The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

   Director: Susanna Fogel  With: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Gillian Anderson, Ivanna Sakhno, Fred Melamed, Jane Curtin, & Paul Reiser.  Release: Aug 3, 2018 R. 1 hr. 57 min. 

Director: Susanna Fogel
With: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Gillian Anderson, Ivanna Sakhno, Fred Melamed, Jane Curtin, & Paul Reiser. 
Release: Aug 3, 2018
R. 1 hr. 57 min. 

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The pairing of Mila Kunis and Kate Mckinnon sounds like a slam dunk pairing, add in some relatively decent action pieces and an R rating, and you may have a box office juggernaut on your hand. The hands of Susanna Fogel (“Chasing Life”) and co-writer David Iserson let that potential slip through their hands with an overblown, overly compensated, and overdramatic narrative that seemingly mistakes this organically pairing of stars for something of a “Mission Impossible” meets “Rush Hour” kind of comedy. 

It’s a misfire, one of the biggest of 2018 due to the inherent potential to be found in the makeup of this movie. The storyline goes as follows, two lifelong best friends, the eccentric Morgan (Kate Mckinnon) and the uncommittable Audrey (Mila Kunis), find themselves at a bar celebrating Audrey’s (Mila Kunis) birthday. Simultaneously, Audrey (Mila Kunis) recently broke up with her dreamy boy toy, Drew’s (Justin Theroux), who turns out, is a secret agent for the United States government, a character trait that is revealed to us through this elongated action sequence. 

After a night out in which they threatened to burn his things, Audrey (Mila Kunis) finds herself captivated by a dashingly handsome man, who also turns out to be a spy known as Sebastian (Sam Heughan). He along with his partner, Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), reveal Drew’s (Justin Theroux) identity to her, who later finds himself at their apartment in which he is killed, leaving a mission for this inexperienced and enigmatic duo to take a trophy, which is carrying a flash drive with some integrally significant information, to Vienna, Austria in Europe. They decide to go for it and find themselves apart of this twisting and turning journey in which each of them fend off highly trained operatives with the dumbest of luck. 

It’s your stereotypical “two people in over their heads” plot in which these two women are left with nothing but their wit and knowledgeable information from television, media, and relative awareness that allow them to become the unsung heroes of the world. We’ve seen this story before, yes, but with the talent at hand and with a female director, I was honestly expecting a sleeper hit. Not one of 2018’s best, but something exciting, thrilling, and, most importantly, funny. 

“The Spy Who Dumped Me” is not a knockout comedy, but it has its funny moments. There’s a whole bunch of familiar Kate Mckinnon political punchlines that are authentically hilarious. Each of them carrying a dose of truth with each witty twist, and Mila Kunis has her fair share of time in the spotlight, delivering a handful of timely jokes about her partner in crime and herself. They share some sensationally palpable chemistry, each of them feeling as if they’ve known each other for more than a few months, both on-screen and behind the camera. 

Those funny scenes are also assisted with a fair share of well-executed action sequences, one of which is somewhat inventive. It involves Kate Mckinnon and this Russian, gymnastic, model, spy, hitman, vengeful, sleeper, killer person depicted by Ivanna Sakhno. She wears a lot of hats, but these two find themselves at odds in the midst of a Cirque du Soleil performance at a high praised ambassadors party in which “the drop” is taking place. (yes that cliche is there too) 

Anywho, they find themselves on sparring trapeze platforms leading to a gymnastic-heavy brawl that confuses the audience as an act in the performance and allows the viewer to become enthralled by an action sequence that is remarkably ingenious, if only I cared about anyone involved. 

These women are great, but for the entirety of this overlong film, I saw Kate Mckinnon and Mila Kunis, their characters are relatively absent from the story. I needed an IMDB page to remember their names, and that’s not a good sign if you're trying to make “fun” characters. The handling of the women is where the female behind the camera comes into fruition though, never do these women feel unprepared or incomparable of achieving the mission in front of them. They are reliable and somewhat brilliant at times, never in a way that feels overdramatic, rather believable actually. Where the film begins to become overblown is with the spy versus spy mumbo jumbo that is merely ridiculous, even for a comedy format. 

