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Strong Character-Driven Comedy/Drama
I didn't really know much about Blindspotting before I went to go see it. I had seen the trailer a couple of times, but I didn't have the strongest sense of what the film was actually about. I went and saw Blindspotting as part of my new initiative to see a new movie in theaters every Saturday morning. It gives me an excuse to go see movies that aren't the big blockbusters that I've been looking forward to for months and months, and Blindspotting certainly fits that bill. It centers around two friends, Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal), who reach a bit of a crossroads as Collin is finishing up his probation and begins to reassess whether Miles is really a healthy person to keep in his life going forward. Blindspotting does a really great job in balancing comedy and drama, as it tells the story of these characters while also hinting at larger issues that surround them. Through some really creative and innovative techniques, Blindspotting works as a non-confrontational social commentary, with the development of its characters being at its forefront...
The Meg (2018)
The Meg Doesn't Know if it's The Shallows or Sharknado
Ever since Jaws came out in 1975, the movie-going audience has had a fascination with sharks. Every time a shark movie comes out, it seems like people flock to go see it. I don't know if people are collectively hoping each film will be as good as Jaws, or if people are just drawn to sharks, but there seems to be worldwide anticipation every time a new shark movie is coming out. Nowadays, there are really only two kinds of shark movies that are made. You have the serious thrillers like The Shallows, and then you have the absurdly ridiculous ones such as the Sharknado films. And when the trailers for The Meg came out, a lot of people thought it would be almost in the vein of a Sharknado movie. I personally thought it looked more like it was going to be just plain dumb instead of being dumb fun, but I know a lot of anticipation surrounded this film. So I went and saw it, and I didn't like it but I also didn't hate it. The problem with The Meg is that it doesn't know which of these two types of shark movies it wants to be. Sometimes it wants to just be big zany fun, and then sometimes it tries to be uber serious with narrative building and character development. The Meg has a real identity crisis, and it would have been for the better if it had just picked one and stuck with it...
Christopher Robin (2018)
Pretty Paint-by-the-Numbers, But Has Plenty of Heart and Charm
The story of the Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh is timeless. In some form or another, everyone knows about the world of Winnie the Pooh, and that's why the marketing for Disney's Christopher Robin has been so interesting. It features Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) as a grown up Christopher Robin who has a wife (Hayley Atwell, Captain America: The First Avenger) and a daughter (Bronte Carmichael, The Darkest Hour). And when he becomes too focused on work and loses sight of what is truly important in life, Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) then enters the fold. I think the trailers for Christopher Robin have been excellent. Not only have they played on nostalgia, but they've had so much heart and charm to them. I never thought that a Winnie the Pooh movie would become one of my most anticipated films of the summer, but Christopher Robin sure did. So I went into the movie really excited for it, and Christopher Robin is a good movie. It's pretty paint-by-the-numbers in terms of its narrative--you can pretty much tell exactly how it's going to go just based off of the trailers--but Ewan McGregor gives a great performance, and the film has an abundance of heart and charm...
The Equalizer 2 (2018)
Same Strengths and Weaknesses as the First Film
Denzel Washington is simply one of the best actors working today. There's no real question about it. I still contend that he should have won Best Actor at the 2017 Academy Awards for his role in Fences instead of Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. Affleck was really good, but I thought that Washington acted circles around him. So whenever Denzel is in a movie, it immediately has my attention. The Equalizer 2 comes four years after its predecessor, and I thought the first movie was good but not great. Denzel was, of course, excellent as always, but an unevenly paced second act and too many subplots dragged the movie down. But while The Equalizer had its shortcomings, there was a lot of possibilities with a sequel. Perhaps Antoine Fuqua learned from The Equalizer's mistakes, and could deliver on a tighter, stronger sequel. So while I wasn't counting down the days until I got to see The Equalizer 2, I went in hoping it would deliver. And The Equalizer 2 is pretty much the same as the first one. Denzel Washington gives another great performance, and Antoine Fuqua delivers on great action sequences, but it is still too long of a film with an over complicated narrative...
