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.

Movie Review: “Tag”


Tag

**** 1/2 out of 5
100 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s not hard to keep friendships alive, sometimes a quick text can be enough to maintain a friendship. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal brought attention to a group of friends who have been playing a game of tag for 23 years. Leave it to Hollywood to give them their own movie. With the real life shenanigans sounding every bit as fun as what’s in Tag, it’s the kind of story that was begging for its own feature. And while the casting may look like a mixed bag on paper, director Jeff Tomsic made sure everyone — including the supporting cast — has the kind of rapport any good comedy should have.

Hoagie (Ed Helms) has just taken a new position as a janitor — perfect cover to sneak in and tag his best friend Bob (Jon Hamm). Turns out, Bob is in the middle of an interview with Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis). She may have been there to interview Bob regarding the success of his company, but now she’s tagging along to scoop out a bigger story. Hoagie and Bob belong to a group of friends — including Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress) — who still play tag. But Hoagie comes bearing bad news: Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is getting married and quitting the game for good. Jerry has never been “it” and now everyone is out to get him before they lose their opportunity forever.

Tomsic keeps the pace chugging along at a frantic pace as the group comes together. Also joining in is Anna (Isla Fisher), Hoagie’s hilariously foul-mouthed wife. Leslie Bibb steals some laughs as Renner’s bride-to-be with Rashida Jones being delegated to a love triangle with Bob and Chilli. And Renner proves he can be supercool and not just a Bourne ripoff or Hawkeye. This is the best comedy ensemble since Game Night.

Screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen fill the script with some huge laughs and Tomsic makes a surprisingly sweet-hearted debut. Tag  may be inspired by a true story, it’s also inspiring itself. A coworker told me this week that he and his closest friends have had their own game going for the last two years. It’s just further proof that Tag is worth heading out with your closest friends. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser and makes Warner Bros. 2-0 in this year’s comedy game.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Movie Review: “Hereditary”


Hereditary

***** out of 5
127 minutes
Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity
A24

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

No genre is more subjective than horror. What scares one person sends another into a fit of giggles. But when great horror comes along, it’s a force to reckon with. Hereditary is the horror film aficionados need. I hope the days of found footage are gone for good. Divisive by nature — The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch — they rely on more than gore and cheap jump scares. Hereditary is the real deal. Writer/director Ari Aster may be making his debut, but if this is what he has to offer, I may not be able to handle future endeavors.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) has just lost her mother. Along with her family — husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) — they’re all dealing with the loss in their own ways. Annie tries to draw herself into finishing her latest miniature gallery pieces, Peter wants to party, and Charlie just wants to be left alone. Steven meanwhile, tries to wrangle the family together and keep things pleasant. Soon enough, grandma’s grave has been desecrated, Charlie dies in an accident, and Annie starts acting odder by the day. Steve thinks Annie is losing it, but things take a turn for the worse after Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd) who convinces her to conduct a seance to check in on Charlie.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Hereditary after premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And it’s warranted. There have been plenty of horror movies that are scary enough while sitting in a theater, but this one follows you home and lingers. Just thinking about the film is enough to creep you out all over again.

Collette gives an amazing performance — the only thing not shocking — and so do the young actors Wolff and Shapiro. Aster fills the film with dread from its opening seconds and never lets go. Sitting through Hereditary was like having a two-hour panic attack. There’s even an article, after a study at several Alamo Drafthouses, which shows watching the film is the equivalent of two hours of exercise. Now that’s saying something.

Needless to say, Hereditary is the real deal and should not be missed. If you can handle it. Just make sure you wear your brown pants.

Movie Review: “Hotel Artemis”


Hotel Artemis

** out of 5
93 minutes
Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use
Global Road Entertainment

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

The marketing team for writer/director Drew Pearce’s Hotel Artemis is working overtime trying to make it look like a wild thrillride. Maybe even the underdog action film of the summer. Unfortunately, Pearce has no idea what kind of film he’s wanting to make. Meandering between quirky/dark comedy and melodrama, there’s barely any action. You’re left sitting around for 90 minutes waiting for something, anything, to happen and when it finally does, he picks the most out of left field ending possible and cuts to credits with absolutely no resolution.

The Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs Hotel Artemis — a hideout/ER for criminals — in a rioting 2028 Los Angeles. Following a set of strict rules, The Nurse makes sure everyone is taken care of. But the hotel starts falling down around her after Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) — everyone is named after the room they’re staying in — and his injured brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) come in. They’ve stolen $18 million worth of jewels from the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), who also happens to be on his way with his own injury. Now, everyone at Hotel Artemis — including Nice (Sofia Boutella), Acapulco (Charlie Day), and The Nurse’s right-hand man Everest (Dave Boutista) — must prepare themselves for the fight of their lives inside, as the riots start making their way outside.

