by Philip Price
What if I told you the best parts of “Deadpool 2” had nothing to do with the antagonist 20th Century Fox has been psyching everyone up for since last November? Or furthermore, since the post-credits scene in the first movie? I'll do you one more even-what if I told you the least interesting parts of Deadpool 2 in fact featured the same guy who was so charismatically devious three weeks ago in “Avengers: Infinity War”? Well, for my money's worth-I'd much rather watch the “Deadpool 2” that deals with the titular character figuring out how to balance his sarcasm and wit with that of being a part of something bigger-whether that be with Morena Baccarin's Vanessa or his newly formed X-Force family-but for the movie to go on for long stretches pretending as if Josh Brolin's Cable is a traditional villain in the sense that this is as much his movie as it is Deadpool's and that it is he who we will come to see the merc with a mouth clash with in the unavoidable climactic third act is a disservice to the movie in general as “Deadpool 2” is simply better than that. It's better than this because, for a lot of its running time, “Deadpool 2” balances so well the kind of irreverent humor that is the character's trademark and upending the expectations and conventions of the super hero genre in ways that aren't as obvious as one might imagine or as easy as it could be for writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to default to, but rather Reese and Wernick as well as star Ryan Reynolds, who gets a writing credit on this follow-up, insinuate from the get-go that this isn't just going to give you what you want while upending those expectations, but rather that it's going to do this in a way you don't necessarily see coming. The writers as well as new franchise director David Leitch (“John Wick”) stick to this main idea, this thesis if you will, throughout and layer in a genuine emotional pull to not hang their main character out to dry with little more than the same shtick we've come to expect. That said, there are plenty of laughs to be had here and viewers won't be longing for more of the old because this isn't completely more of the same, but rather there is a more intense satisfaction to be had from the bigger ambitions Reese, Wernick, and Reynolds have for the character this time around. Still, I'd be lying if I said those ambitions don't get away from them throughout the course of this neXt-level adventure.
When we talk about sequels there is such a pressure to go bigger, which “Deadpool 2” does, as well as this need to up the stakes from the original, which Deadpool 2 does, and then there is the internal conflict we all deal with-including writers and producers- where we want to see all these new characters we loved (or those with cult fan bases) in the comics come to life on the big screen into the fold ... which “Deadpool 2” does. And so, in all these ways Deadpool's sequel plays into the system in which it both exists and intends to lampoon, but where it deviates is not in the plot it dolls out, but more in how it conveys the story it wants to tell. For starters, the opening sequence of the film and opening credits both quickly establish that this isn't necessarily going to be the sequel we thought we would get. It should also be noted that both the opening sequence and opening credits are both fantastic and nail what it means to define up front what your audience should expect from the rest of your movie. Leitch, who has a long history of stunt work knows his way around an action sequence and while the first “Deadpool” was impressive for what it was able to accomplish on such a tight budget, it is quite evident from the first time we see Deadpool pull out his katanas that Leitch is working in a much bigger sandbox than Tim Miller was, and that money is on the screen. In a relentless montage of the work our anti-hero's been doing since we last saw him we get a DMX-laden, multiple location sequence of well-choreographed and widely captured encounters that, despite not personally being a Deadpool comic book reader, I imagine are damn close to the kind of action that might have been depicted in this character's many runs and what fans of the original comics might have imagined Deadpool embodied on screen to fully be. Take these impressively staged moments and throw in a narrative curve ball that bleeds into a spoof of the opening credits of a James Bond film as set to Celine Dion's gloriously self-knowing, "Ashes" that skillfully brings back the song/movie tie-in the industry has disregarded for far too long now and you're off to one hell of a start. Maybe this is why, after we're given the inciting set-up and slight insight into the probable motivation behind it, the movie feels like it grinds to a halt when it switches timelines and tone to introduce us to a character we've never seen or heard anything about before and, ultimately, don't come to know enough about to care much.
This goes for many of the new characters that are introduced in Deadpool 2 as that "X-Force" movie you thought you were promised in the trailers is more of a gag than anything else while more setting up that idea for the next movie than instituting it in this first sequel. The most memorable of the newcomers is Domino (Zazie Beetz) as her mutation is perfect for the world in which Deadpool operates whereas someone like Cable is called out for being so dark that he might in fact be a part of the DC universe. This is a funny if not easy joke to make, but Brolin's portrayal tells us nothing of who this guy truly is, was, or how he became this bionic man of sorts. All we know is that in the future Rusty Collins AKA Firefist (played in present day by Julian Dennison) murders Cable's wife and daughter and Cable only has enough juice in his time travel device to travel through time twice: once to the past and once back home meaning he's going to kill Collins even if it means he must kill a kid. This is all well and good if you're looking for a plot-heavy, futuristic sequel, but “Deadpool 2” kind of skimps on the exposition here which is nice in terms of the movie not getting bogged down in the logistics of the repercussions of Cable's actions, but more there isn't enough of it to flesh Cable out either. For those of us uninitiated in the world of the comics, Cable comes off as little more than an archetype of several characters we've seen in the movies before (some of which Deadpool himself references), but while the character slowly comes around and the narrative allows for his arc to take an interesting turn into a more interesting and complex grey area the whole middle section of the film where Cable is persistent in his seeking out of the boy Brolin takes the route of the strong, silent type giving his action scenes featured in this section the same feeling you get when you watch a recent Terrence Malick movie: it looks great and you know the potential is there, but you just don't care about anything happening in front of you. This, unfortunately, makes the much anticipated second coming of Brolin the Offender this summer the weakest link in a movie that otherwise succeeds in every other element that is occurring around him. In short, Cable feels like he's removed from the main throughline of the film and while I understand that the character isn't necessarily supposed to feel like he belongs in the same world as Deadpool, here it never feels as if Leitch or the writers knew how to marry the two in a cohesive or complimentary manner. As much as this would seem to sink any chance “Deadpool 2” has of rising above its predecessor the film in fact has so much other stuff going on and keeps the remainder of it in effective enough fashion that the whole Cable the Detractor deal more or less keeps it on par with the original in terms of quality as one of the more outstanding virtues of this sequel is just how daringly different it means to be in how wide-ranging and emotionally resonant it ends up feeling.
For example, the interplay that continues in “Deadpool 2” between our title character and his cab driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), his best friend Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) as well as her new girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), all continues in the tradition with which it started two years ago-though they certain cut down Negasonic's screen time rather than attempting to raise her profile as a member of the X-Men. The same goes for Leslie Uggams' Blind Al who serves in much the same capacity as she did in the first film but is relied on less for the interplay between herself and Reynolds and more for the convenience her situation presents despite the fact her inclusion often feels forced and a little inconvenient. Besides Blind Al though, each of these characters has an arc to take on-even T.J. Miller's less relied upon Weasel has a bit of raw character development here whereas Dopinder and Colossus' arc's and how they play into their evolving relationship with Deadpool is solid, fun stuff. The most interesting new dynamic that comes into play is of course the one between Deadpool and Dennison's Rusty who has reached a breaking point at a local boy's home run by a devious headmaster (Eddie Marsan). Considering this, Rusty is using what are his presumed newly acquired mutant powers to break out of the joint when the X-Men consisting of Colossus, Negasonic and "trainee" Deadpool show up to try and stop the kid from making a bigger mess than he realizes he's about to step into. From the onset of the first scene in which these two meet one another both Reynolds and Dennison are willing to play the game of matching wits. Reynolds' Deadpool can't figure the kid out beyond his clear justification for wanting to roast Marsan's headmaster whereas Collins sees in Deadpool the first person to ever take up for him, genuinely be on his side, and understand things from his perspective which makes his eventual disappointment in our titular character all the more earth-shattering.
Dennison does a fine enough job of managing the range of emotions his pubescent counterpart experiences throughout the course of the film, but it is his scenes where he is able to play off the charming Reynolds that show how much both are up to the task of going back and forth with one another in the battle of wits that both really shine. There is a whole mutant prison section of the film that’s, other than just generally being cool, is key to the foundation of this relationship and Deadpool’s development as this guy who is truly broken and chooses to filter it all through humor. I wish we might have seen more of the one on one interactions between Deadpool and Rusty as this is where the meat of the narrative lays, but to this point-and it feels easy to overlook-Reynolds gives a solid performance. Sure, the guy is essentially playing a heightened version of his own personality, but when the script calls for Reynolds, the actor, to show up and grow up-he does so in convincing fashion which is more difficult to do with real credibility after making a joke about 90% of the things/events that have come before this supposedly authentically emotional moment. In all actuality, “Deadpool 2” ends up feeling like an amalgamation of a few different kinds of movies to not feel like your typical sequel, but each of these strands are expertly weaved together by the same overarching needle and the movie is just so consistently entertaining and funny that it’s hard to argue Reynolds and his team didn’t largely accomplish exactly what they set out to create. Also, the mid-credits sequence is perfection.
by Julian Spivey
I lived far outside of town growing up and didn’t have a vehicle of my own so when my friends would hang out during summer between my junior and senior years of high school my best friend became Turner Classic Movies, where Robert Osborne would introduce me to Hitchcock, Ford, Huston, Lumet and more. One film that instantly struck me and became a favorite was Norman Jewison’s “In the Heat of the Night,” starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, a stunning one-two punch of leads.
Growing up in Northern Arkansas where diversity doesn’t exist, it was important to see strong black men like Poitier, and my God, Poitier’s Det. Virgil Tibbs was not only strong, but cool. When plantation owner Endicott slaps Tibbs in the face without hesitation, Tibbs slaps him back. Oscar-nominated actor Laurence Fishburne would call it the “slap heard around the world” in an American Film Institute special and it was one of the most daring things put to film at that time.
“In the Heat of the Night” won best picture in 1968 and often you’ll read pieces claiming more innovative or revolutionary films like “Bonnie and Clyde” or “The Graduate” should have won instead. But a movie featuring a black hero in the South, showing the white good ol’ boys how it’s done in ‘67 is about as revolutionary as it got in an era when Jim Crow laws had just been overturned.
Visiting a relative in nowhere Mississippi in the turbulent ‘60s, Tibbs gets caught up in a crime where he’s first the suspected perp and later helps Steiger’s small town police chief solve. It’s the friendship between Tibbs and Chief Gillespie that I focused on. Gillespie and Tibbs start off as foes, but by the end of the movie come to respect one another, if not become borderline friends.