Leave No Trace (2018)
It seems like every year we get at least one movie about a family who lives out in the woods. In 2016 we got Captain Fantastic, in 2017 we got The Glass Castle, and now, in 2018, we get Leave No Trace. I always find these movies interesting, because they usually dive into the psychology and the philosophy behind living in the woods isolated from society. And with that usually comes some compelling storytelling and excellent performances. With Leave No Trace, Army veteran Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live out in the woods until they are forced to assimilate into society, which causes a divide between the two. I didn't really know anything about this movie going in but, as part of my new initiative to see a new film in theaters every Saturday morning, I went to go see it, and I quite liked it. While I'd say I probably like Captain Fantastic and The Glass Castle more, Leave No Trace is a great drama featuring two strong performances from two talented actors. This film isn't going to win any Oscars or make any big splashes in pop culture, but for what it is as a film, Leave No Trace is certainly worth the watch...
Best Action Movie Since Mad Max: Fury Road
Christopher McQuarrie's mission, should he chose to accept it, is to make the sixth installment in a 22 year old movie franchise feel exciting and fresh, and he pulls it off in spades. I've been looking forward to Mission: Impossible - Fallout, though it never topped my list as one of my most anticipated films of the year. I was mainly looking forward to it because I've enjoyed the past two installments, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the latter of which Christopher McQuarrie also directed. He is the first director to helm more than one film in the franchise, and after seeing the great job he did with Rogue Nation, I was very curious to see what he would do with Fallout. I never imagined I would like Fallout as much as I did. Somehow, McQuarrie found a way to make the sixth installment be the franchise's best. The stunts Tom Cruise and team pull off are mind boggling. The action sequences are some of the most intense ones I have ever seen, and this is the best action film I have seen in theaters since Mad Max: Fury Road. Mission: Impossible - Fallout is truly fantastic...
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
A Nice Contrast to the Devastating Epic that is Avengers: Infinity War
How do you follow up the shocking gut-punch that is Avengers: Infinity War? With a lighthearted, standalone comedy like Ant-Man and the Wasp, naturally. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has always been an interesting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is one of the more absurd heroes, and yet Marvel found a way to make him appealing back in 2015. Paul Rudd is excellent as the character, and he brings something to the universe that nobody else really does. Ant-Man was a good film, and I liked it very much. I don't think it's one of Marvel's best, but it's a solid movie that I definitely enjoyed. So I've been looking forward to the sequel. With Evangeline Lily now suited up right alongside Rudd as the Wasp, I thought that this one had the potential to exceed the first film. I have to see Ant-Man again, but I do think I still like that one more than this new one. Ant-Man and the Wasp has a lot of great comedy and is immensely entertaining, though its storytelling is rather simplistic and can even come across as cheesy and cliched at times. But while the writing isn't the strongest, it's the characters and the dynamic between Rudd and Lily that really make this film succeed...
Hotel Artemis (2018)
What happens when you take a cool, John Wick-inspired story and add a really great cast? Well, you should get a really awesome movie. Emphasis on "should". Ever since I saw the first trailer for Hotel Artemis, I've been really looking forward to it. It has a stacked cast, including Sterling K. Brown, Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, and Jeff Goldblum. They are all really good actors, and to have them all together sounded great. The film focuses on a hotel for criminals, run by Foster's character. The plot does sound heavily influenced by John Wick, but never for a second did I think it was actually ripping off John Wick; I thought it would be inspired by it, and that writer/director Drew Pearce could offer up a really cool film. Well, I was wrong. I was dead wrong. Hotel Artemis is a snooze-fest. The performances range from merely fine to cringe-worthy. The action (when there is any) is basic and typical. The story is not compelling, and neither are the characters. Hotel Artemis, while the technical side of things are well done, just doesn't have anything interesting about it, and it's a movie you will instantly forget about as soon as you leave the theater...
