RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

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In 2012, Disney’s renaissance amidst such lackluster Pixar offerings as 2011’s Cars 2 & 2012’s Brave continued with Wreck-It Ralph, an affectionate, humorous, nostalgic look at arcade gaming and the characters that inhabit this world, with John C.  Reilly voicing the titular character who’s grown weary of his role as the villain within a Donkey Kong-esque game known as Fix-It Felix Jr.  In an attempt to change the negative perception his colleagues share of him, Ralph escapes his 8-bit home and travels amongst first-person shooters and kart racers, all the while learning to accept who he is and developing relationships with such characters as Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) a glitchy, wannabe racer from the Mario Kart styled Sugar Rush, Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a hard-nosed soldier from the first person-ness of Hero’s Duty and even the hero from his own game, Felix (Jack McBrayer).  The entire cast does a phenomenal job breathing life into their digital counterparts, even if the time spent within Sugar Rush tends to last a bit too long and characters such as two-faced Sugar Rush proprietor King Candy (Alan Tudyk) teeter between mildly funny and head scratchingly annoying. 

That said, Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly emotional film, with an exceptional score/soundtrack by Henry Jackman and Owl City, a satisfying ending and a wealth of loving throwback gaming references/cameos from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*bert, Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Paperboy, Dig Dug, BurgerTime, Tapper, RoadBlasters, the Konami Code, legendary Twin Galaxies gaming referee Walter Day and even the Disney production logos showcasing a decidedly old school vibe.  Though I enjoyed the film when I first saw it in theaters, the second viewing cemented it for me as a Disney masterpiece, a movie that still takes me back to that time and one I can’t watch without a surge of the feels upon every viewing.  It’s become one of my all-time favorites, and I remained confident as the years went by that, despite what felt like an eternity of delays, a sequel would eventually materialize.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is that follow-up, one that welcomes back returning director Rich Moore who once again teams up with writer Phil Johnston as well as Pamela Ribon (taking over for Jennifer Lee, who serves as an executive producer this time around).  The sequel finds Ralph and Vanellope still bouncing around the digital playground of Litwak’s Arcade six years following the events of the original, however in contrast to Ralph’s desire for a new image in the predecessor, the follow-up now sees Vanellope becoming bored by the day in/day out monotony of her role within Sugar Rush and the quest she & Ralph undertake into the unknown world of the internet so as to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s recently broken game.  Much of the cast from the original returns for Ralph Breaks the Internet, Henry Jackman’s back to craft the soundtrack and arcade games that may have been neglected in favor of Sugar Rush are fortunately explored a bit more as well.  It’s safe to say that this is a successor at the very least as good as the first, but it is better?

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For starters, aside from Ralph & Vanellope, all remaining returning cast members receive very little screentime-Felix and Calhoun, for example, have been given a minuscule sideplot that manifests at the beginning only to appear once again at the end for its resolution, by which point audiences will have more than likely forgotten about it altogether (though parents will enjoy the gag that punctuates their final scene).  Classic Disney characters and their respective properties, which includes flagships Star Wars and Marvel, fill the background of nearly every scene, while new characters voiced by Gal Gadot as a racing game rebel who becomes something of a mentor to Vanellope, Taraji P.  Henson as some sort of viral video algorithm and Alfred Molina as a virus architect who inhabits the Dark Web all do well, even if they all are ultimately supremely run-of-the-mill at the end of the day.  Alan Tudyk returns as a personified search engine modeled after Google, and Henry Jackman once again has composed a score that successfully builds off the themes introduced in Wreck-It Ralph, though the Imagine Dragons tune that accompanies the credits just isn’t quite as catchy as Owl City, if I’m being honest.

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In addition to a peek into viral video culture, which works well in the story, Ralph Breaks the Internet is an overall about face from the retro-ness of the original and is able to poke affectionate fun at similar cultural items such as pop-up ads, the aforementioned Dark Web, what a digital persona of a human might actually look like to digital beings and tributes to nearly every major web site in existence, including a particularly funny moment where glimpses of internet fossils Geocities and dial-up modems are seen in the background.  Almost every joke, both big and small, sticks the landing, another example of the stellar writing team once again firing on all cylinders, and the Disney princesses seen in the trailers luckily save all the best moments for the movie, for those afraid they’d seen everything already.  Their final scene is a particular triumph, setting up a beautifully melancholy ending that truly demonstrates no need for further sequels-if ever there was a movie that ends on a high note, Ralph Breaks the Internet is it.  Whereas Wreck-It Ralph focused on being satisfied with yourself, the sequel builds on that with a recurring theme about friendship, and the need to move on with one’s life if & when the time is right.  It’s a story about growth, surprisingly rich with more depth than one might expect, and one that doesn’t need a major villain to move things along, though one does show up in the third act & the jury’s still out if it served the story or was, at the end of the day, a bit odd.

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Flawed?  Sure.  But Ralph Breaks the Internet still has it where it counts, a natural progression from the original that feels fresh enough to function on its own.  It’s a movie that cares about its characters, its story and its audience enough to offer an experience unlike that derived from so many similar animated efforts seen nowadays-it’s a film I truly want to see again.  Ralph’s adventures may feel like they’re done, and in the best way possible, that is fine by me.

BRIAN’S FAVORITES: THE WIZARD (1989)

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Picture this-the year, 1989.  The movie, The Wizard.  The cast, a motley crew of late ‘80s icons consisting of the likes of Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges, Luke Edwards, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Edwards and the guy who played Chandler’s boss on Friends.  The premise?  A severely traumatized young boy embarks on a cross-country runaway adventure with his older stepbrother, during which it’s discovered that the latter possesses a genius level of expertise at video games.  Could a major upcoming California-based gaming competition be the key to proving that Jimmy doesn’t need to be institutionalized?  Will this trip finally provide an answer as to why the mostly-mute Jimmy utters the word “California” from time to time?  Is it possible that audiences will at long last learn how to get past the dam level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without losing at least one character?  Only in a viewing of The Wizard will your queries be resolved.

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I was seven years old when The Wizard graced the silver screen, and although I never did make it to the nearest cinema during The Wizard’s theatrical run, I did eventually rent it sometime later on VHS, the results of which were one of the more impactful experiences I’ve had watching a movie during my young life.  Make no mistake-The Wizard’s shell, helped exponentially by its marketing, does indeed exude a story focused on video games, but at its core is a surprisingly emotional journey involving loss, grief, broken families and the wish to move on with one’s life in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.  As the titular character, given the eponymous nickname due to his skills with a game controller, Luke Edwards conveys a surprising amount of depth as Jimmy Woods, delivering a performance that make the most of a blank stare that speaks volumes when one takes into account the tragic event that brought him to this state-it is in this role that the rare moments when he does utter a word or two become all the more meaningful.  Fred Savage, who receives top billing as his stepbrother Corey, isn’t too far removed from what he brought to his star-making role on The Wonder Years, but nonetheless adapts Kevin Arnold into his Wizard performance well. 

