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 Setsuko...er-Lucy'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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