Tag Archives: 3.5/5

The Invisible Man

In the wreckage of Universal’s failed Dark Universe franchise comes The Invisible Man, a smart and sensitive reimagining of the H.G. Wells novel that flips the script on the classic monster tale. Instead of focusing on Adrian Griffin, the troubled scientist who finds a way to permanently disappear, this remake shifts the perspective to the Griffin’s wife, who desperately seeks to get out from his overwhelmingly controlling presence. Writer/director Leigh Whannell has crafted a memorable psychological thriller that resonates with insightful truths about abusive relationships but doesn’t skimp on the unsettling moments of horror as well.

In the film’s masterful opening sequence, we’re introduced to Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) as she wakes in the middle of the night and gently pries herself from the grasp of her sleeping husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After narrowly fleeing from their home, Cecilia takes refuge from her menacing husband with her police officer friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). She’s with them two weeks before she gets the news that Adrian has died of apparent suicide, of which she becomes immediately skeptical and even more so when she feels stalked by his unseen presence. Misplaced items and misunderstandings soon escalate to dead bodies as Cecilia becomes desperate to prove that she is being hunted by a man that no one can see.

Whannell graduates from dreck like Insidious: Chapter 3 to this mature and sophisticated chiller that mostly trusts the audience to keep up with the story’s many twists and turns. Though the narrative goes in many different directions, we’re taking the journey with Cecila every step of the way and even though other characters begin to question her sanity, we know we can trust her perspective. Even in a young year, we’re seeing films from The Assistant and Birds of Prey that directly call out predatory men and the systems that allow them to retain their power. The Invisible Man furthers this trend of reflecting on the Me Too movement, making the emotional violence perpetrated against the protagonist even more palpable.

As the fraught but fierce Cecilia, Moss disappears into a challenging role that demands both conviction and vulnerability and she finds the perfect balance in every scene. She can convey layers of trauma and suffering with a single glance, bringing the audience ever closer to her world of isolation and paranoia. As with most of the characters that Moss portrays, Cecilia is smart, cunning and resourceful; we know that we can trust her to make the right decisions even when she seems unhinged. There’s always been a steely magnetism to Moss’ work, a unique blend of unpredictability and understanding that makes her one of the most fascinating actresses working today.

Behind the camera, Whannell and his cinematographer Stefan Duscio brilliantly ratchet up the tension by filling the frame with negative space to suggest where the hidden antagonist could be at any moment. Along with Andy Canny’s editing, this creates a more studied pace to most of the film that distinguishes it from other horror movies that usually only care about cutting to a cheap scare. Topping things off, Benjamin Wallfisch’s dynamic and icy music score picks just the right moments to pop out and avoid the typical “gotcha!” stabs when underlying moments of genuine terror. Though it does commit a number of tiny gaffes in terms of logic and plotting, The Invisible Man remains a great example of how to shed light on an old monster and realize it never really left us in the first place.

Score – 3.5/5

1917

The harrowing new World War I film 1917 opens on two British soldiers, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, getting some much needed rest. Little do they know, it’s the only bit of respite that they’ll get for the next two hours. After they’re awoken and given a mission by their General, played by Colin Firth, the pair is thrust into no man’s land to deliver a message with orders to call off an ally’s pending attack. Along the way, familiar faces from Benedict Cumberbatch to Mark Strong pop up to help our protagonists in their treacherous journey. What makes the experience different than almost any other war movie, however, is that we follow the action in real time as the film is presented to appear as one continuous shot.

This impressive technical feat, a collaboration between director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, has been attempted several times in other non-war films. Hitchcock’s Rope was the first to approach the gimmick back in 1948 and recent films from Birdman to Son of Saul have used disguised cuts to appear as a single take. Even more rare are the films that are truly one unbroken shot, like the mind-boggling 140-minute heist film Victoria. Though Mendes does implement a few cuts from the action — particularly the most notable one separating day from night at the film’s midpoint — the effect is as arresting and sensational as the director intended. The level of coordination and timing on display within these lengthy long takes is simply unheard of, particularly for this genre.

