If modern romantic comedies seem cheaply assembled with contorted premises for laughs and kisses, Crazy Rich Asians is a classic return to the most decadent of rom-com cinema. No expense has been spared to present one of the most lavish, sweet, and memorable films, past a breezy and beautiful date night experience. You don’t need to be Asian, rich, or even crazy to appreciate this modern fairytale.
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The Meg is a B-movie creature feature that seems to be trying so hard to be average, never favoring a tone too serious or silly. It struggles to play it straight with its exposition of underwater research and horrific with the titular shark, but still wants to wink at the camera and have a laugh with a quip or two. A PG-13 rating for a bigger summer box office gross prevents any memorable kills or bloody terror. It’s this assembly that makes the movie more of a dry, by-the-numbers monster movie than a more campier version that pays homage to its lesser and goofier counterparts.
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There’s an enduring spirit to the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood that has made Disney’s many iterations of Winnie the Pooh enjoyable if not as clever. While the stuffed creatures of the classic books may have been slung in everything from direct-to-video specials and TV puppets, Pooh still has an adorable wisdom to his silly nature of misunderstandings and curiosity. This point is best proven in Christopher Robin, a film that tries to place Pooh and company in a CGI/live-action hybrid. The antics of the honey-craving bear and his iconic cohorts hold up far better than a beat-you-over-the-head story about growing up.
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While it is fun to watch Denzel Washington lay waste to rooms full of assassins and pull off that ease of intimidation in his presence, he’s not exactly playing a character in Equalizer 2. He’s more like an action god that gazes down on the innocent and wicked, carefully choosing who to spare with gentle grace and who to execute with extreme prejudice. And while such a Superman story is held firm by Denzel’s strong performance, I wished his omnipotent powers were strong enough to cast aside a tired Jason Bourne ending for the film’s more engaging smaller skirmishes.
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There I was in the theater watching Dwayne Johnson edge across a towering inferno, hundreds of feet in the air, and I’m not feeling that familiar giddy charm and thrill he exudes with nearly every action performance. Everything is present for a popcorn-chomper of Dwayne’s Die Hard, from a foreign-accented terrorist to daring stunts that leave Johnson as battered and bruised as John McClane. It should have been a light bit of brainless summer action but casual passivity of the structure left me wanting, especially as Dwayne gets lost in the dust of the flashier sequences, existing as more beef than brains.
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This is exactly what I needed. After the dense cultural aspects of Black Panther and the darker pathos of Avengers: Infinity War, there’s a refreshing break from the bleak with Ant-Man and the Wasp. There’s no painful conflict of a father trying to be a hero, nor a hugely tragic villain of messy plight for him to best. It’s just a light and bright spectacle of a summer blockbuster that has fun with its size-altering heroes and phase-shifting villains. You remember what fun was like in these movies, right? Before half the universe died in that last Marvel film?
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The second helping of the sour world of Sicario comes with an extra spoonful of darkness for a cartel war that will never end. That’s all good, in the film’s own depressing way of luring us in with its bloody and bony following-finger, but there’s something missing. It could be the skillful direction of Denis Villeneuve that contributed to the atmosphere of brewing intensity. It could be the loss of Emily Blunt as the morality that is chipped away as the war wages on. The lack of that extra oomph in the ouch turns Sicario: Day of the Soldado into a thriller that shouldn’t feel so standard for being so contemplative and brooding.
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I was so enraptured with the giddy delight of adventure in Jurassic World replicating that same wonder from childhood that I brought high hopes to Fallen Kingdom. But then I remembered the sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and how disappointed I was in its struggle to ditch the park for more dinosaurs in action, removed from their secluded island. History has unfortunately repeated itself, albeit with lingering charms and thrills that desperately claw and gnash their way out of a needlessly dense and busy script for a dinosaur romp.
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The screening of Incredibles 2 began with an apologetic thank you from the cast. Yes, it has taken 14 years for Pixar to construct a sequel for their fan-favorite of a film that perfectly blended the family dynamic with superhero theatrics. But as Samuel L. Jackson assures us, it will be worth the wait. He’s not just tooting the Disney horn, nor is the cantankerous writer/director Brad Bird, who returns to the franchise with fresh ideas to flex those old animated filmmaking muscles. And it is every bit as brilliant, exciting, and dazzling as its predecessor.
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Hotel Artemis depicts an eerily believable future of water conglomerates, dwindling resources, and uncontrollable riots that it’s a very plausible vision of Los Angeles in 2028. But this isn’t about finding a solution to the water shortage or toppling the empire that hordes. Those are far too lofty ambitions for the wealthy residents of the Hotel Artemis, where criminals come for the best healthcare, no questions asked. There are far too many chaotic characters of deception, guilt, and violence stirring inside to be bothered with the outside world. Any more arcs and this unique sci-fi action picture would overdose.
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