Wednesday, October 31, 2018

[Review] Halloween

2018's Halloween aims to wipe the slate clean, dumping the run of questionable sequels and remakes of John Carpenter's 1978 classic into the trash with the uneaten and stale candy. And while it doesn't exactly take things to the next level, this rebirth is an entertaining slasher that sticks closest to the spirit of the original, like a juicy Milk Dud lodged to your gums.

Just as the film itself arrives exactly 40 years later, the story picks up exactly 40 years later. The infamous Michael Myers has been spending his days under intense observation in an insane asylum. This opening scene has such an eerie build that the cut before the title sequence greatly teases us and unsettles us at the same time. Anyway, you can probably guess that Mr. Myers eventually escapes, retrieving his iconic mask to terrorize the neighborhood where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role) resides. And she's been PREPARING FOR THIS.

Director David Gordon Green, who has a wildly hit or miss filmography, mostly nails all the right spots here. The camerawork is voyeuristic and stalkerish, always creating the feeling that both unsuspecting and suspecting victims are being watched and just  moments  away from meeting their gruesome and bloody demise. There are some pretty gnarly kills here, with Myers leaving a trail for of broken jaws, smashed skulls, and pierced arteries. But the scariest and best shot in the movie is an early image of Myers' ghastly face reflecting off of the front window of someone's front porch -- it's a creepy foreshadowing of the intrusive mayhem to come. And of course, every time John Carpenter's seminal score is paired with these images, we're reminded of how powerful and terrifying those piano keys really are.

The screenplay does have a few glaringly odd choices in narrative and script though, but we wouldn't exactly expect a masterwork of dialogue in a movie about a seemingly undying serial killer going around and stabbing people. Judy Greer joins the cast as Laurie's daughter who is well aware of the legend, but unfortunately she doesn't have a whole lot to work with here. The person who steals the show is a young boy named Julian (played by Jibrail Nantambu), who adds a fresh spunk of personality and comic relief to an otherwise bland set of characters. When we first meet him, he's bored to death by his babysitter and saying stuff like “Got me sitting here cutting my nasty ass toenails.” The kid is involved in some of the most amusing scenes in the movie, and he definitely has the most memorable lines of dialogue. It's to the point where you wish he were the main character. #WhereDidJulianGo?

So even with its flaws, this thing still provides a decent amount of goods for spooky season. And it's more likely to leave a satisfying taste in your mouth instead of a bad one. Happy Halloween!

( 7.5/10 )

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

[Review] First Man

Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) teams up with Ryan Gosling once again to tell the story of Neil Armstrong and the lunar landing. It's both an in-depth character study and well-crafted technical achievement, and it's absolutely astounding.

Gosling plays Armstrong, and he's portrayed as a quiet and reserved family man, as well as a bit of a risk-taker when it comes to his aerial endeavors. Claire Foy (really great) plays his wife, and the two are coping with the painful nightmare of losing a child to cancer. Soon after, Armstrong sets his sights toward space and gets selected for NASA's moon mission, and well, the rest is monumental history.

First Man is a phenomenal cinematic experience. It's immersive, visceral, and utterly moving. We're thrusted into this amazing story as it takes off with a major sense gravitas and gusto. It's full of soaring and exhilarating moments, as well as more down-to-earth moments -- like the comical scene of the spaces trainees sitting in a stuffy classroom with their shirts stained with puke from the simulations. This film is also extremely well-shot and provides plenty of exquisite visuals -- my favorite being an image of Armstrong's eyes displayed directly above a horizon -- it's both surreal and symbolic.

The sound design is superb, too. It places us in the midst of the spacecraft, as every crank, shift and rattle is amplified. The heavy breathing we witness practically fogs the movie screen as our own breathing pattern mirrors the characters. And of course, the film's last 20 minutes are for the books. They'll have your heart racing. They'll have you leaning forward in your seat. From the initial shuttle launch to the moon touchdown -- it's pure magic. Chilling and spectacular. Climactic and cathartic. As beautiful as it is eerie. It certainly made my own feelings float.

