Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Movie Review: “Ready Player One”

Ready Player One

***** out of 5
140 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

It may sound like hyperbole, but Steven Spielberg was born to direct Ready Player One. If Spielberg and Amblin hadn’t dominated the ’80s, Ready Player One wouldn’t exist. I haven’t read Ernest Cline’s novel yet, but as co-writer, Cline — along with Spielberg and co-writer Zak Penn — explodes the novel onto the big screen in the biggest way possible. If I could get away with a one word review it would be: “Spielbergasm.” Marvel may think they’ve cornered the market on Easter Eggs, but Ready Player One is one giant Easter Egg. Fittingly being released Easter weekend, this movie demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible (cough IMAX cough). The addition of 3D just makes the film even more immersive.

It’s 2045, and Wade Watts/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) lives in “The Stacks” of Columbus, Ohio with his aunt and the only escape from the world is through the OASIS: a virtual world where anyone can be anything they want and be anything they want. It all comes up for grabs after the death of its co-creator Halliday/Anorak (Mark Rylance). Promising fortune and glory, and full control of the OASIS, the whole world sets out to conquer “Anorak’s Quest” to hunt down Halliday’s deeply planted Easter Eggs. Calling upon some help from his friends — Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke), Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), aka the “High Five” — they set out to save the OASIS from the evil clutches of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento unleashes I-R0k (T.J. Miller), F’nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) and his debt-indentured Sixers to stop them.

Ready Player One is pure entertainment. From start to finish there’s no lag time. Spielberg, Cline, Penn, and their army of visual effects artists ensure you are never bored with your mind constantly titillated. It’s almost too much to handle at times. Thankfully, Spielberg knows how to control the chaos and pumps the brakes often enough to let you catch up. Then it’s off to the races again. The cast are having the time of their lives — Cooke, Mendelsohn, and Waithe are standouts — and Spielberg is working in hyper drive. And it shows with fun oozing from every frame. A midpoint sequence in particular showcases Spielberg’s love for OASIS.

There’s been some mention that Ready Player One looks down on pop culture fans, but this is a celebration of the last 30-plus years. Hilarious, heartfelt, surprising, jaw-dropping, action-packed, exhaustively nostalgic. Ready Player One is the true spectacle we rarely get at the movies anymore and it’s no surprise Spielberg was the one to deliver. Even Alan Silvestri’s score is pure ’80s goodness. I have yet to read the novel, but having finally seen the film, I can hardly wait. I’ve heard the two split in very different directions, but Cline is already working on a sequel to the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear about a sequel to the movie as well. I can’t wait to see what adventure they take us on next!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: “Pacific Rim Uprising”

Pacific Rim Uprising

* out of 5
115 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language

Universal Pictures

Article first published at

It’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro gave America Pacific Rim — the Kaiju/Jaeger medicine we didn’t know we were missing. Ever since, a sequel has been in the works off and on with Del Toro teasing his direction again. In the meantime, Legendary has moved from Warner Bros. to Universal and del Toro has gone on to win some long overdue Oscars.

Del Toro and company put a lot of faith in co-writer/director Steven S. DeKnight — of Spartacus and Daredevil notoriety — but it’s clear after having suffered through Pacific Rim: Uprising that only Del Toro knows what makes the world he and Travis Beacham built in the first film. All we want is robots punching monsters. And it takes 80 minutes to even get to a single Kaiju. That right there may tell you all you need when it comes to deciding whether to spend your money on this overdue, and undercooked, turkey of a sequel.

It’s been 10 years since the first film and Jake “Son of Stacker” Pentecost (John Boyega) brings the audience up to speed. In the film’s present, Jake is chasing after a jaeger capacitor but is beat to the punch by the scrappy young Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Both wind up being taken into custody by the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC). Here, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) offers Jake the chance to escape jail time if he returns to the Shatterdome to train new recruits. Much to the chagrin of Nate Lambert (Scott “Real-Life Son of Clint” Eastwood), Jake, and Amara are off to training. Little do they know Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) is developing an army of drone jaegers to keep the world — and their pilots — safe. Everyone is convinced the Kaiju will return and they must be ready at all costs.

For anyone who felt Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was bloated, you ain’t seen nothing yet. DeKnight should be ashamed for breaking the cardinal rule when it comes to sequels: more. Unfortunately, the only thing there is more of in Uprising are humans. You could call the film Exposition & One Liners: The Movie and you wouldn’t know the difference. It doesn’t help that all of the side characters are completely disposable and those who’ve returned are extremely annoying. It says a lot to the power of Boyega and Spaeny, they’re not bad, and even better when playing off each other. But most of the movie is clichéd action film machismo overload. Yes, Uprising has transformed the franchise into Transformers: explosions, swirling camera moves, slo-mo shots of characters jumping mid-air, reckless abandonment for collateral damage, and unexplainable snowball fights. I wish I was kidding.

