Monthly Archives: July 2018

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Continuity has never been the strong point in the Mission: Impossible movies, other than lead character Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), very few things carry over from movie to movie. Sometimes you get Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, you never get the same female character twice (other than a quick flash of Ethan’s wife Julia from MI:3 (Michelle Monaghan) in Ghost Protocol (AKA MI:4). With Fallout, writer-director Christopher MacQuarrie (also the first director to return as he helmed the last installment Rogue Nation) may have crafted the tightest, tensest and arguably best installment of the franchise, by actually playing into the continuity of the franchise.

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Sorry to Bother You

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There’s weirdness for the sake of being weird, and then there’s the absolutely trippy, ridiculous, absurdist, balls out fucking fever dream that is Sorry to Bother You. I can appreciate movies that are a little out there, but Bother leaves “out there” in the dust a few light years behind it. Ostensibly a comedy about a telemarketer angling for a better future, it’s really a darkly (like pitch black) subversive tale about the racial and class divides and inequality in our country, and the struggle in trying to bridge those gaps.

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Eighth Grade

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If there’s ever a more awkward time to be alive than the final year before high school, I haven’t lived it yet. Writer-Director Bo Burnham (yes, that singing comedian) has crafted a completely believable, uncomfortable, squirmy, beautiful ode to that troublesome, turbulent, pubescent period known as Eighth Grade.

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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Top 20)

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20. Thor: The Dark World

Just a weak effort across the board and not something I can think of anything more about which to say.

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Marvel Re-View – Phase Three

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Final installment of my re-view of the MCU. Definitive rankings (at least how I feel this week) to follow.

Phase one is here

Phase two is here

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Captain America: Civil War

The Good: Nothing will (or has been able to thus far) top the seventeen-minute brawl in the middle of the movie for being the greatest super-powered action in any film. As with the previous film, there’s a large amount of consequence involved in the story and it reverberates throughout the rest of the films in phase three. The introductions of both Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, instantly the best big-screen Spidey) are huge and perfectly-executed events that don’t distract from the rest of the movie. And despite all the action going on around him, and the importance of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan), this still feels like a Captain America (Chris Evans) movie. The dynamic between Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier/Bucky is perfect, and even without much narrative thrust, the film still gives strong moments to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton).

The Bad: With an exhaustive plot to create division in the Avengers, Baron Zemo’s (Daniel Bruhl) diabolical plan is way more intricate than necessary for being a macguffin only needed to get everyone fighting. There’s also not enough Natasha/Black Widow.

Overall: Exploring the fundamental rift between Tony and Steve was a seed that has been growing since their first interaction in the first Avengers. The set-up here feels entirely natural, and feels emotionally resonant for a comic-book movie. And that battle sequence is still the highlight of the MCU.

 

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Doctor Strange

The Good: Despite his shaky accent and making him feel more like a super-powered Doctor House than anything, Benedict Cumberbatch is a welcome addition to the MCU. Visually, the film has an interesting style, the battle scenes on an Inception-like playground are a lot of fun. The seeds laid for a potential sequel suggest some more interesting things at play. Controversary of her casting aside, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is a great actor elevating a weak part. Mads Mikkelson is always a great bad guy. Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor provide solid support.

The Bad: The whole thing is kind of dull. Another origin movie that spends too much time on how our guy becomes the hero, and not enough of him being the hero. And another Marvel movie where the main character is fighting the dark version of himself.

Overall: An okay, if rather mediocre installment. It opens up a new door in the MCU, that of magic and super powers not explained by science. Some neat visual storytelling that hint at a stronger outing for any (as yet unscheduled) sequel.

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Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

The Good: I don’t know if I want children, but I definitely want a baby Groot. From the opening dance number to finale bomb defusion, the tiny tree creature wins the movie. The rest of the Guardians, including new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and not quite member Yondu (Michael Rooker) have great moments. Though resolved too easily, the dynamic between “sisters” Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) has great heft. Kurt Russel as the new father to main Guardian Star-Lord (always-charming Chris Pratt) makes for a typically Guardians-style antagonist.

The Bad: That sisters resolution. Splitting the team up for too much of the movie. The final brawl is a bit too heavy with bad CGI. As much fun as the original was, the heaviness in this one doesn’t feel entirely earned. The motivations for the villainy are pure nonsense.