It’s a message that despite differences, looks and beliefs we can all get along. And that’s something as important in today’s world as it was 50 years ago. It’s messages like these that make the medium of film truly important.
by Philip Price
There is a point in the first 10 to 15 minutes of Jason Reitman’s “Tully” where it’s fair to think this is going to be “one of those movies”. One of those movies that chronicles the small, but sometimes enormously stressful lives of middle-class suburbanites that have become increasingly difficult to feel sorry for in the climate of a world gone off the rails. Everyone has their issues, their problems, their struggles, and they come to be dealt with just as uniquely or just as commonly as the problems themselves might be, but there is no point in asking an audience, who is paying hard-earned money to be entertained, to feel sorry for someone who is going through some of the same experiences they've likely had. This is the key, the turning point really, for “Tully” in that the movie never asks the viewer to feel sorry for its protagonist and it never asks for forgiveness for her actions either. In fact, the titular character that comes to be embodied by Mackenzie Davis and who is described as a "night nanny", never passes a single judgement on Charlize Theron's Marlo thus encouraging the viewers to do the same; or to at least hold that judgement until we are delivered the entirety of the picture. And so, in many ways “Tully” simply asks the viewer to either sympathize or empathize with its characters plight, knowing that said viewers might be able to relate, rather than necessarily making a stand about opening a hidden world beyond the greeting card society we all like to pretend we exist within. The film, written by Diablo Cody, is best when it gets specific and Cody is known for excelling at this. There are multiple moments of unfiltered truth that capture the essence of what it feels like to be a parent to a newborn that, given how tired and how on auto-pilot new parents are, it’s a mystery how Cody had the forethought to write examples of as much down or even find the humor in certain situations, but she does and it is in these small truths, these everyday instances and challenges where the movie consistently keeps it real and yet moves on as we all have to do that the viewer is able to appreciate what “Tully” is doing, what it is saying, and what it becomes rather than dismissing it as another in a line of narratives that purport to pull back the curtain on the middle.
Reitman, who also directed Cody's screenplays for “Juno” and “Young Adult,” has had varying degrees of success when tackling the topic of not losing sight of who you are as you grow older-“Young Adult” would actually make a great companion piece to this as Theron plays the other side of the coin just as well as she does portraying Marlo-but with “Tully,” Reitman has crafted something wholly apart from anything he's done before. In fact, in tone this feels closest to what was his most critically-ravaged film in “Men, Women, & Children,” but while that film suffered due to convoluted storylines to make obvious points it is Cody's writing that seemingly allows for Reitman to hone in on the aspects he most needs to make the most compelling and captivating films. Yes, the main theme in “Tully” is a simple one in that it is the story of a mother of three trying to balance her work, her children, her husband, and her ambitions and how difficult it can be to keep an even balance making it easy to lose sight of who one is as a person as opposed to who they envisioned themselves becoming. What “Tully” is about though, is that of not losing sight of who you are and who you want to be despite the fact you are now responsible for other lives that depend on you to successfully shape who they might be. There is this inherent belief or almost expectation in life that once you have children or become a parent that one's own process of evolving ceases until they have completed the task of raising their children and this simply cannot apply or be executed in any successful manner without the parent ultimately becoming little more than a shadow of the person they once were; this kind of full-on devotion only making the process of allowing your children to eventually lead their own lives all the more difficult and frightening. It's a destructive lifestyle choice. And so, besides balance, how does one retain who they are while living for their children? This is something “Tully,” in the slightest of ways, seeks to try and figure out by operating on a premise that no doubt worked as a process of discovery for Cody herself. The answer it then seems that Cody has come up with is one that might feel obvious, but in the context of the film is one that lands with a powerful and genuine moment of clarity. To discuss too much would be to reveal certain turns the narrative takes that would be detrimental to the experience of those for whom this movie was made at and who will gain the most from it, but to say that “Tully” will be able to be enjoyed on a multitude of levels over multiple viewings feels like something of an understatement.
At first glance, “Tully” might seem like something you find on the Lifetime network and Cody is well-aware of such a fact by giving Marlo a level of discernment to the idea of how easily her life could become a said ninety-minute Saturday night feature should she allow this mysterious "night nanny" into she and her children's lives, but rest assured “Tully” is anything but a conventional family dramedy in the vein of either that network's schlocky guilty pleasures or network television's sappy hyper-sentimental sagas. Instead, “Tully” is more in line with something of a quaint fable, but without the anthropomorphizing. There is almost an ethereal quality to the film when introducing its titular character into the lives of Marlo and what is primarily her newborn child, Mia. As personified by Davis the other-worldly-like Tully is everything Theron's struggling, and exhausted Marlo needs now. Besides having just given birth to a newborn and dealing with a husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), who is trying his best despite the fact he doesn't always have the perspective to know that, except for a few things, he and his wife's roles in the lives of their children should be interchangeable she also has the two older kids, one of which she hasn't quite figured out how to deal with yet. Sarah (Lia Frankland) is eight and getting to that stage where she's beginning to be "too hard on herself" whereas she also must be the older sister to kindergartener Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but whom has not been diagnosed officially and who the doctors have only labeled as "atypical" thus far. Marlo and Drew's children can attend what looks to be a private Christian school due to the fact Marlo's brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), is a big donor, but given Jonah's increasing need for individual attention the school is asking Marlo and Drew to hire an aide to give Jonah that attention he deserves. Even in this small notion from the principal lies a large impact in the lives of our characters and extracts an even larger toll on Marlo's sanity. She loves her kids, that is easy to glean, but it's also clear quite frequently clear that Marlo feels more than out of her depth. She loves Jonah and is willing to try whatever might help (including brushing his skin) soothe his anxiety, but there is no textbook on how to handle a child with needs outside the norm. This is where Tully comes in. Reinforcing the silver linings to Marlo's every day that Marlo fails to see or acknowledge anymore. The routine, the sameness of it all scares Marlo, but on the other end of the spectrum the youthful and spirited Tully seems comforted by the thought of such safety.
Naturally, all of this is escalated to a certain level of authenticity by the combination of performances on display, the attention to detail in the production design (Marlo and Drew's house is a wonder of truth unto itself), and how deftly Reitman can control the mix of realness as combined with the fairy tale-esque quality of the film as it weaves in and out of the highs and lows Marlo experiences in her day to day. This is without mentioning the charm in Cody's screenplay as there are countless lines of dialogue that are laugh-out-loud funny as well as others that are excruciatingly honest and as sharp as anything you've heard on screen this year. From Sarah waking up and asking, “Why’s the house so clean?” as if something must be wrong because of it to Marlo and her hard, strong mindset dishing out gems such as, "You’re like a book of fun facts for unpopular 4th graders," and, "My body looks like a relief map for a war-torn country," to, "Girls don't heal. We might look like we’re all better, but if you look close, we’re covered in concealer.” They are both humorous in the best way in that they offer a very particular yet peculiar example that can still relate to the masses while also cutting to the core of certain elements of our existence. To this extent, the way in which Theron plays Marlo as both this neglected and vulnerable feeling woman to a fearless and sometimes even vicious example of what a mother is called to be allows the actress to not only play a range of emotions, but more Theron is able to put together a whole person and not just a single facet that serves just the story being told. Paired with Davis, the chemistry is infectious from the first moment Tully steps into the house. She is quirky (a word the movie comes to despise, mind you) and at first feels like the epitome of that old Cameron Crowe archetype, but as she and Marlo develop more of a relationship and become more comfortable with one another we see this facade fade away and her inner self come more to the surface just as Marlo learns to let her inner self go a little bit. To this extent, Marlo begins to build a kind of outer presence for herself, ensuring she shows herself enough attention and care to both be a good mother to her children as well as be able to enjoy the time she spends with them. That's all Cody, Marlo, and every other parent is chasing anyway right? To not just be there for their children, but to be present with them. If so, the final moments of the film are something as close to perfection as one could get regarding obtaining the goals your films set out to accomplish as the interaction between Marlo and Jonah will break your heart while simultaneously putting the biggest smile on your face.
by Philip Price
Where does one even begin? That is the question the screenwriters of “Avengers: ‘Infinity War’” must have been asking themselves when they sat down to pen what will ultimately come to be a five-plus hour finale to what the world has been witness to the construction of for a decade. There is so much happening and so much seemingly left to happen with ’Infinity War’ and whatever the yet untitled sequel is sure to include that it's almost incomprehensible anyone in their right mind took this on as a challenging endeavor they'd be willing to try their hand at. And say what you will about Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of ‘Winter Soldier,’ ‘Civil War’ and now both the third and what will be the fourth Avengers movies, and how they might feel like Marvel's "directors for hire" that bend at any whim studio head Kevin Feige commands, but these guys get the work done and do so in a way that is both dramatically satisfying as well as colossally entertaining. With ‘Infinity War’, the Russo brothers along with series screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (all three ‘Captain America’ films, “Thor: The Dark World,” as well as ‘Agent Carter’) have somehow managed to tackle the unenviable for them, but extremely exciting for audiences in the vein of making eighteen previous movies come together and intertwine in a way that is as natural as possible with clear motivation as to why as much is necessary at this point in time all while keeping it all, as Thanos would put it, "well-balanced." Where to begin in such an endeavor is certainly not a question with an obvious answer, but Markus and McFeely begin in what feels like the most natural of places given the hints that have been being dropped since that post-credits scene in 2012's “The Avengers” and where we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the destruction of their home world, Asgard. If you haven't been paying attention, the post-credits scene delivered a slight smirk by a guy named Thanos (Josh Brolin) AKA a titan who sees fit to invade planets and wipe out half of their population to keep balance among the galaxies. This is who ’Infinity War’ centers around and in more ways than one this is Thanos' movie. This is a smart decision as this was never going to be able to be one hero’s movie more than another's, but by giving this villain who we've been hearing whisperings about for almost six years now the credit he is due the movie allows this antagonist to live up to the mythos those past movies have built around him.
In James Gunn's 2014 flick, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Thanos' adopted daughter of sorts, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), tells her new comrades that, "Thanos took my home world. He killed my parents in front of me. He tortured me, turned me into a weapon." Outside of that smirk this was the most information we'd received about the so-called mad titan and thus ’Infinity War’ really is this kind of put up or shut-up moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that needed to deliver where most Marvel films had failed thus far meaning it needed to provide a veritable villain; a real threat. Since the first “Iron Man” film in 2008, there has been a lack of real stakes in these films and thus a certain tension that always eluded them as audiences were aware more adventures with these characters were inevitably coming down the pipeline, but going into ’Infinity War’ there is no real sense of what might happen next and this coupled with the intensity, ruthlessness, and surprising pensiveness of Thanos and Brolin's performance as Thanos make him a genuinely frightening bad guy. Not because we know his plan and know his end-game, but because we can never figure out exactly where he lands on the spectrum between compassion and logic. In one moment we may see tears falling down his face while a few scenes later this same individual is pulling a moon to his home planet without a second thought. Markus and McFeely make clear the mindset within which Thanos operates, but they don't hold him to this code in an absolute fashion making his character a wild card; a being who has strong points and reasons for why he's doing what he's doing but is also tempted with bouts of emotion and sympathy. Such feelings are never actually an option, but there is more of a connective tissue from the audience to Thanos that exists than one might have imagined. In this regard, it is no doubt thanks in large part to Brolin's portrayal of the baddie and the few connective tissues he has to other beings that have been established in prior films. The strongest of these are obviously those to Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), but there is also this unspoken bond between Thanos and his cronies, known as The Black Order, which includes Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw), Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), and Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon), among others that consistently illustrate the lengths to which Thanos is willing to go in order to achieve this goal of obtaining all six infinity stones for his big golden glove.
