Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman

“Permission to come aboard?”

For the most part, the casting choices in the DCU films have been good (even Ben Affleck as Batman was not a total loss). That is still the case for Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, which is really the only true positive thing to say about the movie. He does make a splash, but the script is down right soggy.

The film does open with an origin story (which is fair, since it is not as well-known as those of Batman or Superman). We see how Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse worker, finds a wounded woman named Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) on the shores. He heals her, they fall in love, and have Arthur. Eventually, Atlanna must return to Atlantis to stop the onslaught on Tom and Arthur after having run away from her marriage to King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

Fast forward to present day, and we see a grown up Arthur being visited by Mera (Amber Heard). Turns out that the new heir is Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants to rage war on humans above (you know, for all the stuff we have done to the ocean in the past). One of the kingdom’s long time subjects (and Arthur’s former teacher) Vulko (a nicely cast Willem Dafoe) works behind Orm’s back to prevent such a war from occurring. For Arthur to succeed, he must find the long-lost trident that would prove his worth. There is also the subplot of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), out for revenge on Aquaman after an event at the start of the film.

There are some rather wonderful underground imagery here, but it would be even better if the script had not been so ridiculously predictable. The movie is basically if Thor (or even Black Panther) had lived underwater (claiming a birthright, evil family member villain, etc) . All the fights were nice to look at, but no points in knowing the outcome: you can see it the moment they announce it. By the end, we do get another CGI battle that seems almost off the shelf.

It should also come as no surprise that superhero flicks need a good villain, and the DCU has not been the best at that (though Michael Shannon was good as General Zod and Margot Robbie was really effective as Harley Quinn). Sadly, Patrick Wilson does not measure up, and his villain is nothing short of forgettable.

Parents, the movie should be fine for kids (some swearing and action/violence, but nothing they have not seen in superhero flick before). Middle School and up.

In a year that gave us Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the best was clearly not saved for last (despite some moments I liked, especially where Arthur got his idea of how to use a whale for escape). Still, rather than giving us a breath of fresh air, Aquaman leaves us gasping for it.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

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 ****

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (2018)

Fantastic Beasts The Curse of Grindlewald

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is back, and in for more than he bargained for.

One of the best things about the original Harry Potter films was that all were such good entertainments on their own merits that I still have a problem of picking my favorite (though the 5th and 8th are strong contenders). One thing is for certain: none of the prequels are in the conversation.

Which brings us to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, and while I am a fan of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, I feel the movie is more for the hardcore fans than the casual ones. Basically, this not a movie for those who may want to start off in the Potter universe. One thing the movie does keep in tradition with is the good casting choices. We see the return of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) after the events of the first Fantastic Beasts film where he helped with the capture of the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The film starts with Grindelwald’s escape and Scamander having a meeting with a young Dumbledore (Jude Law), who asks Newt if he could help catch Grindelwald again, who is now in Paris.

We get returning characters such as Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), along with Queenie’s boyfriend Jacob (Dan Folger). Tina is in a race with Grindelwald to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who is on a search for his own past before he was adopted.

While this sounds simple enough, the main problem with the film is that there are far too many story lines to follow, leaving one scratching his or her head. Only in the last third or fourth of the film does the drama pick up, and we begin to finally see some things we have not seen much of before in this universe.

Parents, the movie is fine for anyone who has ever seen any of the other films that were also rated PG-13. There is nothing completely sexual, and there is some swearing. It is the thematic elements and mild violence that make this for middle schoolers and up.

I admit there are some parts that hint at the original stories (my favorite was the inclusion of Nicholas Flamel), and a twist at the end that I am still debating on whether I liked or not. What has me most upset though is that this is only the second of five planned films. That is right, five, which makes me feel like it will tread down the path of the underwhelming Hobbit prequels. That, in the long run, would be a crime.

 

Overall: Two and a Half Stars **1/2

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 ****

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody

Don’t stop him now, because Rami Malek is having a good time as Queen’s lead man Freddie Mercury

“Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?”

These lyrics could be attributed to Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. He does do a rather fantastic job, but the film makers seem to be holding so much more back that he could use (basically, they are telling him “we won’t let you go”).

Malek is easily the best thing about the film. I feel the negatives of the film (and there are a more than a few) may actually hold him back from an Oscar nomination (though I could see him getting a nod for a Golden Globe). We meet Freddie Mercury in a flashback just before he and his band are to go perform at the live aid tour in 1985. Years before, we see how he met his band members Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), as well as his wife Mary (Lucy Boynton). Those who have any idea about the late singer knows he hid his homosexuality as much as possible, as well as his diagnosis of AIDS until the day before he died.

If the movie were to be split into three parts, I would say the weakest by far is the second. I knew little of Mercury going in, but did discover he was someone who totally lived life to the full. The movie seems to only scratch the surface, with only Malek seeming to want to dig deeper. If I could ask director Bryan Singer a question, it would be why they did not go with an R rating. My only guess so far is that they may want younger people who don’t know the band Queen to discover them (which I totally would think they should). Still, it does rob the movie of much authenticity.

Parents, I mentioned the movie is PG-13. There is no nudity, but a lot of partying and kissing. I would say High School and up (or at the least, very mature middle schooler).

I will admit to not recognizing Mike Myers in the role of Ray Foster, the person who said the title song would not be anything kids would want to bang their heads to in the car (cough, cough, Wayne’s World). Also, when you hear the performers that will be at the live aid concert (Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John, to name a few), it makes it even more hard to believe that people would only be calling in to donate when Queen is playing. My personal qualm with the film is they barely make a mention of the song “Under Pressure”, which is my personal favorite (along with the title song).

Oh well. Anyway the wind blows.

Overall: Three 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 ****

 

First Man (2018)

First Man

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is the First Man in line of the first day of training at NASA.

It should be noted from the get go that Neil Armstrong did make it to the moon and became the first human to walk on the surface. It is not a spoiler, since we all know that going in, but as a way of saying how wonderful the film First Man really is. There are many areas of tension throughout that we need to remember it will be okay for Armstrong in the end, even if it seems like the odds are impossible, which they probably were close to.

Director Damien Chazelle (fresh off his Oscar win for La La Land) has made a movie that truly is on par with classics like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. With a screenplay by Josh Singer (who won an Oscar for Spotlight) that is based on the book by James R. Hansen, First Man starts off where it should: high above ground. We meet Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he is in the mist of being an engineer and pilot. After suffering a blow to his family, we see him and his wife Janet (Claire Foy, the recent Emmy winner of The Crown) as he is chosen (along with many others) to be the pilots to help NASA reach the moon before the Russians.

Others in the cast include Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, Jason Clarke as Ed White, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell (the role Tom Hanks played in Apollo 13), Lukas Haas as Mike Collins, and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. This is just a handful of a supporting cast who bring an unsung backbone to the film’s success.

As the main role, Ryan Gosling gives a rather subdued, yet powerful performance. This, of course, is because Armstrong was known to be a very humbled, quiet man (unlike Buzz Aldrin, which Corey Stoll plays perfectly). It is also a crucial move for Gosling since the performance by Claire Foy as his wife is much more direct and demanding. It is most clear in scenes such as her yelling at Slayton for turning off her radio, and when she is telling her husband not that he should talk to their sons before the mission, but that he will talk to their sons. Like Gosling, Foy gives Oscar caliber work.

However, the one I feel who deserves the most praise is Chazelle. After Whiplash and La La Land, it is clear as day that this guy is one of the best young talents in film today. I read a user review of the film online saying how the movie was too slow, which is ludicrous. Patience is something any movie goer must have to appreciate film as an art, and the pacing of the film here is pitch perfect (it hardly seemed to drag, even at two hours and twenty-one minutes. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (also a La La Land Oscar winner) gives us not the light we as an audience would need, but the light the characters would have (in other words, he basically seems to use natural light). This is one of many reasons why First Man makes you feel as much as an astronaut as a film has. In Armstrong’s Gemini mission, there is one sequence that has stayed with me more than anything from the film, particularly one sound effect. This and the rest of the sound effects are as spine chilling as those I witnessed when I saw The Exorcist.

