had done. A few years later, a team of scientists is trapped at a point lower than any human has ever travelled before. Jonas is called upon to rescue them, but only agrees because one of the scientists is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). The mission is partially successful, but the rescue allows a 70-foot, previously-thought-extinct Megalodon to escape from its icy tomb at the bottom of the sea. Now it’s up to Jonas and his ragtag team of unprepared scientists to save the world from the horror they’ve unleashed.

            The team includes Jonas’s old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), his old detractor Heller (Robert Taylor), techie Jaxx (Ruby Rose), aquaphobic crewman DJ (Page Kennedy), unscrupulous billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), world-renowned oceanographer Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), Zhang’s brilliant daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li), and Suyin’s adorable daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai). Disappointingly, several of these characters are given very little to do. It’s easy to forget that Mac, Jaxx, and DJ are even in this movie until they get knocked into the water and become potential chum. The movie, rather predictably, throws in a romance between Jonas and Suyin, but the two have very little chemistry. I would have much rather seen Jonas rekindle his relationship with Lori, effectively repairing his life both below and above the surface.

            The action sequences are entirely what you’d expect from a movie like this. Jonas’s rescue of Lori and her team is supposed to be harrowing because there’s a bunch of lights and alarms warning of an impending breach, but the situation never looked that dire to me. The crew sets off on a few missions to destroy the Meg, but you know they’re not going to be successful because it’s early and we haven’t yet gotten to the much-hyped scene where the shark invades a crowded public beach. For that sequence and others, just pick out a minor character and see if they survive. For example, what do you think the odds are for that chubby kid on the raft who always has an ice cream bar in his hand? Will the movie protect him because he’s a child, or will it feel that one protected youngster in Meiying is enough for one film? My fear of being wrong is way more intense than any fear the stupid shark can drum up.

            “The Meg” knows that it’s not a good movie, so it’s trying to market itself as a self-aware bad-but-fun movie. The problem is that it lacks the creativity or charisma to pull of that kind of identity. It comes close a few times, in scenes where Statham, Wilson, or Cai are having fun with the movie’s blatant badness, but those moments are fleeting. I know August isn’t the best time for new releases, but you don’t need to waste your money on “lesser of several evils” movies like “The Meg” when there are actual good movies like “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” still playing.

 

Grade: D

7:40 pm edt 

Christopher Robin

            Sometimes it’s best just to stay in one’s comfort zone. Believe me, I know all the counterarguments: “Playing it safe is boring,” “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t push yourself” and of course, “No risk, no reward.” “Christopher Robin” takes a risk by taking Winnie the Pooh and his friends out of their familiar setting of the Hundred-Acre Wood and transporting them to the real world. And the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking that the characters should have just stayed in the Wood. The real world would have been spared from their irritating presence and we would have been spared from this unnecessary movie.

            The story is that Christopher Robin, human ambassador to the Hundred-Acre Wood, eventually gets to an age where he has to go to boarding school and leave all his stuffed companions behind. He promises he’ll never forget his friends, but life takes its toll on him, first with school, then with the death of his father, then with a wife and daughter, then with a war, and now with a career at a struggling luggage company. Grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is an unhappy pencil-pusher who doesn’t have time for something as important as family, let alone his glorified imaginary friends from childhood.

            But one day Pooh (Jim Cummings) finds himself in a situation he can’t handle and decides to take an unprecedented journey to London to seek out help from Christopher Robin, who himself is over his head dealing with a budget crisis. He’s none too thrilled to see the silly old bear, but resolves to return him to the entrance to the Hundred-Acre Wood in the country. When he gets there, he’s greeted by other old friends like Tigger (Cummings again), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), and my personal favorite, Eeyore (Brad Garrett, in what I cannot believe is his first turn at the famously morose character). After confirming that adult Christopher is not, in fact, a dreaded Heffalump, the critters resolve to help him with his adult problem, even if it means stepping outside their comfort zone…

            Probably the biggest problem with the movie is that I just couldn’t bring myself to cheer for things that I know are supposed to be cheered. For example, I know I’m supposed to sympathize with Pooh because he’s friendly and well-meaning, but I’m sorry, he has no business inserting himself into social situations where he’s well out of his depth. Having a play date with Pooh and having him as company when there’s urgent work to be done are two vastly different things. It seems like all he does for half the movie is whine about hunger and boredom and other trivial inconveniences while Christopher Robin has to worry for the both of them. And speaking of Christopher Robin, I’m not terribly invested in him saving his soul-crushing job. It’s a toxic work environment and he’d be better off without it, which is good because he’s probably going to be unemployed once they run the math on his “miraculous” last-minute plan to save the company. Another problem is that 2018 has already given us a far superior film about a clumsy stuffed bear in London with an addiction to a sticky substance (marmalade instead of “hunny”). “Paddington 2” is my favorite movie of the year thus far, and it’s hard not to see this film as a pale imitator. Seriously, this movie is quite pale, there’s no vibrancy to its color palate.

            The best I do for “Christopher Robin” is compliment the movie on what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t force the beloved “Winnie the Pooh” characters to be cynically “relevant” like you see in lesser kids’ movies. There’s no rapping or break dancing or pop culture references or crude jokes about Pooh’s name or his habit of not wearing pants. It really is trying to be a sweet movie, it’s just coming up short because the decision to take Pooh out of the Hundred Acre Wood is a risk that doesn’t pay off.

 

Grade: C-

7:39 pm edt 

Mission Impossible - Fallout

            Like any proper franchise, “Mission: Impossible” has to up the ante with each new installment. This concept means different things to different people. Maybe it means that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are up against their most diabolical villain yet. Maybe it means their challenge is the hardest-to-crack yet. But “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” knows that what the majority of fans want is the best action yet. The film certainly gives us the “most” action yet – it’s the better part of three hours if you include trailers – but it’s also action of the highest quality, and the highest craziness.

            I won’t give myself a migraine trying to recap the plot, just know that the world is in danger and it’s up to Hunt and his team to do their secret agent thing and save it. Hunt is flanked by his longtime cohorts Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), former enemy Hunley (Alec Baldwin) helps the team briefly, and eventually old MI6 ally Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) tenuously joins in. Also returning is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the villain from the last movie, who needs to be kept alive for purposes of trading. New to the game are CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), top agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), and black market broker White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). The players bounce around in typical spy movie fashion, with some secretly having their own allegiances and agendas. This is the kind of movie where you know there will be a lot of twists, so the fact that there are a lot of twists is ironically predictable, even boring.