Of course, by this point the MCU has explored so much terrain both on earth and in the cosmos that it's impossible for Thanos to not run into a fair amount of super folks on his journey to collect all of those infinity stones. At the same time, many of the heroes we know best are still dealing with the fallout of the events that occurred in ‘Civil War’ whereas Thor and Hulk, fresh off their ‘Ragnarok’ experience, have already diverged paths-Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) returning to earth while Thor runs into Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and the rest of his Guardians gang that now includes Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a teenage Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). The Hulk's return to earth is not without some blowback from his previous experiences though as Banner and his alter-ego have never been more at odds. Luckily, Banner lands back on earth in the middle of Greenwich Village where the sorcerer supreme, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), resides with fellow master of the mystic arts, Wong (Benedict Wong). Banner immediately summons old friend Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to warn him and their new wizard friends about the impending threat of Thanos who seeks the two infinity stones that reside on earth; the green time stone that Doctor Strange keeps on his person always and the mind stone that sits in the center of Vision's (Paul Bettany) head. These plans to get ahead of whatever strength and army Thanos might be bringing with him are foiled when Stark and new apprentice Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are swept up into the stars on Ebony Maw's spaceship to rescue Strange and to prevent Thanos from obtaining the time stone. Meanwhile, Banner must do all he can to ready Earth for what he knows is coming which means reuniting with Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) or War Machine as he's often referred which subsequently leads Banner to be able to locate Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) whom he hasn't seen or spoken to in over two years but was willing to run away with the last time the two were together on Earth. If that wasn't enough, Thor splits up the Guardians so that he, Rocket, and Groot might seek out a weapon that can match Thanos' gauntlet while Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis head to Knowhere to try and stop Thanos from taking the reality stone from The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) have also been sneaking around, trying to make a life together work, but once it becomes clear the threat level Thanos and his goons pose to Vision specifically it is off to Wakanda in hopes that T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), and their people might offer a more attractive option than having to sacrifice himself to destroy the stone that powers his being.
Needless to say, there is a lot going on in ’Infinity War’, but while there are times the film will cut back to a certain situation with a certain set of characters that takes you off guard due to the fact you forgot that storyline was also taking place the majority of the time things are being kept on track and at an efficient enough pace that it feels there is plenty to go around for all that are worthy. It is in these moments of all these heroes coming together and being able to play freely off one another that are what really make these crossover films so special and ’Infinity War’ may as well be the greatest example of them all. Markus and McFeely deliver several different combinations of characters audiences likely won't expect and/or haven't seen before and while some sets are more familiar there is a worn familiarity to them that gives this sense of belonging and level of comfort that is hard to find in any other franchise that hasn't been carefully putting its pieces in play for a decade. The highlight of these pairings and the new dynamics introduced are that of Stark and Strange with a little Spider-Man thrown in for good measure. Then there is Thor's introduction to the Guardians and the eventual buddy cop subplot with Rocket that develops. The matching of Stark and Strange's egos with the eagerness and slight naivete of Parker is a smart way to demonstrate both intelligence and strength while keeping the right amount of perspective between the two. Rocket and Thor on the other hand, couldn't seem more different, but Thor's fearlessness and Rocket's willingness are a strong match that allows each of them to push the other forward. Is there as much screen time for Cap and the rest of Wakanda as one might imagine given the time dedicated to these locations in the trailers? Not really. If there is one major complaint about ’Infinity War’ it is the fact that there is essentially no arc for Cap and that his story has been reduced to that of a drifter, still on the run from William Hurt's Thaddeus Ross, and this glaring kind of admission that he isn't the same, idealistic soldier he once was. Cap is a changed man, for better or worse, after the events of ‘Civil War’ and though he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the planet from Thanos there is a keen if not outright awareness that his service has turned into something more akin to servitude. Whether this be Evans own disenchantment with the role at this stage of his career or how far Rogers has fallen despite honoring his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), consistently and through to the present day without hesitation. Barnes presently recuperates among the farmers of Wakanda. Captain America is no longer the first avenger though, but more he is a man without a home; a man searching for a sense of belonging that we'll root for even if contracts and mad speculation tell us otherwise.
Are there deaths? Yes, of course. These were inevitable, and I doubt it comes as a shock or should be considered a spoiler by saying that some characters do in fact meet their demise in this installment, but this ability to feel free to do whatever the story calls for is an advantage ’Infinity War’ has over every other MCU film that has come before it. There is a tension that presides over everything that happens in the film, a sense that anything and everything could happen and that it might if we aren't careful. This is especially true when it comes to those super-powered beings that play with the infinity stones closest to their chests, but by extension, is also a possibility for everyone that is willing to protect them; meaning this large ensemble is a barrel of fish that Thanos is essentially shooting at. With such tension holding a thick fog over every scene then, how well does ’Infinity War’ manage the balance of tone that is typically of an expert blend in these MCU films? That question is answered simply through the fact the Guardians of the Galaxy and their "plucky" banter is included here, but so is the charming wit of Stark, the innocent yet wry mentality of Parker, with Thor even allowed to retain some of his more comedic tendencies. That said, ’Infinity War’ is also one of the more serious-minded and dour experiences in the MCU as things happen and I mean things that cannot be reversed. These are things that will permanently alter some of the characters we've come to know who will no longer operate under the pretenses of who they once were. In short, ’Infinity War’ is a game changer in many respects and not just because it is able to successfully accomplish such a staggering crossover, but due to the fact some of these characters will be defined as how they came into ’Infinity War’ and how/who they were when/if they left it. To this extent, it was surprising to see a greater impact left by a handful of these characters than had been dealt even in their stand-alone films. I wasn't the biggest fan of “Doctor Strange” nor did I understand the extent of his powers as he comes to be one of the most crucial components of the Avengers here. Same can be said for Thor who, up until this point has always been the trilogy of films I didn't mind, but never had a desire to re-visit. In ’Infinity War’ though, Thor delivers on his pre-ordained destiny as a God and as a King. There is a certain sequence featuring Thor that will make you want to stand up and cheer. Last, but never least, is Black Widow who, despite having no other-worldly superpowers or unstoppable weapon, is able to hold her own against an alien army and members of Thanos' Black Order. Having always kind of dismissed Widow as more of an obligation than an organic member of this team, her ability to prove her worthiness and inclusion here make it even more obvious as to why her presence is appreciated.
Beyond giving each character their moment, beyond balancing the several tones the MCU movies have enlisted throughout the years, and beyond being able to somehow pull off a cohesive narrative by focusing on the antagonist as the main character what the Russo brothers have accomplished with ’Infinity War’ is allowing the audience to feel what it's like to read a comic book and imagine it coming to life while watching it unfold on screen. There is a sense of goofiness to it all for sure and the insanely weird and out their science fiction aspects of this film should not be dismissed, but the fact most of us will view this as a serious film with major objectives not just in terms of plot, but theme tells us more about what the MCU has conditioned its fans for than it ever could what it has made them immune to. This is popcorn entertainment to the max, it is a behemoth, it is the seven layer-dip of movies, but while it can easily be recognized as such and digested as nothing more it would be a disservice to the Russo's, to Markus and McFeely, and to all the actors and artists that contributed to making this fantasy world a not-so-far-off reality to consider it as nothing more. ’Infinity War’ resonates emotionally and in big ways quite frequently. There are laughs to be had throughout-Pratt's Peter Quill garnering many of these and for good reason-yet there are philosophical questions to be pondered considering such froth. Thanos is a maniac, no doubt, given his willingness to even consider wiping out half the population of the universe, but when he explains his reasoning behind this line of thought-it makes sense. There is an ethical quandary in Thanos' plight and while audiences will never waver in who to root for Marvel doesn't make it an easy out when killing a villain either; there is no longer such black and white lines between good and evil, but rather varying perspectives on the same issue that present a messy, but stimulating world in which these Avengers are able to exist and play in. To this end, ’Infinity War’ is as sprawling as you'd imagine, as epic as you'd hope, and as devastating as you thought it needed to be but hoped it wouldn't be. That this works as well as it does and that it was pulled off at all is a miracle and earns the movie points upon points, but that-by the time the credits come to a close-the film has shaken you and chilled your skin is a sign of something more than satisfying and more than popcorn entertainment, but more it signifies the arrival of a game-changer and if ’Infinity War’ is anything at all it is groundbreaking.
by Philip Price
The summer movie season is always one of my favorite times of the year because it seems people outside those of us who consistently devour movies seem to make a big deal of what's opening in theaters each week. When it's something the masses are interested in it feels like a celebration and no matter how crappy or generic some of these movies might be that attract the masses I can't help but smile about people finding joy and excitement in the cinema. I've always attempted to find a balance between big-budget and indie fare rather than dismiss the blockbusters and only adore the smaller, more intimate movies. I like to try and think in terms of objectives and how well a movie accomplishes the objectives it sets out to accomplish by the end of the film.