Parents, there is no sexual content at all (aside from some kissing). There is some swears (one, maybe two F bombs), and a lot of thematic material (especially with the result of the one main Apollo mission that ended tragically). Still, I would like to believe Middle Schoolers and up would be totally fine with this film.

I conclude with a plea. Recently, First Man had gotten a lot of negative press because the moon landing did not feature Armstrong planting the American Flag on the moon (I still like the fact that Gosling found it humourous that he is Canadian). There are plenty of shots of American flags in the film, and we do see the flag on the moon as well (though not the actual planting of it). It is up to you if you want to miss this film because of one minor thing that they left out. If you still insist on not seeing it, I would say undoubtably that you are missing one extraordinary film experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Venom (2018)

Venom

The plot of Venom is more slippery than infectious.

It isn’t that Venom is a terrible movie, but it most certainly is a disappointing one, especially when you have a great talent like Tom Hardy in the lead role. He himself is really the only thing worth seeing in this film (and, admittedly, some unexpected laughs I was not expecting).

Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a reporter who one day is in over his head as he tries to uncover the mystery behind a suspicious company of scientists (or something like that) run by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). He blows the assignment, is fired by his boss (Ron Chephas Jones from This is Us), and is dumped by his fiancée Anne Weying (the always reliable Michelle Williams). He is given a second chance when one of the doctors (Jenny Slate) sneaks Brock into the facility, where the mysterious goo (the symbiote) meshes with Eddie and makes him become the title character.

Eddie is clearly down on his luck but I am not sure if I would call him a total loser. He does try to do the right thing, even if he fails at it, such as being there for the local store clerk Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu) after she is being harassed by a gang member. Still, despite the very good performance by Hardy, I can’t help but wonder how much better this Venom would have been if he were the villain of the MCU (where his enemy Spider-Man now resides).

Speaking of villains, anyone will tell you how a comic book movie baddie needs to be great if the film can have some success, and that is easily the biggest flaw of the film. Riz Ahmed (who is a good actor I am sure) approaches his character with no charm or menace, two of the most important things a cinema comic book character needs.

Another problem I had was with some of the special effects. When Venom does appear, it is (for the most part) convincing, yet the action sequences are so fast paced that we don’t get much time to revel at them. I am referring to a specific car chase scene. I truly would hate to fault director Ruben Fleischer, mainly since he made 2009’s highly underrated Zombieland. There is a fight scene, however, in Brock’s apartment that is rather fun to watch.

Parents, while the movie could have easily been given an R rating (Venom’s appetite has nearly no limits), the PG-13 rating is mainly for horrific images (for kids) and swearing (some S words, plus one F bomb). Nothing sexual (though some kissing), so I would say middle school and up. Maybe younger.

I can say without a doubt that Venom is not the worst comic book movie ever (I would take Tom Hardy over Topher Grace in 2007’s Spider-Man 3 any day of the week), but I just can’t recommend it. I only wish the studios would get along so we could get all the characters in one universe, but that is wishful thinking.

No surprise that the film does have a post credit scene, suggesting that there will be a sequel (Hardy has apparently signed on for two more films). While I am not sure it will happen, I do totally support the actor they have as the next villain. Especially if they moved this to the MCU.

 

Again, just wishful thinking.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Crazy Rich Asians

(From left) Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is introduced to her son Nick’s (Henry Golding) new girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu)

Was I the only one confused by a title like Crazy Rich Asians? I am not sure. It was about a fourth or a third of the way into director Jon M. Chu’s film that I realized how perfect the title truly is. Are they crazy and rich or just “crazy rich”? The answer is a resounding yes. The words can also describe the film as well. Afterall, it is crazy that this is the first film western film in a quarter century to have an all Asian cast (the last was 1993’s The Joy Luck Club). It is rich in comedy, romance, and all out heart.

