Category Archives: movie review

reviews of movies

The Incredibles 2 movie review

incredibles-2

In the endless stream of remakes and sequels that is the new normal for summer at the movies, here comes The Incredibles 2. Unlike most of it’s “another chapter in the story” brethren, this movie is well written.  The thing is, its story beats are nearly identical to the first one.

Even though this movie is about the exact same thing as the previous installment, it’s still creates and expands on interesting characters, situations and does it in a different way than the first installment. This made me think about what Robert zemeckis said when making Back to the Future Part 2 and how the audience wants the same experience when they go see a sequel as they had the first time and The Incredibles 2 fits this tradition like a glove.

The reason it works is because the revisited story points are covered in broad strokes.  For example:

  • superheroes have conflict with the public
  • conflict within the Parr family
  • there’s a mysterious villian
  • Edna makes a super suit
  • Luscious’ wife complains about his super heroing
  • Jack-Jack has powers?!?

And so on.  The thing is, the subtext drives the relationship between the characters and the way the audience relates to them. It’s the reason the movie is a fun time at the movies instead of a tedious retread of something we’ve already seen.

At its core, The Incredibles 2 is a carbon copy of the original. It doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but then, what movie could? The original film (in what seems to be destined to become a franchise) is essentially without flaw. While this new entry hits all the right (even if the same) notes, the champ is still undisputed.  But I still can recommend this movie to fans of the first one.

Ranking the Jurassic Park movies because here we are

jurassic-park-movies

Ranking movies is about as arbitrary as it gets, and then there’s ranking movies within a specific franchise… Yeah, I’d say it’s an exercise in futility, so you may be wondering, “Why do it?” The fact that you’re reading this is the answer. Anyway, here’s my ranking of worst to best of the Jurassic Park movie series, and just for the record, I don’t care how many Jurassic World movies they make, I’m not calling it that EVER.

5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

This movie is boring and a carbon copy of the previous installment – all they did was substitute “the park is open” with “the park is covered in lava” and then immediately abandoned what could have been an intriguing ticking clock gimmick for BORING. Meh.

4. Jurassic World

A pale imitation of the original with a pale imitation of Indiana Jones in the lead. There’s a few cool things to look at, but this is a bland affair – aside from the most brutal inessential character death to ever be put on screen.

3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park II

Sure, it’s a clunker, but it’s MEMORABLE.

“We’re not going to make the same mistakes again.” “No, you’ll make all new ones!”

“You got kicked off the team?!?”

And so on. The trailer falling off the cliff is neat, too.

2. Jurassic Park III

This movie gets better every time I see it. The phone gag never gets old. I know the dream sequence is silly, but I look forward to it and I laugh every time.

1. Jurassic Park

Or, as I like to call it, “Jaws for people who think Jaws is boring.” It was visually dazzling in it’s day, but there’s a lot of tension here, too. It’s definitely one of the best of the big budget blockbuster of the 90s.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom? More like Failing Franchise! (Movie review)

jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-box-office

(And by “Failing,” I mean artistically, obviously not commercially.)

Journey with me into the depths of Universal Pictures and see how a Jurassic World movie gets made… if you DARE.

“Okay everybody, it’s time to open the cash register that is the Jurassic Park franchise. Does anybody have ideas for a script?”

“That’s easy. Just take the script for Jurassic World and cross out “The Park is open,” and replace it with “There’s lava, but not for the entire movie, because that would get expensive,” and that’ll do. For the rest of the time, we’ll just do the exact same ‘genetically engineered dinosaur on the loose’ and ‘dinosaurs can be trained, bond with humans’ thing we did last time.”

“Okay.  I think that’s lunch.”

It’s just that simple, folks.  They put shiny thing in front of us and we open our wallets.

Speaking of which, Director J. A. Bayona gives us some interesting things to look at during the course of 128 minutes where there’s nothing to think or feel about – he does this trick with shadows that’s both effective and cool to look at, but he does it more than once, which was probably not a good idea.

Meanwhile, the idea to bring human cloning into the movie reeks of both “Look, here’s something NEW! Don’t you see how this movie is totally different?” and “This may be way off brand, but the next movie can now be able human-dinosaur hybrids,” and man, do I NOT want to see that movie.

