Review: Hotel Transylvania 3

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.

The Hotel Transylvania series is an interesting one, in that the sequels are getting progressively worse. The first movie surprised me in some really pleasant ways, while the second film was still enjoyable though was nothing magnificent. Will this third movie manage to turn that curve or will it fall even further?

The gist.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) along with his family and friends embark on a cruise, to have fun and spend some time together. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her new husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) realize that Dracula seems very stressed, not realizing he’s actually looking for love. He finds love when he sets eyes on the human cruise director Erica (Kathryn Hahn). However, it turns out that she’s not who she says she is and Dracula’s whole family may be in danger.

Other voices include Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Bushemi, Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Parnell, Jim Gaffigan, and Chrissy Teigen.

What works?

Unfortunately, very little. This movie has very little charm, especially considering how unique the first film was. The only redeeming quality here is the all-star cast and a semblance of charisma that some of them bring to the roles. This movie also might work with very small kids who just want bright colors and music, this movie has plenty of both.

What doesn’t work?

I’m trying to judge this movie in a variety of ways, especially considering it’s primarily a kids’ movie. I can’t compare this to Oscar-caliber films but I can compare it against other animated movies in this genre.

And compared to all of its peers, this movie flunks. I can’t remember the last time I watched a supposed comedy and stared deadpan at the screen while jokes came and went, I maybe only chuckled a time or two. The humor is a huge failure and it didn’t hit for the kids either. The only big laugh was one singular fart joke, otherwise the kids in the audience fell asleep or got antsy.

This also doesn’t have any heart. This is something that the top tier animated movies (Pixar, Dreamworks, etc) have all figured out. You don’t care about Dracula’s journey here, so you’re completely disinterested in the plot’s ups and downs. It all just didn’t really feel important.

Also, this is a weird complaint, but there were some visuals that upset my stomach. Most notably one of the villains, the archnemesis of Dracula named Van Helsing. His face, for some reason, was designed in such a way to actually make my stomach turn and every time he was on screen, it was disturbing. There were a few other visuals that might be scary or intense for children.

Overall…

As of right now, this is probably my least favorite film of the year. It had absolutely no impact on me, no laughter, no tears, no anything. The plot is nonsensical and the finale will have you shaking your head in disappointment. Kids won’t enjoy this, adults won’t enjoy this, this film exists for no one. Go see Incredibles 2 again and save your money. The only saving grace is a decent cast of comedians but even they feel like they’re disinterested.

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Review: Skyscraper

Skyscraper.

The Rock is putting out a lot of movies this year, it’s crazy. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you head to the theater, so there’s very little surprise when you head to check out Skyscraper.

The gist.

The Rock stars as Will Sawyer, a military veteran and former hostage negotiator, who was injured in an explosion and lost part of his leg. He now serves as a security and safety expert, consulting at the tallest structure in the world. His family is the first family to live in the building, including his wife (Neve Campbell). Tragedy strikes when a group of soldiers attack this structure and cause a fire that consumes most of the building, leaving Sawyer to figure out how to enter the building and rescue his family. The building belongs to Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). We also have Pablo Schreiber, Byron Mann, and Noah Taylor.

What works?

This movie is exactly what you’d expect. It’s chock full of crazy stunts, huge explosions, and plenty of super corny one-liners. But it does it really well, embracing the absurd and giving us a real fun time.

The Rock can do no wrong. Here, he does his best, giving us an incredible badass hero that also happens to be an amputee. He’s charismatic when necessary but doesn’t go into full comedy mode, maintaining a subdued demeanor that matches up with the intensity of the action. He’s a father trying to rescue his family and you can absolutely sense that drive and urgency.

As an action movie, this is an incredible thrill. It’s predictable yes, but it delivers plenty of tense edge-of-your-seat moments and it looks much better than I expected. The trailers looked like a direct-to-DVD action flick but here, it was much higher quality than I was prepared for, which was a welcome surprise.

What doesn’t work?

This is not a great movie and you need to be prepared for that, so that you can still have a great time.

The villains here are laughable, in ways that might remind you of villains from 90s action flicks. They say nefarious one-liners and kill people constantly. They’re awesome in the best of ways. However don’t expect any depth or motivation, just go with it.

In general, the movie will feel very familiar. It steals the best of other movies and puts it all together, like a love letter to action movies. In that aspect, this movie is predictable and cliche but the journey is a fun one once you cope with that fact.

Overall…

Skyscraper is a movie that you’ll laugh through because it’s absolutely ridiculous. The Rock delivers some of his best action work here, both in close quarters combat and extreme stunt work. The action is thrilling and never stops, so if you want a movie that will entertain you absolutely, this is a great pick. Don’t expect a masterpiece but you’ll have a damn good time for sure.

