Review: ‘Ant Man and the Wasp’ is a Fun, Witty Entry in the MCU

A much needed, light-hearted film following Avengers: Infinity War.

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A much needed, light-hearted film following Avengers: Infinity War.

RATING: ★★1/2 (out of four stars)

The MCU has had an incredible year so far with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Both of those films were very serious and, for the most part, some of the more darker chapters in the universe. They were definitely great movie experiences, but with Ant Man and the Wasp, it’s nice to go back to laughing every five minutes for a Marvel Studios movie. Even though the events in the movie take place before Infinity War, it was smart and necessary for Marvel Studios to set Ant-Man and the Wasp pre-Infinity War.

Let’s talk about what worked in Ant Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd is perfect as Scott Lang/Ant Man. His wit, comedic timing, and charisma make his character very likable and easy to root for. He spends the first act of the movie on house arrest following the events in Captain America: Civil War. The writing uses this plot element as a great way to continue building the relationship with his daughter after the events of Ant-Man. Best of all, it explains where he was during Avengers: Infinity War.

Now if only we can get justice for Hawkeye…..BUT ANYWAY….

Evangeline Lilly makes for a good partner as Hope/The Wasp for Scott Lang/Ant-Man. She has some of the coolest fight sequences in the movie and she’s also just as cool and collective when she’s not in a superhero suit. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and is about the same as he was in Ant-Man. The biggest difference for his character this time around though is that Ant-Man and the Wasp’s story is far more personal to his character, which adds some gravitas to the story. Laurence Fishburne is now a part of the MCU and the DCEU, so that’s pretty cool if you like comic book movies. Michael Pena once again steals the show with some of the funniest moments in the movie. Seriously, get him a suit and a movie of his own now, Marvel Studios.

There are two problems in Ant Man and the Wasp. One is somewhat minor and can be overlooked by most people, and the other is pretty glaringly obvious. The small problem is the chemistry between Scott and Hope. It isn’t bad, but the issue is that they built their relationship between the two movies. So, the fact that the audience hasn’t actually seen it build makes it difficult to believe when Hope gets mad at Scott or when they have a romantic moment. They had some chemistry in the first film, but without seeing it build on-screen poses as a  small character connection problem. The main problem in Ant Man and the Wasp is a problem that’s been around for years in the MCU: the villain (or should I say villains). They missed a big opportunity to make Ghost the main villain and one that we could sympathize like Thanos and Killmonger. After Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther earlier this year, it looked like Marvel Studios finally got the antagonist side of their MCU entries right – and then Ant-Man and the Wasp shows how it’s still a glaring problem that has yet to be fixed entirely. And not only is there Ghost, but there’s also Walton Goggins’ character and group of henchmen that are connected to the FBI too. When you have this many villains, it’s hard to keep the core focus of the film. If Ghost had been the only villain, then Ant Man and the Wasp might have soared to greater heights.

As a whole, Ant Man and the Wasp is loads of fun and is laugh out loud funny. The fact that you’re either laughing or smiling from excitement makes it easier to forgive the movie for its flaws and issues. The mid-credit scene is awesome and the post-credit scene is simply okay. And yes, Ant Man and the Wasp does answer some questions from Avengers: Infinity War and ties everything together nicely.

Review: The ‘Jurassic’ Franchise Roars Its Way Back to Life with ‘Fallen Kingdom’

Life finds it’s way back into a tired franchise.

Life finds it’s way back into a tired franchise.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

Jurassic Park is a monument of a film. It’s special effects work propelled the use of CGI and other practical effects into the stratosphere. This was another film of Spielberg’s that made blockbuster movies a staple of every summer.  Not only was the film entertaining as hell but it immediately cemented itself as a classic.  Every subsequent film in the franchise has faltered when trying to recapture the magic of the first one.  When the series was rebooted with 2015s Jurassic World, a movie where a fully functioning theme park was built and operational on dinosaur island.  While the movie failed to recreate the spectacle of the original, it did provide enough dino-violence to make it a financial success.  Now a few years later, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom manages to fix some of the problems with it’s predecessor by giving audiences a fun blockbuster with some freshness on the beloved dino franchise.

Set three years after the tragic events of Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom starts with a montage of news reports saying a volcano as become active on Isla Nublar.  Many people support going in to save the dinos, while other say let nature run its course. A wealthy man representing the Lockwood estate (former parter of the original park’s founder john hammond) approaches   Claire Dearing about transporting the dinosaurs to a nature reserve. Wanting to save the beloved dinosaurs from re-extinction, she recruits Owen to return to island once more.