The cast all make what they can with Pearce’s script and direction, but they all look as bored as the audience. Considering the film isn’t even 90 minutes long without credits, this should have been a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am affair. But all we’re left with is a lot of thinking about what could be happening in the film instead of what Pearce presents us with.

Brown continues to shine no matter how minimal the role, and it’s fun to see Randall Pearson (This Is Us) play brother to Paper Boi (Atlanta), but unfortunately Henry is left recuperating on a gurney for most of the movie. Day also continues to prove he’s a huge theatrical headache and needs just stick to playing Charlie on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. After Fist Fight, Pacific Rim Uprising, and now Hotel Artemis, please don’t quit your dayjob. Boutella and Brown are also fun together, but never get the chance to truly interact aside from a couple of scenes.

Even the action — the two minutes there is of it anyway — is filmed very lackluster and is over before you know it. Hotel Artemis is the one film we didn’t need this summer and offers nothing new to distract from the upcoming tent poles. Save your money, there’s way better coming very soon.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Movie Review: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”


Solo:  A Star Wars Story

**** out of 5
135 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Lucasfilm

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

The deck was stacked against Solo: A Star Wars Story from conception. As if it’s not a bold move for anyone to be making a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, they sought to take us back to the yesteryears of the beloved Han Solo. So it’s a good thing Lucasfilm is handling it themselves. Even better, having Kathleen Kennedy made sure to play her cards right, ensuring maximum quality.

While Kennedy may have given Rian Johnson free reign to polarize the entire franchise with The Last Jedi, she swiftly replaced original Solo directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with Ron Howard. While we may never know what could have been — word was that they were trying to make a buddy comedy 21 Jump Street style — but Howard was definitely a better fit and Solo beats the odds so don’t ever tell him the odds.

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is on the run with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) from a local gang on Correllia. The two are separated with Han joining the Imperial Navy to become the best pilot in the galaxy. Three years later, Han meets up with criminals Tobias (Woody Harrelson) and Val Beckett (Thandie Newton), and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) while meet-cuting Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Now, everyone needs the help of Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) to steal unprocessed coaxium from the Kessel mines for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the leader of the Crimson Dawn criminal syndicate. All while the Cloud Riders are hot on their tails!

With The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi, it’s nice to find Solo setting out to not try its damnedest to fit in. This is Solo’s movie through and through. Never getting bogged with political agendas, Howard has crafted this outing back to the feel of George Lucas’s original trilogy.

Of course there’s plenty of CGI, but this is also the dirtiest of the new films. Dirty as in Solo’s world has a lived-in quality, it’s not bright and shiny. That being said, be careful where you see it, the first press screening felt a little too dark and my suspicions were proved correct after the second one was held on an IMAX screen. It looked better and was far more enjoyable in round two. I mean, it is a Star Wars movie so why wouldn’t you see it on IMAX anyway?

Howard’s overhaul also brought in his years of expertise. This is his best film since Apollo 13 and hopefully reignites his spark from the ’80s and ’90s. Master Star Wars scripter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens) — along with son Jonathan — send us back to before the rebellion and make sure the audience is taken on a breathtaking rollercoaster ride. They also take time to plant the seed for future adventures and even more spin-offs.

The RottenTomatoes score keeps falling and it’s obviously ruined by those who just can’t see Han portrayed by anyone other than Harrison Ford. Ehrenreich is one of very few who could pull it off. He’s spectacular from first frame to last and has truly become (young) Solo. And then there’s the always impressive Donald Glover. No one since Billy Dee Williams was born to play Lando and now no one else can. As much as everyone is clamoring for Lando to get his own film — myself included — it sounds like Kennedy is in no rush. And as Lando himself may say, that’s nothing but a good thing, baby. And of course, Chewie steals every scene he’s in.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t perfect. Considering its troubled production, it’s a miracle Solo is as good as it is! Filled with old friends and new faces, it’s a fun Star Wars films and an admirable addition to the franchise.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Movie Review: “Deadpool 2”


Deadpool 2

***** out of 5
119 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material

20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

With Deadpool becoming not just the second highest grossing R-rated feature domestically, but the highest grossing X-Men film, expectations are high for Deadpool 2. Well have no fear, Wade Wilson is here to cleanse our saddened Infinity War palettes and satiate our appetites with everything we love about Deadpool.

Deadpool may be a comic-based action film, but it’s a comedy at heart. And there’s no genre harder to make a sequel for. Leave it to Deadpool & Friends to find a way. Our favorite “Merc with a Mouth” is back and he’s brought some new friends with him to ensure maximum effort across all fronts.