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 The rest of the cast is just as fantastic as its leads-Christian Slater is perfectly late-‘80s Christian Slater as Corey’s brother Nick, who sets out on his own quest to find the boys alongside his father Sam (Beau Bridges), both of whom carry their own baggage that find their own resolutions throughout the movie-yes, the movie does find them manning an NES control pad on more than one occasion, but it’s clear as time goes by that the strained relationship the two share at the beginning undergoes a transformation that fits in with the overall story arc well.  As Haley, a streetwise girl who teams with Corey & Nick early in the film, Jenny Lewis, a person who’s only other acting appearance I can recall is in a late-‘80s Corn Pops commercial but who has since carved out an impressive music career as frontwoman for indie darlings Rilo Kiley in addition to similar groups such as The Postal Service, does an excellent job balancing her Artful Dodger-esque persona with-you guessed it-yet another depressing background that, fortunately, is kept nicely balanced with the equal amounts of sad that surround the cast. 

Even supporting roles, such as those handled by Sam McMurray as Jimmy’s emotionless stepfather, Wendy Phillips as Jimmy’s depressed mother, and Will Seltzer as Putnam, the bounty hunter hired by Jimmy’s parents to track down the runaways, are played to a T, with Seltzer delivering some much-needed comedy especially in his run-ins with Slater & Bridges.  Frank McRae, the former Bears defensive tackle who also appears in 1987’s *batteries not included and memorably in 1993’s Last Action Hero, is here as well, as a kindhearted trucker ally of Haley; there’s also an overexcited gentleman portraying the person who registers Jimmy for the gaming tournament whom my dad and I still quote to this day, a textbook example of a glorified extra making the most of his few lines.  Oh, and keep your eyes open for a young Tobey Maguire around this point in the film as well.  We all have to start somewhere.

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When it comes to the villain(s) of The Wizard, one could make a case for Putnam, and he does indeed bring a fair amount of menace to his role, but it would be impossible to ignore Jackey Vinson as Lucas, another gaming hotshot whom Jimmy, Corey & Haley encounter on their travels and who’s responsible for, quite possibly, the only time in history when failed NES accessory The Power Glove actually looked like something worth buying.  Watching Lucas man the virtual steering wheel of Rad Racer before uttering one of the film’s most memorable lines is still a scene I hold in high regard, as ridiculous as it may be to most.

I can’t forget the soundtrack.  Though peppered with cuts from the likes of the legendary Patsy Cline and Paul Anka, The Wizard boasts a rather catchy assortment of period-specific tunes overall, with BoDeans classic You Don’t Get Much opening the film, another BoDeans tune called Red River backing a scene where Slater & Bridges travel the open road and not one but two New Kids On The Block megahits gracing The Wizard as well-apparently, those in charge of choosing the artists like their songs in pairs.  Additionally, if the synth on that Send Me An Angel song doesn’t earworm its way into your brain upon first listen, I don’t know what to tell you.

What surprised me the most as a child about The Wizard was that core-fully expecting an exciting trip through the world of Nintendo, as was to be expected from a movie that lists the gaming giant as a producer, I couldn’t help but find myself blindsided by The Wizard’s heavy backstory, one that might very well have been one of the first true experiences I’ve had watching a movie that contained within its walls a considerable amount of depth.  Never mind that the scenes at Universal Studios Hollywood, where the aptly-named Video Armageddon tournament takes place, are both fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping (especially when they find themselves face-to-face with the animatronic ape himself on the King Kong ride), or the numerous moments of actual video gameplay exist as a major wink to gaming fans through glimpses of such iconic titles as Double Dragon, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Contra, Mega Man 2, Metroid, R.C. Pro-Am and the final two proper NES Mario sequels, among others-when you factor in the emotional weight of roughly every character that inhabit The Wizard’s 100 minute runtime, what you receive is a film that skews more toward the dramatic, from the low-key opening to the tear-jerking final scenes, as perfect a conclusion as you’ll find in modern cinema.

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However, those now expecting a downtrodden excuse of a movie shouldn’t worry-in addition to Putnam, everyone gets their moments to bring levity to the film, whether through Putnam’s aforementioned encounters with Slater & Bridges or a peek inside the fictionalized Nintendo Gameplay headquarters, which kicks off The Wizard’s very own Rocky training montage.  Though I still have to wonder at what point did Jimmy, ever the gaming phenom, learn of the secret Warp Whistle hidden within the World 1 fortress of the as-yet unreleased Super Mario Bros.  3, such details are easily cast aside as the movie moves along at its easily digestible pace.

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There seems to be a division of camps when it comes to The Wizard’s legacy-some view it with affectionate nostalgia as I do, while others have written it off as nothing more than an extended commercial for video gaming.  I have to challenge those who see it through the latter lenses to take another look at the film-with any luck, they’ll find something much, much more.  Director Todd Holland found success on the small screen following his work on The Wizard, having directed episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle and 30 Rock, while the movie itself has achieved the same sort of cult following that surrounds other gems I hold near to my heart as The Rocketeer and Hook.  It’s a different movie, to be sure, but another hallmark of my childhood, when video games served as an escape and family was what mattered most.  Of all the movies I cherish, The Wizard may be the most special.

THE PREDATOR (2018)

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As someone who likes to think himself a fan of most cinema-a list of titles which admittedly does include the 2002 remake of The Time Machine, 2015's Vacation and the unforgettable mediocrity of The Wraith-is it bad that, to this day, I still have not yet watched 1987's seminal sci-fi classic Predator from start to finish?

I'm certain the answer is yes.  Though I've seen snippets of the film, most of the ending and enough "Get To Da Choppa" jokes to ensure I never need to hear another one, I haven't once sat down to take in Predator in its entirety but am familiar enough with the premise, as tried and true as any Alien knockoff set in the jungle, with a macho cast led by the likes of Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and the mighty Arnold Schwarzengger at his heavily-accented prime.  The same applies to 1990's Danny Glover-led Predator 2-even less of this sequel has been viewed by yours truly, though I remain intrigued by the possibility of a warehouse scene that's widely said to be pretty frightening.  Additionally, as far as those Alien vs. Predator spinoffs are concerned, I've come to understand I'm better off without even acknowledging that they ever existed at all.

2010's Predators, however, was seen on a solo outing to my local AMC one summer afternoon and the resulting outcome was that I enjoyed it, even if I've never felt compelled to watch it again in the years since.  Set on a planet where Predators hunt for sport and revolving around a motley crew of humans abducted by the titular characters, Predators stars Adrien Brody, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace, among others, all running about in a film that ultimately offers nothing new in the world of cat-and-mouse monster movies but still comes off as a fun, brainless 107 minute excuse of a sequel.

When it was announced that action maestro Shane Black would be helming a new take on the franchise, one which would see him again collaborating with longtime partner Fred Dekker and now in front of the camera following his role as part of the cast in the original Predator, it sounded like a match made in heaven.  With a promising cast featuring the likes of Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane and Sterling K.  Brown, how could Black’s oddly named The Predator go wrong?

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For starters, the plot is all over the place-though the core premise revolves around a Predator landing on Earth and a ragtag team of ex-military operatives brought together under rather unique circumstances to try and stop it, there's more sideplots than one might begin to expect, some of which I'm recalling as I write this.  For example, the Halloween setting is near-100% useless, as is a storyline involving Tremblay and Holbrook's estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski) that doesn’t have any resolution whatsoever.  At one point, the film shifts to a farm that's never explained who it belongs to, nor the RV they commandeer to said location.  Even certain characters tee up what could be some development on their part but is never allowed to go anywhere-a massive, repeated failing on behalf of Black and Dekker.  It's easily their worst effort yet, as they simultaneously try to shoehorn in a weak idea that the Predators want to initiate some sort of Predator-human hybrid plan that couldn't sound more like an insane person shouting nonsense from the top of the Port-O-John they just tipped over.  The dialogue, which is admittedly chuckleworthy from time to time, reeks of the machismo camaraderie that feels somewhat dated, another stalwart item transported from the glory days of '80s action to now.