            Before I get into the action, let me say that the film succeeds on levels other than action. The dry humor with Cruise works, the broad humor with Pegg works. There’s some stirring material on the relationship between Hunt and his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan). As this is a “Mission: Impossible” movie, there are a few twists where characters disguise themselves with latex masks of other people. These scenes have a tendency to be contrived, but at least one makes for an interesting cameo. The only area where the otherwise-tight script really misses the mark is in the writing of the Cavill character, who would work better without such a brawn-over-brains approach.

            And then of course there’s the action. Before the opening titles, we get a tense shootout and an interrogation that threatens to turn unusually ugly. Then there’s a harrowing skydiving sequence where it’s clear that megastar Cruise is really jumping. Also jumping is at least one camera operator, kudos to them for their dangerous work. After that, we get a bone-crunching fistfight and an air-swooshing knifefight (kudos to the sound people as well). The bulk of the film takes place in Europe, so we get some of those close-quarters car chases where the characters (and again, the camera operators) are consistently about an inch away from catastrophe. Hunt engages in a heart-pumping foot chase in the way that only Tom Cruise can. The climax of the film involves a death-defying climb onto a helicopter, some death-defying antics with two helicopters, and a death-defying showdown on a cliff where the two helicopters are still very much in play, all while two nuclear bombs are in countdown mode. Again, it’s really Cruise doing much of the death-defying, and I’m sure the tech people are in a precarious situation as well. I’m not saying they’re being reckless, but it’s hard to tell how they pulled it all off safely.

            It’s hard to imagine a movie packing in more action than “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”. It’s even harder to imagine what the next “Mission: Impossible” movie is going to have to do to up the ante from this one. If you’re looking for an exciting summer blockbuster, this is one “Mission” you should choose to accept.

 

Grade: B

7:37 pm edt 

The Equalizer 2

            Audiences were first introduced to Denzel Washington’s take on Robert “The Equalizer” McCall back in 2014. The film, based on an obscure 80’s TV series, was okay at best, a vehicle for Washington to play a charismatic hero against the backdrop of an otherwise-uninspired action movie. The movie just barely cracked $100 million at the box office, so even though Washington could be spending his time on any number of more challenging or rewarding projects, he’s returning to this disposable franchise.

            Most of McCall’s adventures don’t follow a straight path, he just rights wrongs where he sees them. The wall of his apartment building has been vandalized? He’ll repaint it. Neighbor kid is in danger of getting sucked into a street gang? He’ll give the kid an honest job, but only after he goes to school. Turkish gangster has kidnapped his own daughter and fled the country? McCall has the CIA training to sort that out. It’s no wonder the movie is based on a TV series, because the first half of the film plays as very episodic.

Eventually we settle into a plot involving an old CIA friend of McCall’s (Melissa Leo), one that also involves his former partner (Pedro Pascal). Thanks to the Pascal character and McCall’s look into the very human life he leads, the sequel is actually better than the original. It’s not too much better – it still has a lot of the same problems like a predictable story and an overlong running time, but there’s a noticeable bump-up. Washington turns in a dexterous performance as always, so if you need a Denzel fix, go ahead and watch him Equalize a few things.

 

Grade: C

7:36 pm edt 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

            I’m not terribly familiar with the ABBA songbook. I know about “Dancing Queen” and of course the title song, but otherwise I just think of ABBA as that one band from Sweden that isn’t Europe (they of “The Final Countdown”). But apparently we didn’t get enough ABBA in 2008’s “Mamma Mia!” so we’re getting this sequel to meet… demand?

            We catch up with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she’s set to re-open the Greek hotel she inherited from her late mother Donna (Meryl Streep). That’s right, Donna has died. The trailers for this film spoiled almost every twist and turn of the plot, but they neglected to mention this bombshell we get right at the beginning. Sophie still gets to pal around with her mother’s friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) and her “three dads” (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan), but a storm threatens to destroy the festivities. The daughter’s current story is told alongside the past adventures of her mother (played as a younger woman by Lily James), making this film the “Godfather Part II” of ABBA movie musicals. Yes, we get Streep eventually, as well as the much-hyped appearance by Cher as Sophie’s grandmother, but the “performances” are little more than cameos.

            The movie is beyond corny. I’d compare it to something you’d see at an amusement park, but I’m afraid it would demean hardworking amusement park performers. If you enjoy people jumping into overproduced ABBA musical numbers, then I’m sure you’ll find something to like here, and real quick I’ll compliment the movie on its luscious scenery and more fleshed-out relationships. But “Mamma Mia!” was hardly my cup of tea, and “Here We Go Again” tries admirably, but fails, to win me over.

 

Grade: C-

7:35 pm edt 

Hotel Transylvania 3

            I did not care for the first two “Hotel Transylvania” movies. Basically I felt that Adam Sandler’s style of humor had run its course, and even doing something as unique as applying it to animated monster movies couldn’t make it interesting again. Both films got a One and a Half Star rating out of me (the equivalent of a C- now that I use letter grades) and I remember seriously considering giving One Star to the second film. So “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” was one of the least-anticipated viewings on my summer watchlist. Maybe it was because I was in a good mood or because the movie did something right or the very fact that I came in with such low expectations, but I actually rather enjoyed this entry.

            The new film sees widower Dracula (Sandler) trying to reenter the dating scene. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) mistakes his loneliness for a need for a vacation from his hotel-running duties, so she books him on a family cruise along with his father Vlad (Mel Brooks), son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg), and grandson Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). No need to worry about running the hotel during the break, because it seems like everyone they know is on the cruise too. There’s Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his bride Eunice (Fran Drescher), Wayne and Wanda Werewolf (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key, trying for all the world to sound like original voice Cee-Lo Green), Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade), the mute Blobby the Blob, and a host of other familiar faces.

            But there are also some new players in the game. Cruise director Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) immediately catches Dracula’s eye with her beauty, charm, and similar life goal of providing hospitality to monsters. There’s just one problem: she’s the great-granddaughter of notorious monster-hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) and she hates monsters every bit as much as he does. In fact, she’s steering everyone toward Atlantis, where the plan is to kill them all by taking control of a Kraken (Joe Jonas). Also worth mentioning is that almost every servant on the ship is an upright fish (Chris Parnell). Somehow the visual of the fish talking out of a mouth that points straight up in the air is consistently funny throughout the film.

            Dracula tries wooing Ericka, but he’s awkward at every turn, not that Ericka even notices his awkwardness since she’s constantly trying to murder him. The two eventually bond in a booby-trapped shrine where he absorbs every deadly weapon the chamber has to offer (none of the weapons are a stake to the heart, so the blades and arrows are only minimally inconvenient). Ericka develops feelings for Drac, can she allow Van Helsing to wipe out monsterkind now that she loves one? What I can tell you is that the Dracula/Ericka relationship is cute, funny, and touching. Maybe I’m just a sucker for animated sequels where the single father finds love – after all, I liked the second “Despicable Me” a lot more than the first.

