REVIEW: THE PREDATOR (2018)

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THE PREDATOR (2018)

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Messy story has a Predator (Brian A. Prince) crash landing on Earth right in the middle of a covert operation by military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). His men are killed, The Predator is captured and eventually McKenna is taken into custody by a black ops unit, only after sending his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) some of the Predator tech as security. Biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the creature and discovers the species is using various collected DNA, including human, to improve themselves. What they don’t know is that their captive is a traitor and a massive 11 foot tall tracker has been sent to earth to eliminate it. When The Predator escapes, McKenna, a band of psychotic army inmates and Casey, must team up to evade slimy government operative Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and get to Rory before The Predator…or the monster that hunts it…finds his son and ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) first…still with me?

Flick is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3) from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and it is a bit of a mess…though a fun one at times. One basic problem is that the film jumps around a lot with no transitional scenes to give us the illusion that characters traveled from one place to another or learned something that they suddenly know at a later point. While Rory is a savant with the alien technology, other characters including his dad and Munn’s Casey, suddenly know their way around the Predator technology when necessity serves. Let’s just say Black uses a lot of conveniences to move his story along. He also doesn’t seem to take his own story very seriously, as there is an overabundance of humor and it seems to overshadow the more serious moments, keeping the movie from building some real intensity. On a more positive side, Black doesn’t shy away from the gore and there are some very enjoyable action scenes. There is also some fun character banter and it is entertaining to see Predators stalking the suburbs on Halloween night…though they could have made better use of that aspect, too. Still, the film starts to feel like it’s being made up as it goes along once the mega-Predator arrives. The second half especially feels like they are not following a story, but going from one scene to another. The flick also starts out fairly seriously and then seems to get sillier and sillier as it progresses, till it ends in a goofy climactic confrontation of clichés and SPFX. It just doesn’t seem like Black trusted his own material enough to play it straight and tough like the first classic. Even the AVP films took themselves serious enough to get us to buy into them, even if they ultimately disappointed.

The film has an eclectic cast which works even if the material is weak. Boyd Holbrook makes a fine enough hero, though it seemed like he needed a bit stronger screen presence. Olivia Munn proves, after impressing as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, that she makes a solid action hero and when not left out of that action babysitting Rory, she can kick ass with the boys. Sterling K. Brown is OK as the government bad-guy. It’s a cliché role, but he works hard to make him a good bad guy despite being two dimension-ally written. Tremblay gives another good performance as the bullied and autistic Rory who has a gift for understanding the alien language and technology. As McKenna’s back-up, Trevante Rhodes is good as the soulful Nebraska, Keegan-Michael Key is fun as the joker of the group Coyle, Thomas Jane is solid as a soldier suffering from PTSD and touretts, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick) is good as the Irishman Lynch and Augusto Aguilera is amusing as the weird but likable Nettles. Rounding out is Yvonne Strahovski as Rory’s tough and protective mom and Jake Busey in an amusing role as the son of Predator 2‘s Peter Keyes, who was played by his father Gary Busey.

Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment yet, not without it’s entertaining moments. There was some cool action, some solid FX and the cast of eccentric characters worked well together. Unfortunately the script is weak and the director favored goofy humor and allowed the film to jump from place to place, where it should have taken itself a bit more seriously and a smoother narrative would have made things flow a lot better. The second half seems to be made up as it went along and despite a cool new Predator, the film was more silly than scary. Your move.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 updated Predators.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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80s set flick is from Turbo Kid makers François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell and takes place in the small town of Ipswich, Oregon where normally nothing happens. The area, however, has been plagued with the disappearances of some teenage boys and now a killer dubbed The Cape May Slayer is taking credit. Ipswich teen Davey (Graham Verchere) is convinced his cop neighbor, Officer Mackey (Rich Sommer) is responsible. Determined to save themselves and their neighborhood, Davey and friends Tommy (Judah Lewis), Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and Woody (Caleb Emery) decide to gather enough evidence to bring him down.

