Review: The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds.

This movie feels like it’s a little too late to the party. It’s trying to capitalize on the superhero fad but also setting it in a dystopian future where teens must rise up. Both of those genres have been quite over-saturated, so this movie has an uphill battle to climb.

The gist.

We’re looking at a future where all children get this sickness and if they don’t die from it, they gain some sort of mutant ability. The amount of abilities is finite, so they either gain telekinesis, electricity, extreme intelligence, or one of the more rarer and dangerous abilities. We follow Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) who is classified as an orange threat after she accidentally erases herself from the memory of her parents. She eventually finds a group of other teens (conveniently one of each power) and goes on a journey to hopefully return home and fix what she’s done. Her teenage teammates include Harris Dickinson, Miya Cech, and Skylan Brooks. We also have Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, and Patrick Gibson as significant characters.

What works?

Let me start this way. I was expecting to trash on this movie. The trailers looked low budget, the acting looked cheesy, and I was ready to go in and tear this movie apart. But that’s not going to happen.

Surprisingly, we get a fun adventure here. The only problem is that it’s not at all unique. This feels all done before, but it’s done well enough.

As a movie about people with powers, it mostly succeeds. The effects are good and the action can be thrilling. As a movie about a young girl who turns out to be some kind of chosen one who ends up leading the rebellion against a corrupt government, this feels a little too similar to other movies. It steals quite a bit from films like The Hunger Games (which our lead Stenberg was in) and Maze Runner. It hits the same beats, so it’s hard to really be surprised here. Technically, the movie was pretty great but this feels like a copycat and that definitely docks some points.

If you’re taking someone younger, like a teenager, this movie might resonate more with them and inflate the score, so consider that in your final choice. A pair of teenage girls behind me exclaimed “I really liked it!” as the credits rolled, so there’s that.

What didn’t work?

Like I mentioned, this feels too familiar. There are beats that could’ve come straight from movies like Divergent. If you don’t mind, great, but this movie does very little unique.

It unfortunately also steals the action scenes from movies like those, where very little action is memorable. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games but I can’t remember a single fight sequence. Here, when they’re able to tap into some incredible powers, I had high hopes for how these powers were used. It’s cool at times but still underutilized.

Also know going in that this movie is incredibly cheesy, like YA dystopian films tend to be. Lots of brooding looks and meaningful stares and even the required “I love you” after knowing someone for seemingly a few days. It’s a little over the top.

Overall…

Considering how bad I thought this would be, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s got some interesting action but ultimately flounders by recycling moments from every other movie in the young adult dystopian genre. It all just feels familiar, though won’t disappoint if you’re a fan of other films like this.

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Review: The Spy Who Dumped Me

The Spy Who Dumped Me.

We’re in need of a good comedy. The closest thing we’ve gotten lately is Ant-Man and the Wasp and The Incredibles. So can this film be an exciting yet hilarious journey for those of us just wanting a laugh? Let’s see.

The gist.

Audrey (Mila Kunis) has just been dumped via text by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). However, she is soon brought in by the CIA and told that Drew was an undercover spy and a series of events leads Audrey on a journey through Europe to deliver a mysterious package. She goes on this adventure with her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon). Two government agents are trying to catch these ladies as well (Sam Heughan and Hasan Minhaj) before their boss (Gillian Anderson) fires them.

What works?

As a spoof on the spy genre, this totally works. It almost echoes a lot of moments from Mission: Impossible – Fallout but shows us those moments from the perspective of the average person. It’s ridiculous and crazy and over the top, just like the real spy movies are. However, this movie succeeds in actually delivering some great action, not just parodying it.

There are fight scenes that are downright awesome, usually revolving around Sam Heughan who plays an MI6 agent working with the CIA to recover this package. All the best fights here feature him, aside from a pretty great circus routine from McKinnon. It’s also surprisingly brutal, so the movie doesn’t flinch from over the top deaths and up-close headshots.

What doesn’t work?

I question how this works as a comedy. I didn’t laugh much but others in the theater were. There’s a plot point in the movie about McKinnon’s character being “too much” to handle in terms of personality and I almost agree. I love her work on SNL but here… I found it to be a little too forced and more often than not, not very funny. So when you match her up with Mila Kunis, who I usually find to be the weak link in her latest comedies such as Bad Moms, the combination isn’t ideal. I sat with blank face for most of the run time, except for the occasional chuckle.

The other weak link in this cast is Hasan Minhaj, whose every single line is absolutely cringeworthy. There are moments where the movie expects you to feel like he’s an actual badass CIA agent and you don’t believe it. At all. He doesn’t pull that off and he doesn’t pull off his comedic moments either. He’s horribly miscast and drags the film down when he’s onscreen.

And maybe because the movie felt like an actual spy film, I found myself overthinking the plot because there are many many plot holes and inconsistencies and moments that they expect you to forget. If this were an actual spy film, these plot holes would be a major deterrent. Here, it’s just a little lazy.

Overall…

It surprises me to say that The Spy Who Dumped Me succeeds more in the area of action and thriller than it does with comedy. The action is suspenseful and there are some really unique beats, paired with surprisingly brutal violence. The comedy falls flat though, relying on the bland Mila Kunis to carry the film while Kate McKinnon comes on far too strong. It’s not a bad movie but it’s an ultimately forgettable movie.

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Review: Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers.

I usually don’t see documentaries in theaters, so it’s rare that I see two in one week (following Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). This one is very different and for entirely different audiences, but in the end, is it still a good choice?

The gist.

Without spoiling too much, our movie follows three triplets that were separated as children and didn’t know each other existed until they were almost twenty and found each other by sheer luck. This documentary follows what that experience was like but also introduces some much more mysterious dealings involving why they were separated.

What works?

The story here is incredible. The movie keeps adding twists, as you realize this story is about much more than just these three guys. It brings up questions about nature vs. nurture and how these three can be so similar but also drastically different. As a story, it’s incredibly compelling.

The movie also does a great job of holding back some reveals and pacing them out. In retrospect, they could’ve revealed a few big wow factors early on but successfully delayed some of these moments for later.

What doesn’t work?

While the story is incredible, I’m not completely sold that this works as a movie. It’s a news blip and some odd reveals that are ultimately stretched out to two hours. It drags a bit at times and falls into lulls, until they reveal the next snippet. There’s just some pacing problems.

To fill this time, they use interview clips (which work) but they shot dramatic reenactments to show these story beats (and these don’t work). These reenactments avoid showing people’s faces and they’re obviously not real, so it detracted from a lot of these moments. It reminded me of real crime shows I used to watch growing up and this was sometimes just as cheesy.

The movie is also much more grim than you might imagine. It dives into mental illness and psychological experiments and some dark subject matter, that you may not be prepared for. It’s not a fun fluff piece on siblings finding each other, it’s much more.

Overall…

This movie is not for everyone, it’s really for a very specific audience. You must be patient and have a soft spot for documentaries. You might enjoy this even more if you’re interested in mental illness and psychological research, as this might bring up some big questions for you to debate with friends. If you’re a casual viewer, this movie might feel slow and fail to really hit the mark for you. It’ll likely end up streaming sooner rather than later, so maybe wait.

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(Review) Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The Mission: Impossible franchise is one of the best action franchises in existence, especially with Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise does most of his own stunts, so it adds some legitimacy to these giant setpieces that the series is known for. With Fallout, they’re looking to up the ante again and showcase more action than ever before.

The gist.

To get a full recap, check out my video refresher here.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is following three plutonium cores that can be used to detonate nuclear blasts. He’s not the only one though, as former members of the Syndicate are also trying to create bombs. These secret operatives (known as the Apostles) are trying to rescue their former leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and cause global destruction. Hunt teams up with his former team (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) as well as their director (Alec Baldwin). The CIA has gotten more involved however, under new leadership (Angela Bassett) and a new assassin babysitter that’s been hired to follow Hunt and track his whereabouts named Walker (Henry Cavill). Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) also returns as an MI6 agent who used to be undercover with the Syndicate.

What works?

Somehow, this franchise is getting better and better.

Let’s start with what you’re undoubtedly most interested in. The action here is incredible. Absolutely captivating and definitely unique. The fact that Cruise is still this active is a testament to his commitment here, as he’s doing some incredible stuff. There’s some great car/motorcycle chases, some amazing fist fights, and an edge-of-your-seat thrillride of a conclusion with two helicopters. And it all looks perfect, utilizing some amazing cinematography to complement the action.

In terms of story, it’s one of the franchise’s best. It’s simple, really just a few groups fighting for Solomon Lane (and a few nuclear bombs). Yet the movie manages to constantly throw big reveals and twists at you, that are some of the best in the Mission: Impossible history. The opening scene alone is a whirlwind.

And then we get to the cast, who all get some great chances to shine here. Cruise of course holds down the bulk of the story but it’s really Henry Cavill that steals the show. The bathroom fight scene that’s been teased in the trailers is somehow even cooler in the actual movie. He gets a lot to do and he seems to have a blast doing it.

What doesn’t work?

There’s really nothing wrong with this movie. It’s long, clocking in at 2.5 hours, but it never drags. It’s a long movie but packed full of some pretty incredible stuff.

The only people who wouldn’t like this movie are those that know they wouldn’t like action films like this. If you know that’s you, maybe stay away, but the majority of folks will love this.

Overall…

Why are you still reading this? Mission: Impossible – Fallout is likely going to be the best action movie of the summer and you need to get there. I’d even encourage IMAX if you’re near one, I bet this would be an incredible ride. The story is simple enough and yet throws some solid twists your way, while the cast has a great time all around, including the standout newcomer Henry Cavill. As long as you enjoy thrilling action flicks, you’ll love this.

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Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It’s rare that I want to see documentaries in theaters. However when Won’t You Be My Neighbor? came to theaters, I knew I had to see it. I remember Mr. Rogers a little from my youth but I think the persona of Mr. Rogers has lived well past his show, so there’s a curiosity here that I couldn’t deny. So how was it?

The gist.

This documentary compiles clips and interviews regarding Fred Rogers, mostly known for his children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Old footage reveals some behind the scenes workings and interviews with Rogers, while recent interviews look back on his life. The movie recounts the origin of this persona, the rise to fame, and how this children’s show managed to speak to kids in a way that hadn’t been done before (and debatedly hasn’t been done since).

What works?

This movie is everything that we need in the world right now.

While I remember seeing the show vaguely, this movie doesn’t expect you to be incredibly knowledgeable. It gives you plenty of history and context, even for those of you with zero history with the show. It’s also not a sugar-coated version of Rogers’ past either, this documentary shows a side of him that wasn’t really public. He was insecure about his effectiveness, he was often disheartened by the world, and he sometimes felt completely alone. This documentary will take you on a roller coaster ride of one of the most interesting men to ever live.

In terms of structure, it’s perfectly laid out. The movie seamlessly weaves in stories and interviews, creating a flow that’s easy to follow and yet never slows down. It also bridges topics beautifully, having you laughing and then seconds later crying. It tackles some serious issues and has some somber moments, but it’s all balanced just right.

On a deeper level, this movie manages to change you. It had me thinking about the man that I’ve grown up to become, about the child that I used to be, and about what sort of world we’re creating for our children to come. This movie will have you thinking about a lot of things, both about yourself and about the world. About the people that made you who you are.

What doesn’t work?

There’s nothing about this documentary that doesn’t work. However, there are things about our world that will clash with this movie, forcing you to work out some pretty deep stuff throughout this run time. You’ll wonder “Can this guy really be that good?” and the answer is yes. You’ll wonder “What sort of weird stuff was this guy hiding?” and the answer is nothing. It’s hard to come to grips with the goodness that he brought to our world and now we have to cope with the absence of that goodness. It’s an absolute roller coaster.

Overall…

Your goal is to see this movie. Optimist or pessimist. Conservative or liberal. This movie will change you and remind you of the power that each of us can hold, that each one of us is special and deserves to be loved. Head to the theaters to see this if you can or make a note to rent/download when it’s available. This is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, potentially ever.

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Review: The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2.

I had never connected the dots that Denzel Washington has never made a sequel. Never. So I was kind of surprised when his first sequel ever would be to The Equalizer, a surprise hit from 2014. Will they be able to get more juice from this storyline? Let’s see.

The gist.

We follow Robert “Mac” McCall (Denzel Washington) as he now serves as a Lyft driver that takes interest in the lives of his riders. He has a history of work in the military and with the government, including drop-ins by some of his old colleagues, including Melissa Leo and her husband played by Bill Pullman. They’re investigating a mysterious murder that Mac may be able to help with. We also have Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones) as an FBI agent also looking into the case and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) as a neighbor of Mac’s that gets involved in some dangerous stuff that Mac must help him with.

This movie, like the first, is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).

What works?

The character of Mac isn’t really a unique character, we’ve seen plenty of “former military badasses” who defend the helpless, but Denzel still manages to make this character likeable and an absolute badass, anchored by some great action scenes. People are campaigning for a McCall / John Wick crossover and I would be absolutely down for that combo.

This film also manages to make the supporting cast three-dimensional. The standout is Anton Sanders, who was incredible in Moonlight. Here, he’s the neighborhood kid who’s gotten into some bad stuff, but Sanders manages to give this character a depth that’s appreciated and believable.

The other standout is Pedro Pascal as the FBI agent Dave York. He gets surprisingly a lot to do, especially in the second half of the movie, and he proves again that he’s a rising star.

I mentioned the action already a bit, but this movie’s climax is especially very cool. Just like how the first film had a memorable final battle inside a “Home Mart” (aka Home Depot), this film also has a unique and memorable climax, incorporating something I’d never have expected here. It’s not entirely realistic but it’s definitely entertaining.

What doesn’t work?

For my taste, the movie was just a little too long. The climax was great but it felt a little sluggish to get to that point. You may find your mind wandering until it kicks into gear.

Also, the details of the main plot involving these mysterious murders is a little confusing, so if you’re the type of person to be concerned with details and logic, this might frustrate you. It did me. Just sit back and enjoy, don’t think too much about how the plot progresses.

Overall…

Equalizer 2 is a solid film, giving Denzel Washington another chance to shine as Robert McCall. If you care about the little details, the plot may confuse you a bit, so this movie is best if you turn that part of your brain off and just enjoy the thrill. The action is great, there’s a surprising amount of heart, and the movie culminates with a truly unique final sequence.

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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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