Unfriended: Dark Web

Image result for unfriended dark web movie poster

This was the third sequel of the day, and actually, probably the best movie that I saw today.  Still, Unfriended: Dark Web left me feeling unsatisfied and a little unhappy.

Mathias (Colin Woodell) had found a laptop at a cafe in the lost and found and, since it was a better version than his own, he took it.  He had been working on a new app to help with sign language so he could communicate better online with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).  He gets online with a bunch of his friends for their “game night” and soon strange things begin to happen and, before long, everyone is in danger from the mysterious original owner of the laptop.

I have to say that the set up of this film was excellent.  The use of the online tools such as Facebook messaging to create tension and fear are used brilliantly.  The technological aspects of the story really add to the confusion and uncertainty of the situation.  Who hasn’t been online when something strange was going on that you couldn’t explain.

And I really liked the characters here.  Sure they are basic stereotypes, but each actor involved does a decent job of working with what they have been given.  There is enough character development for each person that it matters to you when they are placed in jeopardy… at least most of them.  Each performance was adequate and did not draw away from the story.

The villains are mysterious and are not supernatural in nature, which is a good choice.  Unfortunately, there is not enough about them and they end up being more of a plot point than characters.  The effects they have when they are seen on camera is fun.

I just did not like the situation these characters were placed in and I was not happy with the resolution of the movie.  The ending did seem to take a smaller, tighter story and blow it up to an illogical conclusion.

There was a style to the set up of the film and the execution of the online aspects of Unfriended: Dark Web, but the story seemed to become too large and all encompassing.  It worked considerably better when the threats seemed more personal, more directed.  As he film grew in improbability, the less it worked as a narrative.

2.8 stars

The Equalizer 2

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Denzel Washington had never done a sequel before.  That is an amazing fact in the world that we live in.  It seems as if everything is a sequel these days.  Well, that streak was broken with The Equalizer 2, which does not live up to the original film.

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is one of those guys who just is out to help people.  And he does it in a real bad ass way.  Denzel is really good in this role and it is cool seeing him being the warrior that this character is.

Unfortunately, the story is scattered too much and the first hour or so of The Equalizer 2 is deadly dull.  Then it seemed as if the second half of the film tried to make up for the boredom by going way over the top in violence and stupid action movie cliches and situations.

McCall has a friend (Melissa Leo) who winds up a victim of a violent death (although my favorite part of the beginning of the movie was when she was being attacked and she was fighting back.  She was a force of nature).  This send McCall out for not only justice but revenge.

There were too many sub plots in this movie and I did not care much about them.  The best one involved a young kid (Ashton Sanders) and his painting, but he becomes way too involved in the silly third act battle.

In that third act, I thought the villains did so many stupid things that they deserved what was coming to them.

Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington have worked together several other times (4, I believe) but this is not the strongest of the occasions.  Again, it is not terrible overall, but it is not that good either.  Certainly not in Denzel Washington level.

2.6 stars

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

So saccharine sweet that I may have a toothache.

I watched the original Mamma Mia about a month or so ago because I knew this was coming out and I was not overly impressed.  I liked some of the music, but the film itself was not anything that appealed to me.

I had wondered how they were going to do the sequel since they used all of ABBA’s hits in the original.  Was it just going to be a rehash of the same songs?  Well, there were only a few of the songs from the first film used again (Dancing Queen, Fernando, Mamma Mia) and they used a bunch of lower tiered ABBA songs.  The problem with that is the lower tiered ABBA songs were not very good.  I would go as far as to say that several of the songs involved in Here We Go Again were cringe-worthy.

The best moments were certainly the big productions, which were the songs that had been done before.  The Dancing Queen sequence was excellent.  Mamma Mia was done very well.

The story had two parts to it.  Donna’s (Meryl Streep) daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has taken over the hotel on the island and is planning a huge reopening party.  The second part is the origin story of how young Donna (Lily James) found the island and how she became pregnant with Sophie.

The film cast thee young versions (Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner) of the three fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth) to tell the story of how Donna met each man.

I will say that I think Lily James is a star.  There is something about her that is undeniably watchable and her very screen presence helps the film’s early story tremendously.  She has that “it” factor.  Unfortunately, the material here does not give her much to do.

There is absolutely zero stakes for the movie.  There is almost no conflict there either.  A rainstorm causes some of the most trouble for the movie, but it is resolved easily.