Anyway, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both likable enough, Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith are both welcomed additions and Jeff Goldblum isn’t really in this movie, it’s just a cheap gimmick.  Toby Jones and B. D. Wong could really use a mustache to twirl, and that about rounds out the cast.

What else can I say about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom?  It’s especially engaging – I’ve never seen so many people leave the theater to go to the bathroom during a movie.  It’s not that it’s fundamentally broken, it’s just lazy.  If this is your first Jurassic Park movie, maybe you’ll enjoy it. but as a twenty year veteran of the franchise, I was just waiting for it to be over.

Add I thought a Rubik’s Cube was confusing (Cube movie review)

cube-1997-movie

Sometimes you wander around Netflix and just pick whatever. If you randomly watch Cube, you could do worse.

I think the thing I liked most about this movie was its ability to make me care and like these characters. I actively rooted for them and I didn’t want them to die – this might seem like a low bar, but trust me, many movies grasp for this bottom rung and fail. Even when one character goes crazy for reasons I don’t fully understand, I just care about how this changes the way that character interacts with the others. I still care, even if it doesn’t make sense.

This is an achievement.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie do so much with so little. Man, they recycled and reused basically one set and just let the tension draw from the performances. But more than that, even when the dialogue was pretentious or unclear, the movie found a way to sell it.

Some of the performances are over the top, the last scene is too vague, but somehow, it overcomes all this. Cube isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s pretty damn good. I’m excited to watch it again, so that’s about as ringing an endorsement you’re going to get from me.

3000 Miles to Graceland is a huge pile of shit (movie review)

3000-Miles-to-Graceland

I decided not to bury the lead.

So yeah, this movie is not good. 3000 Miles to Graceland opens with two silly looking digital scorpions fighting each other. The metaphor and connection to the plot is, in a word, forced. Anyway, the basic premise is five guys dressed up like Elvis during an Elvis impersonator weekend in Las Vegas rob a Casino. Your brain is going to make you expect to see a scene where they all disappear into a crowd of Elvis’s (or Elvie?), but it never happens. That’s a recurring motif in the movie; the thing the plot seems to pointing to never happens. (The studio decided not to release this movie under its original title: Shattered Expectations.)

And don’t bother waiting for the climactic fight between Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, because there isn’t one… I guess I just made this point, so moving on.

Besides its own fundemental plot issues, the other big problem with 3000 Miles to Graceland is the characters. You sort of root for Russell, but you don’t sympathize with him, and you don’t really like anyone else. Costner is sorta fun in a bad guy you love to hate sort of way, but you don’t want him to win, and Courtney Cox is just a dispicable excuse for a character you’re supposed to relate to, because you can’t get behind a mother abandoning her son with someone who just got out of prison.

Add I was really surprised when that woman snowballed Costner, but that’s beside the point.

So you’re sitting there, watching the movie, wondering how much longer it could possibly be (it’s a grueling 2+hours), Ice T shows up out of nowhere (Howie Long also pops in and out, doing basically what he did in Broken Arrow) and gives you false hope but provides two of the biggest laughs of the movie, one intentional, one not.

At the end of the day, 3000 Miles to Graceland is bloated and pleases no one. The action isn’t exciting enough, the characters are too flat and the plot barely holds together, so you can’t write it off a genre flick when it doesn’t adhere to any conventions of any genres – except poorly made movies.

3000 Miles to Graceland is streaming on Netflix – proceed at your own risk.

Bad Samaritan or Dropped Thread: The Movie (movie review)

bad_samaritan_pay_phone

Yeah, there’s a pay phone in this movie. Because those are still around.

