Creed 2 (2018)

Creed 2

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) stares into the face of the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor (Florian Munteanu).

As in all great sports films (including the 2015 predecessor), Creed II is not about boxing but about development of character. Perhaps the only reason why it is not as great a film as the first is because it is not as fresh, but it still packs a whallop.

The film begins as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who is having a great year with this and Black Panther) has just won the belt and is more than in his prime. He has proposed to his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose music career is still going steady (despite the fact that she has in fact lost her hearing due to illness), and both are on the verge of starting a family. Even outside the ring, he is still looking for advice from his mentor/friend Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). There is still a vibrant electricity in their scenes together, filled with humor and heart.

All of this takes a back seat when Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby, who was recently in The Hate U Give) is set to promote a fight between Creed and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous killer of Apollo. There is indeed intensity bubbling on the screen when we see the meeting between Rocky and the elder Drago. Ivan has been an outcast ever since his loss in the fourth film, and needs to win not only the promoted fight, but the respect of those he once considered family.

There is so much emotional baggage going into the ring for the audience (let alone the characters) that it is pretty impossible not to be invested in the action on-screen. Director Steve Caple Jr. handles the script as if it were a Hollywood relic (and rightly so). That is not to say the boxing scenes are boring. Far from it. He is smart enough to handle them with as much care as he does what happens outside the ring as well.

Parents, as long as your kids have seen the original films in the series (except number five), they are fine here. There is one mild scene of sensuality at the beginning, and some swearing (not to mention obvious violence), but I would say middle school and up is fine.

I left the film with one concern: where do we go from here? Topping off this face-off will be a hard act to follow, but one I will gladly pay for in a heart beat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet

The mysteries of the internet await Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman)

When we first met the titular character in 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph, the atmosphere revolved mainly around that of the retro gaming world. Six years later, Ralph Breaks the Internet has jumped into the modern world. Thankfully, Ralph and his friends have remembered to bring along the warmth, charm, pathos, and humor back as well.

Still friends after the events of the first film, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have a mishap in Vanellope’s racing game which causes the player to break the wheel. They discover that the owner of the arcade Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) will have to shut the game down since the company of the game shut down and only one wheel is available for sale on Ebay (or the “Eboy”, as Ralph calls it). Thankfully, Litwak has also recently installed the arcade’s new WiFi, so Ralph and Vanellope take it upon themselves to travel to Ebay and get the wheel to save her game.

There are still some wonderful returning characters such as Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his wife Calhoun (Jane Lynch), but plenty of new characters to boot. Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk) is the go to guy for answers (aka the search engine). The two key new standouts are Yess (Taraji P. Henson) and Shank (Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot). Yess is the diva who knows what is what when it comes to popularity on the internet, and Shank may be the only racer who can challenge Vanellope.

One of the best things an animated film can have is what I would call “rewatchability”. As in the first film, there are easter eggs a plenty to discover here. Perhaps the best part of the movie is when Vanellope has to travel to the Disney part of the internet (you will see why), and meets the Disney princesses. It is safe to say you may never look at the idea of a Disney Princess the same ever again.

Parents, if your kids saw the first film, they are fine with this one. The only thing they might feel confused of is about why adults are laughing as well.

Is it better than the first? My first response would be no (I admit it started off a little slow and does not have the freshness of the original), but it should not detract from how good the second film is. As was the case in the first, one of the best things about this film is that it actually has a message for kids. Even if you take away the humor, this is one of the better movies about friendship I have seen in some time, animated or otherwise. Disney has always been the best at bringing out the kid in all of us, and they did it again.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Green Book (2018)

Green Book

Tony (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali)

There is a sense of some old school magic in the real life story inspired film Green Book. This magic appears in (nearly) everything from the performances to the chemistry to the message to the drama as well as comedy. It has been a while since I had a warm glow inside after leaving the theater.

I doubt I was alone when I heard of the title. It refers to an actual book that was distributed in the Jim Crow era for African-Americans, letting them know which places would allow them to visit if they were to travel in the southern states. This is one of the last things given to Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian bouncer hired by musician Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) to aid him through his musical tour in the south for two months. Lip assures him that, down south, “there’s gonna be problems.”

There should be no surprise when you realize the heart of the movie is the chemistry between Mortensen and Ali. While Ali (who won an Oscar for 2016’s Moonlight) is much more subtle and nuanced, Mortensen (someone I always thought was very underrated as an actor) is much more out there. He eats a lot (and I mean a lot), probably does not know how to whisper, and can be rather ignorant at times. That does not, however, mean he is stupid. We don’t laugh at the racism, but at the situation in which they are said. Both actors give rather wonderful performances in their own right with each of their characters showing multiple layers as the film progresses.

