Movie Reviews

In Hollywood, there is no try. There’s do (and fail), fail (and do) until something, anything inevitably sticks with moviegoers, breathing new life into a thirty-year-old series in desperate need of reinvention, The Predator, co-written and directed by Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), proves what 20th Century Fox executives should have known – or maybe they’ve known all along – the Predator series should never have been a series. It should have stopped at one. The Predator was – and continues to be – near impossible to beat, let alone match, the combo of peak Arnold, ace action-director John McTiernan (Die Hard), and a dreadlocked, crab-faced, spine-ripping alien hunter caught up in jungle-set, deadly game of hide-and-seek. Bigger, faster, and armed with super-advanced tech, the Predator bloodily dispatched well-armed (in every sense) mercs, but proved no match for the former Mr. Universe (a/k/a, the Austrian Oak). Arnold, however, smartly stayed away from every sequel or spin-off greenlit by Fox in the misguided hope they could capture the magic of the original. They couldn’t and they haven’t. (more…)

Moviegoers of a certain age and temperament will never see Silly String, the Wham-O product turned forgettable fad almost five decades ago, the same way again after Brian “Son of Jim” Henson’s (The Muppet Christmas Carol) R-rated, puppet-themed comedy, The Happytime Murders, hits an all-too-early, literal climax involving two super-enthusiastic, randy puppets engaged in sexual congress of an entirely unexpected kind. It blows past the boundaries of good taste (whatever that is) into seriously demented, shock, and awe territory. It’s subversive with a small “s,” probably worthy of applause and appreciation, but it’s also laugh out loud, “slide to the floor out of your recliner” hilarious. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill on a bike with no brakes from there, the gags become less frequent and novel, the jokes take on repetitive staleness, and the characters, human and puppet alike, go through the motions of a tired, overused neo-noir/buddy cop plot. (more…)

At 63, two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington doesn’t need a franchise, superhero-related or otherwise, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to participate in an ongoing series, if mostly for box-office viability (just ask Tom Cruise and an A-list career sustained in large part due to the continuing success of the Mission: Impossible series). Not surprisingly, the Washington we meet in The Equalizer 2 is older, slower, even heavier, but that doesn’t stop his character, Robert McCall, an ex-CIA black ops operative, from easily dispatching men several decades younger without breaking as much as a sweat or suffering superficial paper cuts. Believable? Maybe, maybe not, but with Washington contributing the focus, commitment, and dedication typical of an Oscar-worthy or Oscar-caliber effort, believability almost doesn’t matter. What does matter, though, is The Equalizer 2 suffers from a been-there, seen-it-all-before quality that ultimately delivers minimal, marginal entertainment value (one or two or three scenes excepted).

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After sitting through Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson’s third film in less than a year, Skyscraper, you won’t believe a man can fly – Christopher Reeve as Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent got there first forty years ago and he was wearing spandex and a cape – but you’ll believe Johnson’s one-legged character, Will Sawyer, can leap tall buildings (not leap over, however) to save his family from a burning mega-skyscraper and the rando, vaguely European terrorists who started the fire to steal an ultra-high value MacGuffin. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from one of the hardest working performers in Hollywood (three films in seven months, with another half-dozen on the way over the next two or three years), but for Johnson’s super-fans, it’ll be more than enough to overlook Skyscraper’s paper-thin, second-rate plot – a mash-up of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and every action-film cliché in between – forgettable, throwaway villains, a plot and setting deliberately geared toward Asian-Pacific audiences, and mediocre action scenes lathered in CGI spectacle.

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Five years ago, a C- or even D-level superhero carrying his own standalone franchise seemed like a risky proposition, but where Marvel – and more specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – goes, moviegoers have followed (10 years, 20 movies, and counting), with little or no signs of boredom. It’s helped that the MCU has Marvel’s 60-year (give or take a few years) history to pick and choose from, but it’s also helped that Marvel’s leadership, specifically uber-producer Kevin Feige, have pushed the boundaries of what the superhero genre can offer mainstream audiences, while giving an increasingly diverse group of filmmakers creative opportunities unusual for corporate-owned, billion-dollar franchises. For Edgar Wright and his long-in-the-making Ant-Man, that didn’t happen. He left the production months before shooting began over “creative differences,” but Marvel being Marvel, they pushed on with Peyton Reed taking over for Wright. Wright’s fans might have been disappointed, but the Reed-directed Ant-Man still managed to deliver quality superhero thrills. Spoiler alert: Ant-Man and the Wasp (the first MCU film to headline a female character) does Ant-Man better in just about every way (e.g., story, character, and visuals). (more…)

