(Review) Men in Black: International

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Men in Black: International.

Now I remember liking the original Men in Black films but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say they’re good. I think we often have rose-colored glasses for franchises that meant a lot to us as kids. It’s been a long time now since that trilogy wrapped, so it’s finally back with a soft reboot, revealing a more global perspective of the Men (and women) in Black. We know that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson have chemistry from Thor: Ragnarok but does that necessarily mean they can carry another film? Let’s see.

The gist.

When she was young, Molly (Tessa Thompson) witnessed an alien encounter and it was never erased from her memory. She’s dedicated her life after that to finding (and joining) the Men in Black, eventually ending up in the office of O (Emma Thompson), who gives her a probationary mission in London. While there, newly minted agent M (formerly Molly) teams up with their hotshot agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to get to the bottom of an alien conspiracy, led by a shapeshifting alien race called the Hive. The London branch is spearheaded by Agent High T (Liam Neeson) and Agent C (Rafe Spall). M and H also partner up with a living chess piece, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani.

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What works?

The world of Men in Black is still very much alive here, full of interesting alien races and unique ways to portray life. One of my favorites here is an alien arms dealer (played by Rebecca Ferguson) who has a third arm growing from her back. Aaaaand I just realized how clever it is that she’s an arms dealer. Everything looks interesting, including the main villains, a race called the Hive. They can change matter, so they’ll turn solids to liquid and back again, using these powers in really interesting and visually cool ways.

I also appreciated the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, as they had a very natural back and forth. Nanjiani was an interesting addition, though it was hit or miss whether his comedic moments really landed.

What didn’t work?

While I chuckled, the comedy didn’t hit as often or as hard as I would’ve wanted. It’s a little rocky, so we often get silent reactions to a joke. Hemsworth is funny most of the time, likewise Kumail Nanjiani’s living chess piece, but they both have plenty of jokes that fall flat. It’s not really consistent.

The biggest eh factor is that this movie doesn’t really do anything new or interesting, other than inhabit an already interesting world. I think it’ll be ultimately forgettable, a mid-tier action comedy that you’ll see on TBS in a few years and think “Oh I forgot about this” and play it in the background as you prepare for dinner. It’s not bad, but it’s fine. It doesn’t try to risk anything or do anything outlandish for it to actually fail. It’s safe, relying on the name brand to get it by.

There’s also a big problem with the villain here, who for 90% of the movie is a pair of mute twins who follow our heroes around the globe. We don’t really understand their motive. Even as the credits roll and we’ve had the big plot laid out for us, it’s still a little messy and unclear why this whole adventure transpired.

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Overall…

You’ll have a fine time here. Big explosions, cool aliens, and a lot of nostalgic throwbacks to the original trilogy. However, that’s it. The plot doesn’t really pay off, the humor is hit or miss, and it ultimately doesn’t feel necessary. With reboots or remakes, you often wonder “Why are they doing this?” and that’s a question that will pop into your head a few times no doubt. That’s not always bad, as you can still have a few laughs and enjoy a few hours in the air conditioning, just don’t expect much more than that.

3

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Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

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The Secret Life of Pets 2.

The original film was fine, but wasn’t anything that I ever looked forward to revisiting, ultimately being a bit forgettable. Does this sequel manage to make a lasting impact?

The gist.

Max (Patton Oswalt) loves his life, made even better by having a new baby in the family. However, he’s become so protective that he gets a nervous tick and repetitive itch, forcing his family to take a calm weekend in the country, where Max encounters a wise old farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford). Back in the city, our superhero rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) encounters a dog in need (Tiffany Haddish), who needs help rescuing some animals from a visiting circus. We also get returning voices such as Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Eric Stonestreet, and Dana Carvey.

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What works?

This is the Kevin Hart / Tiffany Haddish combination that we deserve, managing to play to both of their strengths and actually pulling off some clever humor. Step aside Night School. I laughed much more than I remember laughing at the original, so that’s something.

I also appreciated Patton Oswalt, as he replaced Louis C.K. as the main dog Max. Oswalt’s Max was a little more sympathetic, especially given the more sentimental nature of this film.

What doesn’t work?

