Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Directed by Peyton Reed) English 6

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Walton Goggins, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Judy Greer, T.I, Bobby Cannavale, Hannah John-Kamen

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Scott Lang (Rudd) seems to have burnt his bridges with Hank Pym (Douglas) and Hope (Lilly) after going rogue with Captain America back in Civil War (2016). On top of that, he was sentenced to two years house arrest. As he closes in on his release date, Hank and Hope see a chance to rescue, Janet (Pfeiffer), the former’s wife and the latter’s mother, from the quantum realm she was lost to decades ago. Unfortunately for everyone, Scott appears to be the key, forcing a reunion and putting Scott in danger with his parole officer. Meanwhile, an enigmatic figure known as Ghost materializes at every turn. Fun film and a 180 from the heavy, substantial Avengers: Infinity War. Ant-Man and the Wasp is slightly better than the first one. Often funny, with some cool ideas involving shrinking and growing. It does, however, feel like a modest entry in a series of films that all run through the same machine in my opinion. The end result is always nice, but never extraordinary. Add to that, Ant-man, or, more specifically, Scott Lang, is a second-tier hero, largely dependent on Hank Pym.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018, Directed by J.A Bayona) English 6

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum

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The fifth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise, and second film in the reboot trilogy, sees Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) returning to the shut down theme park in order to save the remaining dinosaurs from an impending volcanic eruption. Of course, there are other people involved who turn out to have ulterior motives, and dinosaur chaos is unleashed once again, this time primarily on the affluent estate of patron Sir Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell). This far into the franchise, you wonder if it’s fatigue or simply a sub-par entry, but this was an underwhelming experience. Despite some impressive camerawork, including a scene with two characters stuck in a pod while water fills in, at no point does this film provide any legitimate thrills. We’ve been down this rode before. It’s time for the franchise to veer. On top of that, the pacing seemed awfully fast, especially in the beginning.

Hereditary (2018, Directed by Ari Aster) English 8

Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro

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Guilt. Resentment. Strife. Cursed bloodlines. A dysfunctional family. Tragedy. Alas, a nightmare. Hereditary takes its time before becoming a horror flick, and until that point, until its diabolical bloom, I was at a loss as to what the film really was and where it was going. Is it a ghost story? A haunted house movie? The only thing I could firmly grasp was the tangible dread the filmmakers and actors build up so well. A feeling that something horrific was coming, and when it does, Hereditary achieves the status of great modern horror film.

If you’re like me, you’ve noticed the overwhelming praise given to the film by critics across Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. If you’re like me, you’ll go into Hereditary skeptical since critics rarely know what their talking about when it comes to the Horror genre. The majority of critics don’t like the genre, which is fine, but then what is their review of a horror film worth? To me, this explains why films like The Quiet Place and It Comes at Night do very well critically (fine films but without any actual bite), and legitimately scary genre pieces like Sinister get middling reviews. Thankfully, Hereditary delivers. Not just as a well made film (a remarkable debut from writer/director Ari Aster), but as a superb, bloodcurdling horror story.

Opening at the funeral of the family matriarch, Ellen, her daughter, Annie Graham (Collette) gives a rather stiff eulogy revealing a strained relationship with her mother, and setting up the rest of the film which, as evidenced by its title, has much to do with family legacy and “visiting the sins of the father on the children,” or, in this case, the sins of the mother. Annie, a successful miniaturist artist has a patient husband, Steve (Byrne) and two children: a distant son, Peter (Wolff) and a daughter, Charlie (Shapiro). After a shocking incident, and I don’t want to say too much, since I went in blind and was blown away by this particular scene, the Graham family is forced to live past a tragedy that lays a pall over their lives. Annie reluctantly seeks comfort in group meetings, but quickly gives up on the venture before meeting Joan (Dowd), an older woman grieving over a lost son. Joan turns Annie on to seances, and, naturally, this opens the door for evil and the ensuing horror show. It’s at this stage of the film, actually pretty late in the proceedings, that Hereditary becomes less surprising. The last act is an effective but conventional piece of storytelling. What still separates Hereditary from the rest of its kind, even in the end, is director, Aster’s entirely assured pacing which never settles for cheap scares but takes each moment to its peak horror and then wades on to the next set piece. He gives his actors long takes to work with, and they reward him with likely the best performances of the year. The story belongs to Toni Collette’s Annie, and Collette getting a rare starring role, is outstanding. She’s made a career out of playing mothers across a number of genres, but that hasn’t kept her from proving to be an incredible chameleon-like actor at times. Consider, this is the Australian actress who played the caring, American mother in The Sixth Sense, the kooky British mother in About a Boy, and the frayed matriarch of the hilariously dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine. Consider too, her ultra creepy performance in the underrated Night Listener starring Robin Williams. I’m simply a fan. Relatively new to me is Alex Wolff who plays the troubled son. I’ve seen recently in the Jumanji reboot, but nothing to prepare me for the depth he gives to this role. He’s largely the character we’re most often asked to identify with, and it’s through his eyes, we see much of the tragedy and the horror. The ending works for me, but at the same time, is derivative of past classics like Rosemary’s Baby and the recent triumph, The Witch.