I also enjoyed the younger versions of Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) who do a great job of capturing young versions of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters.

It’s not as if the movie was dreadful, because it is not.  It just seemed to be pretty unnecessary and lacking in anything that would be considered deep. The music was not as good as the first time (thankfully, Pierce Brosnan was kept to minimal singing) and the only parts that stood out was when they did the music from the first.  Cher’s appearance was short and predictable.  You saw just about everything from Cher in the trailers (except for a couple of songs she sang).

Deep cut ABBA fans might really enjoy this, but a causal ABBA fan will find most of these songs lacking and there is not much more to the film besides the music.

2.5 stars

Skyscraper

Okay, I love “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson.

But seeing the trailers for the new film Skyscraper had me making the jokes, like everyone else, that a better title for this would be Sky Hard… or maybe Die-Scraper.  To say that this film may share an idea or two with Die Hard is not stretching credibility at all.

For the record, Skyscraper does not come anywhere close to the brilliance that was Die Hard.

That said, I had a lot of fun with the movie.

Yes, there are things that happen that defy physics or logic, but I was able to not think about those things much and just enjoy the Rock kicking butt and being all heroic.

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a former FBI agent who had to turn to private security after a tense standoff resulted in his loss of a leg.  A buddy got Sawyer a job checking security for the newest tallest building in the world (3X the Empire State Building) found in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, terrorists are targeting the building for their own purposes and they set the building on fire, trapping Sawyer’s family above the flames.

Johnson is great in the role.  Sure there is not a ton that is demanded of him, but I truly believe that Johnson has that performance in him if someone gives him a chance.  Neve Campbell as Sawyer’s wife Susan is also great here, harking back to the days when Neve Campbell was a kick ass in movies.

The action scenes are really tight and cool, filled with excitement…especially those that play off the height of the building. I have heard of people who were scare of heights really being affected by some of the scenes.  I was fine myself, but I can understand the thought process.

The villain of this movie was a major step down.  The terrorists here are just the bland, villainous type.  Certainly no one anywhere near the level of Hans Gruber from Die Hard shows up in Skyscraper and is one reason why this movie, while it may aspire to be Die Hard, falls way short.

It looked really good, with the special effects and the fire and such.  The Rock’s scenes always worked in appearance and never did I get the feeling that they were on a green screen.

Though the film is not this generation’s Die Hard, Skyscraper is fun and exciting.  Unless you get hung up on some of the improbability of the situations, you should have a good time with The Rock saving his family.

3.4 stars

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

I am not an Adam Sandler fan, but I do not remember hating the first two Hotel Transylvania movies anywhere near as much as I hated Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.

Within the first ten minutes I was wishing I wasn’t watching it.  I found it dull, predictable and not funny.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) was becoming lonely so his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) arranged for him to take some time off and go on a family cruise so he can spend time with his family.  Unfortunately, the captain of the cruise ship, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) turns out to be the great-granddaughter of one of Drac’s classic foes.

That piece of storyline I saw one million miles away.  The rest of the film was simple and repetitive.  You could guess where the film was going and you would have been right.  You could say that it was made this way because it was made for children, but that degrades those amazing movies such as Incredibles 2, Inside Out, How to Train your Dragon etc that are able to create deep, complex stories without talking down to children.  Hotel Transylvania 3 is nowhere near that level of movie.

To be fair, the animation was interesting and some of the monster’s character designs were cool.   You could pass the time just staring at the animation and the background monsters and creatures because they are impressive.  However, there is only so much you can stare at animation.

There were like two jokes worthy of a giggle, and one of them was a fart joke.  I will say there was a limited amount of fart/poop jokes in the movie, which was impressive for an Adam Sandler movie.

As I said, I did not remember hating the previous Hotel Transylvania movies this much so  I wonder why this one really tripped my trigger.  And I have to say, my theater was packed, but there was not a lot of laughter to be had.  There was a little more than I had, but it was pretty quiet most of the time.  There were some little kids in the front row near me that were getting bored of the film about half way through.  I was, of course, already bored by then.

Outside of an intriguing visual imagery, there is little to nothing left for Hotel Transylvania 3 to give.  If you have to go with your kids, good luck.  Or maybe you can talk them into Incredibles 2 again.

1 star

Boundaries

Boundaries

I love Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel.  I get a vibe of Norma Bates here as she and Lewis MacDougall play mother and son on a road trip film to pick up her father and deliver him to her sister.