            I’m not saying that “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” completely turns the franchise around. Some of the gags are groaners, especially when Sandler breaks out his tired “baby talk” schtick. We also get the return of Tinkles, the unfunny dog from the painful short that played before “The Emoji Movie”. That movie won the Razzie for Worst Picture and the short was still worse than the feature. But there’s also a lot here that works, especially compared to the first two movies. The addition of Hahn and Gaffigan certainly helps, but really it seems like everyone is upping their game, with better jokes and visuals than ever before. If there’s a “Hotel Transylvania 4”, I won’t waste too much energy dreading it like I did with this, because there’s surprisingly little here to dread.

 

Grade: B-

7:33 pm edt 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

            We last saw Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” where he fought on Cap’s side, lost, and went to prison. It was briefly mentioned in this year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” that he took a plea deal where he was released in exchange for promising not to do any more superhero work, making him one of the few MCU heroes not to appear in the film. Now we’re getting “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, where we find out what’s been going on in his neck of the woods. Like a response you’d expect from a laid-back casual friend, the answer is “not much.”

            We join Lang as he’s just three days away from the end of his mandated house arrest. It’s not so bad – he’s had time to transform his house into a most impressive playground for his daughter. But his plans to peacefully serve out his sentence are threatened when he’s abducted by his old friend Hope (Evangeline Lilly). She and her father, the brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), have created a device that will allow them to enter the quantum realm, previously thought to be basically a death sentence, to rescue her long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). They need Lang’s help because he’s survived the quantum realm himself and because he saw the mother in a vision and might be able to pinpoint her location.  

            Of course there are complications. For starters, Lang can’t be away from his house or he’ll go back to prison. Also, his relationship with Hope and Hank is pretty much shot because he absconded with the Ant-Man tech in “Civil War”. More importantly, other parties want the quantum tech for themselves. A black-market tech dealer (Walton Goggins) wants it to make money, and the molecularly unstable Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) wants it to continue living. A lab accident from when she was a child causes her to fade in and out of existence, making her simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous. An old colleague of Hank’s (Laurence Fishburne) can help her control her powers, but without energy from the quantum realm, she won’t survive much longer. It’s up to Lang, reunited with his Ant-Man suit, and Hope, donning the similar Wasp suit with very little fanfare, to keep the quantum tech from falling into the wrong hands.

            Ant-Man and Wasp are of course known as small superheroes, so perhaps it’s appropriate that this is a film of small aspirations. There’s no fate-of-the-universe stakes here, it’s just a squabble over who gets to use the unproven quantum tech to save, at most, one life. That’s not the say that the characters won’t engage in fights, chases, or other action set pieces to achieve those ends, but everybody is unofficially okay with not letting the action get too far out of hand (relatively speaking, there’s still a skyscraper-sized ant suit and an actual skyscraper that can pop up at will in play). I can sort of understand the MCU wanting to go low-key with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to balance out the enormousness of “Infinity War”, but in the process we’re losing significance. Aside from getting Ghost and the Pfeiffer and Fishburne characters into the equation, what reason does this movie really have to exist?

Part of my problem with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is that Ant-Man is a silly superhero and we’re not far enough removed from the aggressive silliness of “Deadpool 2” (which is still in the top ten at the box office), not to mention the character’s more consequential MCU brethren in “Infinity War” (still in the top 15) for the film to feel like a breath of fresh air. This movie should have waited until, say, November, where it would have been more effective as a bridge between “Infinity War” from April and “Captain Marvel” next March. As it is, we’re getting an occasionally fun, but ultimately flimsy superhero movie that falls noticeably short of its contemporaries.

 

Grade: C-

7:33 pm edt 

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

            I never saw 2015’s “Sicario” in theaters, I only knew it by its reputation as a movie that was unfairly overlooked at the Oscars that year. I watched the film in preparation for its sequel “Day of the Soldado”, and maybe it was because the version I saw was edited for television or maybe it was because I watched it from my comfy bedroom instead of the edge of my seat in a theater, but I have to say I was not impressed. It was entirely predictable that the Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro characters would turn out to not be upstanding government agents and that the Emily Blunt character would go through a by-the-numbers disillusionment storyline. It probably didn’t help that I knew Brolin and del Toro would make it out of the movie alive since they’re in “Day of the Soldado” (Blunt’s fate was up in the air as she’s not in the sequel), so some of the suspense was unfairly killed there, but I don’t think it would have affected my enjoyment much if I didn’t know. The “Sicario” series had already wasted two hours of my time before I even saw “Day of the Soldado”, and then the new film wasted two more.

            The film sees shady operative Matt Graver (Brolin) tasked by the U.S. government to pit two Mexican drug cartels against each other in hopes that they’ll wipe each other out. Graver recruits his old friend Alejandro Gillick (del Toro) to help. Gillick, the titular Sicario (hitman), helped on the original mission because he got to get revenge on the man who killed his family. This movie needs a reason to bring Gillick back, so we get a shoddy explanation about how the original villain killed his family on orders from an unseen cartel boss from this movie.

            The plan is to kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a cartel boss, who gets the most memorable scene in the movie where she bullies her principal who’s trying to discipline her for fighting. There’s also a follow-up plan to pose as the Mexican government in a phony rescue operation so Isabel is returned to her father thinking that the other cartel is responsible. The plan goes awry when Graver and his team are betrayed by the actual Mexican government, which makes things worse for U.S.-Mexico relations. Graver is ordered by his boss (Catherine Keener) to clean up the entire operation, including eliminating Gillick and Isabel. Gillick wants to protect the child, so he hatches a plan to smuggle her into the U.S. where she can disappear. But that plan is threatened by Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenager who’s an up-and-comer in the smuggling operation and knows Gillick isn’t the insignificant peasant he’s pretending to be.

            The movie goes through all the twists and turns you’d expect from a U.S. vs. Mexican cartel thriller, minus capitalizing on opportunities to develop its characters. Wait, there is one twist I didn’t expect. A character gets shot in the head and survives. The last ten minutes of the movie is that person trying to get to safety while in an unconceivable amount of pain like a cut-rate version of “The Revenant” (the 2015 film that deservedly did well at the Oscars).

There’s a lot of violence in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, but that doesn’t make it exciting or interesting. It just makes it hard to watch, or at least it would if the perpetrators, victims, heck, even the violence itself weren’t so bland. I can’t remember the last time I left a movie so miserable. The hacky comedies “Overboard” and “Life of the Party” back in May made me leave infuriated, but that’s not the same thing (and to be clear, this movie is not as bad as those, thanks to competence on technical levels like cinematography and editing). This movie is a two-hour joyless slog that doesn’t have the heart or personality to pull off its “uncompromising” dreariness.