Simard and the Whissells direct from a well-written script by Stephen J. Smith and Matt Leslie and give this mystery/thriller loads of atmosphere, aside from it’s wonderfully nostalgic 80s feel. It’s like one of those teen-centric buddy movies from the 80s like Stand By Me, but with the brooding atmosphere and last act right out of an 80s slasher. While Turbo Kid paid homage to the low budget Road Warrior rip-offs that permeated much of the decade, this one recreates an 80s coming of age movie that’s been cross-bred with a slasher flick and the mix works perfectly. The tropes are all present, including our young hero Davey crushing on his former babysitter, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) and finding she likes him back and a climax that leaves us unsettled long after the credits roll. This trio knows their 80s and they also know how to deftly create a homage while still making their own film. By the very nature of being a homage we’ve seen a lot before, but it is the love and respect given the recreation of the beloved elements that makes it work so well. It also knows our familiarity with these scenarios and is not afraid to play a little with our expectations, too. We get a likable group of young guys to get behind and the makers are not afraid to put them…and the audience…through the ringer once the last act kicks into intense gear. Add to that some nice nostalgic cinematography by Jean-Philippe Bernier and a great electronic score by Le Matos and you have not only return to a style of filmmaking that inspired many of today’s talent, but a successful mystery/thriller in it’s own right.

The cast of relative unknowns are really effective. Graham Verchere is a very likable, yet realistic teen. He has an overactive imagination and a crush on the slightly older girl-next-door and an obsession that his neighbor is a killer. A classic character, but one given enough of his own personality to avoid being a cliché. Lewis, Gruter-Andrew and Emery also accomplish the same with their characters taking the classic delinquent, geek and “fat kid”, respectively and making them more than the stereotype characters they represent. Rich Sommer is also good as Officer Mackey. The actor makes him nice enough to have us doubt Davey one moment, yet also gives him a subtle creepiness that makes you think that maybe Davey is right after all. Rounding out the main cast is pretty Tiera Skovbye as sassy girl-next-door Nikki, a character also given enough emotional depth from the actress and script to transcend the cliché she could have been. The flick’s script gives each character some emotional resonance and thus a good cast a solid base to work with.

Overall, this was a really good homage to a unique age of movies that was the 80s. It had all the tropes very well recreated, yet as a mystery and thriller was quite effective on it’s own, aside from the nostalgic 80s setting. The script gives the characters some dimension and depth while putting them through the paces of a coming of age movie intertwined with a slasher. If you are a fan of 80s flicks or are old enough to have seen a lot of these flicks during that era, this movie is both a nostalgic treat and a chilling and intense thriller, that’s not afraid to play with your expectations at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3and 1/2 80s style walkie talkies.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: UPGRADE (2018)

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UPGRADE (2018)

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Set in the near future, Upgrade tells the story of vintage car restorer Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who on the way home from delivering a car to a client with his wife Asha, (Melanie Vallejo) is ambushed by a group of men. They kill Asha and turn Grey into a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the neck down, Grey’s client, billionaire genius Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers him a chance at being able to function again. A micro computer called STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) will be inserted in his spine to bridge the gap between his body and mind. STEM, however, is not just a computer but an A.I. that co-exists with Grey. Now with STEM operating in his head and enhancing his physical abilities, the A.I. begins to help Grey track down those who murdered his wife and make them pay.

Fun 80s style action flick is written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first three Saw films, all the Insidious flicks and directed Insidious: Chapter 3. It tells of a future where humans can be enhanced by computers and internal parts, such as the thugs who killed Grey’s wife having their guns built inside their arms. Now enhanced with STEM, mild-mannered Grey can fight like a trained soldier and move like a martial artist. He can also kill with lethal efficiency. It’s an entertaining good time to watch him track down those responsible, all the while being pursued by a cop (Betty Gabriel) who is trying to figure out how a paraplegic is killing the thugs in question one by one. While the film can get silly at times, a bar scene stands out as an example, it’s mostly a fun time well directed and cleverly presented by Whannell, with some intense action and chase sequences and horror movie level gore. On a technical level Whannell accomplishes a lot on his modest budget. The film looks great and has an awesome 80s vibe with colorful cinematography by Stefan Duscio and Jed Palmer’s very 80s electronic score. A fun homage, yet also very contemporary with it’s portrayal of the gap between man and technology becoming smaller and smaller.