Action Point (2018)
Not A Great Movie, But a Great Movie Theater Experience
There is a certain stipulation that comes with any Jackass movie. You're not sitting down for an Oscar caliber movie. You're not expecting great film. Rather, you're coming to see a bunch of dumb guys getting hit in the nuts, falling into cacti, and wrestling with dangerous animals. The real life stunts, and the sh*t these guys put themselves through for a laugh, is why you go, and it is endlessly entertaining. With Action Point, star Johnny Knoxville is going in a different direction. Instead of the film just being a bunch of sketches and stunts edited together, there is an actual story going along with it. It's a real movie, with a narrative and characters and everything, but all the stunts are done for real in true Jackass form. The blend is an interesting idea, and it's one that made me actually kind of excited for this movie. Bad Grandpa had some narrative to it, and it actually worked out pretty well. But I was interested in seeing how it would work when they went completely in on it. And it works out quite well, actually. Action Point isn't a great movie, but it's entertaining as hell. I had an excellent time in the theater, cracking up laughing with all my friends, enjoying this movie. Is it stupid? Yes, absolutely. But if you like the style of humor that the Jackass movies present, then you're going to enjoy Action Point. The movie centers around D.C. (Knoxville) who, in his elder years, recounts to his granddaughter his glory days of operating a sketchy amusement park called Action Point.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Awesome Movie Theater Experience
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Captain America (Chris Evans). Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Vision (Paul Bettany). Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Falcon (Anthony Mackie). War Machine (Don Cheadle). The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Wong (Benedict Wong). Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Drax (Dave Bautista). Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper). Groot (Vin Diesel). Nebula (Karen Gillan). Thanos (Josh Brolin) is coming, and it's going to take all of these heroes (and more!) to take him and his Black Order down before he can retrieve all of the infinity stones and bring "balance" to the universe through mass genocide. This is a supersized movie to say the least, and ten years of Marvel movies have all been building to this movie. Since the first Avengers movie, when we saw Thanos in the post credits' scene, every single MCU film has been leading to this. You can read our ranking of all the MCU movies here. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. Avengers: Infinity War is a fantastic movie theater experience. I felt every range of emotion I have, from anger to sadness to joy to fear. The biggest detractor of Infinity War (with no spoilers, of course) is the question of where does the story go from here, and the implications the ending has.
Innovative Cinematography, But the Story/Characters/Dialogue is Lacking
Up until I saw it in theaters, I knew Unsane exclusively as the movie that was shot on an iPhone. I knew it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, who's given us such films as Ocean's Eleven and Logan Lucky. However, I knew nothing about the plot or really what kind of genre of film this was. All I knew was that it had been filmed on an iPhone. While that's certainly interesting, and I was definitely curious to see how it would look on the big screen, I couldn't help but think of it exclusively as a gimmick. I sounded like Unsane was saying, "Hey guys, we're the movie that was filmed on an iPhone! Be sure to check us out because that's cool!". That's not a good thing for a movie to do, so that did make me a little hesitant going into the film. However, surprisingly enough, the fact that this movie was filmed on an iPhone actually enhances it, to the point where the same effect could not have been captured on a regular camera. While it does lack a bit in story, and there are some wooden performances and some cheesy dialogue, the camera work done by Soderbergh himself is incredible, especially all the innovative ways he uses the iPhone to shoot a completely unique-looking movie...
Love, Simon (2018)
I was not expecting it to be as good as it is!
"Everyone deserves a great love story," says Simon, the main character of Love, Simon, played by Nick Robinson. It's sad to say that, with the hundreds of movies that come out every year, we have only a finite number of gay love stories. We've had a few movies about gay people finding themselves, such as Moonlight, but there are barely any regular coming-of-age romantic comedies about gay kids, and that is incredibly unfortunate. Luckily, we now have Love, Simon. It comes from Greg Berlanti, who is openly gay himself, who has made a name for himself running uber-successful comic book shows on television such as Arrow and The Flash. He has also produced some movies including Green Lantern and Pan. With Love, Simon, Berlanti directs his third feature film, following The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy and Life as We Know It. I have not seen his previous movies, but Berlanti has done a phenomenal job with his television series. So since I knew Berlanti more as a TV guy, and because I wasn't familiar with his movie directing style (nor were his previous films huge critical successes, having a 64% and a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively), I wasn't sure how Love, Simon was going to turn out. However, it's a fantastic movie. Berlanti does a phenomenal job delivering on a film that entirely emotionally hooks you...
Ready Player One (2018)
I Will Never Doubt Spielberg Again
Ready Player One takes place in a world where everyone is so absorbed in technology that they pay no attention to the real world. In other words, it takes place in 2018. Steven Spielberg brings the novel of the same title by Ernest Cline to the big screen, and, from the looks of the trailers, I didn't know exactly how this could be adapted effectively. I never read the book, but the trailers looked so wild and zany that it seemed almost impossible for anyone to pull it off. The only thing that made me think Ready Player One could work was that it was being directed by Spielberg, arguably the greatest director working today. But still, I was apprehensive. I have since learned never to doubt the holy master Steven Spielberg. He turns in a magnificent film, one that balances the style perfectly with the substance. Sure, it's big and flashy with tons of CGI, but it also has a lot to say about where we are heading as a species and how we are losing our ability to connect with each other. It's a profound film that puts to rest any doubts anyone may have had that Spielberg no longer has it; he most certainly does...
Great Performances But Too Slow
It was June 19, 2016 when Anton Yelchin passed away. I remember that being such a sad day for the film community. Yelchin was so young and had so much promise as an actor. Plus, his death was a freak accident, which made it all the more tragic. It was sad to lose such a budding talent, and Thoroughbreds is his last performance on screen. The film follows Anya Taylor-Joy (Split) and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), who play two teenagers who form an unlikely friendship after having grown apart. They work together to solve both of their problems, which ends up going to some extreme lengths. I tried to stay away from the trailers, so I didn't know too much about the story going on. I love all the actors in it, and I was looking forward to seeing what they would turn in. Thoroughbreds is a solid movie with great performances, though it is a little bit too slow at times for my liking...
Great Performances and Visuals, But Lacks Substance
With his directorial debut, Ex Machina, Alex Garland delivered on a fabulously fresh science fiction film. It dealt with strong issues concerning artificial intelligence and, even beyond that, it talked about the capacity of human love. Garland came out guns blazing with that film, so a lot of attention has since been drawn to his sophomore effort, Annihilation. The movie stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a widowed biologist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) disappeared while stationed overseas. She later learns the truth about his involvement in a government expedition into the Shimmer, a mysterious environmental disaster zone of extraterrestrial origins. Lena subsequently signs up to be part of the next expedition, this time consisting of all scientists, as they set out to figure out what exactly the Shimmer is. And that question is never quite answered. Annihilation has some great performances and some breathtaking visual effects, but the story lacks the depth that Ex Machina has, and it never gives you enough to be able to come to your own conclusions about what the Shimmer is. Instead, you're simply left asking, "What was that?"
Tomb Raider (2018)
An Earnest Attempt to Break the Curse, But Ultimately Fails
There has yet to be a really good video game movie adaptation. Many have tried, and none have succeeded. Even ones with outstanding talent behind it, such as Assassin's Creed, have fallen completely flat on their face. And with each upcoming video game movie, we all hope it will be the one to break the curse. For a while, I thought Tomb Raider could be the one. It stars Alicia Vikander, who won an Oscar for her performance in The Danish Girl. She plays Lara Croft, the daughter of a missing adventurer. When signing her father's will, Croft discovers a clue that leads her on a mission to an island where she must stop Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), the leader of a mysterious evil organization called Trinity. The more trailers I saw, the less enthusiastic I became for Tomb Raider, but still I held out hope that it would at least be entertaining. And the film is ultimately a very mixed bag. While there is fun to be had with Tomb Raider, I found myself laughing a lot during the runtime, and not at the things the movie wanted me to laugh at...
Red Sparrow (2018)
Entertaining, But Average
Jennifer Lawrence is a rather versatile actor. Whether she's playing the leader of a revolution in The Hunger Games or a metaphorical Mother Nature in mother!, Lawrence is known for being as much of a chameleon with her acting as her character of Mystique is in the X-Men franchise. With Red Sparrow, Lawrence portrays Dominika, a desperate woman looking to take care of her sick mother, and will do this by any means necessary. The means are becoming a Red Sparrow, a special Russian operative who uses his or her body in order to seduce people for the betterment of the country. Dominika's task is to get close with an American CIA agent, played by Joel Edgerton. But it is never quite clear as to which side she is truly on, as she expertly plays both sides in this increasingly tense battle over intelligence between the two countries. Led by her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence turns in another great performance, even if the film itself is too long and slowly paced...
Game Night (2018)
Flat Out Not Funny
Comedy is a hard genre to get right on screen. It is one of the most subjective kinds of films there is, and even comedies that are generally defined as being great can still fall flat for some people. That is simply the nature of the art of comedy. Unfortunately, this results in us, the consumers, not getting very many good comedies. Instead, there is an overabundance of brutally sh*tty comedies that make you dig your face into the palm of your hand and question why you wasted $10 and two hours of your time to watch this garbage. This was exactly my experience with Game Night, the new film from Vacation directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. I doubt many people were counting down the days until they could go see Game Night, nor could anyone be blamed for thinking it looked like a steaming pile of sh*t. The trailers never came across as if the film could actually be anything worthwhile. But then, the unimaginable happened. Reviews began dropping for the movie, and it suddenly was certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with an 81% critics rating. I had never intended on seeing Game Night, but after seeing the surprisingly strong reviews it was getting, I decided to go check it out. However, I have come to regret that decision. Game Night is everything I had originally thought it was going to be, from having terrible humor to cringe-worthy performances...
Black Panther (2018)
A Very Different Kind of Marvel Movie
You would be hard pressed to find another 2018 film that has as much cultural and societal significance as Black Panther. A giant blockbuster comic book film, with a (nearly) all black cast, black writers, and a black director. If you have ever questioned whether representation on screen is truly important, just look at the philanthropic movements surrounding this movie. With the "Black Panther Challenge", money is being raised so that black youths--who could not afford to see it themselves--can go watch the film. The amount of love surrounding this movie almost matches the film's own innate messages, and it shows just how powerful the medium of film can be. This is exactly why movies are made. So while we take the time to discuss and analyze the film, it's important to have this preface of the significance of this movie, as that is far more important in the long run than all the tiny details and Easter Eggs Marvel fans will pick apart and debate. With that said, Black Panther is a really great movie. It personally is not in my top five Marvel Cinematic Universe movies like it is for some people, but it is a great film that stands out as being one of the more unique entries into the MCU, mainly due to Ryan Coogler's direction...
Phantom Thread (2017)
Some May Find it Boring; I Found it Riveting
Most men, when trying to woo a woman, are looking to take her clothes off. Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, however, looks to put more clothes on. In his final role before his supposed retirement from film, Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an enigmatic fashion designer in 1950's London who is consumed by his work. He is the most eccentrically elitist dress maker you could possibly find. If you eat your toast too loud during breakfast, you have ruined his entire day--that's the kind of man we're dealing with here. And this presents a challenge for Alma (Vicky Krieps). She is in love with this man because of his idiosyncrasies and his dedication to his craft, but those are the exact things keeping them apart. A conversation they have drastically changes her approach to winning him over, as she begins to play the same "game" she perceives him to be playing. And with this comes a fascinating back-and-forth over who will dominant their relationship. Phantom Thread presents a truly interesting look at the relationship between an artist and his art, and how that relationship affects those close to him. Simultaneously, it also showcases a rather toxic partnership between a man and a woman, and the extents they will go to to manipulate each other...