 

Grade: C-

7:31 pm edt 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

            Back in 2015, “Jurassic World” briefly set the box office record for biggest opening weekend of all time with $208 million before climbing to #3 on the overall domestic chart. It seemed as though people couldn’t get enough of dinosaurs chowing down on some arrogant human victims. Now comes “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, which opened this past weekend to a relatively tame $150 million. People still want to see the dinos, but it’s a little less special this time. It’s a serviceable metaphor for the movie itself – the dinosaurs aren’t exactly “boring,” but we have a pretty good idea of what we can expect from their antics. The humans, on the other hand, may qualify as boring.

            Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as raptor wrangler Owen Grady and dino lover Claire Dearing, respectively. Jeff Goldblum also returns as Dr. Ian Malcolm, but don’t get too excited, he only cameos to get in some soundbites for the film’s advertising. At the start of the film, the island that hosted the Jurassic World theme park is in danger from a previously-unknown active volcano. Claire desperately tries to get the government to rescue the endangered species, but they refuse to do so because the dinosaurs are owned by a corporation. At least that’s the official reason, it’s probably more because the creatures tend to show their gratitude by eating registered voters.

Salvation comes in the form of mysterious billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his assistant Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). They’re willing to bankroll a mission to rescue the dinosaurs from the precarious island and give them a new home in a nature preserve. Okay, everybody who believes that they’re not up to something more sinister, please do a backflip now. Still, it might be the last chance for the dinos, so Claire recruits old flame Owen as well as tough-cookie veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) and whiny techie Franklin (Justice Smith) for the mission. They get to the island and Owen tries to use peaceful methods to get his old raptor friend Blue to come quietly with them, but the goons on Mills’ payroll just shoot everything with tranquilizers and stuff them in inhumane cages, leaving our heroes for dead. The dinos’ destination is not a lush preserve, but Lockwood’s estate, where they’ll be sold to the highest bidder, likely someone who will use their DNA for nefarious purposes.

The climax of the film is our heroes running around the Lockwood estate, working to protect the dinosaurs worth protecting and saving the humans worth saving. One of those humans is Lockwood’s “granddaughter” (Isabella Sermon), who was the reason why Lockwood was considered too crazy and immoral to share the company of original dino-breeder John Hammond. A lot about this portion of the movie is silly, but at this point, silliness is this movie’s friend. It wasn’t really getting anywhere taking itself seriously.

The latter half of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, where the carnivorous dinosaurs treat the Lockwood estate like their personal buffet (one teases a particularly heelish captor with its tail, bring new meaning to the phrase “playing with your food”) somewhat makes up for the lackluster first half. We know the reluctant Grady is going to go on the mission, we can guess who’s going to turn out to be a bad guy, and we dread everything about the annoying Franklin, yet these elements are stretched out for way too long. But the part where the dinosaurs are captured, which seems like the setup for some exciting adventures, is done almost entirely offscreen. Oh well, at least we can look forward to the inevitable devouring of a snooty auctioneer played by Toby Jones. If you’re dying for some dino action, you’ll find it here, but there’s not much that hasn’t been covered by other “Jurassic” movies.

 

Grade: C

7:30 pm edt 

Indredibles 2

            Although Pixar has never made anything I’d call a “bad” movie, they’ve had mixed results with their sequels. The second and third “Toy Story” movies are just as beloved as the original, and “Finding Dory” is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. But “Monsters University” was an addendum that seemingly nobody wanted, and the two “Cars” sequels are considered the black sheep of the studio. Still, fans were clamoring for a follow-up to “The Incredibles”, the 2004 family-of-superheroes adventure that opened the door to a world that clearly needed more exploring. It’s been a 14-year wait, but yes, this is every bit the sequel that fans have been craving.

            We join the Parr family right where we left them – ready to do battle with The Underminer (Pixar fave John Ratzenberger). Some heroic hijinks and damage to the city’s infrastructure later, and the Parrs are in trouble again for unauthorized crime-fighting. Things look dire for the family, but salvation comes in the form of a pair of tycoon siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to bankroll a public comeback for Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and family friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). The catch is that they want to bring back the supers one at a time, starting with Elastigirl, which means Mr. Incredible will have to be benched for the time being. The deal is too good to pass up, so Mr. Incredible reluctantly agrees to stay home and watch the kids while Elastigirl does the hero- no, heroine work.

            Watching over three children turns out to be a more daunting task than Mr. Incredible anticipated. Teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) is distraught over a crush who knows her secret identity (the situation is rectified, but the correction makes things worse on the social front). Oldest son Dash (Huck Milner) needs help with his homework, but it’s 60’s-style New Math that even his father can’t understand. And baby Jack-Jack is just starting to learn he has a plethora of superpowers, including invisibility, laser-eyes, and self-multiplication. The situation with Jack-Jack is too much for even Mr. Incredible to handle, so he “allows” costume designer Edna Mode (Brad Bird, the director of the film) to watch the baby for a bit and help him channel his powers. Elastigirl, for her part, tangles with a hypnotizing villain called The Screenslaver and meets some fellow underground supers, my favorite of which is Voyd (Sophia Bush), who can create wormholes out of thin air.

            The superhero stuff is mostly just fine, save for a few outstanding sequences like a motorcycle chase, hand-to-hand combat with strobe lighting, and especially baby Jack-Jack tussling with a masked adversary. But otherwise even the magic of Pixar can’t make up for the fact that we’ve been seeing a lot of superheroes lately, and their action-filled set pieces - monumental though they are – are beginning to become commonplace. Also, the identity of the villain is supposed to be a secret, but I found it way too easy to figure out. I guessed correctly based character descriptions that were released a few months ago.

            The strengths of “Incredibles 2” lie not with its action (though don’t get me wrong, impressive action is there if you want it), but with its family dynamic. Nelson and Hunter deserve Oscar nominations for the life and chemistry they give to their characters. I swear I heard applause after a scene of them simply having a conversation. A family dinner over Chinese takeout is equally laudable, with the kids holding their own in a debate over the ethics of illegally using their superpowers to do good. Again, the film isn’t lacking for excitement or visual gags, but some of its best moments are some of its simplest. “Incredibles 2” is everything you want from a Pixar movie – smart, funny, adorable, inspiring, painstakingly animated with excellent results, and best of all, heartfelt.

 

Grade: A-

 

7:29 pm edt 

Ocean's 8

            I think it was a mistake to call this movie “Ocean’s 8”. The modern-era “Ocean’s” series began in 2001 with “Ocean’s Eleven”, then went to “Ocean’s Twelve” in 2004, and then to “Ocean’s Thirteen” in 2007. Now the franchise is being relaunched with a female-led cast and a problematic title. 8 is about 73% of 11, and it just makes me think of the gender pay gap, which is usually reported to be around 75%. Without giving too much away, this team has enough unofficial members that “Ocean’s Fourteen” would not have been an unreasonable title. But this film’s advertising only wants to push eight actresses, so we’re stuck with a film that tells you right in its title that it’s an insufficient version of the movie you want.  

            Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, sister to George Clooney’s master criminal Danny Ocean. Danny has supposedly passed since “Ocean’s Thirteen”, but he was totally the kind of guy who would fake his own death, so only time will tell to see if it sticks. Debbie gets paroled after five years in prison for a scam she pulled with her no-good artist boyfriend (Richard Armitage) and immediately goes back to being a drain on society: stealing makeup, conning her way into posh hotel rooms, and planning an elaborate jewelry heist. It’ll have to be a team job, requiring at least six other people.

            First up is Debbie’s longtime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). Lou has been conning people for so long that she’s bored with it. I got the impression that the character only exists because Debbie needs to be talking to somebody during her “just got out of prison” phase. Debbie and Lou recruit suburbanite fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), blunt hacker Nine-Ball (Rihanna), harried jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), lightfingered larcenist Constance (Awkwafina), and washed-up fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter). Of those five, Rose is the most interesting. She has the most backstory and we can sympathize with her as she pursues one last moment in the sun.

Together, the team plots to steal an exorbitant necklace to be worn by actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the annual Met Gala. Hathaway is one of the eight actresses advertised as “Ocean’s 8”, but her character seems more like a mark than an actual member of the team (think Andy Garcia in “Ocean’s Eleven”). Has the advertising made a mistake? Is there a secret eighth member of the team that the advertising doesn’t want to give away? Maybe she counts as a team member because she’s so crucial to the plan, unwitting though she may be. The answer may surprise you. It will almost definitely confuse you, but it “may” surprise you. It’s been rumored that Hathaway gives a rare villainous performance in this movie, but that’s an exaggeration, she’s no worse than Debbie and her cohorts.

            As you would expect, the heist is intricate, nail-biting, and multilayered.  Of course, if you’ve ever seen an “Ocean’s” movie (or any movie with a heist or con job), you know there’s a twist coming that means nothing is as it seems. The twist, or should I say twists, come during a sloppy sequence involving an insurance investigator (James Corden) who tries to recover the necklace. The sequence is unclear about how much time has elapsed since certain events, but given what I think is the correct interpretation, entire characters are rendered moot by the involvement of others. It also raises the question of why there is one investigation taking place when there should be two. The logistics of “Ocean’s 8” are nonsensical, too many characters are idiots, and it never quite lives up to the fun of the better Clooney installments. It’s not devoid of chemistry and cleverness, but there’s not enough. Come to think of it, I’d estimate that there’s about 8/11ths as much as there would need to be for me to recommend this movie.

 

Grade: C-

7:29 pm edt 

Adrift

            “Adrift” is two movies in one – a mushy romance and a harrowing high-seas adventure tale. I guess it’s like “Titanic” minus the large scale, $165 million from the budget, and about $550 million from its domestic gross (a generous projection based on its $11 million opening weekend). The film is opening on the weekend following “Solo”, and even though that film is performing far below expectations, it’s easy to see why many films wanted to avoid the slot. This is a movie for people who either have no interest in blockbusters or have seen too many of them lately and need a break. Oh, and people who like nautical movies I’m sure will find something to like here.

            The film stars Shailene Woodley as Tami Oldham, a drifter who hops from one gorgeous locale to the other, never truly finding meaning or happiness. Things change in Tahiti when she meets Richard (Sam Claflin), a charming sailing enthusiast. Richard loves the open sea and the exhilaration that more than makes up for the sickness, dehydration, and hallucinations that come with lengthy voyages. He loves the sea so much, in fact, that he somewhat chooses it over Tami, opting for an extensive yachting assignment to San Diego rather than taking her to Japan like she wants. The loyal Tami agrees to accompany him, and he proposes to her a few days into their trip.

            The couple’s happiness is short-lived, as they soon find themselves trapped in a hurricane. Tami goes below deck, where she’s tossed around the cabin and knocked out for over 24 hours. When she awakens, there’s no sign of Richard. Tami fears the worst, but her fiancé soon appears clinging to an overturned dinghy. With very little understanding of how to steer the damaged vessel, Tami manages to make it over to Richard and pull him onboard. His ribs are cracked and his leg is shattered, but he’s alive, sort of. Unfortunately, he can’t be of much help. It’s up to Tami to get both of them out of this situation, despite being the less knowledgeable of the two when it comes to seafaring. Through determination and a resolve she didn’t know she had, Tami eventually manages to save 100% of the people on the boat.

            The film bounces between Tami and Richard’s relationship and the peril following the hurricane. It’s a nice balance – rough scene, sweet scene, rough scene, sweet scene. It’s a good idea to structure the movie this way because neither the romance nor the stranded-at-sea storyline is anything we haven’t seen a hundred times before, so at least this movie is doing something slightly different with its presentation. The relationship is of course tested when it comes to the desperate situation, but love prevails as one might expect, or at least it lasts longer than it should.

            My grade for “Adrift” is a B-. I’m giving it that high of a grade because it’s a competent film. The filmmakers have paid a lot of attention to detail in the name of accuracy, especially when it comes to the storm and its effects. The two leads turn in decent performances too, or at least as decent as can be expected with such sappy romantic dialogue (the characters themselves draw attention to how sappy it can be at times). But I’m sorry, this just isn’t that interesting of a film. Its target audience is people like me who have to see a movie every week and will settle for this medium-sized fish in a teensy pond of new releases. It will be forgotten in a week when proper competition sends it to the depths of the box office charts.

 

Grade: B-

7:27 pm edt 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

            Too few people saw the Coen Brothers comedy “Hail, Caesar” back in 2016, but those who did witnessed a terrific breakthrough performance by actor Alden Ehrenreich. Somebody saw how well he played a cowboy from 1950’s Hollywood and decided that he’d make a great cowboy from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And thus he was cast as a young Han Solo for a film that takes place between Episodes III and IV of the “Star Wars” series. I really liked Ehrenreich in this movie. I never felt like he was doing a Harrison Ford impression, nor did I feel like he was giving “his take” on the character. Instead, I simply saw a young Han Solo. Good on Ehrenreich for slipping so seamlessly into one of the most famous roles in movie history.