And even with all the technology and lofty heights at play in First Man, Chazelle never strays from the humanity at its core.

* 9/10 *

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

[Review] A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are the passionate pair of musicians in this powerful rendition of A Star Is Born. The film is a poignant ballad of love and loss that soars with a haunting melody.

Cooper plays Jackson, an established country rocker who is just barely hanging in there (when we first see him he's backstage chasing pills with alcohol). One night he meets Ally (Gaga), a working-class woman with a voice that can alter the ocean's tides, but whose potential has always been turned down due to her appearance, or as she more bluntly stresses -- her nose. The two become enamored with each other's talents (and each other), and it isn't long before they embark on a tour together. But it's not all stage lights and standing ovations -- things get messy as Jackson's addiction spirals out of control, and tensions rise as Ally's career begins to outshine her co-partner.

First off, Lady Gaga absolutely kills it. She's so natural in this role and embodies Ally with depth and dimension from early on. And even though this is a down-to-earth character, Gaga's pure magnetism illuminates every scene she's in, and to no one's surprise, she absolutely revels in some show-stopping musical scenes ("Shallow"). It's a further testament to the fact that Gaga is born to perform, whether it's acting or belting out her lungs, or both at once. Bradley Cooper is excellent too, completely sinking into this grizzled role while also displaying a striking vulnerability. The supporting cast is fantastic as well. You've got Sam Elliott (definitely in his element) playing Jackson's older stoic brother, and Andrew Dice Clay who plays Ally's very Italian father, whose running joke is that he used to be able to sing as good as Frank Sinatra, except it's not a joke to him, because he actually believes it. Maybe he could? Even Dave Chappelle makes a delightful appearance.

Bradley Cooper's direction here is impressive too. Passion permeates through every scene. The sequences that are supposed to be gritty are very grittied up, and the sequences that are supposed to be glitzy are very glitzed up. And many of the smaller scenes are just as emotional and potent as the bigger ones. Narrative wise, it's a very delicate, intense, and compassionate portrayal of substance abuse and the tumult it can cause within relationships, whether it's under the spotlight or not. This modern update also shares a lot of similarities with 2016's sensational La La Land. Call it La La Land with a twang. Crazy Heart meets Beyond the Lights. A Star Is Born dives into that touchy artistic conundrum of sacrificing or attempting to hold onto your genuine roots and what makes you special while making the big break you've always longed for.

This film presents a universal cycle -- stars are perpetually being born, while others are slowly fading away or abruptly burning out. It happens each time you look up to the sky, or into the TV.

* 8.5/10 *

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

[Review] Leave No Trace

Debra Granik, who directed 2010's stunning Winter's Bone, returns with Leave No Trace -- another heavy drama about familial bonds amidst the backdrop of America's wilderness.

A father and daughter (played by Ben foster and Thomasin McKenzie) have been secretly living off the grid in a Pacific Northwest forest. But their quiet and content existence is upended when they are found by authorities and placed into social services for evaluation. From there, the two of them attempt to adapt conventional society.

While these same themes of freedom and isolation from the modern world were also explored in recent films like Captain Fantastic and The Glass House, Leave No Trace is still a thoughtfully observed character study and a worthwhile and well-crafted portrait of contrasting lifestyles and environments. The film is shot with a crisp, yet down and dirty sense of realism, which is fitting for this story. And when we learn that Ben Foster's character is a veteran suffering from severe PTSD, the film gains another potent layer -- especially as tough conflicts arise when his daughter begins to adjust to conventional society (and even like it), while he is hellbent on returning to their home in the woods. The film dives even deeper into this dynamic toward back half, and Thomasin McKenzie delivers one of the absolutely heart-wrenching lines: "The same thing that's wrong with you isn't wrong with me."

Foster and McKenzie both give tremendously haunting and hard-hitting performances that will linger with you long after the film's tearjerker of an ending.

* 8.5/10 *

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

[Review] A Simple Favor

Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are the dynamic counterparts in the darkly comedic mystery film, A Simple Favor.