There is a lot going on in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Much like Jurassic World retread much of the original Jurassic Park, the first act feels like The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  The first act takes place on the island in a race for time to find Blue, the beloved raptor from World before the volcano erupts.  There is a new level of tension in this part of the film that hasn’t been present in a Jurassic film before.  The rumbling of the volcano is ever present to add tension to these quiet moments.  Once the eruption starts, the movie turns into full blown chaos as dinosaurs stampede past our heroes to escape certain destruction.  This sequence is one of the most fresh and most fun that has been in Jurassic movie in sometime.

Once the ash starts to settle the movie plays out in a way that highlight director J.A. Bayona’s reserved directing style. The camera effortless swops through quiet scenes with the characters to establish the space and slowly wring out the tension.  One sequence with Owen and Claire in the cage with a sedated T-Rex showcases this style of filmmaking.  The first act of the film is explosive with its action, while the last two thirds are more reserved for some thrilling sequences that closely resemble the horror elements of the original film.

One of the main plot points of this film’s predecessor is that audiences don’t care about the original dinosaurs anymore, so new ones must be manufactured.  This idea is carried out further with the Indoraptor, a hybrid of velociraptors and the Indominus Rex.  For fans of the ludicrous idea of a Jurassic film about dinos with guns, this is as close as its going to get in a practical sense.  The Indoraptor is much better than the Indominus Rex and provides for some genuine thrills.

The best thing about Jurassic World was how seemingly self aware the film was for a blockbuster.  It poked fun at cooperate sponsorships while being a cheesy action blockbuster itself.  This films carries that spirit with Chris Pratt’s charismatic deliver of the hokiest lines.  The movie is a by the books blockbuster through and through, but it never takes itself too seriously so the film feels fresh while it retreads familiar ground.

The best quality of Fallen Kingdom is how the ending setups future films.  the biggest problem with any Jurassic Park sequel is how the movies have been confined to the dinosaurs on island.  The events in the film, both on and off the island, allows any subsequent films to explore new territory that hasn’t been in a Jurassic film thus far.  The idea of genetics is on that is integral to the Jurassic franchise, but hasn’t been expanded upon outside of the dinosaurs.  What this film does with that shows the franchise has room to grow.

The film isn’t perfect, but every entry in the franchise after Jurassic Park has a lot to live up to.  This is the first film to boldly step into new territory and successfully pull it off.  It’s not a perfect movie, but really what blockbuster is.  Its fun through and through like a Jurassic film should be, and opens up the franchise to new ground that it desperately needs.  Any fan of the franchise needs to see this film, as it is essential viewing and entertaining as hell.

‘Gotti’ Deserves its 0% Score on Rotten Tomatoes

“He showed the world who’s boss.”* *But not in this John Travolta-led disaster.

“He showed the world who’s boss.”* *But not in this John Travolta-led disaster.

As of the time of this post, Gotti has the rare 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. After 23 reviews submitted to the film review aggregation site, you’d think someone would give it a positive review. Since the score was still sitting at 0% as of yesterday, and since I have MoviePass I would be risking very little, I figured I’d go see Gotti this weekend and see if it was actually that bad.

Every now and then you come across a movie so bad, you can’t help but laugh out loud and throw up your hands at numerous points during the movie because you don’t understand what went into the scenes you’re watching in said movie. In this case, that movie is Gotti, which is the worst movie I’ve seen in over a year and certainly deserves its 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Gotti follows the rise of the infamous crime boss, John Gotti, as he heads up the Gambino Crime Family in New York City over the span of three decades.

Directed by a cast member of HBO’s Entourage, this crime film feels like a stitched-together version of Goodfellas made for Crackle (Cracklefellas, anyone?). The scenes highlighting the mob boss’s rise are baseless and filled with ludicrous dialogue and felt as if they were written by a high schooler forced to take a script-writing course in order to have enough credits to graduate. John Travolta plays the titular character and mob boss, but he certainly deserved better than this (however, a look at his recent track record of films may say otherwise). On top of that, the film is accompanied by an unbearable score composed by rap star Pitbull, who includes four of his own songs that stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the number of producers listed in the opening credits is the clearest indication that this film never should have left the writer’s room. However, it did and if it weren’t for my MoviePass (which, by the way, helped distribute Gotti rather than sending it straight to Video on Demand), I would have been really upset to have paid $17 to see this awful movie.