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Sadly, not a single member of the cast truly stands out in any way as well-Boyd Holbrook as the lead does something with his role that's really no different from his villainous turn in Logan, while Jacob Tremblay does a serviceable job playing his son, a highly intelligent youth with autism that seems tailor made for Black to utilize Tremblay's pre-adolescent voice to maximum effect-isn't it always fun to hear a young child curse repeatedly?  Olivia Munn's scientist simply requires her to wear an angry look on her face and drop the overused phrase, “sport hunter” in a half-hearted attempt to look tough, while Michael-Key and Jane as former soldiers who find themselves teamed up alongside Holbrook are, respectively, yet another version of Michael-Key's real-life over the top comedy stylings and an odd portrayal of a man with Tourette's syndrome that appears to take a page from the South Park book of hilarity-Tourette's is, apparently, still an easy target that's as exhausted as it is a lazy comedic tool. Sterling K.  Brown, meanwhile, takes on the position of bad guy, which unusually sees him laughing in an odd tone, dropping swears and, for reasons that are never once explained, popping Nicorette from start to finish.  Why does this happen?  I doubt Brown, a capable actor, has any clue himself.  At least Trevante Rhodes does his best as another military comrade of Holbrook, and even the mighty Jake Busey briefly shows up-too brief, might I add, which is truly unfortunate.  I loved The Frighteners.

As for the overall work of Black and cinematographer Larry Fong, the movie itself looks fairly average, with certain moments finding the action taking place in settings akin to the original Predator, and an early scene in a lab might be The Predator’s highlight which inadvertently sets about a downward spiral containing every instance of action that follows.  Dreadful CG that would be better suited to a battle worn copy of Road Avenger for the Sega CD litter this film, as does an overabundance of graphic violence befitting of the subject manner that dances between convincing-looking and better off sitting in the clearance makeup bin of your local costume shop.  Speaking of, the Predator costumes at the very least look like more than fifteen seconds were spent designing them-there's some good work there, to the point where I probably would have tolerated a movie about a Predator going about his day-maybe he starts with a cup of coffee, maybe he runs out to pick up groceries, who knows.  I also have no way of addressing how certain people met their demise at the hands of the Predator, simply because I either missed said moments entirely or Black decided to allow someone who's never seen a movie edit this film.  Entire sections of The Predator appear missing, which also might offer an explanation as to the rather nonchalant reactions some characters seem to have at the horrors unfolding around them.  Oh, and the usually-reliable Henry Jackman, score composer who's become one of my personal favorites following his work on Kick-Ass, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and two Captain America sequels?  While I believe he does indeed have music in this film, it's buried deep in the overall mix, and when it does have a rare instance of coming up for air, what's heard is hardly special.

In the end, The Predator exists as clear evidence that Black has lost the signature touch seen in Iron Man 3, Last Action Hero and two parts of the Lethal Weapon franchise-this is a ridiculous film with a smattering of laughs, run-of-the-mill acting, plot & character choices that range from confusing to dreadful and a director who asks the audience to shed any and all logic from their mentality in favor of something that requires barely a shred of brainpower to watch from start to baffling finish.  That said, there's definitely some MST3K-style fun to be had taking in this trainwreck-maybe you'll enjoy it, maybe you won't, maybe it's time to start thinking about if First Man will live up to all the hype.  Whatever the case may be, see it if you must-at the end of the day, it's just another movie, and an awful one at that.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

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In 2013, director Guillermo del Toro, who by that point had firmly established himself as worthy of the "visionary" label that continues to define his career, brought audiences Pacific Rim, a glorified Saturday morning cartoon that produced many a smile on filmgoers the world over and a peek into a transdimensional war between Godzilla-esque monsters called Kaiju and the human-piloted, similarly-sized robots known as Jaegers.  Though possessing a shaky story which attempted to hold the film together, Pacific Rim ultimately merely existed as an excuse to see robot-on-monster battles with near-complete ignorance of the human cast-as a cocky Jaeger pilot with an emotional past, Charlie Hunnam is simply terrible, though Idris Elba's role as the man overseeing the Jaeger program gives him a chance to showcase how excellent he is in roughly every role he plays, as well as a nice rousing speech in the third act possessing more than a few shades of Independence Day.  Even del Toro favorite Ron Pearlman's performance as a black market Kaiju parts dealer is amusing, while Ramin Djawadi's guitar-driven score amps up the intensity with every action-packed setpiece that, again, truly are the primary reason to take in Pacific Rim.

Five years later, a sequel has materialized in the form of Pacific Rim: Uprising, and debut director Steven S. DeKnight, who previously acted as showrunner on the first season of Daredevil and who also co-wrote Uprising, has succeeded in producing a film that seamlessly strips away any magic that existed in its predecessor while turning up a knob labeled Poor Quality to the point where it completely shatters off the console.

Picking out the good in Pacific Rim: Uprising is a near-impossible task, so I'll start with the bad and work my way from there.  John Boyega takes over for either Elba or Hunnam as the son of Elba's character, who's been living a transient life until fate pulls him back into the Jaeger program in which he was previously a legendary pilot, with Scott Eastwood as his former co-pilot who holds some sort of grudge against him.  Rinko Kikuchi returns from the original as Boyega's adopted sister Mako, along with Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the two oh-so-wacky Kaiju researchers with the oil-and-water personalities signature of any other comedic duo throughout entertainment history.

The plot of Uprising, much like its predecessor, consists of a number of lazy interwoven sideplots, all of which feel rushed and woefully underdeveloped, with the intent seemingly existing as being able to have several of the characters say the words "Pacific Rim" a few times, a groan-inducing wink to the camera that never was needed in the first place.  The Kaiju never feel epic in size, nor do the Jaegers, which make the few flashbacks to Pacific Rim honestly feel refreshing-whereas the original gave the film an attention-grabbing dark tone usually setting the action at night on the rain-drenched streets of Hong Kong, Uprising is the complete opposite, bring the giants into the daylight and flawlessly turning the film into a lesser Transformers entry if ever there was one.  It's like any episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or cut scenes from last year's Power Rangers theatrical outing slapped together in a careless manner to suggest that an unqualified intern was turned loose in the editing booth.

Charlie Day is somewhat chuckleworthy, I suppose, though Burn Gorman's shtick gets old as his character gets more lines in Uprising and his exaggerated mannerisms become unintentionally humorous the more the film drags along.  Boyega allows his natural English accent to do the heavy lifting, bringing little else to the table, while Scott Eastwood couldn't have done a worse job if he tried.  With line delivery that reeks of amateur hour at your local village playhouse and his only tool of looking confused most of the time used to the farthest extent, Eastwood continues to remind us all why he never should have followed his dad into the family business.  Jing Tian also rounds out the disappointing cast as the cliché corporate baddie-the head of a company that plans on converting the pilot-driven Jaegers into drones so as to ensure pilot safety and maximum damage inflicted upon the enemy.  In this role, she's just there, simply another person saying lines in a manner probably meant to come off as threatening but instead sounds like someone just saying things.  There's also no big speeches that live up to Elba's words about cancelling the apocalypse in Pacific Rim, through both Gorman and Boyega try their best.  It does not work.