The cast are solid. Logan Marshall-Green is convincing as a guy-next-door who becomes a detective and a skilled killer basically overnight. He is fun to watch as he tries to deal with having another intelligence in his head and abilities he’s never had before, not to mention a peaceful man now killing for revenge. He’s very well cast. Simon Maiden is effective as the voice of STEM, who only Grey can hear. He gives the A.I. character. Harrison Gilbertson portrays well the recluse billionaire who is barely out of his teens. He captures the solitude and awkwardness of being a unique individual very effectively. Betty Gabriel is good as Cortez, a cop trying to figure out how these thugs are being murdered when her only suspect is in a wheelchair. Rounding out the leads is Benedict Hardie playing Fisk. He’s basically the lead thug, a former military man now with computer enhancements to make him even more lethal and an equal opponent to the upgraded Grey. It was refreshing that he wasn’t played as a paramilitary tough guy, but almost a nerd that was now equipt to kill and enjoying it. While her screen time is limited, Melanie Vallejo made an impression as Asha and she and Logan Marshall-Green had nice chemistry, so their relationship was believable and the effect of her demise strongly felt.

Overall, this was a fun and clever action movie with a delightfully 80s vibe. Whannell directs well from his own inventive script and accomplishes a lot without a big budget. He has a good cast and if the film has any flaws, it’s that occasionally it veers into silly territory and the end reveal wasn’t that hard to see coming. The action is well choreographed and there is some graphic violence which fits in with it’s 80s feel. A very entertaining and sometimes inventive little movie that works as both 80s homage and contemporary sci-fi thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 computer chips.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE MEG (2018)

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THE MEG (2018)

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Flick is based on Steve Alten’s book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (review HERE) about a giant prehistoric shark discovered deep below the ocean depths. The film starts out with Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) on a deep sea rescue mission, when something huge attacks his sub. He is forced to leave two comrades behind, though saves the eleven survivors. Five years later he is a guilt-ridden drunk on a beach in Tailand when his ex-wife, Lori (Jessica McNamee) (who was a reporter named Maggie in the book) becomes trapped in a sub investigating a warm water system underneath a silt cloud deep at the bottom of the sea. He joins the rescue team at the Mana One research platform and soon discovers the cause of the accident is an enormous prehistoric shark…a Megalodon. The survivors are rescued, but now the Megalodon has followed them up to the surface and Jonas and the Mana One team must battle a predator that hasn’t inhabited these oceans in millions of years.

Jon Turteltaub directs this adaptation after schlockmeister Eli Roth left the project. The script is by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber and not only takes considerable liberties with Alten’s original story, but also dumbs down science that was already presented in a digestible manner. It also changes everything Japanese to Chinese to please Chinese co-producers, such as turning Jonas’ future wife Terry Tanaka into Chinese divorcée and single mom Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing). It now almost seems like an Asian production with a lot of dialogue coming with subtitles. Changes aside, there are a number of things that keep The Meg from having real bite. One is Turteltaub’s by-the-numbers direction which does not have nearly enough fun with the scenario. It’s Jason Statham vs a giant prehistoric shark, take the ball and run with it. The film should have been a lot more fun…or at least far more suspenseful. Turteltaub doesn’t exactly build much suspense either. Another thing is that the monster shark isn’t really given much of a threat factor, as the film’s PG-13 rating neuters most of her carnage…though Jaws did a lot with a PG rating, so it’s not just the lack of gore…and she only briefly encounters civilization and population. There is also no sense of wonder given to her or the underwater lost world she comes from. We don’t get a sense that this is a creature that time forgot. She’s just a big shark. The book took more time in her original surroundings so we understood her existence as a dinosaur more clearly. Finally, the script has some very dumb dialogue and is as cliché as a nature run amok movie can get. It’s no better than any of the SYFY channel shark themed movies that have been cranked out like cheap cars over the last few years. For this to stand above, it should have followed the book a bit more closely, as it streamlines the story too much. It’s also confusing that they left out a major plot point which easily set up a sequel…and we know Hollywood loves a sequel, especially if this makes money. What does save this a bit is that there is an action-packed last act and weak script and lackluster direction aside, it still entertains and it is still Jason Statham vs a giant prehistoric shark, after all. It also successfully restructured an ending that worked on paper, but would have been very difficult to film. What they came up with keeps the essence, but works much better for film. On a technical side, the flick is well made and the CGI shark is serviceable, though never really as frightening as she should be.