It’s like if “Mission: Impossible” decided to give up on relatively clever storytelling and replace twists and turns with predictions and expectations. Marginally inspired by Melissa Mccarthy's “Spy” in that way, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is unable to replicate that same ingenuity because of its lack of attention to the plot surrounding the comedy. Seemingly using it as an excuse to be lazy, as if the story will not assist in the comedy, because we never gave a crap about Del or Neal in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” right?

Nonetheless, Mckinnon and Kunis can only do so much to carry this film to the finish line which is two miles too long. It’s a two hour and twelve-minute film that feels as if should’ve been a one hour and fifteen-minute movie, at most. It’s not precisely Susanna Fogel’s framing of the film, more of the page not matching the surprisingly spectacular action provided from Fogel’s direction. 

It all amount to a similar feeling from 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” this time there is more laugh out loud moments, but with a plot that feels even lazier than that movie, and that’s saying something.  
 

Hot Summer Nights (2018)

   Director: Elijah Bynum  With: Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, Maia Mitchell, Emory Cohen, Thomas Jane, & William Fichtner.  Release: Jul 27, 2018 R. 1 hr. 33 min.

Director: Elijah Bynum
With: Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, Maia Mitchell, Emory Cohen, Thomas Jane, & William Fichtner. 
Release: Jul 27, 2018
R. 1 hr. 33 min.

 

Timothee Chalamet was my break out star of 2017. The young man oozed with charisma, sex-appeal, and charm. He was in a close-knit race for best performance by an actor for me, with that of Daniel Kaluuya providing stiff competition. Least to say, I was anticipating whatever he decided to do next, and Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights” is not what I expected. 

This time around he’s depicting Daniel, a young boy from northern Massachusetts whose father has recently passed away, making his life troublesome for both him and his now widowed mother. He’s sent away to stay with his aunt on the Cape for the summer where this tourist-trap of a beach town becomes fruition. The local legends, the nicknames for the locals, the “townies,” and the “summer bird” tourists who ride around in their yachts, luxury cars, and cardigans wrapped around their collars. 

Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) is an in-between kind of guy, one who is both a “townie” and a “summer bird.” He befriends the town legend, Hunter (Alex Roe), who introduces him to marijuana. He discovers the magic of Mary Jane and urges Hunter (Alex Roe) to think bigger, which seemingly comes out of nowhere, and begins our well-designed, but empty experience. Though I can proudly say that Timothee does his best here, providing a performance that is far better than the movie deserves, he’s not precisely depicting a memorable character or a fresh one at that. He’s submerged by the lack of creativity behind the camera. 

Let me start by saying though, “Hot Summer Nights” is not a bad movie in the same sense of the “Truth or Dares” or the “Fifty Shades Freeds” of 2018. It’s a film that maintains a polished design, one that shines with saturation in a way that mimics the bright, sunshine arrays of the 1980’s, at least that’s how we choose to remember them. Those are the brilliant ideas that Bynum has, one of which is the arrival of the town folk-hero, Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). He’s dashingly handsome, wickedly cool, and has reputation filled with the stuff of small-town legend. He’s lusted over, emerges from a cherry-red muscle car in slo-mo, built up by town gossip. Carries himself with the grease-junkie aptitude of allure, slicked-back hair, and pure confidence embodied into one dude. 

This is where Bynum has something going for his film, prancing upon the absurdity of a town built heroes, ones that only the members of the small-knit communities are aware of, like that of Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). There are snippets of the rumor mill in action, with rapidly edited interviews with these townspeople who share their experiences. It’s a Tarantino/Scorsese kind of a stylization in which the kids are cursing, the township stories are ones of ludicrousness, and it all amounts to a shady past involving this fable killing a guy. 

It’s all apart of this study of townsmanship. Diving into the treatment of women which becomes crudely disturbing, the town, like any other, has their dime. In this case, we find McKayla (Maika Monroe), the town hottie with a reputation, the unattainable goddess of prepubescent boys, and the little sister to Mr. Strawberry (Alex Roe). A stunningly alluring treasure that Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) finds himself infatuated by, succumbed to her charms. The only problem is, she warns him about befriending her brother, and her brother forbids him of engaging with his sister, creating a triangle dilemma that is sure to explode, a tiresome rehashing aspect that drags the film down like weights are tied to its ankles. 

