Ryan Beltram - Page 2

Film Fanatic: ‘Mile 22’ Review

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Mark Wahlberg has never made a truly great action movie. He’s made a lot of decent cable-watch action movies like Shooter, Contraband and 2 Guns. He’s also made three pretty good action dramas in Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day. All three of those films were directed by Peter Berg, who helms Wahlberg’s latest effort, Mile 22.

Wahlberg plays James Silva, the leader of an elite task force within the CIA. Silva and his team are in Asia looking for a deadly chemical agent. With no credible leads, in walks Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a local officer who says he has information on where to find the chemical agent. But he won’t give up this information unless Silva and his team can escort Li from the U.S. Embassy to an airfield where Li will seek asylum in America.

Escort a shady individual with sensitive information 22 miles through a southeast Asian city unharmed. Sounds like the workings of a straightforward and competently made action movie. Instead, Berg, Wahlberg and screenwriter Lea Carpenter have made a truly forgettable and ugly film with no redeeming qualities. Mile 22 is easily Berg’s worst film.

Wahlberg’s wheelhouse is shooting guns, not thinking. | (STX Films)

Let’s start with Wahlberg. He’s playing a manic genius. We’re told this because he does things like complete “The World’s Most Difficult Puzzles,” quotes Lincoln’s second inauguration and author John Hersey’s book on Hiroshima and constantly snaps a rubber band around his wrist to keep his mind from overloading(?).

All of these “character traits” are in place to make him seem interesting, but instead, he comes off as not only annoying, but perhaps the worst leader ever. He’s constantly yelling at his fellow agents, barging into offices and female shower rooms of fellow superiors and agents and leaving not one but two soldiers behind on the battlefield.

His unpleasantness seeps into his team as well. Lauren Cohen plays Alice Kerr, a character who is constantly dropping F-bombs towards her ex-husband through a divorce app(?). Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey) doesn’t even get an ex-husband. She just scowls a lot. There’s even a character who is in charge of manning a drone. Instead of this person being presented as a soldier with some small shred of empathy, here he’s a frat boy playing video games constantly begging his boss to blow some people up.

Berg doesn’t seem to have any interest in establishing camaraderie among these people so that we care about them in difficult situations. This is shocking considering Berg’s affinity for the military rivals only Michael Bay as a director.

If the characters are forgettable, what about the action? Remember those Berg movies I mentioned earlier? Those had the advantage of being based on real people and events. Berg handles the action in those films with care and bases them in reality.

In Mile 22, Berg not only reverts back to mid-aughts shaky-cam nonsense, he also wastes the considerable talents of Uwais. Instead of showcasing the Indonesian actor’s exceptional work from the Raid movies with well-choreographed stunts and wide shots, Berg drowns the actor in incomprehensible quick cuts where you have no idea what’s going on. Uwais isn’t 60-year-old Liam Neeson trying to scale a fence! There’s even a scene in a diner shot in darkness and smoke. Great way to film a fight sequence. Rousey doesn’t even get to fight. Why else is she in the movie?

If you cast Iko Uwais in your movie, use him. | (STX Films)

How about the plot? Totally nonsensical. There’s a subplot involving Russians (It’s 2018 after all) and the film flashes ahead several times where Wahlberg is spouting off to some government lackey about the mission and the cost of war. I couldn’t even understand half of what he was saying because he was talking so fast.

And if Wahlberg’s character is such a genius, why are the villains always a step ahead of him and his team? The lesson here is: never let Wahlberg play a smart guy. See: The Happening, The Gambler and two Transformers movies. He’s a good actor, but he doesn’t have considerable range. Just give him a gun and let him shoot things.

Despite being a brisk 95 minutes, Mile 22 feels like a sludge to get through. And they have the audacity to tease a sequel at the end. Maybe some more thought should have been put into this one before thinking about a franchise.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Eighth Grade’ Review

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Can you imagine being a kid in the age of social media? I graduated from high school in 2003 and in less than a year, Mark Zuckerberg would launch Facebook. I don’t even remember kids having cell phones when I was in high school. Does that make me old?

Kids today are not only well-versed in technology, they’re bred into it. Give a five-year-old a tablet and within 10 minutes, they’ll be conquering Candy Crush. Give them your phone and they’ll probably be maxing out your credit cards on Amazon.

The worst time to experience social media is when you’re a teenager. You’re already dealing with awkwardness, anxiousness and acne. You have no idea who you are as a person and social media can shine a light into how “boring and unoriginal” your life truly is. Unless you cultivate it.

Elsie Fisher shines as a painfully awkward teenager in ‘Eighth Grade.’ | (A24)

13-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is one of those awkward teenagers. But as Eighth Grade, the debut film from comedian Bo Burnham begins, she’s posting a video on her YouTube channel about how to be yourself no matter what. She posts videos throughout the film giving fellow teenagers advice on how to navigate the tricky world of adolescence in 2018. Call it a digital diary.