Finally, I’m still unsure as to what really went on in this film. I have more questions than answers. In fact, I think I’ll write a separate piece involving my lingering questions.  I recognize themes of persistent discord. Generations of parents and children at odds. I see the toll of tragedy on a family. How much of the blame seems to fall back on the mother. But what’s clearest of all is the talent of the young filmmaker, the impressive cast (I hadn’t mentioned Ann Dowd yet whose sensational in a performance likely inspired by Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby), and the haunting account of evil that last beyond the closing credits.

-Walter Howard-

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 8

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

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The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength. The mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids. Dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the super villain of the piece, is good not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings have been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as the first film too is best remembered for its famil commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being  his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movies, The Incredibles 2 will, in all likelihood, be the best action comedy of the year, and the best blockbuster of the summer.

-Walter Howard-

 

Ocean’s 8 (2018, Directed by Gary Ross) English 6

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

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Debbie Ocean (Bullock), sister of the previous run of Ocean movies’ Danny Ocean, is fresh off of a five year stint in prison. Not reformed in the slightest, she puts into motion a plan she’s worked on for the whole of her sentence: a heist of a $150 million necklace by Cartier. To pull it off, she enlists her best friend, Lou (Blanchett), a master fence and suburban housewife, Tammy (Paulson), a jewelry maker, Amita (Kaling), a tech-wiz self-named Nine Ball (Rihanna), a pickpocket, Constance (Awkwafina), and an out-of-fashion designer, Rose (Carter). If you’re thinking that only makes seven, the eighth member of the group comes as a surprise late in the film. Debbie’s plan revolves around the Met Gala, where the necklace will be worn by celebrity Daphne Kruger (Hathaway), and her team spends three weeks leading up to the event preparing for the haul of their lives. There’s probably no point in harping on how original stories involving all female casts would better serve these stars and their audience, though it’s true. Ghostbusters struggled at the box office and this one isn’t exactly reaping in the money so far. That aside, I really liked this movie. I’m hearing the same thing from most people who’ve seen it: a breezy good time. Nothing substantial but perfectly watchable. I liked the cast which is likely a given. They all have their scenes, and Bullock always makes a compelling lead. Higher stakes (I know it sounds funny saying it about a $150 million heist) would have made the actual job more exciting, or even a more imposing villain fouling up the works. The operation went to smoothly.

Book Club (2018, Directed by Bill Holderman) English 5

Starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn, Alicia Silverstone, Don Johnson

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Four women-widowed Diane (Keaton), promiscuous Vivian (Fonda), in a loving, but stagnant marriage Carol (Steenburgen), and successful, but lonely Sharon (Bergen)-  contemplate love, romance, and aging as they read 50 Shades of Grey for their monthly book club. At the same time, some dramatic changes affect their lives. Diane moves to Arizona to be closer to her kids and meets a suave pilot (Garcia). Vivian reunites with the man who got away (Johnson). Carol attempts to spice up her marriage, to no avail, and Sharon tries online dating, reluctantly. I doubt that I’m what you’d call the target audience for this, but I’ve seen my share of chick-flicks. This is an alright one. Not too dull, nor exceptionally witty, it probably checks all the boxes for its focus group. I found Bergen’s character the funniest and most appealing.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Directed by Ron Howard) English 6

Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

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Staying true to their word of a new Star Wars movie a year, Disney gives us Solo, an origin story for the iconic character first played by Harrison Ford. He’s played here by Alden Ehrenreich, a good actor and a fine Han Solo, despite not looking very much like Ford. His story follows his humble beginnings on Orellia, where an orphaned Han and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Clarke) struggle to survive at the mercy of a local crime syndicate. It all seems very Charles Dickens-esque or Dickensian if you will, which could have made an interesting film by itself, however, we light-speed past this part of his life, and pick up years later when through a series of events, Han meets a gallery of thieves, and decides to join them, along with his new pal, Chewbacca. The mission details hardly matter (and perhaps that’s the film’s main fault). All that matters is that the stakes are high, it’s going to be extremely difficult, and there will be a ton of action. The film delivers on all of the basics of popular entertainment: action, great special effects, romance, mystery. In the end though, it feels too much like the B-Side to a great album. I haven’t been overly impressed with the Star Wars spin-offs. You lose certain elements of surprise since we know where Han is going, but I did find Han and Chewie’s budding friendship worth the watch.