The film loses itself in those tropes of storytelling. The relationship dilemmas, the sudden drug-dealing dangers which seem to have no natural reason for occurring other than Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) needed to do it so that the film could have that cliche “two kids in over their heads." They all fly by to quickly to develop any sense of resonance, disappearing into the background and becoming as forgetful as the characters. Seemingly developed around a cliche of a cliche of an eighties movie, despite taking place in 1991. Few things can be called original in this happenstance of a movie that dissipates in quality throughout its ninety-minute runtime. 

Like that of McKayla (Maika Monroe) and Daniel’s (Timothee Chalamet) romance, which has moments in which they stare at the fireflies on a midnight date, or they visit the local carnival, all a while attempting to bring out that heart-aching small town romance of two young people’s first love. It’s buried underneath everything else going on, the drug deals, the “Wolf of Wall Street” meets “Footloose” narrative and the outright confusion of it all. Leaving the viewer unsure as to whether our story is amounting to a young boy’s fall from innocence, or a long-con of an examination on the small-town culture we used to paint as blissful beauty, but now see as antiquated.

You have the adequate performance from Alex Roe and the sex-heavy depiction from Maika Monroe, but it’s all a bunch of nonsense amounting to nothing more than a series of events honoring a time period the film doesn’t even take part in. It doesn’t seem familiar with the environment either, because in the midst of its genre storytelling is a Jupiter sized hurricane. One that seems to catch these “Cape townies” off-guard somehow, as if they’ve never prepared for such an event, despite living so close to the water. 

All the while, the story is narrated by a young boy who saw the last moments of these events take place from his bedroom window. He talks like a kid from “Sandlot,” expecting us to care about his plucky attitude and youthful maturity, seemingly constructed by the events surrounding his life. We meet him near the end of the film, establishing his reasoning for narrating the story like that of “Goodfellas.” It’s a whole bunch of empty traits amounting to a whole sum of a picture worth a thousand words, none of which can describe what “Hot Summer Nights” is actually about. 

It's a shame too, Bynum seems to have an eye for storytelling. He has moments where you can see the point to his craftsmanship lying idly behind the tropes of yesteryear, but it all becomes lackadaisically misguided. It becomes automated when we start diving into the drug dealing nature of this Miami-Vice beach-styled storytelling. I’m guessing Bynum was a big fan as a kid. 

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

   Director: Stephen Susco  With: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, & Savira Windyani. Release: Jul 20, 2018 R. 1 hr. 28 min.

Director: Stephen Susco
With: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, & Savira Windyani.
Release: Jul 20, 2018
R. 1 hr. 28 min.

 

The internet can be a scary place, one filled with trolls, unsanctioned hate speech, and unprotected guidelines on the extent of individual freedoms. It takes the grey area of life to its tipping point, Stephen Susco realizes that and tries to unearth that authentic fright in “Unfriended: Dark Web,” but almost fails entirely. The differences between Levan Gabriadze & Nelson Greaves’s “Unfriended” are miserably noticeable. 

It’s a repetition of the same introversion melodramatic horror that follows a group of tech-savvy millennials that somehow know the differences between megabyte and gigabytes, which is a google search away, yet the same age group that surrounds me seems to be unable to differentiate the two. 

They stumble upon something they shouldn’t on a laptop that our protagonists stole from the lost and found at the cafe where he works. Soon, they find themselves being tormented and terrorized by a group of cyber hackers/trolls who exist of the dark web of the internet, a worldwide web living on darknets and overlay networks that require special software to access, yet one tech geek and four relatively knowledgeable college students have stumbled upon it with a MacBook? 

Least to say, this is not a film for tech nerds or those surrounded by computer geeks. There’s an insurmountable of cliche hacking that is both implausible and unaccomplishable by a group of college kids. Not to mention the password for our illustrious cyber terrorist is “?” for a profile user named “?” Really? 

