Size-shifting antics and side-splitting laughter abound in Marvel Studios’ new comedy action film Ant-Man and the Wasp.
A sequel to 2015’s fun and funny Ant-Man, this new film picks up after the super hero showdown in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War where we last saw Scott Lang/Ant-Man (again played by Paul Rudd). Lang, who is now on house arrest after his Civil War stint using the height-altering Ant-Man suit, reunites with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) after certain events lead them to believe that Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is still alive somewhere in the sub-atomic “Quantum Realm” where she’s been missing for decades. Pym works on a new way to get into the Quantum Realm and, as teased at the end of the first Ant-Man film, creates an updated super suit for Hope (with wings!), making her The Wasp just like her mother was all those years ago.
It turns out that other people (shockingly) are also interested in the tech that Hank Pym, Hope, and Scott are working on. Pym’s former S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) and a spooky personage known as “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) have some mysterious and questionable motives. Also to the disadvantage of our heroes is an overzealous Federal agent (Randall Park) who is determined to bust Scott Lang at violating his house arrest.
The film is like candy–really fun to watch and easy to digest, even if it perhaps lacks much substance. The cast, most of which were in the original film, are back along for the ride and are all great, particularly scene stealers Michael Peña as Lang’s ex-con buddy Luis and Abby Ryder Fortson as Lang’s adorable daughter Cassie. The special effects are also silly fun as buildings, people, and different objects galore–everything from cars to buildings to a PEZ dispenser–change size to accommodate the needs of our heroes.
Peyton Reed is back in the director’s seat and he does another terrific job with this sequel. And even though we’d still all love to see Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man (Wright left the first film after creative differences with the Marvel Studios team), Reed delivers a film that is again so quick, clever, and wacky, that I think it holds up on its own (and Reed’s own) merits.
It goes without saying, but make sure to stay through the end credits, too.
Hopefully, you’ve all had the chance to see Pixar Animation Studios‘ latest animated wonderment Incredibles 2. And, hopefully, you’ve had a chance to see that it’s absolutely killing it at the U.S. box office, too. I had the chance to see both the original film, The Incredibles (2004) and its newly released sequel at a special IMAX and Pixar sponsored screening last week and it was movie-going bliss for this animation fan.
Writer and director Brad Bird and his talented team at Pixar created a total home run when The Incredibles hit theaters in the summer of 2004. Witty, thought-provoking, action-packed, and beautifully animated, the film about a family with superpowers delivered in a big way.
Now, 14 years later, the Parr family is back right literally where the first film left off with the family taking on the super villain the Underminer, who is attacking their city of Municiberg. After the fight with the Underminer doesn’t go exactly as planned and the superheroes (aka “supers”) have to go back into their undercover mode again, Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible, voiced again by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr (aka Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible, voiced again by Holly Hunter), and their superhero buddy Lucius Best (aka Frozone, and also voiced again by Samuel “F-ing” L. Jackson) meet up with billionaire businessman Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn Deavor (voiced by Catherine Keener) who have an interesting proposal to bring the supers back into the limelight.
Family dynamics are front and center as Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible goes back to work, leaving Mr. Incredible home to take care of the kids. Terrific humor and incredible action scenes abound as Elastigirl uncovers a dastardly plot while Mr. Incredible has to deal with his kids’ relationships, homework, and superpowers. Nothing is stupid here and no gender is better than the other–it’s really just a great story about a family figuring things out and working together.
While the sequel can’t capture the perfection of the first film (what can?), writer/director Brad Bird and team still deliver a wonderfully solid film with a compelling storyline, brilliant animation, and emotions and situations that ring, well, incredibly true. Watch The Incredibles again on Blu-ray or streaming and then go see Incredibles 2 in theaters and have a great time at the movies.
P.S. There’s a scene with absolutely knock-out animation that uses lighting effects that mimic a strobe light. This warning was prominently placed at multiple places throughout the multiplex where I saw Incredibles 2 again over the weekend. The animation in that sequence is stunning and it’s unfortunate if it’s causing problems for anyone.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a gangster/action movie hybrid that is just pure, unadulterated fun.
The second of Lucasfilm’s “anthology” series of films set in the Star Wars universe but not part of the saga’s episodic storyline (2016’s Rogue One was the first one of these anthology films), Solo is an origin story of sorts, recounting adventures in the early years of the life of the smuggler Han Solo.
