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 ****

A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski not only caries the safety of his family on his shoulders, but the movie as a whole.

I doubt even the biggest fan of The Office would have predicted that they would see John Krasinski stepping out with his talents like this. He not only stars in A Quiet Place, but directs and helped with the screenplay. It is only his third time at the helm as director, but it is certainly the charm.

Krasinski and Emily Blunt (his wife in real life) star as Lee and Evelyn Abbott, who live with their two kids Regan and Marcus (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, respectively). They are some of the very last survivors on earth after creatures with super sonic like hearing have killed everyone else. They have lived just under five hundred days, with a strict schedule of normal life, provided they don’t make a sound. It is fortune for them that they do live in a farm in the outside parts of New York, and have already learned how to use sign language (the daughter Regan is deaf). New dangers do arise, as we find out that a new baby is on the way.

It is obvious that there is jump scares a plenty in the film, which I am not ashamed to admit got me shaken a few times. Still, what scared me the most of the film is not the jump scares or even the creature (which is creepy, no doubt.) For me, it was knowing off the bat that, if this happend in the real world, and we all had to be quiet. I would not last long at all.

It is also refreshing how such a small cast can give strong performances. Krasinski and Blunt are obviously good (especially in one scene they share by themselves as they dance), but the kids are equally impressive. Both kids were in 2017 films: Simmonds in Wonderstruck and Jupe in Wonder (he was Auggie’s friend Jack Will). It is really Simmonds who is given the most moments to shine (she is deaf in real life).

Parents, the movie is PG-13, mainly for the horror and violence (there is bloody images, but nothing worse than what is on cable these days). Due to the lack of dialogue (though there is some), there is no real swearing. Middle school and up is fine.

It is not perfect: A second or third viewing will be needed to see if there are sounds that are made that you would think the creature would have heard. Still, undoubtably, the man responsible for A Quiet Place is Krasinski. In years to come, he could be in races for an Oscar. Still, the most impressive thing (and creepiest) came after the credits. It is not a scene, but a name of a producer that John Krasinski has linked to a good movie.

That name is Michael Bay.

When you make a good movie with Michael Bay’s name attached to it (in any way), you know a movie is not only good, but a rarity.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One

Wade (Tye Sheridan) is one of many who daily journey into the OASIS

It is no secret that movies and video games have not mixed well in the past, be it video games based on movies (there are too many to count that are bad, but E.T. is probably the most notorious) or movies based on video games (anyone remember Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?), it is hard for these two industries to get along, with a few exceptions (Wreck It Ralph and the Goldeneye Video game come to mind). Finally, it is as if Steven Spielberg has come between the two, shouting “ENOUGH!”, and has given us a great film in Ready Player One.

Based off the book of the same name by Ernest Cline, the world is a very different place in 2045 (though not as different as the year 2049 in the Blade Runner sequel). Everyone has one place to escape, which is the OASIS, a virtual reality where gamers can basically do everything you would want in video games and/or social media. We meet our hero Wade (Tye Sheridan, who I have been a fan of since 2013’s underrated Mud), who lives in the projects of Columbus, Ohio, which is now one of the biggest cities in the world. As Parzival (his Avatar), he is on a quest to find the three keys that will win him the ultimate “Easter Egg”, and complete control of the OASIS. The contest was designed by the late creator Halliday (Mark Rylance), after he severed his partnership with Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

There are many unsung rules of the OASIS, such as never giving your real name, even if you fall for the gorgeous avatar Artemis (Olivia Cooke). They both are pursued by a company that calls themselves the sixers, lead by the tyrannical Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento also needs some help from a pro gamer named I-ROk, who is voiced to perfection by T.J. Miller (who needs a hit after starring in The Emoji Movie).

I have never read the book, but I would wager the Orb of Osuvox that only Steven Spielberg (arguably one of the best film makers who ever lived) could have done this book justice. The secret of Spielberg’s success in Ready Player One is not just that he shows us countless objects from pop culture, but that he does not just rub it in our face. He trusts us enough to find them on our own. It is also not his main objective to show us special effects (which are obviously superior), but to tell a story (as it is for any director).

