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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Review: Hotel Artemis

Hotel Artemis.

This movie is flying a bit under the radar but it looked like it had all the ingredients of something really unique, so I wanted to make sure to check it out. Does it succeed?

The gist.

Welcome to the Hotel Artemis, a hotel in a futuristic Los Angeles. Riots are happening all over the city over clean water. In this hotel, the Nurse (Jodie Foster) has a floor dedicated to taking care of criminals, using a strict set of rules to ensure everyone’s safety, including a brute enforcer (Dave Bautista). The hotel is full of interesting characters including a deranged arms dealer (Charlie Day), a renowned assassin (Sofia Boutella), and a robber who just pulled off a major heist (Sterling K. Brown). This night goes sideways when a cop asks for entrance (Jenny Slate) at the same time as one of the most threatening crimelords in LA calls for a room (the Wolf King of Los Angeles, Jeff Goldblum).

What works?

This is an incredibly eclectic cast and they all serve their roles perfectly. Jodie Foster carries the film, in a role unlike anything she’s ever played. She’s surrounded by powerhouse up-and-comers, notably Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, and Sofia Boutella. These are all people who have excelled in other roles and get a chance here to do something very different.

The plot here is a nice twist on the “hotel full of strangers” trope, as we slowly learn why these people here and what they have to do with each other. There are some fun and thrilling reveals, keeping you wondering and guessing until the final moments.

There’s also plenty of action that punctuates the film, culminating in an incredible hallway fight scene in the climax that may rank as one of the coolest fight scenes of the year (it’s a little early to call it for sure).

What doesn’t work?

Very little luckily. This movie shares a lot in common with the John Wick franchise though doesn’t quite exceed as highly as those movies do. It’s good but this movie isn’t going to win any awards and might constantly be compared to those films. But if our biggest disappointment is that “This movie isn’t as good as John Wick,” then we still have a pretty great movie here.

Overall…

A thrilling yet intimate story, with some exceptional performances and some great action pieces. Jodie Foster and her supporting cast all impress here and the plot will have you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll. Most of you should have a really great time here.

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Review: Ocean’s 8

Ocean’s 8.

It’s been awhile since the latest trilogy of Ocean’s films and now we’re getting a spinoff focusing on Danny Ocean’s sister and featuring an ensemble cast of women. It’s a pretty interesting cast though a predictable premise, so can this movie make its own footprint in the heist genre?

The gist.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) just did five years in prison and spent the entire time formulating a heist that is bound to go perfectly. She immediately brings together a group of talented women to make it happen, including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rhianna, Helena Bonham Carter, and the YouTuber Awkwafina. Their goal? To steal a giant necklace from the neck of Anne Hathaway. We also get Richard Armitage as Ocean’s ex-lover and a brief though hilarious stint by James Corden.

Do you need to know anything about the past films? It’d be helpful and there’s a few cameos you need to look out for, but it’s not essential.

What works?

The heist genre is a well-oiled machine, it’s been done so many times. And the Ocean’s films usually take very little liberties, but instead stick to the formula and rely on their actor’s charisma to hold the movie up. Here, you can expect the same sort of thing. The plot is predictable but it’s the stars that really carry the film.

Sandra Bullock as the lead gets much more to do than her brother did in his films. She gets an interesting backstory, plenty of motivation to pull off this heist, and quite a few quiet moments with her costars. Out of the other women, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, and Cate Blanchett stood out the most to me, though kudos to Helena Bonham Carter for being much palatable than in other films.

The heist that the movie builds up to is also really enjoyable, very reminiscent of the other Ocean’s films in all the right ways.

What doesn’t work?

While it’s great that the movie’s heist works, it does feel a little too familiar. There isn’t really anything surprising about the climax of the film or the road leading up to it. This is the epitome of an average heist movie, though many of you will be totally fine with that.

And while the climax is fun and energetic, unfortunately the build up to the heist is much slower than you’d expect. This movie steals a lot from the other Ocean’s films but didn’t take much of the color or flair that livened up the other films in the first two acts. They benefited from a Vegas setting (2/3 times anyways) that kept things fun and upbeat, while the setting of a museum in this film doesn’t lend the same sort of kinetic energy.