The cast are fine. Statham works well as Jonas Taylor, though his whole guilt issue gets abandoned pretty quick and he sobers up just as fast. He is a reliable action hero and if anyone can battle a massive sea predator, Statham is at the top of the list. He’s charming and handles the physicality of the role well. Li Bingbing is a solid love interest/heroine and gets to shuffle back and forth here from damsel in distress to action hero and does so well. English is not her first language so some of her line delivery is a bit awkward, but she does well enough to be likable as Suyin…and looks damn fine in a wet-suit, too. Rainn Wilson is OK as Billionaire Jack Morris who was not in the book. It’s a very stereotypical and cliché character that appears clueless, but turns into a real douche just when you expect him to. Rounding out the leads is Winston Chao as Suyin’s father Dr. Minway Zhang, who was Masao Tanaka in the book, and cute little Shuya Sophia Cai as Suyin’s daughter, Meiying. As the “precocious child” she could have been far more annoying.

Overall, this novel adaptation was entertaining, but could have been a real blast with a director who appreciated the scenario and a script that kept the book’s sense of wonder and the savage aggressiveness of it’s title creature. The film is cliché and turns what could have been a real nail-biter into a routine creature run amok movie. There is plenty of action, the second half livens up quite a bit and Statham works as the flawed hero and that keep us from getting bored. The most puzzling thing about the film is that it leaves out a major plot point from the book that easily sets up a sequel…as book writer Steven Alten has fully taken advantage of. Fans of the book will probably be disappointed, but as a bargain matinee it entertains well enough.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 megalodon teeth for an action filled second half and Li Bingbing looking mighty fine in her wet-suit.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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Lackluster sequel took five writers…including star Rudd…to write the script and still produces a somewhat disappointing flick. Follow-up finds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest after his stint in Germany with the civil warring Avengers. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who are pissed at him for the blow-back from Germany, sneak him out to help them in an effort to rescue Pym’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. In their way is a quantum phasing villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Pym’s equipment for her own purposes. If that’s not enough, slimy black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) wants Pym’s equipment for HIS own greedy ventures.

Peyton Reed returns to direct and can’t get a whole lot out of this writer heavy, but content weak screenplay. Biggest problem is that aside from Pym’s noble goal of rescuing his long lost wife, one never gets the feeling that there is all that much at stake here. There’s never a sense of urgency to the proceedings and it just seems like a game of who’s got the miniaturized lab as it goes from one set of hands to another. Ghost is a decent villain, but all she wants is to stop phasing in and out of dimensions and so she’s more of a nuisance than an actually threat. When the only other villain is the comical Burch, we have a film without a real menace to liven up the convoluted proceedings. Films like this need a strong villain to click. Sure after the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War we needed something lighter and more fun, but thin and light are two different things and this film simply could have used more weight and been a bit livelier in the fun department. This seems very by-the-numbers and could have gotten a lot more out of the dynamic between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Lilly’s Wasp. The actors work well together, but the material here is weak. On the bright side there are some fun action sequences, like a romp through the streets of San Francisco and Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip Harris) are back to provide laughs as Scott’s former gang turned legit security advisors. This superhero sandwich may be light on meat, but is still edible and at least never boring.