When I go to the movies, I want to like the movie.  I’m not hoping for it to be bad.  I went into Bad Samaritan totally cold – I don’t think I’d even seen the poster.  I was ready to go with whatever story this movie wanted to tell.  No expectations, no preconceived notions, I was ready to see an entertaining story on any terms.  And for the first twenty-ish minutes, it seemed like maybe this trip to the theater might work out – there’s David Tennant, the story might have potential… and then it falls apart, piece by piece. Read the rest of this entry

Fahrenheit 451 is the latest reminder that Michael B. Jordan is your new God

I saw That Awkward Moment in 2014 because everything else was sold out. You probably don’t remember hearing about it because it’s not a good movie. Zac Efron stars and I think he has a lot of talent, but I haven’t seen him play a complex role yet. Michael B. Jordan, on the other hand, had been crushing it since then. Every movie I’ve seen him in isn’t perfect (or even good – COUGH Fantastic Four COUGH), but Jordan is never the problem. In fact, after seeing him in Fahrenheit 451, I now consider him as automatic as it gets.

But just to be clear, this movie is not great.

Yeah, Jordan is excellent. Yeah, I like what they did with social networking, but this movie could use some more world building and more character development. It’s clear enough to get by, but from a story point of view, it’s a straight A student turning in C work.

I don’t want to debate changes they made from the book or nitpick dialogue (Michael Shannon practically had to memorize a phone book), I just want a little bit more. HBO cut corners and prioritized style over substance and it shows. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t bad, but it could have been great.

If you have HBO, consider this a soft recommendation. Michael B. Jordan delivers, but that’s all anyone will remember about this movie.

Avengers Infinity War: high drama or cheap shell game? (Movie Review)

avenger-infinity-war-spidey-iron-man-mantis

Here we are for the third Avengers film and the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. (“Who knows what adventures The [Avengers] will have between now and when the series becomes unprofitable.”) The MCU has been an above-average experience for me with a high point of Winter Soldier and the least enjoyable experience being Age of Ultron. Now, we get to finally see all of the different corners of the MCU come together, which turns out to be a lot of fun. But at the same time, does this story give us high drama or are the cornerstones of the plot indications of the whole thing being just a cheap shell game? Spoilers follow!

spoiler alert Read the rest of this entry

Ready Player One is the clickbait version of a movie

iron-giant-ready-player-one

“Oh my God, it’s THE IRON GIANT! I’m so excited, that’s worth the price of admission alone!” -what every executive at Warner Bros expects you to say when you see the marketing for Ready Player One

I knew going into Ready Player One that there would be a never-ending parade of nostalgia geared toward people around my age. What I didn’t realize was that it was the sole focus of the movie. While that does sound like something that COULD work, my conclusion is that it doesn’t.

And to be clear, I’m reviewing the movie only. I’ve never read the book, nor do I think that should be required for seeing the movie.

I thoroughly reject the argument that you won’t get this movie if you are not a gamer. I wouldn’t call myself hardcore, but I’ve been playing video games for nearly my entire life. The fact that the movie’s plot is covered in a video game wrapper doesn’t matter. Nearly all action adventure movies conform to The Hero’s Journey just as this movie does – there’s not really anything new happening here in terms of structure. Most adventure stories have a down-on-their-luck hero (Marty McFly, Billy Peltzer, Luke Skywalker, etc) with a love interest, then he overcomes threshold guardians to ultimately beat the bad guy and win the day. That’s just how these movies work.

The real problem with Ready Player One is the lack of world building backstory (I don’t understand how a corn syrup drought created a dystopia and so on) and a cast of characters that just don’t compel. I wasn’t actively rooting for the protagonists to fail, but I wasn’t excited when they won, either. At a late point in the movie, I just wanted it to be over because the end was so telegraphed and obvious that I was starting to get bored.

In concept, I would think I’d like Ready Player One. The movie is all about 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop culture (which is very much my bag), but it wasn’t charming.  Instead, it’s beyond forced. Maybe that’s the problem – references work when they’re subtle, not when they’re the sole focus and reason something exists. That’s when something stops becoming a reference and just becomes the plot. Yeah, I saw the campaign poster from Back to the Future in the background, big deal. That didn’t make the movie better. Yes, I see the Iron Giant too, except this film seems to be missing the entire point of its to titular character and if you were going to ignore the moral, then why leave out the giant gun that lives inside his chest? When the good guy army was rushing toward the bad guy, I think I saw a Battletoad in there, but honestly, everything image is so saturated with characters and things that I feel like the movie is really just an advertisement for the Blu-ray. By this I mean the movie is intentionally visually dense to the point where the only way to really see all of its bloat is to watch it at home while continuously pausing it and examining each frame. I guarantee you that when this movie hits the aftermarket, you’ll see every single website in existence write an article entitled All The Stuff You Missed in Ready Player One. It’s coming, I promise you – if they’re not here already.