Pacific Rim was not a box office smash, but a $411 million box office against a $190 million budget is a fair return. I was a bit obsessed with the first film — owning almost every single action figure, the comic book, the film itself on Blu-ray, 3D, and 4K, along with way too many posters including a wall-sized variant. So it saddens me greatly to see the series already diminished into the love child of Transformers and Power Rangers.

The film isn’t a complete bust. At least it’s bad enough to offer more giggles than most comedies. I felt like Statler and Waldorf making fun of the shenanigans as the trainwreck continued. But that’s not why one pays for a ticket to Pacific Rim: Uprising. We want robots fighting monsters and on that count, it fails miserably.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Movie Review: “Tomb Raider”

Tomb Raider

**** out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

After what felt like an interminable two months — the only watchable films so far this year being Black Panther and Game Night — we’re finally getting some good releases. It may be surprising to hear glowing remarks when it comes to a reboot of the Tomb Raider series. It appears that a change of studio and star were just what the raider needed. Scrapping any connection to the Angelina Jolie films, this may not be a perfect action film. But it is a fantastic adventure from start to finish and sets the series up for a new generation, leaving you wanting more by the time the credits roll.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a spunky, street smart food delivery girl who’s in debt at her favorite MMA club. After an incident with the police leaves her in need, her missing father’s assistant, Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), comes calling to try to get her to accept her inheritance. Instead, Lara discovers that her father Richard (Dominic West) was up to more than just boardroom meetings.

Turns out, Richard was on the hunt for Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai who was thought to have power over life and death. Now, Lara is on her own quest to find her father, along with the help of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose own father went missing helping Richard. But just wouldn’t you know it, they find themselves facing off against Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), working for the mysterious Trinity who are trying to find Himiko’s tomb with ulterior motives.

No one expects Tomb Raider to be the smartest film, but it’s at least smart enough to get us from one action scene to the next. Director Roar Uthaug, and screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, give us a worthy updated reboot film based on the Crystal Dynamics rebooted video game from 2013.

The best part is in the casting. Vikander is perfect as Lara, using her Oscar-winning acting chops to take Lara from naive and confused to complete badass by the end of the film. A character arc is not something you see in an action film these days. The rest of the cast work well too, even if it feels like Goggins should have been allowed to get a little crazier as the villain. Wu makes for a great sidekick with the role reversal working fantastic as the two play off each other very well.

Hopefully this Tomb Raider finds a bigger audience than the one that left the Jolie films wallowing after two outings because Warner Bros. has done the series proud and now that we’ve gotten the origin story out of the way again, I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Movie Review: “A Wrinkle in Time”

A Wrinkle in Time

** out of 5
109 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at

After the success of Thelma, Ava DuVernay was offered the chance to direct Black Panther. Quoting differences in vision, it’s very clear she was not the right choice. Instead of joining Disney through Marvel Studios, she moved on to adapt Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time instead. You can’t blame her for trying. With an A-list cast and enough money to sink any film into CGI oblivion, DuVernay forgets to inject the film with any adrenaline while Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay meanders its way through wasting a $100 million-plus budget.

Meg (Storm Reid) is coping with her father, Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), missing for four years. Mr. Murry was a brilliant scientist who believes he found a way to travel the galaxy using only his mind. Bullied at school by Veronica (Rowan Blanchard), Meg finally defends herself and her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) causing a chance encounter with Calvin (Levi Miller). Soon enough, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) come calling to inform Meg that her father is trapped on a far away planet by The It (David Oyelowo). Now she must “tesser” via tesseract (a brain frequency) to a far away land along with Calvin and Charles Wallace in order to save her father and bring him home.

A Wrinkle in Time may only be 109 minutes, but it sure feels like an eternity. Before the film started, I asked a colleague’s wife if she’d ever read the book and she said she tried as a child and again as a teen and was never able to make sense of it. Prepare yourselves adults, you’re about to feel the same way. Nonsensical and boring, there aren’t enough visuals to keep the plodding pace from feeling glacial. The cast never feels inspired — aside from one particularly creepy sequence with Michael Pena — and the visuals aren’t anything special. With L’Engle’s book published in 1962, there are plenty of films since then that were clearly inspired by different aspects. Even Interstellar owes some debt.