Except for Goggins, Hannah John Kamen, Pfeiffer and Larry Fishburn, as a former friend of Hank Pym, the cast are all returning from the first Ant-Man flick. Rudd is charming and fun as Lang/Ant-Man though we wish he and the other four writers gave him some far more clever punchlines. Evangeline Lilly fairs a bit better showing some real superhero potential as the smart-ass, kick-ass Hope/Wasp. She and Rudd have a nice chemistry, even if they play out the cliché “they broke up between films and now are rediscovering their attraction” scenario. Douglas is a veteran and again is charming as the grumpy Pym. Pfeiffer doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes an impression and is a welcome addition to the gang. Hannah John-Kamen is solid as Ghost and a bit sympathetic, though she isn’t portrayed as a real threat. Fishburn is fine as a former friend and associate of Pym who may…or may not…want to help Hank retrieve Janet. Goggins is OK as the more comical than diabolical Burch. Like his Tomb Raider villain, he could have been more intimidating, but isn’t. As our bumbling trio, Peña, Dastmalchian and Harris are fun, though their presence in this story seems a little forced. Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Abby Ryder Fortson also return as Lang’s “family”. A solid cast, but let down a bit by a sub-par script.

In conclusion, there was a lot of potential here with a good cast, but a weak screenplay keeps this more in the realm of mediocre than Marvel-ous. The story doesn’t present a scenario that evokes urgency or suspense and the one-liners are less imaginative and fun this time. The direction seems by-the-numbers and the creative spark of the first flick isn’t quite there. The actors help elevate this a bit with an energetic and fun Wasp from Evangeline Lilly and some amusing moments from Rudd and his trio of side-kicks. There is more than one villain, though none of them are truly villainous, so, at least there are some fun action/fight scenes to keep us somewhat entertained. Never boring, but never especially exciting either. Stay through the credits for two additional scenes that answer questions as to when this entry takes place in the scheme of Avengers: Infinity War.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 ants.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE ENDLESS (2018)

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THE ENDLESS (2018)

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Brothers Justin and Aaron (directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) escaped a strange cult ten years ago and their lives have never been the same since. Despite Justin’s negative suspicions about Camp Arcadia, Aaron suggests they go back for a visit to say goodbye and get closure. Soon after arriving, the two start to experience some very strange phenomena and begin to wonder if the mysterious deity the cult worships might actually be real and this outwardly serene place may hold some unearthly secrets.

Fans of Benson and Moorhead’s first feature Resolution may be happy to know their latest collaboration is set in the same universe and is almost a sequel, as familiar characters do appear and Benson and Moorhead play the same cultists from that film. If you haven’t seen that flick, this one plays just fine, as those elements aren’t necessary to appreciate the subtly unsettling story here. The film is it’s own thing, though if you enjoy this chiller, you might want to check Resolution out. While well written, if there is any part of Justin Benson’s script that was a bit hard to accept, it was that two people would want to go back to a cult they escaped for a visit…though Aaron seems far more eager to revisit than the cynical Justin. There is some creepy stuff here as Aaron starts to question why he left, especially when reunited with the pretty Anna (Callie Hernandez) and Justin starts to believe that this “thing” they worship has those in it’s domain in a kind of continual loop. It gets really weird and it actually works that we aren’t spoon-fed any answers and left to ponder things a bit as the credits roll. The directing duo gives us some interesting…and unsettling…imagery on a small budget, much like they did with their last film Spring and Jimmy Lavalle wraps it in an atmospheric score.

The cast are solid. The directors play the main characters and are effective with Benson playing the cynical and somewhat paranoid Justin and Moorhead as the quieter and more accepting Aaron. One believing Camp Arcadia is a place of unseen danger and the other thinking it’s not so bad as their life isn’t going well after fleeing. Callie Hernandez is charming as the sweet and pretty Anna and Tate Ellington is effective as the cult leader, who never seems quite trustworthy despite his calm exterior and gets escalating-ly creepy as the film progresses. Lew Temple (recently scene in Feral) also has a small part as a mysterious cult member. A good cast.

