Ant-Man and the Wasp

antman_and_the_wasp_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the highly successful 2015 movie Ant-Man and the twentieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a highly entertaining and creative film that takes itself less seriously than a majority of the other superhero movies and thereby is filled with much more humor and fun. The story takes place several years after the original in which the protagonist Scott Lang, played by the humorous Paul Rudd, is under house arrest after a mission as his superhero alter ego Ant-Man. He is a more sympathetic and well-rounded superhero because of his poignant relationship with his young daughter and having fairly usual problems in real life. Just days before his house arrest is over, he is in clear violation by getting in contact with the brilliant inventor of the Ant-Man outfit Hank Pym, played by Oscar winner Michael Douglas, and his smart and beautiful daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, whose superhero alter ego is the Wasp. Hank discovers there may be a way to rescue his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Michelle Pfeiffer, who is stuck in the subatomic quantum realm, and he must enlist Scott to become Ant-Man again to help develop a device to enter the quantum realm. However, the trio find themselves in trouble after trying to broker a deal with the black-market dealer Sonny Burch, played by the villainous Walton Goggins, who double-crosses them in order to steal Hank’s advanced technology. To complicate things even further, they encounter the mysterious Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen, who is suffering from quantum and molecular instability and is desperate to find the technology to alleviate her problem. Throughout the movie as the characters engage in the typical action sequences of any comic book superhero production, Scott along with his buddies, especially Michael Peña’s character Luis, bring a certain levity to the story through their often ridiculous and hilarious antics. Much of the humor derives from the conceit of the film: the filmmakers play around with the ability of the characters to shrink and enlarge themselves and everyday objects, including an entire building shrunk down to the size of a briefcase and a life-size Pez dispenser that becomes a weapon. Overall, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable cinematic experiences found in the innumerable Marvel superhero movies as a result of its lighthearted approach while still retaining thrilling CGI-enhanced action scenes.

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado

The sequel to the critically acclaimed 2015 movie Sicario directed by Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a compelling action thriller with great cinematography, music, and acting performances that all combine to create an especially gritty atmosphere conducive to the dark world of the increasingly violent drug war. After a stint in Africa and the Middle East hunting down terrorists, the covert American government operative Matt Graver, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, returns to the US Mexico border to reprise his vicious role as in the first movie to do whatever it takes to take down the powerful Mexican drug cartels. He is recruited by the Secretary of Defense, played by Golden Globe nominee Matthew Modine, and another government official, played by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, to foment a war between several Mexican cartels by kidnapping the 16-year-old daughter of a particularly influential cartel leader. The ruthless Graver, who is authorized to employ his dirty tactics, assembles a secret contingent of soldiers that also includes the amoral sicario, or hit man, Alejandro who is played by the brilliantly creepy Oscar winner Benicio del Toro. After several intense and warlike gun battles, the covert American forces and loyal members of the drug cartels who also work for the Mexican police, things begin to go awry and Graver’s mission is put into jeopardy by the high-ranking United States officials who authorized the operation. The movie also weaves in another narrative about a Mexican-American teenager living in the border town of McAllen, Texas who is lured by the drug cartels to help smuggle migrants across the border. His story provides insight into why and how young men become involved in drug and human trafficking for such ruthlessly violent cartels and gangs. The most intriguing scenes involve Alejandro who lost his family at the hands of a drug cartel and is now set on a path of brutal vengeance; he is a morally complicated character brought to life by Benicio del Toro’s performance who wants to bring good but does it through clearly bad means. Overall, I found it to be yet another gripping account of the horrific actions of the drug cartels and the secret war against them perpetrated by the American government; however, the movie fell short of the original’s innovative twist on the action thriller genre that explores a complicated subject in a thoughtful way.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise which started with the release of the original in 1993 and was rebooted in 2015 with the first Jurassic World movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fairly typical popcorn summer blockbuster that provides some over-the-top thrills but ultimately feels unnecessary and obviously cannot rise to the occasion like the original Jurassic Park directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Following on the heels of Jurassic World in which the revamped amusement park featuring live dinosaurs closes under disasterous conditions, a rescue operation to save the dinosaurs is underway by a team of mercenaries under the guidance of Jurassic Park’s co-founder Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell, and the head of Lockwood’s foundation Eli Mills, played by the conniving Rafe Spall. Eventually, former head of the park Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, are brought in to help track down the remaining dinosaurs before the island where they are kept is destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption. Like the other films, there are a few action sequences in which the characters are running away from gigantic fearsome dinosaurs and this time is further intensified as the humans try to escape as the island literally explodes in stunning CGI sequences. Towards the middle of the movie, Claire and Owen along with a small team of dinosaur advocates realize that their objective in rescuing the dinosaurs is not for entirely altruistic aims as they were initially promised. Much of the action transitions to Lockwood’s large estate in Northern California where the protagonists must fight once again to save their lives and protect the dinosaurs. As a desperate attempt to bring back nostalgia for 1993’s Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s iconic character pops up in a superfluous Congressional hearing about the dinosaur’s fate. Overall, I did find it a fairly entertaining cinematic experience that brought back memories of the original that was released during my childhood; unfortunately, it did not add much to the first film’s originality and thereby the Jurassic Park series feels like it has run its course.