The daunting task of playing the beloved character iconically established in the series by actor Harrison Ford goes to Alden Ehrenreich and he does a terrific job in not only emulating Harrison Ford, but in making the character all his own. Check out this clip when Harrison Ford recently crashed in on one of Alden Ehrenreich’s press interviews:
Han’s co-pilot and BFF Chewbacca is also, thankfully, in the pic and is played again by the extremely tall Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo (follow Joonas on Twitter to see some hilarious pics of him overshadowing, well, most everybody). Also returning for this origin story is gambler and playboy Lando Calrissian brilliantly played by the brilliant Donald Glover.
The film has a slew of new characters, too–both digitally created and real. In the digital category is Lando’s sidekick robot L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and an alien pilot named Rio Durant, voiced by Jon Favreau.
In the real category, the main cast is filled out with some very cool actors, including Woody Harrelson as Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett, Thandie Newton as Beckett’s partner in crime Val, Emilia Clarke as the femme fatale Qi’ra (pronounced “Kira”), and Paul Bettany as crime lord Dryden Vos.
The film is set in between Star Wars – Episode III : Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope (sorry about the timeline error in my original post). At the beginning, we meet a young Han Solo who is trapped in a horrible work camp on the planet of Corellia. He decides to break out and join the evil Galactic Empire so he can become a pilot (and for that reason alone; he hasn’t jumped teams, he’s just looking out for himself). While as a soldier in the Empire, he teams up with criminals Beckett, Val, and Rio on a smuggling mission which then sets his course into becoming the Han Solo that we know and love.
As mentioned previously, the film really is a glorious combo of a gangster movie (some are calling it a Western, and that works, too) along with a deliriously entertaining action movie. The action scenes truly are breathtaking (just wait for the infamous Kessel Run as mentioned in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope). And the film’s plot is both clever and comfortable, staying interesting while also staying firmly planted within the Star Wars mythology. Kudos are in order to the great Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan who wrote the terrific script.
Director Ron Howard, who was brought on the film late into the process after the film’s original directors were fired due to creative differences, delivers a home run. While it’s unclear to those of us outside of Lucasfilm what scenes were reshot after Howard took over the director’s chair, he was still able to deliver a supremely entertaining and very Star Wars-feeling summer movie (and he brought the movie in on time, too, which I think was a Herculean feat). And it goes without saying that all technical aspects of the film are absolutely marvelous, thanks to the technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic, a group that I hope we will never take for granted.
Overall, Solo is an extremely entertaining romp through the Star Wars universe. It’s so much fun to have new big screen experiences like this in the galaxy far, far away. Get some popcorn and a soft drink of your choice and go have a wonderful time at the movies.
This review is spoiler-free–I promise. #ThanosDemandsYourSilence
The screen is crowded and the stakes are high for all (well, most) of our favorite “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) superheroes in Marvel Studios’ ambitious and engaging superhero mashup Avengers: Infinity War.
Avengers: Infinity War is a culmination of a series of character arcs, themes, and storylines that have been going on for the past decade from the prolific and talented folks at Marvel Studios. It’s taken 10 years and 18 films to get us to this point, but with Avengers: Infinity War, we finally get to truly meet the big baddie who’s been pulling the strings and wreaking havoc on Earth and elsewhere in Marvel Studios’ carefully crafted and intertwined plot line–the mean purple people killer from outer space, Thanos (excellently voiced by Josh Brolin; pictured above).
Thanos has one goal–to kill half of the residents of Earth and every other planet. In order to complete his nefarious task, he needs the six “infinity stones”–each with their own color and power and most of which have been introduced at one point or another within the MCU films–placed within his Infinity Gauntlet glove which will make him powerful enough to get the job done. (Refer to this Time article for an infinity stones primer/recap.) While up until now Thanos has been relying on and manipulating others to collect the infinity stones for him, he’s finally had enough of waiting and is hell-bent on getting all of six stones himself, no matter the cost.
It’s going to take a lot to bring Thanos down, so thank goodness there are lots of Marvel superheroes throughout the MCU galaxy that are up to the task. Everybody from Iron Man (again played with great aplomb by Robert Downey Jr.) to Captain America (Chris Evans) to the-new-to-the-Avengers Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his “Guardians of the Galaxy” team are reunited and on-board to try to take out this dastardly and devastating villain wherever he may be in the universe.
The results are pretty great. What could have easily turned into a convoluted mess, with so many characters and plot lines converging into one massive film, is a successful and fun action picture of the first order. Watching the film feels like reading a comic book (and I mean that as a complement); the action is brisk, the dialogue is crisp and clever, and the pacing is rarely plodding and always purposeful. One of the big strengths of the MCU films is the cast and that continues–the actors are so appealing and the terrific banter between them is a big part of the continued enjoyment of the experience of the MCU series of films.