Benson and Moorhead keep making intriguing films on a low budget and as much as one would like to see them get the attention they deserve, maybe they should stay independent of the studio system. Their Spring was a wonderful horror tinged romance and their follow-up is a spooky and sometimes trippy little flick. It may have been a bit hard to swallow that anyone would return to a cult they once fled, but as there are definitely supernatural elements present, maybe they had no choice. There are some unsettling and strange things going on and the directing duo give it some nice atmosphere. Sure, not everything is explained or spelled out for you, but it is an intriguing and spooky little movie nonetheless and ambiguity sometimes works better than answers.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 moons…sometimes all at once. (You’ll have to watch the movie!)

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

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INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

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Sequel finally arrives after fourteen years and picks up right where the original left off, with the crime fighting Parr family battling…and unfortunately not catching, the “Under-miner”. Despite their failure being another blight on the name of superheroes, millionaire entrepreneur Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), contact the Parr’s and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) to join them on an endeavor to bring superheroes back to a positive light and legality. He believes they should start with Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) due to her causing the least collateral damage in her crime fighting career. While his wife is out fighting crime, this leaves Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to play stay-at-home house-dad to Dash (Huck Milner), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), who is developing some superpowers of his own. When the mysterious villain Screenslaver starts to wreak hypnotic havoc, Elastigirl finds herself in a stretch of trouble. Will this family reunite and save the day once more?

Long awaited follow-up is again written and directed by Brad Bird and while it is a fun time, one expected a little more “POW” and “BAM” in this long enticipated superhero opus. The flick certainly entertains, yet felt like it needed a bit more super energy. It is fun to see Elastigirl out on her own and poor Incredi-dad trying to handle parenthood, but it takes quite a while for the film to really get going and hit it’s stride. Bird certainly gets good use out of Jack-Jacks multiple powers and there are a lot of fun bits, but the story never really feels like something worth waiting this long for. Once revealed, the villain is a bit bland and doesn’t have the same over-the-top diabolical villainy of the first film’s Syndrome. The Parr family are endearing as ever, as are supporting characters like Frozone and Edna and there are a couple of new characters that are likeable as well. The voice acting by the cast, both veteran and new, goes a long way to keeping this bunch lovable and the Pixar animation vibrantly brings them all to life. It’s just a sequel that’s not quite an equal.

So, maybe it’s not as awesome as we’d hoped for after such a long wait, but it is still fun and the characters are as lovable and lively as ever. The story wasn’t quite that super, nor were the villains, but Jack-Jack’s antics and an action-packed last act makes this a satisfying sequel, even if it’s not quite as “incredible” as we wanted. Considering how long it took to get this second adventure and that a few cast members aren’t getting any younger, let’s hope we get an Incredibles 3 sooner than later.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Jack-Jacks.

 

 

 

Anyone else think that after 14 years, Elastigirl is still kinda hot? 😍😉😜

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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The latest installment of the franchise takes place three years after the disastrous opening of Jurassic World. A volcano on Isla Nublar has become dangerously active and the U.S. government declines to save the animals still there. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) asks Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to join a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from the doomed island and to convince her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join them. Once on the island Claire, Owen and their team are betrayed and they discover that this “rescue mission” has a far more sinister purpose.

Fallen Kingdom is directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker behind the atmospheric and spooky haunted house flick The Orphanage and the bittersweet fantasy A Monster Calls. His script is by previous installment director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connor, who co-wrote the last one, as well. The result is a more Gothic feel to the proceedings, especially when the location switches to Lockwood’s old mansion with genetics lab and creature holding cells in the basement a la Dr. Frankenstein. From here It becomes a tale of man’s greed and trying to play god…again. The Indominous Rex taught these greedy corporate types nothing and now we have the genetically created dino-soldier the Indoraptor to serve as our predator of choice for this flick. After the escape from the burning island…which is a very entertaining set-piece in itself, the flick becomes more of a James Bond movie with dinosaurs. The second third finds Claire and Owen sneaking around the castle-like mansion with Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), trying to find a way to stop the sale of and genetic tampering with the last survivors of Isla Nublar. It’s not quite as fun as the last flick, but at least they are trying to take the series in a new direction and we actually get off the island. The last act has the skilled director Bayona going back to his haunted house roots with a cat and mouse chase through the dark and cavernous mansion between our heroes and the Indoraptor, with a very exciting and very Gothic rooftop finale. Overall it is an entertaining flick, though a bit darker, a bit more violent and somewhat less fun than Jurassic World.