Parents, the movie is a strong PG-13. There is no real sexual content (though some innuendo, kissing, partial nudity, and revealing clothing). There is a good amount of swearing (including one F bomb, though it is used rather comically), though nothing the normal middle schooler has not heard these days. There is also one part of the movie that talks a bit about the horror classic The Shining (which I would hope kids have not seen at too young of an age). The scene in Room 237 is shown, though not all of the one character in the bathtub is.

Yes, the movie does over stay its welcome (especially in the second half), but there was rarely a time when I wanted the film to end. I expect a lot of parents will be getting references the kids will not, obviously meaning parents will enjoy this as well.

At one point, Halliday says something about how we need to remember to spend time in reality, to remember that is what real is.

That does not help when a movie like Ready Player One seems so life-like.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Molly’s Game (2017)

Molly's Game

In court, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) with attourney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba)

With the exception of Tarantino, I can’t think of anyone who does electric dialogue like Aaron Sorkin, and it shows in his directorial debut, Molly’s Game. True, there is a good amount that is hard to follow, but it is so palpable that you can’t turn away from it.

Based off the book of the same name, the film tells the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier who finds a way to make money by hosting poker games. The film splits between the story in the book (narrated by Bloom), and the events two years later after her arrest by the FBI. She searches for an attorney, and finds Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).  Jaffey is only part way through her book, but when he decides to become her lawyer, he mentions how he now needs to finish it.

We see how Bloom’s life has been hard from the get go. A demanding father (a wonderful Kevin Costner) who was also her coach at a young age, he pushed her even after a disease required her to have spinal surgery at the age of 12. It is only after an accident of pure chance during the Olympic qualifying rounds that her skiing days are truly over.

At first, I thought the narration by Chastain was a little too much, but I realized how essential it was. I have played a good amount of poker games in my life (not professionally), but the film reminded me how little I knew about the game in general (mainly the terms I never heard of).

For privacy sake, Bloom decides not to mention the real names of any of the players (who range from hollywood stars to politicians), though there has been speculation as to who they are. Some include Player X (Michael Cera), one of the best around, and Brad (Brian d’Arcy James), who still manages to make money even when he is one of the worst players imaginable.

The tension between Elba and Chastain is some of the best non-romantic chemistry I have seen in an acting duo in some time. It is like a game of ping-pong with words. It is no wonder that the real Molly Bloom said she wanted Chastain to play her.

Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing (and there is a lot of it). There is no sex or nudity, but the female characters do wear a lot of revealing clothing. There is also one scene of a violent assault. High School and above.

Perhaps what I liked most about the movie was the character traits of Molly. She is not the type we would associate with as a villain. She needs to make money, but (for the most part) does so in a near ethical way. We know there were some slip ups, but her heart is in the right place. Thankfully, the same could be same for Sorkin.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky

The Logan Brothers (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum), discuss a very elaborate plan…

Surprises are aplenty in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, a film that is proof that a script is still the most essential ingredient to any movie made.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that that the film’s screenwriter, Rebecca Blunt, is perhaps not even a real person. Only through emails did communication with the “author” of the script ever occur. Regardless, it is some very strong writing.

The film opens in West Virginia, where a divorced man, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), is spending time with his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). While dropping her off at her mother’s (Katie Holmes) house, Jimmy finds out that his ex is moving across state lines with her new husband (David Denman), making it more difficult for Jimmy to see his daughter (he has just been laid off his job in construction).

After a talk with his one armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver, showing us no signs that he is also Star Wars‘ Kylo Ren), he comes up with a plan to make money to afford seeing his daughter: rob the money being made at the NASCAR speedway where he has been working construction. To say the plan is meticulous is an understatement. I don’t know how long Blunt (or whoever wrote the script) spent, but it is well worth it.

