Friday, August 10, 2018

Movie Review: “The Meg”


The Meg

**** 1/2 out of 5
113 minutes
Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com


In the annals of shark films, no one will ever dethrone Jaws. And director Jon Turteltaub knows it. Based on the Steve Alten novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (yes, there are books — six in fact), The Meg film has been through development hell since Disney purchased the rights clear back in 1997. At one point even Eli Roth was attached to direct.

Finally reverting back to Alten himself, Warner Bros. delivers! Turteltaub may be more serviceable than a perfect match for the material, but The Meg finds itself a swimmingly fun crowd-pleaser just in time to clear out the summer waters.

It’s been five years since an executive decision left two of Jonas Taylor’s (Jason Statham) crew dead at the bottom of the ocean. Convinced they were attacked by a prehistoric Megalodon, he’s living in Thailand in seclusion. Fate comes knocking when his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is attacked by what could be another meg. But an even bigger threat is faced when the meg makes it way back to the surface.

With the lives of the Mana One at stake — including father/daughter/granddaughter Zhang, Suyin (Bingbing Li), and Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), Taylor’s ol’ chum Mac (Cliff Curtis), DJ (Page Kennedy), Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), Jaxx (Ruby Rose), and Morris (Rainn Wilson) — Jonas must face his past and save everyone from a threat no one believed was real.

With a film such as The Meg, you can count on plenty of Jaws references. I ticked off at least seven, with asides also made to The Shallows and Finding Nemo/Dory. While most have come to see the latest big summer shark film, others of us are longtime fans of Alten’s Meg novels. I remember when the Disney announcement was made and the film would have been a perfect addition to the Disney ’90s action films made under their Touchstone/Hollywood Pictures logos. But at least WB backed Turteltaub with plenty of money to make as good of film as he could.

Turteltaub may not be known for groundbreaking action films — 3 Ninjas, Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon, both National Treasures, and the underrated Sorcerer’s Apprentice — but he does know how to make crowd pleasers.

Turteltaub has mentioned the film was originally going to be very gory — and Statham has gone on record that this is not the film he signed on to make — at least writers Dean Georgaris and Jon & Eric Hoeber didn’t try to Dark Tower the film. The spirit and essence and basic layout of Alten’s original novel remains intact and they may or may not have set up the film for a sequel. The final gets a little confusing and I’m still not sure exactly what I saw. Alten couldn’t (or can’t) confirm what I think happened. Those who have read the book will feel the same way. It’s a vague case of did-they-or-didn’t-they and unless the box office receipts pile up for a sequel we may never know. There’s definitely room to play and maybe we fellow Megheads can rally the troops Pacific Rim style to keep a franchise afloat. But if they’re going to, they need to go even bigger.

The Meg throws its budget up on the screen to make the shark as realistic as possible — ditching the book’s white glow is forgiven, it would have looked hilarious on-screen — even if there’s not as much carnage candy as you’d hope. This is a fun ride from beginning to end, and being a fan of all things shark — and particularly Meg — I can only hope there’s further adventures with Statham on board because he’s a perfect version of Jonas. The Meg may not try to be the best shark film ever made, but at least it set out to be the best Meg film it could under the circumstances.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Movie Review: “Christopher Robin”


Christopher Robin

** 1/2 out of 5
104 minutes
Rated PG for some action
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard’s Winnie-the-Pooh is almost 100 years old — he’s 92 — and has been a beloved Disney character for 52 years. Just giving a little perspective to show they’ve had plenty of time to develop a worthy live-action version of our favorite Hundred Acre Wood characters. Christopher Robin is not it. And to think it took five people to mess it up. Two (Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson) to come up with a story and three screenwriters (Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder) to write the cliched screenplay. If it weren’t for Ewan McGregor as the titular character, and our favorite Pooh characters in supporting roles, the film would be a complete wash.

Young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) is off to boarding school and saying farewell to his childhood friends. Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), Eeyore (voiced Brad Garrett), Kanga (voiced by Sophie Okonedo), Roo (voiced by Sara Sheen), Rabbit (voiced by Peter Capaldi), Piglet (voiced by Nick Mohammed), Owl (voiced by Toby Jones), and Tigger (Cummings) are all in attendance. A quick montage shows him dealing with the passing of his father, serving his country in WWII, a crumbling marriage to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), a job he hates, and becoming estranged from his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). But soon enough, the Hundred Acre Wood comes calling and he’s forced to realize that he needs to get his priorities in check.

The biggest issue with Christopher Robin is that we know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start. The least the screenwriters, or director Marc Forster could have done was come up with some ways to tug at our heartstrings. The marketing department sure has, but the film is completely mismarketed. The trailer and TV spots are trying to convince audiences they’re in for a bouncing good time, but in reality, Christopher Robin is your standard midlife crisis drama that happens to have Milne’s beloved characters in it. They take the backseat to McGregor stuck in A Wonderful Life story where he has to decide what’s more important: Working all weekend or putting his family first. Yeah, we’ve seen this before.