The thing is, I didn’t hate the movie. I wasn’t particularly bored or frustrated with any one scene, it’s just that the movie as a whole is bland. I didn’t really feel anything while watching this movie. At all. I appreciated all the work the zillions of digital animators did on this movie and I think that if Steven Spielberg didn’t direct it would be a horrible mess, but that’s about the only positives I can rattle off.

When when it comes down to it, Ready Player One is an underdeveloped movie that tries to make up for its own shortcomings with nostalgia and flashy visuals, but it’s just not enough. The only reason to see this in the theater is because every image is so cluttered that if you care about seeing every single thing, the bigger it is the better.

The Book of Henry is an educational disaster for screenwriters

Book-Of-Henry

According to Liz Lemon, Tootsie (the movie where Dustin Hoffman dressed in drag to get a job) is the example they use in all the screenplay books on what to do when writing a movie. The Book of Henry is, by contrast,a clinic in what NOT to do.  It’s just- the thing is… I can’t even! Well, I’ll try to explain.

spoiler alert

Read the rest of this entry

The curious case of Tomb Raider (2018)

laura-croft-tomb-raider-2018

Like the original, the best thing Tomb Raider has going for it is its star. Alicia Vikander is excellent and I was especially taken with how well her protagonist arc was written. And yet, this 2018 reboot is less than the sum of its parts.

I don’t know the Tomb Raider games, but I do have a basic understanding of story structure. For the uninitiated to Laura Croft like me, this movie lays out in a similar way to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Maybe this is a plot also found in the games, but again, I don’t know anything about that.) Our hero is going to save their father and (of course) everyone on Earth from the bad guys, who are on a quest to obtain an ancient power that would enable them to rule the world. The first problem is that the reality we are immediately thrown into in this new Tomb Raider movie is the very familiar and realistic setting of our own world. Even Laura herself doesn’t believe in a supernatural threat; this makes the journey she’s going on less impactful because of the way it’s set up. She’s going to save a father that she has mixed feelings about from a threat she doesn’t entirely believe in. This is not great storytelling.

On the other hand, Laura’s personal Arc is a well-crafted Journey. We first meet her in the ring, sparring in a gym and losing. Then we see her trying to make ends meet with a dead end job, next hoping to win money in bicycle race that she seems to have the intelligence to win but ultimately loses, and so on. We keep learning about her character: her strength, her intelligence and her grit, but she’s not an unstoppable killing machine. She loses fights and people take advantage of her, then she fights back. This makes Laura relatable and we can identify with her struggle.

So it seems like the people who made this movie knew what they were doing… to a point.  They knew how to write a protagonist, they knew how to create and photograph action, but the story… It’s not full of holes, but it’s the opposite of compelling.  I found myself getting board, to the point of almost falling asleep during the third act, when I should be on the edge of my seat.  A woman to my right was watching videos on her phone, doing her best to respect the other theater goers by awkwardly positioning it inside her sideways held purse on her lap – but not willing to leave the theater for whatever reason.  (The seats are plush, recline and since I was fighting the sandman, I couldn’t say sh$t to her.)

Is it worth seeing Tomb Raider?  I guess I’m saying no.  Vikander is great, there are several fun action sequences, but what’s here just isn’t enough.  Maybe fans of the series will enjoy this, but I don’t think there’s enough here for general audiences and maybe not even action/adventure fans.

A Wrinkle in Time is an adequate mess (movie review)

wrinkle-in-time-movie-review-oprah

I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was as frustrating as A Wrinkle in Time. The trailer didn’t have me jumping out of my seat with excitement, but I was intrigued by the premise, so here I am, reviewing a movie I liked more than I didn’t and sort of recommend. Here come the spoilers! Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: