The Equalizer 2 (2018)

   Director: Antoine Fuqua  With: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, & Melissa Leo.  Release: Jul 20, 2018 R. 2 hr. 1 min.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
With: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, & Melissa Leo. 
Release: Jul 20, 2018
R. 2 hr. 1 min.

 

Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer 2” feels like a game of peekaboo is being played with the audience throughout it's drawn out two hour and one-minute runtime. The first film was overly long as well, but it had something worth watching, worth investing in, the same cannot be said for Fuqua’s sequel. 

“The Equalizer 2” is exactly what it names suggests, a sequel. It begins presumably a few years removed from the events of the first film. There is no Ralphie or Teri to be seen; this is a whole new bunch of youthful kids in need of a guiding hand. He's that watchful guardian he evolved into from the first film, providing assistance and help to anyone who needs it, at least anyone that crosses his path. 

Our hero isn't watching over a city or a neighborhood, more like the ten to fifteen people he interacts with in his Lyft, like Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). His former commanding officer, who now watches from afar, sending her good wishes and assistance whenever she can. Eventually, trouble comes across her path, and when our gunslinging hero hears the news, he launches himself on the warpath. Killing anyone and everyone involved, a mission that becomes more personal the further down the rabbit hole he goes. 

There are still those moments of wise-man teachings though, moments where Washington meets someone and tells them how they should be living their lives. Like Miles (Ashton Sander), a young black kid being torn between the two worlds of gang crime and honorable artwork. He takes part in some of the film’s best moments in which Denzel Washington, an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, is sermonizing to this young blood on how you can blame the white man all you want, but you still have a life to live. It’s a sequence of dialogue that can either make you uncomfortable, like myself, or can invigorate you with energy.  

No matter which side of that conversation you fall upon, the rest of the movie is something of a lackadaisical effort from screenwriter Richard Wenk. What can you expect from the genius behind stories like “Expendables 2” and “The Mechanic,” right? Despite that sarcasm, Wenk’s story feels like a simplified, eighties, action movie. You can predict it's plot developments from a mile away, who the villain is going to be, who is in danger, the events to follow those moments in the story, all of them make you feel as if your a fortune teller. 

It’s a flat story too, one that rarely soars in quality, while never diving down towards poor taste. It just remains steady, rarely ever risking itself to do something daring or challenging for a packed out audience of either “Equalizer” fans or Denzel Washington fans, (I’m going to go with the latter of those two options) instead, it stays on course, merely sailing down a calm sea of mundane storytelling. 

Where the story becomes a game of peekaboo though, is when Wenk begins to hint at stories worth our time. Like an older black man teaching a youthful black kid, or a man’s sins catching up with him, or the price of heroism. There is a multitude of chances where Wenk could’ve turned this vehicle of a story into those directions. Instead, it's more of pitstop. Somewhere for Wenk to stop and say “Hey, look at the great story I could have written, alright onto the next cliche roadside attraction.”

Something worth noticing is my lack of character naming for Denzel. While the first film I let his un-nuanced performance slide, this time around it's near impossible to do so. It’s, once again, a marriage of two performances we’ve already seen. One quite recently in that of Troy from “Fences,” and the other feeling like a rehash of Eli from “Book of Eli.” Providing a performance that has the sermonizing of Troy and the calm dangerous persona of Eli. Denzel isn’t reaching for that next Oscar here, instead just looking to get a sizable paycheck. 

Now that I think of it, I may have been to easy on the first film, because the action here is worth mentioning, but not in a good way exactly. While the first film felt like it needed the swift hand of justice for a city corrupted by unlawful people like that of a “Luke Cage” or a “Black Panther.” This time around, Denzel feels as if he’s stepping into the shark cage out of some twisted fantasy to punish. It becomes sadistic and maniacal, never exactly exciting. It feels a lot more like Bruce Willis’ “Death Wish” than anything else, providing that macho man fantasy of setting the world right by brutality. I can't say the first film refuted that notion either. 

It can become a bit squirmy to watch some of these action sequences, but there are others worth the ten dollar ticker, one in which involves a tension-filled car ride in which someone in Denzel’s lift was hired to kill him. He must drive the car and fight off the assailant in what becomes a breathtaking scene to watch. The finale has its moments too, but the film continually places itself as an example in the on-going conversation of action in moviemaking. What line is unsafe to cross? What lines are we willing to pass? 

“The Equalizer 2” is everything you expect it to be, and everything you don’t. It can be surprising and expectable at the same time. Tierdering between the isles of mediocrity and watchability. It’s not something all that surprising though, Denzel seems to be on the mend. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him bring a new character to life, it makes me wonder, are we in store for something exceptional from the former Oscar winner? 

At one point, he tells a criminal how there are two kinds of pain in this world, "pain that hurts, and pain that alters." "The Equalizer 2" delivers the pain that hurts, watching something that continuously feels as if it's asking you "did you really like the first film?" After watching this sequel, I'm not sure anymore. 
 

The Equalizer (2014)

   Director: Antoine Fuqua With: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, & Johnny Skourtis. Release: Sep 26, 2014 R. 2 hr. 12 min. 

Director: Antoine Fuqua
With: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, & Johnny Skourtis.
Release: Sep 26, 2014
R. 2 hr. 12 min. 

 

Action films starring black men seem to have a common theme running underneath them, especially when you can look back on them from a distant point. Always about a man answering the call, being forced or coerced into becoming a guardian angel for a neighborhood, a community, a city, or even a country. We see it with stories like “Luke Cage,” “Black Panther,” and in 2014 we saw it with Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer, a movie sharing a kinship-like relation to these comic book blockbuster. 

It’s about a hero in hiding, much like these fellow movies as the screenplay begins with an intimate look at this man’s routine. He’s disciplined, organized, competent, and when you think he’s merely an old man living a routine life, we see his struggles to sleep. He lies in bed, sitting in the darkness, calmly battering his book off his head as if he’s trying to forget something, but what? 

Presumably an insomniac with OCD, he leaves around the same time every night, carrying a neatly folded bag of tea with him to a local diner where he conversates with a troubled girl named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). It’s in these calm conversations where the intensity of the story is revealed to us, in a very on the nose manner. With McCall (Denzel Washington) describing the books he reads like spoilers for how the story will eventually develop. Like “Moby Dick,” a book about a fisherman wrestling the biggest fish he can as a symbolizer of a man confronting a final battle when he thought that part of his life had come to an end, eventually stating “You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”

Another is “Don Quixote,” a book about “a guy who thinks he's a knight in shining armor. The only thing is, he lives in a world where knights don't exist anymore,” as Robert (Denzel Washington) describes, a similar way of characterizing our sleeper soldier. Richard Wenk’s screenplay, based on Michael Sloan & Richard Lindheim hit television series from the 80’s, is uncreative in that manner, unable to manifest a more clever way at hinting at the events we're about to witness.

Besides those moments, he produces a solid story, one that is filled with both heart and vigor. Maintaining a constant pushing momentum, building towards a crescendo of action, while, simultaneously, providing a deepened glimpse of a man discovering his role in life and questioning if it's a life worth living. 

He’s a formidable hero, watching idly, surrounding himself with good and honest people like Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), a youthful man looking to get his start in life as a security guard. He has to make weight though, something he’s asked McCall’s (Denzel Washington) help for in making possible. Another is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a troubled girl, a prostitute. She’s someone better than that, as every girl is above being more than that, and she wants to be a singer until she begins to be far too independent for her “owners” liking. He beats her up one night, really bad, leaving her in critical condition. 

Our hero attempts to provide a middle ground solution, trying to buy her freedom. After an immature and idiotic refusal to his offer, Robert (Denzel Washington) can't walk away as we soon learn that he’s a man of many skills. One that breaks down his deathful actions almost prematurely, setting up his attacks, his use of weapons, and predicts the amount of time it will take. Yeah, this guy’s a badass. 

The story becomes a conflicted when a formidable foe arrives to solve the problem that McCall (Denzel Washington) has become for his boss, the monster fish that our fisherman must fight off. This foe is a former Russian operative,  Nikolai (Marton Csokas), one who's become a monster that nearly beats a man to death with his bare knuckles, screaming and roaring like an animal that has been unleashed on this gang-riddled Boston community. He’s remorseless, immoral, and is skilled like his adversary, but our hero isn’t exactly a comic book hero trying to do the right thing, more like the proverbial sword that cuts the heads off of snakes that attempt to bite or poison those around him. 

Fuqua (“Training Day” & “Southpaw”) provides an overqualified helming of this film which, based on its story, sounds more like your average run of the mill action movie. The action is stylized, intense, and aggressive. Fuqua provides a sleek look to this film that is grungy and grimly lit, the camera moves and vibrates around our hero as he and cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Avatar”) make this movie pop with energy. 

Hemsey’s exceptional score assists in fabricating an action film with more than meets the eye, but Denzel Washington is the engine that keeps the car running. Never providing something nuanced, more of a combination of depictions we’ve seen before, it’s like Coach Boone (“Remember The Titans”) meets John Creasy (“Man on Fire”). He’s calm, cerebral-like, but can be admittedly intimidating. The best scenes are when we see the man behind the facade, a man experienced and seasoned with men like Nikolai (Marton Csokas). 

He’s provided that wisened aspect with his character, making him seem like a cross between Yoda and John Wick, but in all actuality, he’s just a man trying to find peace in a world where harmony has been eradicated. Answering the call for his guardianship because he has to be who he is in this world, he’s good at something that few of us ever try to be good at, nor should we. 

The film builds as I said, to its big showdown like any other action film, but it takes place in a hardware store of all places, the same store where McCall (Denzel Washington) works. He becomes inventive with his killing methods in a finale that is worth the wait. What’s weird is the lack of surprise his co-workers reveal while discovering that their co-worker is a mercenary. Finally learning what he used to do for a living, a comical subplot that is continuously rehashed throughout the film in which his co-workers attempt to guess what he used to do before he started working at Home Mart. 

These everyday people are never surprised by both his actions or the events going on around them; I can't say ever say I was either. It's predictabilty, and that lack of plausibility makes “The Equalizer” feel more like a cross between a comic book vigilante tale and a thematically driven action film. Entertaining? Hell yes. Believable? Not for a second. 
 

Skyscraper (2018)

   Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber  With: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, & Kevin Rankin.  Release: Jul 13, 2018  PG-13. 1 hr. 42 min.

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
With: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, & Kevin Rankin. 
Release: Jul 13, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 42 min.

 

Walking into to my theatre to see Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (“Central Intelligence” & “We’re the Millers”) “Skyscraper,” I, like any other critic or savvy filmgoer, saw this movie as a potential rip off of “Die Hard” or “The Towering Inferno,” and when the promotional posters accepted those catcalls of early criticism, it felt more like an admission of those objections being correct, and they are. 

It’s a film inspired by previous, and much better, movies that rarely allow for Thurber’s voice to be heard. The film even maintains the familiar traits of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s previous works, #family themes can be found throughout the entirety of this big Hollywood blockbuster of a movie. It’s energetic enough to provide a thrilling experience at times, despite those moments feeling rehashed, and that lack of unoriginality makes this film seamlessly forgettable because there is nothing that shocks or surprises. It’s not a great film; it’s not even a good movie, it's a watchable and harmless big budget movie, as long as you ignore a lot of the blatant flaws and copycat moments. 