There are others in the film that help out along the way, including two hillbilly brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who only agree to help if it is for “moral” reasons. And while the movie does show some other celebrity cameos I did not expect (nor will I ruin), the best (and most surprising) is clearly Daniel Craig. His Joe Bang is an explosions expert, who not only plays a character that can go over the top, but is even subtle when he needs to be. I doubt I am alone when I had a hard time remembering that this is the same person who played James Bond.

Parents, the movie is PG-13, and it is mainly for some swearing (maybe an F bomb or two). There is no sexual content (despite a character telling another they are about to get  naked and not look), so I would totally say Middle School and up would be fine.

My only real problem with the movie are a few minor details, thinking that the plan may have been “too thought out”. It would be something I would have to watch the movie again in order to explain properly.

Luckily, Logan Lucky is a movie that is worth multiple viewings, the type you will find new things every time you watch it.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in one of her few moments of true happiness…

There is one positive thing you can definitely say about Tonya Harding: She truly was a talented skater. She did things no woman had done before her, and was one who truly (at times) worked hard. It is too bad she made bad choices (one in particular) and had moment after moment of bad luck.

We have all heard of the story of how Harding asked her ex husband Jeff Gillooly to help do something with her rival (and roommate) Nancy Kerrigan. It resulted, of course, with a goon clubbing Kerrigan in the leg with a baton, taking her out of competition. What is unknown are the life events that led up to the incident, and that is what much of I, Tonya is about.

Director Craig Gillespie shoots the screenplay of Steven Rodgers in an almost “mockumentary” way. We get interviews on the side from Tonya (Margot Robbie) and her ex Jeff (Sebastian Stan), as well as Tonya’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney). We see how, as a child, the young Tonya (Mckenna Grace) is beyond tortured by her mother. All of the scenes with LaVona and her daughter (both as a child and adult) are played with more than just the icy venom we know a veteran thespian like Janney can deliver. Hers is one performance that will not be forgotten anytime soon (surely an Oscar nominated one). Her LaVona is the worst mom cinema has offered since 2009’s Precious. As she grows up, Tonya does seem to find a silver lining when she meets Jeff.  Sure, he is abusive, but they seem to make up shortly after (and then some).  While Sebastian Stan does hold his own, there is no doubt how spectacular Margot Robbie is. It will be very difficult for her to top this performance later on in her career.

One of the things that I admit surprised me the most was how smart the movie was. There is even some fourth wall breaking that occurs, and a certain character telling us they “know what we came for”. There is also some wonderful jabs at the early 90s as well, such as trying to have a phone call in private at your friend’s house.

Parents, the movie is rated R for good reason. There is a lot of swearing (the majority from Janney), one sex scene, and some nudity in a strip club. High School and above.

 

While some points do tend to drag on a bit, the film was still a refreshing piece of work, and one of the funniest I have seen all year. Whether it is factually correct or not, I am not sure, but it is to Robbie’s credit that you will be watching her, and not know if it is the real Harding or not.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call me by your name

A “truce” is made between Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer)

It is truly risky to make a movie like Call Me by Your Name, especially in a year of talks of sexual misconduct coming out of Hollywood (as well as politics). Yet for the most part, the movie still seems to work.

If you have not heard of the movie, it tells the story of a seventeen year old boy named Elio (Timothee Chalamet) as he spends one summer in 1983 in his family’s villa in northern Italy. An only child, he spends most of his summer writing his own music, hanging with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), swimming, and going out at night. He also will help his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of ancient roman history (I believe), on occasion. All this changes when a college graduate comes in to assist his father. He is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a kind-hearted young man who eventually forms a relationship with young Elio.

It is clear the film will not be for everyone, as Elio and Oliver do have more than one times where they are intimate. It should be noted that the story (based off of a book by Andre Aciman, who also has a cameo) does take place in Italy, where the age of consent is lower than in America.

One thing no one will find controversial is the acting. After a memorable role in this year’s Lady Bird, it is safe to say that Chalamet is clearly making a name for himself, and shows range, poise, and vunerability unseen by most young actors. Hammer of course is affective as Oliver, but the one perhaps most perfectly cast is Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father. His is the type of Professor you would want to have in college, and even some attributes you would want in a father (he was also in this year’s The Shape of Water).]