The irony however is that she doesn’t have the faintest idea who she is or what to do. She’s a walking contradiction. She’s about to finish middle school which means high school is on the horizon. She has very few friends (If any) and social situations are the worst.

But as the film progresses, she attempts to finally gain confidence and use some of that advice she’s been giving in her videos.

Eighth Grade is a lovely, sweet, and often funny commentary on the youth of America today. Fisher gives a wonderful and endearing performance as Kayla and her relationship with her single father, played by the always great Josh Hamilton, is portrayed with tenderness and nuance. Every scene they share together is painfully pitch-perfect. If that makes sense.

Eighth Grade isn’t exactly plot driven. Instead, Burnham presents a slice-of-life drama. Kayla crushes on a boy, with phenomenal musical cues, but it doesn’t resolve itself like we normally see in coming-of-age stories. There’s also a pool party that is as uncomfortable as it gets, but doesn’t act as an essential or revelatory scene to move the story forward.

Burnham’s interests lie in examining the current life of a 13-year-old girl through the prism of Kayla. And while that could come off as raunchy and immature, Burnham’s comedic talents shine through to present a biting and sometimes political satire. In one scene, Kayla goes through a school-shooting drill that is both frighteningly eye-opening and strangely one of the funnier scenes in the film. In another scene, Kayla deals with sexual advances from an older student. It’s a scene that could have gone terribly wrong. But Burnham captures it in a way that doesn’t shy away from the dark truths that have been revealed in the MeToo movement.

Josh Hamilton is pitch-perfect as the well-intentioned dad trying to connect with his daughter. | (A24)

Kayla is alone through much of the film and that’s a conscience effort Burnham makes. The presence of social media establishes the illusion of knowing other people without actually speaking to them to learn more about them. Kayla’s social anxiety is a commentary on our diminishing ability or desire to interact with people face-to-face.

Despite being a first-time director and writer, Burnham shows great confidence and intelligence in his storytelling. He doesn’t concern himself with presenting traditional archetypes in his film which would classify as a “teen film.” There’s no bullies, no supportive teachers or even the homecoming dance at the end. Sorry John Hughes lovers.

It’s just an intimate portrait of one teenage girl. In one of the better scenes, Kayla finally opens up to her father about everything she’s dealing with. It’s the only time her mother is ever mentioned, but that’s not what the scene is about. It’s about her hating herself and being terrified that no one will ever see her for who she really is. Hamilton’s parenting in this scene is truly heartwarming and essential viewing for any parent with a teenager.

Some may see Eighth Grade as a “rough draft” for a coming-of-age story. But Burnham presents it in a documentary-like way that is refreshingly unflattering and realistic. It captures “moments” that are sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful and even a little touching.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ Review

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There’s a moment in Mission: Impossible – Fallout  when Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is being chased by police through the streets of Paris on a motorcycle.  He eventually makes it to the famous Arc de Triomphe roundabout where he’s forced to enter to elude authorities. He’s without a helmet and swerving through oncoming traffic with immaculate precision. It is jaw-dropping, breathtaking and any other adjective you can think of.

It’s one of many scenes in Fallout, the sixth entry in the Mission franchise, that instantly became the best action scene from any movie this year. And Cruise did his own stunts in all of them.

He does all of them because he’s A: insane and B: willing to do anything to entertain an audience. It’s what drives him. And he’s outdone himself this time because Fallout is without question, the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road.

A unique aspect to the Mission franchise is that it’s been a “One Director’s Vision” concept. In each of the first five films, you could see that director’s personal stamp on the film for better (Brad Bird with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and for worse (John Woo with Mission: Impossible II).

Look at what Tom Cruise does to entertain you. | (Paramount Pictures)

But in Fallout, director Christopher McQuarrie returns to continue the story he started in Rogue Nation and gives the franchise something it hasn’t had before: continuity.

After successfully capturing Solomon Lane, leader of the terrorist organization known as The Syndicate, in Rogue Nation, Hunt and his team face a new threat called The Apostles. They are looking to acquire plutonium for nuclear bombs and after a botched mission by Hunt and his team allow the Apostles to obtain the plutonium, Hunt must find them and take down their mysterious leader who goes by the alias, John Lark. His failure to secure the plutonium results in him having to work with an unknown agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), whose objective is to ensure the plutonium is recovered at any cost.

Fallout is a true sequel to Rogue Nation. It emphasizes the cost of human life and Hunt’s relationship to the people he cares about more than any other Mission movie. He saves Luther’s (Ving Rhames) life at the beginning of the film, but it results in the loss of the plutonium. He has nightmares about Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the love of his life who he must distance himself from in order to protect her.

