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2018

First Man (2018)

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Cory Michael Smith, Patrick Fugit, Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James

REVIEW:

First Man would make an excellent companion piece to other docudramas about the 1960s NASA space program, including 1995’s Apollo 13 (whose mission took place only nine months after the climax of this film) and 1983’s sprawling The Right Stuff, which some consider definitive (although it portrays an earlier phase of the space race than First Man and Apollo 13, meaning one could watch the three as a sort of loosely-connected trilogy).  The primary difference is that, while those films were ensemble casts giving a broader overview of the workings of NASA, both on Earth and in space, First Man is more tightly-focused on the professional and personal life of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, offering an intimate look at a man who sometimes seemed as remote as the bleak, barren lunar surface. Continue reading

Venom (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate

REVIEW:

First things first: Venom is not an especially good movie.  Nor is it the mind-bogglingly horrendous epic trainwreck of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” proportions some have inflated its notoriety into.  What arrives onscreen doesn’t merit any such strong reactions, instead residing in that cluttered middle ground of “meh” occupied by other comic book movie titles like Green Lantern The concept was a questionable one to begin with: despite his origin story being inextricably linked to Spider-Man in the comics, Sony in its eternal infinite wisdom has decided to slap together a solo Venom movie which is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—or at least no connection is ever explicitly drawn—therefore existing in some netherworld of its own (though there’s still a Stan Lee cameo).  With its short length, dodgy CGI, and jokey tone, it feels like some throwback to the ’90s or early 2000s (there’s even an Eminem song over the end credits), the kind of comic book movie that might have been adequate in the days when there wasn’t much competition but feels outdated nowadays.  And for the character of Eddie Brock/Venom, last seen on the big screen in 2007’s likewise misbegotten Spider-Man 3 (where he was played by Topher Grace), Sony’s second attempt at bringing him to the screen is no more successful than the first.  To the extent that Venom works, it’s in its dark comedy aspect, not its terminally pedestrian and generic superhero (or anti-hero) narrative. Continue reading

The Predator (2018)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS “SPOILERS”

Like the Alien franchise it has occasionally ill-advisedly crossed over with, Predator is one of those franchises that keeps limping along long past its expiration date.  One could argue that in fact Predator was never even much of a franchise to begin with.  1987’s original wasn’t any kind of great movie, and doesn’t hold up as a sci-fi thriller classic on the level of Alien or Aliens, but it featured Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar-chomping and one-liner-spouting (“get to da choppa!”) front-and-center, surrounded by a merry band of macho men (with a cast including fellow future Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham, it was sort of like a forerunner to The Expendables), and served up enough hardcore action with a sci-fi twist to be a popular “man’s movie” (the 1990 sequel, starring Danny Glover, wasn’t as good, although it had its moments).  After two crossovers dubbed Alien vs. Predator, the concept of which was dubious and the execution worse, Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez tried to course correct by getting back to the basics with 2010’s Predators, which again had its moments but not enough to resurrect a “franchise” that arguably never warranted being stretched out into a film series in the first place.  And now, just when Predator seemed dead (again), along comes Shane Black (a cast member of the original movie but better-known as a screenwriter/director, including writing the Lethal Weapon series and directing such films as Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys).  Alas, Black’s involvement with the original film does not signal a return to that quality level.  The Predator falls into the same category as the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence and Alien: Resurrection, a sloppy, uninspired, past-its-sell-date sequel that fails to breathe any fresh life into a series that has long since run dry. Continue reading

The Meg (2018)

Image result for the megDIRECTOR: Jon Turtletaub

CAST: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Robert Taylor, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Page Kennedy, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Shuya Sophia Cai

REVIEW:

The Meg (based very loosely on the first novel in a book series by Steve Alten) is an example of a movie whose trailer is more entertaining than the movie itself.  The trailer doesn’t lead anyone to go in with Best Picture aspirations, but it suggests big, dumb, campy fun with a breezy tone.  In reality, while indeed cheesy, The Meg takes itself entirely too seriously and holds back the inherently silly premise rather than embracing the absurdity. Continue reading

Skyscraper (2018)

DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Roland Moller, Chin Han, Hannah Quinlivan, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Elfina Luk, Pablo Schreiber

REVIEW:

Among the myriad lesser Die Hard knock-offs, Skyscraper falls somewhere in the middle, an adequately involving diversion in the moment that doesn’t leave a strong impression once all the stunts and pyrotechnics are over.  A mash-up of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, it feels like something that would have been at home in the 1980s starring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose career Dwayne Johnson often seems to be attempting to emulate) or Sylvester Stallone.  Continue reading

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed

CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Abby Ryder Fortson

REVIEW:

After the grim finale of The Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp could be viewed as a sort of palette cleanser.  The follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man maintains the same lightweight insubstantial tone, served up with more nifty visuals and one of the highest humor quotients of any MCU movie.  The result is nowhere near among the MCU’s stronger offerings but is an enjoyable enough diversion, especially for those seeking something a little lighter staggering shell-shocked out of the theater after Infinity War. Continue reading

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona

CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Daniella Penada, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum

REVIEW:

Fallen Kingdom, the second installment in the Jurassic Park “reboot” rebranded as Jurassic World (or fifth in the overall franchise) proves it’s still possible to inject a little rejuvenating freshness into a concept—people running around menaced by dinosaurs—that had seemed milked to the last drop.  While 2015’s Jurassic World (despite being a big enough box office smash to greenlight sequels) was overly bogged down in nostalgic callbacks and recycled material, Fallen Kingdom goes in some refreshingly different directions, including fulfilling my biggest wish list for a sequel: get off the damn island already. Continue reading

Hotel Artemis (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Pearce

CAST: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto

REVIEW:

Hotel Artemis is a slick, engaging action thriller that holds the attention while it lasts (which is just shy of an hour and a half) but ends up feeling a trifle insubstantial and underdeveloped.  Its vibe is halfway between comic book and Tarantino wannabe, and it boasts enough flashy action sequences, colorful characters, tension, and a few twists and turns to engage in the moment, even if the conclusion underwhelms. Continue reading

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

DIRECTOR: Gary Ross

CAST: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitage, James Corden

REVIEW:

2001’s Ocean’s Eleven was a slight but breezy and enjoyable heist caper.  Its two superfluous sequels were aimless, self-indulgent add-ons that felt more like thin excuses for the star-studded cast to get back together and have some more fun.  And now, as if the “brand name” has not been milked to death, here comes a paper-thin indirect “sequel” of sorts.  Ocean’s Eight is a generic and uninspired heist caper that’s never more than mildly entertaining and doesn’t offer anything fresh besides its all-female cast. Continue reading

Deadpool 2 (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Karan Soni, Shiori Kutsuna, Leslie Uggams, Rob Delaney, Eddie Marsan

REVIEW:

2016’s Deadpool was such a blast of kinetic, wildly irreverent R-rated fun that it was both inevitable that a sequel would be made, and that the same freshness level was unlikely to be recaptured.  True to expectations, Deadpool 2 serves up more of the same serviceably enough to be a fun, if overlong, time, but without quite the same pizzazz.  Even so, fans of The Merc With the Mouth are likely to enjoy his second big screen romp, if perhaps not quite as much as they did in 2016. Continue reading

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