Parents, this is one of the rare times I actually applaud the MPAA, because they could have easily made it rated R but thankfully it is PG-13. There is swearing (I think two F bombs and one use of the N word), a little violence (nothing graphic) and no real sexuality (aside from one scene that I am not sure if it was needed for the story). Middle School and above.

One of the bigger surprises is knowing that the film was directed by Peter Farrelly, who is more well-known for comedies like Dumb and Dumber (1994) and There’s Something about Mary (1998). Green Book (which Farrelly wrote with Brian Hayes Currie and Tony’s real life son Nick, who also has a minor role) has given a film that does have some speed bumps on the way, but delivers a film that crescendos to a very satisfying film that will make you want to go back and experience more than once.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Widows (2018)

Widows

Veronica (Viola Davis) directs her cohorts in what to do.

As someone who has lived his whole life in the suburbs of Chicago, I had mixed emotions to Widows. Is the city full of corruption? Sadly yes, but that does not detract from how well the mood and atmosphere is set in the film. It only adds to it.

After a robbery gone wrong leaves all involved dead, we see the grief unfold for one of the widows, Veronica (Viola Davis). Her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) was the one in charge of it all, but when the wreckage was looked over, it is discovered that the money went up in flames as well. The money was stolen from one of the candidates running for the local district, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). He warns Veronica that she has a month to pay him back. The plot thickens more when we learn he is running up against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), who is still under the thumb of his retired father Tom (Robert Duvall).

Of course, Veronica is not the only widow. She meets up with the others whose husbands died that night. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has lost her clothing store, while Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is going through her own emotional turmoil with little help from her mom (Jacki Weaver).

Ok, that is as far as I will go with the plot, since the movie has plenty of twists (especially one that I did not see coming) to discover for yourself. What is remarkable about the film is that each character could have had the movie told from his or her own point of view. All of them are so well written and acted it is as though the depth of the characters could not go any deeper. This is all due to the nearly perfect script by director Steve McQueen (whose last film, 12 years a Slave, won Best picture five years ago) and Gillian Flynn that is based off of material by Lynda La Plante.

It is close to impossible to say which of the actors would be in talks for Oscar consideration, because Widows is an ensemble film in every sense. Davis has always been a force of nature on-screen, and is no different here. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Debicki, who I have only seen recently in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017). Here she seems dumb, but shows more beneath the surface. My favorite would still probably be Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s brother and right hand man. To say he does all of Jamal’s dirty work is an understatement. I have a theory that, after Kaluuya was mistreated (to say the least) in 2017’s Get Out, he now gets to unleash that anger here, and it is fantastic to watch.

 

Parents, not for kids. Not at all. More than enough swearing, violence, and sexuality (two scenes, not to mention photographs showing hardcore details of a sexual act). The R rating is justified.

 

There are some moments in the movie that I would question (especially one with Linda’s character), but it does not take away much from this amazing thriller. Movies like Widows are why we sit at the edge of the theater seat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Mid90s (2018)

mid90s

13 year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) has set his mind on skateboarding.

 

It would come as no surprise to me if there were many parts of Mid90s that are based off of events from Jonah Hill growing up. He was born in 1983, making him near the same age as the films protagonist, but it goes deeper than just that. The movie is not about a set of performances (all great), but on mood and setting. From super soakers to Walkman CD players (which I doubt I am the only one who does not miss) to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”, Mid90s is indeed its own form of period piece.

The protagonist is 13-year-old Stevie (newcomer Sunny Suljic). He lives at home with his mom (Katherine Waterston) and older brother Ian (Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges). We see Stevie in that stage of life where what is “cool” isn’t anymore, and new interests must be found. He decides on skateboarding, and discovers a group of (mostly) older kids to hang out with.

The leader is Ray (Na-kel Smith), also easily the best skater of the bunch (and one of the best in town). His best friend is F***S*** (Olan Prenatt), called so due to his tendency to say that phrase followed by “That is Crazy!”. The youngest in the group (closest to Stevie in age) is Ruben (Gio Galicia), who is no longer the runt of the litter. The final member is Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), so-called because it represents his IQ (or lack there of).

There are many things that work so well in Mid90s. Take for example the time it takes for Stevie to be excepted. There is clearly a care for the characters that Hill (who also wrote the film, his first ever directed) shows us in how he takes his time for them to develop. Stevie is clearly a nice kid, even trying to give his older brother a thoughtful birthday gift despite the fact that Ian lets out all his frustrations on his kid brother. Yet the movie is smart enough to know that Ian (who clearly has a thing for orange juice) does love his brother deep down, but has no one else to turn his anger on.

Parents, this far from a kids movie. There is clearly a lot of swearing, some violence and many thematic elements. There is also one of the most uncomfortable sexual content scenes I have witnessed in a long time, which involves Stevie at a party with an older girl. Nothing is really shown, but the atmosphere is very unsettling (and he describes what happens afterwards.) The R rating is more than justified.