Don’t get me wrong, Christopher Robin is never terrible, just don’t go in expecting it to be another Disney adventure. Even kids will become bored fast — especially in a summer crowded with far better family fare with way more energy. Unfortunately, Christopher Robin is just another misstep in a long line of live-action attempts. (See Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, Maleficent, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.) They can’t all be The Jungle Book, but that won’t stop Disney from pumping them out ad nauseam.

Christopher Robin won’t last long in theaters and will get swept under the rug. If you need to take your kids on an adventure with Pooh, you’re better off staying home and catching up on the original Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or the underrated/underseen Winnie the Pooh from 2011.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”


Mission: Impossible - Fallout

***** out of 5
147 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

No franchise has progressively improved as much as Mission: Impossible. While off to a rocky start — let’s face it, J. J. Abrams’s M:I3 was basically a reboot — continuity has held the series together. Each installment may be a sequel, but it’s one continuous story arch now. With writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returning — the first to do so — Mission: Impossible – Fallout is definitely the best film in the series, beating his own Rogue Nation and leaving Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol in the dust. Hyperbole, you ask? Just you wait!

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has just accepted his mission while in Belfast. The Syndicate is in a panic after the arrest of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and a group labeled “The Apostles” are looking for a man named “John Lark.” Lark has joined forces with the missing Debruuk (Kristoffer Joner) who are going to use three plutonium cores to wreak havoc across the globe.

Now, Ethan — along with Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) — must find the cores before the Apostles do. This takes them to France where they meet The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who plans to sell the cores to Lark. Meanwhile, August Walker (Henry Cavill) — a CIA assassin — is trying to prove his suspicions to Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett). That Hunt has gone rogue and is really Lark, while Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) is on the hunt for Lane.

Hunt is also the best spy character in the business. From HALO jumping to flying his own helicopter, there’s clearly nothing Cruise won’t do. A funny conversation at my wife’s work puts his abilities in perfect perspective. Someone mentioned the word “diabeetus” and long story short, the realization was made that Cruise is five years older here than Wilford Brimley was when he made Cocoon. Let that sink in.

It helps that Cruise has found the perfect director in McQuarrie. The man can direct an action scene as well, if not better, than most. And while McQuarrie’s screenplay may be a tad convoluted, and labyrinthine as you’d expect, it always makes sense and is infused with plenty of fun. The film also manages to pay homage/respect to each of the first five movies. I’m sure it features its fair share of green screen, but there’s so much stunt work on display it boggles the mind. Jaw-dropping.

Fallout is the Dark Knight of the Mission: Impossibles. And I’m not just saying that because of Lorne Balfe’s epic score or because one character gets half his face disfigured. Fallout lives up the hype and then some. It demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible to get the most out of the IMAX footage, but it works phenomenally on a regular screen too. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Cruise and company accomplish the impossible and prove we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Movie Review: “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”


Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

*** out of 5
114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Considering its $615 million worldwide box office haul, it’s no surprise Mamma Mia! got a sequel. What is surprising is why it took so long. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes places 10 years after the original, which confused me because I didn’t realize it came out so long ago. Ol Parker may be a better suited director, but Here We Go Again is an interesting mixed bag. While it may be dumber than the original, it’s definitely better. The original has been playing on TV this week and after watching the last 30 minutes, it’s very clear that the best decision made was focusing on Donna’s (played by both Meryl Streep and Lily James) backstory and letting the youngsters have some fun this time.

Donna is dead and to celebrate her life, her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has rebuilt the Hotel Bella Donna. Sophie still isn’t married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Thankfully for Sophie, Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is hanging around to help, along with her trusty manager Fernando (Andy Garcia). Invited to join in the celebration are Donna’s best friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), and her two other “dads” Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). With a storm encroaching, they wax nostalgic as we’re whisked back to 1979 to meet Young Donna (James) as she makes her way to Greece after graduating from Oxford. Meanwhile, we also see the development of Donna and the Dynamos and how Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Young Harry (Hugh Skinner), and Young Bill (Josh Dylan) came to possibly be Sophie’s father, dot dot dot.

Writer/director Parker offers a fun time to the audience, which is all they’ll want. You could nickname this Earworm: The Extravaganza! The target audience for Here We Go Again won’t care how dopey it is. Like Cooper longingly pouring himself a cup of tea during “One of Us,” or James performing slo-mo cartwheels through a field before trying to pick an orange that’s too high and falls on her bum while oranges drop all around her. Then spotting a goat spying at her through the fence which chases her down a trail after she makes a face at it. Luckily, the film never gets bogged down in histrionics. Anytime something even remotely dramatic happens there’s another musical number and the characters get over it.

