Ant_Man_Wasp_PosterWe last saw Ant-Man in prison with the other heroes who sided with Cap in Civil War. People noticed that he was absent from all the Infinity War promotions, and while Infinity War gave a quick explanation of where he and Hawkeye were, Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us the “full story”. With days to go on his house arrest, Scott Lang has been out of contact with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne for months, having parted on less than good terms as he stole the costume for his role in Civil War.

Hank and Hope have renewed hope that Janet Van Dyne (believed lost in the Quantum realm) may be alive.  They are working in secret to locate her. When one of their experiments coincides with a crazy dream of Scotts, the three are brought back together to try and rescue her. But it is not as simple as they hope, as they are in competition with underground arms dealer Sonny Burch and a mysterious villain called Ghost. Ghost is trying to get the Pym lab because she has phasing powers, but cannot control them. Add to this being hunted by the FBI, rescuing Janet may not be as easy as they hoped.

The film is more focused on Hank and Hope, with Scott brought along somewhat unwillingly, but I found this worked okay. The first film had a running joke about how Hope was far more competent a super-hero, but never got to wear the suit. This film gives us a lot of Wasp action, and it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Scott gets some solid action of course as well, and he even gets a few opportunities to really show his cleverness (a FBI breakout sequence calls back to a scene in the first film, but flips the roles).

Rudd is as goofily charming as in the first film…and Michael Peña is hilarious (even though they only give us one of his elaborate stories). The return of Judy Greer and Bobby Cannaval is welcome.  I really like that the relationship between Cannaval’s Paxton and Scott is not some sort of rivalry over their shared family. Instead, Paxton seems to want the best for Scott and genuinely like him.

The film has some genuinely touching moments with Scott and his daughter Cassie. A wise kid who looks up to her dad and wants to be his sidekick.

The story works very organically, the things that bring the first film’s cast together makes sense (Scott, Luis and their team of ex-cons now have a security business to help businesses avoid being hit by folks like…well, themselves).

The first Ant-Man was a surprising film and a welcome relief to the trend of telling bigger and bigger stories in the solo Marvel films. Ant-Man and the Wasp carries the fun over, building on it’s small scale mythology (the post credit scene ties it to Infinity War).  Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty worthy sequel and a lot of fun to watch.

 

First_Purge_PosterThe Purge Franchise is based in a premise of a world where things got so bad, the United States has instituted a one night a year event called the Purge in which all crime is legalized for a twelve hour period. While many people lock themselves away, others dress up and go out to get revenge, steal, murder and cause all sorts of mayhem.

The first film was focused squarely on an upper middle class white family whose walls came under siege.  The fourth film moves it’s eyes to the projects.  Sister and brother Nya and Isaiah live in a rundown building at the center of the city is being set aside for a small scale experimental version of the Purge concept. The government is paying people to stay, and even offering more payment to those who actually participate.

Nya’s ex-boyfriend is the local drug kingpin Dmitri. He tries to see himself as one of the good guys, but Nya disagrees, arguing the Purge may do damage to the neighborhood one night, but he damages it every day of the year.

As the night progresses, Dmitri and Nya realize that there is something not quite on the up and up, as the Government actually has very dark goals through the Purge. This forces them to work together to survive the night.

The Purge is not subtle, and never has been. The rich and politicians cannot be trusted, minorities are targeted in the Purge to basically reduce the surplus population.  On the other hand, what used to feel like “over the top right wing bad guys” seems a little less outlandish in this modern age.

As with all Purge films, there are people with lessons to learn. In this film, it is Isaiah and Dmitri. For Isaiah, it is his attempt to get back at a violent junkie who cut him…for Dmitri, it is whether he is going to look out for himself or his community.

The Purge films has actually managed to be decently entertaining, and some of their sequences feel like they are meant to be a bit cathartic for audience members in a darkly comic way (such as the scene where a black man chokes a white man who is wearing a minstrel mask). As stated, their politics are by no means subtle. But one does not really expect subtlety from a low budget franchise like this.

While not quite as solid as the second and third films, this prequel actually works pretty well, and even includes some nice new touches. One of these is people agreeing to participate wear contacts that  film their actions. The contacts give an eerie blue glow to the eyes, which is extra creepy when a person’s face is hidden in the shadows.

For fans of the series, the First Purge should be largely satisfying.

 

Skyscraper_PosterI imagine the pitch meeting for Skyscraper went something like this…

“Think ‘Die Hard’ in a really, really, really, really, really, really, really tall building.”

“uh…”

“Starring the Rock!”

SOLD!!!!!!!

The Rock plays Will Sawyer, who was in a major accident as a FBI hostage rescuer. A decade later he is a husband and father. He runs a small security business and he has been brought to Hong Kong with his family to give his expert advice for the tallest smart building in the world.  But when the building is attacked and Will is framed, he must do everything in his power to get into the building and save his family.

The film moves at a pretty fast page, mostly because, really, there is very little characterization.  Will and his wife Sarah are the most fleshed out, followed by building owner Zhao Long Ji. This is great for Sarah who plays much more than just “wife in distress” and is instead a very active participant in their survival.  The movie definitely hinges on the Rock’s natural charm though.  The terrorists are extremely generic, with only two set apart….the leader and  his right hand woman Xia…whose main characterization is “can walk through a hail of bullets without flinching or getting hit”.

And yet, the film remains pretty exciting, regardless of how familiar many of the beats feel, in fact, I honestly only thought about the shortcomings later. In the moment? Skyscraper kept up a fast pace that kept me engaged.

 

Game_Night_PosterGame Night introduces the viewer to Max and Annie, a couple that are a very competitive team in games. Any game. Trivia, board games, whatever.  It shows us a series of events leading to the present, framing their relationship in this light of their aggressive “We have to Win Spirit”.

One night Max’s older brother invites he and some friends over for a special game. It is a kidnapping  mystery hunt, in which actors show up to kidnap brother Brooks. But when gangsters show up and kidnap him in front of Max, Annie and their friends, they believe it is just part of the game. They set about trying to find Brooks, never realizing the threat of the situation until they are in to deep dealing with the criminal underground.

All of this is, of course a lesson for Max, who fears that if he and Annie have kids, their fun care free life is over. His competitive focus is never satisfied because of his fears of their lives changing. It is not anything super profound, but it works within the context of the tale which is more about the screwball antics.

Game Night is a pretty fun movie (though there are some tonal issues). It has a likable cast and some memorable performances. It yields plenty of laughs and entertaining.

Oceans_8_posterWe have not seen an Ocean’s followed by a digit movie in eleven years.  And that has been okay. I really enjoyed the first and third films of the series led by the husband of Amal Clooney and Angelina Jolie’s ex-husband. But I had not really given much thought over the years to another installment.

Set shortly after the apparent death of Danny Ocean, his sister Debbie gets paroled. She promises the parole board she just wants a quiet life. But you do not have much of a movie if she weren’t lying. It turns out that Debbie has been working out a big heist the entire time she was in prison. She joins up with her former partner in crime Lou. Lou is a semi legit nightclub owner with a shady past of working scams with Debbie.

They assemble a team of “the best at what they do” ladies. There is jeweler Amita, hacker Nine Ball, pick pocket Constance, disgraced Fashion designer Rose and fencer Tammy. They set out to steal a very rare necklace that almost never sees the light of day at the yearly Met Gala.

There is not a lot of depth to the characters, they exist more for their skills than anything. But that is to be expected in a heist film in general and a larger ensemble one even more.  Heist films are about the heist, the characters just need to have some unique flavor. And thankfully, they do.  Each character has a distinct personality from the others. This may seem like I am contradicting myself, but being a loose sketch that does not go to deep does not mean characters are not memorable or distinctive from other characters in the story.

When it comes down to it, a heist movie should be fun. You should be trying to work it out, see if you can find the flaws and if the plan actually covered it. If the final reveal is satisfying, you have done good.  And Ocean’s 8 is quite a bit of fun. The choice to make the heist crew all female makes for a bit of a twist on the Ocean Franchise giving all sorts of creative costume and fashion changes (as I imagine guys would all end up in tuxes). The Met Gala setting also allows for fun interferences.

Ocean’s 8 is a fun heist movie. I enjoyed the performances, the set up and the results. When the film was announced, I recall some negative responses of “Who asked for this”? But I honestly find that a dumb question. Most movies were not “asked” for. Nobody was saying “I need a movie about Oscar Schindler…but Speilberg made a powerful film anyways. Was I asking for another Ocean’s heist film? No. But we got one and I had a lot of fun watching it.

Death_Wish_posterThe seventies were a time of unrest and in some parts of America, high crime.  Tough Guy Charles Bronson brought to live an everyman pushed to the edge by criminals who attack his wife and daughter. The original Death Wish spawned four sequels. Architect Paul Kersey journeyed through crime ridden neighborhoods to do what police could…or would not…do.

In Eli Roth’s remake, America’s favorite tough guy, Bruce Willis, plays Paul Kersey. In the original franchise he was a mild mannered architect. Here, we find Paul Kersey to be a skilled surgeon in the emergency room. The film shows Kersey to be a decent guy, but also one who backs down in confrontation. It also makes a point in one scene to show that Paul does not own any guns.  But when his wife and daughter are attacked, the police start to seem a lot less effective. It eats at Paul and he becomes drawn to a local gun store.

After a couple false starts, Paul manages to foil a car jacking and soon follows it up by killing a noted drug dealer. The media erupts and Paul is nicknamed the Grim Reaper.

Many have noted that it is practically an ad for the NRA. But really, this film is more of a promotion of the fear that certain politicians foist upon us. Fears of rampant crime, violent drug dealers, foreign invaders and so on. And it is not that these things do not exist. But the film overhypes them.

Eli Roth uses his trademark subtlety with this one.  The core of the film is revenge because “You touched my stuff!”  This may seem harsh, but the daughter spends almost the entire film in a coma and her mother is dead. The women in his life are reduced to being stuff to drive his anger, fear and resentment.

The way the film ties up it’s story is just overly neat and tidy. Implausibly so. Roth plays lip service to the idea that maybe Kersey is in the wrong…but it is set dressing. It is painfully clear that we are to identify with and thrill over his violence and cruelty.

When I took the disk from the player…I really found the movie pretty unremarkable, fading from my memory. It follows the required rules of action movies…but it fails to make the character interesting or complex. This is not John McClane taking on terrorists whose plot he stumbled into.  This is a predator going on the hunt, which is a lot harder to root for.

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterAlan Grant and his assistant Billy are hired by a rich couple to give them a tour of the island from the second film. Grant discovers that instead of just flying low over the island, his hosts plan to land on the island.

It turns out that the couple are actually there to find their son who disappeared on a trip with his mother and her boyfriend. When they are attacked by a new large dinosaur, they find themselves on the run and trying to figure out their way off the island.

This film does not really try anything new. It set the story on an island again. They take refuge in run down empty buildings. They narrowly escape dinosaurs. Somebody’s greed gets them in trouble.

Steven Spielberg did not return to direct the third Jurassic Park film, instead it was directed by Joe Johnston (the Rocketeer and Captain America). Johnston is a good director, but the film really lacks the Spielberg touch. In addition, the dinosaurs, while mostly looking find, can at times look a bit stiff. Again, the film makes heavy use of raptors. The new dinosaurs are pretty interesting visually.

The film has a good cast, but some of the rather cliched storylines simply feel tired. This is especially true of the divorced couple rekindling their love.  The adventure brings them closer together, suggesting they will recommit to each other. But this ignores the fact that Leoni’s character discovers her boyfriend was eaten by dinosaurs hours earlier.

While Jurassic Park III is passable entertainment, it is easily the weakest entry in the entire franchise (in my opinion, anyways).

Jurassic_Park_Lost_World_posterThe Success of Jurassic Park made a sequel pretty inevitable, but Spielberg took time to craft a new adventure, rather than rush out something that just met the obligatory requirements of a sequel.

This film focuses on a second island…the real labs of InGen. When the park went out of business, so did site B.  And the dinosaurs thrived. Hammond fought to leave the island alone and let the dinosaurs live in piece. To help his agenda, he has sent a team to simply observe and report about life on the island.

He requests the help of Ian Malcolm, who refuses, until he finds out his girlfriend Sarah is already on the island. His hope is to bring her right back. In the meantime, his daughter Kelly is upset by Ian dumping her off with a family friend. She stows away to follow her dad to the island.

Team Ian soon discover they are not the only ones on the island. The company wants to push Hammond out and capitalize on the dinosaurs. They bring a crew to capture dinosaurs to be returned to the States for a small scale version of the Park in San Diego.

The general idea of there being no park is a somewhat interesting change. Goldblum is highly entertaining here. Pete Postlethwaite plays a variation on the first film’s Muldoon. He is a big Game hunter who is there for very mercenary reasons, but is providing professional guidance. The effects are excellent, with some exciting new dinosaurs not seen in the prior film. The primary villain is more in the vein of the original book. A Corporate raider looking to exploit, Peter Ludlow is the example of corporate hubris believing it can control what others could not.

The film’s big finish is a T-Rex chase through San Diego. It is a bit of a shame that they squander such a great notion as “dinosaurs loose in a city” in a brief twenty minute sequence. I also really found the whole “daughter” subplot more annoying. The inclusion of kids in the first film actually made sense, here it seems forced and unneeded.

But when you get down to it, Spielberg can make most anything work, and the Lost World is a lot of fun.

Jurassic_Park_PosterJohn Hammond has built an amazing and elaborate theme park. One like no other, and he has spared no expense.  But as they prepare to go a live, there is a deadly accident. His investors demand professionals endorse the safety of the park.

Hammond enlists Paleontologist Alan Grant and Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, while the corporate lawyer brings in the “Chaotician” Ian Malcolm. At first, they are not fully sure what their presence is required for…until they discover that Jurassic Park is no ordinary vacation place.  Hammond’s company has perfected cloning to the point that they are able to use DNA to create new dinosaurs.

While at first awed by what they see, the three scientists start to question the decision to bring dinosaurs back into our world. The lawyer, meanwhile, is seduced by visions of money (“And we can charge anything we want, $2,000 a day, $10,000 a day…and people will pay it”).

Along with his grandchildren (Hammond’s target audience), Hammond sends everyone on the tour.  The crew has left for the weekend, leaving a very small staff.  Pretty much just Hammond, Ray Arnold (who runs the control room), Dennis Nedry (His IT guy) and Muldoon. Muldoon is a groundskeeper of sorts. An experienced big game hunter, he is also security in regards to things dinosaur related.

However, as one would expect…most anything that can go wrong does and our characters find themselves trying to regroup and get off the island without getting eaten.

As you would expect from a Spielberg adventure film, Jurassic Park is an exciting film full of great performances.  Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is especially entertaining in his over the top personality.

The film walks the line of challenging capitalism and corporate greed, without going all out for it. The lawyer represents the villainous corporate world, not Hammond. Hammond is the kindly grandfather with grand dreams of sharing his creation with the world. This is a change from the book, where Hammond is a much darker character who has a rather gruesome fate.

The film’s effects were groundbreaking for the time…and while it is a bit clearer now to see where the dinosaurs switch from digital to practical effects, the visuals in the film are still good enough to not be all that distracting today. It is easy to get lost in the excitement and danger of Jurassic Park.

 

Jurassic_World_Fallen_Kingdom_PosterWell, after the debacle at the end of the last film, the Jurassic World Park was closed down. Now, the island is about to explode, because it is actually a dormant volcano.

There is controversy about people who want to save the dinosaurs on the island and those who think we should let them die.  But of course, there are those with darker plans.

Claire, the icy business woman from the previous film who learned the importance of getting a guy and having kids over a career from her nephews is now campaigning to save the dinosaurs. She is no longer involved with Owen, the cool sexist seventies throwback from the first film. She is hired by an estranged associate of the late John Hammond to go and save as many dinosaurs as possible to set them loose on a private island reserve. They bring Owen so they can save Blue (the good velociraptor from the last film). Things go awry, because this is a film in the Jurassic Park series.

The dinosaurs look great and I find both Owen and Claire far more likable in this adventure. The mystery behind the one kid in the film is kind of an interesting twist on the film’s themes, though it seems like it was played up as being a much…bigger deal than it really is.

The film continues the ideas began in the last film of militarized dinosaurs. And this film pretty much takes the perspective that the dinosaurs are the heroes now. But I am actually very intrigued by the way the chose to end the film.  Other films in the franchise hinted at this…but the next film could be quite interesting.

While the film is violent, it tends to be about as gory as any of the entries. Most of the kills are either offscreen or obscured. For the most part, I enjoyed Fallen Kingdom and felt that, for the most part, the story works and the film is pretty entertaining. And honestly? That is really all I want from a movie about genetically created dinosaurs.

Family Drama (Hereditary, 2018)

hereditary_posterHereditary opens with a family preparing for a funeral. Annie’s mother has died. Much like Annie, the film feels…distant from this event. we learn that she was, in fact often struggling in their relationship.  And death has not changed that.

But things start to escalate as more tragedy hits and both Annie and her family seem to be coming apart at the seams.

Heredity is a horror movie that is very slow and deliberate. Other than a few “is there a ghost” style moments (odd reflections, flashing lights) it really feels like Hereditary is the exploration of a family that is being torn apart by a family history of unacknowledged mental illness.

Hereditary_still

 

Of course, the story is more than that. There is something darker lurking under the surface. Ari Aster (in his feature length debut as both a writer and director) moves the film at a very (deliberate) slow pace. He rarely relies on jarring us with a gruesome visual or jump scares (but there are a few). But it works so well. Hereditary is at times painful not through gore or shocking violence…but through it’s moments of emotional despair.

There is a scene at the dinner table that is both horrifying and heart wrenching.  And a lot of the emotional weight of the film comes from incredibly strong performances. Gabriel Byrne’s role as a father trying to keep his family imploding is wonderfully understated. He manages to remain sympathetic, even when he seems to be unable to support his belief in his wife’s lost grip on reality. Mary Shapiro is memorable as the young daughter (who was closest to Annie’s mother) who seems to be on the autism spectrum.

Toni Collette and Alex Wolff turn in terrific performances.  Collette’s Annie seems to distance herself from her family and the audience. But at at the same time, you get it. Her grief pours from the screen and washes over the audience.  And Wolff’s Peter is heart breaking to watch as he and his relationship with his mother seems to disintegrate before their eyes.

The horror of Hereditary is “can you trust the people who should care for you the most”? I mentioned that the film moves at a rather slow pace. And this really benefits the film. Pay attention. Listen in. Every little hint means something and rewards in the end.

Skating By (I, Tonya, 2017)

i_tonya_posterI will be honest…all I really remember about the Nancy Kerrigan story is that the talented skater and Olympic Hopeful was brutally assaulted, leaving her with a broken knee. What followed was pretty insane.  It became apparent that her attack was coordinated by people related to her competition…Tonya Harding. Harding, her husband, her bodyguard and two other individuals apparently colluded to commit the crime.

I, Tonya tells the story in a darkly comic fashion. Showing Hardings tough childhood, the film frames Tonya as a victim who struggles to break free.  The early film is actually quite heartbreaking as young Tonya, a talented skater at age four, manages to get the attention of a reluctant trainer. Her mother is cruel and absolutely horrific in her push for her daughter to succeed. The is a gut wrenching moment as her father drives away and Tonya is tearfully begging him to take her with him (McKenna Grace is wonderfully touching in her performance. You cannot help but feel broken for her).

She meets Jeff Galooley at age fifteen and begins a whirlwind remance that eventually becomes abusive.  But Jeff is absolutely certain that he needs to be with her, no matter how often she walks out.

Nancy Kerrigan plays only a small role, as the film is mainly focused on Harding’s life and the controversy on her end.

The film is based heavily on interviews with Harding, Jeff, there body guard Shawn and LaVona (Tonya’s mother).  The film has the framing device of on camera interviews with the primary players.  This allows for a unique narration.  We see Jeff hitting Tonya (the portrayal of the domestic violence is suitably unnerving) and Jeff interjects his denial of the events. Tonya pauses the film to quickly state that Kerrigan was no angel.

The performances here are top notch.  Both Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan have a good chemistry that convinces the audience both of their initial connection and the dissolution of the relationship.  And Allison Janney as LaVona is inspired.  You cannot help but despise her.

The makeup and costuming here is impressive.  Janney is almost unrecognizable (only her voice made me recognize her). For much of the movie, both Robbie and Stan look positively average. Considering these are two very attractive people, the makeup people deserve kudos.

Now to the part of the film that might be troubling for many.  Some take issue with the notion of “reforming a monster”.  Tonya was part of a despicable crime. And the notion of the film rehabilitating her image did not sit well with people.

And, in a way, this is not entirely inaccurate. If the film is truthful? Harding was not in on the crime. She was only loosely associated.  Mainly, she appears to maybe have only found out about her husband and bodyguards involvement after the fact. The film also portrays Jeff as having tried to put a stop to the plan. He had hoped to send letters with threats to Kerrigan…psychological warfare. In the film, when he finds out what Shawn had done, he is enraged that they went so far.

Does it rehabilitate Harding’s image? Does it make her seem a victim of cruel circumstances that shaped her into a tough person who got a raw deal? Yeah, I guess it does.  But if the information in the film is accurate at all? Maybe she deserves it.