What's extremely odd is that, not only does Uprising steal numerous beats from the original, but it peculiarly feels like a strange remake of 2016's Independence Day sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, from the clash between the main characters to the attempts at a memorable monologue all the way to the final scene, even down to the similar-sounding title.  Lorne Balfe's work on the score sounds goofy, possibly even too upbeat at times, and also finds itself buried too deep in the mix-it's nothing like the first film, although the original theme does show up once, far too late.  Even the weapons unleashed by the Jaegers, which were used sparingly in the original for maximum effect, are doubled down time and time again to the point where every plasma cannon or sword attachment elicit yawns as opposed to awe.

Del Toro also helped produce Pacific Rim: Uprising along with Boyega, and I can't help but wonder if either would prefer to distance themselves from this ridiculous creation, with the former fresh off his Oscar wins and Boyega's involvement in the Star Wars universe-the cast, music, scattershot plot(s) and visual effects that don't even try to build off what the original established all make up the recipe for a movie that should never have been attempted.  If the only purpose it serves is as filler until the next offering from Marvel or Disney, even that's a waste of space.  In many ways, it does make one take pause and look at the original with different eyes-was Pacific Rim ever necessary in the first place?

Probably not.

GAME OVER, MAN!

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I'm sure a sizable group exists that have vehemently pined for the creative team behind Comedy Central's Workaholics to one day take their brand of humor into the world of feature films.  If you, dear reader, happen to inhabit said group, I truly hope you're pleased, as Game Over, Man! takes that team (Anders Holm, Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson), who also happen to be the stars of Workaholics as well, and reminds us why everything after season one or possibly even two were mostly unwatchable.  Describing the plot of this Die Hard-esque attempt at comedy is useless, as it ultimately exists as nothing more than an extended episode of the series but with changes to the setting and occupations of its three leads.  The instant the opening production logos transition into the film itself, Game Over, Man! quickly gets on one’s nerves and immediately offers a unique challenge to see how long one will last before retreating to a binge watch of The Good Place.  The jokes are far too offensively crude, graphic moments are plentiful, and the cast members themselves seem exhausted by what they're doing.  Indeed, I too felt the same way.

In an era where the title of the property accurately describes the quality (I’m looking at you, Everything Sucks!), Game Over, Man! is another depressing addition to the list.  It's no wonder Netflix is where this poorly made disaster calls home, as recent offerings by the streaming giant (The Cloverfield Paradox, Mute, Bright) seem intent on showcasing its ability to not understand how to make something longer than an hour work as a movie.

You're better off doing anything else.

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

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This unusual film about children running amok amongst several motels adjacent to Walt Disney World without any supervision appears to have been shot on a handheld camera and seemingly lacks any discernable script with which to assemble a premise of any sort.  If you like movies that open with kids somewhere around the age of seven swearing and hocking far too many loogies to count on parked cars, I suppose, then, that The Florida Project is for you.  Willem Dafoe in a supporting role says some lines, Caleb Landry Jones plays a character who doesn’t make me want to vomit and Lorne Balfe gets a soundtrack credit despite an apparent absence of any score whatsoever. 

I didn’t finish it.  Was The Florida Project even a movie?

LADY BIRD

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This plotless, slice of life tale of a girl in high school and her ambitions for the future doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Below average writing, tepid performances and Greta Gerwig’s tedious direction has made me wonder how this film shot to the top of everyone’s lists this past year.  Saoirse Ronan as the titular character seems to have recently graduated from the Ellen Page School of Acting with an offbeat performance we’ve seen so many times before in much better films, while Laurie Metcalf as the mother with whom Lady Bird clashes in every other scene tries to convey an emotion seemingly akin to evil but never quite reaches anything more than casual anger.  Conversations between characters begin randomly, as if we’ve stumbled in halfway, not at all helped by the scattershot editing and overall script, which for some reason makes numerous attempts to reference the 2002 setting of the film that all seem out of place, to say the least.  Does it matter that one of the sorority sisters from 2016’s Neighbors sequel is in it?  It does not.

Thirty minutes in and I had to walk away.  I hear the new Paddington is worth a shot.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

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From directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, best known for 2006's Little Miss Sunshine and a slew of alt-rock music videos throughout the '90s, comes Battle of the Sexes, a movie that might cause one to jump up in celebratory relief were they able to make it all the way from start to finish.  An amazingly boring, slightly confusing first fifteen minutes offers nothing in terms of quality, while stars Steve Carell and Emma Stone lazily inhabit the roles of real-life dueling tennis champions Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.  Supporting roles are handled somewhat by Andrea Riseborough, Bill Pullman and Sarah Silverman, while the onscreen events that take place following said fifteen minutes will forever remain a mystery to me as I had no interest whatsoever in continuing.  At the very least, Battle of the Sexes does feature Elisabeth Shue as Riggs' wife, and any movie that casts the woman who once played Jennifer in the latter two Back to the Future entries does warrant something of a polite pat on the back. 

Moving on.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

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Following the success of last year's Arrival, one of 2016's critical and commercial triumphs, director Denis Villeneuve has taken the helm of Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner and ultimately a long, slow, beautiful film with little substance behind its attractive exterior.

As K, the titular Blade Runner, Ryan Gosling broods his way through the entire length of the film, while Harrison Ford's return as Rick Deckard again showcases how the man seems to get better at his craft the older he gets-his voice may have lost the droll affectation he once possessed, but the spirit is still there, giving one hope that he still has at least one more round as Indiana Jones left in him.  Supporting roles are handled aptly by Dave Bautista, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Carla Juri, while Jared Leto, essentially inhabiting yet another glorified bad guy cameo, spouts off perplexing quotes in a vain attempt to sound sinister, but rather comes off as strange.  At least Barkhad Abdi, best known as the main villain from 2013's Captain Phillips, shows up for a moment, and I'm sincerely glad to see him still getting work.

The original Blade Runner theme, composed by Vangelis, makes a return in this follow-up, however core soundtrack duties are handled by Benjamin Willfisch and Hans Zimmer, taking over from Villeneuve collaborator Johann Johannsson but still rich with many of the
characteristics heard in Arrival.  It's absolutely an integral part of the film, loaded with Moog sweeps, percussive blasts, and off-putting instrumental shrieks.  It's spooky and, in keeping with the rest of the film, atmospheric, though it is overly loud at points and unnecessarily placed in certain scenes, with Villeneuve trying to provide tension to moments that would otherwise have none.  For a slightly headache-inducing experience, see this in IMAX, as every pounding noise or pummeling piece of music is just that much more aggressive on the senses.

However, the visual effects and stunning cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins take center stage-every shot is rich in detail, ranging from gritty city streets to radiation-washed wastelands and cathedral-like buildings that seem extracted right out of Stargate.  The somewhat desolate future of 2049 is also reflected in the choice of weather-never do we see a gorgeous, sunny day, but rather grimy clouds and even snow that couldn't look less like a Robert Frost poem if it tried.  Though set on Earth, the planet has never looked quite as alien as it does here.

Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049's slow pace and near-three hour runtime make for a bit of a slog at points, one which no amounts of incredible FX or bombastic score can save.  Even the care Ford gives his character is but a small brownie point on a chart that lacks many.  In many ways, comparisons can be made to 2010's Tron: Legacy, another similarly great-looking film with a fantastic electronic soundtrack that's ultimately devoid of a truly compelling story.  At its heart, it's just another movie, and an overrated one at that.

The only running that took place was by me once the movie ended.  I really had to use the restroom.