When Disney purchased LucasFilm – and with it, the Star Wars universe – from George Lucas, it was clear their plans didn’t just include a new trilogy (it did), but franchise building and expansion through spin-offs, prequels, TV shows (animated so far, live-action in the near future), novels, and comic books. It was, however briefly, an exciting time for longtime Star Wars fans, but Disney, guided by the corporate conservatism that puts a premium on low-risk, high-reward decision making over originality, creativity, and imagination, led first to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a wholly unnecessary, semi-satisfying prequel that explored the how, if not the why, a small group of rebels stole the Death Star’s plans from the fearsome Empire, and now, after the high-profile departure of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) and their almost immediate replacement by Oscar winning, hit-hunting Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13), Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Han Solo post-Revenge of the Sith and pre-A New Hope origin story we didn’t know we wanted or needed. Spoiler alert: Need or want aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers everything we’ve come to love about the Star Wars universe: action, character, humor, and spectacle. (more…)

Releasing a second- or third-tier superhero flick, especially an ultra-violent, superhero comedy over the Valentine’s Day weekend seemed like a joke in and of itself, a joke financed to the tune of $60 million (modest for superhero flicks, a significant chunk of change for anything else), but that’s exactly the gamble 20th-Century Fox decided to take two years ago with the R-rated, Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool. More than $780 million dollars later and Fox’s gamble didn’t look a gamble at all. It looked like a low-risk, high-reward perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable decision. A sequel – the first of many presumably – was inevitable (movie studios are for-profit corporations after all), but with Reynolds, here taking a co-writing credit in addition to slipping back into Deadpool’s red-and-black spandex outfit, and some smart, clever lifts from Deadpool’s extensive comic-book history, the result, Deadpool 2: When Deadpool Met Cable (And Fell into a Mutual Admiration Society), gives fans more of the same (as expected), but also gives the same fans far more (definitely unexpected). (more…)

After ten years, 18 movies, 30,000 visual effects (someone actually counted), and multi-billion-dollar grosses the envy of every Hollywood movie studio (except Disney, of course), the Marvel brand of superhero storytelling has never been stronger or more popular with mainstream moviegoers. The 19th – and far from last – entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Anthony and Joe Russo-directed Avengers: Infinity War, delivers everything moviegoers have come to expect, sometimes even love about Marvel: layered superhero characters, screen-splitting, epic-scaled action, and a cannily calibrated mix of drama and comedy, usually with the fate of the world, the galaxy, and sometimes even the universe at stake. It’s practically impossible to get bigger, more meaningful stakes wise than the known universe (unless we bring the multiverse into the discussion, but that’s for another time and place). Be prepared: Avengers: Infinity War may be the darkest, most downbeat, least emotionally gratifying entry in the entire MCU canon. The stakes feel real, the threats to our favorite superheroes even realer.

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“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” That’s Wade’s second pass phrase to login to the OASIS, as he is free-falling into brooding teenage depression. That one line should resonate loud and proud in every fans heads as they leave Ready Player One.

Before taking a comparative deep dive into this, be WARNED, this take is SPOILER heavy and is very much intended for those who have seen the movie and have read/familiar with the book. (more…)

If Star Wars: The Force Awakens taught us anything, it’s that there’s no “happily every after” in the Star Wars universe. Empires fall, but they rise again. And like empires, republics rise and fall again. A cynic would add, “Especially not when there’s tens of billions of dollars to be made from Stars Wars fans, diehard or otherwise,” but cynicism has no place – or at least shouldn’t have a place – when it comes to writer-director Rian Johnson’s (Looper, The Brothers Bloom, Brick) follow-up, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the middle chapter in a third trilogy that will eventually span nine films. Temporarily borrowing the directing reins from J.J. Abrams (Abrams will direct the ninth and presumably final entry in the Skywalker Saga), Johnson has succeeded beyond even the highest expectations, delivering a Star Wars not for 2017, not for 2019, but for a soon-to-be-classic that will rightly take its place with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back as the best the Star Wars franchise has to offer.   (more…)