Incredibles 2

The long-awaited sequel of the wildly successful 2004 animated superhero movie The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 is yet another excellent Pixar Disney movie that comes close to the original with its unique retro style and family-friendly fun. Set shortly after the first movie, the story follows the Parr family in which each family member has a superpower but have not been able to publicly remain superheroes since they have recently been outlawed. In a publicity ploy to help legalize superheroes by the wealthy tech entrepreneur Winston Deavor, voiced by Emmy winner Bob Odenkirk, along with his brilliant sister Evelyn, voiced by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, Helen who is the superhero Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter, is recruited to serve as a positive image of a superhero saving lives. Her husband Bob who is the superhero Mr. Incredible, voiced by Emmy winner Craig T. Nelson, begrudgingly becomes a stay-at-home dad and is unable to use his superhuman strength in public because it is deemed too destructive. He is depicted as a stereotypical father who is in over-his-head while also dealing with three kids who happen to have superpowers. Violet, voiced by comedian and writer Sarah Vowell, is your typical teenage daughter with the exception that she can become invisible and project a protective force field. The middle son nicknamed Dash is a rebellious middle schooler who has superhuman speed. The most entertaining and funny moments occur with the baby Jack-Jack who we find out has some fairly unusual superpowers that are both cute and dangerous. Eventually, Elastigirl heroically fights off a new supervillain named Screenslaver who is hypnotizing citizens and ultimately other superheroes to commit crimes. Towards the end of the movie, we discover that the true villain is actually somebody completely unexpected. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining computer animated family movie that appeals to both kids and adults alike as a result of its exciting and sometimes funny action coupled with creative writing and look.

Hearts Beat Loud

Co-written and directed by Brett Haley best known for 2015’s I’ll See You in My Dreams and 2017’s The Hero both starring Sam Elliott, Hearts Beat Loud is a wonderful independent film that is very heartfelt and musically well-versed with terrific performances from the two lead actors. The plot follows Frank, played by the terrifically lovable Nick Offerman, who is the owner of an independent record store in Brooklyn that is about to close and his relationship with his daughter Sam, played by the radiant newcomer Kiersey Clemons, who is about to head off to college in California. As an aging hipster who has a profound love for music, Frank always had the dream of starting a band, especially with his talented daughter who also loves indie music. One day, Frank and Sam decide to record a rock song together, and Frank uploads the song to Spotify without her permission and soon discovers that the song has become popular online. With the unexpected success, he encourages his reluctant daughter to form a band together and possibly miss her first year of college to produce music and tour. The cast is rounded out by a trio of extremely talented actors: Golden Globe winner Ted Danson plays Frank’s best friend Dave who runs a dive bar, Emmy winner Blythe Danner plays Frank’s mother Marianne who is suffering from a mild case of dementia, and Oscar nominee Toni Collette plays Frank’s landlady Leslie who becomes quite close to Frank. The movie is a sweet depiction of a father-daughter relationship that at times can be tenuous but is overall very loving, with Frank trying to pursue his mutual passion for music with his daughter. It has been difficult for Frank because he has had to raise Sam by himself after the tragic death of his wife and her mother years ago and now must face the painful reality about his failing financial situation. Sam also has to deal with her own issues, including going to college so far away and falling in love with a girl named Rose, played by Sasha Lane. Overall, I found it to be a powerfully heartfelt film about a father-daughter relationship filled with excellent performances and truly beautiful original music; I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a feel-good story or simply loves music.