Mendes wisely re-teamed with his Skyfall cameraman Deakins to carry out such an expansive experiment. Deakins, who won a long overdue Oscar a couple years ago for his work in Blade Runner 2049, is in line for another nomination and hopefully a win for his nimble and virtuosic cinematography. Whether his camera is skimming across shallow water to follow our heroes or pedaling back as a wounded German plane comes careening to the ground, the action is framed flawlessly in every sequence. Even more minor shots, like the claustrophobic one in the back of a crowded truck where a camera crew couldn’t possibly fit, highlight a level of preparation and commitment that is inspiring, to say the least.

If there’s disappointment in 1917, it’s that the story and character work simply doesn’t match the ambition and ingenuity of the technical aspects at play. We follow the primary soldiers as they doggedly trek through a series of perilous circumstances but we learn very little about them in the process. Nearly every other character is only on-screen for a few moments total and, perhaps by necessity, their roles are underdeveloped and unmemorable. Despite its technical excellence, the film dips into self-indulgence in certain stretches and at times, the film doesn’t seem to exist for any other reason than to show us how difficult it was to make.

Nevertheless, the behind-the-camera aspects, including a rousing and riveting music score from Thomas Newman, will deservedly draw attention in the upcoming award season. One area that will likely be ignored is the work by the two lead actors, particularly by MacKay. Acting is easier when one can rely on multiple takes upon which to cobble together the most optimal performance but the pressure on the performer is much higher when they have to be “on” for 45 consecutive minutes at a time. 1917 isn’t quite the all-time great that it wants to be but it’s a visceral and thrilling exploration of warfare from an audacious new perspective.

Score – 3.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, tells the true story of a civil rights defense attorney who takes the case of a wrongly condemned death row prisoner in 1980s Alabama.
Like a Boss, starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne, is a comedy set in the cosmetics world about two entrepreneurs who start a beauty company but are hindered by a greedy benefactor.
Underwater, starring Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel, is a spin on the Alien formula about a crew of underwater researchers who are left stranded when an earthquake wrecks their subterranean laboratory.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Doctor Sleep

The shadows of the creepy Overlook Hotel continue to loom large in Doctor Sleep, a follow-up to the horror classic The Shining that doesn’t entirely hit the heights of its predecessor but does offer some spooky delights within the same universe. Adapted from Stephen King’s 2013 novel, the film feels more like a spiritual successor than a direct sequel, taking characters and concepts from the original and deepening the mythology behind them. Much of the marketing for the movie has played up the ties that it has to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece but aside from the third act, it thankfully doesn’t lean on The Shining’s legacy as much as one may expect.

Still traumatized from the events of his childhood, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) wrangles with his past demons as an adult while also battling drug addiction and alcoholism. He also still carries the magical gift of “shine”, which allows him to communicate with other telepaths like Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who is on the run from a dangerous group known as the True Knot. Led by the cunning Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot hunt down individuals with shine in order to supplement their own immortality. Together, Dan and Abra engage in psychic battle with Rose and her followers while staving off other dark forces along the way.

More often than not, Doctor Sleep reminded me most of a renegade vampire movie a la Near Dark or The Lost Boys as opposed to the haunted house movie that some may go into this film expecting. The members of the True Knot aren’t technically vampires but given their mind control abilities and tentative immortality, the effect remains the same. In fact, one of the younger members even brands a victim with a double puncture pattern that closely resembles the fangs of a vampire. Ferguson is particularly excellent as the leader of the gypsy gang, conveying all the menace necessary while slowly adding on layers of humanity that ultimately make her more empathetic than evil.

Writer/director Mike Flanagan, who previously adapted King’s Gerald Game for Netflix, once again shows his aptitude for translating the Master of Horror’s prose to the big screen. He navigates the myriad subplots and constantly evolving mysticism of the dense source material to tell an emotionally resonant story about overcoming the ghosts of the past. Kubrick famously clashed with King when he adapted The Shining in 1980, stripping away many plot elements in favor of a spare story with Kubrick’s trademark sense of chilly remove. Comparatively, Doctor Sleep is a much warmer and more sentimental film that embraces the affectionate tone behind much of King’s work.

For much of the running time, the film seems to get out from the shadow of it’s predecessor, so it’s ultimately disappointing when the finale goes into overload when it comes to callbacks. Nearly every memorable piece of iconography from the horror classic, from the fiendish ghouls and haunting music score down to the lightbulbs that illuminate the chilling corridors, is recreated to diminishing results. Flanagan does put his own angle, so to speak, on a famous shot shown this time from a different perspective, deliberately throwing off Kubrick’s ever-present symmetry. It’s touches like these, along with the substantial supernatural story, that make Doctor Sleep a worthwhile watch for fans of Stephen King and horror in general.

Score – 3.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Midway, starring Ed Skrein and Patrick Wilson, follows a group of Navy sailors and aviators during World War II as they overcome the attack on Pearl Harbor and fight the titular battle.
Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, is a holiday romantic comedy about a young woman who is working as a department store Santa’s elf when she meets a promising new prospect.
Playing with Fire, starring John Cena and Keegan-Michael Key, follows the 1990s Hulk Hogan family comedy model of pitting a hulking WWE star against a set of rambunctious toddlers.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Joker

The Clown Prince of Gotham struts onto the big screen once again in Joker, a bold and bleak reinterpretation of the modern comic book movie that is destined to send shockwaves through the genre. Using gritty psychodramas like Taxi Driver and Blow Out as a blueprint, writer/director Todd Phillips tells a new origin story for the Batman baddie that draws on the character’s extensive mythology along with myriad other cinematic influences. While it may not be more than the sum of said influences, Phillips mines enough stylistic gold from past films to allow his dark character study to thrive on its own distinctive terms.

It’s 1981 and just like the mean streets of New York, Gotham City is plagued with rampant crime and abject poverty. Amongst its downtrodden citizens is Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a professional clown who aspires for a career in stand-up comedy. Besides the presence of his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), with whom he shares a drab apartment, Fleck leads a distressingly lonely life exacerbated further by mental illness tenuously kept in check by seven different medications. After a pair of violent attacks against him, Fleck reaches a breaking point and vows to turn against the city that has turned its back against him his whole life.

Sporting a disturbingly gaunt frame and a creepy smile devoid of happiness, Phoenix’s performance is Joker’s primary selling point and it’s nearly impossible to imagine the film without it. Save a handful of supporting characters with a few scenes a piece, the two-hour runtime belongs almost entirely to Phoenix as he masterfully portrays Fleck’s slow descent into unbridled madness. His interpretation of this iconic character will no doubt draw comparisons to previous iterations, especially Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight, but the details and nuances that Phoenix bring to his performance give us an entirely new angle on the supervillain.

It’s been said of the Joker character that the most unsettling aspect of his mythology is that he doesn’t have one set origin story; Ledger’s Joker even cycles through multiple anecdotes so we can’t be sure which is the truth. Phillips, then, is doing something quite daring here: cutting through the ambiguity and saddling this Joker with a fleshed-out tragedy that implicitly makes him more empathetic in the process. This choice may come across as thuddingly literal and obvious for some and while I admit most of the enjoyment to be had with the film is surface-level, it’s an admirable surface nonetheless.

Like his central character, Phillips is a gifted mimic as he overtly references films ranging from Chaplin’s Modern Times and Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, in which Robert De Niro has much more screen time than he does here. Thanks to excellent cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the film has a larger-than-life scope that is at once overwhelming and intimate. While the script is overwritten and redundant at times, Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver glimmer enough insight into this broken man’s psyche to make his journey a plausible one. In a world overrun with one superhero movie after another, Joker makes the case that we could use more told from the perspective of the supervillain.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Gemini Man, starring Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, pits an aging government assassin against a younger clone of himself who is able to predict his every move.
The Addams Family, starring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, brings the delightfully macabre clan to the 21st century as they face off against a reality TV host looking to capitalize on their image.
Jexi, starring Adam DeVine and Rose Byrne, follows a lonely bachelor who becomes even more addicted to his smartphone when an update implements an A.I. life coach that he begins to fall for.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The charming and endearing new indie The Peanut Butter Falcon stars Zack Gottsagen as Zak, a young man with Down syndrome living in a North Carolina nursing home under the supervision of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). With the assistance of his wily roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), Zak escapes the facility one evening and stows away on a small fishing boat. We learn that the boat belongs to a rebellious fisherman named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run from rival fishermen for poaching their equipment. Together, Tyler and Zak begin to bond with one another while making their way to a wrestling camp in Florida where Zak hopes to learn the secrets of the pros.

