The_Predator_PosterShane Black, writer and director of the terrific films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Nice Guys returns to the franchise he was part of at the very beginning. Black played Hawkins…who told terrible jokes to Sonny Landham’s Billy that he constantly had to explain and Billy only finds funny once.

Predators did not reignite the franchise, and so eight years later we have an attempt to reboot the series.  This film is firmly set in the continuity of the films Predator and Predator 2, with references and imagery to them, but not in a way that would be confusing to someone going in blind. It never acknowledges the third film, but it makes sense that nobody is aware of those events as they took place on another planet.

The film opens on Quinn McKenna, a military sniper with PTSD. He is on a mission when he comes into contact with a predator. The military tries to silence him by sending him to a military psychiatric hospital. There he meets a group of troubled soldiers. Meanwhile Dr. Casey Brackett is brought in to help study a captured Predator. She wants to speak with Quinn, so the prison bus is routed and they arrive as the Predator is breaking out and…well, okay…so the film is a bit all over the place in the beginning.

By this, I mean they introduce a ton of characters and that means it takes awhile to get to the meat.  But when all the threads come together, the film begins to pick up.  The finale is crazily packed with action and violence.

I like Black’s attempt to deal with human situations like Autism and mental illness.  Admittedly, at times the conditions of the soldiers can feel a bit more like they are jokes, but I still found myself liking the characters enough that when the carnage starts, I wanted them all to make it out alive.

The film has a pretty solid cast. I always like to see Thomas Jane pop up and Olivia Munn gets to be pretty badass and have more character than her role as Psylocke a couple years back in X-Men: Apocalypse.

The Predator tries to give the Predators a larger goal than simply hunting people, and it is not terrible. It is good enough to work anyways. While it is a bit slow on the start, it eventually becomes a fun action sci-fi movie.

It is too bad that the film is mired in a controversy that was brought about by Shane Black. He skipped over traditional casting and gave his friend a small role hitting on Munn. What nobody, including Munn, knew was that he was a convicted sex offender.  He had attempted to “entice” (legal term) his 14 year old cousin into a sexual relationship. Black knew his friend was an offender. Munn petitioned the studio to cut the scene, which they did. Munn faced little support in the beginning (with Black and the rest of the cast backing out of a press junkett, leaving Munn to be interviewed alone).

The cast has, since stepped up and Black apparently had been unaware of the seriousness of his friend’s situation and has apologized. He has said he is working with Munn privately to try and repair the damage.  Considering the film clearly left open for a sequel, I would like to see Olivia Munn return. Black really dropped the ball with his actions, as he did not at least make cast mates aware.

That said, I still really did enjoy the film, and in spite of flaws, it is certainly an entertaining entry to the franchise.

To-All-The-Boys-Ive-Loved-Before-PosterLara Jean lives with her two sisters and dad. Lara Jean lives a rich fantasy life dreaming of the perfect romance.  The love of her life is her close friend Josh…who is dating her older sister Margot. The night before going to college overseas, Margo breaks up with Josh. Now, Lara Jean has dealt with her biggest crushes by writing a love letter that she saved in a box. They are addressed, but never sent (of course). But then, one day, her crushes receive their letters…leaving Lara Jean in a freaked out state.

She wants to avoid Josh, and ends up in a situation where she and an older crush Peter, whom she is over and who recently was dumped by his girlfriend (and Lara’s Bully), create a fake public relationship.  At first they are at odds, doing this for selfish reasons. But as is so often the case, their defenses start to drop around each other the longer the longer relationship goes on. It complicates her relationship to Josh and her family, coming between her and her family’s close connection…especially with Margot.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before breaks no real ground in the romantic comedy genre…and why the end surprised me I am not sure. I mean, maybe the misdirect at the open of the film caused me to leap to the wrong conclusion and this may be a strength of the film.

But in spite of a cliched plot, this is a pretty charming teen film. Lana Condor is both sympathetic and likable as Lara Jean. And really, the whole cast is pretty charming, which allowed me to be less annoyed by the cliches. Lara Jean’s motive for being closed off to people outside her family is understandable, and the family dynamic is effectively sweet.  John Corbett plays her father, and there is a scene where he and Lara have a dinner in a cafe, and he apologizes for not talking about their mother more, that he has let them down with how he dealt with their loss when she died years earlier. And then he shares a story about a date in the same cafe, and telling Lara Jean that he see the same spirit in her.  It is a tender moment between father and daughter that also gives her permission to open up to the world.

This is a sweet film and I genuinely enjoyed it.

Mission_Impossible_Fallout_PosterThe Mission Impossible franchise is kind of…well, a weird one. I thought the first one was okay…but the second film was a mess. J.J. Abrams streamlined things a bit and made an improvement with the third film.  Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie directed the fourth and fifth installments…and these turned out to be the most entertaining films of the franchise.  With the sixth film, Fallout, McQuarrie is the first director to return to the franchise.

The actions of the previous film have had an impact on the world terrorism scene. Ethan, Luthor and Benji lost weapons grade plutonium on a mission, and their attempt at cleanup ends up being overseen by the CIA who assign their top agent and assassin Walker to join the IMF. Angela Bassett’s Erika Sloane states that the IMF is like a scalpel, but she prefers a hammer.

Full of twists and turns, McQuarrie keeps the action going and strives to avoid being to predictable, though some of the tropes of the franchise seem unavoidable. Nobody stops the  secret weapon five minutes before the countdown will end…because where is the drama in that?

Cruise does not show any signs of quitting, and he manages to keep up a convincing performance as an action hero within the franchise. Hunt is portrayed as the guy who has the small picture in mind allowing his higher ups focus on the bigger picture.  Two different characters inform Ethan that he pretty much cares about the individual lives so they don’t have to.

Cruise, Rhames and Pegg have good comedic chemistry and play well together as a team.  He and Rebecca Ferguson have a good tension, but thankfully, Ilsa continues to have an agency beyond a potential love interest.  The film manages to make every character feel pretty important, and saving the day falls on all of their shoulders.

I really enjoyed the film…but here is my one caveat regarding the Mission:Impossible Franchise. I have enjoyed the films…but find them hard to remember. I remember I liked them.  I just do not really remember much about them later. I wonder if Fallout will continue this trend.

Slender Story (Slender Man, 2018)

Slender_Man_PosterAs social media has become a larger and larger part of our lives, film makers have tried to incorporate this into the horror genre.  Films have tried to tackle both the fears of the Dark Web and supernatural takes on social media usage.  Unfriended and it’s sequel Unfriended: Dark Web actually go both routes.  From cyber-bullying to ghosts…they are trying to make it work. So far, there have not really been any standouts. And the general fears of technology that dehumanizes us has been a common trope for Asian Horror for decades.

Slender Man takes the popular Creepy Pasta internet meme and sets him up as the big scary.  A bunch of friends go online and perform a ritual to summon the Slender Man. After one of the girls disappears, they attempt to bring her back, back the ritual goes awry and the Slender Man keeps coming for the girls because he wants to drive them mad or send them to the bad place or something.

The film borrows from established lore (such as Slender Man taking people to his home and preferring the young) and also from other horror films (apparently it takes a week for the scary stuff to begin, similar to the Ring’s seven days and then you die). But even when it sets rules, it fails to stick to them. Later in the film, a character apparently goes to the magical website and is freaking out the next day.

None of the characters are that compelling, and we are never given any real deep indication of what drives our leads, so the stakes just do not feel that high. There are a few times where they give visual hints of the presence of Slender Man, but the film really fails to use this as well as it could.

The creepiness of Slender Man is found in him being seen from the corner of your eye, or off in the distance. If the film was going for a “is he real or not” you could maybe justify how little effort there seems to be to make his threat seem real. But the film makes it clear from the start he is a legit entity. As such, the film really would have benefited from playing with the viewers by inserting Slender Man into the background of scenes. Like when the girls are talking, you suddenly realize he is somewhere in the distance. Leave the audience unnerved.

Slender_Man_Forest

Of course, as I noted the central problem here is that none of the characters have any personality, not even by the low standards of bad horror films. And honestly, I had to fight falling asleep with the film. It just does not do enough with hit’s subject matter to keep the viewer interested in or invested in the characters or possible thrills.

Always_Watching_PosterA TV crew is doing a new story on a business that clears out homes that were foreclosed upon by the bank. In one house, they are shocked to find the home looks as if the family just vanished. As they start to investigate, they find a box of tapes and find that this is not a story of a mean bank foreclosing on a family or a family that picked up and ran off. They discover that the tapes show that the family was being haunted or stocked by a mysterious person.

At first, they see him in the distance of a video of a child’s birthday party. But the more videos they watch, the more the mysterious (and faceless) figure appears. Always a little closer until he is in the house.

Camera Man Milo starts to study the tapes and this results in him starting to see the figure himself. He is able to convince co-workers Sara and Charlie he is not crazy and they try and solve the mystery. But the mystery begins to take a toll on the three and their relationships begin to break down.

The Operator is obviously mean to be Slender Man, minus the tentacles. Actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, the Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth) mainly has to stand around in the background a lot, but his lankiness and height really sell the idea of the Operator as slightly outside of reality. And the film really makes sure to keep you watching, sure that at any moment he might appear on the screen, in the corner, behind someone or in the woods.  It is pretty effectively done.

It runs a bit off the rails at the very end, where it introduces an element we had not really seen earlier in the film, but it is not so much so that it wrecks the creepier vibe from the rest of the film.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, with the biggest setback being that it is a “found footage” film. Admittedly, the fact that our leads are a television news crew makes it fairly plausible that they have access to a variety of cameras, but the format also forces a plot contrivance that since you can only see him on video, they decide they must keep cameras running continuously.

Oh yeah…the film has a great horror icon film cameo towards the end. Smart choice on the film makers’ part.

 

Overboard_2018_posterI suppose it was inevitable that somebody was going to go and remake Garry Marshall’s beloved Overboard. This time around, they try to counter the creepy factor by switching the roles.  Leonardo is a rich Spanish playboy who has never worked a day in his life. He has no respect for his employees, and when single mom and nursing student Kate arrives to clean the carpet of his yacht, things go south. Kate gets in a fight with Leonardo who then throws her (and her equipment) overboard.

One night, Leonardo falls overboard and gets amnesia. Kate decides she wants revenge and concocts a plan to convince Leonardo and the authorities that they are married.

She brings the confused Leonardo home and then uses him to take care of the house to allow her to focus on school. Her best friend’s husband gives him a construction job. What follows is nearly a point by point remake.

I found it harder to ignore the creepy factor, since Kate is bringing a strange man into his house with her three daughters.  Eugenio Derbeznever comes off as creepy with the daughters though. Instead, he does a pretty good job as Leo grows to care deeply for the girls. In fact, one scene that I thought worked far better in this film than the original is the moment he has regained his memory and is leaving the family. The three young girls chase after him, desperate for him to stay.  The youngest, who he taught to ride a bike races her bike as fast as she can screaming out for Leo as she falls farther and farther back from the limo.

Anna Faris is certainly funny and has a real sweetness (though she really is playing a character similar to her character Christie on the show Mom). Then there is Eva Longoria and Mel Rodriguez the husband and wife that are Kate’s moral support. They are an enjoyable couple.

This is not nearly as good as the original, but has a good cast that makes the film watchable.

Making Memories (Overboard, 1987)

Overboard_1987_PosterThe self absorbed and rich Joanna hires carpenter Dean Profitt. She is obnoxious and genuinely mean. But after an accident leaves her with amnesia, single parent Dean convinces her they are married and she is the mother to his four boys.

Wow. This sounds criminal and positively creepy. So why is Overboard remembered so fondly by people? Why is Dean a lovable scamp, rather than a disturbed monster for so many viewers? Weeeeeelll…

As one of those people who really does like this film, a whole lot of it is on the shoulders of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. They do the heavy lifting to make this palatable here. Joanna is purely unpleasant, but Hawn gives her a hint of humanity when, long after Proffitt has been left behind (without being paid for his work) she is bothered by his commentary on her life. Russell plays Dean as a guy who is clearly kind of lost and refuses to be a parent to his boys. He simply wants to be a pal.

The film acknowledges from the start that Dean’s deception is wrong.  And in the beginning? Russell puts a lot of charm into his being selfish. But as time progresses, Joanna starts to adjust to her life and her belief that this is her family.  She starts to stand up for the boys and push back.

The entire cast of the film is great, and there are some genuinely great moments between Hawn and Roddy McDowell who plays Joanna’s long suffering servant. Especially a scene where Joanna realizes how terrible she has treated him, and yet he has done nothing but work to meet her every need.  Hawn is very convincing in her change as Joanna realizes she no longer feels at home in her own world. Upon her apology, McDowell (who has a look of genuine compassion for her in that moment) gives advice noting that she has had a very rare privilege to see life from a perspective beyond the one she was born to.

It is the performances that elevate the film above a creepy plot device. And it really is enjoyable. Hawn and Russell have a solid onscreen chemistry (no doubt due to their offscreen relationship) and both have real comedic chops that keep you focused on the characters rather than the situation. So why does a creepy premise not tank the film? Honestly? Um…just because…?