            We follow a young Han as he escapes a life of forced servitude, trying and failing to bring his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) with him. He joins the Imperial Army, but ditches them when he begins to realize that they may not be the good guys. As punishment for his desertion, he’s dropped into a pit to be fed to the hungry beast Chewbacca, but he instead curries the favor of the Wookie, the two escape together, and a lifelong friendship is born. The two team up with a crew of bandits (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and a creature voiced by Jon Favreau) to rob a train, but the robbery goes sideways and Solo finds himself indebted to crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), whose top lieutenant happens to be Qi’ra. Han offers to square things with Vos with another robbery and Vos agrees, provided Qi’ra comes along to supervise. Fine by Han, as this means he gets to spend time with his old friend, though he could probably do without the life-or-death ramifications.

            The movie is perfectly average by “Star Wars” standards up to this point, but things pick up when Han tries to procure a ship. He tries unsuccessfully to win the prized vessel of celebrity smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in a card game, but Lando lets him and his team borrow the Millennium Falcon anyway in exchange for a cut. It is here that we meet L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s confrontational droid navigator. The advertising for this movie has played up Han, Lando, and even Woody Harrelson’s character, but it’s the activist L3 who steals the show. She’s funny, she’s spunky, and she wants to lead a robot uprising. She can liberate my appliances any day. As for the rest of the movie: adventure, moral conflicts, betrayal, and showdowns ensue. It’s standard “Star Wars” stuff, minus unpredictability since we know that at least three characters are going to make it to canonically later installments.

            It’s hard to talk about “Solo: A Star Wars Story” at this stage without discussing its disappointing box office performance. The film has made “only” $83 million in its first three days, which by “Star Wars” standards practically makes it a flop. It doesn’t deserve to be. Ehrenreich and Glover make excellent younger versions of their iconic characters, and the newer players are much more interesting than say, “Rogue One’s” disposable ensemble. I think it comes down to the fact that this is the fourth “Star Wars” film in two and a half years and the second in less than six months. Even the most dedicated fans are starting to feel a bit burned out. Some day, when fans can watch these movies at their own pace without having to worry about the demanding nature of the release calendar, they’ll decide that this was an underrated installment. Until that time, give this movie a shot and try to find something to like among the expected chases and shady dealings.

 

Grade: B-

7:26 pm edt 

Deadpool 2

            It has been two years since “Deadpool” turned the superhero movie genre on its head with its excessively crude fourth-wall-breaking humor. There had been R-rated comic book movies before, but none had achieved its level of success. Not only was it a huge hit financially (it is the second biggest R-rated movie of all time at the domestic box office and technically the biggest worldwide), but it scored major points in its acclaim, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical, where it lost to “La La Land” in a ceremony where both that movie and “Moonlight” could win Best Picture in harmony. There was no way that kind of success would go unexploited, so here we have the first of what is sure to be many sequels in “Deadpool 2”.

            Ryan Reynolds is back as Wade “Deadpool” Wilson, the mercenary-turned-mutant with regenerative powers. At the start of the film, he and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are extremely happy and thinking about having children. Since superheroes are never allowed to be happy for long in these movies, she is quickly eliminated from the story. Wade turns suicidal and blows himself to smithereens, but succeeds only in blowing off his body and having to regrow it in the X-Men mansion under the disapproving eye of Colossus (Stefan Kapicic). By the way, that’s another box office record “Deadpool” holds – it’s the biggest of all the “X-Men” movies, and it barely counts as one.

            Wade soon finds a new reason to live in the form of troubled teenage mutant Russell (Julian Dennison). Russell’s fiery temper, along with actual fire powers, have set him on a path of vengeance against his school’s abusive headmaster (Eddie Marsan), and a public outburst gets both him and Wade thrown in a mutant prison, where collars conveniently exist that deactivate all powers. The prison is attacked by Cable (Josh Brolin), a coldhearted killer intent on assassinating Russell. Wade doesn’t know why Cable is targeting a child, but his instinct is to protect the young mutant, which makes him an enemy of Cable as well. The two get into a fight and are flung from the prison, which protects Russell for the time being, but he’s scheduled to be transferred the next day.

            Wade knows that he can’t defeat Cable and rescue Russell all by himself, so he gets help from other superheroes. He manages to mismanage the team so badly that only the lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz) remains. The two stave off Cable long enough for Russell to escape with a huge mystery mutant. It is only after the special guest star breaks Wade in half that Cable comes forward to explain himself. He’s a time-traveler from a future where Russell has turned into a mass murderer. He needs to kill the kid now for the sake of humanity. Wade sees Cable’s dilemma, but he thinks he can stop Russell from becoming a murderer without killing him, which is better for everybody. Cable isn’t so sure, but he promises to give Wade a chance to convince Russell to turn his life around.

            As with is predecessor, “Deadpool 2” is an entertaining mix of an emotional story, interesting characters, creative action, and irreverent humor. Deadpool as a character is still as engaging as ever thanks to Reynolds’ charismatic performance. My only real problem with the film is that it drags in a few places and there’s an inevitability that certain things are going to be undone. The good news is that while that other Marvel franchise with Josh Brolin is going to make us wait a whole year to set things right, this one fixes everything (plus a few bonus things, one of which I really can’t wrap my head around) in a glorious mid-credits sequence. “Deadpool 2” deserves to be just as successful as the first one and it’s going to be a real shame when its box office gets pulverized by “Solo” next weekend.

 

Grade: B

7:25 pm edt 

Life of the Party

            For those of you who think I spent too much time last week whining about “Overboard” not being funny, just a heads up that “Life of the Party” this week is going to be more of the same. It’s no surprise that neither movie is any good, their studios sent them out to die against “Avengers: Infinity War”. Both comedy bombs lucked out because that movie got moved up a week at the last minute, so they got to open on weekends when people had already seen the superior blockbuster. They still got crushed, just not as badly. Anyway, at least this movie doesn’t have the incredibly uncomfortable bits about exploiting a character with amnesia, so it’s got that in its favor.

            Melissa McCarthy stars as Deanna, a doting wife and mother who gets dumped by her contemptable husband (Matt Walsh) for a snooty real estate agent (Julie Bowen) as soon as they drop their daughter (Molly Gordon) off at college. When I say “as soon as they drop their daughter off,” I mean while they’re still in the car so she can have a public meltdown. The film clearly didn’t want to pay for another set, so it rushes this scene. I suppose I should be grateful that this scene is rushed, because others go on forever, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

Deanna decides that the best way to cope with the divorce is to go back to college and get the year of credits she needs to finally get her Archeology degree. She at least has the good sense not to move into the sorority house where her daughter lives, opting instead to room in a dorm with a brooding introvert (Heidi Gardner). But she’s still an embarrassing presence around campus and visiting at the sorority house, living up to all sorts of “mom trying to fit in with young people” stereotypes like misusing slang, cracking lame jokes, wearing inappropriate clothing, and generally sticking out like a sore thumb. And when she makes a faux pas, she never just says “Excuse me” and moves on, she has to compound her folly with endless rambling as she tries in vain to turn the situation around.

