Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Review

You’d think that after Avengers: Infinity War any Marvel movie that doesn’t follow up the events in that movie would just automatically suck.

Well you’d be wrong. So happily wrong.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect pallete cleanser for the sheer devastation of the last movie, full of whimsy, joy, and laughs.

It’s been two years since the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) cut a deal with the Feds to be on house arrest. With mere days left, he has a dream involving Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp who’s trapped in the Quantum Realm. Knowing this, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) now need him to find her while dealing with the threat of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who has plans of her own.

What struck me the most about Ant-Man and the Wasp was how much the tone of the movie reminded me of the original Iron Man; the light breezy tone, and its willingness to embrace the absurdity of its premise (for God’s sake, a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser is used as a weapon).

The chemistry among the actors is just top notch. The banter between Scott and Hank is like something out an old Howard Hawks comedy. It’s almost rapid fire and just makes you smile the entire time, while never short changing Hope, even deepening the relationship between her and Scott.

As many a Marvel fan can attest, the weakness of Marvel films are the villains, and how they’re just the same as the heroes, down to their powers. Not here though. Ghost has phase powers that prove to be so radically different it actually made me worried for Scott and Hope. It was something unique that kept me glued to the screen.

While I enjoyed the original Ant-Man, this sequel is so much better in almost every conceivable way; its funnier, has a better pace, the acting, the dialogue, the villain, you get it. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but I was so swept up in its storytelling that I forgot all about Infinity War.

Well, almost.

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Incredibles 2 (2018) Review

One of the most hotly anticipated sequels from the Pixar brand is finally here. Incredibles 2, to get to the point, is an excellent follow up to the original, and that is not light praise by any means.

Picking up an instant after the end of the first film, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Katherine Keener) want to legitimize superheroes again and tap Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter) to be the face of a new campaign. This leads Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to stay at home and take care of the kids, while a new threat looms.

Man did I have a grin on my face during this movie. Incredibles 2 has the exact same feel as the original does. In some ways this feels like the rest of the story, completely organic to the characters and man that’s tough to pull off.

The main plot concerning Elasti-Girl is thrilling, and it never provides a dull moment. I admired the social commentaries that it threw in; just subtle enough for the adults to get it, but not have it drag the movie down in being preachy. It made me want to see the movie again so I could pick a part those subtleties.

But what elevates this movie to being neck and neck with the original in terms of quality is Mr. Incredible taking care of his youngest son, Jack-Jack. I just kept laughing and couldn’t get enough of it. Seeing a hulking superhero barely being able to function while being a parent was so relatable. Even the fact that he has to call in his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) to help him manage the kids is just comedic gold to me. This subplot alone is worth the price of admission.

At this point, I’m not surprised that Incredibles 2 is just a fantastic movie, even 14 years after the release of the original. The story and acting are top notch, the commentary is on point, the animation is fucking gorgeous to look at, so there’s little to disappoint. If anything, I wanted more of the Jack-Jack subplot. I’m giggling even just thinking about it.

Why Life is Beautiful (1997) is the Best Father’s Day Film

There are many films that celebrate fathers in their own way; usually as some sort sport film or fathers and sons trying to reconnect in some fashion. Roberto Benigni’s Italian film Life is Beautiful does something a bit different in it’s portrayal of the relationship, which shows the lengths a man would go through to protect the most valuable thing a child can have: their innocence.

The movie starts simply enough in 1939 with Guido (Benigni) moving into a little villiage and falls in love with a local girl named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). After a comical whirlwind romance they marry and have a child named Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini).

Five years pass and Guido dotes on his child, using humor to answer some of life’s difficult questions like why Jews (like themselves) can’t go into the store. But then sure enough they get sent to a concentration camp where Guido convinces little Giosue that its all a game and if they get one thousand points they get a tank.

Now I must admit this does sound depressing as shit, but it’s not. There is a wonderful spirit to the whole thing where Guido, even in the darkest of times, thinks only of his son and shields him from the monstrosities that surround them. Whether its pretending to speak German to “explain” the rules of the game or hiding in the bunks to npt be found, he thinks quick on his feet to protect his son’s innocence.

Every father in the world needs to see this movie; if only to show how powerful a father’s love can be in it’s purest form. A majority of films today have failed to show this, but here’s one that basks in its unconditional love. This is a film that celebrates fathers to the highest degree, and its something I cannot stress enough. By the end of the film you will truly see that in spite of everything, Life is Beautiful.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review

Whenever I go into a Star Wars movie, the first thing I expect is to be entertained. Not some deep meditation on life or whatever, just a good entertaining movie to engross me for a couple of hours. With that in mind, I’m pleased as punch that Solo: A Star Wars Story met those expectations.