Kudos to Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (aka the Russo Brothers) who directed the film along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also successfully collaborated with the Russo Brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) who all had the unenviable task of putting together this massive and high-profile project. Hardcore MCU fans should hopefully feel rewarded by the choices made by the filmmakers. And while casual MCU fans might get a little confused with all of the characters and all of the mayhem happening on the screen, there’s still enough exposition that the film really should be a fun and entertaining ride for anyone and everyone who sees it.
One thing to keep in mind (and I don’t think this is a spoiler), but the Russo Brothers and team filmed this movie and another Avengers movie at the same time. Originally when announced, the films had the titles Avengers: Infinity War Part One and Part Two. Currently, this next film’s working title is Avengers: Untitled (title TBA) and it is scheduled to be released in May 2019. Just sayin’.
My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Prepare yourself for a truly wild ride with Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One. Based on the popular book by Ernest Cline (Cline also co-wrote the screenplay), this fantasy adventure film is a nostalgic trip into the action films of Spielberg’s past and a futuristic romp into the CGI-heavy filmmaking of today.
The story is set in a dystopian United States of America in the year 2045, where overcrowding, pollution, war, and disease have taken a significant toll on the country. A virtual reality game world known as the OASIS provides a welcome escape to people everywhere. In the OASIS, you can be anything and anyone (as long as you’ve got the credits and lives to keep yourself going, just like in any video game).
The OASIS was created by a Bill Gates-type figure named James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, a message is delivered to the world that he has concealed the ultimate “Easter egg” (a hidden message or inside joke) somewhere inside the expansive game and that the user who finds the egg will inherit his fortune and become full owner of the OASIS game world. Not only do gamers everywhere decide to try to locate the Easter egg (OASIS gamers looking for the egg are known as “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters”), a corporation named IOI (Innovative Online Industries), run by CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn), uses its tremendous resources and aggressively tries to get the egg as well in order to take control of the OASIS and gain a great competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Our hero, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), a teenage orphan who lives in a poverty stricken area of Columbus, Ohio and who spends much of his time in the OASIS to get a break from his difficult circumstances, decides to be a Gunter with the hopes of finding the egg and greatly improving his life. Known by the avatar “Parzival” in the game, Wade/Parzival enlists the help of his four main virtual friends in the OASIS, together known as the “High Five”: his best virtual friend “Aech” (we learn more about Aech in the movie), a teenage girl named Samantha, aka”Art3mis” (played by Olivia Cooke), and virtual brothers Toshiro Yoshiaki, aka “Daito” (Win Morisaki), and Akihide Karatsu, aka “Sho” (played by Phillip Zhao).
What follows is a non-stop pop culture extravaganza as these Gunters in the OASIS try to outwit the other gamers and IOI in order to keep advancing in the game to find Halliday’s egg. Anything goes with the gamers’ avatars and you will have a blast spotting all of the different movie, TV, comics, and video game references during the film’s scenes set in the OASIS. For example, more obvious references include Doc Brown’s famous DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies that Wade/Parzival drives during the car racing games and the Iron Giant replica that Aech is building to use in the game based from, well, Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic The Iron Giant.
Everything from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which is one of my favorite gags in this film) to Gundam is fair game here and used with wild and clever abandon. I’m sure there are plenty of references that I missed but, hopefully, will be picked up through subsequent viewings and from movie fans on the internet (The New York Times prepared an excellent primer here). There are also some great homages to other films as well, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and many others.
Steven Spielberg and his team have done an extremely impressive job with storytelling in this very entertaining live action/CGI film. While most of the action takes place inside the computer-generated OASIS, the film still feels like a Spielberg film. He again enlisted his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and both the live-action and CGI camera work is superb. The great soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is augmented by some fantastic 1980s pop songs which work perfectly in context of the film, too.
Probably what I appreciated most is that Spielberg used his deft and masterful touch in keeping the focus and tone of the film constant, entertaining, and fun, even with the incredible (and potentially overwhelming) amount of CGI present throughout. And the film never loses sight of the important truth that while virtual reality has its place, it’s actual reality that makes life worth living.
Disney’s most recent adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is an artistic, purposeful, and meaningful one (along with a few wrinkles here and there).
Based on the 1962 Newberry Award-winning fantasy young adult novel by American author Madeleine L’Engle, the film tells the story of Meg Murry (played by Storm Reid), a high-school aged girl who is unsure of her place in the world and who is still grieving the loss of her scientist father (played by Chris Pine) who has been missing for many years.
When Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace (played by Deric McCabe) introduces her to strange supernatural friends named Mrs. Whatsit (played by Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (played by Mindy Kaling), and, later, Mrs. Which (played by Oprah Winfrey), Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s school friend Calvin (played by Levi Miller) embark on a journey through time and space to rescue Meg’s father who is being held against his will on another planet by a nefarious, dark force.
This is the Walt Disney Studios’ second attempt at filming A Wrinkle in Time. A made-for-TV version was completed in 2003 and was pretty much DOA, showing once on ABC in 2004 and then being relegated to home video. When asked about what she thought about the adaptation, Madeline L’Engle said “I’ve glimpsed it…I expected it to be bad, and it is.”
Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) and screenwriter Jennifer Lee (writer and co-director of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen) took on an ambitious and challenging task in adapting again this beloved yet complicated book into a feature film. The results are mixed–the pacing is uneven, some of the characters’ motives don’t seem quite right (or at least not in line with logic and/or the source material), and the characters’ interactions with the excessive and sometimes sloppy CGI occasionally tipped the scales into confusing and/or ridiculous territory.
However, Ava DuVernay and her team have crafted overall a wonderful work of art. Each scene in the film had a very noticeable sense of intimacy, of artistry, and of care. Each costume, from Meg’s simple flannel shirt to Mrs. Which’s architecturally inspired hair styles, provided visual interest, uniqueness, and wonder. Each set and setting were created carefully and with skill and expertise. And the timeless themes of familial love, fighting darkness with light, being courageous, and being yourself are presented with honesty and with a deft touch.
While the filmmakers and others are calling this interpretation of A Wrinkle in Time a black girl-power movie, I think of it more as a kid-power movie–a film where all children can start thinking about the importance of using their brains to solve problems and of using their hearts to fight the darkness both within and without themselves.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
As an added bonus, check out this cool poster made for the film’s exclusive IMAX screenings.
Marvel Studios’ latest film Black Panther is a marvelously entertaining and engaging film that works on many levels–levels of plot, character development, symbolism, and meaning that make this more than your average superhero movie.
Created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther, first appeared as a Marvel comic book character in the 1960s in an issue of Fantastic Four. T’Challa comes from the fictional African country of Wakanda, home to an unusual substance called “vibranium” which has allowed the country to prosper in remarkable ways–so remarkable, that its leaders decide to keep the country’s very existence a secret from the rest of the world. T’Challa has some mad physical skills and abilities achieved through drinking a special “heart-shaped herb” exclusive to Wakanda; he also relies on his own hard work with his studies and physical training to take out his enemies and to protect his people.
Black Panther’s first appearance in a film within the current Marvel Studios’ “Cinematic Universe” was his memorable introduction in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (highly recommended viewing if you haven’t seen it). For this new film, the story picks up shortly where Captain America: Civil War left off: T’Challa/Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman) is grieving the death of his father, King T’Chaka (played by John Kani), who was tragically killed via the big baddie of Civil War, Zemo (played by Daniel Brühl). T’Challa returns home to hidden Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. However, trouble and intrigue lurk when T’Challa’s cousin Erik Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) decides to travel from America to Wakanda and make his move on the throne, too.
As T’Challa is about to face this serious threat, he is taking on the heavy burden of deciding the fate of his country–should Wakanda stay hidden to the world or should it share its abundant wealth and technological resources with other nations and, importantly, other Africans around the world to help them with their struggles and needs, too?
What follows is a genre swirl of a political and family drama, a high energy action film, and a Shakespearean tragedy that all work surprisingly well together. The script is so solid on every level. And the entire story is presented with unflinching honesty and generous humanity towards African history, racial strife, and many other challenges facing people around the world today.
Writer and director Ryan Coogler pulled together an incredible team both in front of and behind the camera. The cast is universally terrific. I was also taken with the stunning African-inspired art direction and production and costume designs. This letter penned by Ryan Coogler after the film’s record-breaking opening weekend has been making its way around social media this week.
“Wakanda Forever” is not only a battle cry, but an idea, a hope, and a prayer for a better future for all people of African descent, and, hopefully, for all mankind. Black Panther shows through its levels of excellent storytelling and filmmaking that the struggle is real, compassion and charity never fail us, and that a positive outlook on the future far outweighs carrying forward the sins of the past.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
As an added bonus, here’s a Black Panther poster I love by artist Kaz Oomori.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode of the Star Wars saga that began with George Lucas’ original film from 1977, hit theaters last week. The internet has been abuzz about the movie (to say the least; more on that at the end of the review). More importantly, the world has another Star Wars film to enjoy, dissect, and ponder upon. The fact that in 2017 we have yet another all-new Star Wars movie in theaters is a modern-day miracle which I definitely do not take for granted.
