Ready_Player_One_PosterIn the future, life is so bleak, everyone hangs out in the virtual reality of the Oasis. There, everything is focused around the 80’s pop culture that it’s creator, Halliday was obsessed with. People have video game avatars inspired by various films and they spend all their time and money in the Oasis. Upon his death, Halliday announced a competition to find an Easter Egg that grants the winner the ownership of Halliday’s fortune and the Oasis itself.

Apparently, it was so hard, only a few people are still trying.  On one side are folks like Wade (in the Oasis he goes by the name Parzival) and his friends Aech, Sho and Daito. The other involves an evil corporation run by Sorrento that wants the Oasis to exploit it. Wade pines for the mysterious and legendary Art3mis.

I am going to be honest here. I tried reading the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I could not finish it. It was absolutely awful. So, filtering it through Steven Spielberg is probably a necessary move. Because the movie is not totally terrible.

It has some really dumb stuff. I mean, Wade is obsessed with Art3mis but has only known her avatar.  In real life she is disfigured has a birth mark on her face. This is how we know how big of a guy Wade is…he doesn’t care. He still thinks she is beautiful. This is Olivia Cooke, who plays the character:
olivia_cook

So…yeah…he is a prince. The film is obsessed with filling every shot in the Oasis with pop culture references. We see King Kong, Chucky, Freddy, endless video game characters, Parcival drives the delorean from Back to the Future, Art3mis drives the motorcycle from Akira, we see the van from the A-Team and the Batmobile.  It becomes sensory overload.

The characters are very, very by the book and not terribly interesting.

I mean, the most interesting characters are Aech, Sho and Daito.  And the cast is all pretty good. I mean, you have a supporting cast that includes Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn and Lena Waithe.

The visuals are top notch.  I mean, the action scenes are fun to watch for the most part.

So, basically, Ready Player One is okay. Better than it’s source material, but pretty well below some of Spielberg’s strongest popcorn material.

Spy_Who_Dumped_Me_PosterIt is Audrey’s birthday and she has not been having a good day. Recently, her boyfriend Drew dumped her via text, and her best friend Morgan is determined to bring her spirits up. When Morgan texts Drew that they are going to burn his stuff, he suddenly responds, asking her not to, and promising to show up the next day, but in the meantime, she is accosted by the CIA who announce that Drew is actually a spy. Drew shows up and gives vital information to Audrey and Morgan before being killed.

What ensues is the two being caught up in an international espionage plot as they try and determine who they can trust. Hunted by the CIA, British intelligence and a terrorist group they try and survive shootouts, car chases and evil torturers.

Honestly…I feel like I should just hate this movie and trash it. The plot is not fresh and the film is incredibly predictable. At no point did any surprises…well, surprise me. But you know what?

I enjoyed this flick. A lot. This is largely because the cast makes it work so well. I was laughing throughout the movies and the cast was the reason. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon totally have great comedic chemistry.  They sell the heck out of their friendship and their comedic timing with each other is a blast. Gillian Anderson is a straight man character, but she creates laughs with the simplest of moments. The small roles are filled with people who just make the most of them (Lolly Adefope killed me with her role as a condescending co-worker and Kev Adams had me in stitches with his role as an Uber driver).

The Spy Who Dumped Me makes up for it’s shortcomings with such engagingly funny interactions and jokes that it left me smiling and laughing as I left the theater.

Teen_Titans_GTTM_PosterWhen the Titans fight a giant balloon, the day is saved by Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who are all on their way to the premier of Batman’s new movie. The Titans are informed that they are a bit of a joke, and not really deserving of an invite. After sneaking into the premier, The director of the film announces that the entire DC Universe is getting movies. Everyone. Except the Teen Titans…and especially not Robin.

Robin obsesses with how to get a worthy arch villain to make him memorable. They think they have a lead when they run afoul of the villainous Slade. Slade is a master manipulator and has a name that is fun to say very dramatically.

Having brought the Cartoon Network cartoon to the big screen, they try and make it a big enough deal for the jump. And you definitely see a difference in the budget with the animation.  It all looks good, and they have fun with applying various artistic styles.

The story is pretty predictable and the film hits all the expected beats. This is all about the juvenile jokes, sight gags and a few musical numbers. Oh, and an endless series of easter eggs. Frankly, is a running joke regarding the Challengers of the Unknown mean anything to the film’s target audience?

That said, it is passable entertainment, but this is not a film like the Lego Movie, which can be rewarding entertainment for parents in the audience…but it is likely kids who like the show will have a good time.

Den_of_Thieves_PosterRay Merriman is ex-military and leads a skilled team of criminals that specialize in hard to pull off heists. They run afoul of the corrupt cop “Big Nick” O’Brien and his crack team officers who try and take them down.

