Saturday, July 28, 2018
Given the franchise we're discussing, I thought that would be a fun way to start this review. Said task on paper seems like an impossible mission, yet this is exactly what this franchise has accomplished. "Mission: Impossible" began in 1966 with the classic television series that was well liked. That means it celebrated its 50th anniversary back in 2016. After the initial series ended, there were several attempts to bring it back via film or a reboot series, but none were successful until the film adaptation, "Mission: Impossible," in 1996, which made $180 million that year domestically. That translates to $379 million with 2018 ticket prices and was the third highest grossing movie that year, behind "Independence Day" and "Twister." Fast forward 22 years, and yeah it's true we had a slip-up with "Mission: Impossible II," but outside that I personally think that every movie has only gotten better. "Mission: Impossible III" is better than "Mission: Impossible." "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is better than "Mission: Impossible III." "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" is better than "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." And now "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" tops them all. The entire ride the movie is led by the man, the myth, the legend. Mr. Tom Cruise.
The unique history of this franchise is a major portion of the reason why I love "Fallout" so much. It feels like they hit the pinnacle of cinematic success. The scope and the grandeur of this accomplishment is just so phenomenal that I feel like I'm witnessing something truly special. We live in a day where every successful movie gets a sequel. Every studio is attempting to set up a franchise with the goal to keep making money while continuing to make movies that their fan base enjoys. But how many of them succeed? But not just that, how many of them actually get better over time? It seems like what the "Mission: Impossible" franchise has now achieved is the ultimate goal. Tom Cruise and company are now standing on the Mt. Everest of the cinematic world watching as everyone tries to do what they have now done, but few have been able to accomplish this feat. In my brain right now I'm going through a lot of franchises and even among the great ones I'm able to find flaws where they don't quite match up to Mission: Impossible. Among the classic spy franchises, Bond has been going on forever, but they have been horribly inconsistent when it comes to quality. Bourne had three excellent movies to start off with, but more or less failed with the most recent two.
In regards to specifics with this individual movie, we begin with the plot, which we will quickly move past because, in typical Mission: Impossible fashion, this is a layered plot that is better when you go in knowing as little as possible. I'll just say it involves Ethan Hunt needing to intercept some plutonium from a group of individuals who call themselves The Apostles. They are the remnants of The Syndacite from the previous movie and they're trying to get said plutonium to a man by the name of John Lark for certain reasons. John Lark is a mystery because that is an alias. So we don't know who the real villain is or what he's really up to and why. That's all discovered as we go. Typical spy stuff, I suppose. On that note, I will admit that the movie is also full of typical spy movie tropes and cliches, but this is an instance where the movie fully embraces all of them, thus maintaining the element of fun throughout. In past movies with this franchise, I've sometimes had a hard time following the plot. It gets so twisty and turny that I blink for a second or two and suddenly I've missed a twist that effects the whole movie, which in turns causes me to get lost. "Fallout" was equally as twisty with its plot, but this time I was able to remain attentive the whole time.
Where this movie really excels is not necessarily in matters of specific plot details, but the execution of the whole film. This is where I confidently point to "Mad Max: Fury Road" as a comparison. What's the plot of that film? Well, the bad guys chase the good guys to a certain place. Good guys realize that said place is not what they thought, so they go back to the original place and get chased back. That's really it. But the action sequences themselves were so excellently crafted, the characters were so likable and the pacing was absolutely perfect that it made for a grand experience. "Fallout" mirrors this perfectly. Director Christopher McQuarrie has proven with this movie, "Jack Reacher" and "Rogue Nation" that he knows how to properly construct a masterpiece when it comes to action films. Mission: Impossible is a franchise that has become known for its excellent action sequences and crazy stunts and in no film is that presented more beautifully than in "Fallout." The movie goes from action sequence to action sequence to action sequence, yet the focus isn't lost with the bigger picture as each individual scene is handled with great care as to make sure no shortcuts are taken, thus each scene manages to take your breath away with the style, the craft and the intensity.
We've now discussed the endless string of perfectly constructed action sequences topped off with Tom Cruise's daredevil personality, making for some of the best overall action in any movie ever. What more do we need? Oh, how about characters and emotion with great arcs? Yeah, this movie also has those. Tom Cruise himself is much more than a crazy daredevil. He's also a dang good actor who is extremely likable. He has made his character of Ethan Hunt legendary. Returning with Ethan Hunt are his close nit group of friends in Ving Rhames' Luther Stickell and Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn. The three of them are essentially family at this point on the same level as the Fast and Furious gang. Alec Baldwin is also excellent as the boss character who is also essentially part of the team. The rest of the cast are very mysterious as you don't know what to think of Henry Cavill's August Walker or Rebecca Ferguson's Isla Faust. We also have Sean Harris' Solomon Lane lurking around and all the mystery surrounding The Apostles. I want to take about each one of them in more detail, but I'm not going to. Let's just say I loved them all. Their acting is fantastic and the level of complexity is fascinating. Henry Cavill's mustache heard round the world? Totally worth it. The man is a total boss.