The father is played by Christopher Plummer and is a roguish troublemaker who is using the trip to sell the remainder of his weed to his contacts along the way.

The story itself has several holes and there is something that is missing in the trip, but I thought the three main characters were likeable and interesting enough to sustain what I had wanted.

This is nowhere near a perfect film, but Plummer and Farmiga have a natural charm about them and that makes the scenes that they share on screen quite entertaining.  MacDougall, who starred in A Monster Calls, is a strong presence in the story, sharing scenes with both powerhouses without missing a beat.

Unfortunately, there just felt as if there were too many scenes missing in the movie that was already starting to feel its length.  I would have like to have seen more between the relationship with Farmiga and Plummer when she was a child instead of just hearing about it.

I think each individual character was developed well, but their connections were missing.  Farmiga was a pet rescuer and she had many dogs and cats living with her and her son.  MacDougall was a troublesome child, who got in trouble in school by drawing naked pictures of people and slapping others.  His reactions at school is inferred to have to do with they way he is treated by others students around him, but we do not really get any examples of that.

Plummer seemed like the jerk who has a heart of gold.  Someone who loves the people in his life, but is not sure how to express that or how to live his life without causing them to be hurt by his choices.  So because of that, he avoids the relationships by leaving or distancing himself.

The biggest trouble with Boundaries is that the trip in the car is something that we have seen a lot of different times and this does not carve out its own identity.  There are a lot of cliched moments in the film and a few that are so ridiculous that it is difficult to believe.

Kristen Schaal gives a wonderful performance as Farmiga’s sister, free and open as she can be.  She brings a nice energy to the movie near the end and it almost makes you wish that she had been in more of it.

The charm of Farmiga, Plummer and MacDougall overcomes the weakness of the script although you can’t help but wish there was a tighter story/plot for these actors to do.

3 stars

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Okay, I think I am emotionally settled down enough to write this review.

I have cried in many movies over the years, but I have never cried in the car on the way home before as I did for this documentary.

And the thing is… there is no major reason for tears.  It’s not like there was anything tragic presented or any unknown surprise that tainted Mr. Rogers’ character for ever and ever.  It is inspirational and loving and shows you how wonderful this man was.

So why was I so emotional over it?

I was not alone as my entire theater was wrecked at the end.  One lady sitting down the aisle from me had to sit there for awhile before she got up.  You could hear the sniffling and the blowing of the nose in my theater.

It was not as if I had been a huge viewer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child.  I mean, I watched it, but I was always more of an Electric Company/Sesame Street type of kid so it was not the nostalgic feel of the doc that got to me.

The documentary covered Fred Rogers’ life from a child (although they do not dive too much into childhood years, they do cover some) to his becoming a host of an educational program for children, right up to his death in 2003.

The documentary used archival footage of Fred Rogers talking as well as interviewing people who were close to him.  We talk to his wife, Joanne, his kids, and several people on the show.  Most notably was actor François S. Clemmons, who portrayed Officer Clemmons, an African-American police officer who worked in the “neighborhood.”

We heard how Fred Rogers had initially intended to become a minister and eventually became an ordained minister, but he changed his path with the expansion of television.  He come up with an idea for a children’s program that spent time education children and showing them that they mattered instead of wasting time hitting people in the face with pies.

Despite being a minister, Fred Rogers never preached to the audience that he had.  It was more than he showed that an adult can provide love and support for a child and they can do the right thing.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was way ahead of its time.  The show spoke to children with intelligence and honesty and did not speak down to them.  Fred Rogers dealt with many topics that nobody was covering on a children’s program before including the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, divorce, death, racial issues, the Challenger explosion.  He was doing topics right up to September 11th.

The documentary showed footage of Fred Rogers speaking in front of U.S. Senate in 1969, who, led by subcommittee chairman John Pastore, was looking to cut the money (20 million) given to PBS by the government.  The hearings seemed to be a done deal as Pastore was dismissive of all the speakers who would come before him.  Then, there was Fred Rogers.  Fred spoke to Pastore and talked about how important it was to provide intelligent education for children and then he recited lyrics from one of his songs that he would sing on the episodes dealing with releasing anger.  When he was done, Pastore said that it was amazing and that he just earned $20 million dollars.  Can you even imagine such an event happening in the Senate in today’s toxic society?