Big Nick and his crew force help from Merriman’s driver Donnie.  Donnie then has to try and play both sides the best he can to survive.

The film switches between their current heist and flashbacks, and it is a little confusing at first, but then the film starts to get better at making these jumps clear. To be honest, I have always felt Gerard Butler has limited range…but the film puts that to it to the best use.

There is nothing new to the heist genre here. The bad guys are super clever, the cops trying to stop them are of questionable moral character…even a lot of the big reveals are entirely too easy to see coming. But it does follow the rules pretty well, resulting in a fairly competent heist film.

Sorry_To_Bother_You_PosterCassious (Cash to his friends) Green is just hoping to get a job, though he fears his life will never amount to anything at all. He wants his life to mean something. He rises up to be a top telemarketer and then is faced with the choice of staying with his co-workers as they fight for better pay and benefits…or accepting a promotion that will solve all his financial problems.

Sorry to Bother you explores Cash and his temptations in a ever so slightly heightened reality. There is a top program called “I Got the S#!t Kicked out of Me” where people go on to be beat up and humiliated (this bit actually reminded me of the film Idiocracy where a hit show in the future was “Ouch! My Balls!”). A new trend in the country is a company called WorryFree which signs people to work contracts and provides for their living expenses. Which sounds great until you realize people are sharing a room full of bunk beds as their home and are forced to do menial task work.

The film skewers working and upper class dynamics as well as race and culture with precision. Writer and director Boots Riley infuses the film with terrific over the top visuals, such as when ever Cash is calling a customer, his desk drops into their house. As his life improves, his old furniture and appliances break open as newer things unfold.

The film has a gag about the black cast using “white voices” and in a stroke of hilarity, Riley has employed white comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt who are then dubbed over the voices of stars Lakeith Stanfield, Omari Hardwick and Tessa Thompson.

The cast is terrific. Stanfield was memorable in Get Out, but he carries the moves on his shoulders and does so memorably. Tessa Thompson is just golden as she disappears into the role of Detroit, Cash’s artist and activist fiancee. They are supported by a great cast including Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant and Steve Yeun to name but a few.

Boots Riley and his cast and crew have made a terrific film that is socially tough and biting, hilarious and downright unpredictable. Nothing really had me prepared for the film, and it was rewarding to watch.

 

Interference (Blockers, 2018)

Blockers_PosterHonestly, when I heard about a film focusing parents trying to stop their daughters from fulfilling a sex pact on prom night? I cringed. The boys get American Pie where their quest is validated…but for the girls it is all about stopping them? It felt archaic.

Imagine my surprise watching the film Blockers to realize the film makers had similar ideas.

Mitchell, Lisa and Hunter meet on their daughters’ first day of school and become friend. Flash forward and the three are no longer as close of friends as their daughters. Julie, Kayla and Sam have remained the closest of friends and on prom night, they agree to lose their virginity to their dates. Julie is into her boyfriend and wants a romantic moment, Kayla just decides it is time and Sam…well, Sam is wondering if she wants to date boys at all, but she is afraid of losing her friends.

Julie and her mom Lisa are in a single parent situation, and Lisa seems very scared of losing her daughter.  Mitchell is a bit of a man’s man who believes he has to protect Kayla from predatory boys.  Hunter has largely been absent since divorcing Sam’s mother, but he is sure his daughter is gay and does not want her to regret sleeping with a boy just because she feels pressured to do it.

When the three get wind of their kid’s pact they go on a mission to save their daughters from making terrible mistakes. But through the course of the evening, they start to realize their daughters are not the core problem… Lisa is fearful of not having a close relationship with her daughter, not realizing she has been pushing Julie away.  Mitchell thinks he has failed his duty as a protector…and realizing that maybe Kayla is not in need of saving is a scary thing.  And Hunter? Well, he actually fears he has let his daughter down so badly, there may be no hope of connecting back to her life.

The film avoids stereotypes, John Cena’s Mitchell is actually pretty playful and kind…and prone to tears. And the film never treats this as a shameful thing. Leslie Mann has the neurotic mother thing down and is quite sympathetic.  Ike Barinholt’s Hunter starts out as super obnoxious…but you start to see cracks in the facade.

The film also gives us a totally platonic friendship between Mitchell and Lisa (with her having withdrawn out of finding seeing him with his family as painful as it reminded her of what she feels she has lost). I found all three of the main actresses really likable. They really sell the friendships with the girls. The film also avoids making any of the guys who are the dates awful people. There are no villains in the films beyond the fears of the parents.

Now, the film is incredibly raunchy at certain points. Blockers may be a little to much for some folks. But I found myself laughing throughout the film. The jokes hit and the film has a lot of heart. Blockers was a pleasant surprise that left me entertained.

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.