Overall…

This movie feels familiar, from top to bottom. It doesn’t do anything unique with the tropes of the heist movie and instead carbon copies what the Clooney films did, though sometimes not as spectacular. What we end up with is a pretty average heist movie, highlighted by some great performances and a bit of a slow burn.

 

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Review: Upgrade

Upgrade.

It’s summer blockbuster season but sometimes it’s nice for something different to come out and that movie is definitely Upgrade. It’s not trying to compete with Deadpool or Solo, but it’s carving out its own unique niche for a very select few people. Let’s discuss.

The gist.

Most of you have not heard of Upgrade. It stars Logan Marshall-Green as a character named Grey Trace, in the distant future where AI control nearly everything and people are beginning to augment themselves with all sorts of weaponry and gadgets. The opening few scenes, Grey’s wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) is killed when a group of these enhanced soldiers attack their car and also manage to severely injure Grey. A mysterious tech mogul (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey a chance to walk again, by implanting an AI called STEM, which will give him full control of his limbs again. It does much more than this though, as Grey is soon able to fully tap into this AI and go complete badass, though he slowly realizes he doesn’t have as much control as he thought. We also have a detective named Cortez (Betty Gabriel) who is helping Grey, though starts to realize something is not right here.

What follows is a revenge thriller, with extremely violent and gruesome deaths, that also questions our use and reliance on artificial intelligence.

What works?

The biggest selling point for this movie is the action, as our quadriplegic hero turns into Neo from The Matrix. It’s incredibly innovative in the way that the action is shot, often following our hero in a way that makes the whole movie feel otherworldly. I have to warn you though, there’s severe violence. The trailers don’t show this, obviously, but there were a few deaths that will stick with you, that you can’t unsee. Action is great, violence can be a dealbreaker for some of you with a weak stomach.

The movie is also surprisingly funny, for something so dark. Our hero has plenty of fun playing with his enemies before transforming into a living weapon, so we as an audience are always excited for what’s about to happen, usually a blood bath.

When our hero is so powerful, they manage to balance that with his unwillingness to do what it takes, so even though he’s killing horrible people, he has a look on his face of disgust. Or sometimes, he willingly lets the AI do something horrible and he doesn’t even look. It seems realistic for someone that suddenly has this ability but hasn’t the conscience to accompany it.

I also appreciate the world building done here, as they don’t take too much time with exposition but just throw you into this living breathing world.

What doesn’t work?

Maybe it’s because this is really in the midst of summer blockbuster season, but this movie feels a little underwhelming in terms of production quality. The entire cast is unknown, the acting is amateurish at times, and some of the editing / post-production work lacks some polish.

The opening 15 minutes or so is especially dreadful, before any of our action kicks in. Just be patient, you’ll get through the melodrama and eventually be rewarded with some kickass action.

Overall…

This will be a cult favorite, no doubt. Some of you will love this, like the next John Wick, but plenty of you won’t enjoy this at all. If you’re okay with a predictable story that’s enhanced by some incredibly brutal action and gruesome violence, you may really love this. I was only put off by a slow beginning, some lack of polish, and a few grotesque deaths that I could’ve done without, but that’s just me.

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(Review) Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It’s weird to say how little I was excited for this movie. And I’m not the only one, as I watched the movie opening night with ~20 other people in a mostly empty theater. Is it Star Wars fatigue or just a bad-looking movie? Will the movie manage to surprise us? Let’s get to it!

The gist.

We follow a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he becomes the smuggler that we know and love. He manages to escape his homeworld but has to leave the love of his life behind (Emilia Clarke). Needing to raise money to return to her, Han teams up with Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to pull off some dangerous jobs for the criminal warlord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, Han meets the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the flamboyant gambler Lando (Donald Glover). We also have Thandie Newton and the voices of Jon Favreau and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

What works?

As a Star Wars adventure, there’s plenty of otherworldly adventure to be had here, including some really cool new alien designs, new supporting characters that are interesting, and some fun little explanations that fill in the gaps in the original trilogy. I found the new aliens especially interesting, with plenty of cool practical effects.

Some of the characters get treated better than others. Lando (Donald Glover) stole every scene he was in, complemented by his droid L3-37. It’s no surprise that they’ve already announced that a sequel for Lando is in progress.