Taking place roughly ten years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is trying to get back to his homeworld of Corellia to return to his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) when he gets embroiled, along with the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), with a smuggler named Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who has to deliver cargo to crime boss Dryden (Paul Bettany). Having then recruited Captain Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the heist, this sets in motion the events that came to shape him as the scoundrel we know and love.

Origins are a tricky thing to pull off; by the end we know what’ll happen. But director Ron Howard knows how to balance new events to keep us surprised while also showing us events that we actually want to see. The meeting between Han and Chewie didn’t happen the way I would’ve thought it did, but that’s a great thing. It manages to fulfill a lot of those childhood questions that I had, but in a way that was organic to the plot, and not just some checklist of shit that has to be in the movie.

Ehrenreich’s performance as young Solo manages to hit just the right notes. When he gives that smirk, or a bit of that swagger, I thought, “There’s Han” and believe me that is no easy feat. The movie completely shines when he’s with Chewie giving off that same chemistry that was in the original films. And its completely entertaining seeing how Lando and Han met. It even fits with their interaction in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s just a lot of love and joy in these performances.

But if there were any faults with Solo I’d say is that there are some scenes that attempt to illicit an emotional response that just manages to fall flat; some death scenes that I knew I should feel sad about but I just didn’t. Some work, and are crucial to the character of Solo, but others just felt exploitative. Speaking of which, that’s also how I felt with a cameo in the 3rd act, that made me roll my eyes; I just saw it as fan service, having no real purpose to the plot or the development of Han.

With those qualms aside, Solo is just a fun, entertaining movie. It accomplished what it set out to do, which was to be a fun swashbuckling adventure. Its paced wonderfully, seriously it left me wanting more, the performances are first rate, and I actually got to see events that I always wanted to know more about. Look, this isn’t the best Star Wars movie ever made but it is one of the most endearing ones.

Ready Player One (2018) Review

If you were born in the 80s, then pretty much director Steven Spielberg raised you. Everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T., to movies he produced like Back to the Future and The Goonies the man helped to craft 80s pop culture.

Ready Player One is an ode to that wonderful era from things like movies, music and especially video games. It’s a buffet of pop culture that may seem to be overcrowded, but isn’t overwhelming. It’s actually quite sweet, and Spielberg’s best film since Minority Report.

In the year 2045, 18 year old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in an impoverished area named The Stacks. He dreams of a better life for himself and escapes into a virtual reality called The Oasis, where you can be whoever you want to be. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away and leaves a will detailing a contest; whoever solves the clues and obtains the 3 keys, wins the Oasis.

Along with other players, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lana Waithe), the race is on to obtain the keys before the head of a cooperation (Ben Mendelsohn) gets his hands on it and destroys it.

If the plot sounds like it’s Willy Wonka meets The Matrix that’s because it totally is! And man is it so much fun to watch! Knowing Spielberg, the film is vibrant and stunning to behold. I can’t remember the last time I was immersed in a cinematic world.

The acting is on point for every single performance, but the scene stealer is Mark Rylance as Halliday. It was known that Spielberg wanted Gene Wilder to play the part, bringing the Willy Wonka motif full circle, but I can’t imagine a better performance. It so layered, nuanced, and even heartbreaking that he becomes the heart of the movie. Rylance is now not only one of my favorite actors now, but he’s one of the best actors out there.

If you have a casual knowledge of Spielberg’s films, you know that John Williams has composed the score to almost every film that he’s made. Due to schedule conflicts, Williams couldn’t score the movie, being replaced by Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri. Jesus Christ this is his best score since Forrest Gump. He keeps the music pumping during the action, throws some cues from his earlier work that doesn’t distract at all. It felt like Halliday chose this music for his easter egg hunt.

Steven Spielberg has made some incredible movies as of late, but he has veered away from the rousing popcorn flicks that he built his career on. I have never seen such an amazing return to form, and it just proves that the man still has a thing or two to show us.

Black Panther (2018) Review

There has never been a more relevant time for the Black Panther film to come out. With the issue of representation in film being such a hot button issue, nothing made me happier to see a film starring a black superhero, especially one with this much joy and rich character development.

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the mantle of King of the technologically advanced African country of Wakanda. As T’Challa comes to grips with being king, a foreigner by the name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) lays seige to Wakanda, forcing the King to relay on his former flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his tech savy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) to protect his kingdom and all of its secrets.

