Monday, June 18, 2018

The Incredibles 2

             If you are a fan of "The Incredibles", then a 14 year wait was worth the time for the next chapter. Written and directed by Brad Bird, this sequel is that rare breed that surpasses the original. The script is stronger as well as the character development.

             Featuring all the returning vocal talents including Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, and Huck Milner, the film also introduces new characters played vocally by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener. Jonathan Banks takes over the role of Rick Dicker. Everyone is perfectly matched to their animated character.

             The film turns the animation up quite a notch from 14 years ago. The colors pop and all the visuals are outstanding. It's a fun film with many adult themes that may go right past the kids but won't be lost on the adults in the audience. Of course there is plenty of action to keep everyone stimulated and baby "Jack Jack", discovering his powers, steals the film. His fight with a racoon would border on animal cruelty if this wasn't an animated film.

                 There is a lovely animated short before the film which has become a Pixar signature and also a quick nod from the lead actors thanking the fans for being so patient.

                 Score another big hit for Pixar.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ocean's 8

        Capitalizing on a successful franchise and adding an all female cast, this heist comedy is high gloss,  superficial summer fun.

        Co-written and directed by Gary Ross, this is high concept at its most glamorous. It lacks the edge of it's male predecessors but the winning heist movie formula and cast chemistry will keep you entertained. The film stars Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, who sets things in motion the second she is released from prison. The team she puts together include Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rhianna, Awkwafina, and Helena Bonham Carter (yes, I realize that's seven total but the eighth is a surprise I won't spoil). The film also co-stars Anne Hathaway, James Corden, and Richard Armitage.

          Robbing a valuable diamond necklace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Gala is the plan and that gives the film plenty of opportunities for celebrity cameos and fabulous clothing. Watching the film is like taking a visual tour through Glamour or Vogue magazine. It's very pretty to look at but easy to remember it's not the "real" world. Pulling off this heist so many improbable things come together that you need no reminder this is purely escapist entertainment, light and enjoyable like a colorful, summer cocktail. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

             Morgan Neville directs this new documentary about Fred Rogers, the pioneer of children's television in the '60s. On and off camera, Fred Rogers was a remarkable man who could relate to children like no other adult. The film does a great job capturing the life and philosophy of Mr. Rogers.

              Using archival footage, on and off camera, interviews with family, friends, and coworkers we get an intimate look at the television personality, who as one person says, was truly radical for his time. The one missing element was an earlier look at Fred Rogers and how he grew into a one of a kind human being. We learn little of his childhood, except that his parents were wealthy and that he was a fat child. Beyond that, the film focuses on his early years in television and how he came to reshape children's programming.

               There are candid moments, rare footage, including a wonderful segment with Koko the gorilla, and even outtakes. It's the feel good movie of the year. You can't help but leave the theater with a smile on your face and Mr. Roger's universal message ringing in your ears. Love is the answer.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

First Reformed

     Writer/director Paul Schrader returns with a powerful new drama fueled by a magnificent performance by Ethan Hawke. It is a heavy drama that questions faith and purpose. It's far from a "mainstream" film and is not for everyone.

      Mr. Hawke stars as Reverend Toller. His small church known as "the Souvenir shop", has historical relevance but a tiny congregation. Already dealing with emotional and physical issues, the Reverend's faith is waning and becomes even more of a struggle once he agrees to counsel Michael and Mary, two of his parishioners. 

        The film co-stars Amanda Seyfried as Mary, Philip Ettinger as Michael, and Cedric (The Entertainer) Kyles as Pastor Jeffers. Mr. Kyles  is quite good, in what I believe, is his first serious role. Ms. Seyfried brings depth to what appears to be an ordinary role. The whole film is well cast but really belongs to Mr. Hawke. He is mesmerizing as Toller and it's his performance that carries the film. Without him, the film would collapse under its own weighty issues. It's a role worth a serious Academy Award consideration.  

                  In some ways, this film could be considered a distant cousin to Mr. Schrader's masterpiece, "Taxi Driver". Toller is a loner, who's internal monologue narrates much of the film. There is no soundtrack with the exception of minimally used ominous, electronic beats. The film is bleak and heads down a dark path to a surprising and what some may think, a confusing ending. But if you are a fan of excellent acting and Mr. Hawke's work, you will be rewarded.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


        When her rabbi father dies, Ronit returns to her Orthodox Jewish community in London, years after she was turned away for having a teenage romance with another female friend. Once home, she is reunited with Dovid and Esti, her childhood friends.