The film begins with a flashback, of course. We open with a wintery and dark scene in which a suspect has locked him and his family inside of a lodge. After the negotiations fail to solve the problem, blunt force is relied upon as Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) and his team breach the house. He makes the wrong decision, things go wrong, and he wakes up at a military hospital where he meets his future wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell). A familiar set up? Duh. 

Nonetheless, “Skyscraper” fast forwards ten years to our present story. Will (Dwayne Johnson) and Sarah (Neve Campbell) have started a family, bringing two kids into this world, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). Will (Dwayne Johnson) has founded a small security company, out of his garage. After a solid recommendation from a former teammate, Will (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself testing the most high-tech skyscraper in the world. It has self-sufficient energy, top of the line fire safety measures, and is the tallest building ever constructed. What we have to presume is taller than the 2,717-foot record height, which is held by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a building used by another blockbuster franchise like “Mission Impossible,” which contains a daring stunt with Tom Cruise running alongside its skyrise windows. 

The same kind of movie magic can be found in “Skyscraper,” but Dwayne Johnson is not near as daring. He stands in front of green screens and a closed set. I guess that puts the debate to bed; we now know that Tom Cruise is tougher than Dwayne Johnson. Jokes aside, the story gets to those points of depth-defying thrills when a team of mercenaries and assassins joins together to get back some corrupting information from tech genius and the masterful creator behind this towering feat of tech, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). 

There is a lot of bloodshed that occurs before the building catches fire and this bland ensemble of replaceable mustache-twirling villains’ plan comes to light. Countless lives are taken and the unimpactful nature of those moments shows the long-lasting failure of blockbusters being unable to make us care about villains killing innocent people. Unlike a fellow blockbuster, “Tomb Raider,” “Skyscraper” struggles to treat death and murder as a necessary evil that our hero must endure, it’s meant for spectacle and “character development.” 

These characters aren’t very developed though, Thurber struggles, as his past endeavors show, to make the surrounding characters worth our time. They are never equivalent to purchasing a ten dollar stub, but Thurber does provide moments that make that investment worth it. Though they feel ripped out of a “Mission Impossible” movie or something better than the movie we’re watching, these “Skyscraping” moments are tense and well-handled. Are they inspired? Yes, but that shouldn’t take away from how exciting they are to watch. One of those moments involves the trailer ruined leap from a crane towards an opening in the building, and another takes place with him tying himself to the building itself and repelling down its vertical slide of an exterior. 

I, like any other knowledgeable film fan, can spot the influences and flat-out ripoffs, but they are still thrilling to watch nonetheless. The overqualified Robert Elswit provides a lens to the story. The usual go-to cinematographer for Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Elswit is elected to be the man to make this film look a lot more artistic than it sounds on paper, and in some ways, he does just that. Providing some tangible scenery and some excellent camera movement, it would have been the icing on the cake for a much better movie. For “Skyscraper,” it's a needed pro for this film to become better than the average summer blockbuster, which it ends up being despite Elswit’s efforts. 

He’s not to blame for that outcome, and neither is Dwayne Johnson who made me eat my words a bit. I’ve always described him as an average actor, one that can play the two roles of charming and action hero, rarely delivering any semblance of emotion. Partially due to the poor writing behind his movies, and his inability to choose films that test him on that front as an actor. In “Skyscraper” he gives small glimpses of those talents, potentially displaying his range as an actor. It’s not concrete evidence that he can be more than a blockbuster hero, but it's something that should bring relief to his critics. Providing a snippet of a chance that this broad-shouldered, chiseled man of an actor might be more than meets the eye.

“Skyscraper” cannot say the same. It’s everything you expect it to be, and it remains fun to watch which makes it “successful?” I think what makes these movies successful is box office gross, but I can resonate with those who love this movie, perhaps they should see more movies though, better ones in that. I’ll admit that “Skyscraper” does surprisingly display some level-head brilliance, de-establishing the expected ego of a movie star like Dwayne Johnson, not that he has one. You would expect male actors like him to have one, but the third act of this film places him in peril with no one but a woman to save him, something rare to see in a movie like this one. She’s given plenty to do as well, as a military surgeon, she’s not helpless in these situations, and neither are the children. Everyone is given a role in saving the day, which was shocking to see, and one of the welcomed and genuine surprises to be found in this blockbuster tale.  

The plot is predictable, and the action feels staged and familiar, but I once heard indie-darling, and fandom favorite Kevin Smith recite a review for “Catch Me If You Can,” a much better movie, stating “sometimes you just want to be coddled in the bosom of a Hollywood movie.” With the vast amount of societally relevant and politically charged filmmaking to be found, “Skyscraper” came at a proper time for me, allowing me to sit down, relax, and enjoy a thrilling ride. It’s a ride I’ve been on before, but fun nonetheless. 
 

American Animals (2018)

   Director: Bart Layton  With: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, & Blake Jenner.  Release: Jul 13, 2018 R. 1 hr. 56 min.

Director: Bart Layton
With: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, & Blake Jenner. 
Release: Jul 13, 2018
R. 1 hr. 56 min.

 

Bart Layton’s “American Animals” is like a strange love child of “The Town” and “The 15:17 to Paris,” it could also be narrowed down as a rip-off of recent film endeavors like “I, Tonya.” The film opens with a title card that reads “This is Not Based on a True Story,” and then the “not based” segment of the sentence fades out of the screen leaving the title “This is a True Story.” Which makes you presume there will be a documentary sequence near the end-credits that reveals the reality of the film, instead, Layton splices interviews of the real men and women throughout the film. Continually derailing any momentum that had been built up before that interjection of legitimacy. I can see why a career documentarian filmmaker was assigned to direct this movie. 

Revolving around the fascinating events of the 2004 Transylvania Library robbery in which four college students banded together to steal a group of rare and expensive books, “American Animals” recounts their lives that built up to those moments, intercutting the stories behind the scenes from the boys turned men that we’re apart of this adventure. It’s a bit of bored white privilege being used as a motivation to do something special, as if the opportunity of college, job success, and a comfortable life aren’t sustaining enough for their happiness. 

It’s a bit hard to sympathize with these characters when you begin to consider that notion, as the film rolls on, the methodologies grow deeper. Itching vicariously at that idea of how we all so desperately desire to make our lives memorable, feeling that we waft through life as nothing short of mediocrity. Something examined far superiorly in “Sorry to Bother You,” but “America Animals” provides that dose of authenticity to make this film feel vigorously intense.  

The first hour of the runtime weighs itself down with that inter-splicing though, like your riding a roller coaster that is going straight waiting for something to happen. We meet Warren Lipka and his charismatic personality and Spencer Reinhard’s regret of the events, knowing there were more than a few opportunities for him to walk away.  That emotional examination of their lives became heavy and warranted in the latter half of the runtime, but the first half feels like it's stuck.

Revealing itself as a marriage of documentation and genre filmmaking, it takes a while for your expectations to adjust to the film your receiving instead of the artistically thrilling heist film you were anticipating. With one of the best trailers of the year that reminded me of an Edgar Wright production, “American Animals” never introduces itself with confidence, which is why that style comes to a surprise I think as if the filmmakers weren't confident that audiences would respond appropriately. They were right. The audience in my theater was filled with an atmosphere of excitement that was soon vacuumed out of the theater. We were duped. 

Once you sink in and accept the bill of goods you’ve been sold, you begin to study the intricacies behind Layton’s methods. It pays off when the third act occurs, when the actual robbery takes place. The tension is sky-high, the fumbling and unprofessionalism of our robbers are sensical, believable, and authentic. Seeing that visualization of fiction reflecting reality saves “American Animals” from becoming a bad movie, pushing it towards something that is more middle of the road, which is far better than failure I guess. 

The technicality saves it as well. Ole Bratt Birkeland provides a dour and grim look to the film that is continually pressing and closing in on these characters, oops, I meant real-life men. It’s as if the closer we get to these men; the more and more intimate the camera becomes, closing in on the actors, pushing towards them, even revealing them in their most private moments like bathing. The editing and music from Anne Nitkin work in perfect tandem, mimicking an Edgar Wright style of filmmaking that attempts to reproduce the sharpness and vigorousness that made Edgar famous. 

When given the green light, our cast steals the show. Evan Peters is relentlessly charismatic and provocative, and Barry Keoghan continues to feed on that brilliant subtilty that we’ve seen him excel with in previous films. Blake Jenner delivers that Luke Perry charm, smiling and confidently striding throughout the film. Jared Abrahamson fades into the foreground in some respects but maintains a substantial presence. 

These are the best aspects of the film that are outweighed and outshouted by the documentary traits of “American Animals.” It’s an experiment of a movie that wasn’t exactly worth it, I think. It’s a film worthy of study because it's derailing our expectations while simultaneously providing an authentic depiction of a heist that is merely invigorating to watch. It falls in the middle of the road for me; I find things that make me love the film and others that make me hate it, I don’t know which side is right. 

I do know that ignoring the victim of the crime, Betty Jean Gooch, isn't right. She was assaulted during these events, yet it's used more as a sympathizer for these men than a moment of vilifying. If she weren't given a slice of time to denounce their actions, this film would be receiving a much lower grade. 

Nonetheless, “American Animals” is about “good kids from good families” that find themselves grasping for the forbidden fruit, fruit that poisoned them almost entirely. Though they're, admittedly given a Hollywood idolization for artistic purposes, there's something worth watching here. 

They now reside with regular jobs, college responsibilities, and the stress of life itself, who knows, maybe a new adventure is on the horizon for these four adrenaline junkies. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

   Director: Peyton Reed  With: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judy Greer, Tip. “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Forston, & Randall Park.  Release: Jul 6, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Director: Peyton Reed
With: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judy Greer, Tip. “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Forston, & Randall Park. 
Release: Jul 6, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is that kind of chapter in the Marvel cinematic universe that buckles underneath the excellence of the previous entree, it’s like reading a great book that has a fantastic chapter followed up by one that is fun, satisfying, but not near as superb as the one you just read. 

Once again directed by Peyton Reed, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a film that feels a bit mediocre in more ways than one, but not in a bad way. The film, written by a team of five writers, takes place about two years removed from the events of the Russo Brothers’ “Captain America: Civil War.” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) made a plea deal to take part in a two year sentenced house arrest, followed up by three years of probation, and he’s nearing his last three days of sentencing until he finds himself having nightmares from his time in the subatomic realm, but these dreams feel too real. 

He reaches out to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to explain this to him, hours later, he is kidnapped by Hope (Evangeline Lilly), because this father and daughter duo have been building a machine to take them to the quantum realm, believing that Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer; Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom) may still be alive. 

It’s a simple mission that needs the assistance of Scott’s (Paul Rudd) hypothetical quantum entanglement with her from the quantum realm, but their plan’s soon get foiled by this white hooded and fissuring figure known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). She’s a woman who’s suffered the sins of Hank’s (Michael Douglas) past, being a product of a father’s failed experiment that has led to her becoming a molecularly faltered woman that continuously glitches between matter, making her someone that can walk through any wall and avoid any attack. This condition also leaves her in constant pain though, forcing her to reach out for help, something that also comes from Hank’s (Michael Douglas) past mistakes. 

You would think the film would build an emotional lesson around that, but instead, the story revolves around a multitude of amusing subplots and a sappy-ish emotional heft between Scott (Paul Rudd) and his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). It picks up off that father-daughter dynamic we saw in “Ant-Man,” something we don’t see in any of the other Marvel movies, and begins to zero in on the flawed heroism of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Dealing with this revolving door of consequences for his actions, tearing him between the two worlds of fatherhood and vigilantism. 