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Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp.

This is the 20th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first Ant-Man managed to find its own niche as a heist film, packed with comedy. It suffered from a weak villain but overall really entertained. Here, the sequel has to find ways to innovate and expand, all while immediately following up on the success of Avengers: Infinity War. Can this film carry that burden?

The gist.

This movie takes place before Avengers: Infinity War. Master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is on house arrest, after helping Captain America during Civil War. He only has a few days left and his FBI contact (Randall Park) is anxious to catch him messing up and put him away for good. When he gets a strange vision of Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), he reconnects with Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to venture into the quantum realm to try to rescue her. However, they’re not the only ones looking for this technology, as a stealthy assassin code-named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins) also fight over this ability to travel through the quantum realm. Scott teams up with his old buddies (Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian) as well as going to one of Hank’s old colleagues (Laurence Fishburne) for help.

Scott isn’t the only one to suit up here, as Hope (Lilly) also gains a suit that can fly and shoot blasts, code-named The Wasp.

What works?

Like the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp delivers a very different experience from the other Marvel films. The villain here isn’t trying to destroy the world or take over anything. The scale is much smaller (pun intended). It’s actually a breath of fresh air following Infinity War, where literally the universe was at stake.

This movie also relies much more on comedy, like the original film did. Rudd and Pena carry the comedic weight here, though the addition of Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) was a stroke of genius, as he delivered some of the best moments. There’s plenty of pratfalls and physical humor but there’s also plenty of (seemingly) ad-libbed stuff from the cast that is pure gold.

This comedy intersects with action when the visual effects come into play. The action is intense and thrilling but it’s also laced with comedy, as the car chase reveals that their car is a few inches big or when a henchman is knocked down by a human-sized Pez dispenser. Plenty of laughs make these action scenes feel unique in the Marvel world so far, making up for the smaller stakes.

What doesn’t work?

The small scale, while refreshing, may not have you on the edge of your seat. The villain is intriguing and has a solid motivation (unlike Yellowjacket from the first film) but she doesn’t threaten our heroes in any serious way. Walton Goggins serves as the more traditional villain and there’s only so much a normal guy can do against our heroes here, resulting in a climax that is a little underwhelming.

The cast also feels a little bloated here, meaning that quite a few characters are really relegated to cameos. Michael Pena gets to shine but T.I. and David Dastmalchian get only a few lines each. Some other new characters get only a few scenes each, not to spoil too much.

There is one great mid-credit scene to stay for, but the final end-credit stinger is not worth the wait, especially considering it’s a gag that was spoiled in the trailers and commercials.

Overall…

Ant-Man and the Wasp manages to make improvements on the first film, finding creative new ways to create suspense and action using our heroes’ powers. The effects are incredible, the comedy almost always hits, and there’s some great new additions to the cast, but a few folks get pushed to the sidelines or aren’t really given much screentime. This is a solid adventure though, so most of you should have a great time and plenty of laughs.

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(Review) Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

Here’s some history. Sicario was released a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. It was an interesting story with some great performances, notably Benicio Del Toro who really took over that whole movie in the third act. So now we’re getting a sequel, but was it really needed?

The gist.

Mexican cartels have now been classified as terrorist organizations, so the government brings in an expert (Josh Brolin) to get these cartels to fight each other, so he immediately hires Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). One of their first acts is to kidnap a cartel leader’s daughter (Isabela Moner) but that plan goes sideways, resulting in drastic means to keep her alive.

What worked?

This movie is tense, some incredible moments of action and suspense. Like the first Sicario, it’s an incredibly slow burn that results in some absolutely captivating moments. The opening scenes of the film really kick things off in a very cool way, reeling you into the action.

And Benicio Del Toro again steals the show as the mysterious Alejandro. He kicks enough ass that you’re excited to see what he does next but he also delivers some deep and emotional moments, especially a sequence in which he encounters a deaf man, where he’s able to shine (and Mexican actor Bruno Bichir gets a few scenes to shine as well).

What didn’t work?

This movie unravels in a really weird way in the finale. There’s a moment that I was shocked, I couldn’t believe they did something. And then it spiraled out of control and resulted in a final scene that left me confused, underwhelmed, and disappointed.

Also, this movie is an incredible downer. If you’re looking for a traditional action film with a rewarding payoff, this isn’t it. Our characters do horrible things and horrible things happen to them, that’s just the norm here.

Lastly, like I mentioned before, this is a slow burn. You might fall asleep between big bursts of action. Again, if you want something traditional, this isn’t it. This is a long and slow movie that rewards you every once in a while with violence.