Stephanie (Kendrick) is bubbly, down-to-earth, and sweet, while Emily (Lively) is haughty, rich, and scathingly blunt. Despite being total opposites, the two hit it off (or at least apparently so) after meeting at their sons' elementary school. But things get peculiar when Emily suddenly goes missing, causing Stephanie to dig deep in order to uncover the surprising truth.

Even though A Simple Favor might come off as Gone Girl-lite at times, it's still an enthralling tale that keeps us wondering and wondering what happened. Director Paul Feig (who's known for big studio comedies like Bridesmaids, Spy, and the Ghostbusters remake) gets more serious than usual here, sparking interest with provocative twists and a methodical sense of secrecy. But even amidst the film's more straightforward thriller elements, it's definitely spiked with a shot of strong humor, like the cinematic equivalent of a chocolate martini.

The cast is fully game, giving pitch-perfect performances all round. Anna Kendrick anchors the story, walking a conflicted line between innocent and scandalous. And despite a briefer screentime, Blake Lively makes a startlingly moody and greatly potent impression. Henry Golding, who a made nice splash in this year's hit romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, does a terrific job playing Emily's husband with questionable motives.

A Simple Favor's runtime might drag out a little too long for its own good, and its final act gets complicated and overwrought, but it's still a film worth investigating.

( 7/10 )

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

[Review] The Predator

Writer-director Shane Black tries his hand at the latest installment of the Predator franchise, and the result is a haphazard, and sometimes straight-up lousy jumble of unnecessary sci-fi puke.

A mismatched crew of ragtag ex-soldiers, including Boyd Holbrook (Logan), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), and Keegan-Michael Key, along with a keen biologist (played by Olivia Munn) are tasked with hunting down and extinguishing an invasion of rabid space beasts, and things don't go very smoothly. In fact, nothing in this wildly convoluted plot goes very smoothly.

The film carries a campy sleaze and deploys a low-stakes tone that is more head-scratching than it is endearing. This is one of those awkwardly expired sci-fi flicks that somehow feels like it wasn't even made during this decade. There's even some extremely unfunny, 5th grade-esque humor (and a strange obsession with derogatory jokes) in this monstrosity of a script that you could almost hear the sound of a swing and a miss if it weren't for all the crickets chirping. And the fantastical elements totally out of place -- it appears as if Shane Black wanted to inject some Marvel magic into it, but it just doesn't work. Keegan-Michael Key seems oddly miscast, and at certain points it feels like we're watching a skit of a Predator movie instead of an actual Predator movie.

The Predator just never finds its feet and it drastically fails to expound on the alien outbreak genre. The action doesn't any compelling or fresh thrills, either. Even when mutant dogs and a Super Predator show up, it just had me going, "Oh look, there's a thing." 

Aliens may exist. But this movie didn't need to.

( 4.5/10 )

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

[Review] Mandy

Nicolas Cage stars in Mandy, a trippy and metal AF revenge horror film that's rife with slaughter and mayhem, while featuring a reliably batshit perfomance from the Caged manimal. As you can guess, this isn't related to the Barry Manilow song.

Deep in the wilderness sometime during the 1980s ('83 to be exact), Red Miller (Cage) and his rocker girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) spend their nights peacefully stargazing from a rustic cabin. But that changes when Mandy is abducted and sacrificed by a sinister (and insanely weird) cult. From there, Red crafts a nefarious battle axe and sets out to eff shit up.

This monstrous concoction moves at a brooding pace, establishing a hellish and unhinged atmosphere. It's definitely the type of film that could cause walkouts for unsuspecting audience members. Along the way, we witness disturbing satanic rituals, mutated hornets, and loads and loads of blood. Oh yeah, and there's a fucking demon creature that cruises around on a motorcycle.

It also has a tremendously warped visual flair. The provocative images bleed into one another -- displaying acid filtered visuals, abstract skies, feverish nightmare sequences and surreal lava lamp-like colors of bloody and fiery reds. There's even a couple of short animated scenes tossed in. The madness is all backed by the late Johann Johannsson's eerie musical score of melty synths and creeping bass.

