Thursday, July 12, 2018

[Review] Ant-Man and The Wasp

Since his spunky debut in 2015, Ant-Man has found himself playing a pivotal role in the Marvel's Avengers universe, appearing in films like Captain America: Civil War -- so he's kind of a big deal now. His latest adventure, Ant-Man and The Wasp, sees him team with -- yes -- The Wasp. And even though this experiment doesn't quite capture the freshness of its predecessor, it's still a fine and dandy piece of superhero entertainment.

The plot is a bit like Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) himself -- shifty, slightly perplexing, and all over the place. But the gist of it involves the thief turned size-transforming superhero joining forces with the slick and highly-skilled Wasp (Evangeline Lilly, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), and the two -- along with Hank Pym (a kooky Michael Douglass) -- embark on a tricky mission to rescue The Wasp's mother (played by Michelle Pfeiffer!) from the quantum void. Meanwhile, an FBI Agent (Randall Park, great), an angry villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), and a greasy criminal (Walton Goggins, of course) are all on their bite-sized trail.

This film is decidedly light-hearted tone, and it never tries to carry the weight of the world on its shoulders (even though ants can carry a lot). It possesses the pedal-to-metal zip and rawkish musicality of Baby Driver, and there's even some campiness injected that feels almost Power Rangers-esque. The story packs in some fun setpieces -- like a miniature car chase down San Francisco's iconic Lombard street, as well as a trippy journey to the quantum void that looks like a hidden psychedelic level from an obscure video game. The film has a great sense of humor, too. This role is so perfect for Paul Rudd with all his quippy timing and immense likability. His supporting cast of goons, including T.I., David Dastmalchian, and Michael Pena are all given some solid moments of comic relief, even though things aren't all that serious in the first place. And I can't forget to mention Bobby Cannavale, who always makes a hilarious impression during his brief screen time.

Ant-Man and The Wasp won't even go down as the most memorable Marvel movie of 2018 (it feels remarkably minor when following colossal epics like Black Panther and Infinity War), but it's kind of like the little engine that could -- its strength lies in its compact design.

( 7.5/10 )

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[Review] Sicario: Day of the Soldado

I was such a big fan of Denis Villeneuve's brutal cartel thriller Sicario that word of a sequel came as bitter news to me, especially considering how well Sicario worked as a standalone film. Unsurprisingly, Sicario: Day of the Soldado never reaches the immersive intensity of its predecessor, but the returning cast of Josh Brolin and a mean-as-ever Benicio del Toro still deliver some heart-stopping shots.

Government agent Garver (Brolin) is sent to the Mexican border to essentially rile up tensions between the cartels (who are now deemed as terrorists) and cut the heads off the snakes, so to speak. Of course, he calls upon his old acquaintance Alejandro (del Toro) -- the baddest assassin no matter what country he's operating in -- and a winding, intertwining plot of worms unleashed.

Even though this sequel doesn't quite boast the evocative visual flair of the first one, it's still unflinching with its visceral action missions and pointed shootouts. Much of the dirty work takes place in broad daylight, exhibiting the merciless -- almost desensitizing -- violence that infects the hostile terrain, from the dusty deserts to the sprawling cities. The narrative also tosses in some hefty dilemmas, especially as Alejandro reluctantly ends up being responsible for the safety of one of the cartel leader's teenage daughters (played by Isabela Moner, who gives an impressively bold performance here). As chilling as this Alejandro character is, he does have a moral compass.

Oftentimes, Sicario: Day of the Soldado feels like an unnecessary extension that veers into some questionable territory, and yet, its deep dive into this harsh world is difficult to look away from. Watching Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro flex their badass chops isn't the worst way to spend a couple of hours.

( 7/10 )

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

[Review] Oh Lucy!

Not to be confused with anything related to "I Love Lucy", the dramedy Oh Lucy! is a funny and thoughtful gem that features a terrific lead performance from Shinobu Terajima.

Meet Setsuko (Terajima), a lonely woman living in Tokyo, drifting through the mundanities of life. One day she decides to enroll in English lessons taught by an eccentric American named John, who's played by an interestingly cast Josh Hartnett. Through John's theatrical methods, Setsuko takes on an alter ego of sorts named Lucy (ah, that's where the title comes from).

In multiple ways, this film is a tale of two halves -- part of it is in Japanese and part of it is in English, and the first section takes place in Tokyo, while the latter takes place in the U.S. (California, to be exact). Yes, when John abruptly moves home, "Lucy" follows him there (it's a long story). It's also equal parts comedy and drama. There are plenty of awkward follies and offbeat exchanges. I won't call it a story of language "barriers" -- it's more-so a story of miscommunications. These characters mostly understand each other, even if the words don't always come across correctly. And it's not so much a culture-clash comedy as it is a journey of awakening for someone finding their way in a very different environment than they're used to. The film also provides some genuinely tender and somber moments, as it takes on an observational and empathetic perspective. There's even a scene where Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" plays in the background, and it really takes you back.

Shinobu Terajim's performance is so real and comical. It's subtle yet expressive in an effortless way. The supporting cast is great too, including Kaho Minami as's strict sister and Shiori Kutsuna as her bubbly niece. This is also a refreshing role for Josh Hartnett. He plays a charming scoundrel with shades of Channing Tatum and indie-Mark Ruffalo.

Don't miss out on Oh Lucy!

( 8/10 )

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Monday, July 2, 2018

[Review] Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn't just the most ridiculously plotted and over-the-top installments in the Jurassic-verse thus far, but it's also one of the most ridiculously plotted and over-the-top blockbusters in recent memory. And you know what? It's mighty, dumb fun.

It's been three years since the destruction of Jurassic World, and the island is on the verge if completely being obliterated by volcanic eruptions. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return for a dangerous mission in order to save the majestic dinosaurs from their demise and transport them to a new sanctuary where they'll be unbothered. Sound impossible? You'd guess right.

It's as if a script for Dino Noah's Ark landed in director J.A. Bayona's (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) lap and he said "Screw it, let's go all the way." Any shred of subtlety or adherence to hypothetical nature or science is tossed out the window and dinosaurs are tossed INTO windows. Seriously, the beasts run wild inside someone's mansion here. There's even a dinosaur auction in this movie where the creatures are introduced like weaponous runway models. Sound ridiculous? You'd be right.

But even with these potential turn-offs, the film begins with a genuinely great opening scene -- which sees a crew of mechanics (on land and underwater) attempt to retrieve some specimens from the island. It's stormy. Pounding rain. Bushes are rustling. And the sea is filled with very, very big shadows. As we'd expect, things don't end well for these guys, but it also happens to be in a way that is unexpected. And welp, that's about as close as the film gets to the feeling of Steven Spielberg's awe-inspiring masterpiece that started it all. Fallen Kingdom abandons the What Ifs and goes straight to the Why Nots. And for as bombastic as it is, there's something undeniably giddy about the spectacle of seeing Chris Pratt helplessly run down the side of a mountain while flaming lava and multiple species of dinosaurs follow behind him. You just have to roll with it. Newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda add a spike of youthful exuberance to the cast, and Smith's deeply nerdy IT character is pretty hilarious as he lets out some glorious high-pitched screams along the way.

And see, while the dinosaurs are vicious and powerful, they are not the villains here. The villains are the shady business heads (Timothy Spall) who plan to get their hands in on the action and exploit the safety of the dinosaurs and the safety of the world for billions. In turn, there are some really satisfying scenes of greedy and vile capitalists getting their limbs torn off and stomped on. To me, that makes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom worth the ticket price.

( 7.5/10 )

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

[Review] The Breadwinner

One of last year's Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature, The Breadwinner is a harrowing and beautiful tale of strength and family amidst unforgivingly hostile circumstances.

Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) is a young girl growing up in Afghanistan under the treacherous Taliban rule. After her gentle and loving father is wrongfully arrested and taken away, Parvana cuts her hair and begins dressing like a boy in order to work to support her family. Along the way, she embarks on a strenuous quest to reunite with her father, while using her vibrant imagination to persevere.

Undoubtedly, this is an emotionally-wrenching story, and Parvana is certainly a character that's easy to root for. Directed by Nora Towney, the film shares some of the same whimsy and somber qualities, as well as the immaculate craft of more serious animated films like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, which are also told from the wide-eyed, determined perspective of a child. There's even shades of the highly-regarded Persepolis here. The film features some graceful animation, elegantly expressing crisply thin lines and smooth, vivid color palettes. The fantastical fable-like sequences that serve as both inspiration for Parvana and as escapes from her brutal reality are particularly striking with their elaborate designs of grandeur and impressively layered, paper-cutout aesthetic.

The Breadwinner all builds to an affecting climax that is intense, triumphant, tragic, and poetic all at once. It's an honest look at atrocities and turmoil, but there is still courage and innocence to be found, and we can only hope that the Parvanas of the world will continue to shine through.

* 8.5/10 *

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