The cast is fine, even if the bad guys are complete two-dimensional stereotypes. Pratt and Howard still have that chemistry as Owen and Claire and having them broken-up gives us a chance to experience their combative banter and then having them fall for each other all over again. Young Isabella Sermon is endearing as Maisie, Lockwood’s young granddaughter with some secrets of her own. Rafe Spall, Ted Levine and Toby Jones are the trio of bad guys as Lockwood’s conniving assistant, a soldier for hire and a black market dinosaur dealer respectively. While the characters are familiar and stale, the actors give it their best. Cromwell is charming as the elder Lockwood, who is having his dream corrupted right out from under him. Rounding out the main characters are Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda playing Claire’s IT tech Franklin and dinosaur veterinarian Zia, respectively and they are fun characters well portrayed. We also get a nice cameo with Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm and B.D. Wong returns as slimy Dr. Wu. A good cast though some characters are better written than others.

Jurassic World gave this series a bit of revived energy and while this installment is a bit less fun, it does take the series to some new places and Bayona gives it a darker and more Gothic tone, as well as, his trademark visual artistry. On the negative side, the whole predator du jour chasing our heroes is getting stale, as is genetically whipping up new creatures like ordering a pizza. The dinosaur auction was interesting, but one wonders where the authorities stand on black market dinosaur flea markets. Guess it’s too soon to approach that side of the story. It was fun to see Clair and Owen and company playing James Bond in this massive Victorian Mansion, as we also enjoyed the film leaving us at a point where we wonder if mankind’s meddling might get us slapped back to the stone age. Stay through the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 T-Rex

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REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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Latest Star Wars flick is an unnecessary origin story for iconic pilot Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). It gives us brief glimpses of his life as a street thief, to his days as an imperial trooper, to meeting Chewbacca and finally his start as a smuggler, including his legendary Kessel Run. And as far as a story, that’s kinda it.

Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the film was a troubled production that saw original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller leave the project to be replaced by Ron Howard, who did a lot of re-shoots. While the resulting film is not the mess once might anticipate, it’s also an underwhelming flick that never finds it’s footing or feels like the making of a legend it should. First problem is that actor Alden Ehrenreich never evokes Han Solo. If not for Chewbacca standing by his side and eventually getting in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon, he could be any generic space hero. Secondly, with all the iconic moments that are presented, such as getting his name and his gun and meeting his famous furry co-pilot, none of them are presented with much weight. The story also seems to be a bunch of set pieces strung together and thus we have no emotional involvement as the rebooted Han goes from place to place, meeting scoundrels like Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), villains like Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his sweetheart turned criminal arm-piece Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). It’s almost like they were making it up as they went along. None of it has any emotional resonance and aside from a few fun action scenes, none of it is very memorable. It rarely feels like a Star Wars film though having a bit of a different look and a grittier tone, was, at least, refreshing.

The cast all try hard, but no one really shines in what probably was a difficult shoot. As stated, Alden Ehrenreich never evokes the legendary character he plays and is a bit too much of a pretty boy to be the space pirate we all know and love. Harrelson phones in his Tobias Beckett, which is a shame as Woody is usually the one to add life to a movie. Clarke is pretty, but doesn’t generate much heat or make her character very memorable. She’s a generic love interest trying and failing to be a bit of a femme fatale. Her character just comes off as flat. Bettany is also very bland as villain Vos. He could be a generic gangster from any movie. The only person who generates some life is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and he, sadly, isn’t given all that much to do.