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Not a Great Movie, But Sets Up Great Possibilities for the Cloverfield Franchise
I'm not sure what my reaction to this movie would have been had we gotten three full trailers, a series of posters, and it was released in theaters. Had we gotten all of that, and I went out and paid $10 for a ticket, and I saw the exact same movie I just watched on Netflix, I think I would have liked it significantly less. While it has a strong cast and quality looking effects, The Cloverfield Paradox does not work as a theatrically released film. You do watch Netflix original movies with a different lens; you don't have as high expectations for it as you would for a theatrically released movie. So that's probably why I had more fun with Cloverfield Paradox. It is not a great movie. It has very shallow characters, a loosely defined plot, and many question marks surrounding it, but I was very rarely not entertained while watching it...
Fascinating Character Study, But Struggles With Pace
Hostiles centers around Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), a hardened American soldier who absolutely despises Native Americans. He says that he has seen enough savagery from them to surmise that all Native Americans are lawless mass-killers. However, when his superior (Stephan Lang) orders him to oversee the safe travel of the dying Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his rightful land, Joe must come to grips with his own prejudice. With his fourth directorial effort, Scott Cooper crafts a fascinating look at when the falsehoods a man believes crumbles right before his eyes. How does one adapt when something they've believed their entire lives is entirely dismantled? While the second act does have some dry patches, Hostiles is an interesting character study, backed by a great performance from Christian Bale, even if the film does struggle with its pace...
The Commuter (2018)
Not the Worst January Movie, But Definitely Lackluster
The initial concept the movie presents is actually quite interesting. It sets itself up with an interesting social question, of what people will do to protect themselves and to what lengths they will help others. This moral dilemma Michael is put in could have gone in a really cool direction, and could have made the film rather compelling. However, subsequent cliches and plot holes overtake the movie instead, and the potential for a fascinating social commentary is wasted. Upon the reveal of the final twists, inconsistencies come about. Once the story begins defying very basic logic, such as guns firing off in one compartment of the train and nobody in the neighboring compartment having the slightest idea anything is happening, it became very hard for me to stay invested. There are many improbabilities that arise, such as how certain characters know the information they do, or how all of these coincidences perfectly align. For a movie like this, you can usually forgive that kind of thing. However, the trade-off to that is that I became far less invested in the film, and thus, I am less engaged. When that happens, it becomes hard to find anything really enjoyable...
The Post (2017)
...the film is very well written and structured to give important character arcs to Streep and Hanks' characters, ones that further the message of the film. It addresses topical issues in today's political climate without ever coming across as preachy or condescending, and is effective in its demonstration of the power of the First Amendment, and the vitally important role the press plays in a free democracy. Steven Spielberg encapsulates all of this wonderfully in a riveting drama that had me on the edge of my seat...
Molly's Game (2017)
Aaron Sorkin Proves He Has What It Takes to be a Director
Aaron Sorkin proves that he has what it takes to be a director now. He shows that he has a strong command over the camera, as well as giving us another excellent screenplay. I said before that a poker movie needs to appeal to non-poker players as well, and Molly's Game does that. It definitely has exciting poker moments, but the stakes are there because we are invested in the characters. We care about Molly's crusade, and thus, through that, we are invested in the game. Even if some audience members don't understand or like the game of poker, Sorkin structures the movie in a way where they can still enjoy the film without missing any of the story beats. This is a smart script, done to mirror Molly's own intelligence. It is incredibly stylized, and it absolutely works for this movie. It's not done for the sake of being stylized; it's done to further enrich and explain Molly Bloom. This is done through excellently written narration, and enhanced by graphics and clips. Altogether, it excellently captures her character, which is something few writers can truly accomplish, and Sorkin has done so...