Recently, critics have spoken out against Rotten Tomatoes as the base for moviegoers to decide whether or not they want to see a movie in the theater. And while there is a strong argument to be made for each side, in the case of Gotti, it earned the score of 0% given how bad it is. Moviegoers (especially those that don’t use MoviePass) should be warned by the 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, which will undoubtedly cause it to draw some support for the Razzies next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cleanse myself of this horrible movie and see something good, like Paddington 2.

Review: ‘Hereditary’ Takes the Horror Genre to Unsettling Heights

A24’s fourth horror film in five years is worth all the hype.

A24’s fourth horror film in five years is worth all the hype.

RATING: ★★★1/2 (out of four stars)

If there’s one thing that’s been the most consistent about A24 since they were founded in 2012, it’s their dedication to the arthouse horror subgenre. 2014 would be the year of Under The Skin, which paired harrowing imagery and an unnerving score to an abstract narrative that blended elements of atmospheric science fiction and cosmic horror to create a haunting but thought-provoking commentary about beauty, sexuality and what it ultimately means to be human. Two years later, A24 would release The Witch, a period horror piece that took the risk of grounding its dialogue in the dialect of colonial-era England to tell its haunting tale about a family banished from their homeland only to be haunted and driven to paranoia by supernatural forces. Then there was the extremely divisive It Comes At Night, which was sold as a post-apocalyptic horror film centered around a family trying to retain their existence after a disease wipes out the majority of humanity around them, but turned out to be an unsettling mindbender of a psychological drama.

Now this weekend, A24 is poised to release Hereditary, the directorial debut of Ari Aster, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to an unprecedented level of praise. While only time will tell if Hereditary is one of the scariest movies of all time, it certainly is terrifying in its own unique way, and takes the horror genre to new heights through its stylistic choices, deliberately slow pacing, and a knockout lead performance from Toni Collette.

Hereditary begins with an obituary over a black screen for Ellen Graham, which in true newspaper fashion makes note of her deceased parents and husband, as well as the surviving members of her family, most notably her daughter Annie (Toni Collette), who is having as difficult a time coping with the loss of her mother as she is with completing an elaborate showcase of miniature houses and buildings complete in time for an important art exhibit while raising her own immediate family, from her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and her young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), while her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) elects to keep to himself and focus on his work as a therapist.

Right from the get-go, it’s made clear that this family has a tumultuous relationship, from the sparse conversations they do have with each other before heading off to partake in their menial but quirky hobbies; Charlie draws sketches of creepy monsters and Peter socializes and smokes cannabis with his friends. But Ellen’s death is the catalyst for Annie to find herself and her family haunted by terrors that may be of mental, supernatural, or even ancestral origin, and sets out to discover their true source despite her mental vulnerability.

From that synopsis, Hereditary sounds like a straightforward horror film, but what earns it all the hype and critical praise is the assured direction from Ari Aster. In his debut feature film, Aster does the unprecedented and sets a new bar for the horror genre by fusing a variety of subgenres to create a film-watching experience that’s uniquely terrifying from beginning to end. A particular example of existential horror comes in the film’s opening shot, where the camera zooms in on one of the many miniature houses in Annie’s workshop until the bedroom takes up the entire frame, just in time for Peter to wake up and have a brief conversation with his father standing in the doorway. The tilt shift lens used for this opening adds to the existential perspective of Hereditary by making these characters look like dolls in this proverbial dollhouse, suggesting that the horrors they go through in the next two hours are inescapable and beyond their control.

Meanwhile, elements of psychological horror permeate throughout Hereditary through Annie’s mental anguish, conveyed by a powerhouse lead performance from Toni Collette. Forever a character actress, Collette makes the case for a Best Actress Oscar nomination with every breakdown at her grief support group, outburst at her family, and drive to discover the secrets of her family history. As the film progresses and Annie’s search takes her down a psychological rabbit hole, one is left wondering in a pivotal scene if Annie is having nightmarish visions, possessed by a spiritual force or crying out to her mother in helplessness from her situation, and Collette sells the ambiguity of Annie’s emotional state with an unflinching intensity.

Aster also succeeds at keeping Hereditary suspenseful for the entirety of its run time through a plethora of aesthetic choices which give the film a consistent, unsettling ambience from scene to scene; from wide shots that isolate the characters, to long takes and painfully unhurried camera movements that contribute to a deliberately slow pace that only builds the tension more and more as the audience comes to learn about the Graham family and the unhinged baggage they carry. Even the resentment everyone in this family has for each other, and the familial pressures Peter feels as a teenager are played for scares, only adding a layer of domestic horror on top of the film’s existential and atmospheric dread. It’s worth noting that Aster went the extra mile to make his first horror feature fresh and new by crafting it devoid of jump scares. When audiences finally see the force that’s really haunting the Grahams lurking behind them, their only choice is to watch in between fingers and pray our characters escape, or survive sight unseen.