The new film begins right where 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Episode VII) left off. The evil First Order is still ruling the galaxy with an ever tighter grip, even after their Starkiller Base was destroyed by the Resistance fighters. Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) has been tasked by General Leia (in the late Carrie Fisher’s final time in the role) to go to the ancient Jedi temple on the planet of Ahch-To where her brother Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) has been in hiding for years to try to recruit him back into the fight and restore hope to the Resistance. As we saw in The Force Awakens, Rey arrives on the island, hands Luke his family lightsaber, and awaits for his response.
What follows is an unconventional, thought-provoking, emotional, surprising, and highly entertaining cinematic adventure. Writer and director Rian Johnson (and, clearly, the story group at Lucasfilm) made some bold and controversial choices for the film’s narrative and for all of Star Wars moving forward. And, frankly, as the stewards of the Star Wars universe, the choices were theirs to make.
First, the decision to portray Luke Skywalker as a broken, bitter man was an unorthodox one. Devastated that his nephew Ben Solo (played by Adam Driver) turned to the dark side of the Force while under his tutelage, Luke carries a burden that completely shuts him down. He retreats from the Force and from life, existing in a state of numbness. When Rey shows up and basically wakes him up out of his deeply depressive condition, Luke has some decisions to make. Should he return to his sister Leia’s side and to the Resistance? Should he train Rey in the ways of the Jedi? Or should he continue on his current path of nothingness?
It’s difficult to watch your fictional childhood heroes go through a painful, and very human-like, trial. Yet, by making Luke more human, he ultimately becomes more heroic. After Luke re-opens himself to the Force, his Jedi master Yoda (again voiced by Frank Oz, and in puppet form!) visits him as a Force ghost and, in his inimitable style, frees Luke of the burden he’s been carrying. The burning of the Jedi tree and library looked to me like a representation of the Resistance symbol and, more importantly, of a Phoenix rising.
Next, the “wars” part of Star Wars is in full force, so to speak, as the Resistance continues their losing battle against the First Order. After General Leia gets severely injured, Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern) takes her place. Hot-shot (and hot-headed) pilot Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) clashes with her on how to run things. When it’s discovered that the First Order can track the Resistance fleet through light speed, Poe secretly sends former stormtrooper Finn (played by John Boyega) and Rose Tico (played by Kelly Marie Tran) on a dangerous mission to disable the tracker.
This subplot with Finn and Rose was also an interesting decision. While some (myself included, initially) might view this as a waste of time and space, upon further reflection, I believe this part of the storyline was crucial in Finn’s character arc of figuring out how he fits in to the overall picture of the Resistance. It helps him solidify what he believes in and what’s he willing to sacrifice for it. When the mysterious DJ (played by Benicio Del Toro), a rogue that Finn and Rose meet on the casino planet Canto Bight, teaches Finn about the complications of war and how both sides are buying weapons and machinery from the same people, Finn’s eyes are opened and he is able to make a more informed decision about how he wants to live his life.
The most dynamic and interesting relationship in the film is between Ben Solo/Kylo Ren and Rey. Both characters are on parallel paths with different destinations. Kylo has chosen the path of the dark side of Force, while Rey continues to be a ray of light. When Supreme Leader Snoke (played in performance capture by Andy Serkis) uses the Force to bring the two of them together in multiple conversations and interactions during the course of the film, the chemistry between them is electric. The story effectively gives both characters the chance to switch alliances, so to speak, in a compelling way that furthers the storyline and shows what Rey and Kylo are truly made of. (And get ready for one of the coolest fight scenes in any Star Wars film when Rey and Kylo join forces for a moment to fight against Snoke’s Praetorian Guards.)
For me, The Last Jedi was a continual wonder. The plot and decisions were logical yet unpredictable. The production design, art direction, and all special effects were top notch. If I have a complaint, the runtime of The Last Jedi was perhaps just a bit too long.
About the internet backlash surrounding the film, the New York Times has a nice summary about what’s been going on. I’m sorry that something as marvelous and miraculous as a new Star Wars movie has made people so angry and sad. I mostly just wish that people could evaluate something on its own merits rather than putting their individual expectations on something that they had no input in creating. And I wish for civility and decency in all online communications from all sides and from all viewpoints (myself included).
Go see The Last Jedi on the biggest screen possible, leave your preconceived notions at the door, and enjoy the ride.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Bonus Posters! Here are three fantastic posters for Star Wars: The Last Jedi designed by Japanese artist Kaz Oomori for PosterPosse.com.