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. . . Maybe not modern day.
This team-up mqy sound crazy, but it's a lot of fun!
A satisfying surprise all around, "Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" features an upgrade in character models from the source comic, and actually manages to get the characters right. I loved every one of the turtles (Mikey being the standout) and both Batgirl and Damian work rather well here. Batman, for his part, can be cookie-cutter from one outing to the next, but Troy Baker is a solid Dark Knight regardless.
Great action, vivid animation and fun references throughout.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
The Internet may have broken Ralph on this one
"Ralph Breaks the Internet" seems like the poster child for "what could've been". I like the concept, and there are a couple of good laughs, but the execution is atrocious. I was really into the opening 30 minutes or so (everything inside the arcade is fun) but as soon as they actually make it onto the Internet, it's a downward tumble.
Not gonna lie, I'm disappointed on almost every level. What was heartwarming about the original "Wreck-It Ralph" is lost here. Yeah, it may be ambitious, but it's a waste of the Ralph/Vanellope relationship, the inherent humor of the arcade culture is gone and Disney hijacked the movie for their own (horrifying) studio marketing. Seriously, the Rodent's footprint is massive in this movie.
The Keanu revolution rolls on!
It's probably safe to say that Keanu Reeves has found his Mission: Impossible, that series of action movies that consistently delivers the goods. The next movie had already been greenlit before I'd gotten to the theater for Parabellum, and that is some of the best news I've heard in a great while. Because hot diggity damn, this movie is a lot of fun!
This is nothing short of an adrenaline rush, where every action scene seems to outdo the last. It's solidly-paced, funny, brutal and the fight choreography is unbelievable (what John Wick does with that library book is a thing of violent beauty). It's a sequel that's comfortable in the already-established world and just proceeds to roll out the action.
And I am a willing supporter.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
A winning improvement!
This is a sequel that seemed to really pay off on the concept more effectively than the first movie. As funny as the exploits of a domesticated cat are (and Chloe continues to be my favorite character), the movie doesn't suffer when the pets leave their apartments and go on an adventure. Even the addition of Harrison Ford, playing to his curmudgeonly strengths, fits right in.
Where I was lukewarm on the original, this is much more charming, and I can see this becoming another Despicable Me-esque franchise. I'm ready for more.
Let me offer no notions of pretense here, I didn't get "Enemy"; not even close. I had no idea what was going on with the spider, which made the ending cut-to-black all the more upsetting. All of this changed after some time to process (and with much-needed help from Chris Stuckmann's video on the matter). It's a movie that demands active participation and further consideration, and if you're up to the challenge, it's a worthwhile endeavor.
But even while watching this, I appreciated the movie on its technical merits. It's beautifully shot (especially if yellow's your color), and Jake Gyllenhaal is fascinating in a dual-role. It can't be easy playing your own doppelgänger, all the while making it an existential crisis.
This is the third movie I've seen from Denis Villeneuve, and even though I have no interest in another "Dune", I'd sit through it for his name alone.
Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
Anything but a drag
The synopsis for "Dragged Across Concrete" promised a tale of suspended policemen who turn to criminality to maintain income. And yeah, that's what the movie's about, but sort of in the abstract. You're in for something else entirely. This film seems to play by its own rules, with everything about it being underplayed and unexpected. Mel Gibson isn't the violent sociopath with a badge that I would expect to see in this type of thing, but more of an obsolete lawman that can't get with the times; and there are violent scenes, but this is in no way a thriller. To top it off, characters that are completely plot-tangential are given space to develop; and the tragedies that befall them knock you right in the solar plexus.
Nothing about this movie can be neatly placed into a box, and that's almost a defining character trait. It's engaging -- no doubt -- but the long stretches of quiet will surprise you. I'd recommend this solely on the basis that you'll have no idea how it will end.
A cesspool of slackers
Easily one of the lightest and hijink-filled Kevin Smith movies, "Mallrats" is the unlikely love story buried in a tale of consumerist tomfoolery. There are all sorts of little things happening in this movie that make me laugh, but you've gotta hand it to Jason Lee for really shouldering this thing. The man's working in shades of irate and I don't think he fails to pull off a single line. This is proof he was born to play Banky Edwards in Chasing Amy, and his rage never fails to delight. Doesn't matter what kind of day I'm having, simply hearing him yell "That kid is on the escalator again!" is always a mood-brightener.