On more than one occasion, he has to tell Benji (Simon Pegg) that he won’t let anything happen to him and then of course there’s Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), the mysterious woman who asked him to go away with her and leave behind a world of spying and fighting.

Hunt can’t lose even a single life because he knows what kind of burden and regret it will leave on him. This extra wrinkle makes Fallout the most personal Mission since the first and third entries in the series. It adds more weight to the story.

It may be Cruise’s show, but the team is just as essential. | (Paramount Pictures)

It also makes the story a little more convoluted with numerous twists, turns and double-crosses. It can even be slightly confusing at times which is something you never want to see in a Mission movie.

But that weight is necessary because whereas previous Missions seem to worry more about getting Hunt to the next set piece, Fallout focuses on those storylines from previous entries and builds upon them.

Of course, these movies are essentially half macguffins and half Cruise performing death-defying stunts and you know what, I don’t care. The man is in his mid-50s and shows no signs of slowing down.

Cruise jumps out of an airplane at 25,000 feet, has a brutal fight in a bathroom, jumps across buildings and runs along rooftops like he’s Batman and hangs from a helicopter that he’ll eventually commandeer to chase down another helicopter. And it’s all real (For the most part).

In a summer where we’ve gotten not one but two mediocre Dwayne Johnson movies (Rampage, Skyscraper), a ludicrous Jurassic World sequel and a forgettable Star Wars movie, you can still rely on Cruise to deliver.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is why we go to the movies. For the spectacle, the exhilaration and the utter desire to see it again almost immediately.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Skyscraper’ Review

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Skyscraper should have a lot going for it. It’s a movie that isn’t a sequel or superhero movie. It also stars, Dwayne Johnson, perhaps the biggest movie star in the world at the moment.

But despite not being based on any pre-existing material, Skyscraper lacks originality, energy or enough humor. Its mere existence should make it daring (What with all of the adaptations and franchises), but writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber fails to capitalize on the concept by making Johnson an everyman.

After a hostage situation went south resulting in him losing his leg, Will Sawyer (Johnson) has left the FBI to start a small security company. His first big contract is assessing the Hong Kong skyscraper, The Pearl.

With Sawyer’s approval, the Pearl will open its residential area. But before he can, the building is attacked by terrorists looking to retrieve something belonging to the building’s owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Between this and The Dark Knight, Han should probably avoid tall buildings.

Tom Cruise did it better. | (Universal Pictures)

To make matters worse, Sawyer’s wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two children are trapped inside the burning building. Now he must get back inside to save his family and stop the terrorists.

Skyscraper has been compared to Die Hard, but the problem is that Johnson can’t really play the straight man. The reason Bruce Willis was so great as John McClain is because he doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. He’s just an everyday guy trying to get help, save his wife and rescue the hostages.

By comparison, Johnson looks like a superhero. The amputated leg is a clever way of humanizing him and giving him an extra challenge, but by making him the everyman, Johnson’s charisma and charm are absent. This is surprising considering Thurber’s previous films are all comedies, including Central Intelligence which Johnson starred in.

In place of humor is the usual tropes: Kid with an inhaler, bad guys leaving the good guy by himself to plan an escape, and the dispensable hacker. There’s also massive amounts of foreshadowing in the first act that prevent any surprises from occurring later in the film.

The lack of humor and energy make Skyscraper a rather dull experience. And the action isn’t original or memorable enough to make up for it. Remember Tom Cruise climbing on the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai? Of course you do. That’s an iconic scene because Cruise really did it.

We need more Neve Campbell in our lives. | (Universal Pictures)

Skyscraper features lots and lots of CG. And it all takes place at night. So anytime you see Johnson hanging outside the building, you can’t help but think of the hours and hours Johnson spent in front of a green screen.

They do make good use of his prosthetic leg and there’s a recurring joke about duct tape that works. Also a nice Die Hard reference.

By far the biggest bright spot of the film is Campbell. She’s a smart, confident and capable character and it made me think, where’s Neve Campbell been? A movie based around her character might have been better.

Rolland Moller plays the main villain and he has absolutely zero personality. He’s just another jughead who watches too much MMA and likes tattoos. Hans Gruber he is not.

The reason Johnson works in the Fast & Furious franchise is because that’s a heightened world where there are virtually no consequences and he’s constantly winking at the camera. It’s basically his superhero franchise.

Skyscraper is a by-the-numbers action movie that does nothing to reinvent the wheel. It’s like they thought they had an old-fashioned action movie on their hands and instead made something generic.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Review

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Here’s a hot take. Jurassic Park should never have been a franchise. The reason being is that all of the dinosaurs are on an island. They can’t go anywhere. If you stay away from the island, everyone is fine.