The film did not shy away from issues either.  It addressed the rumor about Fred Rogers secretly being a sniper in the Vietnam War.  It addressed the issue of FOX News when it blamed Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for raising a generation of people who think they deserve handouts because they were told they were special.  It addressed, in Mr. Rogers’ own words, how much doubt he had at times in doing what he was doing, and the feelings that were hard to express in his own words finding it easier using his puppets instead to get the words out.

Above all else, the genuine relationships built by Fed Rogers with children over the years shone through the screen and showed just what a remarkable man he was.  You knew he cared about these children because you could see it.  I can’t even fathom how many children’s lives had been made better by a song or a puppet or a kind word.  Maybe that is what caused such a release of emotion from me.

Or maybe it was the fact that we are currently in such a horrible environment of toxicity in the world around us and that we do not have a Mister Rogers to lead us out of it.  Or maybe it feels as if we have taken so many steps back over the last few years to a time before any of these moments were done.

Maybe it is because I am a teacher and I see how flawed I am by comparison.

No matter what the reason, there are plenty of lessons we can learn from Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and these lessons are desperately important for the world we live in today.  The movie’s tag line is “A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

5 stars

 

Ant Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Poster

After the sombre ending to Avengers: Infinity War, Ant Man and the Wasp comes along with humor and light hearted fun.

Not that this film does not have an important place in the lexicon of the MCU.  In fact, I think when we look back, the use of the Quantum Zone will be a major point in the future of the MCU.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is in the final days of his house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War, counting the hours until he can leave the building and venture outside.  Because of his involvement, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are on the run from the government.  But after Scott’s original trip into the Quantum Zone, Hank and Hope begin to believe that Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) might still be alive inside the zone, and they are preparing an attempted rescue.

Ant Man and the Wasp was fun and enjoyable.  There was a lot of energy and creativity in the use of the powers between the two shrinking heroes.  The shrinking gimmick is perfectly suited to this franchise and the writers and creative forces continue to come up with ways to use that gimmick to have Ant Man and the Wasp stand out among the super hero genre.

Paul Rudd is just wonderfully charming in this role.  He is so easy to root for and to emphasize with that you can’t help but love him.  Evangeline Lilly, who I have been watching a lot lately during my LOST re-watch, is awesome as the kick ass Wasp.  Wasp is certainly a huge standout of this movie.  Best compliment I can give is that I watched Ant Man and the Wasp without constantly thinking that it was Kate Austen on the screen.  Lilly has successfully moved past that iconic LOST role in this film for me and that is saying something.

This film also has Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne which is an amazing commentary on the world of comic book movies these days.

Once again, Luis (Michael Peña) is one of the funniest parts of the movie.  I was worried that they could not match the first film’s use of Luis, but I do believe that they were able to do so.

I also enjoyed the use of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).  She had a fascinating power that we have not seen before in the MCU and her tragic background makes you emphasize with her.  The costume is very cinematic as well.

The after credit scenes, especially the first one, is just amazing and leaves you wondering what is next.  And immediately after the second post credit scene, Marvel sticks one more poke at the audience.  It was wonderful.  Oh, and in that first post credit scene, I think I heard something that is going to play a role in Avengers 4.  No spoilers here, but we’ll have to see.

I was not a huge fan of the second villainous presence in the movie, as played by Walton Goggins.  This tech dealer who was after Hank’s technology for his own nefarious means was really an unnecessary addition to the story, although there are a few funny moments with Goggins and his crew.

Abby Ryder Fortson was great again as Cassie Lang, Scott’s daughter.  I would have liked more with Scott and Cassie as what we got of those two together in this film was fantastic.  The beginning scene with the “robbery” was charming as could be.

It was nice to bring the stakes back down to a personal level after having such universal dangers in the last couple of Marvel movies.  This was a smaller story, with it basically being trying to reunite a family.  It is important for Marvel to continue to give us smaller movies like this (no pun intended) to counter balance the epic of the Avengers.  It needs to stay even.  And Ant Man and the Wasp does this beautifully.  It is funny and fun with several relatable and enjoyable performances from a great cast.

4.75 stars

 

The First Purge

The First Purge Movie Poster

There were some positive things about the newest film in the Purge franchise, The First Purge, a prequel showing the experiment that was tried out to see if this idea would work.  The problem I have here is this feels way too close to something that could happen in the world today and that scares me for real.

The First Purge is not subtle in its political leanings and I try to avoid such things when dealing with the movie reviews.  However, it is practically impossible to avoid it when reviewing The First Purge because it is fundamental in the concept.  Heck, they have a movie poster (not the one I used) with a red baseball cap with the words “The First Purge” written on it in white lettering.  Ever seen one like that before?

In a not-too-distant-future, the government is trying to solve the country’s problems by putting on an experiment in Staten Island, New York to see how it would work.  For 12 hours, all crime, including murder, is legal so the American citizens can get their anger out.  It has been dubbed the Purge and there are plenty of people protesting the idea.

Marisa Tomei is the psychologist who came up withe the idea for the Purge as an experiment and it was supported by the NFFA, a third political party that rose up to challenge the Republicans and Democrats.  The New Founding Fathers hoped for this experiment to work because they believed the country had to Purge to survive.

There was little to no explanation to how this idea came to being or passed any sort of law body like Congress, and I think this movie would have been better if it had some background specifics. As it is, it is just another Purge movie which just happens to be the original one.

Our main protagonists were Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a drug lord in the area, and his former girlfriend and current Anti-Purge activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis).  I found it fascinating that the main hero of the story was a drug lord.  Both Noel and David were solid in their roles and showed that they were capable of carrying the movie.  Dmitri was not always some one you could cheer for, but Noel proved himself to be a future star.

The initial Purge started slowly, with very few people engaging in the criminal behavior.  More people formed “Purge parties” and were dancing and drinking.  I thought this was an interesting choice as well as the film seems to be saying that most people are generally good and do not succumb to their worst instincts easily.

Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) had a solution.  He had arranged for group of mercenaries to go into Staten Island in disguise as gang members and start killing people.  This was where the film really became political as the deaths went directly on racial and class lines.  You basically had the government organizing to murder the low class and the African Americans in the area.

With today’s incendiary climate when dealing with the issues of immigration and the immigrants at the borders, it feels as if something like this is just an unbalanced idea away.  That is a frightening thought.

And these gangs that are unleashed on Staten Island are dressed like Klansmen or Nazis or straight up soldiers.  The imagery is hardly metaphorical.

The third act becomes a basic violent Purge scene that we have seen before.  If you just want chaotic action in your Purge movies, it does get there.  It might feel a little slow in arriving.

I had a hard time enjoying the Purge because the real world kept sneaking into the narrative.  Even the filmmakers are anything but subtle when including some references.  If the country’s current climate was not so challenging, I might have enjoyed it more.  There were solid performances in the film and I am sure that it will make back its money quickly as most Blumhouse films do.

2.75 stars

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

The first time I saw Sicario, the original film by director, Denis Villeneuve, I was not a fan.  Most of the world was screaming how great the film was, and I remember being fairly bored and not engaged.  I rewatched the movie earlier this year and I found it more interesting than I did the first time, but I still did not think it was a masterpiece as many did.

So I approached the sequel to a movie that did not seem like it needed one with some trepidation.  And it seems as if my reaction was very similar to my viewing of the first one.  I was bored for parts of the film and did not love it.  This time however, Denis Villeneuve is not directing, and there seems to be more critics who approach Sicario: Day of the Soldado with a negative view.

The movie absolutely feels like two distinct parts that have little to do with one another.  The first part of the film dealt with the US Government declaring the Mexican Drug Cartels as terrorist organizations since they aided in some terrorists crossing the border and these terrorists had a horrific attack on a US bank.  So they grabbed Josh Brolin and sent him in to go to war with the Mexican Cartels.  He enlisted the aid once again of Benecio Del Toro and they planned on making the Mexican cartels turn on each other and fight among themselves.

Now,this part of the film worried me because of the world that we live in right now.  Immigration is a major hot button issue and all there needs to be is a film to put to screen the ideas that help encourage the horrors that we are committing.

Plus, this was the part that I found dull and I felt as if it dragged on.

Then the film turns and becomes a kidnapping story that does not make much sense.  Oddly enough this was the section I found more engaging.  Then, something happens near the end of the film that really took me out because Sicario is meant to be grounded in reality, and what happens feels like it comes straight out of the fantastical stories that require you to suspend your disbelief, which simply was the wrong tone for this movie.

There were great performances here.  Benecio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are fantastic once again.  Brolin has had one heck of a summer with Thanos and Cable before this movie.  The girl who was kidnapped was played by Isabela Moner and she was excellent as well.  She certainly held her own opposite Del Toro for most of the movie.

The film is unspeakably violent and in a real world way.  That is why what happens at the end of the film is such a betrayal of the tone of the film that it should never have happened.