But we all know everyone is coming for the music. Hopefully, not Streep. Spoiler alert: she’s only in the very last scene and the closing credits number. The young cast fare very well, even if James looks nothing like a young Streep — although, this is the star-making turn she’s been looking for — Keenan Wynn barely registers as a young Baranski, and Davies at least gets a few good laughs. The trio of young men are also an odd bag considering none of them sound like their mature counterparts. And then there’s Cher. She may look like she’s stretched smoother than a porcelain doll — and has the same amount of mobility — but she still commands the screen. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t the best film ever made, but that’s not what it’s here for. It offers a fun — if dumb — time at the movies and sometimes that’s good enough.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Movie Review: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”


Ant-Man and the Wasp

**** 1/2 out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

If there’s one thing we can count on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s quality. Ant-Man and the Wasp may be their 20th film — and their fourth release since November — but Kevin Feige has made sure the MCU does not suffer from burnout. Returning director Peyton Reed ups the ant-e, delivering one of Marvel’s — and the year’s — funniest movies. Having star Paul Rudd credited as co-writer probably helped. But they also understand that the Ant-Man films are different from the rest of the MCU. They are now the heart and soul of the franchise and prove that it takes far more than superpowers to be a superhero.

Two years after the Leipzig/Halle Airport incident, Scott Lang (Rudd) is finally seeing the light at the end of his house arrest. Scott spends his days entertaining his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) when he’s not being harassed by FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to build a quantum tunnel to find Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), whom Hank believes is still alive.

Meanwhile, the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is trying to steal the quantum tunnel to use it to save herself after an incident as a child caused her to be in an unstable quantum form. Now, Scott, Hope, and Hank must let go of the past to make sure that they all still have a future.

It will always be a shame that we never got to see Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man, but the franchise continues to be in safe hands with Reed. Keeping things on a personal scale is far more effective than finding Ant-Man battling it out with another flavor-of-the-week supervillain. Ghost is a fantastic enemy for the team to duke it out with since all she wants to do is get herself back to normal. Even if it means possibly tearing Janet apart from the quantum realm.

It’s usually never a good sign when a film has five credited writers — Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari join Rudd — but Ant-Man and the Wasp delivers in spades. The action is bigger, the jokes are funnier, the pace is faster, the villain is cooler. It’s everything you could want in a Marvel sequel. A particular episode with Scott having to visit Cassie’s school is one of the funniest sequences in years. Ranks on par with Deadpool’s baby legs. Also, Lilly and John-Kamen make terrific asskickers! Wasp is a superhero to be reckoned with no matter what size she is. And the daddy/daughter scenes are too precious.

Featuring plenty of nods to MCU current events and more laughs than most standard comedies, Ant-Man and the Wasp is another fantastic addition to the Marvel universe and shows they have no signs of slowing down. Let’s just hope we can all stand the wait until Captain Marvel releases next March! Yes, there are two end credit scenes and the requisite Stan Lee cameo — this one is hilarious — it’s best to keep mum about at least one of the end credit scenes, because it’s a doozy. Which is easy considering it takes place during the end credit scene and there’s another at the very end that’s more hilarious than connective. We MCU fans can rest easy with Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a perfect summer movie full of laughs, thrills, and a huge ol’ heart.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Movie Review: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

**** 1/2 out of 5
128 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Three years ago, Jurassic World rebooted the Jurassic Park franchise. The world was obviously dino hungry, with JW chomping up more than $1.6 billion worldwide. Considering Jurassic Park celebrated its 25th anniversary just last week, it’s surprising Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is only the fifth installment. Now, J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls) takes the reins, proving life finds a way to keep the series alive and well. And while you can’t help but feel the nostalgia again, at least Bayona — with returning writers Colin Trevorrow (director of JW) and Derek Connolly — is trying to expand the Jurassic universe and take it in a fun, new — and bonkers — direction.

Three years after the fall of Jurassic World, an Indominus rex sample is secured from the bottom of the Mosasaurus compound. Congress is in a heated debate over dinosaur rights. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is running the Dinosaur Protection Group where she’s contacted by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). At Lockwood’s estate, she meets with him and his assistant Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). The two convince her to help them rescue dinosaurs from Isla Nublar before the dormant volcano, Mt. Sibo, erupts. They need Blue in particular and enlist Owen (Chris Pratt). Soon enough, ulterior motives come to light, the volcano obliterates the island, and everyone is in more danger than ever before back at Lockwood Estates.