But Jurassic Park made more than $1 billion worldwide. In fact, it was the first movie ever to make a billion so naturally, sequels were inevitable. The problem is that now you need reasons for people to go back to the island. Who would be dumb enough to do that?

In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, they came up with a second island, Isla Sorna, full of dinosaurs. Because that worked so well the first time. Then it became a rescue mission to save Julianne Moore’s character because she was dumb enough to go there. Now more people have to go. And then even more because some greedy rich people want to extract the dinosaurs from the island and bring them to NORTH AMERICA. Great idea.

Jurassic Park III is also a rescue mission as Alan Grant (Sam Neill), our favorite paleontologist, goes to Isla Sorna to save a boy alone on the island. The reason for the boy being anywhere near the island is idiotic.

The entire franchise is essentially those stories you read about people willingly jumping into the lion cage at the local zoo. They inevitably die and we have to feel sorry for them even though they were stupid.

This brings us to the Jurassic World franchise. In the first film, John Hammond’s vision of a working dinosaur park is finally a reality. But much like going to a NASCAR race to see a car crash, the dinosaurs have to eventually take the island to create action, suspense and even a little bloodshed.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ | (Universal Pictures

In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaurs have once again been left alone. Only this time, there’s a volcano that’s about to erupt which will lead to their extinction all over again. Great, problem solved.

Except, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), has suddenly grown to care for the dinosaurs and now runs a dinosaur activist group keen on saving the animals. “They have rights too,” she says at one point. How does her sister feel about this? You know, the one with the two kids who Claire nearly had killed in the first film.

She stumbles into a meeting with Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who was an old friend of Hammond. He has an idea to move the dinosaurs to a sanctuary where they can live in peace. With very little convincing, she agrees to go the island, with the dinosaurs that nearly ate her, and the volcano that’s about to erupt, to access information about Blue, the last remaining raptor.

No one knows Blue better than Owen (Chris Pratt), so she convinces him to go to the island too. “Save the dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to explode. What could go wrong,” he says.

Everything, actually. Everything could go wrong and does.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two movies. The first half is the rescue mission on the exploding island. This is where all the money for the budget went. Our likable yet stupid characters escape lava, dinosaurs (Naturally) and a fall off a cliff.

In one of the better set pieces, two characters are stuck inside a gyrosphere underwater. In what’s made to look like one long shot, Owen attempts to open the gyrosphere as Claire and Franklin (Justice Smith) begin to drown. It’s tense and well executed.

They survive and learn that Lockwood’s right-hand man, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), intends to sell the dinosaurs to the highest bidder.

The second half of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a haunted house movie. Set entirely inside Lockwood’s giant mansion; Claire, Owen and a young girl attempt to foil Mills’ plan. In a scene taken right out of King Kong, Mills holds an auction (In the basement, I guess) with the one percenters and wheels out each species of dinosaur.

Our three heroes break the dinosaurs out, who proceed to eat some of the people. But it’s okay, because they’re all rich which means they’re probably evil. Probably. There’s also a Russian. You know there’s something sinister about that guy.

You can tell the mansion scenes were tailor-made for director J.A. Bayona. His credits include The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls. He’s a master of creating suspense and when a new dinosaur engineered in a lab breaks out, the movie turns into a claustrophobic nightmare as the dinosaur seemingly stalks the young girl. One terrifying scene sees the girl attempting to enter a small elevator in the mansion as the dinosaur barrels it’s way toward her down a narrow hallway.

Maybe just stay home next time. | (Universal Pictures)

As mentioned earlier, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two movies. The first half is the studio’s and the second half is the director’s. This pivot at least creates distinct visual looks, but as a whole, the movie lacks momentum. They don’t seem to be building toward anything.

There’s no development with Pratt’s character and he’s far less charming in this than he was in the first film. There’s an attempt to develop his relationship with Blue, but that’s over quickly and you could argue Blue is the action star of this movie. Not Pratt.

Claire has some growth as a character, but when compared to the first film, her actions and motivations make no sense. Other characters exist simply for comic relief and the villains are borderline cartoon characters.

There’s also a bizarre subplot with the girl’s true identity and when they reveal it, you’re left thinking, “wait, what!”

And then there’s the idiotic decision-making. It’s a tradition with this franchise and I’ve already chronicled some of them. But one in particular at the end is so offensive, the person should be locked up.

This decision sets up the third movie, which is really the only reason for this one to exist. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is nothing more than filler. The plot borrows directly from other entries in the franchise and when we inevitably get a third movie, I might be rooting for the dinosaurs.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Tag’ Review

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Do kids still play tag? In an era where video games, smartphones and streaming are at their fingertips, a game where you run around outside trying to touch someone seems not only trivial, but archaic.