As for Nic Cage, it takes a while for him to unleash here, because his character doesn't actually leap into action until after the midway point. But when he finally does, oh boy... His manic rampage essentially begins as he frantically paces around a bathroom screaming and crying profusely only to sit on the toilet and guzzle a bottle of liquor, and you can't help but wonder if that's what his real life is like. He also flaunts some pretty demented facial expressions throughout, and at one point he snorts a mysterious powder off of a shard of glass. And if I had to pick his best line, it would be when he says "That was my favorite shirt!" after being slashed with a switchblade.

Mandy gets crazier and crazier as it goes -- sort of reminiscent of last year's strange horror flick The Void. And its climax virtually takes us to the gates of hell, and by that point, we wouldn't expect anything less.

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

[Review] Hearts Beat Loud

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons star in Hearts Beat Loud, a music-driven dramedy that sings a delightful tune.

Offerman plays Frank, a humble record shop owner at a crossroads in his life. He's decided not to renew his shop's lease after 17 years of business, and his musically gifted daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons, Dope) is heading off to college. During that significant summer, Frank and Sam's songwriting duo -- which they cheekily call "We're Not A Band" -- starts to gain radio attention, and in turn, it causes some conflict between the two of them.

This film carries the same creative, wide-eyed spirit as John Carney's Begin Again. And fittingly, it flaunts a killer indie soundtrack, featuring the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Jason Molina, and Mitski(!!), as well as the catchy music that Frank and Sam perform -- most notably the title track "Hearts Beat Loud". The story is fairly easygoing with a light and jangly tone, but it does hit some emotional beats in the second half, especially as they contemplate their futures and reflect on the past. The leads here are terrific, and there's also a great supporting cast assembled, including Toni Collette, Sasha Lane (American Honey), Ted Danson (amusingly playing a bartender who's high off the reefer all the time), and Blythe Danner.

Hearts Beat Loud is one of those films that's impossible not to like. This jam wears its heart on its sleeve and it puts a smile on your face, while celebrating the power of music and family and love. It also has one of the most genuinely sweet endings in recent memory. Play on.

( 8/10 )

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Monday, September 17, 2018

[Review] American Animals

According to its opening, American Animals isn't based on a true story... it is a true story. And this wily heist thriller shocks and engrosses with the rumble of an impending stampede.

The plot revolves around four young men (played by Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson) who attempt to pull off one of the biggest and most audacious heists in U.S. history. The film covers its bases from the character historys, to the inception and preparation of the heist plans, to the heist itself, as well as the aftermath.

The dramatized events are intercut with documentary-like footage and talking heads of the real-life perpetrators, which gives the film a sense of insight and immediacy, as well as a "Holy shit this really happened" vibe. Like the heist plans, the narrative is as methodical and calculated as it is nerve-wracking and unhinged, and it's all fittingly backed by a freewheeling rock 'n' roll soundtrack. Of course, the intensity really ramps up during the actual heist and grips hold tightly. And while the film, revels in the amusement of this high-risk situation, it doesn't deny the story's darker undertones (there are victims here) or its crime doesn't pay themes. In addition to that, these are fairly privileged and affluent characters driven by toxic greed, so we aren't exactly feeling much sympathy for them. But fortunately, the plot still manages to be very engaging, no matter what.

With its unique format of being a documentary/thriller hybrid, I guess you could say American Animals kills two bird with one stone.

( 8/10 )

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Friday, September 14, 2018

[Review] The Nun

A priest, a nun, and a local farmer walk into a haunted church... That's pretty much the premise for The Nun, a creepy and chaotic spinoff from the infamous cinematic universe of The Conjuring.

After a terrifying opening sequence (these movies are really good at opening sequences) involving a demonic nun and a 30-foot hanging, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, whose older sister Vera stars in The Conjuring films), Father Burke (Demian Bichir), and a delivery guy named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) go to the ancient monastery to investigate the freaky happenings. From there, the story plummets into the hellish depths of unholy madness.

