Category Archives: Reviews

“HALLOWEEN (2018)” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

40 years later…

The biggest issue with 2018’s Halloween is its title. This is the 11th Halloween movie, the fifth reboot, the fourth to feature Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis), and the third sequel; but it’s also the third movie to be called merely Halloween. What, was it too good for a subtitle? I know you have one good film and nine awful ones Mike, but don’t try to re-write them out of existence. They still happened, and we still had to go through them. Even if you were fortunate enough that people forgot the rest of your franchise, what good does it do? Now you have three movies in the series all named Halloween. When this movie is released for home video, the studio would be wise to retitle all of the Halloween movies as Halloween: The Original, Halloween: The Reboot, and Halloween: The Sequel, just to save the audience from some much unneeded confusion.

Taking place 40 years after the events of the original Halloween (not to be confused with H20, which took place 20 years after the original before it was written out of continuity), this new Halloween features an elder Laurie Strode, still haunted by that night where Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hunted her and her friends several decades ago. Even though Michael is now behind bars, Laurie hasn’t stopped preparing for the worst that might happen. She trained her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) from birth to defend herself. She’s fitted her house with gadgets, security cameras, and traps around nearly ever corner. Not to mention that she has a weapon stockpile so big that the NRA would wet their pants.

Her paranoia is later validated when Michael breaks out during a prison transfer. Now on the loose during the one night of the year where Michael returns to wreak havoc again and again, Laurie needs to find her loved ones, keep them close, and protect them from the monster that wants her and her family dead.

With this being the 11th film out of a long and exhaustive franchise, you would expect things in Halloween to feel tired and overused. In a way, you wouldn’t be wrong. The nine films before Halloween 11 were all the same hack-and-slash nonsense that became so redundant that another knife swipe felt like another jab at our sanity. The Rob Zombie movies were especially the worst, with the gore, violence, and sex ticked up so much that it felt more like a metal head’s music than it did an authentic horror experience. Year after year, Halloween has done Michael Myers wrong so many times. Going into this movie, I was expecting it to be done wrong yet again for the ninth time.

The best thing I can say about Halloween 11 is that it is perhaps the best attempt yet at adapting what made Halloween so great in the first place. One of the things most of these movies miss is the act of subtlety. In the original Halloween, John Carpenter sent chills down our spine not through gruesome kills or bloody violence, but through slight-of-hand and anticipation. The thing that was so startling about the original Halloween was Michael Myers’ sudden, unexpected appearances: slightly standing out of frame, following a kid around a playground, his ominous figure eerily following oblivious teenagers throughout their bleak houses. Sure, when he murdered someone it was startling, but it wasn’t the scariest thing out of the movie: the terrifying part was not knowing when he was going to strike, or how.

Halloween 11 understands that subtlety and exercises it similarly, placing Michael in natural, believable environments where he can freely move in and out, killing anyone across his path. One of my favorite sequences in the movie was watching Michael just roaming in the neighborhood all while kids are trick-or-treating down the block. As the camera follows him down a driveway, past a backyard, into somebody’s kitchen, and out of frame when we hear someone’s exasperated gasps in between violent “thuds,” it’s incredibly unsettling to watch as Michael flourishes in his element. It brought me much joy to see Michael as I once knew him: as the methodical, pathological, emotionally-detached killer that was just seeking to murder as many people as he possibly could. Is director David Gordon Green copying Carpenter’s artistry in the 11th Halloween? Yes, but at least he’s copying him well.

I also like how Jamie Lee Curtis updates her portrayal of Laurie Strode here. While she was great in the original Halloween and did an excellent job in portraying Laurie’s innocence and terror, the rest of her filmography felt like a retread where she didn’t face much growth as a character. But with Halloween 11, she demonstrates a strength and conviction that feels like it grew from all of the years of post-traumatic stress that she faced in the wake of her friends being murdered by this unfeeling cretin. Seeing her scared, jumpy, and petrified from the startling image of Michael Myers, yet adamant in her mission to be free from him Michael is nothing short of inspiring. It was great watching that growth in her character and seeing her mature from the scared, helpless kid that she was 40 years ago.

As always, one of the dumbest things about these horror movies is the “pure evil” cliche, where its villain is so supernaturally evil that he has become the physical embodiment of it. Whatever happened to letting these characters just be murderous psychopaths and leave it at that?

Also, there is a character here who Laurie dubs as “the new Loomis,” who for lack of a better word is just… creepy. Whereas Loomis in the original movie had a sound understanding of Michael Myers and was appropriately disturbed by his being, this new Loomis is awkward, unsettling, and just feels out of place. It feels like he should be locked up in the ward right alongside Michael Myers.

These are all minor problems in the face of an otherwise solid horror movie. The majority of today’s horror pictures revert to an onslaught of violence and gore that results only in shock value and cheap thrills. Halloween is the breath of fresh air that understands buildup, not shock, is what amounts to the best scares in a horror movie. As this series continues to tack on more unnecessary sequels as it’s highly successful box office numbers seem to suggest, the sequels will do well to remember that sometimes less is more. We all have our demons. Imagine if yours was Michael Myers.

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“HALLOWEEN (1978)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Compass International Pictures

The shape will pursue you. 

There is a reason why Horror icon Michael Myers was credited as “The Shape” in John Carpenter’s first horror movie Halloween: it’s because he didn’t need an identity to make him terrifying. In fact, giving him one might have weakened him as an antagonist. Too often horror movie villains are fleshed out so much to the point where they are empathized with more than they are apathized. We are expected, after all, to be terrified by these horrifying figures: not understand them. But with Halloween, John Carpenter achieves an uncanny reaction through Michael Myers. He doesn’t even have to be doing much, yet the sheer sighting of him never fails to send shivers down our spine.