10. The Meg
Nothing screams summer movie season more than a thrilling shark movie (it was “Jaws” that ushered in the idea of summer blockbusters, after all) and we've been spoiled with fairly decent ones over the last couple of years including Jaume Collet-Serra's “The Shallows” and Johannes Roberts “47 Meters Down,” but “The Meg” can't help but feel as if it combines every element of the summer blockbuster and throws it at the wall in hopes of most of it sticking. If you're unaware of what “The Meg” is or is about it takes Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Bingbing Li and Cliff Curtis and throws them into an encounter with an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench. Through a series of unfortunate events Naval Captain Statham loses his career, his marriage, and any semblance of honor as his unsupported and incredulous claims that the Carcharodon Megalodon - the largest marine predator that ever existed - is still alive and worse...on the hunt! (8/10)
9. Sorry to Bother You
"An absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing." That is how first-time feature director Bootsy Collins describes “Sorry to Bother You.” Collins was part of the hip hop band The Coup who hailed from Oakland and who you've likely heard on soundtracks for movies like “Superbad” and “The Losers” as well as multiple video games, but Riley was apparently always on the track to be a feature director. And so, what does the seemingly auspicious director have in store for audiences this summer? Well, the official summary for his film explains it as being about an alternate present-day version of Oakland where telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe. “Sorry to Bother You” thrilled fans at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and with such a unique and distinct voice behind the camera as well as plenty of talent in front of it-including Armie Hammer, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun, Danny Glover, Omari Hardwick, and Patton Oswalt-all led by man of the moment Lakeith Stanfield it would seem this post-‘Get Out’ world we're living in is going to be a good one for fans of game-changing cinema. Here's hoping “Sorry to Bother You” lives up to the hype. (Limited on 7/6)
8. Eighth Grade
In the number eight spot is another film from a first-time feature director that debuted at Sundance this year to rave reviews. Having been a Bo Burnham fan for some time now (seriously, check out his special on Netflix called “Make Happy” if you haven't already) it was exciting to hear the talented writer/comedian/musician would be furthering his artistic endeavors to writing and directing films, but how this endeavor might turn out was undoubtedly going to be up for question. Starring Elsie Fisher of “Despicable Me” fame as a teenager trying to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth-grade year before leaving to start high school, the film looks to chronicle the experiences of modern youth, how their identities are intertwined with their social media accounts, how they manage trying to become someone exceptional in a field where everyone seems destined to be exceptional, and the no doubt startling realization that not everyone who chases their dreams will come out the other side both happy and successful. The trailer gives this exploration the sense this is a deeply compassionate take on contemporary adolescence and I can't wait to see both how much I might relate as well as how much I might discover. (Limited on 7/13)
7. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
It feels as if no other summer blockbuster has been met with as much initial criticism as director J.A. Bayona's follow-up to Colin Trevorrow's 2015 re-boot of the ‘Jurassic Park’ series. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” has seemingly already been ostracized from the summer movie season by many critics and fans for touting what some have referred to as a dumb and repetitive storyline as many of the images from the trailers released share similarities to that of what we saw Spielberg use in his own sequel, ‘The Lost World,’ which many consider the reason Jurassic sequels should have never become more of a thing in the first place. That said, I had a hell of a good time watching the first “Jurassic World” in IMAX three years ago and found it to be the epitome of pure, B-movie fun. This goes back to that idea of assessing films based on how well they accomplish the objectives they clearly set out to achieve and “Jurassic World” certainly had no ambitions beyond being anything more than a fun action/adventure movie that featured dinosaurs and endearing characters. Say what you want about the new characters, but Chris Pratt is one of the most likable guys working the big screen today and that charm along with my eagerness to see Bayona pull the rug out from under all the early haters make me very excited to see what type of theatrical experience ‘Fallen Kingdom’ will offer audiences. (6/22)
6. First Reformed
Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation and is eclipsed by its nearby parent church with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence. Co-starring Amanda Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer writer/director Paul Schrader (writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”) “First Reformed” is said to be inspired by the works of Carl Th. Dreyer, Robert Bresson, and Yasujirō Ozu to which Schrader has crafted a work around an emotional/spiritual/existential crisis. As a cradle Catholic and someone who still practices, but with natural and sometimes hard to overcome reservations, movies that deal in crisis of faith involving priests or anyone who has had their lives dictated by the church are inherently fascinating and “First Reformed” is no different. It doesn't hurt that the early word on this thing has been out of this world fantastic. (Limited on 5/18)
5. Deadpool 2/Ant-Man and the Wasp
One might wonder about the absence of “Avengers: Infinity War” on this list, but given that Marvel behemoth was moved out of the first slot in May to the last weekend of April (a smart move, as it will give the movie more room to breathe and what are essentially three weekends to itself before anything else major hits) it is technically no longer within the realm of the summer movie season schedule which has, since I can remember, always started with the first weekend in May and ended somewhere around the mid-point in August. Now, of course ‘Infinity War’ is still very much going to be the biggest movie of the summer and is indisputably a summer title, but by declaring as much it gives me room to highlight some other movies you might not otherwise know are in the pipeline. If this really bothers you then just know I would have lumped ‘Infinity War’ into this list by adding it alongside its fellow MCU title “Ant-Man and the Wasp” which I am genuinely excited for and the sequel to 2016's surprise smash, “Deadpool,” which continues to look better and better with each trailer. I'm always anxious to see what the summer comic book movies have in store and this year is no different as each are very different in their objectives. ‘Infinity War’ is obviously the biggest movie event of the year and the biggest we'll see until next May when the untitled sequel AKA ‘Avengers 4’ hits theaters, but “Deadpool 2” will be a nice reprieve from everything’ Infinity War’ represents while still existing within the genre and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” just looks like...fun. (“Deadpool 2” arrives on 5/18, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” hits theaters on 7/6)
4. Under the Silver Lake
Director David Robert Mitchell burst onto the scene in 2014 with his retro horror flick “It Follows” and scored a ton of points with both critics, film enthusiasts, and genre lovers everywhere so it was always going to be exciting to see what such an exciting new voice would come up with next. To answer the question of what he would do next it seems Mitchell has concocted something truly fascinating with “Under the Silver Lake,” a film that centers on a man named Sam (Andrew Garfield) who becomes obsessed with the strange circumstances of a billionaire mogul's murder and the kidnapping of a girl. Riley Keough looks like the epitome of a post-golden age Hollywood bombshell in the role of the mystery girl and Topher Grace stars as Sam's friend who helps him with the investigation surrounding Keough's character. Besides this being Mitchell's follow-up to his debut feature that struck a chord with many, myself included as I loved the look and tone of “It Follows,” “Under the Silver Lake” is equally intriguing for the reasons it might have attracted Garfield to the project. Garfield, in his post-web-slinging career, has been slowly building a reputation of strong and interesting choices through working with collaborators that have a clear vision of what they are creating and saying, and it would seem his latest venture is no exception. Consider me hooked. (Limited on 6/22)
3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
It would seem that with the frequency in which we are now receiving ‘Star Wars’ films and ‘Star Wars’-related material that it would become less and less special and that isn't to say there isn't a time when that feeling will set in, but despite the fact that ‘The Last Jedi’ just debuted on home video less than a month ago and the fact “Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens in just over a month it is difficult as a life-long Star Wars fan to not be excited about a new ‘Star Wars’ movie (even if I wasn't a huge fan of the last one). Outside of the fact this thing looks spectacular from a visual standpoint (it was shot by “Arrival” cinematographer Bradford Young) there isn't much to go off as far as how the final product will turn out given its rocky production. If you've been living under a rock, you may not be privy to the fact that original ‘Solo’ directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were essentially given the boot with less than a month to go in principal photography. Lucasfilm, and more specifically Kathleen Kennedy, then brought in Ron Howard to re-shoot much of the film and complete production. To that end, it will be interesting to see where ‘Solo’ falls in terms of quality, but while I would have loved to have seen Lord and Miller's version of a ‘Star Wars’ movie it will be just as nice to go into a Star Wars film with low stakes where the most you're hoping for is to simply have a good time. (5/25)
If “A Quiet Place” has been the breakout hit of the year so far, get ready for “Hereditary” to become the breakout hit of the summer as it seems this new horror film from writer/director Ari Aster (making his feature directorial debut) is destined to go down as one of the scariest and most disturbing experiences audiences have had in some time. Having premiered in the midnight section at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, it instantly became the sort of sensation you couldn't help but hear about if you pay attention to movie news. Several viewers, rattled by the traumatic story of a grieving mother (Toni Collette) whose family is haunted by an ominous presence, immediately crowned the film one of the scariest movies ever made with such praise taking to the internet and in turn making it one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. Distributor A24 seemingly knows it has a potentially massive hit on their hands too (and if you've noticed a fair amount of their films are ones I'm highly anticipating) as they have mapped out a marketing campaign that included ominous deliveries to movie-goers at the SXSW festival in Austin last month where reactions were again in communion with those initial reactions from Sundance. A24 clearly expects the hype to pay off big by releasing the film nationwide on June 8th as the distributor is typically one to stagger their releases by region, but while this day and date wide release didn't work for last summer's “It Comes at Night,” “Hereditary” feels like it's playing in a bigger ball park and I can't wait to see this bet pay off should it be all we've heard it is. (6/8)
1. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
The full-length trailer for the sixth ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie is by far the best trailer I've seen this year and is absolutely thrilling to take in on the big screen and yet, somehow, this movie still feels like an underdog going into the season. These movies have only become more thematically interesting over the years if not maintaining the level of quality set by the J.J. Abrams third installment in 2006 if not even occasionally surpassing that standard (2011's ‘Ghost Protocol’ is the series highlight). With this latest film the series allows a past director to return for the first time in its 22-year history as Christopher McQuarrie, who last made 2015's ‘Rogue Nation,’ must genuinely have a great working relationship with star Tom Cruise as this will only be McQuarrie's fourth film to ever direct with only one of those not featuring Cruise as the star. McQuarrie made his name first as the writer of Bryan Singer's 1995 cult hit, “The Usual Suspects,” and he has the sole screenwriting credit on ‘Fallout’ as well. Fallout's story sees Cruise's Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, racing against time after a mission goes wrong. There is certainly evidence to suggest Hunt's past is beginning to catch up with him though, and the addition of Henry Cavill as well as more jaw-dropping stunts make what is the sixth movie in a series, a sequel number one would typically relegate to equal crap, but that this franchise along with the “Fast and the Furious” have been proving wrong for some time now, the movie I'm most excited to see on the big screen this summer. (7/27)
by Philip Price
“Isle of Dogs” is the ninth feature film from director Wes Anderson and by this point, one knows prior to going into an Anderson film both what they will be getting and whether they're already in the bag for Anderson's style and how he will undoubtedly expand upon it. I was very much in the bag for the auteur's return to stop-motion animation after the delightful excursion that was 2009's “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And so, the question then surpasses that of expectation dictating the perceived outcome of a certain film, but rather to be that of if there is already this acceptance of quality due to the understanding of the passion, time, and care committed to a project then just how good is it exactly? Where does it rank among the director's already impressive catalogue? As the credits rolled on the brief feeling, but wholly satisfying “Isle of Dogs” it became infinitely clearer than it had a moment earlier when still during the film that while this may be Anderson's most outright imaginative take on a motion picture it is also the one that is most vague regarding its intentions. Maybe memories of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” escape me or maybe I missed a thesis that “Isle of Dogs” states throughout its rather straightforward narrative, but what seems most likely is the fact Anderson intended this to be as simple as it could possibly be so that individual movie-goers might make of it as they please with the filmmaker himself only taking credit to the extent the experience of watching his film brought excesses of escapism and joy. There isn't a single aspect of that previous sentence I would disagree with in terms of how easy it is to be swept up in the world of “Isle of Dogs” and how effortlessly enjoyable the movie is, but there is no sense of real emotional investment to be conjured either. It's not a mandate that Anderson's films be emotionally involving which is to say the meaning of his movies rarely take center stage, but often it's hard to avoid such because of the natural investment made in the compelling characters. In “Isle of Dogs” we have a pack of abandoned canines and a twelve year-old boy who doesn't speak English whom Anderson gives no subtitles and thus there is something of a disconnect, but despite these small quibbles (and trust me, that's all they really are) “Isle of Dogs” is a meticulously crafted, beautifully rendered, and pitch perfect Wes Anderson movie that positions the water cooler conversations to not be about what the film is discussing, but what the film is; not what it says, but how it makes you feel.