There are some great shots and the film looks beautiful.  There can be no denying that.

Perhaps I will like this more if I watch it again like the original, but I am not planning on that any time soon.  If you were to tell me that Uncle Drew would be the more entertaining movie this weekend… I would not have believed you.

2.75 stars

Uncle Drew

Was not looking forward to Uncle Drew.  I thought the trailers looked horrible for this movie.

And yet, it was okay.

Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is a basketball coach preparing for the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem and he has drained his life savings into getting his team prepared for the games.  He has a stud player Casper (Aaron Gordon) whom Dax is pinning his hopes on to bring home the $100,000 prize money.  However, when childhood rival Mookie (Nick Kroll), who had ruined Dax’s childhood with a dramatic blocked shot, steals away Casper, Dax becomes desperate.

With no money, no team, no girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish), Dax did not know what he was going to do.  He ends up at a outdoor street ball court where an old man is criticizing the young players for their lack of playing the game right.  The young kid called the old man out, and the old man just toyed with him for awhile before beating him handily.

The old man was the street ball legend Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and Dax sees his opportunity.  Uncle Drew agrees to play at the Rucker Classic, but only if he could bring in his team from the past.  Dax agrees and they go about bringing in the crew.

This has similarities to The Blues Brothers at this point, “getting the band back together” and the band consisted of former NBA legends.  Big Fella was played by Shaquille O’Neal, Preacher was played by Chris Webber, Lights was played by Reggie Miller, Boots was played by Nate Robinson and Betty Lou was played by Lisa Leslie.

None of these NBA players are good actors, though I have to say that I really thought Shaq was decent in here.  Shaq himself in the ending credits says that he had come a long was from Kazaam, and I agree with him completely.

The fact is that this is not the greatest movie of the summer by any stretch, but it has some good moments and has a surprisingly large heart.  Is it predictable?  Yes.  Is the story strong?  Not really.  Does it require some eye-rolling suspension of disbelief?  Absolutely.  I already mentioned the acting.  But there is just something about the film that makes it likable.

There is a very positive message about the power of basketball that can be used in many different situations.  The theme of “if you give up what you love, your life is not what you want it to be” really works here and does not have to specifically include basketball, despite that basketball is what these characters all love.

I think if you are a fan of the NBA, you will absolutely enjoy Uncle Drew.  Sure the product placement is all over the place (Pepsi, Aleve, ESPN etc) but there is nothing that really slaps you in the face.

Sure I knew where this was going, but there was a certain charm in getting there.  It has a great message about friendship and family and never giving up what you love, and even though it is absolutely formulaic, Uncle Drew was enjoyable enough, more enjoyable than this had any right to be.

3 stars

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I saw a double feature of the Jurassic World films tonight.  The first Jurassic World (the fourth of the franchise) was a fun film, but I found it less entertaining than I did on first viewing. I saw some flaws that did not bother me the first time.

Then the second one started.

And I wished I was watching that first one again.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not a good movie.  I was very disappointed with it.  Yes, the dinosaurs looked good.  The CGI was great and the film was shot exceeding well by new director J.A. Bayona.  But that is about the end of the positives I can say.

No, there is another.  Chris Pratt is always entertaining.  He is playing basically the same character that he always plays, but he does that very well.  Also, Bryce Dallas Howard was better than she was in Jurassic World.  Plus, she did not run anywhere in heels.

The rest of the film was brutal.

It seemed to jump into horror movie cliche world with jump scares and with characters doing stupid things because it was needed for the plot to work.

The storyline was needlessly convoluted with plotlines that felt like they were tossed in for no reason.

Three years since the events of Jurassic World finished off the theme park, Isla Nublar, the island where the dinosaurs remained, suddenly became an active volcano (which would have caused trouble for the amusement park as well).  A debate began about whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved or allowed to go extinct once again.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is on the pro saving team as she has been working for dino rights.  Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), the old partner of Hillard, contacted her with a plan to rescue the dinosaurs and take them to a new island sanctuary.

Lockwood has Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) organizing everything and he suggests to Claire that she talk Owen (Chris Pratt) into returning to help save his old friend Blue the velociraptor.  There are military guys along led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) and they aren’t going to turn on our heroes…wink wink.

That is not a spoiler, by the way since it was shown in the trailer, as too much of this movie was.

After the first half of the movie on Isla Nublar, the film heads off to Lockwood’s estate, in what looked like a castle for the second half of the film.