My first experience with Halloween wasn’t even with the movie. Sitting alone in my bedroom in my junior year of high school, I was eager to learn more about the screenwriting process and started tracking down movie scripts to read from. One of the earliest screenplays I read was John Carpenter’s Halloween, and from just the first few pages it completely haunted me.

The opening scene illustrates a six-year-old child stalking his older sister and her boyfriend around the house on an eerie Halloween evening. As the child makes his way into the kitchen, pulls out a knife, and sneaks his way up the stairs, he makes his way into his sister’s room and proceeds to stab her repeatedly, over and over again until she’s dead. When he exits the house, the most disturbing thing is not the bloody knife in his hand, but rather his young, innocent-looking stare: unfazed by the horrible act of violence he just committed against his own sister.

That boy is Michael Myers, and 15 years later, he escapes his insane asylum and returns to his hometown to wreak havoc on the same night he did several years ago.

When I first read the original screenplay for Halloween, I was entranced by the details Carpenter paid attention to in his script: the normalcy of the character’s everyday lives, the disturbingly methodical movements of this pathological child, the way he stalked his victims as an adult like a predator stalked his prey through the woods. But when I watched the movie, I found myself even more encapsulated by Carpenter’s spellbinding technique. He doesn’t just illustrate a feeling of paranoia, isolation, or unease: he places you right in the middle of it. It echoes of Hitchcock’s technique from 1960’s Psycho. In the iconic shower scene, you weren’t just seeing Marion getting stabbed in the bathtub: somehow, you could feel the blade digging into your own skin as you saw Marion’s blood drawn over, and over, and over again.

A large part of that immersion is how Carpenter chooses to frame his shots, and how cinematographer Dean Cundey tracks the action throughout the movie. In the movie’s early moments, nothing of major significance happens in the picture: some creep just throws on a janitor’s suit, puts on a Halloween mask, and stalks some people around town. But it’s not the actions that are so encapsulating, but rather how Carpenter chooses to capture that. A scene could be playing out naturally like any other moment would. For instance, a high school student and her girlfriends could be walking down the street, gossiping about rumors and romance. Not exactly anything out of the ordinary. But then when out of the corner of somebody’s eye, they spot a tall, stoic figure just slightly placed out on the edge of the frame, then a blink later… he’s gone.

This is why it was appropriate to label Michael Myers as “The Shape” in the end credits. It’s because he isn’t a character, but a point of fixation: something to divert our attention towards. When the Shape is noticed for a brief second, our focus shifts directly towards him. When he’s absent from the frame in the next take, we let our guard down. That’s why when Michael brutally murders someone in a violent, gruesome fashion later on, it shocks us so much: because we aren’t conditioned to the violence up until that point.

I would be remiss if I ended this review without mentioning this film’s eerie music, which builds up with such unease that it feels like someone is peering through your window watching you. Carpenter composed the music in three days, recorded it off of a few keys on his piano, and from it comprised one straightforward melody. But its impact on the film is electrifying. The keys shifting back and forth between notes feels like feet moving at a quick pace, while the crescendoing buildup feel like a pursuer gaining on his victim. Carpenter once said in an interview that he could play just about any note on a keyboard, but he couldn’t read or write a note. How was it, then, that he was able to write music as impeccable as this? It’s because he wasn’t writing music. He was writing a manhunt.

The worst thing that can be said about the original Halloween is the endless string of copycats that it inspired in the slasher genre. Several films have followed the same formula of the lone killer stalking the rebellious teenagers. Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Even the later Halloween sequels lost their edge. And yet, the original remains invigorating. Why? Because it understands the environment that it’s inhibiting. John Carpenter’s Halloween is an elaborate, masterful, and bloody game of cat-and-mouse: and we are the mouse.

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“VENOM” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: SONY PICTURES

Like a turd in the wind.

There is a moment in Venom where the titular multi-tentacled anti-hero is threatening a burglar inside a convenience store. He tells him he’s going to eat both of his arms, both of his legs, and then eat his face right off of his head. “You will be this armless, legless, faceless thing, won’t you?” he narrates to the petrified thief. “Rolling down the street: like a turd in the wind.”

Why am I opening my review talking about turds? Because as awkward and misplaced as that line sounds, it is perhaps the most accurate description of this entire movie. Venom is violent, creepy, edgy, seethingly disturbing, and just when it begins to build up into something interesting… it takes a wrong turn and nosedives into the pavement. It’s already been demonstrated countless times before, but if you need further proof as to why great comic book supervillains make for terrible superhero movies, look no further than Venom.

Based on the Marvel comic supervillain of the same name, Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who has a nasty habit of following people who do not want to be followed. After accusing a high-profile tech CEO of purposefully murdering test subjects at an alarming rate, Brock loses his job and is abandoned by his fiancee Ann Weying (Michelle Williams). Now without a job, a career, and a love life, Brock just sits alone in his apartment, drowning himself in pity and alcohol.

One day, Brock unknowingly comes into contact with a gooey substance that reveals itself as a life form: a symbiote that physically and mentally bonds itself with Eddie. Granting Eddie super-strength, speed, agility, and a menacingly toothy grin, the symbiote creates a new life form that is neither Eddie Brock or the symbiote. Together, they are reborn as the man-eating monster known as Venom.

You might remember that this is not Venom’s first live-action outing for the big screen. You might be better off forgetting it. His first attempt at the spotlight was in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, where he was played by “That 70’s Show” actor Topher Grace. He was rightfully and relentlessly mocked for his insipid, whiny, pathetic portrayal of an otherwise terrifying character. If I come out of the theater and I am annoyed by Eric Forman instead of shaken by Eddie Brock, you know there’s a serious problem here.