“Isle of Dogs” begins with a quick prologue explaining the legend of a war between three clans; two of which worshiped dogs while the Kobayashi clan were cat lovers. The clans fought in battle until a child warrior came forth and decapitated the head of the Kobayashi clan. Centuries later, the Kobayashi family has not forgiven their greatest defeat. Jumping forward to a world in the not too distant future the Kobayashi clan now sits atop the societal ladder given one of their namesake's reigns as Mayor of the Japanese city of Megasaki. In what is described as an outbreak of "snout fever" Mayor Kobayashi issues a decree that will send every dog in the land to a quarantined piece of land they call Trash Island. There are those that oppose this decision in Megasaki namely Professor Watanabe (voice of Akira Ito) and his assistant scientist (voice of Yoko Ono) who believe the dogs can be cured with a serum they are producing and need to test. When put to a vote though, Kobayashi wins his way and to show no bias and make an example of what must be done he elects to make the first dog to be banished that of his own nephew's. That nephew, Atari (voice of Koyu Rankin), could not be more at odds with his "distant uncle" who designated his dog, Spots (voice of Liev Schrieber), to be his bodyguard when he came to live with them after the death of his parents. Naturally, this is all communicated through a flashback where it is clearly stated on screen that this is in fact a flashback-a trademark of Anderson's dry wit and off kilter if not still perfectly symmetrical style. It's also clearly stated that "all barks have been rendered into English" in case anyone was concerned.
This prologue of sorts brings the audience up to speed on the necessary backstory as the movie truly doesn't dig into itself until the movie itself joins the packs of ill-ridden dogs on Trash Island. It is here viewers meet a crew led by the only former stray of the pack in Chief (voice of Bryan Cranston) along with the bossy Rex (voice of Edward Norton), the funny Boss (Bill Murray), the ironically quiet King (Bob Balaban), and the gossipmonger that is Duke (Jeff Goldblum). It is shortly after meeting this gang of dirty, starving, and likely crazed dogs (not so much from the sickness, but from the isolation and lack of resources) that Atari, who the dogs affectionately refer to as "the little pilot" comes crashing down onto Trash Island in a stolen airplane with hopes of locating Spots. This is some six months or so after all the dogs have been banished leaving only a slight hope in Atari that he might find his pet, but after immediately enlisting the help of Chief and his pack it seems we are safely snuggled in for what will be a rescue mission of a movie. Anderson (who has sole screenwriting credit) quickly upends that expectation though, taking his audience down a winding road that, while not necessarily unconventional, is never where you quite expect it to go. That isn't to say “Isle of Dogs” doesn't have its problems. There is a subplot with the Greta Gerwig-voiced character, Tracy, who feels somewhat unnecessary and only present to serve to clarify the events and actions of Kobayashi as well as what happens to Watanabe, but Anderson typically gives the viewer more credit than this and as much could be deduced without the aid of Tracy’s investigatory journalism. It's a weird choice and, if it weren't for time and preparation necessary, would feel tacked on to provide Gerwig a role. Gerwig deserves to be in a Wes Anderson film, but she deserves more than this.
Of course, what makes any Anderson film as delightful as they always are is that attention to detail and level of care the director takes in crafting them and “Isle of Dogs” is no different. In fact, it could be argued that in his stop-motion excursions Anderson is more focused on the details as they take that much more time to develop and consider. This is true in both the execution of the story through the images, but also regarding the writing. It's almost a given that Anderson's films will be visually mind-blowing in their meticulousness. For example, the set design in the laboratories of those searching for a cure for the dog flu with their color-coded beakers, flasks, and test tubes serving as a backdrop is entrancing without being distracting. It is easy to glean in many a scene just how magnificently and expertly Anderson will bring this world he has imagined to life, but it is what he is able to do with these techniques and how he is able to consistently keep what is undoubtedly tiring and tedious work from ever feeling like this way that is most impressive. “Isle of Dogs” is in fact the opposite of such descriptors as it is consistently hilarious and effortlessly charming with much of these qualities coming from the details Anderson bothers to include and what eventually come to form the basis of what makes what is, in all honesty, a rather slight story as memorable as it is. These details range from being as broad as making Chief's crew what is essentially a group of old ladies who gossip and hang out together because they have nothing else to do and becoming a comedy of errors in the process (see the trash compactor sequence and its resolution). This broad concept is boiled down into something more memorable and precise by Anderson not always through folly, but through the precision of knowing his movie inside and out.
There is a running gag within Chief's gang that is always exacted by Norton's domineering Rex that works both as a way to exemplify Rex's imperiousness, a way to gauge where each of the other dogs land in regards to their attitudes, but it also sets up such a perfect joke that will only garner the laughs it deserves if the viewer has been paying close enough attention to understand why it is as funny as it actually is. Otherwise, it will sound like little more than a common phrase being used correctly. That is the power of Anderson's writing in that it has layers and often requires multiple watches for even the surface to be scratched. In this regard, it is already an intriguing thought to want to re-visit “Isle of Dogs” to see how bit parts from people like F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand, who each provide voices for these overseer-type figures to the dog and human worlds, respectively, play more validated roles after repeat viewings. Additionally, small added moments of one dog picking a tick off another dog mid-conversation, the eyes of the characters-especially when they begin to swell before beginning to cry-are so visceral, and the character design of the aboriginal dogs that have fallen victim to harsh experimentation are only a few examples of clever and striking details that, when set to the 1966 tune, "I Won't Hurt You" by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band only resonate all the more deeply. The way Anderson devises for Spots to disband a gang of robot dogs as well as how every scuffle is depicted as large clouds of dust and commotion aren't bad examples of the creativity on display here either.
Like his aesthetic, Anderson imagines a world in which everything is clean cut and in its proper place. Things are simplified. They are cut and dry. There is no room for questions. No time to wait on pondering. It's funny this is the way Anderson constructs his worlds and how starkly they contrast the feelings around the film after experiencing it. Whether the deluge of possible themes and meanings is a guttural reaction to how logical and steady the decisions that are made in his movies are and thus define the decisions made about his movies is certainly something work with exploring, but again...layers. There is a line near the end of the film that goes, “Wow, that’s a great serum!” and it again perfectly encapsulates Anderson’s clean-cut dealings in things. Just do it. Just do what you’re supposed to do, and things will become as they should and are meant to be. This inevitably leads to the question then of what “Isle of Dogs” is about? What is all of this in service of? What is it aiming to say, if anything? There is always the distinct possibility Anderson is creating simply for the sake of imagination and a fun/interesting experiment in and of itself, but even in only aiming to do just this one typically latches onto an idea or theme that comes to be representative of the journey. With “Isle of Dogs,” and as stated previously, it seems this has been left intentionally vague for reasons of taking what one wants from it, taking it how the viewer reacts instinctively to it, or simply enjoying it for its many surface-level pleasures. “Isle of Dogs” could simply be a call for compassion in this crazy world, or it could be about the inherent role dogs play/assume in human lives. This idea of how they are referred to as man's best friend and dedicate their lives to their owners (even after being abandoned, Chief's pack talk about their former owners with genuine affection) and how, when they need us most, man abruptly abandons them. At the halfway point of the film, Chief and Atari are separated from the rest of the dogs, offering Chief the opportunity to better figure out who he is regarding having a human owner and even in this strand of a plot detail one could take some meaning dealing in this kind of dynamic. There is also a point in the film where Atari makes the apt comparison between himself and his canine companion, thanking his tyrannical uncle for taking him in when he was a stray. Could “Isle of Dogs” be a metaphor for adoption and how society largely tries to push the issue under the rug instead of better dealing with it? Many interpretations can be pulled from the film depending on how deep one is willing to dive, but the best part is that no matter what level an individual is looking to experience an Anderson film on, they work; and there is the gut feeling that rule applies to this one especially.
by Philip Price
There is a lot to say about “A Quiet Place,” the third directorial effort from John Krasinski starring real-life wife Emily Blunt in their first on-screen collaboration (and as a married couple no less), but more than anything this is a movie that encapsulates the equal amount of unexpected fear as compared to the expected amount of joy that comes along with becoming and being a parent. It is something society doesn't often prepare you for and that you don't hear much about when embarking on this chapter in your life. People tell you how it will change your life, certainly, and how it will do so for the better as well as how tough things will be at different times for different reasons, but no one ever seems to warn expectant parents just how much fear will encompass their lives and in what are otherwise seemingly normal of situations. This isn't what “A Quiet Place” is about outright, but as the father to a three-year-old daughter that is what “A Quiet Place” is most explicitly about to me. It is a summation and tense execution of what it feels like to solely be responsible for the lives of those that are dependent upon you whether they see it that way or not; they simply expect you to be there for them because that has always been your role without a second thought to the worry and fear that role might encompass and carry. A child's perspective is difficult to re-adjust to the point they understand the full spectrum of various emotions we as human beings are capable of experiencing, but there is something inherent when becoming a parent where your brain automatically switches to all-of-a-sudden be weary of any potential dangers to your child while at the same time coming to the realization your strengths and abilities might not be enough to protect them from whatever the world throws at them. Granted, “A Quiet Place” is this times 57 and represents the worst-case scenario of what are most of the time internalized fears, but that is what makes the film so effective and ultimately, so moving. At the center of the story is a family unit that has been fractured by grief in the midst of having to adjust to this new way of life thanks to an extra-terrestrial threat whose origins remain a mystery sans some quick glances at a few newspaper clippings, but the context doesn't matter as much as the concepts that bound forth from its simple, but intriguing premise. Through all of this, Krasinski hones in on what makes the premise work so well, that being the grief, necessary coping, and inherent fear that inevitably comes with making ourselves vulnerable enough to care so much about others. Realizing these emotions and this feeling of need to protect and shelter those you are responsible for even when you have no idea how you might accomplish as much into a tight, ninety-minute actualization that will have you holding your breath and remaining as still as the reflections we see on screen.
In what is one of the more impressive opening sequences to a horror film in quite some time, Krasinski sets the stage for our expectations of this world as well as the rules of such through what would otherwise be a forgettable trip to the local drug store. In this small, deserted town we are witness to a couple of children sifting quietly through the aisles while their mother attempts to locate a specific type of medicine in the prescriptions that have been left behind (a menial task made even more tense by the sounds these small, but noisy bottles make). She is searching for something to give to her son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), who needs to be brought back from the edge of what is seemingly a terrible sickness while her other children, the pre-teen Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Beau (Cade Woodward) who is just clearing the finish line of toddler-hood, are the ones who tip-toe quietly through the store. Through these actions and this environment, we come to a quick understanding of this world we're now existing within and that silence is, for one reason or another, of paramount importance. So much so that as Krasinski's Lee enters the store he is immediately frightened by the prospect of what could happen if the toy in his youngest son’s hands went off as, for one reason or another, batteries were included with this toy. I mention the issue with the batteries because there are a handful of reasons as to why this abandoned rocket ship sitting in a store in an abandoned town might already have batteries in it, but it is also something that is easy to pick apart in regards to convenience and how the film doesn't always acknowledge aspects that would seemingly make sense for Lee and his family to follow. At one point, later in the film, Lee and Marcus take to the woods so that the father might teach his son how to fish and provide for his mother and siblings should something ever happen to him. During this excursion Lee enlightens his son to the fact that if he ever needs to let off a little steam or even just hear himself talk that the best way to do so is behind the coverage of an even louder sound that these invaders have apparently become accustomed to in nature i.e. a river or waterfall. If this is true, why doesn't Lee simply move his family closer to a waterfall you might ask? Well, other than the fact you aren't the only one that's likely thought of that and thus such areas have no doubt become populated and therefore ultimately a bigger risk for attracting attention there could be any number of reasons Lee chose not to do this. It's made clear Lee is a smart, big-picture guy who is doing all he can to protect his family and figure out the best steps moving forward, but “A Quiet Place” also keeps its story very contained leaving little room for outside influence or overly-long explanations and in turn opening it up for unnecessary scrutiny.
Taken simply on the terms in which it states, “A Quiet Place” is a masterclass in how to pull as much as one can out of what are a limited number of resources. The story is so contained that, outside of the opening and single scene in which Lee and Marcus go fishing, the film takes place completely in a single location. It is in this farm house that we're not sure if the Abbott family resided in prior to the alien invasion happening or not that Lee has rigged up lights to signal things are safe or not as well as countless booby traps, but most of his efforts seem to have gone into developing an underground bunker of sorts where eventually his family will be able to live something resembling normal lives and where he is able to continue his research of these creatures as well as try and make contact with fellow survivors. There are hints of other known communities and/or families surviving quietly around the Abbott's, but this isn't a story a la “The Walking Dead” and is instead solely focused on this single family's ever-evolving dynamic matched by their will to survive. The movie doesn't need to be about anything else though, and it doesn't need to be. In this, Krasinski shows his focus as a director who wants to explore how these people react to and deal with these circumstances that are horrible and beyond their control. In this context we are witnessing the Abbott's still figuring out how to deal with this new-found scenario meaning they have in no way found a routine but are still learning the best ways with which to deal with these antagonists. And from these situations and the necessity of the premise, this undeniable tension is born. There is rarely a moment throughout “A Quiet Place” that doesn't feel earned in terms of shock or scares as everything that occurs contributes to the overall sense of dread that deals in potentially slipping up and making the slightest sound that will trigger the sensitive ears (or whatever organ it is on these things that allows them to hear so well) of these creatures. And so, while the premise sets up these inherent moments in which tension, stress, and anxiety naturally bound forward it is how Krasinski executes these moments that really elevate “A Quiet Place” into something special. For instance, there is one scene that-if you picked up on the context clues in any of the trailers-you will at the very least be suspecting and if you know what I'm referring to already trust that you are correct in your assumptions and know that it fully delivers on the horror of that scenario. It is in this sequence that the film achieves the most success with its visual storytelling and largely silent atmosphere by effectively using these tools to not only make you simultaneously want to look away while not being able to peel your eyes off the screen, but by delivering on this notion of how terrifying it is to be the sole barrier between the life and death of this human being that depends on you.
The biggest challenge a film like “A Quiet Place” was always going to face though, was that of how does it continue to pursue it's fantastic and original premise throughout the full length of its runtime rather than simply devolving into something more generic? This was a chief concern of mine shortly after the screen went dark following that breathtaking opening sequence when the thought immediately became, "Well that was as great as it was horrifying, but where does it go from here? What more does it have to say?" That opening sequence is nothing less than a precisely executed and legitimately frightening short film, but given the small elements of the family dynamics set-up within the fact the film then jumps ahead from what is "Day 89" of this new life to day 400-and-something tells us that not only will adjustments and discoveries have been made, but also that the ramifications of that day will undoubtedly still be felt. It is in this throughline of this fractured family and the stakes that have been immediately set-up that both the concept and the emotional beats and themes can play out through the remainder of the film making it more than just a repeat of that opening for 90-minutes, but something that evolves and has something to say. The screenplay from Bryan Woods and Scott Beck that received a revision once it hit Krasinski's desk is so tightly structured and translated into a picture that is so eloquently paced it makes the final act and acts of the characters that much more impactful and frankly, kind of beautiful. Again, this may be going back to the fact I took the movie to be about something explicitly applied to my life whereas others will see it purely as a great horror premise that is played for scares, but even with that perspective going in it would be hard to deny the emotional weight “A Quiet Place” ultimately carries. When a genre film such as this is able to transcend the boundaries of such it's always fascinating as it is something that is unexpected and expectations determine everything, but outside of “A Quiet Place” getting extra points for being able to make me feel something other than scared or terrified “A Quiet Place” feels like this great achievement because not only does it become what could be construed as a metaphor for being a parent or member of a family where that responsibility for another life is chosen or placed upon ones shoulders, but because it also does so much with so little in regards to the art form and does so in a successful manner. The fact this has become a mainstream hit and largely praised while featuring very little dialogue and minimal use of score and other sounds is enough to suggest the quality of technique at work and this is all without even mentioning the performances. Everyone is doing what the story requires from them, but Simmonds (who is deaf) and Blunt are especially in an element all their own. The expressions both can conjure and convey using only their facial features are remarkable and, if everything else about the film hasn't already driven home the combination of constant suspense and truly affecting ideas, their performances will.
by Philip Price
“Rampage” is the happy meal version of a movie. It's cheap and easy and you walk away mostly satisfied even if there was no nutritional value whatsoever. It's a strange world where Dwayne Johnson can still be seen in theaters in his last big-budget action adventure that involves a jungle and then the first time we see the chrome-domed former wrestler in “Rampage” he just so happens to once again be making his way through a similar environment; it’s as if the star is guiding us out of one movie and into the next. As we are welcomed into this new world of “Rampage” by The Rock himself we are introduced to his Davis Okoye, a primatologist AKA someone who studies nonhuman primates, who works at the San Diego Zoo and has essentially fostered one of the last remaining albino gorillas to be his own. George, as played through motion capture by Jason Liles, is a seven-foot-tall, 500 plus-pound primate who can communicate with Johnson's Davis with as much ease as a deaf child might be able to communicate with their hearing enabled parent and who also has a good sense of humor about himself and his circumstances. The one thing “Rampage” does better than it has any right to do is develop this relationship between the two biggest stars on screen meaning Johnson is just that good at making audiences believe he is the coolest guy around. Not everyone could make befriending a monkey cool and inspiring as opposed to the weird and off-putting looks most would get, but the guy does it; acting as if it's the most normal thing in the world and oh yeah, he was also part of an anti-poaching military force once upon a time too, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it. And sure, the fact it’s The Rock that is both this intelligent and extremely fit guy who clearly has a streak of compassion with an especially soft spot for animals is part of the appeal in “Rampage” as it is the ability The Rock brings along with his presence that makes a movie as ridiculous as this work as well as it does…even if it probably shouldn't. That said and having never played the video game on which this is based, I expected the latest from director Brad Peyton to be a little more fun than this ends up being. Yes, there are moments of pure outrageous bliss, but they are too few and far between to make “Rampage” feel like the large-sized combo it was advertised to be. Rather, “Rampage” is drenched in that Happy Meal feeling from its quick and easy delivery to its processed if not convenient conclusion.
While it was somewhat striking to, upon introduction, see Johnson again making his way through the greenery of a lush jungle after just re-visiting his massive ‘Jumanji’ sequel that arrived on home video less than a few weeks ago, “Rampage” begins quite a way from our planet. On a space station owned by the inevitable evil corporation that is a part of the plot-this time around and run by the diabolical Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her stooge of a brother, Brett (Jake Lacy), nasty things are happening. The Wyden's highly unethical company, Energyne, has apparently been conducting genetic experiments in space as the movie opens with a giant rat chasing down the only surviving astronaut on board (Marley Shelton). Shelton's character makes it through to the escape pod where she has safely secured samples of the chemical toxin that turned the lab rat into the dino rat, but while the escape pod appears to get away just in the nick of time it may have sustained too much damage to survive re-entry. The samples, however, do (with this convenience being defended by a throwaway line from Claire) and end up landing at different points on Earth where they infect a rogue wolf, an alligator, and Davis' extraordinarily intelligent, silverback gorilla. George begins to grow rapidly and get angrier and even more vicious as opposed to the tame and rather compliant beast we've witnessed thus far. Naturally, Davis is concerned with what is happening to his friend and his first instinct is to figure out what happened and how to fix it. Things become slightly more complicated when former Energyne employee and genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) shows up claiming to be the only one who knows how to cure George, but seemingly has an agenda of her own and even more complicated when an off-the-books government agency led by self-proclaimed cowboy Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) struts in to try and take control of the situation. As Davis and Kate team-up to try and track down the cure and only hope of saving George, Harvey informs the two of them that George isn't the only newly-minted monster tearing across North America. It turns out, George and his new pals have made a b-line for picturesque Chicago due to the fact Claire has placed some type of homing beacon atop she and her brother's billion-dollar company's flagship office building and are drawing the monsters there to try and evade any connection to these mishaps. It doesn't make too much sense but is more an excuse to execute a monster attack on a big metropolitan area to honor the source material as much as possible. It's nonsensical, but it does what it promises.
And this brings to light the biggest issue to be taken away from “Rampage” in that it does what it promises in earnest, but the experience never builds to be as fun or entertaining as those promises would lead one to believe. Yes, Johnson makes a lot of this work better than it should and better than it would have without his reliable presence on board and to give credit where credit is due Peyton is a pro when it comes to staging massive action sequences and presenting them in a clear way to the audience in terms of understanding where one giant gorilla is in relation to Johnson (who is apparently as indestructible as his primate pal) in relation to the giant alligator that is coming for both of them. This is all well and good and despite the visual effects having something of an inauthentic sheen to them as the monsters jump from skyscraper to skyscraper the animal's themselves-well, mainly George-look fantastic among the otherwise live-action elements of the film. The sequence in which the giant wolf is introduced that features a short-lived appearance by Joe Manganiello is at one point the most lifeless sequence in the entire film due to the lack of weight afforded by the digital creation, but as it culminates with this giant creature leaping out of the wooded area in which it has been shrouded thus far and devouring a helicopter as if it were a treat it was owed “Rampage” is certainly something; something enough to make this movie-goer wish there was a local IMAX screen to have experienced the film on. Come to think of it, the experience of this sequence is akin to the experience of the movie overall as Peyton and his team can balance out the tawdrier elements of the thin story and even thinner premise with some jaw-dropping spectacle, but whereas the quota for each feel even by the time the credits begin to roll. There is also this sense of relief that they were all able to make it just past the 90-minute mark with something resembling a coherent motion picture forcing the movie to never be able to move past the basic requirements of a blockbuster into something more or necessarily special. The thrills and fun are there in moments, but when compared to how self-aware and earnest the movie is it’s disappointingly average in the enjoyment department. To compare, during “Rampage” going through its motions it was unavoidable to not compare it to the similarly staged “Pacific Rim” sequel a few weeks back where things were equally cartoonish and had a fair amount invested in its characters, but also managed to make the sometimes overly convoluted plot a ton of fun to witness. It's understood from the get-go we're not here for anything deep, but if “Rampage” was only going to be about the hubbub in the city it needed to deliver on this scope in a more sprawling fashion.