Even if you were being introduced to this franchise for the first time with "Fallout," I think the level of craft with the action sequences, the crazy intense stunt work from Tom Cruise, the top-notch acting across the board and the beautifully complex characters with well-written arcs would be enough for you to be completely sold on this movie. But having a knowledge of the previous films makes the resolution of "Fallout" extremely satisfying, especially when it comes to "Rogue Nation." Given that Christopher McQuarrie directed both of them, he does a great job of interweaving both movies into one grand spectacle, meaning you should probably at least look up plot summaries of that film or watch Screen Junkies' Mission: Impossible cram it video on YouTube. I can't tell you why, but there was emotion in this film, both of extreme joy and moments of near tears. This feels like the grand finale to an epic franchise where every loose end from all the previous films are perfectly tied together. Yes, I expect there to be an M:I 7, but if "Fallout" was it, I'd be satisfied. Speaking of which, Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make M:I 7 even better. Personally I don't think that's possible as I gladly reward "Fallout" with a 10/10.
P.S. - I kinda feel bad for Jeremy Renner. He could've been in both this and "Avengers: Infinity War" this year as he had a side character who played a significant role in previous movies of both franchises. Yet he ended up in neither movie. I wonder what the cause of this was? Bad luck, possibly? All he did in 2018 was the movie "Tag." I hope he had fun with that one.
Monday, July 23, 2018
I feel like it's very important for you to understand my opinion of the first "Mamma Mia!" before we dive into this sequel that I just saw, so allow me to describe to you my utter shock when I begrudgingly pressed play on my tablet, kinda put it aside and distractingly watched as I updated the box office numbers on my Excel chart. Again, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this movie, but I felt it necessary to educate myself before I see the sequel, which had started to get plenty of buzz. Yet in a strange turn of events, I found myself super invested in this silly little musical to the point where I actually started paying attention to the movie more than my Excel charts. It was silly and cheesy, but I found myself getting super invested into the plot itself. Amanda Seyfried is getting married and she wants to figure out who her real dad is, so in reading her mom's journals, she realizes there are three potential options, so she invites all three of them because she's sure that the second she lays eyes on them, she'll immediately be able to know who her real dad is. But when Pierce Brosnan, Bill Skarksgard and Collin Firth all show up, she has no idea who her real dad is and suddenly begins to panic as she realizes she has created quite the mess that leads to an emotional and funny romcom.
And, of course, in the midst of this genuinely enjoyable plot, we get loaded with the songs from ABBA, an extremely lovable Swedish pop group. Admittedly I can't call myself a genuine ABBA fan because I haven't explored their discography too much, but from a young age I have always loved the song "Dancing Queen." As a teenage boy it was more of a guilty pleasure because I saw it as more of a girly song and teenage boys aren't supposed to like girly songs. But now I will unashamedly blast that song because it's an extremely enjoyable pop song. Now said ABBA songs are where the bulk of the controversy surrounding the movie musical comes in. If you have a Broadway cast of trained singers who can do justice to ABBA's music, adding that along with a fun, creative plot must be why the stage version is so beloved. But the movie chose to cast non-singers to sing the songs in the movie and thus they become guilty of this underlying issue with movie musicals. Do you cast professionally trained singers so that the music sounds good or do you cast famous actors in order to draw in crowds to see the movie? "Mamma Mia!" chose the latter and thus the music itself is quite lacking, but I managed to mostly overlook that due to how good the story was.
Perhaps saying the critics were praising the movie is a bit deceiving. Sure, the Rotten Tomatoes score is significantly higher at now 79 percent compared to the original's 54 percent, but what some people don't fully realize is that there's actually an average rating that goes along with that. The Tomatometer is just the percentage of people who gave the movie a pass. A 79 percent doesn't mean a 7.9 average rating. It just means that 79 percent of critics gave the movie a pass, even if it's just barely. In fact, if a movie gets a 100 percent score, that doesn't mean that every critic is praising it as a masterpiece. You could have 100 percent of critics say a movie is simply OK and that would still get the 100 percent score. Thus with "Here We Go Again," while the score is 79 percent, the average rating is just 6.3 compared to the original's average rating of 5.5. That makes me feel a little bit better because "Here We Go Again" is not a good movie. Due to the positive reviews, I ended up going in with a sense of curiosity because maybe this was going to be another fun musical like the first. But no, it turns out that my original concerns about this movie were realized. This movie is nothing but a cash grab and has nothing to add to the original when it comes to plot.