The best thing I can say about this new Venom movie is that it does an excellent job rebooting the character, washing your memory of his God-awful debut a decade earlier and updating him with a sicker, more menacing design. A large part of that is in thanks to Tom Hardy, who switches between playing the two different characters here in mesmerizing contrast. When he portrays Eddie Brock, he molds him as a sort of vulnerable, pitiful character: a failing journalist who is drunk for half of the day and down on his luck for the other half. But besides playing the exasperated and horrified Eddie Brock, Hardy also voices the Venom symbiote possessing his body, and the way he expresses Venom’s menacing, snake-like delivery is just downright chilling to listen to.

This in combination with the efforts from the visual effects team makes for an ominous, visceral presence in this 10-foot CGI creature. One of the best things about this movie is when the Venom symbiote breaks out into his full form, taking complete control over Brock’s body and just starts running over any enemy in his path. When the movie breaks out into full-blown creature-feature action, that’s when the film is at its best, with Venom’s tentacles flailing about, making giant spider-like leaps, and chomping off bad guy’s heads like they’re the stem of a Tootsie pop. Many fans were reasonably concerned what Venom was going to look like in this movie with his last big-screen appearance still in our memory. I want this on the record: Venom looks and feels vicious, and he rightfully earns the title of lethal protector.

So the Eddie Brock and Venom characters are fleshed out very well in this movie. What isn’t done as well? Essentially everything else.

For one thing, Michelle Williams does nothing for this movie. Her character could literally have been portrayed by Megan Fox, and she would carry the same emotional relevance throughout the movie. That goes double for Riz Ahmed, who plays the movie’s villain named Riot. His character is essentially a gray-scaled clone of Venom, which doesn’t do any favors for the movie’s final battle where black and gray goo basically just splashes against each other over and over again.

The real problem here lies in how the characters are written. They aren’t organic. They don’t feel like they belong here. And unlike Eddie Brock and his venomous alter-ego, their roles don’t have any real impact on the story as a whole. Ann Weying is here because every superhero apparently needs a love interest, and this story wouldn’t be complete without some complicated romantic feelings involved. Riot feels especially shortchanged. Instead of being the relentless, unhinged force he’s supposed to be, he just feels flat and artificial: like a final boss in a video game instead of a mortal enemy for our hero. That lack of effort into fleshing out these characterizations makes for dull, uninspired portrayals, which is especially unfair given the talent and caliber of these two actors. If you don’t believe me, look at Williams’ work in My Week With Marilyn and Ahmed’s work in Nightcrawler. Then look at their performances here and tell me they were given ample material to work with.

All in all, Venom is not the worst movie in the world, but it isn’t really a good one either. It’s just sort of there flailing in the whirlwind of superhero mania that hops from one franchise to another. I am curious as to how the series will progress from here, as Sony has relentlessly teased that they wanted to launch their own cinematic universe from this movie. I at least have more hope for the Venom cinematic universe than I do for, say, the DC Extended Universe. But on its own two tentacles, Venom is ugly, messy, and something I’d much rather forget about: like a turd in the wind.

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“A QUIET PLACE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

Shhhhhhhh.

Eli Roth once said if you don’t want to be scared in a horror movie, you don’t close your eyes; you close your ears. That’s because the scariest things in most movies are often not seen, but rather heard. That’s why we’re terrified of the shadowy corridors when we hear the Xenomorph’s snake-like hiss echoing off of the chambers in Alien. That’s why we shutter at Freddy Kruger when we hear his maniacal laugh and his claws scratching against the walls in Nightmare on Elm Street. And in Jaws, we’re never scared of the monstrous shark chasing Chief Brody and his friends, mostly because we rarely even see the creature. But every time we hear John Williams’ iconic theme building up beneath the water, it never fails to send shivers down our spine.

Environmental sound can often be used to build thrills in most horror pictures effectively. The ingeniousness behind A Quiet Place is that its sound is not an accompaniment to the film’s tension and unease. Instead, it is the film’s tension and unease. Too many times in other horror movies do we hear an orchestra of loud noises, screaming, and stomach-churning sounds as the movie’s victims react helplessly to the on-screen calamities. But in A Quiet Place, the scariest part of it is not the expression of sound: it is the inhibition of it.

Written, directed, and starring John Krasinski, a.k.a. Jim Halpert from “The Office,” A Quiet Place occurs in the not-too-distant future where aliens have taken over the planet and are hunting the remaining humans who have survived. The key to staying alive? Silence. With the aliens being blind, they use their hypersensitive eardrums to listen to any sound and strike their prey where they hear them. With Krasinski on the run with his family (portrayed by his real-life spouse Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe), he has to protect his family and find a way to fend off these monsters for good.

One of the immediate things you recognize about A Quiet Place is how expertly Krasinski manipulates sound to pull out the biggest reactions from viewers. In one of the earliest scenes, Krasinski and his family are rummaging around an abandoned convenience store for supplies. Even though we don’t understand the movie’s premise yet, we can read the family’s precise and careful movements and understand that they’re anxious in avoiding something.

The kids are tip-toeing around the aisles like they’re playing hide-and-seek. The mother is carefully picking through pill bottles like she’s trying to avoid the tripwire of a bomb. And when one kid nearly drops a toy onto the floor, the entire family is on-edge and tense from the child’s mishap.

Nothing has even happened yet, but the framing and the movements here are so meticulous that it’s easy to tell that something is wrong with this family. When the full threat is revealed later on and we witness the consequences of noisiness, we understand what’s a stake here and we are concerned about the family’s well-being. From then on, our attention to the film is unwavering and riveting.

This is what makes Krasinski’s work as a director here truly outstanding: he pulls the most significant reactions out of you from the most minuscule implications. Good directors do that, utilizing smaller details to build upon an escalating sense of dread and paranoia. Ben Affleck did that while directing his political thriller Argo in 2012, and Fede Alverez did the same thing in 2016’s Don’t Breathe. Now John Krasinski is following their lead, and he’s pulled off the tension of effect here masterfully.

The key lies in the editing. Not only does film editor Christopher Tellefsen expertly track between all of the different characters perspectives at once, but sound designers Erik Aadahl and Brandon Jones are impeccable with editing and mixing the sound and making it immediately relevant to their viewers. This makes sense, of course, given how much of the film’s premise is based on sound manipulation. Still, I’m impressed with their attention to detail here. Some sound levels, like the rolling of dice on a carpet, are increased to bring attention to the family’s sense of caution, while others like the creatures’ echolocation are brought down to emphasize their limits on tracking prey. One deaf character in the picture even has sound cut entirely during scenes where it’s showing her perspective. Small things like that subtly lend towards the film’s subversion, and the sound team’s work on this film is definitely deserving of an Oscar nomination. If they’re snubbed this year, it will be the first time I will be outraged over a sound category at the Oscars.

A Quiet Place is a masterful exercise in horror cinema, an expert example of subverting the genre and proving that things don’t have to be constantly blowing up to be exciting. In that, I have to give due praise not just to Krasinski, not just to the cast and crew, but to Michael Bay as well (yes, that Michael Bay). His production company Platinum Dunes produced this feature, and I’m grateful that they saw the value in Krasinski’s vision here and was confident enough to bring it to life in the theater. It shows that even Bay understands the value of subtlety and its importance to cinema. Hopefully Bay will take the lessons he learned on this production into the next project that he works on in the near future. Imagine this film if Optimus Prime were in it.

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“CHRISTOPHER ROBIN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And a bear of very big heart.

There is a moment in Christopher Robin where Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) tells his old friend “They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everyday.” Now obviously Pooh misquoted the phrase, but in his own silly way he got the meaning behind it exactly right. We often imagine our dreams as euphoric, illusive fantasies: a lifelong goal that is impossible to reach. That’s what the elder Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) thinks after all, as he tirelessly works through the weekdays and weekends away from his family. Pooh Bear, meanwhile, is content with believing that happiness comes naturally: like the blustery winds, naptime, and hunny.

There was a time where Christopher Robin believed this too, as we all do when we were as young and naive as he was. But then the most heartbreaking thing happens to Christopher Robin: he grows up. He goes to boarding school. He goes to war. Get’s a job. Falls in love. Marries. Has a child. And he’s eventually thrusted into a business where he is forced to choose profits over people. It’s a sad, dreary existence, and it is a reality every child has to face as they grow out of adolescence and into adulthood.

Watching the opening slides of Christopher Robin, I caught myself crying as the montages flipped through Christopher Robin’s life like the pages in a children’s book. But not because he left behind his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood; because he left his old self behind.

When I was growing up like Christopher Robin did, my exposure to the world’s harsh realities changed me and made me different from the naïve, simple-minded, carefree child that I once was. You learn things about society you wish you never knew. You learn about history, war, violence, and death. You learn about the political forces that are pulling at the planet like a malicious game of tug-of-war. You learn about third world countries where people are dying of starvation and thirst, where parents abandon their children and people mourn for the loved ones they’ve lost. You learn all of these things and it drains you to the point where you are no longer the same happy, lovable kid you used to be. Now you’re just another sour-faced, grouchy old adult, and you carry the world’s problems on your shoulder just like every other person does.

I say all this to emphasize that Christopher Robin experiences these same things and changes too as a result of them, just like any other human being would. To me, watching Christopher Robin grow up was one of the most painful things to experience in the theater. I had always imagined Christopher Robin as one of those staple, never-aging characters: like Micky Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Superman. Seeing him brought down to my level struggling with the same issues and nightmares as I did was an emotional shock that I was not ready for. It really put into perspective how Christopher Robin changed from his old days in the Hundred Acre Wood, and what’s really at stake for himself during his journey.

Speaking of the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh and his friends are among the best things that stand out in this picture. I was absolutely overjoyed every time I saw Pooh on the screen with his tummy rumbling, or Eeyore pouting again, or Tigger bouncing, or Piglet going “Oh, D-d-d-d-dear!” The graphics and animation is convincing as the visual effects team brings these stuffed animals to life. Their movements and interactions are so believable that they felt like a kid was moving them, playing pretend with them in their bedroom.

The voice work, however, easily stands out the most in bringing these characters to life. No surprise there as Jim Cummings has voiced both Pooh Bear and Tigger for well over 30 years now. I’m more impressed with the performances that aren’t as notable as Cummings and McGregor are. For instance, did you know that Brad Garrett voiced Eeyore in this movie? Who would have known that Raymond’s passive-aggressive older brother in “Everybody Loves Raymond” would make the best sourpuss out of the entire Hundred Acre Wood?

The film is directed by Marc Forster, whose career has motioned him to tackle numerous productions, all starkly different from each other. The 2001 drama Monster’s Ball was a big hit for Halle Berry and won her an Oscar for best actress. The 2006 meta-comedy Stranger Than Fiction took a guy’s life and literally put it on the page of a book. And don’t get me started on his action repertoire, which ranges from James Bond’s Quantum of Solace to Machine Gun Preacher and World War Z.

Perhaps the movie that shares the most similarities to Christopher Robin is 2004’s Finding Neverland, which tells the story of writer J.M. Barrie and his relationship with a family who served as the primary inspiration for his play Peter Pan. In many ways, Finding Neverland and Christopher Robin are essentially the same film. Both are centered on adults who have lost their way and are seeking to regain something they lost in their childhood. Both find themselves again through the young at heart and the imagination these kids inspire them. And they both learn that even though their bodies grow older, their ambition does not and their dreams extend beyond what you learn in boarding school or the work force.

It’s true, I grew up with Winnie the Pooh and have many fond memories of playing with Pooh and his friends in my room, just as I’m sure Christopher Robin did in his own room. But I don’t believe my personal experiences impacted my infatuation with this picture. Many films about Winnie the Pooh have been theatrically released before, and none of them were as profound or thoughtful as this one. Even Pooh’s last cinematic outing in 2011 was just an anthology of random, unrelated stories bow-tied together, despite how charming and lighthearted they were regardless. Christopher Robin is different. Yes it possesses the fun, the silliness, and the joy that Pooh and his friends brought us when we were younger. But it also possess the adult perspective as well, how our experiences impact the person we were and molds us into the person we become.

The magic in Christopher Robin is that Pooh finds happiness in simple, every day things; as if the things that bring us the most joy are not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary albeit special to ourselves. I find it refreshing that in Pooh’s and Robin’s last exchange, they don’t say anything incredibly profound or philosophical, but are rather simply talking through life’s greatest mysteries as two friends going through it together. The moment from the film that touched me the most was when Christopher Robin confesses to Winnie the Pooh how lost he truly was. “Good thing I found you,” Pooh replies in his own simple-minded way. Silly old bear.

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“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

CREIDT: Paramount Pictures

Good intentions don’t belong in the espionage business.

How many film franchises can you name that have six entries in them? I myself can recall six of them: Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, X-Men, Lord of the Rings, and Fast & Furious. I can name you several movies from these series’, each of them consequentially getting worse the more they go on. Few of their sixth installments compare to the originals, and none of them are the best in their franchises. I can only name one film that is not only superior to the original, but is also the best entry in their franchise. That film is Mission Impossible: Fallout. 

Picking up a few years after the events of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the pursuit of an evil organization called “The Apostles”, trying to stop them from stealing plutonium and starting a nuclear war (as if Ethan would be doing anything else?). This new venture finds Ethan re-teaming up with some old friends including Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as some new faces including CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) and Agent Walker (Henry Cavill).

What do you need to know about Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well for one thing, it’s just like every other Mission Impossible movie out there. Tom Cruise’s sickeningly good-looking mug? Check. Supporting cast that serves as the comedic relief? Check. Evil super villain? Check. A pretty-looking love interest? Check. Shocking plot twists? Check. Ridiculously over-the-top superhuman stunts that only Tom Cruise can seemingly pull off? Triple check. If it’s been in another Mission Impossible movie, it’s definitely here in Fallout.

And yet, Fallout is infinitely more exhilarating than its peers are. Yes, dear reader: even more so than the first Mission Impossible or Ghost Protocol. Why is that? Well like with any great action movie, the key is in its execution, and Fallout is executed here masterfully.

While the plot is relatively straightforward and similar to its predecessors, the stunts and spectacles are pulled off with a conviction that makes them feel urgent and enthralling. I’ve seen all of the Mission Impossible movies, each of them with breathtaking visual feats, from the vault scene in the first movie to scaling the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Ghost Protocol. In each of these movies, the sensational spy action punctuates a picture filled with espionage and intrigue, all while not losing its energy in the process. Fallout is unique to its peers because its excitement and intrigue lasts throughout the picture, barely slowing down for us to even catch our breaths. From the opening firefight to the last spectacular struggle on a cliff edge, Fallout is a movie that racks up the tension with every passing minute: like a time bomb clicking downward.

Then there’s Tom Cruise himself, who seems incapable of slowing down even for a second in both the movies and real life. He’s been a part of this series for well over 20 years now. How does he retain the enthusiasm to not only keep coming back to the same role, but to keep eclipsing his last physical feat film after film after film? I think it’s because like his character Ethan Hunt, he’s unable to leave the past behind and always feels like there’s something left unfinished. With most franchises, some actors will return to recurring roles just to get another paycheck or another press tour. I feel like Cruise is one of those actors that is motivated to keep outdoing himself with each role that he accepts. The stunts he pulls off in this film are so ridiculous that he even injured himself during one of the shoots late last year. The guy is 56 years old, as old as both of my parents. Yet he seems more enthusiastic for this franchise now than he did when he was in his 30’s when he first started.

The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who seems to be sharpening his technique in a crowd full of writers-turned-filmmakers. His first collaboration with Cruise in 2012’s Jack Reacher was fun albeit straightforward, while the last Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation seemed way too preposterous to be taken seriously, even by IMF’s standards. Fallout is a reckoning for both McQuarrie and the Mission Impossible franchise. It not only brings together the greatest elements from all of the Mission Impossible films, but it makes you forget that it’s even part of a franchise and immerses you masterfully in the tension of the moment.

Fallout is the sixth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, but it’s so hot-blooded and exciting that it feels like it’s the first in a breakthrough: a rebirth, if you will. There was one moment in the picture when Benji asks Ethan how close they were to failing the mission. Ethan laughs: “The usual.”

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“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Quantum-realm conundrums.

Out of all of the new heroes introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one with the worst timing is easily Ant-Man. Here is a guy who, no pun intended, is much smaller than his Marvelite peers. He shrinks to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids size and zips around like the Road Runner from “Looney Tunes.” His sidekicks are literal insects. And he has released not one, but two movies directly after the Avengers’ last two outings. When will this guy learn you can’t piggyback off of the Avengers? The only insect-based hero capable of doing that is Spider-Man, and something tells me we won’t be hearing from him for quite some time.

In this sequel to both Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after helping Captain America and crew fight Tony Stark in Germany. Sick of his frequent bouts with the law, Scott just wants to take it easy on the superheroing gig and finish his sentence so he can be a free man and reunited with his daughter Cassie (Abby Fortson).

Unfortunately, his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) have other plans for him. After Scott escaped from the Quantum Realm in the first movie, Hank has been eager to travel back to search for his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been lost to the Quantum Realm for several years. Believing that Scott somehow still harbors a connection to the realm, they recruit him into their scientific endeavors to shrink back into the Quantum Realm and save Janet. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is following them, also seemingly interested in the Quantum Realm and Janet.

First thing’s first, I love Paul Rudd. Watching him playing a character who is one part superhero and another part awkward dad, I was reminded of why I like him so much: he’s just such an earnest performer. In his introductory scene, he’s seen pretending to be Ant-Man with his daughter Cassie, and he navigates her through his own cardboard maze complete with its own giant-sized ants and wasps replicas. Watching the way he seemed so excitable with Cassie, filling this young child with the wonder and imagination of being a superhero, it was sweetly sentimental in the way it reminded me of times when I was a kid playing pretend with my own father.

That speaks to Rudd’s skills as an actor, and also exemplifies why every scene he’s in just feels so natural. Part of why Ant-Man is so appealing is because of how unassuming he is. He’s not a high-strung billionaire like Iron Man, or a literal Norse deity like Thor, or even a Star-spangled super soldier like Captain America. He’s just some guy, and he’s trying to juggle superhero life with his everyday problems as an ex-convict and a father the best he can. That makes him shine throughout the picture regardless if he’s trying to be dramatic or comedic. There was one part in particular where he mimicked Michelle Pfeiffer so well that I wondered if the real Michelle Pfeiffer would have done any better. It had me dying in laughter.

But it isn’t just Rudd who improves his artistry for the second outing: Peyton Reed also fleshes out his skills as a director to make a much more creative action movie. One of the things that underwhelmed me from the first film was how basic Scott’s abilities were. The full extent of his powers basically involved shrinking, controlling ants, and once in a while enlarging objects, and that’s it. I was bored watching Ant-Man, but here I’m exhilarated seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp shrinking, expanding, zipping, zooming, and zapping their enemies back-to-back. If you don’t think superheroes named Ant-Man and the Wasp can be taken seriously, think again. Their lightning-quick reflexes and their special effects-heavy spectacle was so dizzying that I was surprised at how immersed I really was in all the action. And be honest here, fellow reader: there’s something really satisfying about watching a giant Pez dispenser nearly crush an exasperated criminal chasing the miniature duo.

As with most Marvel movies, the villain isn’t very interesting and lacks the depth and complexion that made villains like Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War stand out in their movies. Some of the gimmicks and jokes repeated so much that they got old after a while, and there was one part of the film that was so eye-rollingly cheesy that I wondered when the director was going to yell “CUT!” and show the next outtake.

Still, for all of its immaturity and childishness, Ant-Man & The Wasp is a fun, lighthearted outing: a breather we desperately needed after being emotionally exhausted from the other two Marvel movies released earlier this year. The first Ant-Man movie seemed to struggle between deciding whether it wanted to be a heist movie, a comedy, or a superhero film and split itself into three different parts. Ant-Man & The Wasp demonstrates a better understanding of its characters and premise. For once, I’m excited to see what the third installment will bring in a trilogy. Somebody just needs to tell Scott to wait a little while longer after the next Avengers movie releases.

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“JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM” Review (✫✫)

CREDIT: Getty Images

Dinosaur activism gone awry.

The smartest guy in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by far is Jeff Goldblum. No, I don’t mean his character Ian Malcolm. I mean Jeff Goldblum. He’s the smartest person in the movie for three reasons. One: Being a series staple since 1993, he probably got paid a lot for the small role he had in this movie. Two: He only had a couple of lines, so in total he saved time, money, and effort in accepting this part. Three: When the dinosaurs are facing an extinction-level event that could potentially wipe them all out, he says the most intelligent thing out of anyone else in the movie: just let them die. “Man tampered with nature the way it wasn’t supposed to,” he says. “This is nature correcting itself.”

If only more people had listened to him, then we could have avoided two catastrophes: one on Isla Nublar, and the other in the movie theater. In this sequel to the Jurassic Park reboot Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom follows Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) teaming up to save all of the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano expecting to engulf the entire island. While on their venture, Owen is reunited with Blue, the raptor that Owen has trained in the park ever since she was a infant. Now racing against time and a whole slew of dinosaurs chasing after them, Claire, Owen, and Blue have to save the dinosaurs, all while avoiding being eaten by them.

Before we hop into the review, I’d like to take you through a quick recap of the Jurassic Park series. Ever since 1993, we’ve been watching these dinosaurs chomping, stomping, clawing, and ripping their way through one human body after another. We’ve seen T-Rexes, Velociraptors, Spinosauruses, Phterodactyls, Mosasauruses, and until recently Frankenstein’s dinosaurs killing people in all sorts of grisly, gruesome fashions. It’s been 25 years guys. I think the consensus is pretty clear by now: Dinosaurs are dangerous.

So when I see a screenplay where its main characters are getting weepy-eyed about man-eating monsters on the verge of going extinct, my first impulse is to take a PETA pamphlet and use it to choke myself into unconsciousness. Fallen Kingdom is bad, and not the kind of bad where it’s cheesy, over-the-top, and kind of fun in a B-movie way. More like mind numbingly half-baked and forced with such on-the-nose social justice themes that even Madonna wouldn’t want to be associated with it.

I’m not saying that the premise itself isn’t interesting. The whole question of whether dinosaurs have the same rights as animals do is an interesting concept, and a question I would at least like asked in a movie like this. The problem is that it isn’t asked: it’s beaten over your head with a dinosaur bone multiple times, whacking you over and over again while shouting at you “Do you feel sad for the dinosaurs yet? Do you feel sad now? HOW ABOUT NOW?! NOW??? NOW?!?!”