Apparently it fares well enough with kids at least. Bringing an eight and four-year-old puts it in perspective: adults will hate it, but at least their kids will be entertained. There are family films and then there are children films. A Wrinkle in Time is the latter. If there’s one positive to the film’s release, it’s that at least representation/diversity will win at the box office. It’s just a really funny coincidence that DuVernay is going to lose up against the film she was supposed to direct.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

4K UHD/Blu-ray Review: “Coco”

2017 was a year of two Pixars. Cars 3 showed that the franchise is running on fumes, but thankfully, they also treated us to Coco. Set in Mexico and revolving around Dia de los Muertos, director Lee Unkrich proves that Toy Story 3 was no fluke. Together with co-director/co-writer Adrian Molina, Coco made a moving love letter to our Mexican neighbors and showed that emotion runs deep no matter which side of the border you’re on. Coco was a critical/box office smash and is being released on 4K UHD and Blu-ray with its evident Best Animated Feature win right around the corner.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is living in Mexico, dealing with a family “curse.” His great-great-grandmother has forbidden the Riveras from indulging in music after her husband left the family with dreams of becoming a huge star. Now shoemakers, Miguel just wants to sing. He’s convinced his great-great-grandfather is the sensational Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) and steals his guitar during the Day of the Dead festivities. When he’s whisked away to the Land of the Dead, he must earn his past family’s blessing in order to return to the land of the living. He’s joined by Hector (voiced by Gael García Bernal) who also wants to take a trip to the living before he’s forgotten forever and suffers the “final death.”

Disney/Pixar delivers Coco in a 4K/Blu-ray combo pack, framed in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio on respective BD-66 (4K) and BD-50 (Blu-ray) discs. While the 1080p presentation certainly shines as much as you’d hope, the 4K disc really gives Coco the extra pop you’d expect. Upscaled from a 2K Digital Intermediate — Unkrich says that they can’t see a significant difference to finish their films in native 4K — anyone who can’t see the jump in resolution may need to check their settings. Coco in 4K almost looks 3D — something Disney seems to be wishy-washy on these days — and offers a marked improvement, even more so than their Cars 3 UHD debut. It’s definitely photo realistic. I can only imagine how spectacular The Good Dinosaur could benefit from a 4K upgrade. Unfortunately, the HDR enhancement doesn’t deliver too much of a difference, but the uptick in resolution sure makes up for it. On the bright side, blacks are expectedly deeper, shadows more revealing, colors better balanced, and contrast still super toasty without feeling blown out.

On the audio front, the Blu-ray comes armed with a decent 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track which forces viewers to pump up the volume well above reference settings. The 4K disc comes with an upgraded Dolby Atmos track that feels like a completely different mix. Surround heights provide the spacious soundscape you’d expect whether it’s Dia de los Muertos family activities, the bustling Land of the Dead city streets, or the De la Cruz concert finale. Dialogue is always clean and clear. Directionality is improved to pinpoint precision, but the most obvious improvement is during the end credits. The DTS track blares the vocals from the rear speakers, something I found odd and wondered if it would be handled better on the Dolby Atmos, and I was completely right. Dialogue is front and center as it should be.

As engaging as most of the track is, it’s surprisingly front heavy, rears themselves are rarely engaged. Additional audio tracks include English and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 and English Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0 tracks. Subtitles include English, Spanish, and French.

If you’re looking for special features, don’t worry, Coco has you covered! The 4K disc doesn’t have any, so you’ll have to start with the Blu-ray. Disc One contains the film and the following extras: “Audio Commentary” featuring co-directors Unkrich and Molina, and producer Darla Anderson who sort through a collection of stories discussing the plot, characters, visual effects, voice work, and research. “Welcome to the Fiesta” (2:16) is a short and sweet “proof of concept” short with optional audio commentary. “Mi Familia” (10:00) features the filmmakers discussing the rules enforced upon them growing up and what they think about them as adults. “Dante” (6:14) examines the Xoloitzcuintli and its influence as Miguel’s trusty companion in the Land of the Dead. “How to Draw a Skeleton” (3:18) a quick, self-explanatory tutorial.

Disc Two features: “A Thousand Pictures a Day” (20:03) is a trip to Mexico with the crew to get up close and personal with the people and locations for optimum authenticity. “The Music of Coco” (13:12) covers the different genres and styles composer Michael Giacchino worked into the score to help tell the story. “Land of Our Ancestors” (6:19) feels like an expansion of “A Thousand Pictures” but focuses on the land of the dead. “Fashion Through the Ages” (8:39) explores the various costumes from different time periods. “The Real Guitar” (3:08) shows how they created De la Cruz’s guitar in real life before animating it.

“Paths to Pixar: Coco” (11:44) is a fantastic look at the Latino crew who worked on the project and how they came to work for the animation giant. “How to Make Papel Picado” (2:19) is another short tutorial showing to make the colorful decorations. “You Got the Part!” (2:12) is video footage of Unkrich delivering the best Christmas present ever to Gonzalez (Miguel). “Deleted Scenes” (33:07) features introductory scenes with Unkrich and Molina: “Dia de los Muertos” (an excised opening number when Coco was going to be a full-blown musical), “The Way of the Riveras” (another musical sequence), “Celebrity Tour,” “The Bus Escape,” “Alebrije Attack,” “The Family Fix,” and “To the Bridge.” And finally, the film’s “Trailers & Promos” include “Feeling — United States Trailer #1” (2:12), “Dante’s Lunch — Web Exclusive” (1:56), “Destiny — Mexico Trailer” (2:34), “Journey — Brazil Trailer” (2:01), “Belong — Australian Trailer” (2:13), and “Un Poco Coco” (3:05).

