Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer best known for 2009’s Zombieland and 2013’s Gangster Squad, Venom is a surprisingly lackluster standalone superhero movie based on the Marvel Comics Spider-Man villainous character Venom, and, despite the efforts of the terrific Oscar nominee Tom Hardy, it feels very much like an unfinished project that has trouble staying on course. The plot revolves around a journalist named Eddie Brock, played by Hardy, who achieves superpowers after being infected with an alien symbiote brought to Earth by Elon Musk-like billionaire Carlton Drake, played by Emmy winner Riz Ahmed best known for his role in the 2016 HBO miniseries The Night Of. Drake is the overly ambitious CEO of a bioengineering firm called Life Foundation based in San Francisco, and he becomes so desperate in his secret research that he authorizes extremely dangerous human experiments using the alien lifeforms. At the beginning of the film, Brock is engaged to a high-powered lawyer played by Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams, but she loses her job after Brock uses some of her classified documents to help expose Drake. Brock’s suspicions about Drake are confirmed after he gets in contact with a Life Foundation scientist played by Jenny Slate who does not approve of Drake’s experiments. It is at this point that Brock is joined with one of the alien symbiotes that becomes known as Venom and develops unusual capabilities when Venom takes over his body. Drake and his army of security guards try to locate Brock and extract Venom so that it could be used for further trials. The movie then shifts into high gear with a series of CGI action sequences in which Venom talks to and takes control of Brock who is easily able to fend off the heavily-armed forces of Drake. There are elements of humor in the sarcastic interactions between the largely bewildered Brock and the malicious Venom; their relationship is a bizarre Jekyll and Hyde in which their polar opposite personalities struggle against one another. Overall, I found the movie only appealing for the performance of Tom Hardy who is one of my favorite actors, and I was quite frankly surprised at how abrupt the film ended and left the audience scratching their heads. The problem was that it did not know what kind of movie it wanted to be: a more humorous comic book adaptation like Guardians of the Galaxy or a more serious superhero movie like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

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The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub who is best known for 1993’s Cool Runnings and 2004’s National Treasure, The Meg is a silly summer blockbuster about a gigantic shark and the action-filled attempts to hunt it down, making for an entertaining B-movie experience. The movie begins with the skilled deep sea scuba diver Jonas Taylor, played by action star Jason Statham, on a mission to rescue the crew of a submarine. The story continues years later after the operation did not completely succeed and follows a group of scientists working at a new underwater research facility funded by an overzealous billionaire played by Rainn Wilson. Eventually, a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon is unwittingly released. The horrific underwater monster escaped the deepest recesses of the Pacific Ocean after an exploratory mission led by Dr. Zhang, played by Winston Chao, along with his oceanographer daughter Suyin, played by Li Bingbing, and the rest of the scientists, including one played by Ruby Rose. The retired Jonas is called upon to help save members of the team who are trapped as a result of the Megalodon damaging their submersible. The thrilling and oftentimes ridiculous acts of heroics by Jonas take up most of the rest of the movie, interspersed with some rather stale cheesy moments. The number of people attacked by the shark rises throughout the film as the humongous sea creature rapidly approaches a heavily populated beach on the coast of China. Overall, I found it to be a good mindless fun cinematic experience that resembles much more of a Sharknado shark movie that does not take itself too seriously and is very much unlike the classic Jaws that relied much more on psychological and non-violent terror.

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.

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.

A Quiet Place

Directed by first-time filmmaker John Krasinski who is best known for acting in the widely popular TV show The Office, A Quiet Place is a terrific horror film that is notable for its creative writing and outstanding subtle acting performances. It relies on a rather simple yet extremely effective premise: a family is trying to survive post-apocalyptic creatures that attack when they hear any noise. The father and husband Lee, played by John Krasinski, along with his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt who is Krasinski’s real life wife, do their best to protect their two young sons and deaf daughter Regan, played by the extraordinary young actress Millicent Simmonds who is deaf in real life, from the truly horrifying monsters lurking in the background. Lee has set up on the family farm elaborate defenses against the blind creatures with a hypersensitive ability to hear even the smallest sound. Even though it definitely has elements of a horror film with terrifying jump scares and gruesome monsters, the movie is able to appeal to those who avoid the horror genre, like myself, because of its innovative story and remarkable build-up of thrilling suspense. Transcending the typical horror flick, the film focuses on how one family copes with tragedy and perpetual fear and lays it out in a taut ninety minutes without superfluous gore. The dramatic ending, with a surprising twist involving the deaf daughter and warding off the creatures, is particularly brilliant and leads perfectly into the already planned sequel. Overall, although I was hesitant to see it at first, the movie is definitely worth seeing even if horror is not your thing, and it displays the remarkable talent of first-time director John Krasinski.