Overall…

Sicario: Day of the Soldado tries to capitalize on what worked in the first film but misses the mark. Benicio Del Toro is still great but the movie he’s in falls pretty flat, being relatively slow and resulting in a climax that is weird, disjointed, and disappointing. The first film is still great but you can probably pass on this one, at least until you can rent it.

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(Review) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Here’s where I stand with Jurassic Park. The original is one of the greatest movies ever made, yet the franchise has failed to ever really succeed after that. When it was revived a few years back with Jurassic World, I thought it was good, not great, but it managed to recapture enough to make it worthwhile. The problem with the franchise as a whole is that they’ve never been happy to just revisit the good ole dinosaurs that made the first movie great and instead always find a way to try to one-up themselves with a bigger and badder dinosaur (see Spinosaurus, Indominus Rex, and now the Indoraptor). Will this installment finally manage to do something great again? Spoiler: No.

The gist.

Isla Nublar, the island where both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World took place, is now the setting of a giant volcano that threatens everything that lives there. After the catastrophe of Jurassic World, most folks are willing to let the dinosaurs die. Our heroes Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return to the island to try and rescue as many as they can, under the umbrella of a new mysterious benefactor played by Rafe Spall. This movie also features annoying supporting characters (Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda) and as always, a child (Isabella Sermon). Now, this whole volcano plotline is only the first act, soon revealing a plot to genetically create and weaponize a new breed of raptor that listens to commands (known as the Indoraptor). Of course this doesn’t go well.

What works?

This movie tries to go back to the horror roots of the original, filled with plenty of suspense and buildup, really making this new Indoraptor something terrifying. However, most of these techniques have been done before, so it all feels very familiar.

Visually the movie looks great most of the time and you can tell they made a solid effort to use practical effects when they could. Of course, this can’t always be the case, but even when utilizing CGI, Fallen Kingdom looks great.

Chris Pratt is exactly what you’d expect, so if you go in wanting that, he’ll meet your expectations.

What doesn’t work?

Now here’s the problem. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels exactly like the other Jurassic Park films. Its homages look lazy, such as a kid furiously trying to shut a sliding door while a dinosaur runs at them, an iconic moment from the kitchen scene of the original. Almost every moment in the movie reminds you of another, often better, moment. The plot resembles The Lost World, including a big game hunter and a crew of ruffians hired to track down and steal the dinosaurs and bring them home. The climax steals from the most recent movie, though I won’t spoil it. How they defeat the big bad is nearly identical. This movie might entertain you, which is why it’s getting a medium score, but it doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before. Even the core concept of trying to create a more deadly dinosaur is copied right from the first Jurassic World film.

Because of this level of familiarity, the movie lacks any distinguishing moments. Even as I immediately walked out of the theater, I tried to pinpoint the coolest moments and my mind was a blank. There is nothing as memorable as the first appearance of the T-Rex, or even the surprising appearance of the aquatic behemoth at the climax of Jurassic World. This movie adds nothing to the list of coolest dinosaur moments and that’s an absolute shame.

This movie also falls in the familiar trap of one-dimensional supporting characters and useless kids. This kid trope especially grates me in this one, as it was possibly more unnecessary than ever before.

Now that sounds really negative, right, but let me cushion the blow by emphasizing that this movie will entertain you. There’s big moments, some shrieks and screams to be had, and plenty of cool looking dinosaurs. You won’t regret seeing it on the big screen, that’s for sure.

Overall…

This movie didn’t really need to be made, as it’s really just a highlight reel of the coolest moments from the past four films. Unfortunately those movies all did these moments better, so you’d be better off sitting down and watching those again. If you just want entertainment, sure, this movie will do it. It’s packed full of cool dinosaurs and some thrilling chases, but ultimately adds very little to the franchise.

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Review: Tag (2018)

Tag.

There is a surprising drought of good comedies right now, so Tag comes along at just the right time. It’s a bit of a B-list cast but the premise sounded unique, so let’s give it a shot.

The gist.

We meet a group of friends who have been playing a game of tag for many years together, coming together each May to play an intense game, dressing up and sneaking into each others’ homes, all just to tag the others. However, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) has never been tagged, having a perfect record. So when Hogan (Ed Helms) learns that Jerry is getting married, he brings together the whole group to head to the wedding and try to tag him. The other guys consist of Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, and Jon Hamm. We also have Isla Fisher as Hogan’s feisty and overenthusiastic wife, Leslie Bibb as Jerry’s bride-to-be, and Rashida Jones as an old flame that causes a rift between the guys.

What works?