This thing definitely has an eerie atmosphere to it, and much is due to the bone-chilling settings -- from foggy graveyards, to wicked sanctuaries, to dungeonous corridors, to decrepit catacombs. There's a grotesque feast of gruesome, gory, ghastly, and ghoulish imagery, along with plenty of heart-pounding sequences that hit you with effectively merciless jump scares. The film tosses any sense of restraint or subtlety out the stained glass windows, even delving into campy territory. This could be a turn-off for some audiences, but what would you expect from a movie about a demonic nun? Thankfully, the movie is never boring though, and it actually remains engrossing from beginning to end, even if things get quite ridiculous and sloppy toward the final stretch.

Now, forgive me while I go dive into a pool of holy water.

( 6.6/10 )

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

[Review] Searching

Logging in as the striking directorial debut of Aneesh Chaganty, Searching is part online-drama, part missing persons thriller, and it's so well-rendered that it'll have you completely engrossed until the credits roll.

After losing his wife to cancer (which is conveyed through one of the saddest opening sequences since Pixar's Up), David Kim (John Cho) and his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) attempt to carry on a normal life. But things go awry when Margot disappears one day, so David sets out to track her down by desperately scouring her social media contacts and web history. In the process, he learns some surprising secrets...

The whole film takes place on a computer desktop via iMessage, FaceTime, and Google searches -- not unlike the Facebook horror film Unfriended. And the platform is used impressively well. Not only is it engaging visually, but through its mood and rhythm it also builds a major feeling of suspense and intensity that'll have you clamoring to find out where the mystery leads leads, while asking all the pertinent questions: Did Margot run away? Was she abducted? Is she dead or still alive?

Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian concoct a narrative that stacks on twists and misdirections like pop-up windows, but never to the point of being cheap or too overwhelming. In the film's crazy conclusion (which of course I won't give away), every piece fits together like a revealing and meticulously crafted puzzle. John Cho (who has been killing it recently between Fox's under-appreciated season two of "The Exorcist" and the meditative film Columbus) anchors the film with another great performance, displaying a convincing air of distress of whirl-winding emotions.

Along with prickly themes of parental worries, Searching pointedly dives into the idea that the online world can be just as resourceful as it is dangerous. If we can't fully trust the people we do know, then what about the people we don't know?

* 8.5/10 *

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

[Review] Alpha

Alpha is the primal story of a boy and a beast, strength and survival. And while at times it might come off like a nature-based motivational poster that sprung to cinematic life, it's an undeniably thrilling and heartfelt journey.

Set somewhere in Europe during a prehistoric era, this tale revolves around a young boy named Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) being raised in a tribe that's led by rugged father (Johannes Haukur Johannesson - there's a name). Let's just saw Keda isn't exactly following in his father's footsteps. The kid can't start a fire, he has a difficult time hunting animals, and the other members of the tribe view him as a weakling. Anyway, after a brutal accident involving a buffalo and a cliff, Keda is separated from the group and left to fend for himself. Along the way, he befriends a wolf, and the two attempt to get home, wherever that may be.

This is a film that boasts a stunning palette of wonderful wilderness scenery -- from the sprawling hillsides, to the rushing rivers, to the swaying valleys. It also contains some exquisite views of the sky, whether it's the bustling storm clouds, the painterly sun, or the Northern Lights and Milky Way at night. It's all backed by a hauntingly beautiful musical score. And there's a particularly intense sequence set amidst a frozen lake that really gets the heart pumping.

As for the wolf, whom Keda names "Alpha", the creature is rendered with impressively convincing CGI. And as expected with a movie like this, we grow attached to the furry canine, just as Keda does. Its teeth are sharp, but it also looks pretty cute and pettable. Keda and Alpha display a unique dynamic -- they share a mutual respect for each other, and they both have two major things in common: they're from their packs and they're dealing with significant injuries. And yet, there's the ever-present sense of fear and danger that either of them could potentially kill one another at any moment. Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a great central performance, and most of it is done without dialogue. I've found him to be a bit vanilla in past films, but he's genuinely good here.