American Animals

Written and directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton best known for the 2012 critically acclaimed documentary The Imposter, American Animals is a terrific heist movie that reenacts a truly extraordinary true story about a group of college students daring to commit one of the largest art thefts in American history. The filmmaker makes a truly unique and brilliant decision to mix the majority of the film’s dramatized narrative with interviews with the real life characters portrayed. We first meet Spencer Reinhard, played by the terrific Irish actor Barry Keoghan, as an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky who is looking for a way to escape his ordinary life. He teams up with his lazy childhood friend Warren Lipka, played by another terrific young actor Evan Peters, to steal several rare books, including an original book of paintings by the famous wildlife artist John James Audubon, worth millions from the special collections library at Transylvania University. As they plan what they believed was a relatively simple heist, they run into a series of problems and must enlist two other friends: Chas Allen who is played by Blake Jenner and Eric Borsuk who is played by Jared Abrahamson. As the day of the robbery in December of 2004 approaches, several of the guys, especially Spencer, are worried that the robbery will fail and ruin their lives if they are caught, but Warren who acts as the ringleader successfully encourages them to go through with the plan. The movie keeps a quick and exciting pace as soon as the robbery commences by relying on shaky camera work and acting performances that make their characters’ intense emotions palpable. The filmmaker also does a remarkable job of crafting a film about reality; in the real life interviews, almost all of the individuals tell a slightly different story about what happened, which makes the audience question what really happened and what was fictionalized. Overall, I found it to be a terrific film that brilliantly transcends the formulaic aspects of a heist film while raising fascinating and important issues about storytelling, reality, and the desire for the individual to become extraordinary through reckless actions.

Tag

Based on an unbelievable true story as featured in The Wall Street Journal in 2013, Tag is an entertaining and sometimes hilarious comedy with such a preposterous premise that it probably would not have worked had it not have been based on real life events. The plot revolves around is a group of friends who grew up together as kids have been engaged in a game of tag for almost 30 years that always takes place during the month of May. The five friends now in their forties include Ed Helms who plays the sort of ringleader Hoagie, Jon Hamm who plays the successful insurance executive Bob Callahan, Jake Johnson who plays the stoner Chilli, Hannibal Buress who plays the goofball Sable, and Jeremy Renner who plays the successful and untouchable tag player Jerry. In what possibly could be their last game of tag, they all converge on their hometown of Spokane, Washington where Jerry who has never been tagged in his whole life is about to get married. Through a series of elaborate ploys, the four others try desperately to finally tag Jerry even though his fiance strictly forbids them from doing it during the wedding activities. The filmmaker adds an extra dose of humor by showing several of their antics in slow-mo as if it is an action movie and in which the characters’ ridiculously serious inner dialogue can be heard. Also, in order to round out the movie, there is also a love triangle between Chilli and Callahan over Rashida Jones’ character, as well as several unexpected heartwarming moments involving the lifelong friends and their futures. One part of the film that I thought was unnecessary was having a Wall Street Journal reporter appear as a character who really did not add anything to the story. Overall, I found it to be a good light-hearted film that helps pass the time and is able to pull off a story with such a preposterous yet creative story.