The first half of the movie on the island was okay.  There were still people who were doing stupid things, but at least it was somewhat entertaining.  The second half at the Monster House was considerably less entertaining and had many more rolls of the eyes.

Another character that we were introduced to was Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon).  She was here because there needed to be a kid involved in a Jurassic World/Park movie or else they take away your writing card.  Then, he story is just SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO STUPID!  Her story comes completely out of left field and then is never touched on again.  Her inclusion in this movie, with this ridiculous plot point, makes zero sense.  The young actress Isabella Sermon was fine as the character, acting wise, but the writing of that character is so inane that it really felt shoehorned in for some odd reason and felt as if she was in the wrong movie.

The writing here is really below expectation.  The plot is slow and derivative.  The dialogue is tough to listen to.  The characters do so many stupid things it was painful.

There were several scenes that felt as if we had already seen them in this franchise, and the reason we had already seen them was that they were, in some cases, shot for shot repeats.  There is a fine line between nostalgia and lazy writing and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was stomping into that direction.

And that ending… SPOILER… I guess I am just going to wait for Blue to learn how to talk, gather all the dinosaurs together, and become the leader of her people.  There is a distinctly Planet of the Apes feel to the end.  I will say that I did not hate the end, but it did feel a bit unlikely.  END OF SPOILER.

Oh, and Jeff Goldblum returned as Ian Malcolm, speaking in front of Congress about whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved.  Now, if you have seen the trailers for this movie, you have seen almost the entirety of Goldblum’s appearance.  So if you are going to see Goldblum bring back his iconic character, just pull up the trailers on YouTube and you can save yourself some money.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a dumb movie with excellent special effects and a reasonably engaging lead actor and actress.  There can be some enjoyment watching the movie, if you aren’t bothered by a lack of plot, storytelling or logical/intelligent characters.  I was bored with the film is several spots because I usually need more than just the spectacle.

2.3 stars

Tag

Image result for Tag movie poster

One of the weirder “based on a true story” movies that you are going to see.

Every May, the group of five friends come back together (wherever they may be) and resume the same game of tag that they have been playing for 30 years.  However, this year is different.  Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who is getting married, is supposedly retiring from the game after never having been tagged.  So Hogan (Ed Helms) pulls together Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Chili Cilliano (Jake Johnson) in a determined effort to finally tag their friend.

I really enjoyed this movie.  The chemistry of the five characters, as well as Isla Fisher who played Hogan’s wife, Annabelle Wallis who played a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, and Leslie Bibb who played Jerry’s fiance, were off the charts strong.  The interactions between characters is what kept the movie from losing itself in some of the more over-the-top situations that it found itself in.

There are some really funny moments.  Many of them came about when the group has come up with a convoluted plan to trap Jerry but Jerry finds an even more convoluted way to escape it.  Jeremy Renner is fantastic in this movie, really showing the arrogance of Jerry.  The film would stop and give us an inside the mind play by play of what Jerry is thinking as he avoids the tag.  This is very similar to the way Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes breaks down a scene where he needs to act.  Renner was excellent, especially since he had both arms broken in the filming of this movie and much of what we saw on screen was CGI renditions of Renner’s arms.

The tone of the film changed as it progressed, turning nastier as the group continued to push the envelope further with each attempted tag.  There may be some times that people think it steps over the line of good taste, but I did not find myself feeling that way.  The third act did seem to become darker than expected, but that was explained near the end of the film.

Tag may feel lightweight, but it really does have a lot to say about friendship and how friends can grow apart over time.  There is a good amount of exploration of friends and the lengths that they have to go to remain in each others lives.  And even though you may consider yourself a friend, there may be parts of your friends’ lives that you are not aware of and that truly affect them.

Tag ends with some real life footage of the real life group playing their game of tag, if you doubted that this was based on a true story.  I had a good time with Tag despite the story getting a little too dark in the third act.  A great cast and some good laughs carried the film to a successful end.

4 stars

Incredibles 2

Fourteen years later…

Incredibles 2 picked up literally where the original film left off.  Usually, when a sequel has this much of a gap between when the original came out and when the sequel came out, the film suffers (ex. Dumb and Dumber 2, Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2).

That is not the case for Incredibles 2.

Brad Bird returned to the director’s chair for this latest Pixar film featuring the amazing characters of the Incredibles.  Voice talents of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell returned to their iconic roles for the sequel making everything feel like it fit together perfectly.