Lastly, on a very basic level, most of you should have a good time here. There’s plenty of action moments, a few twists and turns, and plenty of typical Star Wars moments to soak up. If you expect very little, this movie might please you.

What doesn’t work?

This is a movie that you shouldn’t be too critical about, because you can enjoy it if you just don’t think about it too much. Unfortunately my job is to be critical.

While there’s action, it’s spaced out pretty far apart, and there are huge sections of the movie that are pretty boring. Most of this stems from Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) being the most boring person in the ensemble. He lacks the natural charisma that Ford brought to the character, so I found myself completely disinterested in his well-being. It’s also hard to be excited about something that is ultimately predictable, since it’s a prequel. Characters that we’ve never seen, you can guess will either die or disappear. It’s the same problem we had with Rogue One.

It feels like there’s very little at stake. How can we be worried about Chewbacca, when we know everything turns out okay for him? What the film adds to the mythology is minimal, begging the question if this movie is even necessary, at all. The few times they try to do something substantial, one big reveal specifically, it felt out of left field.

Overall…

Solo isn’t abrasively bad. It’s just unnecessary. The movie doesn’t contribute to the Star Wars mythology much and the story is ultimately bland and uneventful. There are some fun characters to follow but our lead isn’t one of them, so the entire movie feels like a drag and when it ends… you’ll wonder if this journey was one worth going on. I don’t think it was, but you probably won’t hate the film either. On the spectrum, I find myself at ‘apathetic’ in general about this.

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Review: Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2.

The first Deadpool shocked the world, proving that an R-rated superhero film could 1.) be fantastic and 2.) make money. So now, Deadpool returns and spins off into a whole franchise that will likely last a long time. In this outing, were they able to recapture the magic?

The gist.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is happily in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and things seem to be going alright. That’s when a time-traveling soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives in the present day and seeks out a young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison). Russell is going to grow up and do something horrible, so Cable is going to kill him, but Wade feels like he can make a difference, teaming up with X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to try to turn the kid to the light.

However, Deadpool realizes he needs some teammates a little more morally gray, so he starts a team called X-Force, including a mutant with the power of luck called Domino (Zazie Beetz) and a ragtag group of other heroes.

Returning to the cast is also T.J. Miller as Wade’s associate Weasel and Karan Soni as the taxi driver Dopinder.

What works?

Almost everything that worked about the first Deadpool is still working here, so most fans should have an undeniably good time.

At its core, it’s a comedy and it will have you in stitches. Ryan Reynolds again carries the film but he has some great back and forths with the “straight” men of the movie, notably Colossus and Cable, who don’t crack jokes like he does. There are some incredible visual gags, plenty of jabs at other comic book movies, and some surprising cameos.

It also manages to balance some incredible action, as this movie is directed by John Wick and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch. We get a fight scene towards the end involving two characters that have battled for years and years in the comic books and my inner child screamed when this fight came to life on the big screen, finally. The fights are creative and look great, for the most part. Domino’s character especially steals quite a few moments, as her power of “luck” becomes incredibly cinematic.

This movie also revels in the decades of lore from the comics, taking moments to enjoy bizarre characters like the alien Shatterstar or even a few villains who pop up that you’d have never expected. It is incredibly truthful to the comics but also has a blast bucking those stories and doing something unexpected (the X-Force team especially plays a very different role than you’d expect).

What doesn’t work?

Like the first Deadpool, this movie feels relatively low budget and that comes across mostly in the visual effects department. There are a few comedic bits reliant on visual effects that flopped big time, as well as some villains that are entirely CGI. These villains look like the comic book counterpart, yes, but they look horribly out of place.

You also have to be prepared for this movie’s gore and raunchyness, it is a hard R rating. If you have a weak stomach or low threshold for language, this might be a tough one for you to sit through.

And while Cable was a fine addition, he didn’t really get much to do, aside from being a foil to Deadpool’s antics. Hopefully he returns for future films and gets a more substantial role.

Overall…

Deadpool 2 manages to recreate most of what made the first film so great, combining comedy with action in really unique ways. It also is surprisingly touching in moments, on a much more intimate level than the first film. However the movie has some flaws, including an abundance of horrible visual effects and some hit-or-miss humor that some of you might find a bit over the top. As a whole though, most of you should have a really great time with this one.

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