 

Incredible_2_PosterRight before the film starts, the cast and crew pop up on screen to tell us the fourteen year wait for the sequel will totally be worth it. Not exactly needed of course. Hey, my butt is already in the seat.

The original Incredibles film was a fun comic book film that was doing that Marvel type of action four years before we got Iron Man.  Probably of all the Pixar films, the Incredibles was one of the few that readily seemed to be set for sequels. But when asked, Pixar tended to defer to the availability of Brad Bird.

After the collapse of the highly anticipated Tomorrowland…Pixar got their chance.

Set shortly after the end of the first film, we discover things did not go so well. People still feel that the heroes do more damage than good. Enter brother and sister Winston and Evelyn Deavor. They want to convince the world that super-heroes are necessary, and so they convince Helen Parr to resume life as Elastigirl (noting she had a much lower history of property damage). Bob, on the other hand, becomes a stay at home dad. Bob really wants to be fighting as Mr. Incredible, but he is trying to step back and be a supportive husband ad father.

A lot of the moments I enjoyed most were with Bob and the kids. While the first film revealed baby Jack Jack to have a variety of powers, the Parr family never actually witnessed it. While Bob is initially excited, he finds it taxing, one more problem along with trying to help Dash with schoolwork and Violet come to terms with a frustrating love life. There is a genuinely sweet moment when Bob is exhausted and apologizes for not being the father he wants to be…Violet has a look of kindness as she reaches out to reassure him. It is a really sweet moment.

Flipping the situation for Helen and Bob works very well in the film. The Elastigirl scenes are fun and exciting.  There is a great fight scene where she is in the position of having to keep her eyes closed to avoid being hypnotized. Bird and company make this quite exciting.

The film also gives us something new, which is other Supers beyond the Parr family and Frozone. This leads to an action packed finale where saving everybody actually falls onto the Parr kids.

The Brad Bird voiced Edna Mode returns for a fun sequence that explores Jack Jack’s abilities.

I feel Pixar has created a pretty successful sequel here that compliments the original film quite well.

Life_of_the_Party_PosterOn the day that they drop off their daughter for her senior year of college, Dan announces to Deanna that he has been cheating on her with another woman and wants a divorce. Broken hearted, Deanna decides to rectify her one big regret in life…that she quite college to marry Dan.  She signs up at her daughters school (which is Deanna’s old school) to complete her archeology degree.

She runs into mean girls, makes friends with the girl’s in her daughter’s sorority and even strikes up a romance with a much younger guy.

The film relies pretty heavily on college movie tropes, but never does a lot of interesting things with them.  The conflicts are mostly quickly resolved with very little impact.  For example, the Mean Girls subplot runs through the entire film, it’s resolution is solved by a sentence and suddenly, those girls think Deanna and her friends are okay. Late in the film Deanna does something that hurts her daughter, and they get over it right away, since the action backfires on Deanna and threatens her education.

On the other hand, in spite of McCarthy playing Deanna as talkative and awkward, her daughter and the sorority sisters embrace her right away. And while played for humor, the relationship with fraternity guy Jack is actually kind of cute. They bond right away over wine and he genuinely likes her.

In spite of the film not really doing much with it’s tropes, I did get some laughs (Especially when McCarthy is sharing the screen with Rudolph). It is a pretty light comedy, and can be enjoyed on a lazy rainy afternoon.

The_Meg_PosterA few years ago deep dive rescuer Jonas made a critical decision that cost him his job. Jump ahead to the present and a deep sea exploration team has become trapped deep in the ocean after discovering a hidden world teeming with life…including giant Megalodon sharks. They bring in Jonas to conduct a rescue…but after the rescue it appears they are not the only ones to return to the surface.

Is the Meg a great film? No. Like the books it is inspired by, it is cheesy.  The film is full of over the top characters (at one point Rainn Wilson’s excitable billionaire notes that Statham’s Jonas has a heroic walk, but seems to have a bad attitude).

This is pretty much…what if Jaws was a big action movie.  And you know what? It is a lot of fun.  I had a whole lot of fun watching this one. It is action packed and has a rather engaging cast. This second part is important because these characters are not particularly deep, but the cast tends to imbue them with enough personality to make for an entertaining and cheesy ride.

No, it is not a great film. The Meg is not a classic, bt it is dumb and goofy fun.