Said plot is the biggest problem, so let's jump right to it. I liked the original because of the plot. And I fully imagine that the plot in the original is good because it is based on a popular play that is built in with an already enjoyable plot. So when they decided that they wanted to cash in on the growing trend of movie musicals by creating a sequel, I can imagine that there was much contention in initial meetings involving the screenplay that never fully got resolved because there's no way that the final result was a stroke of revelation that everyone agreed on. Due to the fact that they had to start from scratch this time around instead of simply adapting a popular source material, I feel like there was a lot of discussion pertaining what to due and it feels like they just settled. The original movie's plot involved a lot of mystery and intrigue involving who Amanda Seyfried's real father was which resulted in a hilariously messy web of relationships that managed to perfectly fall in place at the end. This sequel's plot is two-fold and half of that is literally a complete retread from the first movie, which I found extremely disappointing. The other half is actually quite boring and lifeless, so when there's literally no plot to grab onto, I'm left with the music to entertain me.
The two plot arcs are as follows. The plot that I said is a complete retread is where we dive into the past in order to show what happened with Amanda Seyfried's mother and her three lovers. In these flashbacks, the mother is played by Lily James. I knew that we were going to have flashbacks to the past, but I assumed that since we were going to do so that we were going to learn new information about the mother the the first movie didn't tell us. I kept waiting for this new information to be revealed, but it never came. So essentially this sequel spends half the movie, if not more actually, showing us the exact same story that the first movie spent about five minutes or less discussing. Her mother had three quick flings with three different guys, none of which worked out for different reasons. That's all we needed to know and the first movie did just fine explaining that, so I'm really confused as to why the sequel felt the need to spend half of the movie showing us what we already knew while revealing nothing new outside a few small details as to why her mother decided to settle in Greece. Lily James owns this role as she's one of my favorite current actresses, but it's a shame that her talents were wasted on such an insignificant part of the story.
That's our movie. Retelling the mother's backstory for half of the movie and waiting to see who shows up to the hotel reopening for the other half of the movie. Thus with no plot, we are left to rely solely on the music for our entertainment, which happened to be the weakest element of the original. Not the songs themselves. ABBA is great. I've been listening to the original recording of "Dancing Queen" on repeat while typing this review. But the performance of the songs aren't that great. I love the living heck out of Lily James, but her singing feels about on par with Emma Watson's singing in "Beauty and the Beast." Yet 10 of the movie's 18 songs on the Apple Music soundtrack are from Lily James. Amanda Seyfried gets a few songs and she's serviceable, but not excellent. The best performance probably comes from Cher, unsurprisingly, because she's the only actual singer in this movie. Some of the choreography in the scenes are pretty good, but the times that I was entertained the most come from the songs that were also in the original movie, like "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia," but were done better in the first movie. And they weren't that great in the first movie. Am I going to listen to this soundtrack? Of course! But the original ABBA songs. Not these covers.
I will admit that the movie has it's moments and that's because it has a fantastic cast of actors who are all extremely talented when it comes to acting. When they are acting and interacting in the movie, the movie is certainly tolerable and inoffensive. There's no moments in the movie that are outright awful and I didn't walk out of the theater hating life. I've learned recently that some of the most passionate fans out there are fans of musicals. If there's a musical that they love and you don't, they'll metaphorically drag you out of your house and crucify you. Some of the most intense debates I've had on this blog where I felt the most brutally attacked are a couple of musicals that I happened to not enjoy. I'm not going to bring those up, but you know exactly what I'm talking about if you've been around long enough. I'll just say that there's reasons those musicals made me upset and said reasons are absent from this "Mamma Mia!" sequel that make this the better movie musical. If you still want to hate me for not being impressed with "Here We Go Again," then fine. Whatever. Just know that I enjoyed the first movie. This sequel just didn't do it for me and I'm surprised by how many critics have given this one a pass. My grade for "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" is a 6/10.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Dwayne Johnson's latest gig here with "Skyscraper" sees him climbing the world's tallest building in order to save his family who is trapped inside. This fictional building in the universe of this movie, which is called The Pearl, is 3,500 feet tall, exceeding the height of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in today's real life world, by 783 feet as Burj Khalifa stands at 2,717 feet tall. The Pearl is also 2.8 times higher than the Empire State Building, the movie's other comparison in a brief scene. The idea of this made me wonder if we'd ever get a building that tall in real life. The answer is that it's quite possible. I say that because I was just on Wikipedia looking at the list of the current tallest buildings in the world and the current top 15 tallest buildings in the world as of this moment were all built within the last 15 years. In fact, 13 of them were built in 2010 or later. Six of them were completed this year or last year with four of those six being built in China. Taking this even further, Wikipedia has a list of 59 buildings with their source being the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH) and 28 of them come from China (that's 47 percent) with 21 of those having been built since 2010. So them Chinese people are quite busy building skyscrapers.
If you're one of those hardcore physics nerds that gets extremely upset every time a movie throws the laws of physics in the trash can, then you better avoid this like the plague because this movie will be your worst nightmare because that jump is far from the only thing that is completely unrealistic. Once we get into the meat of this film, this movie absolutely torches the laws of physics, then stands above them, laughing in their face as those laws writhe painfully on the ground. The movie just doesn't care and I found it as entertaining as heck. I was smiling like a giddy school boy for the whole run time. Yet you have to understand that I've become a bit of a sucker for these dumb Dwayne Johnson action flicks. I had a blast with "San Andreas" in 2015 and I also thoroughly enjoyed the finale of this year's "Rampage." All three movies have completely ridiculous premises, but Dwayne Johnson just owns it every time. He doesn't go in half-heartedly like Bruce Willis often does in all of his dumb action movies. He takes each role completely and gives 100 percent to the project. It doesn't matter if he's battling against a giant earthquake, a giant crocodile and wolf, or a terrorist organization trying to burn down a giant building. He takes his role and he owns.
Regardless of what you think about this movie, what might go undisputed here are the visuals effects. Because it's Dwayne Johnson and, as I previously mentioned, he's quite the bankable star, Universal went big here and greenlit a budget of $125 million for "Skyscraper," so they had a lot of money to work with here and they certainly made great use of it. The design of the building itself is really neat and they had some pretty sweet rooms when they got to the very top. My favorite room was one with a whole bunch of mirrors in it. They had a lot of fun with various action sequences in that room that were pretty entertaining. There was a also a lot of scenes that gave me quite the adrenaline rush because I have a horrible fear of heights. The highest building I've been on is the Stratosphere in Vegas. I would walk up to one of those windows at the top and immediately walk away because just looking out the window was too much for me. How I ever managed to force myself to ride that roller coaster on the top of the Stratosphere is beyond me. That's probably the craziest thing I've ever done. When Dwayne Johnson was out climbing the building in this movie or doing his other various stunts, I was rather impressed by how the movie was able to replicate that adrenaline.
Given that said hostage arc is done so often, I find myself paying very close attention to the perpetrator of said situation whenever it's brought up, paying specific attention to the motivations of the individuals. In this instance, who are these group of people that are behind this? What do they have against Dwayne Johnson, his family or any other targets of theirs? Why do they feel these specific actions are the appropriate actions to take? And this is where the movie fails miserably. But I won't tell you why because that would require spoilers. I will say that the actors who played the villains all had a fun time with their villainous roles, but the writing of their characters were pretty bad and the movie also got a bit too cute with all of the twists and turns as far as who was bad and who was good. Being more straight-forward with the villains would've been better because then you could spend at least a little bit of time diving more into their character so that you could effectively create the next Hans Gruber. But it's whatever. I'm not actually going to dock this movie very much for that due to my expectations going in. It's "Skyscraper" for crying out loud. Yeah, it's a dumb movie, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I had a lot of fun with this, so I'm giving it an 8/10.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
I've never actually reviewed a "Hotel Transylvania" movie on this blog. I thought I reviewed the first movie back in the day, but apparently my blog archives claim I didn't. And I know I didn't review the second one. I'll get to the reasoning there in a second. But I did see both in theaters, so allow me to quickly summarize. I'm not a fan. The first one was a fun idea, but I remember walking out feeling a bit empty. Pixar and Disney have been very good at making their animated movies appeal to both kids and adults, but I felt Sony only managed to hit the kids side of that with "Hotel Transylvania." Said demographic was very pleased and the film was harmless enough, so I wasn't bothered by its existence or success, but it just didn't grab me. The second one was a completely different story. The movie set up a beautiful metaphor for how to treat your child if he or she is different than you. Dracula was so excited to have a grandson, but since his daughter married a human, no one knew if said grandson was human or vampire. It appeared that he was pure human, but Dracula couldn't accept this, so he spent the whole movie trying to bring the monster out of his grandson because sometimes vampires are late-bloomers. On the surface Dracula pretended to be open and accepting, but wasn't until the very end of the movie where he finally decided to love and accept him regardless.
But again, that doesn't mean I personally have to love it, which is the conflict we again run into with "Summer Vacation." I almost don't want to talk about the plot of the movie because the second I start to describe the basic premise here, you'll know exactly what happens. But yet they added the subtitle of "Summer Vacation" instead of simply titling the movie "Hotel Transylvania 3" and that subtitle gives you the plot of the film, so there's no avoiding this. If you don't pick up the plot by looking at the title, you'll know the whole movie from the trailers. Yes, it could be a situation where we get mad at the trailers for spoiling the film, but the plot of this movie is so incredibly simple, thin and predictable that there's nothing Sony could do differently. You get 10 minutes into this movie and you have the whole movie figured out. Our opening montage sets of this nemesis of Dracula named Abraham Van Helsing who will stop and nothing to kill all monsters, but fails at every attempt. Fast forward to the present and we have Dracula in the Hotel being extremely busy and lonely. He wants to find love, but he thinks that there is no hope for him because monsters only zing once. Then his daughter takes him on a cruise ship where he meets the beautiful human ship captain.
That's our premise. You know how the romance angle is going to turn out the second you learn Dracula is lonely and wants to find a date. The second everyone steps foot on this cruise ship and the ship captain introduces herself, you can pretty easily connect the dots as to who she really is. And if you don't end up connecting those dots, the movie gives the big reveal to who she really is and what the master plan is for this cruise ship. And at that point I don't think we've even made it through 20 minutes of the run time. Thus I don't think me telling you straight up who the captain is and what her intentions are would be even spoiling the movie since it happens so early on. But for the sake of humoring everyone, I'll be silent and let you connect the dots on your own. I don't think you need to have seen "Despicable Me 2" to know how it'll play out with the double-crossing romance, even though it kinda follows that plot line beat for beat as well. Take out Gru and Lucy, insert Dracula Ericka, put the movie on a monster cruise ship, and boom! "Hotel Transylvania 3." Are you mad at me at this point? Have I said too much? Well I'm sorry, but maybe if Sony Animation had any ounce of creativity in their bones, I could write a review without spoiling the film by describing the premise.
Thus in the end we have a movie that is nothing more than 97-minutes of jokes strung together while occasionally deviating to forward the paper thin plot that you can see coming before you've even hit the 20-minute mark or before you even walk in if you watched any of the trailers. This movie ended up being painful for me to watch because I started becoming uncomfortable in my chair. It was one of those moments where I felt like I had restless leg syndrome, but was confined into a chair and couldn't walk around, thus I was crying inside, begging the movie to end. When it finally did, I was shocked to see this was only 97 minutes long because it felt a lot longer. However, there is ONE sequence in the movie that surprisingly had me busting up laughing and this is actually kind of a spoiler because it's in the final, so that's your warning. But the final battle between the heroes and our villain was a DJ battle between Jim Gaffigan's Van Helsing and Andy Samberg's Johnny. I busted up laughing, nearly uncontrollably when Johnny played "Good Vibrations," followed by "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "Macarena." I don't know why that sequence made me laugh while literally nothing else did, but for that sequence and that sequence alone, I'm elevating this movie up to a 6/10.
Friday, July 13, 2018
I'm admittedly a bit late in getting this review out. I'm a huge fan of the MCU, like many others living on Earth, and thus I usually enjoy heading out opening weekend to see their latest film. This release, though, happened to land when I had family in town for the Independence Day weekend. For whatever reason, a trip to the movie theater wasn't on the schedule for us, so I waited for $5 Tuesday to see this. Then I didn't get around to writing my review earlier this week because I had to deal with Drake's album on my weekly Billboard Analysis segment over on my music blog. So you're getting this review a full week after the movie itself came. Because of that, I'm going to take a few liberties in discussing some plot details that I may have otherwise avoided if I had got this review out a week ago since most of you who were planning on seeing this have probably already done so. This won't be a full-out spoiler review, but if you were planning on seeing "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but just haven't gotten around to it and want everything regarding the plot to remain secret, then perhaps consider taking a rain check on reading this review. Just know that I really enjoyed the first "Ant-Man," and while this sequel doesn't quite hit those heights, it's still quite the blast.
Regarding that first movie, I remember that I had to participate in a lot of persuading while the market campaign was being rolled out. Everyone seemed to think the idea alone was really dumb and not a lot of said people were convinced otherwise when the trailers came out. I thought the trailers were quite genius, but outside that my big plug was that in Marvel we trust. Unlike the DCEU at the moment, the MCU has their formula down and they know how to please audiences. So why should we assume that a movie of theirs is going to be awful just because you don't like the premise? People seemed to forget that just a year before Marvel made a movie surrounding a talking tree and a raccoon into one of the most beloved Marvel movies. So can't we have more faith in Ant-Man, who happened to be one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics? Luckily when the movie itself rolled around, I was proven right and audiences bought in. Despite the movie having the second lowest opening weekend of any MCU film, ahead of only "The Incredible Hulk," reviews were strong and word of mouth spread fast, leading it to what still stands as the second highest multiplier in the MCU as it wound up with $180 million domestically following a $57 million start.
"Ant-Man" was a very small-scale movie, which perhaps made it subtly brilliant given the nature of the premise. While other Marvel movies seemed to be obsessed with going bigger and better than the previous films, "Ant-Man" was content to take a step back and give us a localized heist film that you may have forgotten was even part of the MCU had it not been for a few references here and there to the Avengers, who Mr. Hank Pym was not a huge of. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" does remain smaller in scale than some of our recent MCU films, but at the same time it feels larger in scope that "Ant-Man" did. The premise starts off by following up on Scott Lang's perspective following the events of "Civil War." As a reminder about that, he was on Captain America's side of the feud, and unlike some of his teammates, it turns out he wasn't as good at the whole fugitive game. He got caught and has thus spent the past two years on house arrest. On top of that, Hank Pym is mad at him for stealing his suit and joining the Avengers in a silly escapade while it's mostly implied that his new girlfriend Hope Van Dyne is mad at him because he didn't invite her to come along. All of these combine to essentially give us the reasoning behind where he was during "Infinty War."
While it's true that the timeline is not 100 percent clear during the movie itself as to how close the events of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" overlap with "Infinity War," we do know that it takes place right before. There's further discussion to be had on on that subject, but that's all I'm willing to give away in this review. We can talk details later if you want. But the specific mission that our crew has in this movie is searching for Janet Van Dyne, Hank's wife and Hope's mother, who is stuck in the Quantum Realm and, as we learned in the last movie, may not be as dead as Hank originally thought, which leads to new scientific ideas of Quantum Realm stuff that Hank is eager to explore and learn about, depending on how this search for Janet goes. Also as we learned in the last movie, the final end credits scene to be exact, Hank has finally allowed his daughter Hope to use The Wasp suit, or a new one that he has built for her. Thus leading us to the movie's title of "Ant-Man and THE WASP." Despite Marvel having plenty of female superheroes and characters, Evangeline Lilly has the honor of being the first one of them to be in the title of her film, barely beating out next year's "Captain Marvel." Thus gives this movie another significant achievement in the history of the MCU.
The dynamic between Ant-Man and The Wasp is the strongest element of this movie. Despite not being on the best terms to start the movie off, Hank and Hope quickly learn that they need the help of Scott to find Janet because there's a possibility that she might be communicating with Scott after he went to the Quantum Realm and came back in the previous movie. So they set their differences aside and move forward with their mission. During the whole process, Hope proves that her dad should've trusted her with the suit a long time ago rather than finding Scott because she is a master with this Wasp suit. All the best action in the movie involves her kicking some villain trash as a complete boss, immediately making her one of the most likable characters in the MCU. Evangeline Lilly sells this so well and I'm super happy that she's achieved this huge break because I've been a huge fan of her's since she played Kate in "LOST." Yeah, she was invited to play Tauriel in those disastrous Hobbit movies and some might remember that she showed up in a movie called "Real Steel" before that, but this is her huge cinematic break as she's now headlining a Marvel film. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie, you're going to walk out loving The Wasp because she's awesome.
In terms of story, searching for Janet Van Dyne feels like the natural progression for this particular franchise and there's so much fun to be had along the way with all the set pieces and the creative use of the shrinking and enlarging abilities. It's fun seeing them shrink their building they've been working in into a suitcase size thing and it's also fun to see the use of things like a Pez dispenser and a salt shaker as a weapon after enlarging them. If we're getting nit-picky with things, there's no moment in this movie that is quite as epic as the first movie's battle on the toy train set and the first movie also did a better job of having fun with the characters being super small. But there's still a lot of fun to be had with what they did come up with. The biggest negative of the movie, though, which seems like a broken record at this point with the MCU, comes with the villains. I want to make it perfectly clear, though, that I'm not talking about Ghost, who we see in the trailers. I loved her character, her backstory, her motivations and what she was able to do. Hannah John-Kamen, who is quietly having a great year, played her excellently. What I wasn't a fan of was the idea that this movie essentially had three villains and that felt like a bit too much. We could've stuck with Ghost.
The two other villains I'm talking about are Walton Goggins' character of Sonny Burch and Randall Park's FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. Walton Goggins had a lot of fun playing his character, but he was the mustache-twirling style of villain who really had no reasons for what he did. He just wanted to steal the technology that Hank and Hope had. And the story arc of the FBI chasing down Scott during this whole thing was funny at times. Randall Park had me laughing quite a bit. But as a whole it added a bit of extra fluff to the plot that didn't need to be there. The plot for "Ant-Man" was simple and concise as a fun heist movie. The plot for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was a little too crowded and held the movie back from having even more fun that they already had. But overall this is another solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn't hit the heights of some of their recent movies, but it didn't need to. From day one this was supposed to be a fun, simple adventure to act as a place-holder while we wait for the Infinity War finale next year and it delivered on that. I don't know how it fits into my MCU rankings as a whole, but in terms of Phase III, it slides right in ahead of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Black Panther" while being behind the rest. My grade for it is an 8/10.
Thursday, July 5, 2018
July 4th - 8th-
The movie that will open right on Wednesday July 4 is the fourth movie in The Purge franchise titled The First Purge. It's been a bit of a trendy thing with horror franchises to go back and tell the origins of said franchise, which is what "Ouija: Origin of Evil" and "Annabelle Creation" both did. The strategy worked out quite well for both of those movies in terms of audience reaction, so The Purge franchise will try its luck with this by telling how this purge began. The idea here is that for one day a year, for the span of 12 hours, all crime becomes legal, which basically becomes an excuse for everyone to go kill each other, providing a gore fest for audiences. Because, you know, murder is the first crime you would think of if all crime became legal. Anyways, this premise has turned out to be quite fruitful for this franchise as each of the previous three films have opened around $30 million, while finishing around $70 million. "The Purge: Election Year" was predicted to experience a drop-off in 2016, but it wound up as the highest grossing film with $79 million, so who knows what "The First Purge" will do. Opening weekend comparisons might be tough with this being the first movie in the franchise to open on a Wednesday, but anywhere from $50-75 million overall seems likely here.
July 13th - 15th-
The biggest story in July will be the amount of action movies being released. Arguably we've already had two at this point as "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "The First Purge" both could be considered action films to a certain extent. But even in ignoring those two movies, we'll have three major action films opening in the final three weeks of July. The first of those three is Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper. There's been a lot of comparisons that people have brought up here to the 1988 classic action film "Die Hard," which saw Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer, trying to save his wife and others who were taken hostage by Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. "Skyscraper" sees Dwayne Johnson, a security guard, trying to save his family, who are trapped in a giant skyscraper in Hong Kong. The skyscraper is on fire and Dwayne Johnson has been framed for it. So he needs to escape capture in addition to trying to save his family. Thus the comparison to "Die Hard." In terms of the box office, it's a foolish thing to underestimate Dwyane Johnson. Recently he's led "Rampage," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Central Intelligence" all to $35 million openings, thus that seems like a fair range for "Skyscraper" to also hit.
July 20th - 22nd-
Our second big action movie of the month is Denzel Washington's The Equalizer 2. Denzel has had a long, prestigious career in Hollywood with enormous box office success and lots of awards success, with eight acting nominations at the Oscars, which include two wins for his work in "Glory" and "Training Day." Despite all these accolades, "The Equalizer 2" will include a first for him. The first time he's ever done a sequel. That sounds strange, but if you glance over his filmography, it's true. And this sequel follows a very successful action film in 2014 in "The Equalizer," which surprised with a $34 million opening and $101 million overall. Both films are directed by Antoine Fuqua, who Denzel also teamed up with in "Training Day" and "The Magnificent Seven." In addition to being successful, "The Equalizer" was also a great crowd-pleaser and the type of action film where a sequel makes sense, with Denzel as an action star also making sense. Since 2000, Denzel has only had two wide releases that haven't hit at least $20 million on their opening weekend and that's out of a total of 18 movies. That suggests a lot of goodwill for this movie. The only thing working against this is the competition with "Skyscraper" the previous week and "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" the next week.
The final movie to talk about this weekend is the movie that might make the smallest dent out of the wide releases in July and that is Unfriended: Dark Web. This is a sequel to the 2015 movie "Unfriended," a movie you probably forgot existed. Even if you do remember it, it's probably not the movie you were expecting to get a sequel. However, it was actually decently received as it holds a positive 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and made $32 million domestically on a $1 million budget. That's an excellent profit for a movie its size and thus justifies the sequel. "Unfriended" is not to be confused with last year's "Friend Request," which was a horribly received movie that only made $3.8 million. The idea of "Unfriended" is that a group of online chat room friends found themselves haunted by a supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. "Unfriended: Dark Web" follows a similar premise with a teen coming into the possession of a new laptop with all sorts of dark videos present. Said teen and his group of friends start getting haunted by a force claiming to be the previous owner. An opening around the first movie's $15 million opening would be a success for this film. But even if it only opened to $5-10 million, that would still probably be good enough.
July 27th - 29th-
In case you thought there was only one superhero movie this month, we have a second one quietly sneaking in at the end of the month and that is the animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. The Teen Titans have been around in the comics since 1964 as they first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold #54." At that point, they comprised of Kid Flash, Robin, Aqualad and shortly thereafter Wonder Girl. There's been many iterations of the Teen Titans since then, but this animated movie, which is actually the first theatrically released Teen Titans movie, is based on the animated series "Teen Titans Go!," which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2013 and has had mixed reaction, but has nevertheless produced over 200 episodes as they recently began season 5, so they must be doing something right. This movie stars the original voice actors from the show voicing Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire, while adding Nicholas Cage as Superman (yes, that's finally happening), Will Arnett as Slade Wilson, Kristen Bell as Jade Wilson, Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, Halsey as Wonder Woman and Lil Yachty as Green Lantern. The plot is a bit meta as the Titans are trying to get their own movie made, but aren't taken seriously enough, so they find a nemesis in Slade Wilson to fight.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
First and foremost, if you can look beyond the Pepsi advertising, this is a movie made for fans of the NBA. If you don't know who Kyrie Irving is or Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson, you're going to see the wrong movie. Shaq is in here, too, but everyone knows Shaq, so that's beside the point. Also, if you don't watch Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter every night and you don't know what an ESPN 30 for 30 is, you're also going to be a bit miffed by this movie. For that I give this movie full credit for knowing who their target audience is and pandering specifically to them. It's what made me love "Space Jam" so much growing up. All the basketball references and basketball ties shoved into one movie was glorious. That and the whole Looney Toons thing. But mostly the basketball. I loved 90's basketball and thus "Space Jam" was my movie because it combined everything I love about the 90's into one movie. I see critics today hating on "Space Jam" today. In fact, it's become a very trendy movie to tear to pieces among YouTube critics. But I say screw them all. I still love "Space Jam." And, well, I have to admit that "Uncle Drew" could be this generation's "Space Jam" with how well they pander to today's modern basketball audience.
If you want to turn away, then feel free to. But I'm going to do said introduction of the plot anyways. The movie starts by shoving a whole ton of exposition in your face by means of a fictional 30 for 30 about Uncle Drew and his glory days in the Rucker Classic, an actual street basketball tournament played at Rucker Park in New York City. But anyways, in this fictional setting, Uncle Drew and his team completely disappeared before the final game, hence the movie sets up the mystery of Uncle Drew. But despite the movie being called "Uncle Drew," the central character in the movie is not Uncle Drew. It's a man named Dax, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, best known for "Get Out." Dax's rival in this movie is Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. Well, Dax grew up watching Michael Jordan and being inspired by him to play basketball, like most kids from the 80's and 90's. But when Dax got into playing, he ended up quitting because Mookie blocked his shot in one tournament game and left him scarred. So fast forward to the present day, Dax works in a shoe store and coaches a team led by Aaron Gordon, who plays Casper in this movie. But Mookie walks in, steals his team, steals his girlfriend, and leaves him with nothing. So now Dax goes out searching for Uncle Drew.
Despite this being a basketball movie, a good portion of the movie is actually a road trip. Because of course Dax accidentally stumbles on Uncle Drew, watches him do his Uncle Drew things from the Pepsi commercials, then convinces Uncle Drew to play for him in this Rucker Classic so that he can beat Mookie and win the prize money in order to get his life back. And of course Uncle Drew agrees, but it has to be Uncle Drew's team with Uncle Drew's players. So one by one, we go on this road trip recruiting Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Shaq, all of whom are dressed up like old men like Uncle Drew. I didn't keep track of how long this road trip lasted, but this almost become more of a road trip movie than a basketball movie with a whole bunch of different jokes and gags along the way, all involving this group of five current and former NBA players dressed up like old men doing old people jokes. The movie tries to play out some drama with the recruiting process, but it ends up being really easy to get everyone to join, despite Reggie Miller being blind and Nate Robinson being in a wheelchair, while Chris Webber and Shaq haven't played basketball in years. Chris Webber is a preacher with a crazy wife, played by Lisa Leslie, and Shaq is a karate teacher.
I actually think my biggest problem with the movie, outside the horribly written script, was the huge focus on this Dax vs. Mookie conflict. Lil Rel Howery and Nick Kroll did great with what they were given, but I didn't like how their characters were written and I had no investment in their story arc. I thought Tiffany Haddish, the original girlfriend who dumps Dax the second his life falls apart, was extremely annoying and way too over-the-top. Thus the only real actor in the movie I cared for was Dax's new girlfriend Maya, played by Erica Ash. What saves the movie is all the basketball players having a lot of fun with their roles. They were fun to watch when they got to play again and they did have fun being these old characters and making old man jokes the whole time. They weren't the best actors, but they didn't need to be. They had fun and I had fun watching them. There's also a lot of basketball references and jokes that made me laugh. All of that humor will go right over the heads of non-NBA fans, but being a fan of the NBA myself caused me to chuckle quite a bit at said references. I started this review by comparing this to "Space Jam," but I actually think a better comparison is the Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard." On that note, I'm going to give "Uncle Drew" a 6/10.