Since a lot of people are making a big deal over a black superhero, which is all well and good, it doesn’t mean shit to me if the movie sucks. Thankfully it doesn’t. Marvel has it’s characters down to a science, and that’s where Black Panther truly shines. T’Challa is a fully realised character with empathy and a sense of duty. He goes on a spiritual journey that many of us have been on, and it gives him a true sense of history.

The MCU has been know to have some underwhelming villains for most of its run, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in the series. Much like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, you get a clear understanding of Killmonger’s motives, hell I even found myself sympathizing with him. He was just captivating to watch every second he was on screen.

Black Panther continues Marvel’s Phase 3 overarching theme of fathers and sons. Here is a man who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while trying to be his own man, his own king. It even goes deeper into it’s theme; can a son forgive the sins of his father? Should he have to pay that price?

Of course the action is first rate, and you will find yourself in awe of the spectacle, but there is more than that. The issues of race, heritage, and legacy are all there to be absorbed and discussed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it still gets to me that a character, up until a few years ago, was considered to be a B-lister at best, has been given a treatment that is usually reserved for more prominent characters. King T’Challa is a character I can’t wait to see again.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

     I still remember, all those decades ago when I first saw Star Wars and I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. He was, and will always be, my first childhood hero, as surely must be the case for countless others. So know we’ve reached the 8th episode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything you could want from a Star Wars flick, even if its not in the way that you expected it. 

     Picking right where The Force Awakens left off, The Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is on its last leg as the forces of the New Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are on the verge of wiping them out and winning the war. Poe (Oscar Isaac) sends Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to save the Resistance, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to find out her destiny. 

     The Last Jedi relies on some tried and true aesthetics that does make it come alive. While the film does manage to hit some of the same plot beats as The Empire Strikes Back, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as the previous film did when it came to A New Hope. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Some of the questions that were posed before are answered here, whether we like it or not. 

     I do have to say that the performances are on point here, with Hamill giving a truly melancholic performance as Luke, that was easily my favorite in the entire film. The weariness, the humor on display that reminds us of that young farm boy from Tatooine. It really resonate with you if you grew up with the Saga. 

     I noticed especially that the humor was kicked up a lot, and it did make me smile; Be it from Poe, or Leia herself, I was overjoyed that the movie remembered that this is a children’s film, and that my God, children do love to laugh most of all. 

     If there were any egregious flaw to the film, is that there needed to be a lot of things fleshed out. I mean, a lot of shit. The irony that this is the longest Star Wars movie sure as shit isn’t lost on me. There needed to be more with Stoke (Andy Serkis), a lot more on this pretty kick ass Casino, and way more between Luke and Rey. If anything, the movie felt rushed, almost as if writer/director Rian Johnson started to put  shit that should’ve happened in Episode IX. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it just felt lacking in this respect. 

     I did enjoy The Last Jedi immensely don’t get me wrong; there are images in this movie that will stay with me forever, and even make me shed a tear or three. I guess I wanted more out of it, more of the characters I love and cherish, and not have mysteries set up only to refer to them offhand. To be fair, I may need to see this a few more times before I can even begin to rank it, but the movie succeeds in being Star Wars and for more of you, that’s more than enough.  

The Disaster Artist (2017) Review

     In 2003, a movie was made that was so bad that it became the next Rocky Horror Picture Show in its cult like status as one of the greatest bad movies ever made. 

     That movie was The Room written, produced, and directed by Tommy Wiseau, and it is just a masterpiece of shitty filmmaking. And now we have James Franco directing (and starring as Wiseau himself) a movie based on the novel of the same name by Greg Sistero (played by Dave Franco) about how this ode to inept filmmaking got made. 

     Greg is just a struggling actor trying to make it in show business when he meets Tommy in an acting class. They form a bond, and when things don’t go their way they decide to make The Room as a way to make a name for themselves. As they assemble their crew, their friendship will be put to the test as their passion for filmmaking could cost them everything. 

     It’s difficult to describe what’s at work here. If anything this is the modern day equivalent of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and it takes a similar approach; it doesn’t make fun of these odd characters who at their core, just want to make a movie. It just so happens that that movie is hilariously bad. But that’s what makes The Disaster Artist work completely. The friendship that develops between Tommy and Greg is what makes it so endearing that it makes you root for them. 

     Without going into spoilers, but this film has one of the greatest ensemble casts I’ve seen in awhile with Seth Rogan playing director of photography Sandy Sinclair, and Josh Hutcherson playing Philip who plays Denny. There’s so many more but I can’t dream of ruining who else appears just for the laugh out loud factor of it all. And every single actor nails their roles. 

