“Incredibles 2”

I loved Pixar’s superhero movie, The Incredibles, but didn’t hold my breath for a sequel. I’m happy to report the overdue sequel is as incredible (pun intended) as its predecessor.

The Parr family continue fighting crime as The Incredibles. After a fight with a diabolical villain ends in disaster, superheroes are once again outlawed. Things change when billionaire media mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) recruits Helen (Holly Hunter) to reprise her Elastigirl alias. Meanwhile, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) struggles as a stay-at-home dad dealing with Dash’s (Huck Milner) homework, Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) teen angst, and Jack-Jack developing a new power every five minutes.

Director Brad Bird once again shows great passion and skill with the highly entertaining Incredibles 2. This is a beautifully animated, hilarious, and thrilling sequel. Bird admitted he waited fourteen years to make sure Incredibles 2 was as good as the original; it’s close.

The formula is familiar; Bob misses his superhero life while he and Violet debate how to raise their kids, there’s a superhero revival opportunity, and a self-righteous supervillain. The villain is a cyberterrorist called Screenslaver, who manipulates people to commit crimes with electronic screens.  Why? Because Screenslaver feels that society is lazy and too dependent on superheroes.

Despite the grandiose action sequences, the highlight of the film is Jack-Jack! The surprised reactions from Bob, the kids, and Edna (Brad Bird) are hilariously realistic while Jack-Jack’s powers range between funny (he turns into a giant baby), cute (he fights a raccoon with his newfound powers), and occasionally scary (he turns into a goblin-looking creature at one moment). The repeated line, “Jack-Jack has powers?” never gets old here.

The big reveal with Screenslaver is a tad predictable, but I can forgive that minor flaw due to Bird’s directing, Michael Giachinno’s epic music score, and a strong cast. Nelson and Hunter once again deliver wonderful and expressive performances and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Lucius Best/Frozone and has great one-liners. Odenkirk applies his Saul Goodman charm as the shady-yet-charming Winston, Catherine Keener is terrific as Winston’s tech-wiz sister, and even Sophia Bush of One Tree Hill fame has a few solid moments as the socially awkward superhero, Voyd.

This summer is packed with comic book films. We already got Deadpool 2 and Infinity War (both great comic book movies), but Incredibles 2 might be the best superhero movie of this summer.

Grade: A

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“Annihilation”

We’re only two months into 2018 and I’ve already seen two movies that will most likely be on my best of the year list. The first was last week’s exceptional Black Panther; the second is Alex Garland’s (Ex-Machina) latest sci-fi thriller, Annihilation.

Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) is stunned when her missing husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) arrives home ill. Shortly after, both taken to a military base outside a mysterious portal called “The Shimmer.” Lena then joins an expedition led by Doctor Ventriss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into The Shimmer to find answers; however, the laws of nature and physics don’t apply in The Shimmer.

Annihilation is a great example of a film with a mediocre trailer that throws you off guard. I expected a standard B-movie filled with more gore than ideas. There are a couple of gory moments reminiscent of The Thing and Alien, but Annihilation has lots to say. This is a provocative mindtrip.

We don’t get all the answers to what The Shimmer is or its purpose, but Garland trusts the audience enough to make their own interpretations. For me, The Shimmer feeds off of self-destruction. We learn Lena, Ventriss, and the other explorers’ back stories as they encounter mutant creatures and witness The Shimmer grow; none of these characters have an optimistic look on life.

Portman and Leigh both deliver grounded, complex performances as Lena and Ventriss. We see that they’re not only terrified by The Shimmer, but also mesmerized. Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok) is also terrific as Radek, a depressed physicist who has a spiritual view of The Shimmer.

Garland shows growth with AnnihilationEx-Machina was just as narratively intriguing and challenging, but Annihilation is far more ambitious and contains more attention-to-detail. Between composer duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s transition from a calm acoustic guitar to a menacing synthesizer and the simultaneously beautiful and nightmarish imagery, Garland creates a haunting world filled with beauty and terror.

Annihilation is one of the few sci-fi films of this decade that I’ll call an instant classic. It ranks with The Thing and Alien as one of the best sci-fi/body horror mashups of all time.

Grade: A+

“The Cloverfield Paradox”

“Paradox” is a well-suited pronoun for The Cloverfield Paradox, considering it doesn’t answer the questions it was supposed to.

Like in Lost in Space and Danny Boyle’s great Sunshine, Earth is suffering an energy crisis, prompting a space odyssey. Like in Sunshine, GravityMoon, and Life, the crew members are grieving, withdrawn, and headstrong. We have an astronaut who lost her kids (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a scientist who prefers being in space over Earth (Daniel Brühl), and a noble captain with a military background (David Oyelowo). There’s also the wisecracker (Chris O’Dowd), an astronaut who loses his mind (Aksel Hennie), and a caricature (the talented and underused Zhang Ziyi).

Like in Event Horizon, the crew travels into another dimension, then the crew turns on each other, the ship becomes possessed, and a giant monster attacks Earth. None of this is explained other than they went into an alternate dimension.

I admire the Cloverfield franchise because we don’t have many anthological film franchises and the previous entries were unique. Cloverfield combined the found footage and giant monster genres, resulting in a thrilling experience. 10 Cloverfield Lane established the film’s anthological style by acting as a psychological horror film set in the same universe (it’s the best of the trilogy). Paradox tries to establish a chronology to no avail.

SPOILERS OF PREVIOUS FILMS AHEAD!

Cloverfield was set in 2008 and revolves around a monster attack. 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t clear on when it’s set, but an alien invasion occurs. There were also small references in 10 Cloverfield Lane implying they’re in the same universe. Paradox has some small connections such as featuring a minor character from 10 Cloverfield Lane and featuring the Cloverfield monster.

However, if the film takes place in 2028, why is this monster attack happening without any reference to Cloverfield? This is due to a bad move on the studio’s part – turning a movie last minute in to the newest Cloverfield movie.

Paradox was originally titled God’s Particle and had no mention of Cloverfield until J.J. Abrams purchased the film and ordered rewrites and re-shoots to fit in the Cloverfield universe. Given that Paradox was already riddled with cliches and lazy writing, it wouldn’t have been any better, but it would have at least been more contained.

Because of the studio interference and setbacks, Paradox is overstuffed with too many ideas, conflicting tones, and cliched characters. I would have liked to know why a character’s severed arm came to life and how the ship became possessed rather than focus on a monster attack that was better executed in the first Cloverfield film.

In terms of film making, Paradox is amateur. It’s dimly lit with no color scheme, we have characters tell us what we’re seeing as it’s happening, and we even get a cheesy opening credits sequence that belongs in a 1990’s sci-fi channel show. Well, at least the cast tries.

I’m worried about genre films at this point; Netflix bought Paradox since Paramount had a packed schedule this year and studios are already selling films to Netflix for “similar reasons.” Do they really have packed schedules, or are they turning Netflix into the dumpster diver?

Grade: D- (only because the cast tries).

“Insidious: The Last Key”

I’m back! After a nice break, let’s kick off the new year by talking about a January horror movie. We all know how great those are.

Set before the events of the first Insidious, paranormal investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) receives a call to investigate an entity that haunts her childhood home. Elise is hesitant, but takes the job to seek closure.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Insidious films due to James Wan’s fantastic direction. I missed the third installment, but from watching The Last Key, I figured I wasn’t missing much there. The Last Key shows the franchise is on its last legs. isn’t the worst January horror movie, but it’s still not very good.

What made The Last Key’s predecessors memorable was their fresh spin. The first Insidious had refreshingly colorful demons, a lack of jump scares, a focus on childhood trauma, and one chilling conclusion that kept me wide awake. The Last Key succeeds in expanding on the franchise’s themes of trauma and even adds a realistic spin on possession. Unfortunately, it isn’t the same without Wan directing.

Gun-for-hire director Adam Robitel has an understanding of the franchise’s formula and tone, but he lacks vision. Instead of creating a dreadful atmosphere, we get the cliched rustic house with old toys and books lying around. Rather than building tension with editing, we get abrupt jump scares. Let’s not forget him settling for a long-haired, spider-crawling demon over something more original.

The worst sin Robitel commits though is overkilling the film with awkward humor. Elise’s assistants Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) return. I liked these characters in the previous films due to their witty banter; they spend a majority of their time in The Last Key creepily flirting with Elise’s oblivious nieces. I also found it strange that Elise rarely intervenes.

Writing and directing flaws aside, I slightly enjoyed The Last Key for Shaye’s performance as Elise. It was nice to see Shaye in a meaty role rather than be stooped to a exposition tool (my main issue with the first two films). Still, The Last Key is what I expect out of January: a quick studio cash grab.

Grade: C+

2017’s Worst Films

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Though I saw quite a few great films this year, I definitely saw some stinkers. The Mummy and Little Evil won’t make the worst films, but these next top ten will!

10) The Snowman – This convoluted, misogynistic mess of a movie relies too heavily on convenience to move the plot along. Seriously, how’s a raging alcoholic with no driver’s license a detective?

9) The Belko Experiment – Speaking of convoluted, we never learn what the point of the Battle Royale-like experiment is in The Belko Experiment. Instead, we just see a bunch of peoples’ heads explode, which is boring after the second head explosion.

8) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – One cool, flashy montage is fine, but a dozen?! Guy Ritchie should have just made a 20-minute short film instead of making this lazy retelling of the Arthur fable.

7) Sandy Wexler – There’s nothing likable or charming about Adam Sandler’s titular character; instead, we’re forced to watch an unfunny loser for 2.5 hours (who told Sandler he could make a movie that long?). 

6) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – The great Luc Besson kills all potential in his latest film by focusing on the protagonists’ awkward relationship. Plus the non-existent chemistry between leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne digs the film’s grave deeper.

5) Death Note – Adapting an anime to the big screen doesn’t always work, as shown in Death Note. This is a huge misfire. Death Note spends too much time focusing on angsty, horny teenagers killing people and having sex rather than building its mythology and giving a demonic Willem Dafoe more to do.

4) A Cure for Wellness – There’s no point or clear resolution in Gore Verbinski’s overlong style-over-substance exercise, A Cure for Wellness. Verbinski and the screenwriters are desperate to shock their audience with torture and pedophiliac undertones since they couldn’t think of anything interesting to say.

3) Unforgettable – I hate to say this, but this hack job erotic thriller actually had potential. Katherine Heigl makes a convincing ice queen stalker, but Unforgettable is too unrealistic, ridiculous, and generic to take seriously. Save this one for a bad movie night with your friends like I did.

2) Baywatch – Baywatch made me more conservative when watching Dwayne Johnson’s movies. He and Zac Efron had a good time, but I didn’t. Baywatch relies on punch lines and bodily gags that we’ve seen before in better comedies.

1) Wish Upon – Wish Upon is the worst movie I saw in 2017, but I still had a blast watching it. It’s The Room of horror movies! The main characters are all beautifully stupid like in every straight-to-video horror movie, but Wish Upon makes those characters look like Stephen Hawking. How many wishes does it take a person to realize the wish box is doing more harm than good? Clearly more than one.

That’s it for my worst of the year. Thanks to all for reading and making this movie season a great one. What will 2018’s worst be? Stay tuned!

“Justice League”

The DCEU is like a kid riding a bike; they crash on the first couple of rides, but slowly get better with practice. They’ve improved with Justice League.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) learn of a new CG-villain named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who plots world domination. Their solution – recruit Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) and resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) from the dead to help them stop the new baddy.

I’m a fan of comic book movies, but I also have a love-hate relationship with Zack Snyder. I love his earlier work (Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen particularly), but his DCEU films are huge misfires. Thankfully, Justice League is an improvement. It’s a B-superhero movie that’s just lighthearted fun. I admire that Snyder and Joss Whedon (who did extensive rewrites and post-production work) treated Justice League as a lighthearted superhero flick.

There are a few occasional dark moments with the best being a brooding opening credits sequence. It uses a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” to show how hopeless the world has become without Superman. Part from that, Justice League relies on one-liners and witty banter to make the movie fun. Even Batman makes jokes, which is shocking!

The cast has great chemistry and each actor does their character justice. Mamoa plays Aquaman as a debauched rockstar, Miller plays The Flash as an antisocial nerd, and Fisher portrays Cyborg as a man torn between his humanity and robotics.

Affleck and Gadot are once again great as Batman and Wonder Woman; they both sell their characters’ conflicts and opposing views of battling Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf is where the movie suffers. There’s no substance or originality with Steppenwolf and even with the underrated Hinds playing him, I wasn’t sold. Then again, does anyone ever watch a superhero ensemble movie for the villain?

The plot is a standard save-the-world formula we’ve seen done a thousand times. However, the final act is worth the ticket admission alone, thanks to Snyder and Whedon’s portrayal of Superman. He’s not recklessly destroying cities or brooding; he’s smiling and saving villages from destruction.

The DCEU sounds like it’s on its last leg, but I’m willing to keep going back since the movies are getting better.

Grade: B

 

“Happy Death Day”

Hey guys, sorry for the late review on this one. I didn’t get the chance to see Happy Death Day last weekend due to prior engagements, but better late than never! After hearing what my friends had to say, I agree that Happy Death Day is a fun seasonal movie.

Hey guys, sorry for the late review on this one. I didn’t get the chance to see Happy Death Day last weekend due to prior engagements, but…. Hehe didn’t expect a time loop in my review, did you?

Sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in a nerdy classmate Carter’s (Israel Broussard) dorm room. We learn immediately that Tree is popular despite being nasty to everyone. She coldly tosses her roommate’s birthday cupcake on the floor in front of her, shamelessly sleeps with a married teacher, and blows off her dad. Then someone kills her!

Sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday again and now she’s in a time loop. Who wants to kill her, though? Even Tree acknowledges it could be anyone since she’s pissed off everyone.

What I loved the most about Happy Death Day is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. From the opening Universal logo, we know right away this will be a fun, mindless slasher movie. Except it’s not always mindless. It’s kind of brainy.

Happy Death Day isn’t just a 90-minute slasher movie where we watch a girl violently die repeatedly. In fact, it’s not bloody due to the PG-13 rating. Rather than try to get away with lazy PG-13 kills, the filmmakers utilize their rating to focus on satirizing campus life and poke fun at the slasher genre.

There’s a montage set to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” where Tree confronts all her suspects while dying each time. It’s done with no gore and each death more absurd and funny than the previous one. I have to credit director Christopher B. Landon for acknowledging the movie’s absurdity. Also, props to the writers for delivering a well-written protagonist.

Rothe shows range and talent as Tree. While Tree starts out as a typical mean girl, she becomes more sympathetic and we eventually understand why she’s cruel to everyone on her birthday. She even grows spunkier and more fierce each day.

This October’s lineup consists of several horror films. Happy Death Day is still number one after a week and if you have to choose between this and the dull The Snowman, choose Happy Death Day.

Grade: B+