Thursday, August 2, 2018

[Review] Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again comes ashore as a 10-years-later sequel to its predecessor Mamma Mia!, and it's a breezy and delightful slice of summer romance and song.

This one takes place during two different time periods. The present - where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is planning the grand re-opening of her mother Donna's hotel in Greece. And the past - where a young Donna (played by Lily James) attempts to get her music career off the ground, embarks on a few romantic endeavors, and contemplates her future.

First of all this is a beautifully-set film with its sun-kissed and picturesque backdrop of quaint little towns, sprawling cliff sides, and gorgeous coastlines. The expansive cast is charming, too. Amanda Seyfried and Lily James are wonderful as the co-leads, and the supporting cast really brings it, including the likes of: Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, and *psst* Cher. Everyone does a lovely job bringing the funny and sugary script to life. The plot is actually quite similar to 2017's surprisingly great many-years-later sequel Bridget Jones's Baby (Colin Firth also appeared in that), hitting many bittersweet emotional beats, as well as diving into agreeable themes of family and friendship.

And of course, there's the crowd-pleasing musical and dance sequences. They're all so catchy and elaborately choreographed. Hooks for days. And honestly, you just can't go wrong with ABBA songs. Some of them are reprises from the first film ("Dancing Queen" and the title track to name a couple), but it's not like they won't still put a smile on your face the second time around. Here We Go Again.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

[Review] Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Tom Cruise runs, dives, and jumps again in the 6th(!) installment of the Mission: Impossible series. M:I - Fallout is an explosive and shifty operation that successfully delivers on pretty much everything you could want in a modern action blockbuster.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is back to work, along with his trusty and crafty comrades (played by Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson). Early on, Hunt joins forces with a high-ranking assassin (played by a gloriously mustachioed Henry Cavill - he's fantastic here, and it's refreshing to see him in action outside of DC's stiff and brooding Superman movies) in order to thwart a nuclear bombing plot orchestrated by the villainous mastermind Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, great).

M:I 6 is one of those action flicks that is just so well-executed in all aspects. The script (penned by The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie - who also directs this) is a slick one, packed with sly and quippy dialogue. The narrative pummels along with a great sense of momentum. And fittingly, this thing is full of enough nifty twists, reveals, and double crosses to keep you on your feet. The cinematography is commendable, as well. This isn't a film that just aims to get the job done; it wants to look awesome while doing it. There are some really stunning images here -- breathtaking even -- especially with its use of grandiose scenery. And of the course there's the all-so-pivotal action sequences -- from bathroom brawls, to gripping motorcycle chases, to helicopter clashes, to an exhilarating mountainside climax. And I won't go into too much detail about the parallels, but if you get some major Dark Knight vibes from this film, you'd be right to think that way.

Between Fallout's intense choreography and flashy camerawork, each death-defying spectacle is so masterfully rendered. And considering that every scene is essentially a race against the clock, there's an ever-present sense of thrilling urgency, even though we know in the back of our minds that Hunt is gonna pull it off. That's an impressive feat.

* 9/10 *

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

[Review] Unfriended: Dark Web

2015's Facebook horror film Unfriended was surprisingly good with its clever and inventive use of the medium (the whole thing taking place via computer desktop), as well as its urgent themes on bullying and social media. Its follow-up, Unfriended: Dark Web, unfortunately is a numbingly sadistic, repetitive, and pointless downgrade.

The thin plot revolves around a dude named Matias (Colin Woodell) who has acquired a used laptop from Craig's List. Turns out, the thing is loaded with hidden files that range from the real-life mundanities to snuffy and grotesque clips of torture and death (hence the Dark Web). Eventually, a shady entity hacks into the computer and begins to threaten the safety of all of Matias' Skype friends.

Like its predecessor, this film also takes place entirely on a computer desktop -- mostly through Skype chats and Facebook messenger. But it's a lot more boring and uninspired this time around. Nothing that significant or thrilling really happens until the very end, and the story fails to build the effective tension and mystery that the first one did.

Unfriended: Dark Web is an ugly, frustrating, hollow piece of content that isn't as terrifying or substantial as it should be, especially given the dangerous and stomach-churning world that it attempts to log into. This film is just a waste of time.

( 4/10 )

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

[Review] Skyscraper

From the moment Skyscraper's promo poster surfaced of The Rock amid an impossible jump into a burning building, we knew we were in for something insane. Is this movie ridiculous? Yes. Is the plot a lot like Die Hard? Yes. But does it have just enough elements to keep us entertained? Yes it does.

The Rock plays a former FBI Agent who lost one of his legs in an explosion. Now, he resides with his wife (Neve Campbell) and twins in a Hong Kong skyscraper called "The Pearl." It's not only the tallest building in the world, but it's also the most technologically advanced. What could go wrong? Well, eventually a syndicate of criminals infiltrate the place and set fire to the floor where The Rock's family is. From there, The Rock must rise to desperately lofty measures to rescue them.

Aside from all the glaring leaps in logic and inconsistencies, Skyscraper is a movie that you really just have to roll with, and even then, it can be difficult. A problem from the get-go is that it's never quite clear what the motivation or goal of the villains are. We see them engaging in all these elaborate plans, but why? What exactly are they trying to accomplish, and how are the benefitting from it? Of course, it's further revealed that money is the mission, but even so, a lot of these scenes feel haphazard and convoluted.

As for the good stuff, The Rock is in this movie. And the film has much more of a futuristic bend than the trailers hinted at, which gives the story a sleek uniqueness, while making for some really cool visuals -- from an elevator ride through the building's ultra-modern and oasis-like interior, to a tour of a huge spherical room of immersive and transformative HD images. The film delivers some major thrills with its vertigo-inducing scenery. They always tell you not to look down when you're high up, and thing definitely looks down. We also get to see The Rock spear someone through a glass table, toss enemies like apple cores, engage in death-defying spectacle, and make the big jump -- which has become something of an iconic meme. Another commendable aspect of Skyscraper is that The Rock's family isn't relegated to just waiting in the wings. They have a lot to do and they're constantly on the move. Neve Campbell's character gets to kick some butt herself, and she also plays a big role in getting the family out safely.

So, as long as you can put up with Skyscraper's imperfections, you'll find some rewards near the top.

( 7/10 )

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

[Review] Sorry to Bother You

Lakeith Stanfield (the best character in Donald Glover's "Atlanta") takes on his first major leading role in Boots Riley's feature directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You. This is a film that reels you in, knocks you over your head, and then flips your expectations upside down.

Set in a quirky version Oakland, we meet Cassius (Stanfield) as he struggles to make ends meet while living in his uncle's garage with his activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson, Creed & Thor: Ragnarok). Early on, Cassius lands a thankless low-level job at a telemarketing company, but he soon discovers that when he uses an uncanny "white voice" his success increases and he quickly moves up the ranks. The higher he gets, things get stranger and stranger, and he's exposed to some dark secrets near the top, which causes him to wrestle with his morals despite raking in the cash.

Our experience as an audience mirrors Cassius' confused perceptions as we begin to ask What the hell is going on? Is anything real? Does it matter? Were we slipped some drugs? This dialed-up cocktail of gonzo escapades and bullseye commentary is a sly, manic, weird, riotous, and funny beast to witness. The film contains shades of Office Space, Brazil, Get Out, and even Vince Staples' surreal short film Prima Donna, yet it feels like a completely unique experience in its own right. The unpredictable narrative clocks in with a list of hilarious, dark, and provocative sequences along with eccentric exchanges of dialogue. There's a whimsy, fever dream-like quality to it all, and each scene ticks along with a dose of unhinged energy. And if things weren't already bizarre enough, there's a late act twist that practically warps the film's entire genre into something else. I won't go into detail, but "insane" only begins to describe what lies beneath.

As erratic as this film may seem, its messages stay thematically prominent. The script throws satirical jabs at capitalist greed, corruption of power, and race relations while bluntly expounding on economical pitfalls and the costs of just being able to make a living, especially for the disenfranchised. The cast is fantastic from cubicle to cubicle. Lakeith Stanfield's central performance ranges from naive and hopeful to perplexed and terrified as his character is put through the ringer, and then some. Tessa Thompson continues to impress with her sheer expressiveness. Steven Yeun appears in a role that is a refreshing change from seeing him on AMC's wilting TV series "The Walking Dead". And then there's Armie Hammer, who amusingly plays the company's crazy and coked-out CEO -- his character is practically a psychopathic mound of gifs waiting to happen.

Sorry to Bother You's brash, abstract, and absurdist tendencies won't be a big sell for everyone, but if you're looking for something audacious and outside-the-lines, this is an off-kilter vision that is worth pushing the buttons on.

* 8.5/10 *

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