The film occupies a number of genres at once: it’s a buddy movie, it’s a road movie (well, sea movie might be more fitting), it’s a quirky dramedy and it’s even a bit of a thriller. In its overall form, it mirrors the Mark Twain novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is referenced overtly in the film during a conversation between Tyler and Eleanor. Despite these comparisons, The Peanut Butter Falcon paves its own way with characters that feel believable and with story twists that give it a unique sense of style. The title, which references the idiosyncratic wrestling name that Zak eventually gives himself, is perhaps the first sign that this movie marches to the beat of its own drum.

The relationship between Tyler and Zak, which gets off to a rocky start but blossoms into a deep friendship throughout the story, is the key to the film’s heart and the actors do terrific work in crafting their characters. In his first on-screen performance, Gottsagen brings loads of personality to a role that could have been one-dimensional in a lesser film. LaBeouf has never been better than he is here, effortlessly peeling back the layers behind his charater’s gruff exterior to reveal a more vulnerable side. As good as their acting is separately, the electric chemistry between both actors is the strongest single element of the film.

The writing and directing duo comprised of first-timers Tyler Nilsson and Michael Schwartz is working with a kind of story that we’ve seen before, both in overall form and specific moments. There are some cliches that are indulged and scenes that strain credulity even in a free-wheeling adventure like this. Having said that, the dialogue is frequently incisive and cuts to the core of the characters while sharing wisdom and truth in the process. Nilsson and Schwartz also make the most of their swampy South Atlantic locale, showcasing muggy, miserable conditions in one scene while contrasting it with the gorgeous, endless sea in the next.

The earthy cinematography by Nigel Bluck is both aesthetically pleasing and thematically relevant, using wide shots at the beginning of Tyler and Zak’s journey to depict the “distance” between their characters while moving in closer as the story progresses. The mix of bluegrass and folk music from acts like the Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show settle in nicely to the background and fill out the sonic palette. If you’re in the mood for a movie that will put a smile on your face and brighten your view of humanity, then The Peanut Butter Falcon is your ticket.

Score 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, tells the tale of an astronaut who undertakes a new mission to uncover the truth about his missing father and the doomed expedition he took 30 years ago.
Downton Abbey, starring Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery, adapts the smash TV show for the big screen to follow the Crawley family as they welcome King George V and Queen Mary onto their estate.
Rambo: Last Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone and Paz Vega, brings the ruthless action hero back one last time to save his niece after she is taken hostage by an uncompromising Mexican cartel.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Ready Or Not

The Most Dangerous Game gets a darkly comedic twist in Ready Or Not, a proudly R-rated cat-and-mouse chase with gruesome delights and a wicked sense of playfulness. Opening with a shot of a grinning devil, the film lives up to its initial pledge by delivering some deliciously demented setpieces on top of a story about the burden of tradition and the ties that bind. With its tongue thoroughly in cheek for all of its 91 minute runtime, it reminded me of similarly salty horror peers like The Cabin in the Woods and especially the excellent You’re Next, which it sometimes mirrors to an uncomfortable degree.

Samara Weaving stars as Grace, a young bride-to-be smitten with the good-natured and attentive Alex (Mark O’Brien). It just so happens his obscenely wealthy family made their fortune by creating games of all sorts through the generations — as Alex cheekily puts it, they’re a “gaming dominion” — so Grace only thinks it’s slightly odd that they want to play a game of hide-and-seek on their wedding night. Little does she know, Alex’s family turns out to be a very serious set of players, which becomes obvious as they mount crossbows and shotguns in their pursuit of the hiding Grace.

There’s Daniel (Adam Brody), Alex’s hard-drinking brother who puts up a sardonic front but seems to have a soft spot for certain members of the family. That includes their sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), who pops just the right combination of pills to remain alert for the evening. Their parents Tony (Henry Czerny) and Becky (Andre MacDowell) seem perfectly coiffed for the wedding but devolve into two entirely different people as the night of madness and mayhem marches on. And then there’s Helene (Nicky Guadagni), the stone-faced matriarch whose every line of dialogue drips with sarcasm (“you continue to exist,” she greets someone at one point.)

Weaving, who made the most of a ditsy role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and also shined in Netflix’s horror comedy The Babysitter, proves to be a excellent scream queen. As a fearless and foul-mouthed “final girl” on the run from one deranged family member to another, she brings plenty of relatability and raw power to her breakout performance. I also appreciated Czerny playing against type as the seemingly calm and composed head of the house who gradually loses his cool in tremendous fashion.

The directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett commit to creative choices that pay off more often than they don’t. The dimly-lit castle-like setting, adorn with affluent accoutrements like massive buck mantles and even larger paintings, is perfect for the sadistic chase at the film’s core. The cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz makes use of the popular “shaky cam” technique, which works fine for tense tracking shots but makes much less sense for more foundational shots like one of Grace standing under a doorway. If you’re in the mood for a gory and gregarious dark comedy, then Ready Or Not may be perfect for your next game night.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Don’t Let Go, starring David Oyelowo and Storm Reid, follows a father who is heartbroken by his family’s death but soon gets a call from his niece, who is somehow two weeks in the past.
Opening at Cinema Center is The Nightingale, which tells the story of a young convict seeking revenge for a horrible act of violence perpetrated against her family.
Also playing at Cinema Center is Mike Wallace Is Here, a documentary about the titular American journalist who was a host of CBS’ 60 Minutes for 50 years.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Midsommar

Writer/director Ari Aster follows up his terrifying feature debut Hereditary with Midsommar, another grim and disturbing tale that will no doubt leave audiences reeling once again. While both are horror films that feature female protagonists struggling to cope with loss and grief, the narrative structures and thematic ambitions of the two vary drastically. The experience of watching these movies feels different as well: where Hereditary is more of an immediate shock to the system, Midsommar lingers in the pit of one’s stomach for days (and possibly weeks) after the fact.

Florence Pugh stars as Dani, a college student who seeks refuge in her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) after a family tragedy claims the lives of both her sister and her parents. In an attempt to heal their relationship, Christian invites Dani on a summer trip to rural Sweden with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter). Guided by Christian’s Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the group attends a midsummer celebration with the ancestral commune in Pelle’s home village but it doesn’t take long before the rituals performed there take an unexpectedly sinister turn.

Aster returns with all of the formal rigor that made his first feature an instant classic of the genre. Starting with claustrophobic close-ups on Dani’s anxiety-ridden face, he gradually pulls the camera back to transition into the sweeping wide shots that detail the creepy commune. Pawel Pogorzelski’s hypnotic and woozy cinematography gives the impression that the camera is as sun-poisoned as the characters on-screen. The sound design is detailed and dynamic, using Dani’s labored breathing at points in the film to ratchet up the tension while also bringing us closer to the main character in the process.

Unfortunately, Aster’s control behind the camera isn’t fully reciprocated in his undercooked and somewhat disheveled screenplay. Working from a folk horror premise not dissimilar from The Wicker Man (the original or the Nic Cage remake, if you like) or last year’s Apostle, he implements a few arbitrary sub-plots that distract from the main narrative at hand while leaving out crucial details of the central storyline as well. Additionally, the attempts at foreshadowing feel clumsier and more telegraphed in comparison to the setups that Aster interspersed in his Hereditary script. It all leads to a conclusion that is disappointingly predicable on a surface level but is loaded with resonant subtext and unforgettable imagery that leaves the film on a remarkable high note.

Bringing these final moments home is Pugh, whose stellar, emotionally-wrought performance is as crucial to the success of this movie as Toni Collette’s was for Hereditary. As a wounded soul flailing helplessly in a toxic relationship, Pugh gives Dani an astonishing range of joy and pain upon which to paint her emotional journey and eventual catharsis. The rest of the cast, the majority of whom are adorn with eerily clean white linens and even eerier smiles, set the oppressively ominous tone quite nicely. Midsommar is a sun-drenched symphony of sadness that solidifies Ari Aster as one of the strongest voices working in horror cinema today.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Lion King, starring Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, is yet another remake from the Disney Renaissance era about a young lion prince who takes over the throne after his father is murdered.
The Art of Self-Defense, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, follows a mild-mannered accountant who takes a vigorous interest in karate after being attacked by a motorcycle gang.
Opening at Cinema Center is Wild Rose, starring Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters, tells the story of a musician from Glasgow who moves to Nashville to become a country singer.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Toy Story 4

The toys are back in town one last time for Toy Story 4, a superfluous but satisfying sequel to the seemingly conclusive Toy Story 3 from 9 years ago. As someone who wasn’t quite as taken with that third entry as others seemed to be, I was relatively open to another Toy Story adventure while still acknowledging that this could just be another excuse for Pixar to return to their cash cow once more. While this latest film does reincorporate many of the themes from the previous entries, it mines enough fresh ideas from its collection of new characters to make it a worthwhile addition to the series.

We pick back up with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang, who are all now possessed by a kindergartner named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). On her first day at school, she unknowingly gives life to a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale) while merging a spork with pipe cleaners at craft time. When Bonnie and her family hit the road for family vacation, we’re introduced to new toys like the daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and the pullstring doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) while being reintroduced to Woody’s old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Opening with an exceptionally well-animated flashback that fills us in on Ms. Peep’s whereabouts, the film gets off to a bit of a slow start until Forky makes his first appearance. His character, a dilapidated creation who considers himself more trash than toy, is easily the most conceptually inspired and comedically gratifying of the entire film. The existential dilemma that drives the forlorn utensil to catapult himself into the waste basket time and time again is darkly humorous while adding some unexpected philosophical weight to boot. Although the context is different, Woody’s mission in this film mirrors that of the first Toy Story: convincing a toy that they’re actually a toy.

Once the family packs up the RV and heads out of town, most of the action takes place inside the Second Chance Antiques shop, where Gabby Gabby resides with her creepy ventriloquist dummy henchmen. The chase sequences that take place in the store are nothing new to this series but the setting, filled with cobweb-drenched corridors pierced by smatterings of sunlight, is stunningly detailed and hauntingly beautiful in a completely original manner. A brief moment between Bo Peep and Woody as they behold the light from a chandelier display features a caliber of animation that Pixar only could have dreamed of when Toy Story first premiered 24 years ago.

While this is the best-looking chapter in the franchise, I would consider it the funniest as well, thanks to a clever script from Stephany Folsom and Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton. It’s also no surprise given that comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele lend their voices this time around. A scene in which their two plush toy characters talk through a series of extraordinarily amateurish plans to obtain a door key might be one of the funniest gags I’ve seen all year. Toy Story 4 may be one trip to the toy chest too many for some but those who are open to another glimpse of this pint-sized world will be rewarded for their curiosity.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Annabelle Comes Home, starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, is another entry in the Conjuring series and third film about the titular creepy doll who returns to wreak havoc on a new family.
Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, centers around a young musician who wakes up from an accident and finds that the rest of the world is unaware of The Beatles’ existence.
The Dead Don’t Die, starring Bill Murray and Adam Driver, brings together an all-star cast for a horror comedy about a small town that becomes the target of a zombie invasion.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

After a five year hiatus, everyone’s favorite giant lizard monster has returned in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third and best film so far in Legendary’s ever-expanding MonsterVerse. While 2014’s Godzilla did have some stunning imagery and a final battle worthy of its namesake, it spun its wheels far too long with character development that goes nowhere and a lifeless plot that lurches along like a slug. If Godzilla resembles something of a responsible big brother, then this sequel is undoubtedly the more impulsive and hyper-active little brother by relation. In most cases, I could see myself aligning with the former but when it comes to monster movies, it seems I fall in line with the latter.

The story revolves once again around the shadowy organization Monarch, where Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has created a device known as Orca that can keep Titan creatures like Godzilla at bay. The Orca is summarily stolen by eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), who plans to use the device to summon the ominous Monster Zero from its Antarctic prison and “restore balance” to the Earth’s natural order. It’s up to Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) and his estranged daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) to team up with Godzilla to stop the fearsome Monster Zero and the other Titans that it conjures in its wake.

Director Michael Dougherty, the mind behind campy cult classics like Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, is a near-perfect fit for this particular installment. Where Godzilla director Gareth Edwards waited an hour to show us Godzilla in full and then a half an hour after that to show him in a proper battle, Dougherty wastes no time getting the monster melee underway. He knows exactly what kind of a movie he’s making and it’s clear that he’s having a blast doing so. His exuberance for the material and passion for the existing Godzilla franchise was infectious even for someone like me who is typically on the fence for this genre.