A quick Google search reveals things like, “Top 10 Versions of Playing Tag” and “Why are Kids so Bad at Playing Tag?” How could someone be bad at playing tag? I guess if you’re slow or perhaps asthmatic. Watch out for those pollen counts.

The Google search also reveals multiple headlines of schools banning the game because it’s unsafe. I once collided with a friend resulting in them breaking their collarbone. I think we were playing football, but it was a freak accident.

That was 20 years ago. The only conceivable reason for me to play tag today, in my mid-30s, would be if I had children. If I was doing it with fellow adults, that would be kind of weird, right?

The cast of ‘Tag’ are all likeable. | (Warner Bros.)

And yet, that’s the premise of the latest comedy, Tag. Based on a true story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years, Tag follows Hogan (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Kevin (Hannibal Buress).

The four of them reunite every May to play the game. Not only because it’s still fun, but because it gives them a chance to catch up on each other’s lives.

There’s another member of the group, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who’s never been tagged in all the years they’ve been playing. Not once. I guess all that Avengers training finally paid off for Renner. Although not without a few injuries.

Jerry’s perfect score(?) has made Hogan desperate. Jerry is about to get married, so the gang heads to Washington to attend the wedding and finally tag Jerry while his guard is down.

The concept of Tag is great and the perfect premise for a comedy. The fact that it’s based on a true story only adds to the allure.

And the scenes involving the game are satisfying. Characters disguise themselves as janitors and old ladies and the physical comedy is consistently funny. It works because the filmmakers are parodying action movies in these scenes. Slow-motion, golf-cart chases and hand-to-hand combat are among the highlights.

But when the movie slows down, the pacing and story slow to a crawl. The characters are constantly reminding us that the game has kept them close all these years, but what we don’t get enough of that comradery. The characters are all likeable, but none of them are developed so you don’t get a sense of their great bond.

The tag scenes are heightened, self-aware and entertaining. | (Warner Bros.)

There’s a love triangle subplot involving Chilli, Bob and a character played by Rashida Jones that goes nowhere. Johnson is basically playing another version of his character on New Girl, the mid-30s guy who can’t escape his college days, and the movie attempts to mature Chilli through Jones’s character, but it doesn’t work at all. Every one of her scenes could have easily been cut from the movie which is sad because she is a great comedic actor.

There are a couple of bright spots. Helms, who usually plays the straight man, is delightfully unhinged thanks to Jerry always being one step ahead. And Isla Fisher as Hogan’s wife steals every scene she’s in. It reminded me of her breakout role in Wedding Crashers.

Renner can do the physical stuff with ease, but his attempts at comedy mostly fall flat and Buress, who is normally very funny, is underutilized.

There’s a great comedy somewhere to be found in this. They’ve got the premise and cast to pull it off, but it all feels like a missed opportunity. You don’t know any of the characters which results in themes like friendship, staying connected and reliving the glory days feeling irrelevant.

The film attempts to sprinkle in some sentimentality near the end, but by then it’s too late resulting in an awkward tonal shift.

If you want a comedy with a clever plot, well-rounded characters and likeable actors, check out Game Night instead.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review

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When Disney announced that their second Star Wars anthology film would center around the early days of Han Solo, my reaction was, why? Harrison Ford was 35 (Pretty young) when he made A New Hope and the ambiguity and mystique to his character is what made Han Solo so compelling. Did we really need to know his backstory?

But I don’t work for Disney (sadly), so they decided to go back to the well rather than develop something new and original within the Star Wars universe. Disney has since announced that they will be making a standalone Boba Fett movie and that an Obi Wan Kenobi origin story could also be in the works.

They’ve also given Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson, the opportunity to develop a whole new trilogy featuring original ideas and characters. So at least Disney is finally realizing that, if you put STAR WARS in the title, that’s a $100 million opening no matter who the star is.

The chemistry between Chewie and Han is as great as ever. | (Disney)

The first anthology film, Rogue One, is unique in that it’s a one-off. It features new characters on a suicide mission to steal the plans to the Death Star and get them to rebel forces. Solo: A Star Wars Story has the disadvantage of centering around a character previously played by an actor four times across nearly 40 years. So, our new Solo, (Alden Ehrenreich), is already at a disadvantage.

When we first meet him on Corellia, he’s up to no good. Amid bribing an Imperial officer to grant he and his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), safe passage on an outgoing transport, the pursuers capture Qi’ra. Now Han vows to return and save her.

He eventually joins a crew of unsavory types. Led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the gang devises a plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium (Jet fuel?) and return it to gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Solo meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who has just the ship needed for such a daring mission.

Solo has a hard timing deciding what it wants to be. First, it’s a love story. Then a war movie and then a heist movie and then a space western. The plot is fairly straight forward with a clear macguffin (coaxium), but director Ron Howard has a hard time deciding which genre to follow.

It certainly isn’t an origin story. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, well-versed in the character of Han Solo at this point, yada yadas Han’s entire upbringing and how he learns to drive and fly. Characters, including Han himself, tell us that he’s this amazing pilot, but we see none of that development. Remember how fans were upset that Rey develops all these skills (Flying, handling a light saber) quickly in The Force Awakens? You could argue Han has a similar treatment in this story.

Setting aside story and character development, the performances and dialogue are terrific. Han and Chewbacca’s chemistry are pitch-perfect. Glover oozes charisma as Lando and the complicated relationship between Han and Qi’ra works. Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays the android L3-37 and while everything she says is hysterical, she’s almost too jokey. There’s a minor subplot where L3-37 is trying to liberate her fellow androids. But it’s mainly comic relief rather than an interesting statement about the treatment of droids within the Star Wars universe. That felt like a wasted opportunity.

Harrelson is also forgettable as Beckett. Is he a bad guy? Is he a mentor to Han? Kasdan can’t really decide what to do with him. But his scene at the end with Han is important. Especially to fan’s overall perception of whether Han is a scoundrel or a hero.

Donald Glover is having a blast playing Lando. | (Disney)

Bettany is great as the central villain and it reminded me of how much I enjoy him playing villains over heroes. But he’s barely in the film which means he has no backstory whatsoever.

Ehrenreich mostly pulls off the daunting task of following in the footsteps of Ford. He’s charming and funny, but the movie is almost too fun. There’s very little room for actual drama. The movie is too concerned with moving on to the next set piece or delivering more quippy banter.

But Solo: A Star Wars Story at least knows it’s tone. There’s great call-backs to the original trilogy including Lando’s mispronunciation of Han’s name, Han having “a great feeling about this” and Chewie losing at holochess. Lando’s affinity for capes is also a fun observation.

Solo is a consistently funny movie, but that humor is juxtaposed with a rather stale visual look. The first act features dark and dreary environments that feel like sets rather than lived-in locations. The three previous Star Wars movies did a much better job conveying worlds that could exist.

As for the set pieces, the two that standout include an extended heist scene aboard a moving train in the snowy mountains and Han piloting the Millenium Falcon in the last act. There were genuine goosebumps when he steps in for an injured Lando to fly the ship for the first time.

As a summer popcorn movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story mostly works. It’s fun, breezy and the characters are likeable. But as a Star Wars movie, it’s easily the weakest of the new bunch. The simplistic plot and lack of character development or drama really undercut the movie’s reason for existing.

And that’s the real question. Did this movie need to exist? The answer is probably not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Deadpool 2’ Review

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On Thursday night, I attended a double feature screening of Deadpool and Deadpool 2. Not only was it a fun experience, but necessary in that I could compare the two immediately.

My first thought after the screening was of Tim Miller, director of the first Deadpool.  In October 2016,  Miller officially left development on the sequel. He cited mutual creative differences with lead actor Ryan Reynolds during pre-production as the cause.

Miller later said that he “didn’t want to make some stylized movie that was 3 times the budget,” and wished to create the same kind of film that made the first one a success.

Well, after seeing Deadpool 2, I can confirm Miller’s thoughts. While not 3 times the budget, Deadpool 2 cost twice as much as the original and you can really feel it.

Look up the word “excess” in the dictionary and you’ll likely find the poster for Deadpool 2. Better yet, look up “sequel” and you’ll see it too.

It’s hard to top the opening title sequence from the first movie, but Deadpool 2 almost pulls it off thanks to a James Bondesque number with Celine Dion providing vocals. It’s clever, bombastic and a precursor to everything you’ll see in the sequel.

As the movie begins, our favorite foul-mouthed mercenary is enjoying life. But something happens (A bit of a twist), which forces Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) to start thinking about the idea of accepting other people in his life and perhaps being part of a family.

He comes to this realization after attempting to rescue Russell (Julian Dennison), a troubled boy with powerful mutant abilities.

But before he can save the boy so that he can save himself, Wade must deal with the time-traveling soldier, Cable (Josh Brolin), who intends to kill Russell to prevent something horrible from happening in the future. It’s kind of like a cross between The Terminator and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

It has been said and written to death at this point, but Reynolds was born to play this character. The quippy one-liners, the spontaneous fits of rage and physical gags remind us of why we fell in love with his portrayal of the character to begin with. It’s as if Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey had a baby and that person grew up to be a superhero.

This is best represented in a scene where Wade is visiting Professor X’s school. He commandeers the professor’s wheel chair to go for a stroll through the mansion. Reynolds’ energy and chemistry with fellow X-Men, Colossus, really brings out the humor in this franchise and Deadpool’s misfit personality within the entire X-Men world. The scene also features perhaps the best cameo in the entire movie. Although there’s another one later that might top it.