Mid90s packs a lot into the short runtime of 85 minutes, but that does not at all take away from it. There are many clichés that could have occurred in the film, but are (for the most part) avoided. I urge my fellow millennials to search this film out like one may search out an old yearbook.

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Hate U Give (2018)

The Hate u give

After the death of her childhood friend, Starr’s life is forever changed.

It did not take long to see how preachy The Hate U Give would be, let alone how well-timed it has been released. I admit it took me a while to realize that maybe, just maybe, it needs to be preachy. It’s message is clear, and, for the most part, delivers it well.

No small part of that revolves around its main young star (pun intended) Amandla Stenberg (who, once upon a time, was Rue of The Hunger Games). She is Starr, who lives in one very run down neighborhood with her family. She informs us she was “nine years old when she had the talk” from her dad Mav (Russell Hornsby), about the statutes of the black panthers (not the Wakanda kind).

Flash forward to present day, where she goes to a private school (mostly white) since the public school is only a setting of chaos and trouble. She tries to live two separate lives, acting as “non-ghetto” as she can, even around her two friends Maya (Megan Lawless) and Hailey (former Disney Channel star Sabrina Carpenter). She even tries the act in front of her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa), who is not your typical movie boyfriend (which is a compliment).

One night, while at a party in her home neighborhood, she reunites with Khalil (Algee Smith), one of her best friends growing up (and first crush). Tragedy strikes when, after the party, he is pulled over and shot dead by a cop. The movie (based off of the book by Angie Thomas, which I will need to read soon) is far too smart to be about whether this cop is going to be arrested. It is far more than that.

There is grounded wisdom and solace that Starr gets mainly from her parents, which are played nicely by Hornsby and Regina Hall. We get also so very nice subtle work by Anthony Mackie (Falcon from the MCU) as the feared leader King, who once worked with Mav before the latter left it all behind. There is also Mav’s police officer brother Carlos, played by Common. Starr’s siblings are also nicely played, with Lamar Johnson as Seven, and TJ Wright as Sekani.

Parents, I have heard that the book does have some sexual content in it. There is not much of that here, aside from some kissing and mention of one character trying to have sex with a girl and failing (nothing shown). The PG-13 rating is mainly for the violence, swearing, and (most of all) the thematic situations. High School and up (maybe mature middle schoolers).

As stated before, the movie does get to be rather preachy at times. Perhaps I was just thinking a little too much of Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing, which may be unfair to compare this film to (or almost any film to). Director George Tillman Jr. does do a fine job with direction and pacing, and the film does give more proof that young Amandla Stenberg is a light that will only get brighter as her career progresses.

It is as timely a movie as any out there right now, so yeah, it is definitely worth the watch.

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

The Wife (2018)

The Wife

The arguments abound with the happiness of Joan (Glenn Close) and Joe (Jonathan Pryce) Castleman.

Admittedly, it took a little time getting accustomed to director Bjorn Runge’s The Wife, mainly in how it decided to share the couple’s past along with the present. What was apparent was the great performances, mainly that of veteran film actress Glenn Close.

Close stars as Joan Castleman, the long time wife of renown author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The film opens with Joseph finding out about his acceptance of the nobel prize in literature. They travel to Stockholm with their son David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) as well as a not so welcomed guest Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), eager to write Joseph’s autobiography.

As stated before, I was a little lost at first as to why we had to go back in time to look at the start of the relationship (the younger version of the couple is played nicely by Harry Lloyd and Annie Starke), though I eventually realized it is to show how the couple has been able to work off of each other for decades on end. Not to mention a secret they have kept from everyone (even their children).

Parents, the film does have one sex scene, but nothing is shown except the character’s faces (it is in the first five minutes), and there is swearing. I would say high school and above.

Still, if anything, the film is worth seeing mainly for Glenn Close, who is still one of the main living veterans in Hollywood to have an Oscar. Perhaps now is her time at last.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies (2018)

Teen Titans Go to the movies

The Teen Titans won’t be the only ones surprised at their first movie…

There are a lot of fans of the original Teen Titans TV show that are adamant haters of the show Teen Titans GO. I mean true haters. The first show came on the air just a few years after I was done with cartoons, but managed to see a few shows thanks to my little brother. When Teen Titans Go came out, the legion of die-hard fans became die hard haters. The show did not give life lessons as before, but it did give lots of humor for adults as well as kids. Enter Teen Titans Go! To the Movie, one of the years most surprising (and hilarious) films.

Sick of not being noticed, the Titan’s leader Robin (voice of Scott Menville) is determined to have a movie made about him (with or without the titans). It is this conundrum that is the basis of the film, but the side adventures of Robin, Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), and Raven (Tara Strong) that bring the best parts out, very few of which I will mention (even poking fun at Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). All that is to say is that kids may be confused why their parents are laughing harder than they are at times.