Like its predecessor, King of the Monsters sports a stellar cast that tackles their admittedly one-dimensional roles with admirable aplomb. It’s no secret that the human characters in these creature features are typically underserved to make way for their mammoth computer-generated counterparts. However, if that trade-off allows for more time to spend with Godzilla as he dukes it out with likes the pterodactyl-like Rodan and the three-headed hydra Ghidorah, then I deem it a necessary sacrifice. The silly and sometimes incomprehensible storyline is hung with just enough character motivation to give context to these splendid and transcendent battles.

It’s easy enough to recommend watching a larger-than-life film like this in the IMAX format for the enhanced picture but more often than not, I’m recommending IMAX these days for its enhanced sound quality. This is a perfect example of a blockbuster using its immaculate sound design to make otherworldly noises sonically convincing. It’s not just enough to hear Godzilla roar; you truly do need to feel it to get the maximum effect. Fueled by old-fashioned movie magic, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a step in the right direction for a series that I hope will continue to embrace the joyously campy aspects at its foundation.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Dark Phoenix, starring Sophie Turner and James McAvoy, is the latest film in the X-Men series concerning the transformation of Jean Grey into the powerful mutant Phoenix after a mission goes awry.
The Secret Life of Pets 2, starring Patton Oswalt and Eric Stonestreet, follows up the highly successful animated comedy about a misfit band of animals who go on adventures together in the big city.
Late Night, starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, tells the tale of a late-night talk show host who teams up with a new writer on staff to try and turn the show around in the face of falling ratings.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Avengers: Endgame

The Marvel Cinematic Universe makes room for another gargantuan blockbuster in Avengers: Endgame, a rousing and rewarding conclusion to a 22-film saga that began with Iron Man in 2008. After the universe-shattering events of last year’s Infinity War, audiences have been waiting with bated breath for a resolution to one of the biggest cliffhangers in film history and thankfully, the payoff is quite satisfying. As one may expect from the culmination of a decade-long superhero series, it showcases both the best and worst aspects of what these Marvel films have to offer and does so on a scale hitherto undreamt of.

Without going into the details of the plot, it’s enough to say that the narrative of Endgame is incredibly complex and requires more than a passing knowledge of these characters and their backstories. As this is the case, casual moviegoers may find it to be a demanding experience at times and even though I’ve seen every film in this series at least once, there were a few occasions that I scrambled to recall previous storylines for context. This sprawling franchise has always been about investment, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that fans who have spent more time in this Universe will be rewarded accordingly for their efforts.

A marked improvement that Endgame makes in relation to its predecessor is its more deliberate structure in the form of a traditional three act framework that clearly spells out the ever-changing conflict. Too often Infinity War embodied the negative connotations of its title by feeling like an endless melee replete with wall-to-wall action and character introductions at a breakneck pace. While this sequel is similarly crowded and somehow packs even more of the Marvel mythology in its daunting 181 minute runtime, it feels more focused and purposeful, especially at the outset, than its chaotic and unwieldy forerunner.

The script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is more intentionally self-reflexive, and occasionally self-indulgent, than any of the other screenplays from the MCU canon. A common criticism for these films is that they effectively serve as commercials for more Marvel adventures to come, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much Endgame chooses to ruminate on the past rather than tantalize with the future. Returning from Infinity War, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have completed a cinematic one-two punch of monumental proportions that may not be attempted again for quite some time.

With quite a few Marvel films under their belts at this point, it would be easy for MCU veterans like Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson to coast along when reprising their iconic roles but the caliber of acting across the board is worthy of this film’s lofty ambitions. Chris Evans stands out of an incredibly stacked cast, giving a career-best performance once again as Steve Rogers that adds even more emotional resonance to the foundation laid from previous Captain America films. As the centerpoint of a cultural phenomenon that is still in progress, Avengers: Endgame is a love letter dedicated to the fans who have waited 11 years for catharsis and closure.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
UglyDolls, starring Kelly Clarkson and Nick Jonas, is an animated adventure based on the popular line of plush toys in which the residents of Uglyville travel to the town of Perfection.
Long Shot, starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, tracks the unlikely relationship between an unemployed journalist and his childhood love interest, who is now the acting US Secretary of State.
The Intruder, starring Dennis Quaid and Meagan Good, is a psychological thriller about a young married couple settling into their new dream home and deranged previous owner who is set on getting it back.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup