Monday, July 8, 2019

[Review] Spider-Man: Far From Home

If it feels like there have been a lot of Spider-Man appearances on the big screen lately, that’s because there have been. But you know what? As long as they keep being this much fun, then I’m not complaining.

Tom Holland (the best Peter Parker) suits up again as the masked web-slinger. While the last Spidey film was a Homecoming, this one is a journey Far From Home, which means the plot consists of Peter and his classmates embarking on a school trip across Europe. The kid just wants to enjoy the scenery and tell his crush (played by Zendaya) that he likes her, but the vacation is interrupted when colossal water, air, and fire creatures begin to wreak havoc upon the itinerary. 

Following the dramatic fallout of Avengers: Endgame, this film takes a decidedly lighter and funnier route, which is really how Spider-Man movies should be. A clever and hilarious opening sequence that involves a high school daily news segment sets the tone of levity with flickering winks and nudges. The story is stuffed with classic coming-of-age and teen comedy elements. It’s consistently entertaining and enjoyable, the momentum is quick on its feet, and all the jokes hit their targets.

But it isn’t all a breeze. There’s a lot weighing on Peter Parker’s mind this time around. He’s still mourning the loss of his beloved superhero mentor (if you saw Avengers: Endgame, you know who that is). And there’s a sticky push and pull between just being a kid or saving the world. It’s a lot of pressure, and it’s hard to keep your identity a secret when you’re always being called into action! Speaking of being called into action, frequent Marvel stalwart Samuel L. Jackson returns as agent Nick Fury, and a fully-game Jake Gyllenhaal cruises in as an illusion-wielding superhero named Mysterio. Gyllenhaal is great here, and I’ll just say that Mysterio is a very fitting name for this character. 

The greatly cast Tom Holland continues to shine with a blend of wide-eyed exuberance and down-to-earth awkwardness. He’s truly what Peter Parker always should have been. And hopefully the kid actually will get to experience a normal day of high school one day, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. A vacation is definitely out of the possibility. 

( 8/10 )

Monday, June 24, 2019

[Review] Toy Story 4

I always thought that Toy Story 3 was a fitting conclusion to Pixar’s most beloved film franchise, so when I heard there would be a fourth one I was a bit worried that it would be stretching the series into the unwanted section. But brush off the dust bunnies and put in your battery pack because Toy Story 4 is a fun box of giggles and heart, and I’m glad it’s been passed down to us.

When we catch up with Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and company, they’re living their best toy life with their newfound owner, Bonnie. But Woody finds himself in a diminishing role, and his future is put into question when he ends up in an antique store during a road trip before Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten. 

Toy Story 4 packs in the usual comedy and clever gags, but it runs on poignant emotion and genuine sentimentality. It’s the type of sentimentally that tugs at your heartstrings and winds up your memories, making you reflect on your own childhood and the items you held dear, as well as the Toy Story series itself. It’s very sweet, and it’s very cute. It also holds Woody’s finest moments, as he becomes an unsung guardian angel-esque character for Bonnie (the kindergarten orientation scene may have yanked a few tears out of me.)

And while Woody is the heart and the glue that holds everything together, the newer characters provide some hilarious highlights. There’s Forky (Tony Hale), the result of a kindergarten craft project that comes to life. He’s nervous, timid, fragile, and he feels most comfortable in the trashcan — lets just say he hasn’t yet realized his full potential. And then there’s Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), an eccentric daredevil that has been rejected due to his failure to take off. Like, Forky, it’s a character that is as funny as it is sympathetic, and Keanu steals the show with his voice work. We really are in the year of Keanu, aren’t we?

Toy Story 4 is all about loyalty and friendship, being wanted, searching for belonging, finding purpose, and even making the decision to move on. So if this is indeed the final film, the Toy Story series has given us laughter and tears and joy to infinity and beyond. 

* 9/10 *

Thursday, June 6, 2019

[Review] Always Be My Maybe

Netflix’s new romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe (a pun-y reference to the great Mariah Carey ballad) shines bright as a funny, enjoyable, and sweet watch-at-home treat for the early summer.

Ali Wong and Randall Park lead the way as Sasha and Marcus, a pair of childhood friends (well, a little more than just friends) who reconnect 15 years after a falling out. It turns out that they’ve taken vastly different paths in life. Sasha is a wealthy celebrity chef, while Marcus still lives with his dad and plays in a crappy local band. It’s safe to say a lot has changed. But is there still a spark between them? Maybe.

This thing is light, pleasant, and refreshing — like lemon pudding in movie form. And even though it follows a familiar rom-com recipe, it has just enough flavor to stand out and form its own unique identity. It’s also just so dang likable and full of irresistible charm. The script (which is also co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park) is a superb one. The dialogue is swirled with clever and comical wit, and at the center is a filling of thoughtful substance when it comes to heritage and culture, authenticity and success, love and projection. Director Nahnatchka Khan lends genuine warmth and tenderness to it all, as well as a notable embrace of humor and absurdity. 

Wong and Park demonstrate a delightful chemistry, and they both give sharp performances as well-drawn characters. But the highlight is a surprisingly off-the-wall cameo from the legendary Keanu Reeves — as himself. I won’t give too much away, but he’s absolutely hysterical here and will have you laughing until your stomach hurts. It truly goes down as one of the best cameos in movie history. It’s a sight to behold and cherish and rewatch over and over again.

So next time you’re scrolling through Netflix’s menu, throw this one on for dessert. 

( 8/10 )

Monday, May 20, 2019

[Review] John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back. And he has not disappointed. The legendary Keanu Reeves suits up again as iconic hitman John Wick for John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. This gloriously cutthroat entry is everything you could want and more out of a John Wick flick, solidifying this series as one of the best  action spectacles to ever grace the big screen. 

The plot picks right up where Chapter 2 left off — John Wick has been declared “excommunicado” by The High Table of assassins, and there’s a $14 million (and rising) bounty on his head. The guy just wants to preserve his wife’s memory and spend time with his dog, but he can’t walk five feet without someone attempting to put a bullet in his head. 

While Chapter 2 was symbolically set in a perpetual purgatory, here John Wick finds himself in the depths of a brutal hellscape, punching, stabbing, and shooting his way through a dark and fiery underworld as he grapples with critical dilemmas, juggles souls, and makes deals with devils. The film’s combat sequences are like fist-pumping rushes of adrenaline. We get to witness a rumble in a library where Wick breaks someone’s neck over the spine of a book, a frenetic knife-flinging fight at an antique museum, and an exhilarating chase scene through the city streets where Wick fires off shots while riding a fucking horse. 

The cinematography is consistently exquisite, presenting the brawls and mayhem as high art that is as elegant and classy as it is visceral and merciless. Much of the stylishly and intricately choreographed fights are set against hypnotically vibrant backdrops that make you say wow — or more frankly — holy shit. Claps and laughs frequently erupted from the audience during my screening.

Keanu Reeves once again gives another impressively physical and introspective performance as a haunted and trapped man who just so happens to be extremely good at laying people to waste. Out of all three films, he has the least dialogue here, and it works remarkably well because his actions do all the talking. There are also some great supporting performances from Ian McShane and, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne. Even a fully-game Halle Berry joins in on the madness. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is an opera of havoc. A symphony of bedlam. A storm of fury. By the time the film’s last line was uttered and the picture cut to the credits, my wife and I immediately stood up and applauded.

Will John Wick be back again? I’d say the odds are about even. Actually... It’s a YEAH.

* 10/10 *

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

[Review] The Intruder

The delightfully deranged Dennis Quaid vehicle The Intruder breaks in as a campy, unabashedly clich├ęd thriller that manages to be thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end — even if you can predict every move. 

The doors open with a married couple (played by Michael Ealy and Megan Good) as they move into a beautiful and serene Napa Valley property. Sound like a dream? Not so fast. It just so happens that the home’s previous owner (played by a fully-game Dennis Quaid) won’t quite leave. The guy just keeps showing up unannounced, to the point where the couple fears for their safety. And well, it’s just a matter of time and a few bottles of wine before things hit the fan. 

To its credit, The Intruder is a film that knows exactly what it is. It’s aware that we as an audience know where this is all going, but it does its job so damn well that it’s easy to embrace. The genre blueprints are laid out here, and they’re fun as hell when they’re put to work with such immense precision. It’s engrossing. It’s jarring. And it’s actually really funny. The film practically constitutes as one big, sly smirk with a lot of acres.

Speaking of sly smirks, Dennis Quaid gives a performance for the ages. He truly goes all the way, and then some. He’s erratic and unhinged. Creepy and relentless. Secretive and sadistic. His maniacal smile would even make the Grinch crap his pants. Wait, does the Grinch have pants? Okay, that’s beside the point. Quaid rocks it here. 

What director Deon Taylor has constructed is an effective, memorable, and over-the-top home invasion flick that provokes jumps and laughs in equal amounts. The landscaping is nice and the architecture is well-crafted, but there’s something deliriously ugly beneath the surface. Changing the locks isn’t always enough.