My issue with the film is how it was presented. Though the director, Luca Guadagnino, does a fine job overall, the audience seems to be thrown into this situation, without exactly having a character we can see a point of view from. I would argue if we had seen this more from Elio’s perspective, the movie would have been a whole lot better.

Parents, you should not be surprised: this is not a movie for kids at all. There is strong sexual material, nudity (including female), and some swearing. The R rating is more than appropriate.

Another thing the movie gets right is the landscape of Italy, a country I have always wanted to visit at least once. If you add in the stellar acting and emotion to the immaculate imagery of the scenes, it is clear why Call Me by Your Name is getting all the praise it deserves.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars The Last Jedi

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8.

No one can overstate the fandom of the Star Wars Universe. Even so, regardless of how many times you have seen the movies, the amount of books you read, the hours of gameplay you have spent on KOTAR (Knights of the Old Republic) and the Lego versions, and even if you know the difference between a fambaa and a Tauntaun (actual creature names in the Star Wars Universe), you are still going to be surprised by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The dialogue from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) says it best:

“This is not going to go the way you think!”

Set right after the events of The Force Awakens, this film (Episode 8) shows the rebels under attack and virtually cornered by the first order, led by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Despite efforts by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and others, the rebel’s star ships seem to be running low on fuel and are at the end of their rope. Still, hope is still being held onto, mainly by Leia (the late great Carrie Fisher, whose final film performance both melts your heart and warms it at the same time). Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally found Luke Skywalker, but getting him to join the fight is no easy feat.

That is all I will say of the plot, because I would never dream of dropping any spoilers. I can say that this film does seem to be in a class of its own in the Star Wars franchise. It has shown us parts of the force we have not experienced before. Yet where it differs, the similarities are still there (there are vibes you get of The Empire Strikes Back as well as Return of the Jedi). There are twists we do not see coming, and I was shocked many a time during the film. That is a positive thing.

Obviously, the film is a technical marvel. It is so wonderous to see that, even after all these years, the Star Wars films can still give us imagery that we have not yet seen (the same goes for the music, done, once again, by the legend that is John Williams.) The credit of taking a risk with going in a different direction has got to go to director Rian Johnson (who also helped write the screenplay). This even includes some unexpected, yet delightful humorous moments.

The Last Jedi does have some faults that keep it from the likes of Episodes 4 and 5. The movie is long (the longest, in fact, of the franchise, at 2 1/2 hours). There is also a character played by Benecio Del Toro (undoubtably an amazing actor) who, I feel, was totally redundant to the film. His character, DJ (which really seems a little odd for a Star Wars film, somehow) is in a situation to help the rebels, but that situation alone was awkward writing in the first place.

Still, we get some fresh new faces that add to the franchise that are more than welcome. The two stand out characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a rebel fighter helping Poe and Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (the always wonderful Laura Dern). All these characters (and others) get at least one moment in the film to shine (some of which will have you applauding).

Parents, if your kids have seen at least one other film in this franchise (and if they haven’t and are old enough, what are you waiting for?!?!), they will be fine here. There is no nudity or sex, just some mild swearing and (obviously) action.

As of this review, there is a vast difference in opinion between critics and the public (as is normally the case). It is strange, however, that the critics seem to like it a lot more (at the moment, 93% of critics liked it, while only 63% of the audience liked it). Upon reading the reviews from the latter, I realize a lot of people are upset that certain questions are not answered. Personally, I feel not all questions need to be answered in a movie (I still don’t know how one can explain Anakin’s birth, and have yet to see where Yoda came from). It is up for interpretation, meaning The Last Jedi will require many a viewing.

 

Something I will gladly do.

 

(Minor spoiler) I liked the film so much I did not even realize that, by the end credits, they did not say the line that is always said in the Star Wars films. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I can almost forgive them for not saying it.

 

Almost.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****