But the comedy can get overbearing and redundant. I mean how many times can we get the bloody violent action scene juxtaposed with a soft poppy musical ballad? Although I did enjoy Enya in an R-rated superhero movie. And remember Deadpool’s hand slowly growing back after he cut if off in the first film? This time it’s his legs!

If there was one aspect to the movie I was looking forward to the most regarding a different director behind the camera, it was the action. David Leitch previously co-directed John Wick and last year’s Atomic Blonde and he comes from a stunt performer background.

But the action in Deadpool 2 is unmemorable. Remember that terrific freeway scene from the first one? It was kinetic, creative and efficient in establishing the character of Deadpool and you could see every penny on screen. Here, we get another extended chase sequence and other than a fun scene involving Deadpool slicing through Cable’s gun fire with his sword, the set pieces came off rather bland.

At one point, Deadpool says, “Here comes a big CGI fight,” as two oversized comic book characters throw down. It looked more like this and less like Leitch’s outstanding work on this.

Deadpool of course acknowledges that we just saw Brolin portray Thanos, a bad guy in a superhero movie, just three weeks ago. But the irony is that his performance in Avengers: Infinity War was far more effective and emotional despite him being essentially covered behind motion capture technology. Here, he’s physically acting in all his scenes, but the backstory to his character felt more like a device rather than depth or pathos.

Dennison’s performance as the young Russell is equally underserved when compared to his past work. He essentially played the same character, a boy who feels like an outcast, in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He was charming, funny and witty in that film where as here he’s just an angry pyro out for revenge.

Deadpool 2 is Deadpool on cocaine. There’s even a scene involving the drug at one point. This is to let us know that the creators are in on the joke. But just because they’re aware of it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve created something irreverently memorable. Where the first film felt new, fresh and an outsider, the sequel feels very much like more IP for the masses to consume. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. The movie is fun and consistently entertaining. It just feels like an indie band that escapes its roots in favor of something more mainstream.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Tully’ Review

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One of my favorite scenes from any movie is the “Does it get easier?” scene from Lost in Translation. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are lying in bed discussing the challenges of life. Topics include growing older and marriage and they eventually get to kids. The following quote is from Murray about having children.

“It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids. It’s the most terrifying moment, the day the first one is born. Your life, as you know it, is gone… never to return.”

This is the first half of his thoughts on having children. He ends the scene with a beautiful statement about how your children will eventually become the most delightful people you will ever meet.

But I want to focus on the first half because I thought about this scene after watching Tully. Jason Reitman’s latest directorial effort sees him reuniting with writer Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron after their work on Young Adult.

Tully follows Marlo (Theron), a mother of three including a newborn who is having a really hard time with everything that comes with motherhood. Her self-esteem couldn’t be any lower, her middle child, Jonah, requires extra attention and of course, there’s the newborn.

Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in ‘Tully.’ | (Focus Features)

At the insistence of her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), Marlo hires a night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), to help with the baby. Hesitant at first, Marlo soon finds comfort in the extra help and begins to reestablish her own life while also forming a bond with Tully.

As someone who doesn’t have children, this movie certainly didn’t shine it in a positive light. Bill Murray was right. Your life as you know it is over. Reitman does a tremendous job illustrating this with a montage early in the film of Marlo’s monotonous daily routine of making lunches, avoiding stepping on Legos, finding new and creative ways to get a baby to sleep and the glamorous nature of lactating. There’s also various shots of strange and random stains throughout the house. Also, it never occurred to me that you will have to eventually cut your baby’s finger nails. Try doing that to a crying baby.

Remember how badass Theron was in Mad Max: Fury Road and last year’s Atomic Blonde? The transformation from those movies to Tully showcases how versatile she is as an actress. This is the antithesis of Charlize Theron: Movie Star. At one point, the baby spills a drink on Marlo’s shirt. Fed up, Marlo removes her shirt revealing her post-baby physique.

“Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” says her daughter, Emmy.

But besides the physical transformation, Theron embodies Marlo with both fragility and splashes of humor thanks to Cody’s terrific script. Theron walks a tightrope of completely losing it before landing gracefully from scene to scene.

“No one’s treated my hole for a really long time,” says Marlo to Tully after they discuss treating one’s individual parts to make them whole again.

This is among Theron’s best performances. I wouldn’t be surprised if she receives an Oscar nomination by the end of the year.

Davis is equally great as the mysterious Tully. The moment she appears on screen, Davis elevates the tone with unfiltered charisma and energy. The ambiguity to her character is also essential to the plot.

Ron Livingston plays the husband, Drew, and he acts as the typical husband leaving the wife and kids to go to work. I would have liked to see his character developed a little more, but he does get a wonderful scene at the end with Marlo that is heartwarming.

As the film reaches its conclusion, Tully takes a much darker turn with a shocking twist that is one of the best in recent memory. In fact, the twist essentially recalibrates your entire opinion about the film and its illustration of postpartum depression. Some may have a hard time with the direction it goes.

In the end, Tully is both an emotional roller coaster and a celebration of motherhood. Theron is exceptional, Cody reminds us why she is one of our best screenwriters and Reitman delivers his best film in nearly a decade.

And the final shot is a perfect yet simple encapsulation of what it means to be a parent or significant other. Even for those who can’t relate to it.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Review

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It’s difficult to write a review for a movie like Avengers: Infinity War. It’s difficult because every Avengers movie is more of a culmination and celebration of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) than an individual film. And if you think the first two Avengers movies were big, Avengers: Infinity War is something else entirely.

Infinity War brings together not only the original members of the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc..), but the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and others including Scarlet Witch, Vision and War Machine. With so many characters, no wonder the movie is 2 ½ hours long.

But you need the ’27 Yankees to deal with a villain like Thanos. Introduced at the end of The Avengers, Thanos is the ultimate bad-ass in the galaxy. His goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe. It’s his sordid way of establishing balance so that those who remain can lead a full and rich life. That or he just has a real affinity for jewelry.

And he’s arriving at the worst possible time for the Avengers. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers have split up. Cap and several others have gone dark, Iron Man is struggling with the truth behind his parent’s death and Thor and Hulk are hurtling through space.

Ten years of movies packed into one. | (pro.boxoffice.com)

Within the first five minutes, Avengers: Infinity War establishes one rule: there are no rules. Whatever you think you know or love about the MCU changes quickly with Thanos. It’s a shocking opening that sets the tone for the rest of the film. It also introduces Thanos as something more than a one-note villain who’s only desire is to destroy the world.

The best villains are those who believe what they’re doing is morally right. Thanos is a character with a belief system and moral compass. It makes him terrifying and somewhat empathetic at the same time. Josh Brolin dons the mo-cap suit to portray Thanos and he gives a refreshingly complicated and layered performance as the antagonist. He also cries. When was the last time we saw a baddie cry in a superhero movie?

When you have so many characters, the usual course of action is to break them up. The aspect of the film I was looking forward to the most was the interactions between characters who hadn’t previously met. In this case, seeing Tony Stark and Doctor Strange trade snarky quips was everything I wanted it to be. Equally satisfying is the Guardians interacting with any of the Avengers. Star-Lord is jealous of Thor’s good looks. Rocket wants the Winter Soldier’s metal arm and Drax continues to confuse everyone he encounters.

Despite the dour opening, the Russo Brothers maintain that signature humor that has been present in the MCU going all the way back to the original Iron Man. The stakes may be as high as ever, but there’s still room for jokes about Cap’s haircut, Bruce Banner’s performance issues and the movie Footloose.

The Russo Brothers previously directed the last two Captain America movies and they prove worthy successors to Joss Whedon in taking over the Avengers films. Every character has a moment to shine which is remarkable and they once again show off their ability to create fun and exciting set pieces. During a pivotal scene, a number of characters team up to remove Thanos’ mighty glove. It’s as if comic book panels leap from the screen as our heroes work together to stop Thanos.

Thanos may be evil, but there’s empathy in his actions. | (denofgeek.com)

Despite being the longest movie in the MCU, Infinity War flies by thanks to roughly 80 percent of it being action. This proves to be a bit exhausting. While there are some emotionally effective beats, it would have been nice to see a few quieter moments. The constant action causes the film to feel a little disjointed narratively.

I mentioned earlier that each of the characters are given their moment to shine. But for a large majority of the characters, it’s only a moment. There’s a romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision that proves to be a pivotal relationship in the movie. But there isn’t enough time for us to buy them as tragic lovers.

Cap and Black Widow are given nothing to do and while the last act features Wakanda heavily, the rich and interesting country established in Black Panther is nothing but a playground of destruction in Infinity War. You could tell this movie was filmed before the release of Black Panther. It’s kind of like when Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave and then showed up as a flight attendant in a Liam Neeson action movie a few months later. Marvel just didn’t know what kind of phenomenon Black Panther was going to be.

There’s also a few powerful superheroes conveniently “hurt” in some way resulting in Thanos having a much easier time. But these are minor quibbles.

Avengers: Infinity War is everything Marvel fans want in a superhero movie. It’s exciting, funny and full of surprises. Now let’s talk about the ending. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say it ends on a cliffhanger. It’s meant to be shocking, but it kind of felt like a cop-out regarding the stakes. Perhaps it will play a little better once we know the full context of the overall story with the release of the final Avengers movie next summer.

But for now, enjoy the mother of all superhero movies. Ten years and 18 movies have led to this and for the most part, Marvel and Disney pull it off.