What is clear from seeing “Rampage” take over the big screen though, is that Peyton and his four screenwriters(!!!) were intent on making this as light and as much dumb fun as they could and as noted before, there are moments within the chaos where as much is accomplished. And so, what is it that makes “Rampage” work in ways that show its full potential here and there? First and foremost is the obvious factor of Johnson whose contributions have already been discussed and trust when it is said that Johnson's appeal is in full effect here for, despite the main event being the two plus-sized carnivores and Davis' herbivore duke it out with skyscrapers (I guess we know how Johnson's next tentpole will begin, eh?), it is Johnson who has to carry both the weight of the story as well as the emotional heft of the film that begins and ends with Davis' connection to George and his maintaining of George's innocence in everything that goes down. It would seem inevitable that each of these animals who have been unjustly turned into monsters would all ultimately meet the same inevitable fate, but as with the film's villains “Rampage” dares to surprise you in ways even if they don't always make complete sense. Speaking of those villains, “Rampage” wouldn't have been complete without the evil corporation-types devising a dastardly plan and both Akerman and Lacy play up these personas with pure bliss. The arcade version of “Rampage” is actually sitting in the Wyden's office and can be seen in some of the early scenes featuring the duo and it's as if the siblings have such a fondness for that original video game and that time in their lives when it was first released (1986) that they grew up to embody the baddies of the Saturday morning cartoons they experienced during that same phase. Why they have decided to try and "edit DNA" for the purposes of war or some such nonsense is never really made clear and their plan to draw the monsters back to their base of operations in order to get what they want and clear their names makes even less sense, but most of this is easy to forgive due to the sheer amount of fun the two actors are having playing into these archetypes. And while it is unfortunate that Harris (an Oscar nominee for her performance in the Oscar-winning “Moonlight”) is largely used as a supporting character who exists to spout exposition and fill in the gaps where Johnson's primatologist isn't as experienced or knowledgeable (breaking into Energyne, locating the serum, etc.) Morgan is arguably given less to work with but makes the most out of it. His southern swagger never tires, and the joke isn't given enough screen time to get played out, but instead these short injections of humor help contribute to that balance that makes “Rampage” only the slightest bit memorable. Morgan is cheesing through so much of his role in fact, you would think he'd just finished scarfing down a happy meal and throwing away the cheap toy inside the bag. You know, just as you'll do with your “Rampage” experience.
by Philip Price
A year ago on this weekend a reboot of the nineties hit show “Power Rangers” was released and embraced a more moody and grounded tone than that of its source material. This year, with “Pacific Rim: Uprising” what we have is what that movie might have been had it decided to go another route and play up the more cartoonish aspects of that super hero series. This is to say that “Uprising” is so bombastically cheesy in its reliance on knowing exactly what it is and delivering on exactly what it promises that it's genuinely hard to fault the film for doing what it sells itself to be. “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is a five year-later sequel that no one in particular was necessarily looking for, but is here given the amount of dough that original ended up making in China ($411 million globally on a $190 million budget, $111 of which came from China-almost $10 million more than the film made domestically). Of course, with this kind of sophomore slump effect weighing on the decision of whether or not to even continue the would-be franchise this second installment has come to us not from "visionary" and now Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro nor does it star Charlie Hunnam or Idris Elba, but instead is co-written and directed by Netflix's “Daredevil” season one showrunner Steven DeKnight and enlists the fresh talent of ‘Star Wars’-breakout John Boyega as the son of Elba's fallen character from the first film. ‘Uprising’ jumps a decade into the future and intends to reboot “Pacific Rim” the opposite way that “Power Rangers” movie did the original series last year. Meaning, while the first “Pacific Rim” was a little too self-serious given its story and a little more moody than might have been necessary, while more visually detailed to be sure, ‘Uprising’ plays things a little more straight-forward and is exactly the kind of movie I would have loved when I was seven or eight years-old; it's big, it's colorful, and it has robots fighting robots and robots fighting monsters. That isn't to say this is a better film than its predecessor-I don't think I'd go that far as del Toro still enlisted a fun enough tone and built an entire world from which ‘Uprising’ benefits-and ‘Uprising’ maybe complicates things a little too much with its story whereas that initial film was so cut and dry in that aspect it was almost shocking, but the important thing is that ‘Uprising’ is a fun if not ultimately forgettable slice of entertainment that plays to its B-movie strengths.
Speaking to the unnecessary convolutedness of the story, ‘Uprising’ at first hits the ground running introducing the audience to Boyega's Jake Pentecost as it's made clear the son of war hero and saver of the known world, Stacker Pentecost, is not exactly following in daddy's footsteps. Rather, Jake-who we are told was once a promising young Jaeger pilot himself-has turned to making a living off the stealing and selling of Jaeger parts on the black market. Ten years on and the need for Jaeger pilots is not as vital as they once were, but more the world has resigned to re-building large portions of its biggest cities while in other areas-not changing a thing. In the rubble of one of the remaining ruins Jake comes across a young, orphaned girl named Amara Namani (a charming Cailee Spaeny) who has also been scrapping together Jaeger parts on her own and has assembled a functioning albeit much smaller robot warrior than the military ones that once roamed the coastlines. When both Jake and Amara are arrested for stealing parts and going on the run in their own Jaeger the two are only rescued thanks to Jake's namesake and the fact his adoptive sister, Mako Mori (the returning Rinko Kikuchi), who is now the General Secretary for the "Pan-Pacific Defense Corps" gives Jake a choice between prison and returning to the PPDC as an instructor. Naturally, but begrudgingly, Jake accepts Mako's offer to return to the PPDC as Amara's innovative tendencies are rewarded by being recruited into the training program that is currently overseen by a former co-pilot of Jake's and his apparent nemesis in Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). Simple enough, right? The newly restored Jake, his protégé, and the pre-existing recruits along with Nate run into some new Kaiju threats and have to set aside their differences in order to protect the world once again. That would seemingly be the case, correct? Not so much. To this point, it's nice that ‘Uprising’ doesn't necessarily go the simple route or the way most audiences likely anticipate it will, but at the same time where it does go isn't exactly convincing as it follows the trope of an evil corporation desperate for power that becomes so outlandish we have a Saturday morning cartoon that flirts with ideas of man playing God rather than just man fighting monsters. It's a mixed bag.
Maybe the most egregious example of the movie going about something interesting in completely the wrong way is that of how it utilizes Charlie Day's character from the first film, Dr. Newt Geiszler, to accomplish as much. At the risk of spoiling too much let's just say that I was happy to see Day back in his role as his and Burn Gorman's Dr. Hermann Gottlieb provided some of the more interesting and enlightening aspects of the original especially in regards to how the Kaiju operated and the massive repercussions the world was facing because of their presence. Here though, neither Dr. Geiszler nor Dr. Gottlieb are able to contribute in these suggestive ways as they are more used to further the plot than comment on it. What is safe to say is that Day's character goes in some pretty strange directions. In the decade that has passed since the previous film, Dr. Geiszler has gone on to work for the Shao Corporation as run by Tian Jing's Liwen Shao who, along with Geiszler, has developed a Jaeger drone program and looks to push to replace Jaegers piloted by two-person teams. Our group of protagonists are naturally threatened by such a proposition, but it makes sense and I'm glad they brought this up as it was one of my personal big plot hole questions in the first film: if we have the technology to construct these giant robots, why can't we just control them remotely? Though ‘Uprising’ doesn't necessarily explore this question directly i.e. it never fully justifies why the "neural handshake" is a stronger, more reliable way to pilot a Jaeger than it might be to do so from behind a keyboard what it does move towards is maybe a more layered approach, but a seemingly stupid one until we find out all of the layers that need to be pulled back in order to see the bigger picture in the clearest fashion. Point being, ‘Uprising’ wants to have its cake and eat it too in regards to being a blatant example of a "big, dumb, fun" action movie that holds onto nothing more than its rogue-ish lead character and its bread and butter that is big robots fighting massive monsters from another dimension while simultaneously drowning the audience in so much plot and back and forth between what the viewer believes to be happening and what is actually happening that it isn't until the final climactic battle of the film that both the audience and the movie realize we haven't actually witnessed a Jaeger versus Kaiju fight. It's a double-edged sword, really, as it would have been too easy to believe the breach conveniently opened up at this time when our new protagonist finally decided to get his act together, but at the same time that's what people are paying to see and while ‘Uprising’ eventually delivers on this promise one has to wonder if it could have taken a more carefully considered route to get to its inevitable destination.
Taking as much into consideration, ‘Uprising’ mostly still coasts off the charm of being just that: a big, dumb, and most importantly-fun-action movie. The score from Lorne Balfe, taking over duties from original composer Ramin Djawadi, is cool in the sense that it's mostly a traditional orchestral score, but with flares unique enough to make this audience member take note. Sure, Balfe riffs on the main themes composed by Djawadi to maintain that connective tissue between the two films, but there is enough of a fresh take on that material present that one can feel the difference in tone and approach. This mostly deals in it being a lighter approach which applies to the more vibrant color scheme of ‘Uprising.’ Whereas del Toro shot the majority of his robot on monster action in the dark and in the rain, DeKnight seems to have been intent on setting all of the film’s major action beats at noon or when the sun is at its highest point in the sky as we see multiple Jaeger's bathed in the sunlight in this thing. It's kind of astonishing how great and sleek this thing looks overall though as I expected the budget to be dropped somewhat significantly (and it was, a cool $40 million), but there is a tactile nature to the Jaeger's that was present in the first film and that I expected to be washed out here thanks to the sun and the budget cuts, but is rather embellished because of this change of scenery. DeKnight and his production team certainly knew where to spend their money and by that I mean when three battered Kaiju are tethered together by little insect Kaiju into one massive Kaiju (yes, that happens) it looks fantastic and despite knowing how silly it is one can't help but be a little giddy due to the fact it's so easy to admit how much this movie is just going for it. There is something to love and admire about that kind of balls to the wall methodology and if “Pacific Rim: Uprising” deserves to be remembered for anything it is just that. And last but not least, let it just be said that Boyega is seemingly having the time of his life bouncing in between ‘Star Wars’ films to B-movie bonanzas such as this while simultaneously leveraging his career with solid work as displayed in last summer's seemingly underappreciated “Detroit.” As our lead, Boyega displays his boyish charisma in spades and makes the sometimes laughably on-the-nose dialogue work by bringing his sense of humor to a character that, for the first time since what feels like “Attack the Block,” allows him to use his natural British accent. It also seems time we all admit Scott Eastwood isn't a good actor and has zero to no screen presence. I'd love to see the guy prove me wrong, but his work in picking up the pieces in these already established franchises makes him feel like little more than a bat boy. Still, as much as this could easily be written off as mindless monster fun there is a charm to ‘Uprising’ in that you may forget about it soon after seeing it, but you won't mind re-watching it every now and then to be reminded of why you didn't mind it.