Coco was a true return to form for Pixar after a little bit of a slump and being overshadowed by Disney — who is on fire these days. But with a huge heart and jaw-dropping animation, Coco proves that Pixar can still deliver — not that I ever doubted them. The 4K disc provides the uptick in resolution you’d expect crafting and almost 3D appearance. Unfortunately, while the Dolby Atmos track is better mixed than the 7.1 DTS, it continues Disney’s underwhelming audio record. If only they could get their 4K discs to sound as spectacular as they look. Needless to say, the 4K UltraHD Blu-ray is the best way to watch Coco at home, but the Blu-ray disc continues to show there’s still some life in the format.

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Movie Review: “Red Sparrow”

Red Sparrow

* out of 5
139 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at

In the current #metoo climate, Red Sparrow should be the last movie getting a wide release. Filled with enough rape and violence against women to make anyone uncomfortable, it’s surprising to see Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role — especially after being one of the original Fappening victims where nude photos were leaked online.

Reteaming with her Hunger Games director, Francis Lawrence, maybe the two of them were looking to make something more adult. But all I could think by the end credits is that Lawrence had some kind of vendetta against JLaw’s rising stardom he helped create and wanted to get some kind of revenge.

Ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is one of Russia’s top performers, until she breaks her leg. Scrambling to make ends meet for herself and her sick mother Nina (Joely Richardson), her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) talks her into helping him He works for Russian intelligence and needs to replace a Russian politician’s phone with a state-provided phone. Of course things go awry. The diplomat is killed and Ivan offers Dominika the opportunity to work for the state.

Meanwhile, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is a CIA operative in Moscow meeting an asset but the police set Nate on the run and his contact goes missing. Soon enough, Dominika is set after Nate and the two are caught up in a game of cat-and-mouse with the high ranking General Vladimir Andreievich Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) hoping to flush out a mole.

There’s way more plot involved than this and that synopsis was already convoluted enough. Sometimes adaptations — this is based on the novel by Jason Matthews — can feel long-winded when they stick too close to the book and there’s no reason Red Sparrow needed to be 140 minutes long. When rape is used for entertainment purposes it’s one of the most uncomfortable thing you can watch.

While JLaw is telling bloggers to not see her movie on Stephen Colbert, I can’t help but wonder if she’s really upset with the bloggers or if she’s just embarrassed by the film. Hopefully the latter. Even Edgerton is surprisingly boring and Charlotte Rampling as the Headmistress of Sparrow School should know better than to star in something this seedy. Red Sparrow is simply reprehensible. It adds nothing new to the spy genre, while making you wonder what JLaw’s agent was thinking.

Movie Review: “Death Wish”

Death Wish
** out of 5
107 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout
MGM Pictures

Article first published at

Eli Roth has never been become synonymous with revenge thrillers. After marking his territory in the horror genre with Cabin Fever and the first two Hostels, Roth may be more well known as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterd, “The Bear Jew.” He went back to the drawing board with the horror/comedy The Green Inferno, but then shifted away with 2015’s Sundance entry, and remake, Knock Knock.. With Death Wish, yet another remake, Roth continues with the revenge thriller genre — and not in a good way. Death Wish has no idea what message it wants to say, and Roth decides to give it the kitchen sink approach instead.

For Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), he’s got it all with a loving wife and daughter — Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and Jordan (Camila Morrone) — and according to his brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio) he’s the one with all the money. Unfortunately, Frank tells this to the wrong valet and sure enough, robbers come calling. Paul isn’t home during the robbery which finds Lucy shot dead and Jordan in a coma, so now he’s dealing with the dead-end investigation by Detectives Rains (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise). Now, Paul decides to take matters into his own hands, teach himself how to handle a gun via YouTube, and get revenge on the thugs who ruined his life.

In light of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, the most vulgar aspect of Death Wish is that the release date wasn’t bumped back. As cringeworthy as the dialogue may be, as bad as some of the acting may be, and as boneheaded as the directing may be, I can’t help but wonder if the NRA paid MGM to go ahead and release it. There’s also some painfully obvious reshoots, along with the film’s wishy washy handling of gun rights. Is Roth anti-gun, pro-gun, spoofing guns?

Death Wish tries to push the envelope as a ’90s wannabe thriller and falls apart on every level.