Deanna goes through various adventures, few of which are funny and most of which are painful. She makes friends with her daughter’s friends, one of whom is played by Gillian Jacobs, cast because someone thought putting her in a college movie would automatically bring in fans of “Community”. She attends a mediation session where she and Bowen take personal swipes at each other through the mediator while her best friend (Maya Rudolph) squawks out-of-context legal terms. She has to give an oral presentation in class and freaks out from stage fright, to the point where her innocuous professor (Chris Parnell) comes off as mean for not just pulling the plug on the traumatic experience. And as one would expect, she goes to a number of parties, one of which sees her hook up with a younger student (Luke Benward) who pursues a relationship. As off-putting as that storyline can be, it is responsible for the very few laughs I got out of this movie, especially during a scene in a restaurant.

            “Life of the Party” is directed by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband. The two previously worked together on the critical flops “Tammy” and “The Boss”, and this movie doesn’t have Kathy Bates and Tyler Labine to save it. Watching the film, I had the snarky thought that scenes go on too long because Falcone was too afraid to say “Cut!” to his wife. But upon further reflection, I’ve decided to go with the more optimistic approach that Falcone is so in love with McCarthy that he honestly finds everything she says funny and thus never wants to say “Cut!” That’s sweet, but both McCarthy and the movie could have used some tough love from a director with higher standards, because what we’re getting just isn’t working.

 

Grade: D

7:24 pm edt 

Overboard

            “Overboard” is a remake of a reprehensible 1987 film starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. In that film, poor slob Russell takes advantage of the amnesia suffered by the snobby Hawn by convincing her that she’s his wife and mother to his four children. She struggles with household chores, which is mildly amusing, and the two wind up in bed together, which is disgusting. It makes no difference that she has fallen for him at this point in the film, he is taking advantage of a woman with brain damage, and his actions constitute rape. Now the film is being remade with Anna Faris as the poor slob and Eugenio Derbez as the spoiled jerk whose amnesia is being exploited. This film could have at least corrected the most glaring flaw in the 1987 version, but it doesn’t, and it’s horribly unfunny elsewhere to boot.

            Kate (Faris) has to work two jobs to support her and her three daughters, leaving her little time to pursue her dream career as a nurse. She does some carpet-cleaning on the private yacht of wealthy construction heir Leo (Derbez), but he stiffs her on payment, pushes her into the ocean, and destroys her equipment, putting her in a worse financial situation than ever. That night, he drunkenly falls overboard, miraculously makes it to shore, and winds up in the hospital with amnesia. Kate seizes the opportunity to pretend he’s her husband so she can take him home and put him to work, taking care of things around the house and working a construction job so she can pocket his paychecks and have time to study for a nursing exam. Leo’s a flop at first because he has no skills (he’s forgotten his name and that he doesn’t have a wife and kids, but he’ll never forget to act like an entitled cretin), but eventually he takes to his newfound family and they like having him around. But of course, Kate can’t hide the truth forever.

            Everywhere you look, there’s something to dislike about this movie. Kate’s nurse studying mainly focuses on scatological material mined for cheap humor. She’s somehow the first person to “identify” Leo at the hospital despite him being one of the richest people in the world, with both his disappearance and the story of the mysterious amnesiac being covered on the news. Leo works a construction job that he can’t handle, which is a detriment to the rest of his crew, but they just laugh and put up with him. Kate and Leo get in a fight about disciplining one of the daughters for disobeying Kate, and the idea is supposed to be that they’re both making good points, but no, she’s 100% right. Leo’s family eventually shows up at Kate’s house with hardly any explanation of how they pieced the events of the film together. And on top of all of that, the whole thing is an incredibly predictable story where most of the gags simply fall flat.

            It also bears mentioning that as in the original, the amnesiac and the person taking advantage of them end up in bed together. Honestly, I couldn’t work up the outrage that I had toward the original film. Maybe it’s because this version makes it clear that former playboy Leo really wants to bed Kate, which I know doesn’t make it right, but softens it on an unofficial level. More likely it’s because I’ve seen the original so I know to anticipate that development, which makes it less shocking. But I think the biggest reason of all is that this is such a bland, worthless movie that nothing about it is worth an emotion as strong as outrage. The people behind this movie surely had better things to do with their time and money than remake “Overboard” and you surely have better things to do with your time and money than see this garbage.

 

Grade: D-

 

7:23 pm edt 

Avengers: Infinity War

            As long as there have been The Avengers, there has been the threat of Thanos (Josh Brolin). The villain’s visage first appeared midway through the credits of the superteam’s first adventure back in 2012. Once 99% of the audience looked up who he was, they got excited to see him in an upcoming sequel. The most we’ve seen of him since then was in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which ironically was not an Avengers movie, though still an important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know that he’s after six Infinity Stones, which he can plug into his handy gauntlet to give him power over… the universe, basically. The six-year wait is finally over and Thanos is ready to make his move.

            Standing in Thanos’s way is almost the entirety of the MCU. The roster includes, but is not limited to: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) whose eponymous film is still in the top ten at the box office after beating out the 2012 “Avengers” to become the biggest superhero movie of all time. Some of these characters are allies, some are enemies, and some have never met, but they all recognize that they’ve never come up against a threat like Thanos.

            The heroes splinter off to go on various missions. The Infinity Stones are widely spread out on multiple planets, and of course Thanos and his minions need to be dealt with. Thanos, for his part, wants the Infinity Stones so he can kill exactly half the universe, leaving the other half to live off its finite resources. He fancies himself a misunderstood savior who’s not as heartless as he seems. This “sensitivity” is on display in a scene where he must make a sacrifice to retrieve a stone. He does what everybody knows he’s going to do (and what people at my screening were yelling at him to hurry up and do to move the movie along), but he feels bad about it. Funny that he cares so much about population control in the most overcrowded superhero movie in history.

            The humor and action are exactly on par with what you’d expect from one of these movies. Egos clash over whose powers and plans are superior to others, and there’s much teasing among the new teammates. As with most Marvel villains, Thanos has an army of indistinguishable creeps at his disposal so the heroes can take turns showing off their powers fighting them, though he himself can fight them all off rather easily. This movie really hopes you like the gag where a stooge is seconds away from a kill only to be suddenly stabbed from behind and then fall away to reveal an unlikely rescuer, because it’s done multiple times here.