If you're wondering if I cried during this film, I definitely did. There are many emotional moments, and there's something so incredibly stirring about seeing someone carry a wolf on their shoulders through a snowy frozen tundra. The film is also commendable because the narrative thoughtfully alters what it usually means to be an "alpha" on a number of thematic levels. As Keda's mother describes him: "He leads with his heart, not his spear." 

( 8/10 )

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Monday, September 3, 2018

[Review] Crazy Rich Asians

The cast dazzles in Crazy Rich Asians, a blissful tour through luxury and excess, complicated romances, and the prickly pressures of family ties. It's like one big party.

The story begins in New York where meet Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese immigrant with a working-class background who has begun a career as an economics professor. Rachel and her charming boyfriend Nick Young (not to be confused with the NBA player), played by Henry Golding, plan a trip to Singapore to visit his family. Little does Rachel know that Nick's family is very rich. Like, crazy rich. Like, royalty rich. And well, his family doesn't take too kindly to her, especially his mother (played by an intimidatingly cold Michelle Yeoh), which makes things quite uncomfortable.

Directed by Jon M. Chu, the first thing you'll notice is the film's glamorous and grandiose settings -- from the elaborate mansions to the lavishly ornate ceremonies (there's a wedding scene that is quite exquisite, even for people who don't always like wedding scenes). There's definitely a Baz Luhrmann vibe to the ravishing aesthetics. It's all really visually appealing. As for the story, things start out on the fairly light and easygoing side, but the proceedings eventually dive into some juicy and not-so-classy drama that threatens Rachel and Nick's tight-knit relationship. And by this point, we're definitely rooting for them to pull through it.

And while the narrative doesn't necessarily subvert the usual rom-com and family saga tropes, it is delightful all the same, thanks to the brilliant cast. The two leads light up every scene with their glowing charisma and sheer likability, while the quirkier secondary characters add some decent comic relief, including some familiar faces like Ken Jeong and Awkwafina (Ocean's 8), as well as some not-so-familiar ones like Jimmy O. Yang and Nico Santos.

In the end -- with its wealth of fun, along with all its sentimental and cultural value -- Crazy Rich Asians is a multi-generational, multi-level event that is worth celebrating.

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

[Review] BlacKkKlansman

Prolific and provocative filmmaker Spike Lee returns with BlacKkKlansman, and it's easily one of his most focused, intently cinematic, and thematically-sound efforts in a long time.

Set in the 1970s. We meet Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black cop who is tasked with going undercover in order to infiltrate a local faction of the Ku Klux Klan. Along for the risky ride is Ron's Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), so they both have some personal stakes in the mission. What ensues is an enthralling, maddening, and fist-bumping tale that almost seems too good to be true.

Despite its entangled nature and chunks of nuances, BlacKkKlansman's plot is very straightforward, which is a welcome return to form for Spike Lee after his last few Joints, which have ranged from the bloated Red Hook Summer, to the sloggy Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, to the muddled and painstakingly operatic Chi-Raq. The tight, momentous narrative here carries a great sense of suspense and intensity, especially as Ron and Flip find themselves getting deeper and deeper. Each scene unfolds with a patient yet substantial crackle of energy, examining racial tensions and injustices on both micro and macro levels. The script is full of scathing humor, incendiary dialogue, and hard-hitting points all at once. There are even some jabs that reflect exactly what's going on in our current sociopolitical climate. "Who would ever elect someone like that?"

John David Washington does an impressive job in the central role, and if you think his voice and line deliveries sound very reminiscent of a guy named Denzel -- welp, that's his dad. Adam Driver is solid as well. I'm convinced that you can pop him into any setting and he'll be great. Also amusing is the curiously cast Topher Grace ("That '70s Show"), who plays KKK leader David Duke with a decidedly foolish, almost cartoonish, weak-willed, and undoubtedly despicable tone. This film also has a remarkable visual flair. It's just so well-shot and it prominently exhibits some of Spike Lee's more artful and aesthetically striking tendencies. Even the few fourth wall breaks are executed in a crafty manner.