Rampage

Loosely based on the widely popular 1986 arcade video game of the same name, Rampage is nothing more than your basic Hollywood blockbuster full of cheap thrills and elaborate CGI action sequences with a story that does not really matter. Starring Dwayne Johnson as primatologist Davis Okoye, the flimsy plot revolves around genetically engineered animals who become destructive monsters after being exposed to a genetic experiment created in the labs of an absurdly villainous corporation. Working for a wildlife sanctuary in San Diego after serving in the military and an anti-poaching squad, Davis discovers that something is terribly wrong with his favorite gorilla named George after the animal becomes bigger and stronger overnight. Eventually, he teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris, who used to work as a geneticist with the Energyne Corporation owned and operated by two malevolent siblings who are secretly trying to develop biological weapons of mass destruction. The United States government and military led by the mysterious and extremely exaggerated cowboy-like Agent Harvey Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, becomes involved after George exhibits aggressive behavior and goes on a rampage indiscriminately destroying all sorts of buildings. As George becomes increasingly dangerous, the already ridiculous plot thickens with the appearance of a oversized wolf and crocodile also infected with the pathogen. The trio of fearsome monsters ultimately descend on downtown Chicago where Davis and Dr. Caldwell search for the antidote so that the animals are not killed by the gung-ho armed forces. Similar to the video game in which tanks and other war machinery are used to try and destroy the Godzilla-like creatures, much of the film is comprised of overwhelming action sequences intensified by CGI eye candy in which the animals are bombarded with all types of weapons to no avail. Overall, I found it to be exactly what I expected from a movie based on a retro arcade game and led by action superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; it was a rather dumb story that was a vehicle for over-the-top mayhem perfect for a popcorn flick.

Ready Player One

ready_player_one_ver2_xlgBased on the best-selling 2011 novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is entertaining science fiction fantasy that effectively recreates the video game experience with its frenetic pace and overabundance of CGI. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, who lives in a futuristic Columbus, Ohio in 2045 and finds himself on an adventure in the so-called OASIS, a virtual reality world that most people tap into to escape their dystopian real lives. Wade whose avatar is named Parzival is what is known as a Gunter and searches for the Easter eggs that the creator James Halliday, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, hid within OASIS after his death. The person that discovers the three keys will become the sole owner and operator of the massive virtual world in addition to receiving $500 billion from Halliday’s estate. With the possibility of such immense power, the villainous CEO of the video game corporation IOI Nolan Sorrento, played by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn, enlists an army of indebted OASIS users to discover the clues left behind in order to take control. Wade races to discover all of the Easter eggs before Sorrento and eventually teams up with a group of other avatars known as the “High Five,” including the young and beautiful Art3mis whose real name is Samantha Cook, played by Olivia Cook, and Wade’s virtual best friend Aech, played by Lena Waithe who is best-known for her role in the Netflix series Master of None. The movie feels very much like the audience is alongside Wade as he battles through what is essentially an elaborate video game, with the telltale graphics of a modern first-person shooter and the presence of avatars and Easter eggs. Besides the spectacular and almost seizure-inducing special effects and action sequences, the film is remarkable for its nostalgia and homage to vintage and contemporary video gaming as well as past pop culture, in particular the 1980s and even to the director Steven Spielberg’s earlier movies. Overall, I found it to be a unique and creative cinematic experience that, for better or worse, feels like a video game nerd’s fever dream brimming with so much insider geeky knowledge to be almost too overwhelming for general audiences.