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD

If you ever wondered what manner of film would result from the teaming of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L.  Jackson, look no further than The Hitman's Bodyguard.  From Patrick Hughes, the man who most notably brought us yet another Expendables sequel a few years back, this is a solid buddy flick revolving around Reynolds' character needing to protect Jackson's as Jackson prepares to testify against a ruthless dictator played by the usually-reliable Gary Oldman.  Action ensues, hilarity is frequent, and the personalities of both leads are a near-perfect match.  Oldman, who normally inhabits his roles with the greatest of ease whether portraying friend or foe, adopts a terrible accent and a bad decision to play his character as exaggerated as possible, which may cause audiences to unintentionally chuckle at a rare example of Gary Oldman phoning it in.  Salma Hayek, however, as Jackson's love interest is something of a badass, and while not every intentionally foul line that escapes her lips sticks the landing, overall she does well, as does Elodie Yung as Reynolds' former lover/ally, though her  performance does occasionally dip into some fairly average waters and is, by all accounts, a lackluster follow-up role to her appearance as Elektra on Marvel's/Netflix's Daredevil.  I wouldn't know.  I haven't made it that far yet.  

At its heart, The Hitman's Bodyguard is a rather harmless movie, one which plays tribute to the great action classics that have preceded it before the turn of the millennium, rich with all the twisty backstabbing that unfortunately does become somewhat confusing at times, as well as ultimately very cliche. 

I wish I could say more, but that's honestly all I can think of at the moment.  As a side note, I did once work with someone named Patrick Hughes, and I sincerely doubt this is the same person who directed The Hitman's Bodyguard.  I can't say for sure, but my guess is no.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Here we are again-as has taken place numerous times prior over the course of the past fifteen years, yet another version of Spider-Man has swung into theaters with a new actor in the title role and a premise nearly identical to every superhero film as of late.  Did I enjoy it?

I suppose I did.  Tom Holland reprises Peter Parker once more following his debut in last year's Captain America: Civil War, again portraying the character with a wealth of high school-level awkwardness befitting Parker's age and the film's setting, while scenes of Spider-Man leaping into battle are fun, though much like in Civil War nothing all that new.  Michael Keaton, luckily, is an excellent villain, one you at times sympathize with and a nice follow-up to Kurt Russell's equally outstanding baddie in this year's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.  2, hinting that the MCU might have finally figured out its bad guy problem, while the supporting cast holds their own nicely.  Jon Favreau's return to the MCU as Happy Hogan is a welcome homecoming in and of itself, while Marisa Tomei as Aunt May does well, even if her performance, much like that of her onscreen nephew, doesn't necessarily break any new ground.  Furthermore, small parts are handled aptly by Hannibal Buress as Parker's gym teacher, Kenneth Choi as the descendent of Jim Morita, last seen in Captain America: The First Avenger and also played by Choi, Jennifer Connelly as Karen, Spider-Man's A. I.  and a simply adorable casting choice as husband Paul Bettany was the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., the A. I.  of Tony Stark/Iron Man, while Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson updates the character with enough of a spin to make him fit into 2017 high school culture while still coming off as a bullying jerk.  Donald Glover, who once campaigned to play the titular webslinger back in 2010, has been given a nice, albeit also-small role, and Zendaya as Parker's classmate/secret admirer (?) Michelle is just fine, if a little drab at points-on that same note, Laura Harrier in the role of Parker's love interest Liz is similarly bland.  However, it's Robert Downey Jr.'s co-starring appearance as Tony Stark/Iron Man who, much like his role in Civil War, delivers a performance that just plain looks easy, owing much to Downey Jr.'s natural-born ability to play the part and the fun he seems to be having.  If Civil War was the darkest Iron Man we've seen yet, this is the other side of the coin, and I love it.  Plus, Jacob Batalon as Parker's best friend Ned is a nice addition to the cast, with playing the perfect sidekick and usually delivering some of the film's best lines.

Director Jon Watts, using enough directorial skills as can be found in a Marvel Paint-By-Numbers coloring book, is as average as they come-neither good nor bad, rather playing it safe for the benefit of all.  A screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, though loaded with some decent stabs at humor and snappy dialogue, also feels somewhat run-of-the-mill, though score composer Michael Giacchino knocks it out of the park with a thrilling theme that might be just as rousing as Danny Elfman's work on the original Spider-Man trilogy that now can't help but feel an eternity removed from this new adaptation.  

I don't mean to come off as though this movie is a failure-far from it.  It simply lacks any truly memorable moments and almost presents one of comicdom's most legendary characters as, dare I say, somewhat tired.  Ho-hum direction and screenwriting don't help, nor do the terrible posters that comprised the bizarre pre-release marketing campaign, however Giacchino's score, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.  and even Jacob Batalon all help to save the day.  I'll still happily see future installments and look forward to Spider-Man's continued appearances in the MCU, but won't count down the minutes until they arrive.  I'll simply wait & hope that they're better in some way, and that, much like this film's subtitle, much like the character's official inclusion in the MCU and much like the eponymous dance that only comprises a small part of this film, they truly make me feel like our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has finally, truly, at long last come home.

BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright has enjoyed a progression in his career the likes of which every aspiring director can only dream, having been able to kick off his success with the kind of quirky independent British comedies one might use to cultivate a rabid fanbase-his Cornetto trilogy of 2004's Shaun of the Dead, 2007's Hot Fuzz and 2013's The World's End helped to boost his profile and set him apart from the conventional world of filmmaking into which so many of his peers were readily settling.  Even a slight diversion into the world of comic book adaptation with 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs.  the World generated a cult following that drew even more attention to the rising director's career.

In recent years, however, some might say Wright has seen better days, as 2014 saw Wright exit the director's chair of Marvel's Ant-Man, a passion project he'd been working on for the better part of a decade and a departure stemming from the dreaded label of creative differences.  His desire to make a (mostly) stand-alone film that stood (mostly) independent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole while still integrating his trademark humor mixed with a heist premise ultimately didn't jive with Marvel's bigger plans, and in the wake of this parting one began to wonder what Wright's next move would be.

Luckily, that move turned out to be Baby Driver.

In handling both directing & writing duties once again, Wright returns to the silver screen with a film rich in all the elements one would expect from the man, with quick cuts, snappy dialogue and characters that compliment both each other & Wright's story with ease.  Scenes of action are effortlessly balanced by moments that allow the cast to develop-in the main role, a getaway driver who uses his skills to pay off a longstanding debt, Ansel Elgort successfully distances himself from his recent teen movie past with a character that's full of innocence, mystery and, despite physically looking like he only just yesterday learned to drive, handles himself behind the wheel like a true veteran of the cinematic car chase.  Kevin Spacey, as the man to whom said debt is owed, maintains a subtly villainous persona every time he appears onscreen, a common trait seen in many of his characters over the years and again showing how great of a bad guy he can be.  Rounding out the cast of criminals in need of our intrepid driver's services include the likes of Jon Hamm, Jaime Foxx and, in too brief of an appearance, Jon Bernthal, all of whom act as perfect fodder for Spacey’s ringleader while presenting their own distinct personalities, each of which know how to get under one’s skin in a way the right baddie should.  Hamm dances between likable and quietly menacing, while Foxx, from start to finish, quite terrifying in a suave manner that never feels like caricature.  A romance between a waitress played by Lily James and Elgort feels natural, again owing to the charisma of the actors, and the soundtrack is a character in and of itself, loaded with well-picked songs that often sync up with the action onscreen perfectly.  It’s a delight to watch, and help to elevate the film further into a realm far beyond that of average.

Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s triumphant return, a film that sits comfortably amongst the other classics of his filmography and a fine addition to the world of film overall.  It’s charming, humorous, thrilling and full of actors completely committed to their roles.  With the addition of that outstanding soundtrack which the recently released Kong: Skull Island & Suicide Squad could only wish they had, the film feels timeless, one that deserves repeated viewings and an audience of people looking to have a good time.  

I know I did.

WONDER WOMAN

To quote Kate Bosworth's tepid Lois Lane in 2006's much-maligned Superman Returns

"Let's start with the big question".  

Does the DC Extended Universe's fourth entry succeed in areas where 2013's polarizing Man of Steel & last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, along with the dreadful Suicide Squad, did not?

After a viewing of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot's second appearance as the titular character following her well-received debut in Dawn of Justice, the answer is, without question, an enthusiastic yes.

Director Patty Jenkins, who once wisely passed on helming the 2013 misfire Thor: The Dark World for rival Marvel Studios, has done an outstanding job in telling an exciting story that takes some wildly different environments, characters & a splash of classic swashbuckling epics such as the Indiana Jones saga and brings them together in a way that, for the first time in the DCEU's existence, makes complete sense.  Any attempts by producer/DCEU resident director Zack Snyder to inject Wonder Woman with any signature Snyder-isms that have become laughable trademarks of his hit-or-miss career take a backseat to Jenkins' superb direction, which owes as much to the fine cast as anything else.

In the main role, Gal Gadot is given plenty of chances to bring her badassery front and center while also fleshing out her character beautifully-her scenes of exploring early 1900s society for the first time showcases her innocence, all the while being happily balanced by intense moments to show audiences why she's seemingly born to play the part when the action picks up.  Chris Pine as partner/love interest Steve Trevor may be playing a variation of his own Captain Kirk, but it's an adaptation that works well-the chemistry between he and Gadot is believable, with conversations between the two that feel natural, again owing as much to Gadot's charisma as Pine's.  

Every supporting part is handled beautifully, with each cast member making the most of their character while complimenting one another well-it's a balance that results in memorable performances, from Trevor's Howlin' Commandos-esque team of Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) & his secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) to Connie Nielsen & Robin Wright as Gadot's native family-even though the accents the latter two adopt may be shaky at best, their heart, as well as their nimble grace in some early fight scenes, are tremendously on full display.  David Thewlis, one of my favorite underrated actors, even shows up and, thankfully, once again performs admirably.  On the other side of the coin, the villans, which come in the form of Doctor Poison/Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) teeter from average to weak, once again demonstrating how superhero films as of late have a problem creating convincing baddies, though Anaya does manage to do ever so slightly better.

Behind the scenes, Jenkins has assembled a crew that has effortlessly created Wonder Woman's world of the early 1900s, from a thrilling World War I sequence in No Man's Land that must be seen to be appreciated to excellent special effects and a fine score courtesy of Rupert Gregson-Williams which again makes use of the Wonder Woman theme first heard in Dawn of Justice.

While admittedly not 100% perfect, Wonder Woman is still absolutely the DCEU's best work yet, due in no small part to Jenkins' direction, a committed cast & a team of writers/FX artists/cinematographers that have brought to screens a great entry into the theatrical world of superheroes, and film overall.  A sequel will inevitably see the light of day, but more importantly Wonder Woman has saved a studio that was in dire need of a hit, a league who's future was as yet uncertain, and a character who deserved a debut that hit all the right notes.  

It's wonderful.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Let’s cut right to the chase-Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.  2 is an excellent film, a vast improvement over the original in every way and one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best offerings yet.

It’s clear that the success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy prompted Marvel to give director/writer James Gunn even more creative control, that which allowed for a follow-up that emits genuine emotion, hilarity, and some of the best special effects seen in an MCU film to this point.  Operating as a story that doesn’t completely require that the original needed to have been seen in order to understand the plot, Vol.  2 brings back the entire cast while introducing new ones, all of whom receive their own opportunities to shine in outstanding ways.  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord is just as endearing as he was during the first go-round, as is Dave Bautista’s Drax, both of whom have plenty of moments to effortlessly produce comic relief along with a large dose of the feels.  Speaking of that, Michael Rooker returns as Yondu, in a far meatier role that allows him to hold his own against people like Pratt & Bautista while delivering one of the film’s best performances.  Zoe Saldana’s Gamora gets a nice sister story arc with Karen Gillan’s Nebula, the latter of whom absolutely manages to outshine the former, while Bradley Cooper again returns to voice Rocket which especially works when the film places him in an unlikely partnership with Rooker’s Yondu.  New characters Mantis and Kraglin are handled beautifully by Pom Klementieff and Sean Gunn, respectively, with both actors seemingly taking a lesson from the rest of the cast on how to easily inhabit a role while providing said roles with enough individuality so as to stand out from the pack, and you’d better believe that Baby Groot nearly steals the show in just about every scene he’s in-anyone who says they don’t want a toy Groot after seeing this film is lying, plain and simple.  Finally, Kurt Russell shines as a compelling character in Ego and a great performance overall.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.  2 succeeds on every level, with an unexpectedly touching story fueled by Tyler Bates’ score and some well-handled cameos I fully expect to see fleshed out in future installments.  With this film, Marvel has again given us another brilliant film, a sequel that far surpasses the original and can now exist comfortably alongside similar masterpieces as Iron Man, The Avengers and both Captain America sequels.  Though the MCU may stumble at times (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, Doctor Strange), it’s clear that they not only know how to treat certain properties well, but elevate them past the level of the comic book film into the realm of Quality Cinema.  This is a fine movie, and I can’t wait to see it again.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Childhood was an amazing time, a period in which I developed my share of interests in many pop culture-related phenoms that still cling to my personality well into my adult years.  Legos were a common item amongst us younger Farvours, while superheroes like Batman & Superman were the first to capture my attention, with The Dark Knight coming out ahead thanks largely to repeated viewings of the campy Adam West-starring TV show, then in rerun status in the afternoons on Nickelodeon.  Upon the release of 1989’s Tim Burton-helmed, Michael Keaton-starring Batman, my love for Gotham City’s main man surged to unprecedented levels-this semi-origin story still exists as one of the finest superhero movies ever made, with Michael Keaton nailing the title role, Jack Nicholson as a perfect Joker only rivaled by Heath Ledger, Michael Gough as one of the best Alfreds captured to film and some of Danny Elfman's finest work as score composer.  This, truly, was the most ideal way imaginable to re-introduce Batman into a more modern era, and a beautiful kickoff to a series of films filled with plenty of ups (the Burton & Christopher Nolan eras), downs (the Joel Schumacher era) & now, with the release of The Lego Batman Movie, another welcome addition to the family has entered. 