It's been noted that Spike Lee has taken plenty of liberties and a sort of revisionist angle with this based-on-true-events story, but there's still significant power and potent relevance in BlacKkKlansman, which is further driven home by the film's ending note of real-life footage of Black Lives Matter marches and Charlottesville riots. Its messages of stopping hate, dismantling white supremacy, and rallying together for the greater good are definitely apparent, and what's even more clear is that there's still a lot more work to be done.

* 9/10 *

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

[Review] Blindspotting

Blindspotting is such an exuberant, operatic, multi-dimensional, diverse, and commendably urgent tale that it feels like it should have a title that's more memorable and punchier than Blindspotting. It's part buddy comedy, and part topical (and harrowing) look at inner city chaos, race relations, gentrification, and police brutality.

Set in the heart of Oakland, California, we meet Collin (Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame) as he's freshly released from a prison sentence (well, for the most part). It's not long before he hits up the party scene with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal). Everything is all good until Collin witnesses an unarmed black man get shot and killed by a cop. From there, Collin wrestles with his aching conscience and ponders his newfound perspective as he tries to move forward with his life.

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, Blindspotting is as funny and entertaining as at is potent and tragic. There's shades of 2015's frenetic Dope here, echoes of Ryan Coogler's similar-themed Fruitvale Station, as well as a dose of this year's layered and head-scratching hybrid Sorry to Bother You (of course not quite as bonkers). The film's colorful visual flair and vibrant lighting of the settings greatly captures the liveliness of the city, and there's something very poetic about the narrative -- it gets darker and darker as it goes, especially as Collin's trauma comes to the surface. The film's two stars, Diggs and Casal, also penned the screenplay together, so there's a remarkable sense of investment and chemistry within their roles. Diggs in particular gives a tour de force performance. It's spunky, highly emotional, and full of turmoil (the film's climactic scene is one for the ages). And yes, he does get to show off some of his rapping skills.

Blindspotting is a rich experience that will make you laugh, make you think, and make your heart sink along the way. So don't let this film slip past you.

( 8/10 )

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

[Review] Eighth Grade

Web sensation turned acclaimed standup comedian Bo Burnham makes his feature directorial debut with Eighth Grade, a funny a sharply observed coming-of-age gem for the YouTube era that places focus on, yes -- the eighth grade.

The 8th grader here is Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher). She's quiet, and somewhat of an outcast (let's just say the popular kids don't pay her much attention). In her spare time she uploads videos to her channel where she talks about topics such as self-confidence and growing up. It's never quite clear how many subscribers she has, but we get the impression that there aren't many. Anyway, the film follows her as she navigates her last days through the ups and downs of the all-so-pivotal 8th grade.

The film sticks tightly to a low-key, almost restrained tone -- but it's so real, so raw, and yes - so relatable. And it's heavier on the more serious and dramatic stuff, but it also contains plenty of humorous moments (my favorite is the ongoing bit of the kid randomly shouting "LeBron James" in the background). There are some almost unbearably squirmy scenes along the way, like the birthday-present-opening scene where Kayla is reluctantly invited to the pool party of one of her stuck-up classmates, and well, you can imagine how it goes (I'm turning red just thinking about it). Elsie Fisher plays the part well, consistently exhibiting a believable air of socially awkward clumsiness. Also impressive is Josh Hamilton, who plays Kayla's single father. It's a likable and well-developed character, as he's caught in a strange space between being "cool dad" and genuinely concerned about the well-being of his daughter. In turn, the film functions in two nuanced ways, because it explores what it's like to be an 8th grader, as well as what it's like to raise one.

Bo Burnham also serves as the writer here, and his script keenly dives into themes about self-esteem, what it means to "be yourself", and how different platforms of social media affect each generation. 8th grade brings changes we want, and changes we don't want. Some things that we want to stay the same...don't, and some things that we don't want to stay the Confusing? That's a pretty good summation of eighth grade.