At one point, Claire asks Owen, “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” It hits home in a way you’d never expect. Fallen Kingdom is full of scenes that harken back to the original, even more so than the first Jurassic World did. It takes you by surprise and makes you wonder how a movie about cloned dinosaurs can make you misty eyed. It also has spectacular action scenes filled with just as much beauty courtesy cinematographer ├ôscar Faura. Maestro Michael Giacchino spares no expense in the score department, making sure this one isn’t just a repeat of the last four films.

Bayona and his writers have ensured a rollercoaster of a good time. Unfortunately, there are some moments — including the entire second half of the film — they should have kept under wraps. Anyone who watches the trailers/TV spots could easily piece together the whole plot if they wanted to. It also undercuts what should have been surprise twists and almost ruined some huge money shots. At least the new Indoraptor is one of the best Jurassic villains, I just wish it had gotten more screen time.

As for the cast, Pratt has honed in his Owen and rounded out some of his edges while he still has great chemistry with Howard. And Claire’s DPG teammates — Zia and Franklin (Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith) — are awesome additions to potential dino chum. Goldblum’s cameo is nothing more than that. Isabella Sermon — as Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie — is the perfect Amblin youth-in-peril. B.D. Wong continues to be strung along as a grandmaster, and Ted Levine gets to have some smarmy fun as a mercenary in charge of the Isla Nublar expedition. Toby Jones even shows up in a small, but appropriately oily guest role.

Having already grossed almost $500 million in the last couple weeks overseas, I’m pleased audiences are finding Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to be the huge crowd pleaser it sets out to be. It’s the epitome of summer popcorn tentpole. For some, that may sound like a turnoff. For the rest of us, sit down and hold onto your butts!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Movie Review: “Incredibles 2”


Incredibles 2

**** 1/2 out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It may have taken 14 years for Brad Bird to get our beloved Incredibles back up on the big screen, but Incredibles 2 is more than worth the wait. The Parr family has returned exactly as we left them, and that’s a good thing. When it comes to sequels, you can’t shake things up too much. (Except in the case of Toy Story where Andy just had to age for its sequel.) Especially when it’s a sequel to the best superhero movie ever made. While Bird doesn’t waste time getting down to business, he knows what the true success of the first Incredibles film was: the family dynamic. In Incredibles 2 it’s back with a vengeance and puts Jack-Jack center stage, solidifying him as one of the greatest film babies of our time.

Picking up from the end of the first film, we find poor Tony Rydinger (voiced by Michael Bird) being interrogated by Rick Dicker (voiced by Jonathan Banks). Tony caught Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) without her mask and now Dicker has to wipe his memory. After the Underminer (voiced by John Ratzenberger) gets away, Municiberg is reminded of why superheroes are illegal: reckless collateral damage. But Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) has other plans. He wants to give the people a bird’s eye view to prove that the world needs superheroes to keep them safe.

Banding together with Mr. Incredible/Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl/Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter), and Frozone/Lucius Best (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), they’re going to try to do just that with Elastigirl front and center. Much to Bob’s shagrin. Armed with Evelyn Deavor’s (voiced by Catherine Keener) high tech gadgetry, Helen leaves Bob home with Violet, Dash (voiced by Huck Milner), and Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile and Nicholas Bird). Bob has to learn how to juggle home duties while Helen is off catching runaway trains, saving the Ambassador (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), and putting a stop to the mysterious Screenslaver (voiced by Bill Wise).

If there’s two things working against Incredibles 2, it’s the runtime and the villain. First, it’s at least 10 minutes too long, but it’s not the Parr homestead dragging the film’s heals. There’s a subplot involving superheroes-in-hiding who come out of the woodwork to help Elastigirl after Winston coaxes them back into the spotlight. And second, the villain is way too obvious. You know who’s behind the evil doings as soon as you see them. But that’s about it.

As dazzling as Bird’s action sequences are, Bob home with the kids is the best part of the movie. For any dad who’s scared to be left home alone with their kids, they should just count their blessings that their baby doesn’t come equipped with all of Jack-Jack’s superpowers. A scene involving fisticuffs with a raccoon is a hilarious showstopper and more time could have been spent with Jack-Jack being watched by Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird). I’d watch an entire film based solely on those two things alone.

If anyone’s wondering if Incredibles 2 is 14 years too late, the answer is a resounding no. Just like its predecessor, it lives up to its title in every way. Bird stages some amazing action, delivers huge laughs, and keeps the heart beating strong. While it never makes the same attempts to wreck the audience the way that Coco did, it’s not that kind of movie. Incredibles 2 sets its sights on keeping the whole family entertained and never misses a beat for second. While we may be in a dearth of family films, it’s nice to see Pixar back to doing what they do best: entertaining the whole family. While some may be tired of Pixar churning out sequels, they’re more than welcome when they live up to their own standards.