Attempting to describe the plot would be useless, as it’s far too scattershot to even begin to attempt-and this, believe me, is a very good thing.  Though a focus on Batman’s relationships with others drives the story forward, it merely serves to construct a sandbox in which The Dark Knight and his cronies can play, all the while referencing previous Batman films, shows, comics and other pieces of today’s society, all the while driven by an excellent soundtrack and score by Lorne Balfe that would feel right at home in any live-action Batman film since the Burton years.  One can find comparisons to The Lego Movie in terms of feel-good lessons-learned, it being a children’s movie at heart, but Batman purists will no doubt feel at home and adults will absolutely laugh at many jokes that should hopefully fly past youngsters for good reason.  Seeing Batman unwind after a night of fighting crime is a hysterical look at a the dichotomy of a superhero reconciling his adrenaline-filled job with a surprisingly boring set of household routines, and while none of the original songs-usually sung by Batman-reach a level of “Everything Is Awesome” memorability, they all still work in the context of the film, and are all quite funny in the own right.  Will Arnett reprises the title role last seen in The Lego Movie, reminding us all that he may very well be the best version of this character we've seen yet, while Michael Cera is plucked from obscurity as Dick Grayson/Robin, a role seemingly as tailor-made for him as the collection of outfits Grayson/Robin tries on at one point, much to Batman's dismay.  Zach Galifianakis is a perfectly acceptable Joker, playing him with enough over-the-top mania but knowing when to rein it in so as to avoid caricature, and though Rosario Dawson may be a bit average, even slightly irritating at times as Barbara Gordon, all is forgiven when The Lego Batman Movie starts to reference nearly every obscure villain Batman has faced over the decades-seriously, even Kite Man gets a mention.  And the credits, which features one of the film's better songs, is an upbeat dance-off at which everyone should at least crack even a small smile.
 
Chris McKay, who handles directing duties following Phil Lord & Christopher Miller's work on The Lego Movie, does a fine job, with writing assistance by Seth Grahame-Smith in an interesting move as the latter had once been attached to helm DC's live-action The Flash.  Even though I may not necessarily be as excited for the next big screen Lego universe installment, that being this fall's Lego Ninjago Movie, I hope to see further brick-based adventures of the Caped Crusader, as it feel as comfortable and natural as an afternoon building with those beloved toys back when I was young.

But hey, who am I to talk?  Let's ask my five-year old daughter what she thought.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

My history with the beast known as King Kong is somewhat limited-with the exception of an abridged novel given to me by my parents when I was young, one which gave me enough information about the legendary monster to understand who he was & what he was all about, I never laid eyes on anything else related to Kong as the years passed, which included any & all of his big screen iterations.  As a result, Kong: Skull Island is my first true, start-to-finish theatrical experience with one of history's most infamous fictional characters.

The human cast, filled with talent in the form of Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L.  Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell and even two N. W. A.  members from 2015's Straight Outta Compton (Corey Hawkins & Jason Mitchell), all do a decent job but can't help but play second fiddle to the titular ape.  John C.  Reilly, however, does deliver quite possibly the film's best performance as a pilot who's been stranded on Skull Island for decades, giving his character a wealth of quirk & humor, though not every joke that escapes his mouth sticks the landing.

As for the film itself, the effects on the various creatures, most notably Kong himself, are truly impressive, while the various monster battles erupt with intensity.  Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, last seen at the helm of 2013's underrated coming-of-age, surprisingly hilarious The Kings of Summer, gives Kong: Skull Island the look & feel of a 1970s-era war film, appropriate of the film's 1970s-era time period, the same era as the Jeff Bridges/Jessica Lange-starring King Kong.  Unfortunately, the dialogue & soundtrack sometimes have a tendency to reference that decade a bit much, a slightly annoying, unnecessarily constant reminder that this film is most definitely not set in 2017.  The soundtrack in particular occasionally reaches Suicide Squad levels of jumpiness, with a different classic rock hit seemingly every few minutes, though the reliable Henry Jackman's score is, as always, well done.

Kong: Skull Island is the second entry into Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse, following 2014's underwhelming Godzilla, and much like the issues present with that film it clearly shows that the studio knows how to bring these giants to life while completely disregarding the rest of the cast.  I only hope that future entries will either help develop the latter, or completely push our beloved monsters to the forefront as they should.  Kong: Skull Island is worth a view to see the titular ape in all his glory, and has just enough firepower to ensure I'll see whatever sequel, spinoff or Godzilla vs.  Kong (scheduled for release May 29, 2020) punchfest the studio will throw at me. 

I'm in.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

This may come as a surprise, but I still to this day have never seen Walt Disney’s 1967 animated masterpiece The Jungle Book-sure, I may be familiar with the film’s instantly recognizable tunes, but I've never seen more than a few frames of the film.  This is, more than likely, a large reason why it took me so long to finally check out director Jon Favreau’s live action adaptation of the cartoon classic, despite near-unanimous praise following its release last year. 

The movie itself is well made, with some of the best CG animals I've seen yet.  The star-studded voice cast (which includes Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Sam Raimi and even the late Garry Shandling) performs well, and Neel Sethi as the sole human Mowgli delivers an impressive debut performance, one rich with range the likes of which I rarely see from young actors these days.  The only low marks I might give The Jungle Book are-and this is coming from a parent-the occasional intense moments, some of which I believe may be a bit too fierce for the young audience this film probably targets.  Plus, having grown up without the original a part of my childhood, I simply saw the movie as just another live-action Disney adaptation in a long line of previous entries (such as 2015's Cinderella), as well as soon-to-be-released films (such as 2018's Mulan and an eventual Favreau-helmed version of The Lion King) that really serve no purpose other than to showcase Disney's ability to bring these classic characters to life.  Furthermore, the two songs present in this film (Bare Necessities and Be Like You) pale in comparison to their beloved originals.  One could argue in The Jungle Book's defense that it probably contains some of the most beautiful jungle cinematography to date, however when one realizes that most of the film was in all likelihood shot with Sethi in front of a green screen, it does lose some luster in that department.

Nevertheless, I still regard Jon Favreau as a highly competent director, what with his work on ElfZathuraIron Man and Chef (I will politely ignore Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens) serving as standouts on his still-fairly short filmography.  There's no question he was able to blend CG with a live action character quite seamlessly, with a cast that holds their own even in the midst of a fairly average, assembly line-esque film in every other area.  Not only does The Jungle Book's box office success and rave reviews ensure that the future look bright for further live action Disney epics, but a sequel to The Jungle Book is already in production, with the same cast & team returning for another adventure that will no doubt devour the box office while slowly draping a rug over the audience's eyes, preventing them from seeing the useless nature that exists in so many of Disney's films these days.

Life goes on.

POWER RANGERS

Being as old as I currently am (which is to say, not young), I had unfortunately aged out of the demographic one probably should have occupied to have rode the wave of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers mania at its mid-1990s peak.  Nonetheless, I can still recall these teenage superheroes having been everywhere, bolstered by the immense popularity of their eponymous television series and line of toys, all targeted at children younger than I was at the time.  I can't help but feel that, were I born just a few years later than I had been, I might also have latched on to the world of Power Rangers bliss, one that revolved around five teenagers, plucked from their fairly average lives and equipped with identities/abilities matched to long-extinct animals, in the ongoing battle with the forces of evil.  Villains took the form of such tastily-named baddies as Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa, faceless goons called Putties threatened the Rangers during most episodes, and each 30-minute long slugfest-mixed-with-high-school-dramatics usually ended with the group summoning giant robots so as to construct a massive Jaeger-esque machine in order to fight another similarly-sized Monster Of The Day.  Tell me again, why exactly didn't I like this?

Despite my age, this didn't stop me from tuning in to witness the much-anticipated unveiling of the White Ranger, as well as promising my cousin Jimmy I would build for him a Green Ranger helmet he could wear to the inevitable excited cries of his jealous classmates.  Don't worry cousin, I'll finish it one day.