* 9/10 *

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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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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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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

[Review] Incredibles 2

Everyone's favorite family of crime-fighting superheroes returns for a 14-years-later sequel that somehow feels long overdue yet right on time. Pixar's Incredibles 2 (they dropped the "The" - extra weight, I guess) is an exciting and completely worthy follow-up to its beloved predecessor.

After being condemned and forced underground, the Incredibles have been laying low in a shabby motel room. But it's not long before Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) is recruited by a top secret agency led by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) to take down an anonymous evil-doer that goes by "ScreenSlaver." Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) takes on the stay-at-home-dad role. Being a superhero? That's the easy stuff. Staying home all day and changing diapers? That's the hard stuff.

Between its impressively sleek animation, its spunky characters, and its thrilling storyline, Incredibles 2 zips, cruises, and blasts off with a jubilant spark of consistent energy. Whether it's just being straight-up funny, being aww-ingly cute (baby Jack-Jack), flaunting its spectacular powers, or launching into exhilarating and well-designed action sequences -- there's never a dull moment, which puts this film close to on-par with the first one in my eyes. As for the minor gripes -- the villain feels a tad uninspired and predictable, and there aren't any huge emotional punches during the climax, but these aren't total deal-breakers because the film does everything else so excellently.

What also make Incredibles 2 so great is that it's just as human as it is, well... incredible. Sometimes it's the smaller, relatable moments that are the most enjoyable: Dash practically hyperventilating as he runs around their new house and frantically tests out all the advanced remote control features... Violet Parr choking on her water at a restaurant when she realizes her new crush is the waiter... Mr. Incredible's sunken eyes and unkempt appearance after being kept up all night by Jack-Jack...

But of course, the rest of the family, along with fan-favorite Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), eventually suit up and join in on the superhero action too. It would be a crime if they didn't, right?

* 8.5/10 *

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Monday, June 18, 2018

[Review] Tag

This film tells the true, inspirational story of... grown men playing tag? Yes, the bro-com Tag springs forward into a real-life tale about a group of friends that have kept a game of tag going for 30(!) years -- mostly to stay in touch. Every month of May, they sneak up on each other at unexpected times, concoct elaborate schemes and disguises, and sometimes even endure injuries in the process.

Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress are cast as the group of friends here, and the plot sees them team up to finally get their "untouchable" buddy Jerry (Jeremy Renner, hilarious) -- who has never been tagged (yes, he has a perfect record) -- before he retires from the game. As you can guess, some crazy, desperate, extreme, and outrageous shenanigans ensue.

The story that Tag is based on honestly pretty amazing -- it's quirky, delightfully innocent, heart-warming, and nostalgic all at once. And while this film's portrayal of the story is a mildly fun romp that has its moments, it doesn't seem to do its source material justice (can we get a documentary?). The script is a bit middle-of-the-road -- it contains a handful of funny lines, but an even bigger handful of ones that just don't connect. The film is best when it embraces its slapstick comedy (after all, tag is a physical game). Folks crash through windows and fall down stairs just to avoid being 'It.' The riotous setpieces include a bumpy high-speed golfcart chase, a strange trap-filled sequence in a dark forest, and a wild confrontation during an AA meeting that turns into a Matrix-style battle with its slow-motion sprints and tossed donuts. It's easily the best scene in the film, aside from the one where of the guy's moms makes them Pizza Rolls. However, the laughs here never reach the heights of Tag's fellow competition comedies Game Night and Blockers from earlier this year.

The cast here is enjoyable, though. Jon Hamm lets loose in a fairly care-free role and still looks dapper and charismatic while doing it. The other two MVPs are Hannibal Buress -- who has some of the best line deliveries here, and then Isla Fisher -- who plays one of the guy's intense wives that takes the game way too seriously and often steals the show because of it.

In the end, Tag stays true to the essence of its beginnings. It's not just about the game, it's about friendship. As Ed Helms' character says "This game has given us a reason to stay in each other's lives." That's it.

( 6.5/10 )

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