In the world right after the attack of the Underminer, super heroes are still illegal and the Incredibles are forced back into hiding.  However, a wealthy industrialist (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech savvy sister (Catherine Keener) approached Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) with a plan to try and convince the world to reinstate the legality of super heroes.  Elastigirl went out into the world to fight crime and work on the image of super heroes while Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) stayed home to raise the kids and deal with the troubles of their lives.

Incredibles 2 was a lot of fun from start to finish.  Where to start?  The voice cast, as I have already mentioned, is tremendous.  They all do a great job here, especially Craig T. Nelson who has to play a increasingly frustrated Mr. Incredible.

The animation was amazing.  You can see how much technology has advanced in the last 14 years since the first film came out.  However, Incredibles 2 still retained the distinct style and feel of the animation of the original.  It was like a perfect blend of new animation and the classic Incredibles art.

The character of Jack-Jack stole the show, having some of the best scenes of the movie.  The uncertainty of the powers of the young baby was very fun and presented the film with most of its biggest laughs.

However, Incredibles 2 was definitely Elastigirl’s movie as she was out front and center in the storyline.  The film does a fantastic job of highlighting how creative she is with her powers and what visually awesome things that you can do with a stretching hero.  As much as Mr. Incredible was out front in the original, that was how much Elastigirl led the way in the sequel.

The action in this movie was out of this world.  They had some amazing sequences throughout the film showing how these characters creatively use their powers and there was not one action scene that wasn’t top notch.  There seemed to be more use of Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone here too and his ice powers are used just perfectly.

I did have a few issues with the film.  First, it seemed to be a little slow at the beginning, but it picked up quickly.  The storyline was fairly predictable and the film certainly did not take too many twists or risks.  The villain Screenslaver was adequate, but certainly pales in comparison to the first film’s Syndrome, arguably one of the best villains in any super hero movie.  I was also not a huge fan of angsty Violet (Sarah Vowell) as that felt too cliched.

Most of those issues would be nitpicks and none of them really affected my enjoyment of the movie.  This felt like an exciting second adventure in the lives of the Incredibles and I was glad that I was able to watch them again.  Though the sequel may not quite reach the level of magical awesomeness as the original did, Incredibles 2 comes pretty dang close.  Hopefully it does not take another 14 years to get another Incredibles movie.

4.6 stars

SuperFly (2018)

Perhaps it is just me, but I did not enjoy much about the reimagining of the 1970s blaxploitation film Superfly.  Maybe it really is about seeing a world of which I have no connection, but either way, I did not like this.

Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a young cocaine dealer in Atlanta with broad plans of expansion.  Wanting to make a lot of quick money so he can escape the world, Priest looked to become a larger scale dealer.

He comes into conflict with other cocaine dealers in the area which leads to violence and wild parties full of sex and people throwing money on the floor.

I had several problems with SuperFly.  First, the film obviously wants you to be in the corner of Priest, but I found him just as crooked and criminal as all the others. Sure, Trevor Jackson plays him with a considerable amount of charisma, but that does not change the fact that he is a cocaine dealer.  He is surrounded by a couple of friends who are worse than he is and do little to create a connection to me as an audience member.  I don’t see any difference between most of these characters except for the clothes that they wear.

The women in this movie are treated much like they would be in a 1970s film as we basically see only the worst traits displayed by almost everyone except for Priest’s girlfriend (one of them, at least) Georgia (Lex Scott Davis).

There feels as if there are a ton of story threads tossed into the narrative seeing which ones might stick.  There is a story with Priest and his old mentor (Michael Kenneth Williams), one with two dirty white cops who show up about 2/3rds of the way through the film from out of nowhere (and one was Emma Swan from Once Upon A Time and I could not place her face for the longest time- very distracting), and there was one with the head drug family and the man in charge Gonzalez (Esai Morales-who was another face that I had trouble placing).

This felt more like a rap video than it did a feature motion picture and that really had me checking out of it early.  I wanted to like Priest, but the film showed him to be pretty much the same type of character as everyone else …just better at it.  And of course, his hair was epic.

There were a lot of questions surrounding the motives on what they were doing.  None of it seemed to be more than, “we want more money to make rain at parties.”

There were no characters worth rooting for and because of that, I checked out of the film early.  Lots of uses of the N-word, which I never like, though I understand is in the vernacular of the African-American community.

I am not sure the purpose of this film.

2.25 stars