Overall: I think this fares better in hindsight than it did at the time. There are a lot of characters to balance and they all feel necessary. Even Drax (Dave Bautista) gets a wide emotional range, especially in his interactions with Mantis. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) remains one of the best MCU characters.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

The Good: Tom Holland is a refreshing bit of joy and whimsy in a universe that has been edging towards the dour. His Peter Parker/Spider-Man is so effortlessly charming and the perfect balance between the awkward Parker and the over-confident Spidey, something neither Tobey Maguire nor Andrew Garfield could pull off. Michael Douglas’ Vulture is one of the better MCU villains, with clear motivations that make sense performed by an actor capable of grounding the fantastic with the normal. Supporting characters played by Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Donald Glover, Zendaya and Laura Harrier are all great. And even though it felt like a bit of a shoehorn shoving Iron Man in the film, the dynamic between his father figure to the orphaned Spidey has a great power to it. Also, one of the funnier MCU outings.

The Bad: Getting Tyne Daly to do a superhero movie and giving her nothing to do. Some of the mentoring from Tony seems needlessly cruel. Not enough Spidey swinging on things.

Overall: A great movie that shows how important the Marvel machine is to its major characters. Even though the first two of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were good and great, they still don’t feel as completely whole as this one (the Garfield movies were just awful). Despite aging him back to high school, it was great that we didn’t have to relive the death of another Uncle Ben.

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Thor: Ragnarok

The Good: It’s rare that the third movie of a trilogy is the best one, but there’s no competition here. After unlocking the humor of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the movie is a non-stop party (until someone loses an eye). Villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) is justifiably over the top as the goddess of death, and a welcome addition as the first major female antagonist in the MCU. Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) make for a great pairing, as does Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). It more than justifies further adventures of the Asgardians, though they don’t fare well by the end (and beginning of Infinity War). Jeff Goldblum’s quirk is put to good use as the flamboyant Grandmaster. Even Anthony Hopkins gets to have a little fun as Loki disguised as Odin. The bright colors throughout the movie give it a unique visual style. And director Taika Waititi almost walks away with the movie as the voice of Korg. Thompson is amazingly badass as a fallen hero with a bit of a drinking problem.

The Bad: Multiple viewings do lessen the impact of the humor a bit. As funny as it is, there’s not much to the story beyond the stop the bad guy premise. Where’s Sif? And man, the warriors three got a quick sendoff.

Overall: A great movie that shows how a standalone (even a buddy cop version of one) should work. Unleashing Hemsworth’s comedic timing was a long time coming given how uneven he was when he started out as Thor. It does feel like there’s not much left for another solo Thor though.

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Black Panther

The Good: Probably the textbook case for a hero’s solo debut. Get the introduction out of the way somewhere else (in this case Civil War), tie him into the MCU tangentially, surround him with great characters and a perfect villain, add some emotional resonance, and collect a billion dollars. Boseman is a superstar that easily carries the film. The supporting cast of female characters (Danai Guirira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Letitia Wright as Shuri) each feel strong enough to carry their own movie. I mean, this might be the most feminist MCU film. Michael B. Jordan’s villainous Erik Killmonger is the best bad guy in the Marvel lexicon (give or take how you feel about Loki), his motivations are clear, sound, and have an emotional weight to them absent most of the others. There are great real-world analogies throughout. And really, Okoye throwing that wig – I could watch on an endless loop.

The Bad: Come on, who thought T’Challa was really dead. The MCU has had entirely too many fakeouts with dead heroes (save for Quicksilver, the only one that seems to have stayed dead). No way M’baku gets that jacked being a vegetarian. The first time a Stan Lee cameo feels really out of place. It gets another ding for having the bad guy, great as he was, be the bad version of the hero going so far as putting him in a cat costume at the end. Not enough Nakia.

Overall: Really, there’s nothing but minor quibbles for a movie nearly perfectly executed. The way it has such a unique identity yet feels completely connected to the MCU at large should be textbook for all new franchises that follow.