There’s zero nuance to the story. If it had simply asked the question and allowed the audience to come to their own conclusions, then I would be supportive of this premise. But instead of leaving the answer open-ended, writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow have to spell everything out for you, belittling the audience by thinking that all they want to see is big-budget dinosaur action while rushing through all of the development behind it. And I’ll be honest, humanitarian questions or big-budget dinosaur action, I’m fine with either one. But the movie fails to fully deliver on either front, and in doing so it leaves the audience frustrated and unfulfilled.

That’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable moments in a picture like this. In its subtler moments, director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) elevates the movie above mediocrity, manipulating his environments to usher in a sense of unease and paranoia similar to the first film. I find that in most movies, it’s not the threat itself that is so unsettling, but rather the anticipation behind it that makes it so riveting. Steven Spielberg understood this in the first movie when we saw the T-Rex for the first time. It wasn’t the dinosaur itself that made us so tense, but the way we heard its heavy breathing through the forest trees, its ominous footsteps pounding onto the ground, water rippling from the shockwaves of its steps. More often than not, it’s not just the creature alone that is so scary; it’s our own perceptions of it as well.

Bayona, at some level, understands that exercising his film similarly leads to the best thrills. When dinosaurs are running away from an exploding volcano in his picture, I’m yawning. When carnivorous beasts are fighting, clawing, and biting at each other, I’m looking at my watch. But when the humans are cornered in a dark, isolated mansion and are quietly evading a mutated Velociraptor hunting them? There’s your moneymaker. Now I’m on the edge of my seat.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not the worst Jurassic Park movie (see Jurassic Park III), but it definitely isn’t anywhere near the quality of the first film. Even the second movie The Lost World had the good sense to not take itself too seriously, something that would have drastically improved Fallen Kingdom if it had taken a similar approach. Where will the series go from here? Unfortunately to a sixth movie, which I sorely do not want but in any case am powerless to stop anyway. I know one thing for certain: if they call it anything besides Jurassic Planet, I will be extremely disappointed.

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“THE INCREDIBLES 2” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One childhood later…

Can a good thing come too late? You tell me. Can a thief return your wallet after spending all of your money? Can a firetruck put out the fire after your house already burned down? Can a lover apologize after admitting to cheating on you? The answer is yes, a good thing can absolutely come too late. And like Syndrome once said a long time ago, Incredibles 2 came too late: 15 years too late.

In perhaps the most unnecessary sequel since Cars 2 (oh yeah, I went there), Incredibles 2 picks up right after the Incredibles encountered the Underminer at the end of the first movie (which is incredibly frustrating, since Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack haven’t aged a day, whereas I’m so old that I’ve grown a beard). Despite saving the day not once but twice, supers are still outlawed by the federal government and are still considered menaces to society, despite the good that they try to do.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications CEO and super-fan that wants to legalize superheroes and bring them back into the spotlight. Pouring his investments into a massive PR campaign to make supers well-liked again, Deavor enlists in the help of Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to carry out missions and change the public perception of superheroes. With Elastigirl busy out superheroing, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is left at home to watch over the kids, and despite being Mr. Incredible, he is certainly not the most incredible Mr. Mom.

First thing’s first: Incredibles 2 looks gorgeous. That’s to be expected of course, considering we waited a decade and a half for the bloody thing to come out. Regardless, the visual feats Incredibles 2 achieves are nothing short of spectacular. It not only deserves to be compared to its predecessor, but it demands to be seen as superior.

The action is much more proliferate in Incredibles 2, and that’s generally to be expected, considering how heavy a role the action played in the first Incredibles. Still, I was impressed at how unique and clever the spectacle was and how Pixar didn’t just repeat themselves from the first movie. In one exhilarating chase sequence, Elastigirl was chasing a runaway train on her Elasti-cycle, which separated into two halves, allowing her to make flexible leaps with her torso while driving. That was an incredibly inventive way to use Elastigirl’s abilities, and I caught myself being on the edge of my seat as I watched her leap on top of cars, railroads, and buildings chasing the train. My favorite scene from the film had to be when the adolescent Jack-Jack’s powers were emerging and he fought a raccoon rummaging through his trash in the backyard. No, this is not some special, super-powered raccoon. It’s just a super-baby fighting an everyday, average, frightened raccoon. Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy would have been mortified.

The visuals and the action were great in the the first Incredibles, and they’re just as fantastic to watch here. Where its sequel begins to falter is its plot. Unlike the first movie, where its writing was fresh, organic, and addressed real-life family issues and emotions, Incredibles 2 feels too generic for its own good; like it knows it has to churn out a sequel and just came up with the most basic concept it could just to save time on its production schedule. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything ground-breaking with Incredibles 2. Lord knows the movie could have been The Godfather of animated superhero sequels and still not be up-to-par with the first movie. Even with that expectation, however, I was disappointed at how unspectacular the film’s premise really felt.

Take for example the movie’s villain Screenslaver (Bill Wise). Simply put, he’s your average supervillain megolomaniac, a guy conjured up just to fight our heroes with nothing more to add to their personal stakes. Compared to Syndrome from the first movie, who had a traumatic childhood experience where he reasonably felt betrayed by his heroes, Screenslaver simply does not have the gusto to be a driving force behind this movie’s conflict. Yes, his powers are interesting and unique enough to control the supers against each other. So what? That doesn’t make him a compelling character, and his motivations for fighting the Incredibles are just plain weak. One of my best friends even turned to me in the theater and told me how he thought the movie was going to end. Sure enough, the film ticked on like clockwork, and my friend’s predictions almost happened word-for-word.