by Philip Price
Director Steven Spielberg has a way with not only bringing the viewer into the spectacle but making them appreciate the aura of the spectacle he has concocted on screen. We're not just in awe of what we're seeing on screen, but we're in awe of how it makes us feel. Spielberg is a master of this kind of spellbinding visual storytelling, but as the filmmaker has grown older his filmography has naturally become more serious. It’s been a decade since that fourth Indiana Jones movie and while Spielberg has co-directed a motion-capture ‘Tintin’ movie here and an adaptation of “The BFG” there the majority of Spielberg's latter filmography consists of more "adult" projects. With his latest, “Ready Player One,” Spielberg returns to that era he helped define with films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jurassic Park” and even “Hook” as “Ready Player One” mines the kind of wonder each of those films elicited as they were all, in some fashion, told from the point of view of a child who was allowed to run wild with and fully indulge in their imagination. Some may state that this is the very thing wrong with “Ready Player One” in that it is a little too indulgent in such imagination; reveling in the nostalgia of pop culture rather than relying on its own inventiveness to make it stand apart yet feel familiar. And yet, the way in which “Ready Player One” utilizes these aspects to tell a brand-new story is so creative and so striking in its relatability-especially to a movie-goer-that it feels rooted in a truth that movies were afraid to discuss until now. It may be due to the fact that I came of age in an era where the site of that T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” was something that couldn't have been realized in such life-like fashion prior or because I grew up re-watching “Hook” to the point those lost boys became an integral part of my childhood, but the fact of the matter is “Ready Player One” doesn't just utilize the same tone and a barrage of references to trick audience members who might have an affection for any one of the many cameos this thing trots out in order to make them feel an affinity for this new product, but rather it takes the real world into account, advances it into a hyper, but all too probable reality, and then comments on how it's nice to indulge in our imaginations and appreciate what others have given us with theirs, but that-as with everything-balance is key and it requires real world interactions and relationships and experiences to allow those imaginations to grow. It's not a groundbreaking thesis, but it's executed so well and is such a fun journey to go on the fact its ideas aren't brand-spanking new isn't a deal-breaker. If nothing else, it's a comforting reminder told from the perspective of a filmmaker with fresh (or at least re-invigorated) eyes.
If you're like me and wanted to read the novel, but never made it around to doing so this positive review might comfort you in knowing that even going in blind you are sure to get as much out of the experience as the person sitting next to you who may have actually invested the time to read Ernest Cline's novel. In fact, it is because “Ready Player One” would work with or without its this basis or its vast library of pop culture references that makes it so good and compelling. Cline, who is credited as a co-screenwriter on the film alongside Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), created a world from that of his childhood-a place where he and all his fellow Buckaroo Banzai-loving friends could hang out and play games, race their favorite vehicles, and explore the environments of their favorite movies, video games, and TV shows. To be honest, walking into “Ready Player One” I was somewhat preparing myself to not understand many of the references as the visual style of the avatars within this world of the Oasis resembled something from a Japanese anime (of which I have no knowledge) with many of the supporting characters and worlds resembling those from a multitude of video games (of which I have minimal knowledge), but while I'm sure there were plenty of things I didn't catch or even understand that will maybe enhance the viewing experience for others, the adventure the story takes even the most clueless of viewers on is worth taking for its pure inventiveness and fun. There is a strong story here-and one that is so expertly structured and executed it will be interesting to go back and read the source material to see how they compare. Having never been one to do that, but instead being one to typically make a point of reading the book prior to seeing the movie I enjoyed “Ready Player One” to the point there is a desire to see what more the world of the Oasis has to offer and how it compares to what Spielberg has created for the screen.
“Ready Player One” is set in the not too distant future of 2045 and follows the orphaned and largely alone Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) as he navigates his way not so much through life-no school, job, or aspirations are ever mentioned-but more through who he imagines himself to be in the Oasis. In this future it's also as if the world itself has stopped caring about structure as the only corporation to seemingly remain is that of Innovative Online Industries or IOI as run by the evil Nolan Sorrento (an always menacing Ben Mendelsohn) who looks to take control of this virtual playground known as the Oasis and turn it into a cash cow. This would of course be at the behest of its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who passed away five years prior to the events of the film, but who left multiple challenges for the many players of his game to decipher and if successful could garner full control of the Oasis and Halliday's trillion-dollar fortune. In the beginning, Watts AKA Parzival as he is known in this virtual world, is simply looking for an escape from his rough reality where he lives with an Aunt who seems to have been physically and verbally abused by a string of bad boyfriends among a mountain of mobile homes referred to as the "stacks", but in joining forces with other rogue players including his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), their comrades Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao), and the mysterious Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) they become the unsuspecting leaders of Halliday's revolution; piecing together the mysterious creator's clues and gaining access to three different keys that unlock the ultimate Easter egg.
The key word here is fun. “Ready Player One” is the first Spielberg film in quite some time where it feels as if the director wasn't weighed down by his material, but more that he found something new and interesting to invigorate his senses with. As solid of films as “Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies” and “The Post” are there is this sense with each that Spielberg was going through the motions of these interesting, but safe projects where he knew exactly how to accomplish what he needed to accomplish before a single frame was shot. With “Ready Player One” there is this sense of discovery in the fact of how big and overwhelming it feels to be as audience members and so to try and imagine how Spielberg and team must have felt when coming to terms with having to bring such material to life in the first place must have made for a scary but welcome challenge. This may sound like pure speculation but witnessing this film on the big screen it's impossible not to gravitate towards this sense of necessary imagination to make these events spring to life in the way they do. By allowing the film to take its time in the first hour, establishing the world as Wade experiences it if not who Wade really is within it, as well as all the players within the game not to mention the weight of the story that forms the backbone of the Oasis that concerns Halliday and his partner, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), we are granted a peek into this future that we can't help but to become invested in despite a fair amount of our heroes being little more than thinly drawn archetypes. Is Wade anything more than your typical hero? Not really, but Sheridan makes what is a blank slate of a guy someone with an endearing drive who isn't out to necessarily prove anything or anyone wrong, but more to simply try and make connections in ways that are meaningful as no such relationships in his life exist. The more interesting character is that of Cooke's Art3mis or Samantha as she's known in the real world. We are only given a single line of dialogue that hints at her motivations for doing what she's doing, but from the moment her avatar shows up in the Oasis alongside Parzival's DeLorean Art3mis is as intriguing to us as she is our hero. Aech is a fine example of supporting comic relief and Mendelsohn knows how to walk the line between camp and palpable intimidation and demonstrates that sense of awareness keenly throughout, but for my money's worth the most interesting dynamic the movie hints at is that of the one between Morrow and Halliday and how it informed the tasks and challenges our present heroes must overcome in order to win the game. The truth that “Ready Player One” isn't really about the characters, but the journey they take us on becomes irrelevant when discussing Halliday and Morrow because without them there is no adventure and there is no meaning to this sequence of events. This kind of mythical friendship is glimpsed just often enough to maintain its mystery, but still offer the right amount of answers to hammer home that thesis. To this point, Spielberg elicits another stellar performance from Rylance.
Sure, the movie has some issues with character development or lack thereof and it is maybe a little too long when it could have shaved a solid ten minutes off, been all the more subtle for it, and therefore slightly more effective as a result, but given the target audience it is understandable as to why Spielberg felt the need to spell things out more than he might have were he making this in the vein of one of his more "adult" pictures. Still, it's hard to find fault in the film's running time when spending as much time as is done in this world is pure joy. For starters, the way the title card is positioned is fantastic-classic Spielberg (which I'm a sucker for anyway), the soundtrack is fantastic without being overbearing, especially early on when we venture into Aech's workshop for the first time and she's blasting "I Wanna Be Your Lover" not to mention Alan Silvestri's score that compliments the nostalgic-inducing tone perfectly as the composer elicits inspiration from some of his own “Back to the Future” movements. Spielberg can lean on his friend Robert Zemeckis often as not only does he borrow the score and iconic elements from that filmmaker's prized trilogy, but also his name as "The Zemeckis Cube" is a tool to be purchased in the Oasis that allows a player to rewind any moment in time 60 seconds. This goes back to the point that "The Zemeckis Cube" could have been anything and still functioned as it does for the sake of the story, but the fact it gets to function the same while making a nod to a piece of well-known pop culture only makes it even more fun if not admittedly a little cute. After this first hour has embedded us into the Oasis the audience really begins to understand the crux of the story and are fully on board for the adventure Parzival and Art3mis are on. We begin to understand that the game is all about coming to better understand not only Halliday and his love for all things eighties pop culture, but who he was and who he desired to be as a person. While there are plenty of things it seemed, Halliday wished he might have done in his lifetime the moral of the story seems to be that of being aware of the moments we exist within and being able to stop and experience them as they are. This light at the core of all the CGI wizardry and non-stop adventure is who Halliday was as a person and what he desired to stand for or at least convey to all those eager to follow in his footsteps. “Ready Player One” is an extremely well-structured film with the caveat of maybe moving through each of the challenges a little too quickly given the game had been stagnant for five years prior, but during unraveling these challenges Spielberg places on full display his ability to craft some truly classic cinematic moments. This can be seen in how naturally the clues for the final challenge are layered in and executed, but more in a sequence that takes place in the middle of the film that will, let's just say, inspire new generations to discover Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining.”
On top of character, story, and theme “Ready Player One” is just a ton of fun and that can't be emphasized enough. For starters, it is genuinely and consistently funny in ways that were unexpected while also finding clever ways in which to integrate those much-discussed references. The CGI, of which I was concerned-especially since the movie seemingly relied on the avatar characters for the majority of the runtime-are so lifelike and natural in their movements it's astonishing such visual effects are even possible. The look of the film is spectacular in all regards as the sheen of the Oasis is naturally intriguing, but the live action sections contain a grain to their aesthetic that places us in the mindset of watching so many of the movies “Ready Player One” references that Spielberg isn't only inducing nostalgia through references, but through as many senses as he can. In other words, everything about the film just feels cinematic. And so yeah, one could look at “Ready Player One” as another movie where a corporate asshole tries to corrupt the purity of an artist's endeavor that is meant to make humanity a better place and leave it at that, but being done in this fashion where every aspect truly does feel as if the time was taken to ensure it was conveyed in the most creative way possible while still remaining intriguing throughout is what gives the movie this sense of life; this heartbeat that is impossible to suppress. We all inherently have these incredible imaginations as children but depending on where and when we go to school, what style of parenting is enforced upon us, and what friendships we make there inevitably comes a time when we begin to limit that imagination or begin to shape it. While it's easy to forget we can use that imagination in our day to day grind to survive it is always there and it is always ours and it's kind of magical. “Ready Player One” reminds those whose imaginations might have went dormant some time ago of this possibility and for those who were lucky enough to have that imagination cultivated the movie reminds us of what is possible with this magical part of the brain. In using our imaginations, we tap into other imaginations and both Cline and Spielberg have tapped into something special here. I loved the little details at play-Sorrento's very telling password, Parzival's ThunderCat belt buckle, the expert use of their single F-bomb, and the expert use of Madballs, but underneath all of that is this subtext that life was never meant to be a single-player game and that, in the end, our relationships with those we love and respect are what come to mean the most. That may sound like kind of a groaner, but it works and “Ready Player One” will work on many levels for many kinds of viewers. A true sign of transcending the art form and coming to stand as something larger in our society. In this regard, “Ready Player One” should accomplish that which it so unabashedly idolizes, but only time will tell if this is to be.