This feels like three separate story arcs that don’t really come together in a meaningful way (yes, they do come together but I’d argue how well that worked). While I enjoyed Max’s arc, his detour to the farm didn’t really land, ultimately just resulting in one adventure with the dog Rooster and then all of a sudden he learned a life lesson. It felt like amateur writing, just getting a sequel cranked out.

I realize as I’m typing this that I’m maybe being too critical. But when we get animated films that do everything right, ala Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, it’s hard to not have a high bar. So yes, if you just want a kids movie and some decent laughs, this will do it, but this movie doesn’t excel at anything and might leave adult viewers a little disappointed.

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Overall…

Here’s the thing you need to consider… If you’re bringing the kids for a fun movie out, this will absolutely do the trick. It’s funny and is full of repeatable moments for your little ones to copy. It’s an A+, it does the job. However, if we step back and look at this in the genre of animated movies with today’s high bar, this falls short. This movie doesn’t do anything risky or new, has a few subplots that don’t really matter, and ultimately will be pretty forgettable for most of you that are now adults.

3

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Review: Dark Phoenix

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Dark Phoenix.

Okay, this is very complicated for me. The X-Men are my favorite superheroes and it’s been frustrating watching the fumbles made by Fox in regards to these films. So with Dark Phoenix being the last X-Men film made by Fox, I went in expecting very little and I’m just excited for an eventual reboot. So, does that make me biased? A bit, maybe I hope for too much and expect too little? Let’s see.

The gist.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) tries to help mutants but there’s one that he’s especially struggled with, the incredibly powerful telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). In this film, Jean is exposed to an alien entity called the Phoenix which slowly corrupts her and drives her to destroy what she holds dear. We have returning X-Men including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). The only two remaining from the ‘first class’ include Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Xavier’s rival Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has created a utopian island for mutants where he stays off the grid. He has a few mutants that follow him around, though we never get their names or motives, as is typical for X-Men films.

As Jean’s powers start to become destructive, we’re introduced to a villain played by Jessica Chastain. The trailers didn’t allude to her origin or motives at all but it’s super disappointing.

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What works?

There are brief moments that were interesting, hidden inside this literal train wreck. We get to see a few sequences of Storm actually doing things like Storm should do. Nightcrawler gets a fight sequence that reminds me of (but isn’t as cool as) the fight from X-Men 2. Little moments that were cool.

I also still applaud the commitment of some of these characters, most notably James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who continue to be the best parts of these films. Do they look like they’ve aged 30 years since the original film? No, but we can let that slide because they absolutely bring this movie to life, when it otherwise feels lifeless.

What doesn’t work?

It confuses me when movies like this don’t work because there is so much quality source material, you’d think combing through for a solid story would be easy. This is the second time they’ve attempted to adapt this story and both times have failed. This time, when you discover who Jessica Chastain plays and what they’re up to, this whole story becomes something very different than the source material.

I wouldn’t remember Jessica Chastain’s character’s name, if I weren’t looking at the IMDB. I wouldn’t remember what the group was called that’s she with. Even her motives are unclear. In a post-Thanos era, we need to set a higher bar for our villains as she clocks in as one of our all-time worst.

This movie is also surprisingly dull. We get only two major action sequences, including one attack on a building where Jean is holed up and a second on a train, the climax of the film and a literal train wreck. We don’t even get a cool Quicksilver sequence, the best parts of both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. It’s a shame that such an epic story resulted in such a tame and uninteresting film.

Also, why do they keep creating fictional villains for these films instead of actually finding villains from the comics?

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Overall…

There’s some hyperbole that this might be the worst X-Men film yet. I don’t know if I wholeheartedly agree with that, considering how Wolverine: Origins ended up, but this isn’t a great film. It mismanages the source material, is painfully dull, and ultimately doesn’t matter, as we just wait a few years for a new reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

2

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Review: Rocketman (2019)

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Rocketman.

Following in the footsteps of other recent musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, this movie tells the story of Elton John, a story of struggle and addiction. It reunites lead actor Taron Egerton with director Dexter Fletcher, who also directed Eddie the Eagle (which I really liked). Fletcher also was a Producer on Bohemian Rhapsody and even finished directing the film when the first director Bryan Singer was fired mid-production, so this isn’t his first foray into this type of film.

The gist.

Born Reginald Dwight, this is the story of Elton John’s (Egerton) rise to fame. He has a complicated relationship with his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) but finds solace in music, eventually teaming up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and an ambitious agent John Reid (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones). It covers most of Elton’s rise, focusing on his troubles with drugs and alcohol and his somewhat secretive (at the time) love life.

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What works?

Taron Egerton is undoubtedly one of the best young actors out there today. If you need further evidence than his performance here, watch Eddie the Eagle and the Kingsmen franchise. There are no three characters more different. Here, he absolutely becomes Elton John, both in his acting performance but also his vocal performance as well, recreating most of Elton’s classics seamlessly. Summer movies aren’t usually big contenders for Oscars but I hope we see the Academy remember his performance here when the nominations open.

The movie itself is also really interesting. Where Bohemian Rhapsody only featured music as they performed it live, this film is much more of a musical where the characters will break out into song, using Elton’s biggest hits to showcase his emotional ups and downs. This movie isn’t literal, as we see Elton John step back into his own memories and literally confront his younger self. It’s not realistic but it’s completely entrancing.

I also want to give a shout out to Jamie Bell, who serves as Elton’s best friend and songwriter Bernie. Bell has had some unfortunate turns in Hollywood, often dragged down by bad movies, but here, he gives an incredible performance and his chemistry with Egerton is perfect.

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What doesn’t work?

This musical style (and embellished reality) doesn’t always work and there’s a few sequences that either took too long or maybe weren’t executed properly, where the surreal idea they were trying to execute took me out of the movie. One sequence just spun the camera in circles and I literally had to look away as I was getting dizzy.

Overall…

Rocketman is a fantastic film, anchored by a jaw-dropping transformation from Taron Egerton. It’s a sometimes heartbreaking journey but there are enough high-energy songs to keep you engaged throughout. There’s plenty of style and flash, including huge dance numbers, but Taron’s performance also gives us a lot of subtlety. This movie’s only fault is that sometimes the creative vision doesn’t always translate, so some of these wild sequences overstay their welcome or don’t land at all. For most of you, this should prove a really entertaining and engaging story, made better by the fact that Elton John himself was involved in its making.

4

 

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Review | Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

godzilla king headeradam reviewGodzilla: King of the Monsters.

I always had a soft spot for Godzilla films but I’m definitely not a hardcore fan. Only recently did I really dive into the history as I created this video on Godzilla’s earliest foes.

So I was pretty excited as this film neared. I enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla film, though I agreed with most viewers that it kept Godzilla hidden for too much of the film’s runtime. I also enjoyed Kong: Skull Island. So I went into this movie hoping that this could really catapult these kaiju films into a new era.

The gist.

The world knows about monsters now, following the 2014 battle in San Francisco (seen in the last Godzilla film). The mysterious organization Monarch has discovered 17 monsters throughout the world, most in hibernation. Things go sideways when a villain named Jonah (Charles Dance) tries to awaken the monsters, using a machine built by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who is kidnapped by Jonah along with her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). When they’re kidnapped, Madison’s father Mark (Kyle Chandler) is brought in to help decipher what Jonah is trying to do. The crew at Monarch include Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Ling (Ziyi Zhang), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford), Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), and the new comedic relief Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch). Oh, and there’s military staff including O’Shea Jackson Jr, Aisha Hinds, and David Strathairn.

That’s a lot of human characters, which might tip you off that these beastly battles don’t really take as much screentime as you might hope.

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What works?

There are some jaw-dropping moments here, as behemoths clash in major metropolitan areas. Really, it’s the big four that get the most time, including Godzilla, Ghidorah the three-headed dragon, Rodan the ancient pteradon, and Mothra, the benevolent moth. Their battles are epic, though to be frank… they’re not as epic as I hoped for. It’s still very cool to watch, but I left feeling a tad disappointed. Actually, an equivalent might be how I felt after watching the first Pacific Rim. Such an incredible premise and so much potential, yet it felt wasted.

For the human cast, it’s a very mixed bag. I don’t blame anyone’s performance but the writing is a bit forced and full of exposition. Millie Bobby Brown is the most realistic character, though even she can somehow run faster than giant monsters can. If you’re looking for realism, this isn’t the place.

You know what this is the place for? Cool single shots, like wallpaper for your computer. Single moments that look astounding, bringing these monsters to life. The actual fights might disappoint but some of these freeze frames are absolutely gorgeous.

What doesn’t work?

I wanted to love this film but the giant monster battles disappointed me in a few key ways. Firstly, they’re surprisingly rare. Our human characters get most of the screentime and it’s painfully dull. When the monsters do arrive, the battles are full of quick cuts and blurry action. The one big fight sequence in the 2014 Godzilla was better than almost everything in this film, which is unfortunate. It becomes difficult to track what’s happening when Rodan and Mothra are flying through Ghidorah’s massive lightning storm, while Godzilla shoots atomic breath. It’s all a blur of colors and explosions. So the fights are rare and they’re not great quality either.

Now, there are cool moments, but most of these moments are showcased in the trailers, absolutely showing you the moments that would have left you speechless if the marketing team had withheld them for the film. The best moments were spoiled and everything else we see is not nearly as cool as those moments.

Also, the trailer (and the opening of the film itself) give us teases of other monsters, 17 in total. But let me temper your expectations, this film is really about the big four. The trailer sequences featuring other monsters is literally all we see of them in the film (and I think they might actually have longer shots in the trailer than the film itself). So don’t go into this film waiting for a surprise contender to face off against Godzilla, it doesn’t happen. We see a few new monsters that weren’t in the trailers, but again, it’s minimal and a bit underwhelming.

Real quick, let me tell you about the human characters. There’s a lot of them and they take up way too much real estate in this film. Our two leads Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga are painful to watch, as the writing has them somehow able to do everything that’s possible. Chandler’s character is somehow a scientist, military strategist, and helicopter technician. You also question the motivation of some of our characters, making the plot unnecessarily convoluted. This movie could have been simple, yet it’s been muddled and complicated by these human stories.

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Overall…

I’ve seen a lot of people praising this film for getting the monster battles right but I think I might have expected too much. I found the battles to be too rare, shot too shakily, and the best moments were usually showcased in the trailers. When monsters aren’t clashing, we’re left with humans that aren’t empathetic or relateable and ultimately shouldn’t be taking up this much space. Is this movie cool? Yes. Cool as it could’ve been? Not by a long shot.

3

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Review: Aladdin (2019)

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Aladdin.

This is going to be a divisive movie, as the original cartoon is beloved by many and it’s going to be near impossible to somehow improve on that. The trailers have been met with hesitation, leading to a rocky start for this film.

The gist.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat in the city of Agrabah, stealing to survive and accompanied only by his monkey Abu. He encounters a mysterious woman who turns out to be the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), disguising herself to see the city. Back in the castle, the Sultan (Navid Negahban) is being puppeteered by the nefarious Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Jafar wants to wage war and take over the kingdom, so he seeks out a powerful artifact, a lamp that can summon a magical Genie that grants wishes. Jafar uses Aladdin to steal this lamp, though Aladdin is smart enough to keep the lamp and releases the Genie (Will Smith) to grant him three wishes, the first of which is to become a prince and impress Jasmine.

The movie is directed by Guy Ritchie, whose diverse portfolio includes Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Snatch, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

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What works?

Now, I went in with super low expectations. The clips I saw online were pretty horrible, the effects for the Genie looked subpar, and overall I didn’t understand why this movie needed to be made.

However I was pleasantly surprised, let me say that. In context, it totally worked and in someways it even improved on the animated feature. I had a grin most of the movie and I found myself enjoying it much more than I expected.

Let’s start with Will Smith. He doesn’t compare to Robin Williams, obviously, but he’s not really trying to. His take on the Genie is different, capitalizing on Smith’s charisma and wit, giving us a very different type of character. He’s much better when not done via CGI, those effects were some of the worst in the film. I found myself laughing constantly, so if you go into this movie wanting humor, you’ll find it.

I also want to talk about the music. Yes, they’re songs we already know (for the most part) so it can be tough to compare to the originals, yet I found most of the music to really hit the mark. “Prince Ali” was released ahead of time and received some negative attention but let me say… In context, “Prince Ali” was really cool and the music playing in the theater adds something that you don’t get when watching from your phone or whatever. There’s also a few songs added to give Jasmine something else to do. While they weren’t catchy or toe-tappers, they did fill in some much-needed backstory for her character.

Let’s talk about Jasmine. Naomi Scott, who I’ve only seen as the Pink Ranger in the recent Power Rangers reboot, nailed it. Her Jasmine is much more three-dimensional than the cartoon, both from her performance and some additional sequences not found in the cartoon. Mena Massoud, who played Aladdin, was fine, but it was really Naomi Scott who carried the heart of the movie.

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What didn’t work?

You likely don’t need this movie in your life. If you’re a fan of the original, this doesn’t really do anything different. It fleshes things and maybe expands on some aspects that the cartoon didn’t dive into, but that’s really it. So a lot of you might just feel apathetic about this film in general.

There’s also a level of polish that isn’t really here. The visual effects for the Genie are really hit or miss (mostly miss). Some of the set designs look a little too artificial. There’s even a few sequences that appear to be sped up in post-production to match the audio track, which was super distracting.

Overall…

Most of you don’t need this film, but you still might have a great time here. I was totally onboard from start to finish, laughing much more than I expected, usually due to a surprisingly decent job from Will Smith. I found Jasmine to be much more compelling than Aladdin, but ultimately I found this movie to be surprising, maybe because my expectations were pretty low to begin with. If you lower your expectations, you might find this to be a great (though flawed) time at the movies.

4

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Review: Tolkien (2019)

tolkien headeradam reviewTolkien.

I owe my Tolkien appreciation to my parents, who had me reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings way before other kids my age. Before the movies came out, I remember writing papers in Junior High and High School about Tolkien and his brand of fantasy. And while I loved The Lord of the Rings films (and tolerated The Hobbit), I found myself far less interested in this drama based on his life (and the empty theater reinforced that I wasn’t the only one).

The gist.

J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is a young man fascinated by language. As a boy, he is orphaned and falls in love with a girl named Edith (Lily Collins). He also finds himself best friends with three other boys, all fascinated by music, art, and poetry (Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, and Tom Glynn-Carney). Our story is told in several time periods, including Tolkien’s early youth, his days at Oxford, and his time spent during World War 1 in the trenches. All of these eras influence his imagination and sow the seeds for what will eventually become the world of Middle-Earth.

What works?

Nicholas Hoult is great here, I think better than I’ve ever seen him. He perfectly balances the charisma of Tolkien and the alienation and isolation he feels. He has great chemistry with Lily Collins, who also does a decent job with what she’s given. The best moments of the film are centered around this foursome of friends as they debate and discuss literature and life and art. Like the story in The Lord of the Rings, it’s a message of fellowship and forging bonds with others.

There’s also some great and traumatic moments during his time in war that are quite powerful, where imagery is used as a powerful mechanism to instill emotions in us. I just wish the payoff were a little stronger, but I’ll get to that.

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What doesn’t work?

In my opening statement, I wondered if this movie could be as interesting as anything Tolkien wrote. And unfortunately it’s not. This is a fairly typical British drama, of a young man who pines for a young woman and finds many obstacles to them being together. On this front, this movie fails though because it breezes past some big moments of drama (at one point our heroine is engaged to someone else but we never see or hear about this again). People looking to this movie to scratch that romantic drama itch will likely be disappointed.

Likewise, diehard fans of Tolkien will see this movie wanting to see all the nuances of how he created this world. We get glimpses but it’s unfortunately limited. We can make some leaps in judgment on how certain things came to be, but the actual creation of Middle-Earth is mostly off-screen. We even see flashes during the war sequences of moments that resemble a dragon or resemble black riders on horseback, but even these moments are underwhelming.

So who is this movie for? I think this is the heart of the problem. There’s a very small sliver of folks who would likely be interested in both the creation of his mythology as well as a romantic drama. And even those people will likely be disappointed by the outcome. I also wanted to see glimpses of how spirituality played into this, as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had a relationship and both discussed how religion played into their created mythologies… We don’t get any of that.

To make all of this worse, the movie is painfully boring for long stretches. Even the wartime sequences, he spends most of these sequences laying on the ground near death, watching blankly as the war erupts around him.

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Overall…

A few of you might watch this movie and say to yourself “That was fine.” That is about the highest compliment I can give. Both Hoult and Collins do a great job but the script does them a disservice, not satisfying those seeking romance and not satisfying those seeking insight into Tolkien’s creations. It’s a slow journey that doesn’t really pay off so it’s hard to really recommend this one.

2

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