               Ronit, or Ronni as she calls herself in the secular world, is played by Rachel Weisz, Dovid is played by Alessandro Nivola, and Rachel McAdams plays Esti. The relationship between the three characters is beautifully played, loving, yet strained and all three actors are striking in their roles. The chemistry between Ms. Weisz and Ms. McAdams, in particular, is stunning.

               The film is a glimpse into Orthodox Jewish life with quite a twist. It is a sensitive drama that examines love, religion, and freedom of expression. At times, fragile and yet bound by an intensity that is palatable, the film moves towards an inevitable conclusion that is both surprising and a bit ambiguous. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

         Otherwise known as "When Han Met Chewy", this stand alone Star Wars film tells the early adventures of Han Solo and answers all the questions that have been on fans minds for years. Directed by Ron Howard, it is packed with action sequences galore and should satisfy any Star Wars fan.

          It's impossible to fill the boots of Harrison Ford as Han Solo but Alden Ehrenreich does an admirable job portraying a young, optimistic, cocky version of the grizzled iconic character.  Donald Glover plays the younger version of Lando Calrissian and he nails the character perfectly. Chewbacca is played by Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role in the last Star Wars film. New faces in the cast include Woody Harrison as Tobias Beckett, a thief and Han's mentor, Thandie Newton as his wife, Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra, Han's first love, Paul Betthany as Dryden Vos, a master criminal and the voices of Phoebe Waller- Bridge as L-7, Lando's Droid and Jon Favreau as Rio Durant, an alien member of Beckett's crew.

            Written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, who have written or co-written most of the Star Wars films, they fill this story with even more strange worlds, exciting action and strong characters. Mr. Howard and his team bring it all to life. Creator George Lucas gives them the keys to the kingdom and they don't disappoint. A perfect popcorn movie to start the summer film season off right.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Life of The Party

      There have been lots of really funny films about adults going back to college. This isn't one of them. It has a few good laughs but overall, it's not Melissa McCarthy's best work. As an actress, Ms. McCarthy improves with each film but co-writing this film with her husband, Ben Falcone (who also directed), she doesn't do herself any favors.

      It's an obvious attempt to cash in for Mother's Day with a plot that revolves around Ms. McCarthy's character, Deanna, going back to finish college where her daughter is a senior. Don't expect it to last much beyond Mother's Day in a theater. Like Deanna herself, the plot is just too nice and sweet with barely any edge. It forces conflict with the barest of "mean girls". 

     Most of the jokes fall flat and not enough is made of Ms. McCarthy's gift for physical humor (save for one scene in a classroom, that ends up more embarrassing than anything else). There are two funny sequences that ironically don't even take place at the college.

     The film features many comedic actors from television.  Matt Walsh (better on "Veep") plays Deanna's husband, Maya Rudolph plays her best friend (completely over the top as if trying to make the film funnier by herself), Julie Bowen (against type) as Deanna's eventual nemesis, Chris Parnell (underutilized), and Jimmy O. Yang (much funner on "Silicon Valley").

      A subplot involving a handsome college student infatuated with Deanna is not funny, just creepy. And in a last ditch effort to inject "life" into this party, there is a performance by Christina Aguilera performing her old hit,"Stronger"which is not exactly relevant anymore. More films like this and Ms. McCarthy will find herself in the same longer relevant. Better scripts and different directors should be able to bring out her best work.

Deadpool 2

   Ryan Reynolds is back as the anti-hero, "merc with a mouth", Deadpool in this loud, violent, R-rated sequel. But hey, what else would you expect from Deadpool?

    If you were a fan of the first one, expect more of the same but this time many of the self deprecating and inside jokes are forced to the point of exhaustion. Yes, there are many funny lines and Mr. Reynolds is a charming lead, despite the scarred makeup but just piling on the gags, explosions and one-liners does not necessarily make for a better film. The plot line of this film is actually so sweet and loving, it almost doesn't even qualify as a Deadpool film. Unexpectedly, love and family are key elements between the massive amounts of violent mayhem.

    Back for the sequel are T.J Miller, Leslie Uggams (having a blast as "Blind Al"), Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand and Karan Soni. New to the cast are Josh Brolin as Cable, a time traveling soldier, Julian Dennison as Russell Collins/Firefist, and Zazie Beetz as Domino. The CGI X-Man Colossus also returns along with a surprise Marvel villain.

    The unique quirky style of the first film was a pleasant surprise. Now that we've come to expect it, the originality is lost. It's still fun but the edge is just not as sharp as Deadpool's twin swords.