Fifty years in the future, a mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison) will kill Cable’s (Josh Brolin) wife and daughter. In the present, Cable has time traveled back to stop Russell. Meanwhile, Wade (Ryan Reynolds) must do whatever he can to stop Cable from killing Russell with the help of his X-Force — Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan),  Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), Domino (Zazie Beetz), and Peter (Rob Delaney) — along with Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and even Dopinder (Karan Soni).

For those of you who liked the first Deadpool, you’re gonna love Deadpool 2! This is director David Leitch’s best film yet — quite a feat when you’re following up John Wick and Atomic Blonde. Leitch — along with returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, joined by Ryan Reynolds this time — deliver on all fronts. They even manage to subtly set up the X-Force spin-off without shoving it down our throats.

Reynolds continues to prove Deadpool is the character he was born to play. Brolin kills it as Cable while Dennison continues to be a hilarious star on the rise after his turn in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Beetz is a scene stealer and needs her own movie.

This is the sequel we deserve and it’s nice to see Marvel and Fox didn’t jump the gun and phone it in. The marketing for the film has gone balls out too. Look no further than the Celine Dion video for the Oscar bait song, “Ashes” and a glutton of 7-11 items ranging from Slurpee to Trolli Mini Hands.

Deadpool 2 also has a better tone than the first. After rewatching the original over the weekend, it feels more mean-spirited and nihilistic whereas the sequel is even more fun. It also features one of the best opening and closing credits sequences ever! Don’t worry, this is pure Deadpool cranked up to 11. Gleefully profane and even more self-aware than the original, this is the Deadpool we know and love. The jokes are funnier, the gore is gorier, the big is bigger, and the meta is metaier.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Movie Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”


Avengers: Infinity War

***** out of 5
149 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

*Links to the previous MCU films can be found after the review excluding Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk as I was not reviewing at the time.

Ten years, 18 films, and it all comes down to this… Well, half at least. Avengers: Infinity War is a celebration and culmination of the last decade. Combining an entire universe — it is called the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a reason — of comicbook superheroes and spanning years of anticipation, can Earth’s mightiest heroes stand up to the hype? Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes. Infinity War delivers across all fronts with spectacular action, huge laughs, and an aching heart. But the Russo brothers (Joe and Anthony) send phase three out with a spectacular bang.

Picking up after Thor: Ragnarok with Thanos (Josh Brolin) taking over Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) ship of Asgardian castaways, we find a battle of wits as Thanos threatens to kill Thor in order to get his giant hands on the Tessaract (the Space Stone) from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thanos plans to gather all six Infinity Stones — the rest being the Mind, Soul, Power, Time, and Reality Stones — in order to control the universe. He also plans to wipe out half of Earth, bringing together the Avengers, and a slew of help, to try to stop his evil doings.

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Captain America (Chris Evans), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Vision (Paul Bettany), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Wong (Benedict Wong), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ayo (Florence Kasumba), and Thor, must keep Thanos from bringing his brand of perfect balance to the galaxy, saving the universe’s existence in the process.

No movie could attempt the kind of epicness the Russo brothers manage to bring to the screen. With every film in the collective there’s another piece of the puzzle. And the end game is finally here. The cast can play these characters in their sleep — aside from Olsen’s disappearing accent — but never come across as bored. The camaraderie works wonders considering screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are handling so many characters from so many movies with so many different tones. It never feels as much like channel surfing as it could and also never feels like a greatest hits collection either. Every character is given something to do and no one goes to waste.

Is this a perfect movie? That would have been impossible. Things slow down toward the middle causing a moment or two of restlessness, but then it’s back to full throttle and hits the gas again. The 149 minute runtime flies by. The cliffhanger ending will make your jaw drop making the most hardcore MCU fans ask, “Is this real life?” This is the Marvel movie that’s going to be dissected and analyzed for the next year while we wait out for the second half — filming is already completed and we don’t even have a title yet! You’ll find no spoilers here, only the biggest jerks would commit that crime. But, no one is going to leave Avengers: Infinity War without a smile on their face, a tear in their eye, and distress on their minds.

Make sure to stay through the end credits for a single stinger. Anyone needing to make a restroom run during the credits is safe to do so. Also make sure to see it in IMAX, it was filmed with IMAX cameras and unfortunately, our press screening was framed at 2.39:1 in a scope ratio causing a lot of the image to go missing. It’s a huge movie that demands to be seen on a huge screen.

Black Panther
Thor: Ragnarok
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Doctor Strange
Captain America: Civil War
Ant-Man
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Thor: The Dark World
Iron Man 3
Marvel's The Avengers
Captain America: The First Avenger
Thor
Iron Man 2