He never seems to be able to the right thing without alienating his family or his friends or the woman he wants to partner with on these adventures as Ant-Man. He’s continuously reminded of these shortcomings, staying out of trouble to keep his daughter in his life, but exiling his past life and friends in exchange. It’s a complex moral dilemma, one that we rarely see in film’s apart of the MCU, but the film almost seems to overlook the enticeable potential of the emotion surrounding this internal character dynamic, choosing to satisfy audiences without providing something worth remembering. 

The film does subvert the macho-man mentality of superhero movies though, allowing the teamwork between these two heroes to become a reliable weapon. Never allowing that one-person show cliche to take hold, the "Ant-Man and the Wasp" are a team that relies on teamwork, something surprisingly rare to see in comic book filmography, almost as unusual as the amount of significance giving to the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly).

Spending a lot of time developing, focusing, and centralizing the story and the action around Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Reed exhumes as much creative choreography he can from the wings of the Wasp, disappearing and reappearing with fury and a whole lot of female badassery. We rarely get to see these displays of female super-strength, with them sporadically occurring in films like "Iron Man 2" and "Avengers." Luckily, "Thor; Ragnarok" and "Black Panther" have embraced that female empowerment, carrying it over into newer films such as this one. 

She almost steals the show with her displays of action, but the gang of assisting comedic characters makes that a hard role to earn, as the group of three ex-cons, has founded their own security company, ironically trademarked as “X-Con.” These neurotic characters share a fair amount of screenplay, providing as much comedic relief as they can, not that the screenplay is dourly in need of more humor. Nonetheless, the security team of Kurt (David Dastmalchian), Dave (T.I.), and Luis (Michael Peña) provide the films funniest moments with Peña being responsible for more than the other two goofballs, as predicted. 

The gang of characters surrounding our triplet of heroes doesn't stop there, you can also find the well-meaning ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), the affable husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), the adorably innocent Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), a smug weapons dealer with a wicked southern accent depicted by Walton Goggins, of course, and there’s also the clueless FBI agent, Woo (Randall Park), who is amusingly jealous of the charisma displayed by Scott (Paul Rudd). All of these characters assist in formulating a group of subplots that struggle to reside together coherently, but they never become something distracting or worth denouncing, more of a run of the mill kind of scenario. 

The same could be said for Dante Spinotti’s cinematographer which, unlike the previous film, seems to have no individuality. Never standing out or making its voice heard, instead, it blends into the foreground, becoming reliant on well-handled set pieces and a vast amount of size gags, which seem to always get a chuckle or two out of me. 

Reed has a lot of great moments in his direction of the film, specifically in his helming of the movies emotional subtext, something that if focused more upon, could have made the film far better than your above mediocre superhero film. It relies on that relief of enjoyment you desire after seeing a mature and darkened MCU film such as "Avengers: Infinity War." “Ant-Man and the Wasp” struggles with that bad timing more than it should. Not to mention, a complete lack of emotional heft that, like “Thor: Ragnarok,” is set up to be paid off near the film’s finale, but these moments are shrunk down to size before they become the big hero that the movie so desperately needs. 

If you consider the MCU as a long-running, feature-length, television series that premieres at the movie theater, then you can think of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” as that follow up episode to the mid-season finale. Attempting to pull everyone back into the story, calming the waters so that you can return to your regularly scheduled programming until the Mad Titan makes his next appearance. There’s nothing obscene or egregiously wrong with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” it’s following up a cinematic event of epic portions, providing a small but effective entree into this cinematic universe of superheroes, it's hard to blame the underdog for not outperforming the favorite. 

The First Purge (2018)

   Director: Gerard McMurray  With: Lex Scott Davis, Y’lan Noel, Joivan Wade, Marisa Tomei, Rotimi Paul, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Luna Lauren Velez, & Mo McRae.  Release: Jul 4, 2018 R. 1 hr. 37 min. 

Director: Gerard McMurray
With: Lex Scott Davis, Y’lan Noel, Joivan Wade, Marisa Tomei, Rotimi Paul, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Luna Lauren Velez, & Mo McRae. 
Release: Jul 4, 2018
R. 1 hr. 37 min. 

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The Purge franchise has always had an inherent political vibe to it, but Gerard McMurray and James DeMonaco’s “The First Purge” is a movie that feels like a child misunderstanding political ideologies, choosing to follow the most extreme side on crucial issues such as gun control, the wealth gap, and racial tensions.

I guess we were forewarned with the hat in the poster that resembled something along the lines of "make America great again," but these filmmakers flip-flop between each side of the aisle, attempting to look as if they reside in the middle, only choosing an option that they believe is right. But the choices made are too far extreme for me to think that these filmmakers are middle of the aisle electorates that made a movie to speak out on some vital socio-political issues.

Taking place before all of the other nonsensical movies began, “The First Purge” starts with a psychological interview of sorts with a man named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who is an outright junkie. He has cuts on his face, bloody gums, and is being used as the prime example for why this murder night needs to occur. So that he can find a way to outpour his withdrawal frustrations, which then would encourage drug use, drug sales, and somehow lower crime rates?

Nonetheless, news clips of protests circulating the one percent, crime-rates, and low-income communities become evidence for a night of purging the hatred they’ve manifested for the system in which they reside. It begins discussions that were surprising to hear from a franchise that has attempted to be an original philosophically based horror movie, a straight up action movie, and a supposed commentary on the presidential election. The conversations encircling the ideas of low-income, minority-populated communities being the guinea pigs for the rest of America feels somewhat authentic with the amount of racial tensions and believed stereotypes in our current cultural climate, but it all feels like a fear-mongering technique attempting to show us the course of our nation's future.

For those of us who like to maintain a level-head and listen to our oppositions to manifest solutions instead of continuing this cycle of division, these moments will feel painfully obvious, like a hole in the wall is attempting to be hidden with duck tape. The inherent racial targeting of it all sounds believable, acting like an alt-right conservatives wet dream. With an intoxicated political system and the poisoned electorate, power has been given to those ideologies we once deemed as lunacy.  

The film does offer some more buyable socio-political commentary by painting its local neighborhood gang boss as someone who stands for the community but has done it in a way that fabricates far more trouble than he intended. Our main character, Nya (Lex Scott Davis), confronts this man, Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), in a scene that discusses how he hurts this community 364 days a year while this purge only affects one day a year. It’s a touching scene speaking on the dangers of choosing a gang lifestyle while displaying the hardships that can influence someone to make that decision.

It goes from that clever screenwriting to a dumb Purge movie on the flip of a coin when we learn that people are actively participating in this sociological and psychological study for a mere five thousand dollars. How bad is our country at this point? Are we in a great depression of sorts or recession? How far down have we gone where five grand is enough of an incentive to kill people?

From there, our movie goes from that rationally leveled mindset to a radical alt-right conservative mindset (not congressional republican, there is a difference between the two) that formulates the importance of the second amendment. It's as if the screenwriter, James DeMonaco, is screaming at you “this is why we need the amendment, to keep the government from killing black people.” It’s so unashamedly alt-right and NRA supportive that it's almost worth a tip of the cap for being so honest.

What’s confusing is how it goes from a level-headed, I’ll be it, left-leaning mindset, to something so ridiculous. The film does the same thing with that of its tone, and it's genre, something that is as indecisive as the screenplay is, going from straight up drama to thriller to horror to an action film. This movie seems to have no idea what it wants to be, flip-flopping with its political philosophies and with its genre, but when the film does allow it's action to take the spotlight, it becomes far more entertaining.v

Our John Wick 2.0 character is the gang leader Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), which is cool and a somewhat good character arc, but how did he become such a mercenary? Was he ever apart of the military? Was he self-trained? It was the one thing that continuously bothered me in this last twenty minutes of action; it was that annoying bit that stuck in my teeth.

However, the film before that was displaying haunting imagery of white extremist groups murdering off large groups of minority-populated neighborhoods. It’s quite disturbing to see something as extreme as this, and know that they are alt-right militia groups preparing for such a thing. Gerard McMurray directs these scenes with such vigor, something he maintains in the action sequences at the end of the film which are handled with intensity and unconventional camera techniques. Holding the camera close to the action, but never obscuring it from the viewer.

All of the performances are equal and satisfactory across the board, with no one standing out more than the other. Although, Mugga provided some laughs and gags that were far more entertaining than the horror intended scenery of these overnight sociopaths.

“The First Purge” corrects that past mistake of the franchise though, showing how people wouldn’t become monsters when giving the green light to become one, but it all remains so ridiculous with it's narrative surrounding something as preposterous as providing legal action to murder, primarily when it's used to satisfy a close-minded argument.

It’s a politically charged film, receiving a politically charged review from both me and most likely many others. It’s has a lot more going for it than the past three films, but it maintains that same clickbait mentality. Trying to make something controversial, so that you have to see it and give it some money. Never delivering something worth a feature-length runtime, feeling better suited for an overfunded Youtube video on someone’s political channel feed.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

   Director: Stefano Sollima  With: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, & Catherine Keener. (English, Spanish dialogue)  Release: Jun 29, 2018 R. 2 hr. 2 min.

Director: Stefano Sollima
With: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, & Catherine Keener. (English, Spanish dialogue) 
Release: Jun 29, 2018
R. 2 hr. 2 min.

 

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a film that in the midst of its story feels as if it's missing something. It’s almost incoherently speaking about something, but it is speaking about something. As unlike "Sicario” providing no message to its story, questioning whether our actions as a country should be equivalent to the evil we face, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" delivers a message. The first film provided a lens surrounding the subject, observing without choosing a side to argue for. 

It was that itch that I needed to be scratched for me to dub the first film as something exceptional. Sheridan chooses a side of the moral puzzle to fixate upon at the beginning of this film in a disturbing sequence. He then flips flops to another viewpoint halfway through and then chooses neither side near the end. It’s as if he’s just as conflicted as we are when watching this movie because our first film was carried by Emily Blunt, who was our moral compass. Allowing us to see this dirty world through idealistic eyes, this time around that morality is missing. 

This time around we're watching a sequence of events that begin with a visceral glimpse of a terrorist attack. Up close and personal, we observe four men walk into a retail store in Kansas City and unleash mayhem on innocent American lives. Playing up to this idea that their actions justify our violent retaliation with hellfire and fury and “the full weight of the United States military” as Matthew Modine states while depicting this film’s secretary of defense. 

From there we cut to our C.I.A operative turned boogeyman depicted by Josh Brolin, he’s grown out a beard (Brolin with a beard is money by the way), and he finds himself targeting Somalia crime lords who gave those terrorists access to ships to get across the sea to Mexico. He displays new rules of engagement, threatening to launch an airstrike on this man’s home if he does not give him the information needed, and he’s not bluffing. 

Soon after that, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought back to American soil to receive the orders of creating a war between cartels as he did with terrorist groups in the middle east. To assist in starting this war, Matt (Josh Brolin) brings back Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) into the fold, like the rabid dog that he’s going to let loose. To start this battle, they plan on kidnapping the daughter of a cartel leader, Isabella Reyes (Isabela Moner), who soon becomes a bit of a problem when the job goes awry. Manifesting a film that becomes your necessary action-centric thriller of the summer that serves up the violence with a level of brutality that matches the first film. 

The violence is not given the same moral complexity or the same visual treatment that the triple Oscar nominee recipient provided. That film had vital tools in its fabrication, devices that are noticeably missing this time around. Stefano Sollima (“Suburra”) attempts to offer that same attention to detail and realism that the first film contained, using authentic sound design and a mimicking score that tries to inject that same tension. 

He falls short on all fronts though because he’s attempting to replicate instead of creating. He uses 360-degree tracking shots that take place during shootouts, providing intimate glimpses of the violence from a perspective that is thrilling. He also maintains that grim tone, a tone that is exemplified during these interactions between these shady government officials and Matt (Josh Brolin). When he lives in his own skin, he delivers some remarkable sequences, a key lesson for those who try to replicate another artists' genius.

Dariusz Wolski (“All the Money in the World” & “Alien: Covenant”) replaces the legendary Roger Deakins and unashamedly attempts to imitate Deakins’ techniques. He uses those extended branching shots of the helicopters hovering over the border, and using his lighting to cast shadows in a way that matches Deakins’ style. He falls short as well, and with no shame added because Deakins is a rare genius that comes around once in a lifetime. 

Sheridan is that one common thread behind the film’s production. He wrote the first film which remained ambiguous with its meaning in a way that worked and didn’t work for that film. It was an itch that needed to be scratched as I said, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” scratches it. He flip-flops between moral decisions as I stated above. He chooses one side that suggests that stronger violence destroys weaker violence, then shows a sequence of events that refute that notion, as if to say there is no right answer. No matter what we choose to do, it's the wrong answer. Maybe that is his message, a message that he has to sacrifice footing for, as I don’t believe he supports that hard-right leaning way of thinking that takes place in the first half of the film. 

However, the film doesn’t bring the same amount of productional heft and artistry to be found in the first film; rarely having a flavor of its own, and it weighs the film down in a noticeable way because it feels as if your missing that critical piece to finish the puzzle being crafted by Sheridan. 

He doesn’t write nearly as cleverly as the first film either, which suggests that Villeneuve may have assisted in that fabrication of that moral examination. The violence was meant to be a measuring stick of how far we’re willing to go to solve an unsolvable problem, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” seems to use that violence almost gratuitously. Using it to make a point, yes, but one that doesn’t reveal itself until the end of the film. 

It can become as conflicting as the subject of cartel crime and immigration policies, but Sheridan is in full form in providing those masculine moments of gun porn and glorifying violence as a form of entertainment. Where we draw the line in that area is a complex dilemma in itself.

Nonetheless, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” feels more like a remake than a sequel. Never matching or attempting to make it's own voice be heard, Sheridan provides a screenplay that is just shy of being as complex as the first film but delivers a message this time around. A message that is manifested through questionable methods, but one that is delivered and resounding with that same hollowness and dourness of “Sicario.” 

If this film is anything, it’s a testament to the magnificence of Denis Villeneuve, Johan Johansson, and Roger Deakins, and just how irreplaceable they are. Brolin and Del Toro may provide some charisma and that macho man mentality that some audiences will crave, Isabela Moner is fantastic as well, but it all seems so unnecessary, a message falling upon deaf ears. 
 

Gotti (2018)

   Director: Kevin Connolly  With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston. Release: June 15, 2018 R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

Director: Kevin Connolly
With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston.
Release: June 15, 2018
R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

 

Critics versus audiences is a subplot kind of narrative that anyone on either side of the argument can become infatuated by, I am at fault for this as much as anyone else. It can become increasingly frustrating to see films that you find immensely powerful to go under the radar of most moviegoers as if they never actually happened. It can be just as difficult to see a movie that you and your friends love that critics trashed with their reviews, or to see a lack of genre films at the Oscars. 

It’s a type of sociological discourse that all of us can seek our teeth into and share some kind of resonation with either side, but it’s never meant to be something that proves one is better than the other. Kevin Connolly’s (“E” from “Entourage”) “Gotti” is a film that struggles to grasp that concept. It’s a film centering around the life of the notorious mobster John Gotti (John Travolta), focusing on his family life, his most infamous moments as a criminal, and his indirect leadership of his community. 

The screenplay, written by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City” & “Haywire”) and Leo Rossi (Budd from “Halloween II”), attempts to paint this picture of him being a people’s man brought down by a group of corrupt government officials. As if he’s someone like Billy the Kid or Robin Hood, but in fact, he’s a criminal using propaganda and a forceful hand to maintain face. He’s like a local dictator residing over his neighborhood’s who does occasional beneficiary things for the community as a part of PR. The film never treats him as a criminal, but rather an outlaw, a folk hero mobster. 

The film seems to be confusing murder with avenging, to be fair most films don’t play up murder as something worth denouncing. Instead, its served up as something spectacular and worth watching. Nonetheless, “Gotti” received a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes which has led to it's rising popularity for its strong negative response from critics. The screenplay I described above is, in part, at fault for that rating. It’s seemingly inconsequential with it's writing, meaning that none of its storytelling has any merit or emotion to its story. It’s a one hour and forty-five-minute sequence of cliche mobster moments, including poor joisy accents and the throwaway lines to make the film seem a lot cooler than it actually is. 

Not to mention, “Gotti” breaks a golden rule of screenwriting in establishing who is telling the story we’re watching or are we observing these events as they happen. “Gotti” begins with John (John Travolta) seemingly speaking to us from beyond the grave, the point of view transfers between him and his son, and it ends with a multitude of news clips from that time. It’s shocking to see such a simple rule broken by professional screenwriters, but they are not the only one at fault for the lousy critical reception of “Gotti.”

Connolly and his cinematographer, Michael Barnett, provide a grim and shadowy look to the film. The lighting struggles to paint anything with visual prominence as if Connolly is trying to shield his movie from us through the obscurity of its poor lighting. The camera doesn’t do anything remarkable either, remaining still and relying on its star to provide the oomph of charisma that the film desperately needs, and Travolta doesn’t shy away from the challenge. 

Though his accent drops in and out of his dialogue, Travolta does deliver more times than not throughout this film in good and bad ways. He provides those unintended laugh out loud moments that are so bad they’re funny, but he also delivers some of the films best moments, specifically a sequence of moments in which we watch this crime family deal with the loss of a child. It’s one of the few moments in the film that has some sense of passion residing in its scenery. 

Travolta’s effort and one good sequence of filmmaking is not enough to craft a good movie though, the sheer lack of focus given to a film that feels as if it was made through a blender of events than actual proper filmmaking tools makes “Gotti” something worth forgettin’ about. The rest of cast surrounding Travolta is either overdoing the whole mob thing or not doing it enough, refusing to embrace the ridiculousness of it all to provide something worth watching. Not to mention the on-the-nose soundtrack played during the most cliche of moments ranging from artists such as Duran Duran, James Brown, Dean Martin, The Escape Club,  and Pitbull. It's all just so ridiculous. 

This film should not be used as a prime example in this ongoing argument of critic versus viewer, “Gotti” is feeding off our desire to feed into that narrative, attempting to cloud its shortcomings by manifesting discourse to camouflage its lack of quality, like a criminal pretending to be a folk hero. It may not be a good movie, but at least it remains consistent with its story in that way.  

The Death of Superman (2018)

   Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu. With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara.  Release: July 24, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu.
With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara. 
Release: July 24, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

 

The DC animated universe doesn’t share the same glitz and glamour as it's live action counterpart, but it does maintain that darker edge. The films themselves have balanced that of levity with that of conflict, constantly waging a battle against the forces of evil, both internally and externally. It’s what makes these films kind of awesome to watch, not only as a comic book reader, but as someone who's become engulfed with frustration towards DC's recent outings, these animated tales don't just match their live-action older brothers, they surpass them. 

Following the story created by Dan Jurgens, Louise Simmons, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, and others, during the 1993 multi-issue series that was designed to increase comic sales and show readers that the character was not invincible. It revolved around the monster known as Doomsday, an incredibly powerful monster with regenerative abilities that allow him to come back from death, unable to be killed in the same previous manner. He’s strong, fast, and immensely terrifying due to his lack of cerebral conception. It’s like Superman, but without his morality, that’s why he poses such a threat to the man of steel. 

Comics-wise, it becomes incredibly noticeable that this monster provides a formidable contest for our hero, but not in a way that is overwhelming, at least not at first. When their battle begins, Doomsday hits Superman, and with no avail to that first attack, he then kicks him through Anderson’s home. Jake Castorena and Sam Liu’s “Death of Superman” is a version of that same story that carries the universe's past subplots along with its new one. The story also manifests a Doomsday that is far more overwhelming and destructive than the one from the comics. He merely overpowers and destroys the Justice League, powering through the shield of the Hal’s (Nathan Fillion) ring, and catching the Flash (Christopher Gorham) in mid-stride. 

Then a battle with Diana (Rosario Dawson) ensues, one of the highpoints of the action in the movie. It’s bloody and mimics to that tale of man versus beast, but it's a badass woman this time, one that puts up an admirable fight. Speaking of the action, the film never shies away from brutality, displaying it front and center for the world to see. There’s blood, broken bones, and graphical visuals that are sure to scar some of the younger audience members. 

The movie has more to it than just a battle between heroes and monsters, Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) is apart of that as a man hoping to fight against the alien God the world has dubbed a hero. He believes in representing humanity with a hero who shares their morality. That fascinating character arc remains intact for this film, and even more so, it becomes an ultimate weapon in creating an arc that shows the difference between our caped hero and the others in the Justice League. A man with every power, who chooses to save those who don’t share that immense power. He’s not forced, no tragic backstory that psychological fabricated him into a hero, he’s the one hero who is not only the most powerful, but chooses to save instead of destroying. He appoints himself, instead of being elected by others. 

It’s one of the many things that Peter Tomasi’s screenplay does far better than Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s story in “Batman V. Superman.” Exhuming the ideas of what makes this hero special, instead of displaying him as a god amongst mortals. He’s a god attempting to be mortal, not the other way around. 

The story can become tedious with that of its use of the heroes, in that of Batman or any of these heroes surviving the battle by the skin of their teeth. It’s incredibly convenient that something always pulls them out of the fire. The romance in the story between Lois (Rebecca Romijn) and Clark (Jerry O’Connell) is a bit of a detractor in the screenplay. Providing another glimpse into what makes this alien a hero, his fears of including more people in his life, placing them in danger. It’s something all heroes share, but choose to do anyway. The film could go without it though; it's not the icing on the cake that the directors were hoping for. 

The animation isn’t something to behold either, it’s very formalized and staying in accordance with the last few films. It’s very digitalized and slim, painting the character in a much smaller version than the Justice League show from the mid-2000’s would have you believe. 

I’m not surprised by the lack of press this film is getting, most animation that isn’t Pixar or Dreamworks tends to go under the radar. It’s not something to behold, or that rivals the live action universe of heroes, but it's something worth watching to see how much potential DC has as a live action franchise. They should be competitive in a dogfight with Marvel Studios, but they remain at the back of the pack, even trailing behind Fox. It starts with how they don’t seem to get the mentality of what makes these heroes incredible. It’s not the abilities or the fights; it’s the ideologies they possess that makes them far better than we could ever be. 

In Whedon and Snyder’s “Justice League,” Bruce describes Clark as someone more human than him. A better version of this emotional interaction takes place in Tom King’s latest run on the Caped Crusader, in which in issue #36 of DC Universe’s “Batman,” he and Selina discuss why he is not the hero that Clark is, while Clark and Lois do the opposite. 

Both of them exchange their reasons for not being as good as the other, Clark describing Bruce as a man without powers, but can overcome with his will and his wit. Bruce illustrates Clark as the last remnant of a genocide and one who chooses to be a hero, a choice that he didn’t have. This interaction is what makes these heroes unique, not the capes and powers, but the emotions behind them, a note that Warner Bros needs to take note of with their live action films. 

Sicario (2015)

   Director: Denis Villeneuve With: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, & Bernardo Saracino. (English, Spanish dialogue) Release: Oct 2, 2015 R. 2 hr. 1 min. 

Director: Denis Villeneuve
With: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, & Bernardo Saracino. (English, Spanish dialogue)
Release: Oct 2, 2015
R. 2 hr. 1 min. 

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Denis Villeneuve's “Sicario” opens with a title card that reads: “The word Sicario comes from the zealots of Jerusalem, killers who hunted the Romans who invaded their homeland. In Mexico, Sicario means hitman.” When we are introduced to a world beyond the already savage scenery found on U.S soil, we start to meet our “Sicario,” and his lawlessness and freedom granted by our government to commit cross both codes of conducts and moral boundaries. Something that the narrative treats itself in accordance with this character in which it crosses lines that may disturb audiences, and delivers a dreaded atmosphere where no light is shined through. Something that Villeneuve’s past films like “Enemy” and “Prisoners” analyze as well, testing an audience limits in absorbing an amount of bleakness that we as filmgoers are unaccustomed to. 

The film follows it's title card with this heavy score, one that repeats itself throughout the film. Johan Johansson composes this sound of grimness, matching the film’s tone, as it draws us closer to the screen. From there, we are placed inside of a swat truck, one that is about to force its way into a house by ramming through its wall at full speed. F.B.I units and local swat teams swarm the house. Searching throughout the house for suspects, Kate (Emily Blunt) barges into a room where a man with a shotgun is waiting for her. He shoots, she ducks, she fires, and he falls. It’s a quick transition of events in which we see a woman who knows this is part of the job, but a piece that you want to avoid as much as possible. 

Why was he protecting this room though? There’s nothing in there, until her partner, Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), notices something that resides within the wall, behind the hole created by Kate’s (Emily Blunt) attacker. They pull back this thin sheet of drywall to discover bodies wrapped in plastic bags. Their butchered, bloody, bound like the packaging of meat, and there’s more than thirty of them throughout the walls of the house. It’s a rough and merciless sequence of events that set a tone that is dour and dark and filled with moral ambiguity. 

That tone doesn’t kick into high gear until Kate’s (Emily Blunt) record and ability to scratch the surface of these cases draws the attention of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He’s an advisor of sorts, one that reeks of C.I.A and is mysterious in both his reasoning and his objectives. He likes what he hears from her, and brings her along a mission to find a drug trafficker in El Paso, but we learn that he’s actually in Juarez, Mexico. Introduced to an even more mysterious compadre named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), Kate (Emily Blunt) finds herself apart of a group of men that shoot first and ask for permission later. 

The scene that exemplifies this takes place shortly after their arrival to Juarez in which their objective is to retrieve this high-level drug trafficker from local authorities and transport him across the border for questioning in exchange for residence in prison on American soil. On their way back to the border they run into a little mishap in which a broken down car blocks their escape route. Stuck in traffic, the tension builds as cars begin to pull past the convoy slowly. Each person becoming a possible attacker, a possible cartel member, a potential killer. The scene builds to a crescendo that Deakins produces with vigor as the camera resides in the car, pointing out at the cronies, circling like jackals. Joe Walker’s editing assists in assembling this masterpiece of tension that eventually climax’s with gunfire and bloodshed, bloodshed that horrifies Kate (Emily Blunt), and tells her that these guys are playing by different rules. 

It’s the best sequence in the movie because it introduces a multitude of storylines, as well as informs us of the tone being set. All of this occurs while a memorable shootout takes place, which is where the film begins to stumble. Denis Villeneuve, Roger Deakins, and Johan Johansson bring an immersive level of production that Sheridan’s screenplay struggles to meet. 

The story itself is not flawed, per say, nor is it nonsensical. It all makes sense and has answers to our questions, but it is admittedly basic. It’s a story you’d expect in a mild to solid quality film that doesn’t match the technical mastery that we see with “Sicario.” It’s not the basicness that gives me that annoying itch that keeps me from dubbing this film as something great, it’s the lack of purpose to the story. 

What is the end game? What is the message? Why are we viewing these events? These are inquiries that Sheridan doesn’t provide solutions too. It’s a long, enveloped view on morality, but what are we supposed to take away from that examination. How does this affect our views on immigration, drug crime, and the politics surrounding the drug war itself? Sheridan never takes a stance; he refuses to do so. 

The frustrating aspect is that he lays down the breadcrumbs to follow that could lead to a big message like that of Kate (Emily Blunt) confronting her superiors and demanding a semblance of procedure, in which her higher up breaks down how far up the chain these orders stem from, as far as the Oval office. He then states: “if your fear is operating out of bounds, I am telling you, you are not. The boundary's been moved.”

From here you’d expect more focus on how far we are willing to move that boundary as a society, but we, instead, rely back on a story that turns into a revenge thriller that is brought to life by a remarkable team of filmmakers. Deakins, as I said, lenses the film with vigor and provides a shot that tells a better story than Sheridan can. It’s a wide shot with the sunset residing in the foreground and the silhouettes of these domestic soldiers walking down into the darkness that awaits them. It’s visual storytelling foretelling how these men are walking into a darkness where the light no longer meets, a final threshold for our protagonist to confront. 

Emily Blunt brings that protagonist to life, but she is more of an observer than a hero. We go where she goes, and she is the shield of morality that doesn’t conflict with the world she’s brought into but attempts to learn from it. Realizing that her by the book mentality barely allows her to scratch the surface of this world. She’s not shaking trees, forcing the fruit to fall out, she’s merely mowing the yard at the neighboring house. 

Kaluuya and Brolin are exceptional in their roles as well, delivering an amount of seriousness to the film that maintains the tone. Kaluuya depicts Kate’s (Emily Blunt) partner who is a former lawyer and believes in the law but knows that we can’t cut off the head of a snake if we’re given a spork. Brolin is that mysterious government agent who crosses every threshold possible with one goal in mind. He’s far more comfortable around men in uniform than those everyday people; he lives in a world that he’s been dragged into, fighting a war he believes in waging.  

Benicio Del Toro is the “Sicario” of the story; he’s the man who belongs to a Colombian cartel. He works for whoever he can to find his vengeance for the men that beheaded his wife and threw his daughter in a bin of acid. He’s the hitman for hire that keeps the government's hand clean by a technicality, allowing him to do all the dirty work for them to clean up later on. Kate (Emily Blunt) opposes him at one point in which he responds “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end, you will understand.”

In the end though, I don’t understand. Sheridan is making the complex problem of immigration feel even more complicated, not answering or providing an opinion. He, like most of us, is stunned by the callousness shown by these “gangs," though they seem more like terrorist organizations.  How can we combat such a problem? How do we begin to separate those innocent of the crime from the ones that are not? Our current president has chosen a path that most of us have revolted against, but we have to acknowledge the complexity of the problem, and the inherent dangers within it. I, unlike Sheridan, will attempt to take a stance, sadly, I don’t have artists like Villeneuve and Deakins to back me up. 
 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

   Director: J.A. Bayona  With: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Kamil Lemieszewski, Justice Smith, & Peter Jason.  Release: Jun 22, 2018 PG-13. 2 hr. 8 min.

Director: J.A. Bayona
With: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Kamil Lemieszewski, Justice Smith, & Peter Jason. 
Release: Jun 22, 2018
PG-13. 2 hr. 8 min.

 

Monster movies are apart of the many subgenres of blockbuster moviemaking that seems to have been aborted by Hollywood. They used to be the surprisingly thrillingly and seemingly unageable stop-motion creature features of the 1930’s, films like that of Cooper and Schoedsack’s “King Kong” and Harry O. Hoyt’s “The Lost World.” They were crafted in good nature of manifesting something different and unseen, just like what Spielberg and Scott did in the latter half of 20th-century filmmaking. The stories either served the purpose of smart representation through genre storytelling, or they were so original that the flaws found in their narrative were camouflaged by the spectacle of watching a dinosaur come to life. 

Now, in 2018, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the newest addition to the dying genre of monster movies that have been purged for the inherent commercial potential. Joining 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” in which the film circulates around the actions of ignorantly designed characters and subplots that are purposefully designed to carry us to the next movie. It’s financial prosperity driven story, which hasn’t worked in the 120 plus years of filmmaking’s history, and J.A. Bayona’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a prime example of this second-rate notion. 

The story, written by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow (director of the previous “Jurassic World), is absurdly designed. It’s a story that picks up a few months removed from the horrific events of “Jurassic World.” The company behind the park has been sued for damages and medical expenses, while someone with a butt load of money has sent a team of DNA retrieving pirates to grab some sample from the Indominus Rex. They discover the boned remains of that hybrid genetic monster, which makes no sense. Didn’t she get eaten by the Mosasaurus? Why would there be bones left? 

Nonetheless, they retrieve a bone from the dead monster, and things go wrongs, because of course they go wrong, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex attacks the man attempting to close the bay doors that keeps the Mosasaurus locked in its giant pool. Running for his life, he fails to close those doors, releasing that giant monster into the open sea, and from there we pick up in a court hearing where Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is offering his sentiment on an animal rights issue that has been sparked from the events of the first film, as a dormant volcano has become active on the island, placing all of these de-extinct animals in danger of going extinct once again. Do they deserve to be saved? Should they be treated with the same rights as domestic animals?  

Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) sees it as nature correcting the course that we screwed up. Stating how we, as humans, never seem to be ever to use the discoveries we make in a way that doesn’t create war, starvation, or force nature to create a course correction for our mistakes. It’s the only part of the screenplay that attempts to introduce themes that speak to a larger crowd than the one in my theater, asking questions that we can’t answer. Do we deserve access to genetic engineering? What is our role as the superior species on this planet? Shouldn’t we make the earth better with the innovations we’ve made? 

That wittiness dissipates, and we’re reconnected with Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose apart of the animal protection campaign. She talks to senators and is attempting to help pass an act that is giving these dinosaurs sanctuary, but it all works to no avail. Congress sees these cataclysmic events as a natural course correction, as they should. MSNBC reports this with a fantastic with an amusing quote on the ticker that offers a jab at President Trump stating “President questions if dinosaurs ever existed.” 

An adept snippet that should’ve been more a part of the actual narrative, but we watch Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) being offered to take part in a private rescue mission to move these dinosaurs to a different island, a mission funded by the Lockwood estate, one of the co-founders of the first park. She accepts, of course, and we watch her get the band back together, reaching out to Owen (Chris Pratt) whose building his cabin in the woods. The two split apart between these two movies, and find themselves reconnecting on their mission back to the island. We also get two new members to the crew with the techy and annoyingly panicky guy in Franklin (Justice Smith) and a feisty dino-medic named Zia (Daniella Pineda). 

They join together with a small militia led by Ted Levine who depicts the stereotypical greed filled mercenary who inevitably turns on our heroes when the volcano erupts, and the heroes are left to fend for themselves. Running from CGI rendered dangers as they barely survive in very illogical ways such as Chris Pratt surviving volcanic ash without a scratch to be found. Banding together to save these dinosaurs from the money leaching hands of a wealthy family divided between making more money and correcting mistakes of the past, our heroes are faced with the same stupidity of Trevorrow’s film in which these dinosaurs are placed into an auction for black market buyers to use for military purposes. 

Our auctioneer played by the incomparable Toby Jones, states how we’ve been weaponizing animals for century’s, didn’t we stop doing that for a reason though? Like the invention of cars, helicopters, tanks, and other advancements that helped in making travel far more comfortable for us, but let's use dinosaurs to ride into battle once again. With the help of the enigmatic granddaughter of the old man depicted with a shockingly remarkable performance from Isabella Sermon, our heroes band together to stop these events as Owen (Chris Pratt) transforms into our Indiana Jones-like hero who swashbuckles his way through armed guards. 

Ted Levine returns after all this goes down asking for his bonus, he finds himself face to face with the new genetic hybrid created by these people. The Indoraptor which has been engineered to follow the commands of a specific noise, a noise that seemingly gets forgot when this monster inevitably gets out in a dumbly written sequence in which this mercenary is attempting to collect the tooth of this creature to help fashion his dino-tooth necklace. 

From there, J.A. Bayona attempts to flex his Ridley Scott-like muscles by transitioning this film from a rescue mission gone awry to an unimaginative and tensionless cat and mouse game between this genetically designed creature and our heroes. It’s an Alien homage that fails, not because of Bayona and his cinematographer’s, Oscar Faura, strong stylistic efforts to make this film look far prettier than it deserves to be. It doesn’t work because the story has moved devastated slowly and in all this time has been unable to manifest any resonance for these characters or any more significant themes that the story adds up to. The fun to be had stems from an entire visual point of view in which Bayona provides some awesome T-Rex killing moments and some exquisitely crafted portraits of a film that doesn't use that beautiful imagery to its benefit. 

The visual effects team and production team deserve just as much praise as Bayona and his cinematographer, but Trevorrow and Connolly drop the ball entirely. Carrying a film with a moment to moment mentality that adds up to a film acting more as the intermission between the first film and the forthcoming third film that is slated for 2021, a finale film that seems to be setting up the idea of how will we cohabitate with these creatures? How will Pratt and Blue reconnect? What will happen with the genetic codes that have been sold off to terrorist groups and militia groups? All of those questions will be answered in three years, the questions answered in this film are lacking. There’s a lack of energy, a lack of spunk, and a desire for something more charismatic, despite having a star like Chris Pratt and a plot surrounding dinosaurs. 

It’s a film that knows your not going to enjoy it and knows that you’ll pay to see it anyway. It feeds off the bones of those great monster features I named above and replicates them to make another buck. It's what I described it as in that of money driven story; it’s an intermission snooze fest that has a visually satisfying touch from a cinematographer and a director that exhumes as much entertainment from his stars as he can. 

There are emotional snippets to be found like that of Brachiosaurus roaring it's final breath as our heroes helplessly watch from afar, a scene that stands out far more than anything in the second half of the film. I think that’s a clue as to what makes these monster features so good; it’s not spectacle, it’s emotion. Take note of this Trevorrow.   
 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

   Director: Brad Bird  With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick.  Release: Jun 15, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick. 
Release: Jun 15, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

Pixar has always been about originality, minus the “Cars” franchise, but sequels have become a dime a dozen with 2016’s “Finding Dory” and the impending “Toy Story 4.” Now, fourteen years removed from the first film, Pixar has brought back the team of supers, but they don’t feel fourteen years older. We leave right where we left off with that same jazzy score and the sixties stylized heroes that speak with a societally focused message that is loud and received with ease. 

Written by Bird once again, it picks up where the first film left off, as I stated, with the underminer merging from the undergrounds of the city to launch an attack on the bank. These heroes jump into action though, not fearing the repercussions of breaking the law for enacting themselves into the scene. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) run in head first, leaving Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) to be watched by both Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell). The two kids fight over babysitter duty while the adults attempt to stop the crazed mole of a man. He inevitably gets away though, and the mining vehicle turns into a vehicular weapon designated on destruction. 

But our heroes save the day, only to be held at gunpoint as their escorted to the police station and warned to stay out of the light. Their governmental ally, Krushauer (Phil LaMarr), attempts to do what he can before he retires, but politicians don't understand those who desire to do good. They just needed an excuse to keep these heroes dead for good it seems. Given two weeks stay at a local motel, these heroes have a brash spurt of dialogue about subjects such as governmental treatment, fair laws, and the societal effects of legislation. 

It’s all done without a beat missed though, an exceptional feat to consider from a kids movies about superheroes. Not to mention the spellbinding attention to detail from the visual team of Pixar, from the wrinkles in Bob’s (Craig T. Nelson) robe to the use of shadows and lighting to the strands of hair to be found in Elastigirl’s (Holly Hunter) hair. Pixar is always top notch with its animation, and this is just another feather to add in their cap. 

The heroes find themselves at rock bottom with Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) discussing who should take the brunt of the load this time around, seeing as Bob (Craig T. Nelson) worked at a miserable Insurance firm for twenty years. To their surprise, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) was approached by someone after the heroic events of the day, someone with a lot of money and an extreme passion for superheroes. 

Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is that man; he comes from a background that formulates him like that of a renaissance man. Aimed at bringing back the bright and bold past of heroism, Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), are two kids who took their father’s business and personal ideals to manifest a fantastic opportunity for heroes to return to saving the day. He doesn’t choose the big and robust Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to lead the way though, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is their elected leader since her calamity costs seem to be the lowest. This comes to the surprise of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), attempting to cope with someone being chosen over him, and being happy for his wife at the same time. He’s internally conflicted in that way, but he decides to be brave and become the stay at home father while mom brings home the bacon. 

This is something that Brad Bird’s screenplay exemplifies with flying colors. He examines this constant fret of manhood under attack from women being the ones responsible for making money, something that has been examined before, but continuously seems to be abnormal for our society. It’s rare to see women in the front, especially when their husband casts a long shadow that they’ve been buried underneath continuously. Bird recognized that ideal in the first film, making Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the calm and far more achievable hero of the pair, he carries that notion to new heights with the sequel. He takes her character to the point of legitimacy that examines that internal conflict that men seem to face, in which they seem to confuse the idea of leadership with an occupation. 

It takes Bob (Craig T. Nelson) a while before he makes this distinction, as well as the importance of it. He seemingly forgot how great it is to be a dad, and he faces far more extreme hardships than most fathers when he learns Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) has not one, but seventeen powers, and counting. He’s a character that seems to be more powerful than anyone and everyone as if he’s the Matt Malroy of the “Incredibles” universe. Luckily Edna Mole (Brad Bird) assists in fabricating something to make babysitting this omega level mutant-like child a bit smoother. 

This fatherhood challenge leads to some of the film’s most enchanting moments, like a conversation between Violett (Sarah Vowell) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson) in which he apologizes for his actions involving the boy she’s crushing on and admits how he wants to be a good father. With the look of a man that feels as if he’s failed at that role, his daughter reminds him of the love she has for him. It’s a heartwarming moment that evoked the most emotion from myself and the audience around me during my screening this morning. 

The emotion isn’t the only benefit of the screenplay; there is also some fantastic action and superhero fun to be had. With a villain known as Screenslaver, who hacks into anyone’s screen and hypnotizes them with a white and black circulating loop. Forcing people to forget how to fly helicopters and taking over broadcasters to get across his message, it's all so predictable though. From the get-go, you can spot out the villain behind the mask; it’s almost worth spoiling for just how obvious it seems to be. 

The narrative doesn’t rely on that action-packed story as much as it does it's emotional investigation of fatherhood though, the visuality of it all doesn’t hurt either, maintaining that sixtyish, bond-like, and Kirby comic book style that the original film excelled with. Bird designs the film to look so bracingly out of a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book, as well as a Sean Connery style Bond film, but there's no womanizing to be had. The film treats all of its characters with a sheer amount of integrity and authenticity, not only with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) but Violet (Sarah Vowell) and newcomers like Voyd (Sophia Bush) as well. 

Bird doesn’t treat the men wrongfully either; they stand in the spotlight just as much as the ladies. Working together to save the day, which is something that the “Incredibles” franchise continues to excel at. Displaying unity, bravery, and societal relevance at a cinematic rigorousness that deserves a trilogy or a tv show or whatever Pixar wants to do with it. 

I do have one recommendation though, keep Brad Bird at the helm of their story. He patiently waited to return to his toy box, a toy box he made famous 14 years ago. These are his toys though, allow him to choose who gets to play with them next. 

TAG (2018)

   Director: Jeff Tomsic  With: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, LilRel Howery, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, & Hannibal Buress. Release: Jun 15, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min.

Director: Jeff Tomsic
With: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, LilRel Howery, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, & Hannibal Buress.
Release: Jun 15, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min.

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Comedies are meant to be not only funny, but some of the best of these films have a heart to them. There like the little movies that could, they challenge these big boy films with witty humor and a little emotion to create that sense of resonance. Jeff Tomsic’s “Tag” exemplifies this notion, almost perfectly. The film follows a simple narrative, a group of adult men, who have been friends since childhood, gather around during May to play a game of “Tag.” It’s silly, but its core message isn’t something that is worth laughing at. 

Walking the line between embracing your childhood and moving on from it, “Tag” has a message that we all feel, but don’t get to wrap our head around completely. It gets lost in the transitions of this twisting narrative that takes competitivity to an outrageous extreme, especially when it comes to the one who remains tagless, Jerry (Jeremy Renner). He’s a guy who grew up to become someone of exceptional talent when it comes to this game, almost making it seem that he should have been involved with the military or something. Nonetheless, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is one of the best parts of the film, both filmatically and narratively. 

His sequences of action in which the group attempts to conquer the impossible are narrated by himself. Providing a Sherlock Holmes-like design in which he predicts every moment for the audience. Breaking down his friend's movements and the psychological weaknesses that he exploits to his benefits. Narratively speaking, the character provides an amount of heart to the film for what he stands for as if he’s the last stitch of childhood. 

One that has played the game so well, and so competitively, that he finds himself symbolizing the one who has been absent the most from these men’s lives. Helms’ character discusses this when he talks about how the game is a way for them to stay apart of each other’s lives. Keeping them together, except for the man who seems to be untaggable. 

It becomes a game worth watching though, with some extreme sequences that lack believability entirely, which is where some film viewers will draw the line. I couldn't help but find this over the top essence of it all so humorously delighting though, it becomes both action-packed, while continuously being funny. Not only with discovering just how good Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is at this game but the little banter that seems filled with hopelessness and reliant optimism from his friends. Each of them has their successes in life, like Bob (Jon Hamm) whose CEO of a fortune 500 company.

At the beginning of the film, he’s being interviewed by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. In the midst of this conversation about the integrity of his company, Hoagie (Ed Helms), whose disguised himself as a janitor by getting hired by the Bob’s (Jon Hamm) company, interrupts their discussion by obnoxiously cleaning the office. Loudly banging trash cans and erupting with noise, till finally Bob (Jon Hamm) politely asks him to leave, only to learn that his friend is “it.” The game begins from there on, and our journalist acts as our expositional vacuum in which we are fed the backstory through her. The secrets, the stories behind specific character interactions, and the constant feed of information from the shared childhoods of these men. 