     To be honest, I had doubts that the movie could be pulled off because of Tommy Wiseau himself. Everybody who’s seen The Room knows that Tommy is a unique personality to put it mildly. When James Franco was announced to be playing the part, I was apprehensive that he could capture the weird nature of Wiseau. 

     Franco nailed it. 

     This is by far Franco’s absolute best performance he has ever given. The guy has always been a good actor, but this is something else entirely. As someone who has shamelessly watched The Room I know the speech patterns and syntax that Wiseau speaks in, and Franco hits every single fucking note. There were times I forgot it was Franco that I was seeing on screen. Easily, this is the best performance I have seen from a male in years. James Franco ain’t a movie star anymore; he is one of the most fearless actors (and directors for that matter) working today. 

     I thought a lot that if were possible to enjoy The Disaster Artist without having seen The Room and I believe you can. It helps if you have, don’t get me wrong, but at its core the movie is about two friends who embark on showing Hollywood what they got to offer. The fact that it was one of the worst movies you’ll ever see is irrelevant, they had a dream, a goal, and they achieved it. This is one of the best movies of the year, far and above. It’s such an inspiring tale, that deserves to be seen and praised with such high marks.  

Stranger Things 2 (2017) Review

     Now that I’ve let this second installment of Stranger Things sink in, I’ve come to realize that the show made an 80s reference that might have escaped some; that the sequel is better than the original. The stakes are higher, the character development more pronounced, the overall story more satisfying. Oh and the budget is larger. That’s totally an 80s thing. 

     It’s been a year since the events of Stranger Things and everybody has more or less moved on with their lives. Will (Noah Schnapp) is still recovering from the Upside Down, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new guy in her life, Bob (Sean Astin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is still holding out hope that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still alive somewhere. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Calab McLaughlin) are vying for the affection of the new girl in town, and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still with Steve (Joe Keery). Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is still pinning for Nancy. Hopper (David Harbour) is hiding a secret for everyone else’s good. 

     This is just the bare minimum set up for Stranger Things 2 everything else unfolds at a breakneck speed that can cause you to binge the shit out of it. I took my time and let it breathe so I could absorb the themes and references that the show is making. 

     The casting of Sean Astin as Bob is a stroke of genius because of the fact that he played Mikey in the 80s classic The Goonies. And I have to say that that man is the real MVP. He managed to take a character that could’ve been so annoying, but instead made him funny, warm, and even sympathetic. You usually don’t have characters like this in sequels typically. 

     What the Duffer Brothers have manage to realize in the horror genre is that symbolism and metaphor are aplenty. The love triangle between Dustin, Lucas, and Max (Sadie Sink) is something so embedded into the tribulations of growing up. Every person in school, no matter what age, has been through that. The show always excels when dealing with real issues amongst pure supernatural terror. 

     This season is at its core, about growing up and the confusion that brings; who we are, and how the world works (a theme heavily played up in the much mangled 7th chapter). There really isn’t any lulls in the episodes, but I don’t imagine anyone just jumping in at this point. The first season is mandatory. 

     There’s a lot to dissect and pick a part here, but that will arrive in do time. Everything is on point for this season and its still a fun ride to experience. 

     

Happy Death Day (2017) Review

     It’s difficult to find a fun horror movie nowadays. Yes, a horror movie is supposed to scare you, but you’re also supposed to enjoy it. Kind of like a rollercoaster. Happy Death Day has the right mix of jump scares, but it also has an enjoyment factor that is lacking from modern day horror flicks. 

     College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a dorm room belonging to Carter (Israel Broussard) and high tails it out of there. Later that night, which is also her birthday, on her way back to her dorm she gets murdered by a masked killer. 

     And then wakes up back in Carter’s dorm, repeating the day. Getting murdered. Again. Repeat. She realizes that to stop the loop she has to find out who keeps killing her, or be trapped dying forever. 

     Alright, let’s not kid ourselves, this is Groundhog Day but with a slasher. And that’s completely fine. It’s a fresher take on an old troupe, and you unexpectedly get sucked into the story. The story thrives on the misdirection that having the events repeat themselves entails. 

     You would think that having a gimmicky premise would mean that the characters don’t mean shit, and some don’t, but Rothe’s performance as Tree is the backbone of the entire movie. If you don’t give a shit about her situation then the movie becomes a waste. But I did end up caring about her. She starts off conceited and self absorbed, and then realizes the value in her actions. Like Bill Murray in Groundhogs Day. 

     By the climax of the flick, I genuinely found myself caring about her situation, and I wanted her to succeed. It just felt great to see a horror movie that I rooted for the protagonist, while still laughing and being enthralled in the narrative. Its a simple film that achieves so much more that it needs to.