Power Rangers comes on the heels of the classic show, several mid-to-late '90s theatrical releases and even an ultra-dark short film from a few years back which attempted to ground the characters in realism.  Power Rangers seems to be taking a page from the latter, with a tone similar to 2012's Chronicle mixed with the show itself and a premise ever so slightly updated from the series.  The five relative unknowns cast as the titular Rangers are all decent in the most average way possible, and as Rita Repulsa, the underrated Elizabeth Banks plays her to the campiest extent one can imagine, a method that works in ways I can't describe.  She's silly, frightening, and overall representative of an actress completely committing to a role.  The great Bryan Cranston, who early in his career voiced several monsters on the show, returns to the franchise as Zordon, the Rangers' enigmatic advisor, and Bill Hader voices Alpha 5, Zordon's assistant.  Cranston, ever the outstanding talent that he is, plays Zordon with the greatest of ease, while Hader, who seems to have carved out a unique sub-career as a voice actor, is actually a perfect Alpha 5, the film's comic relief, even if the special effects used to bring Alpha 5 to life are fairly average at best.

Aside from Alpha 5, most of the remaining effects look good, and when the film shifts from origin story to the inevitable climactic battle scenes, the atmosphere shifts from somewhat dark to, essentially, a 2017 version of the show.  I could complain about the cheesiness present periodically throughout-the campfire scene, in particular, is a great example of this-but when the movie is viewed in the context of the original series, any cheese can be easily forgiven.  The score, composed by Brian Tyler, moves the film forward, though the dialogue does get a bit buried from time to time under Tyler's music-then again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  This ain't Shakespeare, folks.  However, when the infamous theme song kicks in at just the right moment, the audience I was with absolutely reacted with joy, and I myself couldn't help but smile.  Somehow, it works.

Overall, shortcomings in the screenplay, effects, acting or director Dean Israelite (2015's simiarily-themed found-footage bomb Project Almanac) shouldn't be hard to ignore-Power Rangers is great fun, a film one shouldn't think about for a second and one which should absolutely appeal to every adult who once clutched their favorite Ranger doll while curled up on their couch after school to tune in to the latest adventures from their favorite teenage superhero squad.  Even though I never had this experience, in watching this film I felt like I had, another reminder that my childhood is never far away and that films like this serve as the perfect reminder of simpler days gone by.  With plans for multiple sequels in the works, I find myself strangely excited for the next installment, one which should follow the same format as its predecessor if it wants to achieve the same level of nostalgia while setting up what could be a successful continuation of a beloved franchise.

Bring it on!

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

The Edge of Seventeen is yet another quirky teen dramedy for everyone who wanted a watered-down Juno.  I'd heard it having been compared to the works of the late great John Hughes, and while I can certainly see a few shades of the man in The Edge of Seventeen, usually in terms of dialogue, characters & the high school setting, such comparisons are short-lived and ultimately undeserving of a place alongside one of cinema's foremost voices when it comes to the teen film.

The premise is fairly simple-quirky girl develops a close friendship at a young age, quirky girl's father dies, friend of quirky girl starts dating quirky girl's older, more popular brother, quirky girl pursues a mysterious heartthrob while ignoring feelings from a similarly socially-awkward classmate, other things happen, movie eventually ends.

In the main role of Nadine, Hailee Steinfeld, a usually reliable actress with a pedigree that includes her star-making turn in 2010's remake of True Grit and a fine supporting role in 2013's Begin Again, tries desperately to give her Indie Girl trope some semblance of uniqueness, and while her performance isn't necessarily a bad one, it's nothing we haven't seen before played by so many other equally-capable actresses.  The supporting cast, which includes Woody Harrelson as her teacher Mr.  Bruner, Kyra Sedgwick as her widowed mom Mona, Haley Lu Richardson as her aforementioned friend Krista, Blake Jenner as her brother Darien and Hayden Szeto as her admirer Erwin all do an adequate job in their respective roles, though there are two standouts within this group, with Woody Harrelson truly stealing the show in yet another fantastic performance from someone I've respected since 1995's tremendously underrated Money Train.  Although his character's relationship with Nadine may be perceived as odd at best by confused people like myself, he effortlessly makes the most of his role and knocks it out of the part in the process.  The same can be said for Hayden Szeto as Nadine's classmate Erwin-I believe this may be one of his first movies, and if this is any indicator of what we can expect from him going forward, I eagerly await his next project.

In wearing the multiple hats of director/producer/writer, Kelly Fremon Craig (2009's forgettable Post Grad) does an average job, showing she at least knows how to perform the duties of someone in charge of a film while never once going above and beyond the call of duty into the world of great cinema she's clearly striving to reach-there's potential here, but it couldn't have fallen any shorter of the goal than it does in this case.  James L.  Brooks also lent a hand in producing, and I have to point out how odd it is to see the Gracie Films logo in any setting other than at the end of an episode of The Simpsons.

Overall, The Edge of Seventeen has its moments, usually stemming from Mr.  Harrelson or Hayden Szeto, but said moments are unfortunately far too short-lived.  Every other area of the firm emits a run-of-the-mill stench we've smelled many times over, one which doesn't show any signs of lessening as time goes by and the genre continues to be fed films that try too hard to be uniquely different.  The Edge of Seventeen might be worth a viewing, or you could do something else instead.

PATRIOTS DAY

Patriots Day is the latest offering from Peter Berg, only a few months removed from his Also-Based-On-A-True-Story epic Deepwater Horizon.  Fans of that film will find plenty of similarities in this, a dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, especially in terms of the handheld shaky-cam cinematography and understated score courtesy of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross.  Though the film starts off on a somewhat lively, upbeat note, packed with enough Boston clichés and near-constant reminders of the year in which the film takes place, when the actual event occurs, Patriots Day immediately shifts into an entirely different, understandably darker tone. 

Cast-wise, everyone does an acceptable job, with Mark Wahlberg again starring in a Peter Berg film once more rolling out that Boston accent which by now unfortunately just sounds like he’s playing his character from Ted over & over.  His character, a composite of several individuals from that fateful day, fits him perfectly, again showcasing his ability to play an everyman with the greatest of ease.  Michelle Monaghan as his wife is average at best, while John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and J.  K.   Simmons as law enforcement officials all bring a fair amount of gravitas to their performances as real-life individuals who helped in the post-bombing investigation (and subsequent manhunt).  Furthermore, let it be said that the bombing sequence, as well as the inevitable confrontation with the perpetrators that took place in Watertown, are filmed in a manner similar to Deepwater Horizon's climactic explosion-devoid of music and allowing the action to take center stage.  Both scenes are truly intense and not always for the faint-hearted.

Sure, the accents many of the characters sport don't always work, nor do the actors themselves commit to said accents 100% of the time.  Patriots Day is still a unique film, one that seems to accurately tell the story of that fateful time four years ago and the many people who helped save the day.  Seeing characters that had been previously separated from their loved ones during the event eventually reunite is as heartwarming as it sounds, while an epilogue featuring footage & interviews with many of the real-life individuals portrayed in the film offers a nice postscript to the story as well.  A true companion to Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg has proven to have a knack for bringing some of America's worst moments to the screen in a manner that helps to preserve history, while reminding us that humanity truly has the ability to come together when said moments rear their life-changing head.  This, I believe, is Berg's goal, and if that continues to remain his intentions, I welcome his movies as a Boston Marathon runner welcomes that sensation as they cross the finish line.  

This is Boston, this is America, this is us at our best.