Others who lend their vocal talents include Will Arnett (also one of the producers) as the team’s nemesis Slade (“SLAAAADE!”), Kristen Bell as film director Jade Wilson, Nicholas Cage as Superman, and great minor comic roles for (minor spoiler) Michael Bolton and Stan Lee.

Parents, there are some movies that you drop your kids off at the theater and pick them up at later. Don’t do it here. See it with them. It will be worth it (and yes, all ages are okay).

There are times when the action (which does look good for the type of animation  being used) does go on a bit too long, and the last act does drag on a bit. Still, this is one of those comedies that will require multiple viewings in order to find all the jokes and “Easter eggs”.

Meaning I have at least ten or more viewings to attend, which I would gladly do.

Overall: Four Stars

****

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2

Wind Advisory: The super-duper group is formed.

 

Obviously, there are too many quips and jokes and one liners to list in a review of Deadpool 2, and would be redundant. As was the case with the original, the sequel has Ryan Reynolds at the core of its cinematic power. While it is not a masterpiece, it is an upgrade from its predesceor.

The film starts (with a nod to Scorsese’s Casino) with Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Reynolds) right where we left him: fighting crime and coming home to his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Caccarin). In fact, one of the best things about this film is that it stands by itself, not requiring you to know much about the first film (though there are some inside jokes you would miss). After a tragic event, Deadpool tries his hand with the X-Men , as they try to help a young mutant named Firefist (a well casted Julian Dennison). They soon find out he is being hunted down by Cable (Josh Brolin), who has traveled back in time after the future Firefist has killed his wife and daughter.

What happens from there is for you to discover. There is more than a fair share of crude humor and fourth wall breaking, as well as other film references such as Say Anything. It is yet to be half way through 2018, and Josh Brolin is already set with this as well as Infinity War, giving two performances of impressive strength. Other returning actors include T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, and Karan Soni as Deadpool’s friends. New characters include Zazie Beetz as Domino (who, despite Deadpool’s unbelief, is lucky), Shioli Kutsuna as Yukio, and a surprise mutant who the credits say plays himself.

The biggest mistake I made was looking at the cast on IMDB before I saw the film. There are a good amount of cameos that I found out about too soon. Don’t look until after the film. Personally, I know there are a few I missed and need to seek out the second time.

Parents, it should be no surprise that you should know this is not a family film (though Deadpool does disagree on that perspective). There is no nudity (aside from some obscure male nudity) or strong sexual content as there was in the first film. There is, however, a lot of swearing and violence. A whole lot. High School and above.

Despite the film’s flaws (the sentimental scene at the end, though funny, does go long), there is no doubt that the credit scenes (which you would expect) are the funniest scenes in the whole film. They are better than any credit scenes in any film of the past decade. They almost make the price worth paying to see the movie itself, which is not to say the movie is bad. Rather the contrary.

Now if you excuse me, I need to watch Yentl.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs

Young Atari (Koyu Rankin) travels to the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots.

There are very few filmmakers these days I can think of whose minds I would like to explore rather than Wes Anderson. Though I have yet to see all of his films, the ones I have seen are as fresh, insightful, original, joyful, and thought-provoking as any I have seen. Isle of Dogs is no exception.

Set in Japan, we see that Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has sent all dogs (domesticated or not) to a lone Isle in response to a dog flu epidemic. It is also due to the fact that he has an ancient hatred of canines. Not so his nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin), who is Kobayashi’s only heir (Atari’s parents had died in a train crash). He is assigned a dog that he is told not to fall in love with (not even pet). The dog is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who is the first dog sent to the Isle. Atari steals a plane and flies in search of his dog.

While there, he encounters a group of other dogs. There is King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray, Anderson’s Muse), and Rex (Edward Norton). Though they like to have some form of democracy in the vote, the stand alone leader is Chief (Bryan Cranston), whose head is as hard as his heart.

As befitting a Wes Anderson flick, Isle of Dogs supports a strong cast of characters played by a big cast of talented people. It is dumb of me to list all of them; not just because of how many, but because it is fun to find out for yourselves. Still, I can at least name a few you may hear, such as Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance (This is Us), and even Yoko Ono.

Parents, I am still up in the air as to whether or not I agree with the PG-13 rating. There is no sexual content (other than talk of mating), and a few swear words that the local middle schooler has probably heard on a daily basis. The rating is mainly due to a few violent scenes (which I admit caught me off guard). If your kids have seen Anderson’s 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I highly recommend), they are fine seeing this film.

Come to think of it, what I like the most about all of Anderson’s films is how caught off guard they leave me. That is an essential feeling for any great movie, and while Isle of Dogs is not perfect (it does seem to run on long at times), that was the feeling I had throughout.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****