Also, it is Crazy how the lead actor Henry Golding is able to make his first film performance here so memorable. He plays Nick Young, who has been dating Rachel Chu (an instantly lovable Constance Wu) for over a year. His best friend Colin (Chris Pang) is getting married in one of the biggest weddings ever (more on that later). It is on the plane ride to Singapore that Nick breaks the news that his family is rich (which is a vast understatement).

As anyone (such as myself) who has a big family knows, this is truly one of the biggest steps in the relationship. Of all the family members, it is Nick’s mother (an impeccable Michelle Yeoh) who is the most critical. Their first meeting does go over well (sorta), though Rachel does tend to strike a better relationship with Nick grandmother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu, who also starred in The Joy Luck Club).

What makes the film most endearing is how every cast member embraces their individual roles close to their hearts. One of the first characters we meet in Singapore is Rachel’s old college friend Peik (Awkwafina), who still lives at home with her dad (Ken Jeong). Jeong may be the only person who can tell his kids who refuse to eat that “there are starving kids in America”. Nico Santos also has a lot of scene stealing as Nick’s cousin Oliver, who is as theatrical as they come. Constance Wu is also quite convincing in the lead female role. She knows she is in a predicament (to say the least), but still approaches it with class, courage, and good humor (“I’m so Chinese, I’m an econ professor that’s lactose intolerant.”)

Parents, the PG-13 rating is mainly for language (I think I heard one F bomb) and suggestive material. There is no nudity or anything, yet there is a good amount of partying that brings a lot of suggestive material. I would say middle school and up.

If asked how rich these people are, the best I could say would be it would make Charles Foster Kane feel a little envious (only a little). Just look at the food (which will make you hungry) and the clothes and the decorations to see what I mean. I left the theater sad, feeling I wanted to know more about these characters and what happened after. Thankfully, I found out that the book the film is based on is part one of a trilogy, so there is more to come.

Simply put, Crazy Rich Asians is the film equivalent of a heartwarming hug.

 

Overall:  Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

The Meg (2018)

The Meg

Of all the creatures kids can relate to, The Meg is not one of them.

I don’t know how many movies have tried to replicate Jaws since it was released over four decades ago, but it is pretty much not possible to find anyone who thinks any of those were better than the Spielberg masterpiece. Now, in 2018, we have The Meg, which I decided to write the review for not only to tell you how bad it is, but because it is so forgettable I may have forgotten to write about it.

It is not too hard to imagine the planning behind this movie: basically say that the long extinct Megalodon (which some do think still exists) comes back to terrorize anything in the deep of the ocean. It is actually there where the movie begins, as a research facility has discovered that the ocean floor is really just a layer of…um, ok, I forgot. Basically, the ocean is deeper than previously thought, so the scientists go down even deeper before they are attacked by an unknown giant being (no points for knowing who it is).

They decide to call in Jonas Taylor (who acts a lot like Jason Statham), who lost friends down there before but needs to be called in years after the incident because his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is among the crew. It takes the first third of the movie (give or take) for this rescue to occur, before the characters even realize the Megalodon is still alive.

We also get the head of the station Zhang (Winston Chao) as well as his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li). Suyin’s daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) is the smartest character in the movie, which is not really a surprise, since all children are smarter than most of the adults in these movies. Others include talents like Cliff Curtis and Rainn (Dwight Schrute) Wilson that round out this chum bucket flick.

The shark effects, thankfully, are not too terrible. There are some rather wonderful images of what looks like a truly terrifying giant shark. It is only in the last twenty minutes or so that the film actually starts to possibly get interesting, but all hope was lost like bait on a hook.

Parents, the film will probably scare kids, but middle school and above is okay. Nothing sexual or anything, but if your kids see this before seeing Jaws, you should be ashamed.

Will I remember this movie? If I do, not for any good reasons. The biggest bit of entertainment came at one jump scare (which involved a whale) that let out a great exclamation of some kind a few rows behind me. That this was more entertaining than the movie as a whole should show the filmmakers needed a bigger boat.

Okay, I feel this review was kind of lazily written, but so was the movie.

Overall: One Star *