It’s a wild story that is based on one from reality, broken down in an article by the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The exposition is on the nose, and the film takes it sequences to an illogical extreme, but that's what comedy is right? It’s making something relatively mundane feel extreme in a way that is clever and authentic, which is where “Tag” strides. The authenticity of a group of lifelong friends interacting with one another in a way that is believable. The performances assist in this no doubt, but Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen’s screenplay manifests that naturalistic dialogue. It's not on par with something of a James Ivory, but it has a sense of earnestly that reminds me of his style. 

I wish I could discuss the style of the director, but comedies seem to be lacking in that department continuously. Few continuously stand out with their visual treatments or cinematic language, but every genre has inherent burdens to bear, I guess comedies is dull cinematography. If it wasn’t for the brash screenplay and unapologetic ridiculousness of it all, “Tag” may not have been at the receiving end of high praise from myself, but it all works. It’s funny, bold, and unexpectedly brilliant at times, it's a good comedy movie, something that seems to be in short supply these days. 
 

The Incredibles (2004)

   Director: Brad Bird With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell. Release: November 5, 2004 PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee
Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell.
Release: November 5, 2004
PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

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Pixar is a studio that always seems to do no wrong, and they always seem to remain ahead of the curve. Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” is a prime example of that, a film that exemplifies a level of maturity and sincerity while exhuming the entertainment and sheer fun that a family of superheroes inherently possesses. So the film does no wrong, but it also showcases Pixar’s ability to stays ahead of the curve in that many think the sequel that will hit theaters in a matter of days is a movie that feeds of the recent sweeping movements of female prosperity in both film and society. 

That is not the case, Brad Bird’s screenplay is one that follows superheroes in the traditional 1950’s mold that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made famous during the golden age of comics. These are heroes seemingly existing in the same time frame as the civil rights movements, and a time period that presets the women and peace movements of the 1970’s. It’s a film that parodies the age of heroism and patriotism coexisting with one another while supporting that notion in the most progressive of mannerisms. 

It focuses on one man, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). He’s the prime example of that kind of superhero; he’s brave, super strong, and dashingly handsome. The film opens with him, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) being interviewed on what it's like to be a superhero, being asked questions like: "do you reveal your secret identity to other heroes, or do you keep it secret?"  That kind of questioning that is meant to be more fun than anything else, as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) delivers the most charismatic interview of the rest, because he’s that guy, until one day he’s not. 

After he rescues a man attempting to commit suicide by catching him mid-air and spearing him through a building window, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself on the end of a hefty lawsuit. One that blames him for saving someone that didn’t want to be saved, whose rescuing attempt led to this man being broken physically. This act inspired many others to go after superheroes, blaming them for unlawful rescuing and inadvertent damages, costing the government millions, and sending every hero into the superhero relocation program. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), now going around as Bob, finds himself living in the suburbs, working at an insurance agency. He married fellow superhero Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) and had two superpowered children and a newborn: Dashiell (Spencer Fox) who can run fast, and Violet (Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and manifest force fields, and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) whose superpowers haven't revealed themselves just yet. They attempt to blend in with everyday citizens by going to school, showing up to work every day, and continually keeping their powers hidden away from the public.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is someone who feels the weight of that burden, emotionally. He’s a metaphorical representation of the dad who’s lost himself to boredom and unfulfillment; he misses the glory days of heroism. He does what he can here and there, teaching his clients the in’s and outs of insurance policies, providing them with every loophole possible. 

That’s not enough though, he and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) go out on Wednesday nights and listen to the police scanner to find somewhere to intervene, to relive the glory days and do some low-profile superhero work. Placing a lot of hardships on his wife, who stays at home and takes care of the kids. She’s continuously burdened with the responsibility of cleaning, cooking, and parenting more often than her husband. Everything seems to be a struggle to fit in until Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is brought back into the life by a woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), who gives him a mission to stop a massive, self-thinking, and an impenetrable robot named Omnidroid 7. 

After this successful venture, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself with a gig that pays lots of money, forces him back into shape, and towards the life he once knew. All of this is unbeknownst to his wife though; she’s kept in the dark, fearing that her husband is having an affair. Bird’s screenplay sets up that family dynamic brilliantly, in which Violet (Sarah Vowell) is a girl struggling to be a superhero going through puberty. She wants to be normal, but how can you be ordinary when you can make your head disappear? Dash (Spencer Fox) wants to play sports but knows he could beat everyone without even trying, but he doesn’t care, he just wants to be apart of something.  

Which seems to be the core theme of these children’s admirations, they want to be apart of something. Someone who wanted that same thing as a kid was Syndrome (Jason Lee) who, as a boy, would follow around Mr.Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) attempting to become his sidekick, dubbing himself with the name “Incrediboy.” He just wanted to be apart of the club of heroes, but he wasn’t gifted with superpowers, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) wanted nothing to do with him because he works alone. All of this comes to ahead when Helen (Holly Hunter) learns everything that has taken place, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself tricked by this child turned supervillain. 

His past is no longer something he looks on with benevolence, but now with great regret, because he inadvertently fabricated a villain who has spent his life creating weapons and killing off every superhero. His plan? To bring superheroes back to their glory by fooling everyone into thinking he is one of them. He plans on accomplishing this by fighting off a robot that he constructed himself, and with no superheroes left to stop him, he’ll teach everyone that you don’t have to be super to be a hero. Everyone can be a superhero after that, making superheroes unnecessary. It’s a plan that you understand and get behind, and one that argues the core message of Bird’s screenplay. 

Exteriorly, “The Incredibles” is a satire of superhero comics. Underneath that, Bird is critiquing the reality of American uniformity, which back in 2004, was as prevalent as ever. He’s arguing against that notion that we’re all equally special, which as Dash says at one point “that just another way of saying no one is.” It’s arguing against a society that “celebrates mediocrity” as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) states. It’s not that no one’s unique, but some of us are more special than others, which shouldn’t spark a negative feeling, it should inspire us to try harder. 

Visually, he borrows much more from the Bond films of the sixties and the comic book panels of the fifties. There are secret entrances, giant robots, and flying jets that look like something out of a detective comics book panel. Everything has that touch of a time we’ve all seen before, and one that echoes with the vibrancy and energy of that time, a time where life was always on the brink of change it seems. The red matching suits are also something fun to watch as well and look a little tight to fit in to.  

They seem to be latex fabricated tights, created by their very own fashion designer, Edna Mode who’s voiced by Brad Bird himself. She lectures Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on why capes lead to accidents far more often than acts of heroism, and she hilariously inspires Helen (Holly Hunter) to find her husband later on in the movie. 

She’s that one essential character to make a Pixar movie feel right, like a Marvel movie with its levity. Alongside the talented ensemble, Bird brings these animated figures to life, whose animated texture has not aged near as badly as I would’ve thought. 

In the end, Helen (Holly Hunter) has to come to save her husband, even doing the whole hero thing better than he did, which wasn’t something done on accident I think. 

She was purposefully designed to say that women can do whatever the man can do, even saying at the beginning of the film when she’s asked if she’d ever considered settling down she responds: “Settle down, are you kidding? I'm at the top of my game! I'm right up there with the big dogs! Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don't think so.” So, her saving the world alone, while the super strong man stays at home should be nothing surprising. She’s been wearing the pants in this family since the beginning. 

It shouldn’t be surprising to see a Pixar movie that does that, with films like “COCO,” “Inside Out,” and “Up” residing on their resume, it should come to no surprise that Pixar created a film that underlies societal relevance and forward thinking with the entertaining spectacle of superheroes, which was kind of ahead of the curve as well. It begs the question, did Pixar foresee the superhero golden age that we reside in today? If so, what will Pixar do next? How do they stay so far ahead of everyone else?
 

Upgrade (2018)

   Director: Leigh Whannell  With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell.  Release: Jun 1, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Leigh Whannell
With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell. 
Release: Jun 1, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

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Indie filmmakers have a particular talent for extending a clever logline to its absolute limit. Leigh Whannell shares that same talent; he takes a familiar and almost bad-shit crazy idea like that of a man being given a chance at revenge by being given a small computer chip implant called STEM (Simon Maiden) to its absolute limit, and then he strides past that barrier. A technological innovation that allows this violently made quadriplegic and technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) to gain access to his limbs once again, STEM (Simon Maiden) does that for him, as well as becoming a new friend that only he can hear. One that speaks into the drums of his ears and provides a vaster sense of knowledge and ability to himself, but also an inherent danger. 

It’s a “Blade Runner” meets “RoboCop” kind of tale, a man turning to technology to return to life but also to hunt down the men that took that life away from him as well. It takes place in a world that feels apart of that noirish world of “Blade Runner,” almost feeling mimicked even. The grungy technologically advanced future that feels far more disconnected, despite the lack of available connectivity, which is not a nuance theme by any means. Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a technophobe with a wife who works for a tech company. He’s a grease monkey that fixes manually driven cars, while she rides in a car that drives itself home. 

After dropping off one of his renovated projects to a wealthy technological innovator, Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who introduces him to his newest prototype known as STEM (Simon Maiden), this self-driving car goes haywire. Driving off the road and an accelerated speed before crashing and flipping upside down. The droned recording devices for the Police arrive promptly to watch a group of men come and kill Grey’s (Logan Marshall-Green) wife and paralyze him completely. These droned footage finders are unable to assist in finding these murders though, seeing as they removed some kind of chip that allows them to remain escapable from the reach of the law because criminals always find a way, don’t they?

Drenched in grief and unable to overcome his lack of physical ability, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself unable to desire to live. Being offered a reset on his life by Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), he states “I’m not looking for the reset button kid, I’m looking for the off switch.” He gives in though, reminiscing on the idea of what his wife would want for him. The procedure goes all-too-well, and he soon finds himself with a technological “Upgrade” that pushes him towards vengeance in a sequence made famous by the trailer in which he gives STEM (Simon Maiden) permission to take over his bodily functions. Making for some exceptional acting from Logan Marshall-Green in which he delivers facial expressions of surprise and third-person perspectives because his body is now a separate entity from his mind. 

It makes for Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde kind of character, but a character that was never brought to light enough to evoke resonance from me. He hates technology and something terrible happened to him is about all we learn about the man controlled by a machine, but the action and surprisingly hefty themes attached to his character’s journey provide that extra boost that the film needed which harkens back to an indie filmmaker stretching an idea as far as possible. 

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (“Saw” & “Insidious”), “Upgrade” is an expected action flick with no heart and no ambition, but becomes an action film hidden inside of a sci-fi drama discussing the dangers of technology and our desire for self-happiness over human prosperity. Whannell stretches this story way farther than expected, writing something that continuously maintains a constant state of investment in this world, despite his characters never making me fret for their well being. 

There is some insane ingenuity that makes for sheer cinematic momentum like that of a gun for an arm or sneezing razor-wired germs. This is a world that weaponizes the limitless potentials of technology, and one that remains to feel both original and reprinted from fellow sci-fi masters. It’s not just the world-building, or the ingenuitive writing that becomes too big for its own good, Leigh Whannell also visualizes this story exceptionally. 

The camera movement is especially interesting because it's both frustratingly cutting while maintaining childlike excitement. The camera snips and snaps in some fight scenes, but in others, it moves with our hero, like that of something out of a video game or a comic book. It pushes the limits of camera maneuverability while allowing the flaws of the quick cutting of the action genre to remain prevalent. It’s as if Leigh Whannell got lazy on some days, and was caffeine filled excited on others. 

Someone that remains consistent is Logan Marshall-Green, who is the only actor worth mentioning because everyone else plays the stereotypical bad guy or necessary girlfriend. He provides a performance that gives his character far more emotion that it deserves, he delivers one of his best performances yet, but his character noticeably limits his reach at times. 

Unlike that character though, Leigh Whannell surpasses the limits of this fun-filled logline of a screenplay. He goes further and more profound than expected, but that third act finale is a bit too much. He slams on the gas pedal towards something ambiguous and thought-provoking when he should have steadily applied pressure towards the finish line. 

He’s expanding “Upgrade” past my expectations, and he helms it remarkably, but like every other compliment I can give him, there is a fair critique to be stated. Constantly pushing the film too far, and not far enough. He extends it to the point that is sheerly remarkable that it all makes sense that we went from a man on a path of vengeance to a philosophical glimpse on our desire for happiness. Our mind has limits, and this film does too, I just hope Leigh Whannell didn’t pull anything while stretching “Upgrade” to it’s stumping finale.  
 

Zombieland (2009)

   Director: Ruben Fleischer With: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, & Bill Murray.  Release: Oct 2, 2009 R. 1 hr. 28 min.     

Director: Ruben Fleischer
With: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, & Bill Murray. 
Release: Oct 2, 2009
R. 1 hr. 28 min. 

 

 

Zombies are apart of a subgenre of horror that can be entirely predictable. The human focus, the virus spreading, the massive amounts of weaponry, and the overabundance of gore are all common expectations within any film that becomes apart of this flesh-eating genre. Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” is no different, but like Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland” doesn’t exactly fit into the niche of the genre like you would expect. Instead, the film grasps the core essence of the genre and adds a humorous amount of normality with a young man being our narrator, as if this zombie-filled world is now something of comfort and expectation. With zombie kill of the week awards, rule lists, and makeup covered celebrities, everyone seems to have embraced this world that has been overtaken by the undead. 

Its an unusual perspective on the narrative of zombies right? Add in the facet of a narrator like Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg), a germaphobe, anxiety polluted, and little spit f*$k of a man. He’s the one who fills us in on how the world has gone to shit; the mad cow turned mad person disease that causes you to have a high fever, induced vomiting, and an extreme case of the munchies. He gives us advice on how to survive as well with a long list of rules, but four core guidelines give you the best chance of survival. 

Cardio, because the fat people were the first people to go when the world became a run for survival. Always double tap your attacker, because you don’t want to be that person who assumes you re-killed the undead flesh eater, only to learn that they’re now feasting on your corpse. Beware of bathrooms; zombies are not completely stupid; they know when your most vulnerable like in a bathroom with your pants down. And finally, always wear a seatbelt. You have enough things trying to kill you, so don’t be dumb and die because you got flung out of a car when attempting to escape from a group of cannibals. 

These are the four rules that Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg)  tells us to live by, but the list doesn’t stop there. It also includes guidelines such as limbering up, traveling light, and most importantly, don’t be a hero. These rules are challenged when Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg) runs into the ass-kicker known as Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). (By the way, none of these names are real but are actually their destinations, because you can’t trust anyone anymore, so their names remain hidden) He’s a man that lost the only thing that kept him sane and now spends his life enjoying the little things and finding happiness by killing as much of these flesh-eating assholes as he can. He’s a gun loving, banjo playing, and hedge clipping killing machine that not only inspires Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) but teaches him along the way. 

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has some lessons to teach Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) as well though, meeting Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Two girls who even before “Zombieland,” have spent their time bamboozling guys with their looks and with emotions. Tricking both Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the man desperate for companionship, and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the man desperate for a family, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) play these guys with ease, and take all of their weapons as well as Tallahassee’s (Woody Harrelson) Cadillac. From there, our story gets jolted into this exciting, slick, and fun-filled ride. 

That’s not to say that genius screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick don’t include the expected emotional struggles that would arrive with a world filled with zombies. Each character has their struggles, like Wichita (Emma Stone) just trying to allow her little sister to feel like a kid again, or Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) just wanting to be that nice guy turned hero for one lucky girl. There is plenty of emotion included in the screenplay, but never enough that it overshadows our witty comedy, which is the genius of Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick’s work in “Zombieland.” 

Ruben Fleischer provides a lense to the story, which is not his shining point as the director of “Zombieland.” The way he directs these actors is where Fleischer stands out, his ability to give these stars a sense of correlating direction. Driving Jesse Eisenberg to use that quirkiness he's known for to formulate a character that only he could depict, and giving Woody Harrelson this self-proclaimed badass who's actually a man trying to run away from his past. Add in the brilliance of a kid stuck in “Zombieland” in that of Abigail Breslin, and a big sister like Emma Stone trying to let her little sister feel like a kid once more, and you'll find a cast deserving of a sequel. This is where comedy directors shine, rarely is it the visual language that evokes the brilliance of a comedic filmmaker, but the way he’s able to direct his actors is where the best of em’ stand out. 

Ruben Fleischer displays that ability with “Zombieland,” a film that reminds us of our own ability to adapt. When things go wrong, even as wrong as zombies eating their way to our extinction, we continue to find a way to live with it all. Whether it's traveling to theme parks, invading celebrities million dollar homes, finding ways to make killing fun, or even making up a bunch of rules to keep us feeling safe. We can find a new home, a new family, and a new way of life. It’s one of our best qualities as human beings and one that “Zombieland” weaponizes into this comedic awesomeness of a zombie movie. 

Cloverfield (2008)

   Director: Matt Reeves With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman.  Release: January 18, 2008. PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

Director: Matt Reeves
With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman. 
Release: January 18, 2008.
PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

 

J.J Abrams has become a king of marketing. Exploiting the use of surprises, mystery, and trailers in a far superior format than almost anyone else. One of his most significant feats of marketing was Matt Reeves 2008 film, “Cloverfield.” The “Godzilla” and “Blair Witch” crossover that took the film community by storm in its inaugural trailer drop that occurred during the opening night pre-show for Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” The trailer was mysterious and sent all of us film fans into a frenzy of research and obsession on the IMDB pages of the internet, but we would soon be even more surprised that the found-footage subgenre of Hollywood had manifested a surprisingly frightening thriller that answers the question: What would it be like to witness a monster attacking your city? 

Providing a lensed perspective for our journey, literally, Director Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” & “War for the Planet of the Apes”) joins Screenwriter Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods” & “The Martian”) as they team with J.J Abrams’ Bad Robot Studios to provide an answer to that question. 

The film opens with a seemingly normal state of living as we are introduced to our first camera operator, Rob (Michael Stahl-David). He’s just awoken from a beautiful night out with the girl he loves, Beth (Odette Annable). She is his college crush and one that he finally got to spend a night with, and it leads to a setting that the camera continuously flashes back to when it becomes faulty, as if to say to the audience and whoever is watching this footage: “Remember when things were normal?” The footage fast-forwards by a month as we meet Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) brother Jason (Mike Vogel) as they are shopping for supplies for Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, as he’s been awarded a vice-president position at a company in Japan. While this party is being put together, Jason (Mike Vogel) hands off the camera to our chief camera operator, Hudson (T.J. Miller). 

He’s the best friend of the party’s star, but he’s that guy whose best friend with the most important guy, not necessarily friends with everyone else. He’s awkward, and constantly interrupting private conversations with the excuse that he’s “documenting.” Luckily, he continues documenting when the city comes under attack from something, as in the midst of some party drama, Manhattan shakes and quivers. As off the shores of the New York Harbor, an Oil Rig was surprised to unlock a crevasse that unleashed an organism of some sorts that is believed to have suffered from the scientific theory of deep-sea gigantism. Unlike a giant squid though, that may grow to be as big 13m in length, this monster is the size of buildings. It's lurking, carries multiple appendages, and has small arachnid/arthropod-like creatures descending from its outer shell. It's a reptilian-like arthropod creature that seems to be incredibly hard to kill. 

With missiles, machine gun fire, and massive caliber weaponry from tanks and fighter jets being unable to put a dent in its rampage. Our camera holder catches its fearsome arrival, but it's rarely shown in full view. No wide shots or steady frames are to be found, which can be quite frustrating as a filmgoer, but in that same frame of mind, it's the logicality behind the filming that bothers me. 

I can get past the shaky camera movements because this inexperienced photographer isn’t going to set-up a tripod to film, he going to carry it and point it to see what’s happening, he's not going to give the viewer a visual language to follow. But the idea of the camera surviving nuclear fallout, multiple drops to the concrete floor, or that its battery lasts this long is something hard to believe. This is a cheap 2008 camera being used in the midst of firefights; I doubt it would make it as far as it does. 

Nonetheless, the film does maintain a sense of realism that overcomes that one aspect of implausibility. Its perspective lensing provides for some incredible sequences that would never be shot by some random dude, but a talented cinematographer like Michael Bonvillain (“Zombieland” & “American Ultra”) could definitely fabricate them. His mastermind direction from Matt Reeves leads to a multitude of scenes that are exceptionally thrilling, one that continues to send shivers down my spine takes place in the subways tracks of New York City. 

Our group of everyday joes head back into the city, after losing a few friends, to help Rob (Michael Stahl-David) save the girl that he loves. On their way back into midtown, they are bombarded by a fleet of U.S soldiers launching another attack on the gargantuan beast, the sounds of war drown out our characters' dialogue, a realistic use of the sound design that warrants some applause. Stuck down in the subways, they wait for the war zone to move on, but after a few hours pass they attempt to take the trails of the subway to her apartment. While in the midst of awkward conversation made by our doofus camera operator, rats begin to flee between their feet. 

Lily (Jessica Lucas) states “They’re all running in the same direction,” Rob (Michael Stahl-David) calmly suggests “Yeah, like they’re running away from something.” Moments later an eerie growl echoes through the tunnels, as Rob (Michael Stahl-David) shows Hudson (T.J. Miller) how to use the night vision. Once it comes on, we see those same small creatures walking on the ceiling, staring into the lens of the camera. Their growls and rumbles begin to overwhelm the audio as they attack our group, even biting one of them as she risked herself by saving our camera holder. 

It all feels too cinematic to be believable as someone’s lost footage from the event known as “Cloverfield,” but it lends to some frightening sequences nonetheless because it's doesn’t carry too much of Hollywood’s fingerprints to seem implausible. It sucks you into the story as if your there alongside them, watching all of this as it occurs. The use of shielding the identity of the monster, the performances from relatively unknown actors, and the constant barrage of shaky cam assist in the film feeling naturalistic or like the legitimate dose of realism that found-footage is designed to be. “Cloverfield” is one of those films that alongside its brilliant marketing, uses it's filmmaking techniques to assist it's storytelling past the hurdles that if filmed otherwise, would be seen as mundane. 

The camera operator, Hudson, depicted by T.J. Miller in his first acting gig, is someone that assists in that believability. Many see him as kind of douche who is continually sticking the camera in his friends face instead of consoling them or making conversation about flaming homeless men in the midst of an already stressful situation. If a monster attacked your city though, wouldn’t you find some way for your brain to comprehend everything? What if talking out of your ass was your defensive mechanism? Things become weird when were placed in those sort of life or death situations, it just so happens that this is how Hud (T.J. Miller) dealt with it all. I can’t blame him for that, which is just the icing on the cake for a film that uses all the tools available to become something far more legitimate than you’d expect. 
 

No Country for Old Men (2007)

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Which is what “No Country for Old Men” is at its heart, it’s a noir western in which the cynicism of the world that our gunslingers inhabit is no longer something worthwhile, but rather something to be feared.

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