But in a film with many twists and turns, Hereditary does take one for the conventional in its third act resolution. It’s especially deflating because it follows a conclusion full of disturbing imagery and haunting atmosphere that succeeds at making one’s skin crawl. Meanwhile, the film’s slow pace and just over two hour runtime can really test the patience of causal moviegoers. But for those up to the challenge, Hereditary is a fresh, hypnotic take on the horror genre that will leave audiences on the edge of their seats for its consistent, unrelenting atmosphere, demented turns in its story, and inventive merging of genres into an experience that’s terrifying in its uniqueness. It’s deserving of all the hype and positive criticism it’s gotten up to this point, as it’s the type of film that will leave its viewership wishing to stop feeling scared as much as these characters wish to stop living with each other.

Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Showcases Ron Howard’s Skill With Thrilling Heist Film

Ron Howard saves this film from the production troubles.

Ron Howard saves this film from the production troubles.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)


Solo: A Star Wars Story has taken a long and arduous path to finally hitting the big screen. Between the original directors being fired two weeks before production was wrapped and Ron Howard stepping in to reshoot nearly 80% of the film, Solo has every reason to be dead on arrival. Despite all of this, Solo proves itself as one of the more fun Star Wars films. It is a confident origin story for one of the franchise’s most beloved characters, and opens up the galaxy to much more beyond the Empire.

Following the story of a young Han, audiences ventured through the beginnings of their favorite smuggler. The film picks up with Han on his home planet of Corellia, struggling to survive on the streets. Just before he came make his escape to greater things, he is separated from his Qi’ra (the love interest played by Emilia Clarke) and forced to join the Empire to keep from being imprisoned. During his tenure as a Stormtrooper, Han links up with a band of thieves. Han deserts the army, hoping that this one big heist will get him the ship he needs to get home and save the girl.

It shows just how competent of a director Ron Howard is with what he was able to with Solo. What easily could have been a fan service film to fill the gap between episodes eight and nine turned out to be a really fun heist film. Howard keeps the pacing tight while delivering some of the most exhilarating actions sequences of the franchise. Howard’s direction, coupled with the stunning cinematography of Bradford Young, make for one of the most visually appetizing chapters in the Star Wars universe.

The cast is impeccable here. Each actor holds their one in an intimidating role. Alden Ehrenreich wears the Han Solo character like he was born to play him. The rugged charm that fans loved so much when Han first made his debut in a new hope wafts of Ehrenreich with his first scene. Emilia Clarke finally lands the role outside of Game of Thrones that proves she possesses that chops to land meatier roles deserving of her talents. Donald Glover fits into the role of Lando Calrissian effortlessly. There is no discernable between his and Billy Dee William’s performance in the original trilogy. While some may pining for more screentime with Glover, he presents Lando in the manner he has always been in Star Wars.

There isn’t a lot to dislike about the film. Aside from Paul Bettany’s rather one note villain, the world of the film is air tight. The antics of Han and Chewy first meeting are some of the best scenes in the series. The best thing the film does is expand the Star Wars universe. As beloved as the franchise is, it has always been a story about the Skywalkers and the Empire. This is the first film to delve into something beyond that scope, dealing with the criminal world that has developed under the rule of the Empire.   If these are the kinds of stories to be expected from the Star Wars films outside the main saga, then the franchise is better for it. Solo is a must see Star Wars Story for any fan of the franchise.

Review: ‘Thunder Road’ is an Intimate Character Study of the Common Man

Jim Cummings’ delivers on his Kickstarter promise with an Indie hit.

Jim Cummings’ delivers on his Kickstarter promise with an Indie hit.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

Indie movies are a labor of love. They are low budget passion projects made with the blood, sweat, and tears of filmmakers who believe these stories are ones that need to be told. This is a risky move for filmmakers, but it’s a gamble that can lead to an incredibly rewarding endgame. Such is the story of Thunder Road, one of the sleeper hits from this year’s Nashville Film Festival.

Thunder Road was originally a 12-minute short film that circulated the film festival circuit in 2016. It garnered many accolades, including the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance. It ended up on many best shorts of 2016 and best short films ever made lists. As with most short films, they serve as a proof of concept to expand its story into a feature length film. After running a successful Kickstarter campaign, which more than tripled its goal, Thunder Road was turned in a 91-minute feature length film.