High on silliness
I've long held the belief that a little Jason Mewes goes a long way, which makes a starring role an absolute roll of the dice. But there's plenty of name cameos and View Askiewniverse goings-on to keep things animated. Not all of the gags land, but the light sense of humor makes this enjoyable throughout; and with so much happening, it's easy to move on from the occasional dud.
This is Kevin Smith having his Hollywood access and eating it too. He goes after Tinseltown with sharpened knives and a gleeful smirk, and it makes for a solid vehicle for his two mainstay stoners.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
What's this? A good video game adaptation!
When Pikachu opens his mouth, do you expect Ryan Reynolds' voice? Hell no! And while that was the point of the marketing campaign for "Detective Pikachu", a warm and engaging movie is the surprising result. Best of all, you don't have to know much about the source material -- it's a murder mystery with cute Japanese characters.
With a twisty screenplay and an aesthetic that's equal parts "Blade Runner" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", the movie deposits you in the thick of a who-dunnit, and you don't really have time to care about all the Pokémon goings-on. I certainly didn't walk into this movie as an expert (haven't touched the fandom in twenty years), but still managed to find plenty within to entertain. Reynolds is his usual self without going overboard, and the story is involving from the beginning; at times even touching. I liked these characters, I liked the environment and I'd do it all again.
The Firm (1993)
Functional adaptation of a page-turner
Not at all what I'd expected from Sydney Pollack, a somewhat listless film buoyed by an impressive cast and an experienced composer. Given the drawn-out running time and the protagonist's complicated plan for saving his bacon, "The Firm" is entertaining enough to keep you going, but you can tell that Dave Grusin is really trying to pep things up with his upbeat piano-playing.
All that being said, this is another shining example of Tom Cruise's star power in full effect.
A uniquely haunting nightmare
I was sold on "Mandy" on word-of-mouth alone, but still unprepared for what lay before me; a hellish trip into abject madness by way of a tender love story.
Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough live as one in the wilderness, evil visits upon them for senseless reasons, and devastating loss ensues. After that, it's all about revenge.
And it's here that the movie fires on all cylinders, putting Cage's overacting to refreshing use as a man who's lost it all and prepares for war. I'm trying not to spoil anything here, but there's a particular scene in Cage's bathroom that encapsulates the entire movie. And it's nothing but screaming. Jesus, what a scene.
That one-sheet image gives you an idea of what you're in for (especially when you see Cage's blood-caked face and know that there's a chainsaw fight involved). But the end result still threw me for a loop. The first 75 minutes are tranquil, meditative; that droning score is the only hint of coming violence. And then the movie shifts gears entirely and you're in for a nightmare. Kinda like Mad Max forges a mighty axe and wreaks vengeance as the ambient noise drones on. It's a torturous fever dream and I can't think of anything else like it.
One of the classics
"Aladdin" . . . not only the best movie in the exalted Renaissance period, but also -- along with "The Jungle Book" -- Disney's best musical. Seriously, this soundtrack is chock-full of earworms and none of them are filler.
Everyone knows what this movie's best feature is (and I'll get to that in a second), but the level of quality in its animation is staggering. The color saturation is purely eye-candy, and it makes Agrabah a memorable Disney kingdom. Even the characters (some of the whitest Arabs ever put to film) have personality in their movements that you just don't expect.
These assets by themselves make this a worthwhile movie, but it's Robin Williams who blasts it out of the park. His overstimulated execution leaves an indelible mark on this company's history, and the lion's share of laughs come directly from him. It's a gifted, delightful and energetic performance, and it's easy to lay the movie's vast appeal at his feet.
But honestly, the whole thing is wildly entertaining.
Ruthless People (1986)
Hapless, hilarious people
Another somewhat forgotten '80s comedy (at least in my circles), "Ruthless People" has its share of genuine laughs and plot twists, but doesn't feel anything like you'd expect from a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker joint. It takes a while for the movie to really get going, and the opening is carried entirely by Danny Devito. That said, it's a worthwhile comedy, and features excellent performances by its two leads.
But here's why I would highly recommend this to anyone and their mother: this is the kind of villainous turn that DeVito was seemingly born to play. He's got the face, mannerisms and voice to really epitomize the slimy cretin who's trying to get away with murder; almost the living embodiment of the wicked sneer. This is something akin to his role in "Romancing the Stone" but he is undoubtedly enjoying his time making this movie. It is pure delight.