So, it’s not quite the disaster early word was predicting, but is still disappointingly mediocre. Rebooting a character this iconic has to be done just right…like J.J. Abrams Star Trek casting. Here Alden Ehrenreich falls short. The rest of the cast, Glover aside, phone in their performances and the story is too thin to get one emotionally involved. There is some fun action, though the film fails to make it’s iconic moments…well, iconic. A disappointing attempt to prequelize one of cinema’s most beloved scoundrels.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 Millennium Falcons.

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REVIEW: DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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Sequel finds our wise-cracking, anti-hero suffering a devastating personal loss and turning suicidal. With his powers of regeneration, that doesn’t work out so well and so Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) tries to help by recruiting him to the X-Men. That doesn’t work out so well either and Wade a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself sent to the Ice Box, a prison designed for mutants, along with a powerful, troubled boy named Russell (Julian Dennison). When a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) comes to kill Russell, Deadpool sees saving the boy as a way to prove he is capable of doing the right thing…but is he?

Deadpool 2 is this time directed by David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) from a script by returning writers Paul Wernick, and Rhett Reese, along with star Ryan Reynolds. It doesn’t quite have the edge or energy of the first film, but is still good, naughty, bloody fun. The film is filled with the now traditional pop culture references and shots taken at other Marvel and DC properties, including The Merc with the Mouth telling Brolin’s Cable to “Pump the hate breaks Thanos at one point. The flick is a bit larger scaled with the action, no better example than an especially fun sequence with Deadpool and his team of misfits, including ‘lucky’ mercenary Domino (Zazie Beets), trying to stop Cable’s assault on an armored convoy. It’s bigger than anything seen in this series so far and gives Reynold’s co-stars a piece of the action, too. The flick has the usual humor-laced graphic violence and there are plenty of raunchy jokes with just enough wit behind them to make them work. A sequence with Wade regenerating his lost legs is especially hilarious. In fact while the flick seems to take itself a bit too seriously at times, in the first half, the second half comes alive with what we came for…including some hysterical post credit scenes. Like the first film, not everything works, but does succeed more often than not. The new characters of Cable and Domino are welcome to the Deadpool universe and we get returning familiar faces like Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Weasel (T.J. Miller) and Wade’s ever-loving girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). It’s a fun time and while the hi-jinx aren’t exactly new, they are still fairly fresh here thanks to the creative team and the actors getting the tone of the material perfectly.

Ryan Reynolds is born to play this part and he does so like a boss. He delivers his lines with the same deadpan confidence as he did last time, while unafraid to equally poke fun at himself. Josh Brolin’s Cable may not quite be up to his Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War, but his second Marvel character this summer is still a solid villain that avoids being two dimensional, all the while having a deadpan sense of humor of his own. Zazie Beetz is a sexy delight as Domino. A mercenary who claims her superpower is luck and she’s an ass-kicker and can be quite funny herself. Julian Dennison is good as Russell. At first we feel sorry for his picked-on and abused mutant, but also start to see the power and rage which will become a problem in Cable’s future. Morena Baccarin is back as sexy, sassy Vanessa and we wish she had a bigger part. Colossus is again fun as voiced by Stefan Kapičić,  still amusingly portraying the metal encased X-Man as a big metal boy scout. T.J. Miller is still fun as Wade’s buddy Weasel. Brianna Hildebrand is back as N.T.W. and with a new look and a mutant girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). Leslie Uggams is also back as Wade’s roommate Blind Al and Karan Soni returns as faithful cab driver and assassin wannabe Dopinder. There are also some great cameos that won’t be spoiled here.

In conclusion, it may not quite have the edge that the first film had, but it is still raunchy, bloody, sarcastic fun. There are some welcome new characters to add to the returning familiar faces and some bigger action set-pieces to throw those characters into. Reynolds is perfect again as the “Merc with the Mouth” and there are some fun post credits scenes to stick around for. Not exactly an equal, but an entertaining sequel that, in a way, is it’s own thing! As usual there is a soundtrack of cool songs included in the mayhem.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 unicorns…like last time.

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