I’m not surprised by the simplicity of this film’s story. Quite honestly, I was expecting it. What I am surprised by is how long it took for writer-director Brad Bird to make this. It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles came out. Since then, Bird has released multiple stellar pictures, including the masterful and moving Ratatouille, the exciting and revitalizing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and even the mediocre Tommorrowland was filled with vision and imagination. Time and time again, Bird has proved his worth as a creative storyteller. And you mean to tell me you waited half of my literal life span for the right inspiration???

Sorry, I’m not buying that. I was Dash’s age when the first Incredibles was released, and now here I am older than Violet, expected to feel the same way about it when I was younger. Real life doesn’t just pause like that. Even Toy Story 3, which also had a 10-year release gap between Toy Story 2, had the good sense to fast forward in time with its characters. That’s because as Andy grew, so did we. I was a little kid playing with my favorite toys when Toy Story 2 came out, and then I grew up, becoming a young adult by the time Toy Story 3 was released. I even graduated from high school the same year that Andy did. But with The Incredibles, there is no growth, no reflection that we’re supposed to look back on. I’m just an adult expected to go back in time to my youth so I can feel the same about The Incredibles as I did when I was 11. How is that reasonable? How is that fair?

I’m tasked with answering the most basic question here: Is Incredibles 2 good? The simple answer is yes, it is very good. Like the first movie, Incredibles 2 is fast-paced, funny, and exciting, further challenging the blurred lines between animated and live-action films and what they can accomplish for their audiences. The complicated answer is that its quality doesn’t matter. I’ve long left my childhood behind, just like millions of eager fans like myself have years ago. Time has passed. We’ve already grown up. And Incredibles 2 means less to us now than it would have if it were released seven or eight years ago.

In either case, be on the lookout for Incredibles 3 in the future, where it will undoubtedly come out when I turn 60.

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“THE INCREDIBLES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Buena Vista Pictures

Mister and Misses (Plus the kids)

I’ve never seen a film like The Incredibles before, and I doubt I will ever see another one like it again. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of my fair share of superhero movies before, including more recently X2 and Spider-Man 2. But The Incredibles in particular is special even compared to those movies. Like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles challenges the visual and emotional capability of the animated motion picture and asserts it as equal to its live-action peers, and so it is. The Incredibles has earned every right to be compared to the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the many others that will come after it.

Taking place in a world where Supers are as common as regular folks are, The Incredibles follows one super-heroic family trying to re-accommodate into normal American life. Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is the super-strength super-dad of the family going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, while his wife Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is just trying her best to be a good housewife and mother for her kids. Speaking of the kids, they’re facing adolescent issues of their own, with the force-field wielding Violet (Sarah Vowell) struggling with her shyness around a school crush, the speedster Dash (Spencer Fox) frustrated that he isn’t allowed to participate in school sports, and the baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile)… well, everything and anything that can go wrong with being a super-baby.

One day, Bob gets a secret message enticing him back into superhero work, despite it being outlawed by the federal government. Reminiscent of the old days of superheroing and wanting to give it one last go, Bob suits up as Mr. Incredible and sets off for one incredible adventure with his family.

The visuals are nothing short of astounding in this movie. Just like with Toy Story and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles is a colorful, vibrant adventure beaming with impressive detail and saturation. Yet, even by Pixar’s already impressive standards, The Incredibles still manages to stand out. How? Simple: the speed and motion of character’s animation is fast-paced and exciting, on-par with other superhero fan-fares that features similar exhilarating action.

It doesn’t take long for us to notice this. In fact, in the first 10 minutes alone, Mr. Incredible 1) Saves a cat from a tree, 2) Stops a high-speed car chase, 3) Interrupts a rooftop robbery, 4) Saves a citizen from leaping off of a building, 5) Fights a super villain in the middle of a bank heist, 6) Saves a child from a bomb attached to himself, 7) Stops a train from derailing off of its tracks, and 8) Makes it just in the knick of time for his own wedding. When I say this movie feels like the Spider-Man, X-Men, or Superman movies, I mean it. This movie is so exciting to watch that you feel like it can compete with most action movies, let alone animated ones as well.

I wondered why this movie felt so different compared to the rest of the animated genre? It doesn’t feel like its aimed at children, after all. What with its highly-stylized action violence, explosive spectacle, and more darker, mature moments, I wondered why this felt so adult-oriented despite its PG rating? Then I remembered: this film was directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed the animated science-fiction film The Iron Giant years ago. Like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles is a movie filled with ambitious vision; daring in its visual art and far-reaching in its emotional range. In many ways, they’re both very similar films. They both portray the modern American family robbed by normalcy and dysfunction. They are both thrown into extraordinary circumstances that they find mesmerizing and fascinating. And ultimately, they pull themselves out of their dire situations through the greatest superpower of all: family.

You’ll also notice how the movie has an aesthetic that satires 90’s spy movies such as James Bond and Mission Impossible. I wasn’t sure how exactly that was going to work for an animated superhero movie like The Incredibles, but it works beautifully. The scenery evokes the feel and grandeur of MI6 headquarters, while the Incredibles’ gadgets are reminiscent of the toys that Q provides Bond to bring with him on his missions. Speaking of Q, there’s a spoof of the character here named Edna Mode, who’s hilariously voiced by Brad Bird himself, and she provides a personality so melodramatic and overbearing that she couldn’t help but remind me of those high-strung fashionites not unlike Edith Head or Anna Wintour. And the music by Michal Giacchino is especially sleek and snazzy, with its jazz horns blaring and its drums beating like those smooth spy jams you listened to growing up.

Go and see The Incredibles. My review cannot get much simpler than that. It’s an exciting, action-packed, suspenseful, funny, and wildly entertaining thrill ride that not only blows most of its animated competition out of the water, but also most of its live-action superhero counterparts as well. To put it in one word, the movie is simply… incredible.

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