This is where “Unfriended: Dark Web” is going to get away with a lot more than it should, using seemingly believable usages of computer intellect to trick the audience into trusting that these guys know what they’re talking about; they definitely do not. 

The story, itself, is surrounded by its fair share of illogical developments, from the choices made by our characters to the cliched dumb protagonist. The characters themselves are tropes, with one-word descriptions like “the lesbian couple,” “the tech guy,” “the anti-tech guy,” and “the Chinese girl.” The deaf girlfriend joins the bunch of labeled characters, the one clever use of character relationships. The struggle of communicating with different languages over skype is quite challenging, one of the few interactions worth investing into. 

There are some other bright moments in the screenwriting worth mentioning as well, such as how the technology is being used and, the mistermed, but somewhat authentic, tools used to hack and to check the data on the laptop. The thrills and shrills have some high points as well, becoming something worth investing in on more than one occasion. One of the film’s best sequences takes place when the truth becomes unveiled, and the threat to our protagonist becomes vitally critical, the story transitions into a hidden rescue attempt in which he must lie to his friends, keep the game going, and do everything he can to save someone’s life. It’s intrinsically designed for thrills, how that didn’t become the focal point from the start is beyond me. 

The performances have their moments too, Colin Woodell delivers on more than a few occasions, and Rebecca Rittenhouse does some solid work as well. Andrew Lees and Connor Del Rio share some time in the spotlight but feed far more exposition than anything else. Stephanie Nogueras and Betty Gabriel are barely in the film enough to become something worth remembering. 

Much like “Unfriended: Dark Web,” an unmemorable attempt at thrilling an audience with the clever use of technology which is still as clever as it was the first time, minus the illogical tech details. The characters and structure of the story are routine; it's anything but imaginative and teetering on the edges of sadistically stupid. 

There’s enough here to provide something watchable and at times, believable, but “Unfriended: Dark Web” at the end of the day, is nothing more than another sad attempt at informing us of the dangers of hackers. It’s a prevalent threat, but with films like this, we might as well be the ones hiding on the dark web. 

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 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.

Uncle Drew (2018)

   Director: Charles Stone III  With: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, & Erica Ash. Release: Jun 29, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min.

Director: Charles Stone III
With: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, & Erica Ash.
Release: Jun 29, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min.

 

If you were to combine two films such as “Like Mike 2” and “The Longest Yard,” you would get “Uncle Drew.” The Pepsi commercial turned feature film is balling its way around theaters and doing so successfully, and it's getting its fair share of praises from critics and audiences alike. To be fair, critics are giving this film a pass based on its sheer innocence and family-friendly appeal and to their point, “Uncle Drew” is precisely that, a genuine comedy that is not meant to offend but to entertain. While I could sit back and give it a pass myself, there is far too much laziness and sappy attempts with its emotional aspects for me to just let it walk by unscathed. 

It’s a film that is dragging a ridiculous gimmick too far, what should’ve been a thirty-minute short film for TV, is a near two-hour feature-length comedy that includes car chases, old versus young basketball matchups, and a dance-off of course. It's meant to make little to no fuss, something for us to sit back and watch mindlessly. I am not such a film attendee though, that’s why when the story of Dax (Lil Rey Howery from “Get Out,” who also self references that film in this movie), an orphan whose love for the game of basketball carried him through life until he missed a game-winning shot in a big game, begins to be told by screenwriter Jay Longino, I roll my eyes. 

Not to mention, the on-going tale of the old Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) getting the band back together on this drama turned road trip movie. Trying to be Dax's (Lil Rey Howery) saving grace when he loses everything from money to his gold-digger of a girlfriend, getting the old team back together to play at the Rucker streetball tournament. Watching the shenanigans that follow is not exactly worth my while. 

It all feels so simple, so lazy, but what should expect from a movie starring basketball legends in old-man makeup? I suppose a shred of creativity, which does appear with Lil Rel Howery. Admittedly his funniest moments are in the blooper reel, but he does have a few great jokes to give us. As well as the inside basketball jokes made by our player, which gave me a grin or two. There is effort and talent to be found, but it's covered up by the wrinkles of laziness by director Charles Stone III (“Drumline” & “Mr. 3000).

He’s no stranger to these underdog overcoming the odds kind of sports tales, but his past displays are nothing worth beating his chest over. In some ways though, that lackadaisical mentality allows the film to roll in and out of thought, like an airball flying past the hope with little to no hope of actually scoring. 

The way he directs the film is tacky and expectedly mundane, and the way he directs his cast of talented athletes is no different, giving them little to no room for uniqueness. Other than Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) himself, this 5-man team of basketball icons is depicting the same goofiness we’ve seen from them before, especially Shaq. 

Tiffany Haddish, Lil Rey, and Nick Kroll feel handcuffed. LIke their not getting that improvisational green light to make something out of nothing, to make a surprisingly tasty cake out of a bland baking mix. Haddish feels as if she’s reprising her role from “Girls Trip,” being that obnoxious and crude jokester we’re all familiar with, and Lil Rey is best when he’s allowed to interlude those little snippets of self-referencing commentary.

 Making fun of the events, we’re watching on-screen as if he’s making fun of it for us. Irving has a few moments worth a chuckle or two, but he’s more of a moral compass than anything else. Attempting to deliver this so-so message of taking risks in life, using a hockey line, of all things, stating “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” With his old age and all, I guess he forgot this was a basketball movie.

I guess I am going easy on this film by not trashing it, but it doesn’t necessarily do anything so offensive or obscene to warrant that kind of negativity. Sure, it’s not a good movie. Heck, I definitely would describe it as a bad movie, but it's more lazy than it is idiotic. Geriatric-ing its way through the story, just moving forward and not noticing the potential surrounding it. Old people are like that though, always denouncing the next generation, a grain of authenticity to be found in a film that dresses up professional athletes like bank robbers. 

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.   
 

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

In the early nineties filmmakers learned that anything was possible through the power of visual effects, and now the game has changed once again. You can now skip the press junkets and the press centric Q&A’s because now you can just drop your film onto the public through streaming services without warning.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

   Director: Zack Snyder With: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, & Michael Shannon. Release: Mar 25, 2016 PG-13. 2 hr. 31 min. 

Director: Zack Snyder
With: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, & Michael Shannon.
Release: Mar 25, 2016
PG-13. 2 hr. 31 min. 

 

Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel” & “Watchmen”) has always had a flair for theatrics, constructing elongated paintings that construct a constant frame of imagery. That imagery always seems to remain in the frame though, as if he’s forgotten the source that breathes life into the camera, the page, something constructed by Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”) in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." A storyline that subtly suggests that it's far more clever than we're giving it credit for as if the expectational blockbuster criticisms have duped us.

It’s a constant argument that is usually summarized in a few words: "You just didn't get it." That’s not what's going on in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” though, which aside from its long title name, refuses to provide any sense of detail to its story. It’s an overlong, overblown, and overdramatic formulation of a superhero movie that, like “Man of Steel,”  confuses adaptation for reinvention. 

The plot uses a familiar Marvel technique in pulling story beats from a multitude of comic books to produce a cohesive story that is both original and partially inspired by its source material. It’s a fine art that Marvel has turned into a well-oiled machine. It begins with a flashback, as all great films do, in which we rewatch the events of the Wayne’s shooting. The pearl necklace breaking, Thomas Wayne (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) attempting to stand up to terror, and Bruce (Ben Affleck) becoming an orphan. 

The origin story we’ve seen a thousand times is retold and recreated, while prettier than past tales, it's a story we’ve heard more than once and will inevitably hear again. Its point for existence is to introduce a motif involving falling, from Bruce (Ben Affleck) falling down the well into the cave to the fallen angel known as Superman (Henry Cavill). A motif and a pattern that is noticeable and blatantly obvious, like the rehashed post-9/11 subtext that seems to have poured over from “Man of Steel.” 

Nonetheless, the story develops into a muddled and confusing tale involving DC’s two heaviest hitters who end up fighting each other because of some reason. Batman’s (Ben Affleck) motivation is made clear during the film’s opening sequence that involves a ground-level view of the destruction and mayhem spewed from the battle of Clark (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon), he becomes a fun-house mirrored image of our post-9/11 fear stating “if we believe there's even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” 

Superman (Henry Cavill) on the other hand is crafted as a messiah-like figure that pushes that sub-narrative as someone who represents the end of wars between man, possibly a signifier for peace as our cries for a savior have been answered. What if we had a be all and end all answer to tyranny? Like terrorism, for example. Would we accept it? Would we blindly follow? This is where Goyer and Terrio, and most likely Snyder, feel that they are smart storytellers, but it’s only a magic trick if you can’t see behind the curtain. 

Otherwise, it's just a neat illusion of the eye, which is what “Batman V Superman” feels like it's trying to be, narratively speaking. The bare-bones involve a rehashed version of Frank Miller “Dark Knight Returns” in which a grizzled Batman (Ben Affleck) has crossed his forbidden line, a line that is never treated as the character bending dilemma it should be. Superman (Henry Cavill) stands up to his vigilantism because he believes him to be a hero who targets poor people, or minorities themselves. 

Superman (Henry Cavill) is questioned by the world and is left with an insurmountable amount of responsibility to protect everyone, which is one of the few doses of the pathos of Jerry Siegel’s character that remains intact. What was once a character all about a boy from Kansas who can save anyone, but knows he can’t save everyone, who became a hero just because it's the right thing to do, has manifested into a supposedly innocent alien who callously ignores the collateral casualties caused by his “heroic efforts.”

A familiar sight from “Man of Steel” that is carried over into this film which eventually dwindles into a Batman (Ben Affleck) heavy plot that pushes the man of tomorrow down to a supporting role, as the dark knight is treated as the terrifying manifestation of tragedy turned vengeful guardian that Bob Kane and Bill Finger designed. He’s dark. Not just tonally, but characteristically as someone who refuses to see the forest through the trees. He battles with ferocity and brutality, something that slowly reflects the Joe Chill nightmares of his past. 

The array of characters grows past these two studs though, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) make up the team for Supes, and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) resides on team Batsy. You can also find Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Jimmy Olsen (Michael Cassidy), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) throughout the film which also provides the star quality prowess of Holly Hunter and Harry Lennix. It becomes an overcrowded stage play, one that believes itself to be the next Hamlet, when it resides more as basement dwelling, fan-fiction, re-telling of a great story. 

Snyder attempts to camouflage those storytelling lags and character manipulations with volume and scale. Providing a two and half-hour runtime that is bombastically scored by Hans Zimmer. The tones are loud and orchestrated for heft, like that of the visuals which slow down into vignettes attempting to be poetry in motion, becoming more like a drunk teenager’s retelling of a comic book he once read. While admittedly gorgeous, they serve no purpose for the story, merely acting like fan-service for comic fans. As a fan, I felt serviced by these live-action paintings of comic book history, but substance over style is a constant criticism that continually goes over Snyder’s head. 

Few filmmakers make that critique work for them (like Kubrick), and Snyder is still struggling to make it work for him, even seeming like he has a fetish for the theatrical flair of cinema, constructing scenes that ask you do nothing more than to be awed by what you're witnessing. That only works with a good story though, something “Batman v Superman” lacks immensely. 

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is not a bad movie because it's darker than its Marvel cousins, I'd rather blame the tonal confusion and rambling storytelling for what makes this movie worse for wear. The acting is sufficient and better than average at times with Ben Affleck’s source-filled depiction of the caped crusader and Cavill’s smoldering boyish charm as the hero from Smallville. There are brilliant moments of blockbuster spectacle, the trio of Justice and the glimpses of future heroes are exciting, but the dour and heavy-handed battering you feel from the story is enough to make you forget about any of the heroism you previously saw. 

Superheroes can be more than catchphrases, witty dialogue, and “boyish” good looks, but “Batman v Superman” is not that pinnacle of the genre, more accurately described as the dejected and mistreated toys of a bad owner. I got what Snyder was going for with this movie. I just didn't care.