 

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Avengers: Infinity War

The Good: It’s wall-to-wall action that has a huge amount of weight to it. Josh Brolin as ultimate bad guy Thanos is great. Combining characters from all over the MCU paid off well with great pairings like Thor and Rocket and Iron Man and Doctor Strange (solidifying that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark works well against everyone). The battle sequences (of which there are legion) all look gorgeous. A lot of humor for a movie with such heaviness. The Iron Spider! Gamora is actually the emotional center of the movie! Star-Lord’s jealousy over Thor! Okoye and Black Widow’s fight against Proxima Midnight! If you like big battles, there’s a lot here.

The Bad: There’s little else. Sidelining Captain America and Black Widow is unforgivable. The ending carries little emotional weight. The romance between Wanda and Vision is expected to have some depth despite taking place almost entirely off screen. As fun as it is to see so many characters, there really are too many. The sequence with Thor creating his new weapon takes too much time, especially for a movie that gives short shrift to two major characters.

Overall: A great movie for a Marvel fan, but not for a movie fan. It’s all buildup with another year to wait for payoff. Still, it’s action that was made for the big screen. Despite having too many characters to keep track of, they are balanced well. Thanos is a worthy villain for bringing together this many heroes.

 

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

 (full review Here)

The Good: The lightness of this is welcome after the heaviness of Infinity War. Lilly is a badass and her fight scenes are the best part of the movie. Rudd’s charm excuses some of the more needless scenes. Michael Pena’s exuberance is always welcome.

The Bad: Really, I can’t get past so much of the story hinging on a badly plotted moment (Scott telling Luis where they were so he could look at some plans) and a badly executed resolution (Janet gaining magical powers in the quantum realm that magically solve everything with magic). I’m glad Scott’s ruse was never figured out, but really there were enough agents to send some to his house when they were dispatched to other locations.

Overall: A fun, if slight entry that deserved to have greater impact. The storytelling issues were glaring and detracted from the overall film.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Everything that made Ant-Man great-the goofy charm of Paul Rudd, the visual dynamism of a superhero who can change size, the intensity of a heist flick set with a super-hero backdrop-are all present in sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a fine movie, but with some surprising storytelling weaknesses, a deus-ex-Mama resolution, and a less-compelling narrative, just fine comes off a little flimsy. Continue reading

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Whitney

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There were always two Whitney Houstons, something new documentary Whitney makes perfectly clear. There was the pristine-voiced, sanitized for mass consumption performer Whitney, who became a pop sensation in the 80s. And then there was “Nippy,” as her family and friends called her, who was just a black kid from a New Jersey ghetto. Whitney was a poised and gracious diva. Nippy was the chainsmoking woman in the middle of the massive industrial complex that was the Houston machine, one that employed a large number of friends and family. And even though the tragic end that befell Houston is well known, the documentary is an honest and at times uncomfortable review that offers a stark indictment of the life of the once squeaky-clean singer.

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Three Identical Strangers

Newfound Triplets

It’s difficult to review a movie like Three Identical Strangers, for me at least. I had heard good things about the film, knew I wanted to see it and only saw the trailer once, the day before I watched the full feature. I was lucky enough to know nothing about the story-three boys, triplets separated at birth and adopted out to three different families who reconnect when they are 19-but more importantly I knew nothing about what the movie is actually about, which…isn’t that. Although it kind of is.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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It feels a little weird to ding a movie like Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a good-intentioned, well-meaning, feel swell montage about Mister Rogers. Fred Rogers was the iconic creator, writer, star and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that saccharine children’s show that made him one of the first heroes of all youngsters growing up in the 60s, 70s, 80s into the 90s. His aw schucks charm, and inability to talk down to kids made him a comforting and friendly force for television. But, and maybe this is a spoiler alert, turns he was every bit as good and wholesome as his image suggests. And therein lies my quibble. While Neighbor will undoubtedly make you feel good about the universe, especially the one we live in now, where hatred, cynicism and division reign supreme, there’s really no conflict to the story at all, which results in a collection of clips and interviews strong in emotion, but lacking in conflict.

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Marvel Re-View – Phase Two

ultron2Getting back to finalizing my Marvel re-view so that I can re-rank after the 20th film (Ant Man & The Wasp) releases this week. Previous review of Phase One is here.

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