Higher Learning (1995)
Shrewd depiction of an urban campus
Super frustrating movie with a good cast and director's-chair talent, "Higher Learning" isn't out to change minds as much as it seeks to induce gasps and fits of anger. Naturally, I'm speaking for myself here, but so much goes down on this uniquely nightmarish PC college campus that we're not given time to connect the dots; the blood is bad just because; the racial tensions exist just because. Sure, it's sad to see what happens to these characters, but I couldn't help but feel manipulated.
Not great, but then again, also not made for me
I don't know how "UglyDolls" made it to theaters instead of just dropping on Netflix, but then again, I'm not in marketing. What unfolds is ninety minutes of bright colors, lots of noise and tired gags. And it's a long ninety minutes.
But the kids in my theater (my 9 year-old included) really liked it. My daughter enjoyed herself, even being moved at one point. And Kelly Clarkson is impressive in her own right.
Best I can offer is actually wait til it's on Netflix, then the ticket price won't sting. But it's harmless.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The MCU's riveting, moving, uneven crescendo
Let me preface this by saying that I definitely belong in the "casual Marvel fan" category; so feel free to take this with a grain of salt.
I liked watching "Endgame". It was clearly the more emotional of the Infinity saga, the villain was better handled, and there were times when I was firmly butt-in-seat for whatever came next. Did it need to crash the 3-minute threshold? Good lord, no! I never glanced at my watch (which I guess says something) but it's not without its draggy segments. And as much as I wanted the team to get back at the bad guy and make things right, I was more interested in the time-travel, fan service and movie-hopping than I was in the big battle scene.
Don't get me wrong; I know this is a milestone. Ten years' worth of franchise-building capped in one movie; filling the imposing shoes of vanquishing Thanos; raking in a billion dollars. It was less escapism for me than it was witnessing history in the making. That much was palpable. And this a good movie, but it's hard to say if it lives up the unbelievable hype.
For me, it's questionable.
Clawing to the top with blood-stained drumsticks
Tape your fingers now or else those nails will be bitten down to nubs when this is over. Equally unbearable and exhilarating, Whiplash turns the teacher-student relationship right on its head; far more Full Metal Jacket than anything inspirational. To that end, this is the best I've ever seen from J.K. Simmons, spewing venom as Miles Teller strains under his withering abuse. This is psychological thriller against the backdrop of jazz (a sentence I never thought I'd see myself typing), and Simmons is the emotional terrorist you just do not see coming. That goes for the whole movie, one that I've never seen anything like. There's a wealth to appreciate here, from the masterful editing and direction to the music, and the hype is absolutely warranted.
And is it just me, or does "Not my tempo" belong up there with "Is it safe" as far as chilling lines go?
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Second go-around brings more to the table
A refreshingly cheerful, energetic and light-hearted Marvel entry, Ant-Man and the Wasp buzzes along with the right comedic vibe. On another note, it's sequel gold; it's unchained by origin constraints, the villain is worthy and it's free to do it's own thing -- so long as you're down with goofball science and fantastical escapism. And here, it's hard not to be.
For such a peripheral character, Scott Lang has seemingly come from behind and is one of my favorite MCU players. Rudd and Lilly make for a great team.
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Sentimental trip worth taking
I can understand why "Peggy Sue Got Married" never makes anyone's list of time-travel movies , seeing as this has more in common with "Somewhere in Time" than "Back to the Future", but this is a worthy contender nonetheless. This a wonderful fantasy, full of charm, soul and one of Kathleen Turner's finest performances. She's amazing at conveying a younger age through body language alone, and seems to embody the movie's senses of humor and regret.
Part of the film's appeal is the question of what would we do differently given the chance to relive our youth? That right there is an irresistible hook. Man, I really liked this movie!
The Outsiders (1983)
An outsider opinion
Really couldn't get into this one. Melodramatic and lumbering at the same time, The Outsiders plays best as a snapshot of future movie stars before they hit it big; that, and Coppola's evident fondness for that romantic period look. Now, there are a couple of dark turns that bring about the end credits, so I get how this probably touched a nerve thirty-five years ago. But it lacks any real dramatic heft.
Absence of Malice (1981)
The Fourth Estate on trial
"Absence of Malice" has been on the periphery of my radar for years; just haven't gotten to it until now. I had no idea this was a Sydney Pollack film. I was even more impressed (and delighted) by Wilford Brimley's surprise appearance, very nearly hijacking the third act. The man is a force!
For me, this doesn't hit the dizzying highs of "All the President's Men", but Newman and Field are more than capable -- and this movie stands as a sobering comment on the perils of reckless journalism.