Now, this is a weird compliment to start with, but this movie isn’t the crude comedy I was expecting. Yes, it definitely earns the R rating with plenty of crude humor, but it’s not all that funny, instead giving us some interesting characters and a deeper journey than I expected. It reminds me most recently of Game Night, where it layers the comedy onto other genres in unique ways. Here, it meshes comedy with action.

This game of tag is serious, so when Jeremy Renner enters the movie, it becomes something entirely unique. We have some incredible fight choreography, overlaid with inner monologues and some sweet slow motion. Renner is the real star of the show and dominates every scene he’s in. Their intense devotion to this game and ridiculous antics to try to get a tag is what draws the most laughter, as these guys are brutally beaten up and sometimes even hospitalized for the game.

I also appreciated Isla Fisher here, revisiting a type of role that made her famous from Wedding Crashers. She goes wild in some of these scenes and provides some of the biggest laughs.

While it’s not as funny as I thought, I still had a great time on this journey, getting something I didn’t even know that I wanted. There are some great moments about friendship, especially about growing older and growing up, that I found very poignant.

What doesn’t work?

While Renner is great, the other guys are all fine. In the intro I said it was relatively B-list and I stand by that. Ed Helms can’t really carry a film, Jon Hamm is still trying to make a name for himself in comedy, Hannibal Buress isn’t quite on people’s radar, and Jake Johnson is struggling to make the leap from television and his success on New Girl.

So in our time before Renner enters the picture, the movie struggles to get its footing and relies a little too heavily on these guys.

And while some of you may find the game of tag interesting, if you’re looking for a pure comedy, you may find this movie lackluster.

Overall…

Don’t go into Tag expecting something hilarious. You’ll laugh, but mostly because of the ridiculousness of this story. It has some incredible action sequences unlike anything else out there and Jeremy Renner really gets to shine, though his cool demeanor is contrasted nicely against Isla Fisher who lets loose here. The cast around them is a little underwhelming. It’s a fun ride though and offers something unique, if this sounds like your cup of tea.

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Review: Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2.

It’s been 14 years since the original Incredibles and we’ve all been waiting anxiously for the sequel, hoping that the wait was worth it. Well, finally the day has come!

The gist.

We join the Parr family immediately following the events of Incredibles, as the Underminer is attacking the city. After their battle leaves some collateral damage, the debate of “Should superheroes be legal?” comes up again. A rich brother/sister duo (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) have a plan to make superheroes welcome again: a massive publicity campaign revolving around Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). This leaves Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) at home to take care of his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner). He also discovers that their youngest son Jack-Jack not only has superpowers, but has many many superpowers. To help in the campaign, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is also recruited to play a role. Things get more complicated, when a master of hypnosis called the Screenslaver appears to foil Elastigirl’s plans.

This movie is directed by Brad Bird, who directed the original as well as movies like Ratatouille, Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Tomorrowland.

What works?

Pixar has a knack for creating great sequels, and even great trilogies, so it’s no surprise here that they’ve knocked it out of the park with Incredibles 2. The 14-year wait was indeed worth it, as we get something truly special here. Whether you’ve seen the original or not, whether you’re a kid or an adult, you’ll find a lot to love about this movie.

Firstly, it looks fantastic and delivers some of the best action sequences of the year, on par with some of the biggest superhero films. There are plenty of powers on display and they all look fantastic. The fight choreography is great and the stakes are always high, resulting in some edge of your seat action that is top-notch. They also manage to find action moments in surprising places, as one of my favorite battle sequences was between the baby Jack-Jack and a wild raccoon.

In between big action moments, there’s also a touching family story here. While Elastigirl is out doing missions, we watch Mr. Incredible struggle with keeping the house in check, which includes trying to learn modern math, babysitting little Jack-Jack, and trying to solve his daughter’s relationship woes. Watching his journey was appreciated and it was a nice role reversal.

This movie is also incredibly funny. I can’t emphasize this enough. This movie packs in some incredible one-liners, reoccurring gimmicks, and plenty to keep you laughing from start to finish. This movie has everything.

What didn’t work?

While this movie delivers everything you could ever want, remember that is still a Pixar film and that means it won’t necessarily do anything unique or new. The villain is cliche and predictable, meaning several big reveals won’t be very surprising to most of you. I didn’t mind, as I wasn’t looking for this movie to innovate or reinvent the wheel.

Overall…

I won’t say that this movie is better than the original Incredibles but it’s a solid debate, which should tell you how good this movie is. It’s hilarious from start to finish, features some stellar action pieces, and manages to frame an epic story in the context of a family and all the nuances that entails. Seeing Incredibles 2 is a no-brainer, especially on the big screen.

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