Written, directed, and performed by Jim Cummings, Thunder Road is an incredibly human story about the suffering of an everyday man. Cummings plays Officer Arnaud, who is eulogizing his late mother at the beginning of the film. The first scene of the film is a ten minute unbroken shot, with camera subtlety creeping its way towards Cummings as he unravels while delivering a painful eulogy. This scene sets up for the unflinching look the film takes at a broken man who continues to break.

Officer Arnaud is not a perfect man. He has split custody of his daughter, who would much rather be with her mother. The relationship with his ex-wife is strained, and that is putting it mildly. He has a good rapport with his partner, but sometimes his anger affects their working relationship. If Thunder Road is a character study, its biggest strength is the amount of empathy it places on a man who can’t take the right step no matter how hard he tries.

The film is drenched with the making of existentialist novels from centuries past. Its philosophies aren’t laid bare for an audience, but watching these characters operate through such strained relationships does pose the question of what it all really is about. This is the greatest strength of the film, being a simple story that evokes so much emotion from its complex character.

The film is not without its faults. The biggest issues being with such a short run time it the film does feel like an extended companion piece to the original short film. There are some scenes that hint at why Arnaud is how he is, and how his family influenced his behavior and defined his faults. Just a few more scenes would have flushed this character out to his full potential and elevate this film to being a true indie masterpiece.

Thunder Road is a delight with how surprisingly good it is. The film nails just how raw and uncomfortable it is to watch a grown man cry. This film deserves to be picked up and distributed for a wider audience. When the Kickstarter for the feature met its goal within 7 hours of the campaign being live, its clear that there is audience for the film. If you haven’t seen the original short film, you can check it out here.   When this film eventually gets a distribution plan, it is a must see for fans of indie sweetheart films.

Review: ‘First Reformed’ is a Chilling Cautionary Tale of a Radical Isolationist Mind

A chilling self examination of mankind and its influence on God’s creation.

A chilling self examination of mankind and its influence on God’s creation.

RATING: ★★★1/2 (out of four stars)

Every few years or so, a film comes around that shocks audiences to their core.  Taxi Driver pulled this off in 70s and launched itself into cultural landmark status.  Now the writer of Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader, is back with a spiritual film that puts humanity under the lens with razor sharp focus.

First Reformed tells the story of Reverend Toller (played by Ethan Hawke), who is the minister of small tourist church outside New York, and his congregation is all but non existent.  One of the few members of his flock, Mary (played by Amanda Seyfried), asks him to personally speak with her husband who is a former environmental activist and his radical actions landed him in prison.  This conversation sparks something inside Toller that ignites his frustrations with the world and calls his faith into question.

In one of the most daring films in recent years, Schrader puts humanity on blast.  It is difficult to recall of a spiritual film that so adequately examines the minutia of the human condition.  We are a fickle species.  We have an innate desire to do what we think is right, but we also want to conform to the world in which we live.  Schrader has crafted characters that exemplify these traits.  Toller is a man who, through much pain and loss, understands what it means to be overcome with despair yet hope for me.  Mary understands what it means to want to a normal life for her family, even if it means sacrificing her passions.  The minister of the nearby megachurch (played by Cedric The Entertainer) understand what it means to be a part of the real world

The first two third of the film feel like a window in Anytown, USA.  Every scene feels like a conversation between real people.  The drama feels genuine and nothing feels too extraordinary for the sake of being a movie.  Everything is expertly paced to slowly draw out the tension till everything comes to a head in the final act.  Much like Taxi Driver, the final act is where things get a bit too grandiose for the tone of the rest of the film.  Not to say that is a bad thing, as viewers are drawn to the edge of their seat with each passing moment in anticipation for the final moments of the film.

The performances are what breathe live into the film.  Ethan Hawke gives a career defining performance, flawlessly transitioning from the everyday man to a man crippled by the despair of loneliness from scene to scene.  Cedric the Entertainer is a surprising delight, as he is typically not a dramatic actor.  He brings with him a likable air that is so quintessential for a minister, one that lets you know this is a man of god and you know you’re supposed to like him.

Schrader is a calculated filmmaker; everything is done with purpose.  The minimalist soundscape pulls the ever growing tension throughout the film.  The lack of over the shoulder shots during dialogue scenes forces viewers to damn near make eye contact with the actor in the claustrophobic 4:3 ratio.  Every subtle tick and mannerism an actor emotes is visible and serves Schrader’s vision.  First Reformed is one of the most carefully crafted films of the year, and its philosophies will linger with audiences for days after the credits finish rolling.