What About Bob? (1991)
What seemed like an uncomfortable cringefest turned out to be a light-hearted treat. Dreyfuss is the inflexibly stuffy psychiatrist while Murray (in rare form) is there at every turn to drive him up a wall. It's the actors' terrific chemistry that makes this so much fun, but nothing an prepare you for that nutball ending. It's a crack-up.
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017)
I was behind this movie when I heard the returning B:TAS voices again. Hearing Bruce Timm and Loren Lester together again goes a long way in getting my attention. And Melissa Rauch deserves credit for bringing to life a Brooklyn-accented Harley Quinn. It's a nice job.
But script-wise, this movie falls flat. The jokes are tired, the comedy's off-the-mark, and everyone involved really deserves better. The adult humor is a surprising turn, given the Animated Series' long shadow over this film, but that just makes things ... awkward.
It's a misfire.
An unforeseen upswing for the sequel trilogy
The short version is this: I love this movie. The year's passage after seeing "The Last Jedi" hasn't dulled its impact. This is a movie that approaches the status quo and completely flips the table. It's fearless; it's surprising; it's unexpected; it's the kick-in-the-ass that this new trilogy needed. The only question I'm left with at the end of watching this is, "Where the hell do we go from here?". And that is exciting.
*SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*
Now for the (much) longer version. I appreciate the movie from a warts-and-all perspective; and there are definite flaws. For one, the entire Canto Bight sequence. I like the theme introduced, but it's a tangent that slows the movie down. That, and Benicio Del Toro. Just doesn't work for me. You could also make an argument against the general pacing of the film.
That said, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Particularly with Mark Hamill's performance; far and away the movie's shining star. He realized a broken Luke Skywalker and brought out the conflict and pain therein. His scenes with Daisy Ridley were among the best in the movie. I can't speak highly enough of him in this film. His finale still hits me square in the chest, and it stands in direct competition with Yoda's appearance for my very favorite scene (I can't tell you how excited I was to see Yoda again in the theater, put to phenomenal use; it's nothing short of a tonic).
There are issues I had with The Force Awakens that this (thankfully) addresses directly. I love that Rey's parents turned out to be nobodies (think about it, the last thing she should be is a Skywalker or a Kenobi); I love that undeveloped characters like Snoke and Phasma are summarily dealt with, giving the next movie freedom to move; and I love that Kylo Ren suddenly has purpose as a character.
The more I see this, the more I get the criticisms. Things that could've been done differently, better, etc. What I don't understand is the acute backlash. If anything, The Last Jedi just exposes the flaws of the last movie. Sure, Luke didn't get his heroic turn in the conventional sense, but neither did Han or Leia. They were just used as background players for the new generation, but they deserved so much more. Luke gets shafted the most; The Force Awakens centers on "Where is Luke?" but all we get is a wordless non-ending.
And why is the Rebellion (Resistance) right back where it started? They were so quick to copy the original trilogy that Han, Leia and Luke are fighting and running again for no good reason. Everyone's old and tired and repeating the past. This never sat well with me, and because of the circumstances (R.I.P. Carrie), our heroes are dead.
As much as "The Last Jedi" leaves us (me) with a sense of hope, I am cynical. I don't doubt for a second that Abrams will retcon Rey's heritage (noooo, Ren was lying!) and probably bring back Snoke. The desire to play it safe is strong with Disney - especially with their knee-jerk reaction to Solo's underperformance. Abrams is all-too-willing to wield the nostalgia bait, and it makes me nervous about Episode IX.
But here's what keeps me engaged: I'm pretty sure Luke will return. And even in Force ghost form, that's enough to buy a ticket for the next one.
Superman Lives: what could've been . . . and thankfully wasn't
A fantastic story told by an uneven documentary. The best parts (for me) were the Kevin Smith scenes. He seemed really happy to regale the audience (again) with his bizarre turn as scriptwriter for Superman Lives, and he's a nicely expressive personality. The downside to this is that he's not presenting anything new, and you can still get the same entertaining story in one of his "An Even With Kevin Smith" stand-ups.
Outside of that, the reason to see this movie is the wealth of uncovered costume-test footage with Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton. This paints a different tale than just the pictures we've had on the internet for so many years. Still would've made for a whacko movie. The director conducts a stilted interview with Burton himself (poor lighting and all), but give the man credit; have you ever heard a Burton commentary? They're not easy to get through.
The Death of Superman Lives is worth a watch, and it'll hold your attention, but you can get by with Smith's testimony of events in one of his on-stage conversations. And he makes for better subject matter.