            “Avengers: Infinity War” moves along a predictable path until it gets to an ending I didn’t predict. I knew the franchise had been sauntering toward a showdown with Thanos, I just didn’t know how many movies that showdown would encompass. Turns out it’s more than one, which means the conclusion to this installment is unsatisfying. I don’t necessarily disapprove of the unsatisfying conclusion, not every superhero movie needs to end with things wrapped up in a neat little package with just a hint of an upcoming conflict. There’s another Avengers movie scheduled for 2019, so I’ll have to wait until then to see if the MCU is willing to let things be right in the world again.

 

Grade: B-

7:22 pm edt 

Rampage

            “Rampage” stars Dwayne Johnson as a primatologist who has to save Chicago from the triple terror of an enormous genetically-mutated gorilla, an enormous genetically-mutated wolf, and an enormous genetically-mutated crocodile. Right off the bat you should know whether or not this is a movie you want to see. But if you still haven’t made up your mind, consider this: there are no fewer than three scenes where Johnson steals an empty helicopter. Is that a movie you want to see, one where The Rock steals three empty helicopters? It’s perfectly fine to say yes and it’s perfectly fine to say no, but I seriously doubt you’re anywhere in the middle.

            Johnson’s gorilla caretaker is in charge of George, a rare albino specimen that can be ferocious when he wants to be, but usually just goofs off using sign language (Johnson taught him two obscene gestures for some reason). An exploding space station brings to Earth three canisters of genetic-modification gas. One affects a wolf in Wyoming, one affects a croc in Florida, and one affects George. Johnson tries to control his friend (his repeated calling of the name “George” can only bring to mind George of the Jungle), but the ape is growing, his temperament is worsening, and he’s smashing everything in sight. Some government tranq-ing takes care of him temporarily, but it’s… not to last.

            Other characters include Naomie Harris as a scientist who serves as a companion for Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a smug government agent with a drawling cowboy persona (he refers to one of the stolen helicopters as a “whirly-bird” in a moment that summarizes his character perfectly), Joe Manganiello as a mercenary put in charge of hunting the wolf, and Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as a pair of billionaire siblings whose corporation is behind the out-of-control experiments. Akerman has the bright idea to use a powerful radio signal to draw the three creatures to the middle of Chicago. I’m sure she explains why she thinks this is a good idea, but her reasoning is lost on me because it’s easy to see that it’s a really, really bad idea.

            The climax of the film is a whole lot of destruction. The animals all zero in on the radio signal coming from the top of a skyscraper that also houses an antidote, which is why our heroes have to be there too. Yes, the gorilla is climbing the skyscraper, and yes, the film knows what that brings to mind. The military and populace are no match for any one of the creatures, but maybe if Johnson can tap into the goodness of his old buddy George, he can get the gorilla to fight the wolf and croc and maybe the animals will take each other out. I see the problem being that the military will totally destroy George even if he wins, but the movie ends before that inevitable consequence. It does not, however, end before the city as a whole takes an incredible extended thrashing.

            “Rampage” is by no means a “good” movie in the traditional sense. The acting is miles over the top, the script is a mess, and the special effects leave a lot to be desired. Not to mention that if you want anything resembling realistic action, you’re out of luck to say the least. Really though, if you want realistic action, what are you doing watching a movie like “Rampage”? This is the epitome of a movie that can be a lot of fun if you turn off your brain. Johnson brings his oversized action hero charm as always, Morgan is having a blast, the bad guys are deliciously fun to hate, and the film never runs out of creative ways for the animals to wreak havoc. I can’t bring myself to actually recommend the film, but I recommend it as much as I can recommend a film that I can’t recommend.

 

Grade: C

7:21 pm edt 

A Quiet Place

            I really liked “Don’t Breathe,” the horror movie from 2016 with the blind antagonist and potential victims who had to be careful to not make a sound. That movie had interesting characters, a unique setting, and some great scares. “A Quiet Place” keeps the silence, but forgoes the other elements.

            The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a family struggles to stay alive amidst an invasion by blind creatures who want to eat everything they hear. It’s a rural area, but three local creatures can turn the family into an instant banquet if one of them makes a sound that gives away their location. While the credits assign names to the family members, you’ll just know them as the father (John Krasinski, who directed and co-wrote the film), the mother (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life wife), the daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and the son (Noah Jupe). There’s another, younger son (Cade Woodward), but he decides to put batteries into a noisemaking toy and is picked off quickly. The other characters take turns blaming themselves for his death, but he had so little common sense that it’s hard to imagine he would have lasted much longer anyway.

            Not that the other characters make great decisions either. Fifteen months into the invasion, the mother is expecting a baby. Way to go Mom and Dad, you’re bringing a child into this bleak world with no discernable quality of life and an excellent chance that its crying will get it killed. The father spends his days soundproofing the family compound, trying unsuccessfully to radio for help, and researching the creatures and how to evade or defeat them. His research is pretty pathetic, it includes a dry-erase board with the word “Weakness?” on it. This tells the audience that he’s trying to find a weakness, but why did he need to write it down? Would he have forgotten to try to find a weakness otherwise?

            The film has been eager to advertise its gimmick of containing almost no dialogue, so how does it fare in that department? Completely average. The family communicates using sign language, which they knew even before the invasion because the daughter is deaf. They have that going for them, but they’re otherwise not as good at concealing sounds as the movie wants us to think they are. If the aliens really are that good at picking up on sounds, they’d see right through (uh, hear right through?) cheat tactics like the family walking everywhere barefoot and distracting them with substitute sounds. I know that this is a movie that wants to draw us into its “tense atmosphere,” but having to stay quiet to avoid detection is nothing new for the horror or action genre. This movie just has more of those scenes than usual. That doesn’t make the film groundbreaking, it just means that there’s not a lot of variety to its scares.

            I know a lot of critics have fallen for “A Quiet Place.” My last check of the Rotten Tomatoes review site saw the film with a 97% Fresh rating. I must confess that I have no idea what so many people see in this film. To me, this is a movie about halfwitted people outwitting dimwitted creatures. The creatures, by the way, have absolutely no personality and I couldn’t take them seriously as antagonists after a few temporary foilings from the family. The family members thankfully have a pretty good chemistry with each other, but it’s not enough to make me think that they shouldn’t get eaten as a family. The film relies on tiresome silent tension and cheap jump scares, the most effective of which is a fake-out. The real “Quiet Place” should be any theater showing this movie. Yes, you’re supposed to refrain from making noise during most movies shown in theaters, but you know what I mean.

 

Grade: C-

7:20 pm edt 

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