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.

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.