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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on July 21, 2018 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)


“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” brings together a winning cast and a more than capable director to tell the story of a fascinating individual. Even if you’ve never heard of John Callahan, chances are you’ll recognize the signature style of his artwork. Personally, my first exposure to Callahan was through the early 2000s cartoon “Pelswick,” which also centered on a young man in a wheelchair. Of course, compared to the other projects with Callahan’s name on them, “Pelswick” was fairly tamed. In many respects, director Gus Van Sant’s film captures the spirit of the controversial cartoonist. In other respects, it leaves you wishing that the filmmakers had dug a little deeper.


Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan, who’s confined to a wheelchair following a drunken car accident. Although the ordeal leaves Callahan broken both physically and mentally, he’s slowly able to cope with this major life alteration through the help of a lovely physical therapist (Rooney Mara). Callahan has even greater demons to overcome, however, as he strives to quit drinking. He receives support from his hippie sponsor (Jonah Hill), but still struggles to let go of his anger. Callahan is especially resentful of his birth mother, who abandoned him as a child.


If there’s a reason to see the film, it’s Phoenix’s effective performance. Phoenix has had quite a year between “You Were Never Really Here” and now this. In both of these films, Phoenix masterfully walks a tightrope between utter despair and unlikely optimism. In this film, Callahan is able to find new meaning in his life by drawing sketches that wouldn’t seem that edgy today, but were quite taboo for the early 1970s. In the same vein of animator Ralph Bakshi, Callahan’s brand of black humor demonstrated that cartoons could appeal to an exclusively adult audience, pushing the envelope like never before.


As well-made as Van Sant’s film is, there are times when it feels like he needed more time in the editing room. While Callahan’s battle with alcoholism is handled with respect, these scenes start to meander after a while and just become repetitive. The film’s bloated length of almost two hours would’ve been more acceptable if Van Sant had instead dedicated a little more time to some of the supporting characters who come and go, most notably Jack Black as the man responsible for Callahan’s accident. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity pertains to the politically incorrect nature Callahan’s cartoons. Although it’s established that Callahan had his critics, the subplot feels underdeveloped and doesn’t really get to the meat of the controversy. Visually, it also would’ve been welcome if Van Sant had played around with Callahan’s art a bit more, perhaps by transitioning between animation and live-action to explore the artist’s psyche.


While not without its shortcomings, the film ultimately understands what Callahan stood for. Despite all the tragedy in his life, Callahan was able to channel that pain into something creative. By finding the humor in his own misfortune, his work showed us that we can still smile even during the darkest of times. In a way, this is the message “Patch Adams” tried and failed to get across twenty years ago. Coincidentally, the late Robin Williams was actually the one who originally optioned the book this movie was based on. It might not go as far as you might want, but there is enough here for the film to stand on its own.


Grade: 3 out of 5 Stars

Blindspotting - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on July 20, 2018 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)



In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve gotten numerous films that’ve touched upon police brutality and prejudice. Few are as unique as “Blindspotting,” however. That’s largely because much of Carlos López Estrada’s film is unusually laidback and even lighthearted, playing out like a buddy comedy. This makes it all the more effective when instances of violence and discrimination inevitably sneak up on our characters. It demonstrates how a normal day can suddenly escalate into the worst of your life. Rather than constantly bombarding the audience over the head with obvious political commentary, the film takes the time to develop its characters, making the experiences all the more identifiable. The result is like “Clerks” meets “Crash” with a hint of “Do the Right Thing.”


Daveed Diggs has been popping up everywhere since his Tony-winning turn in “Hamilton.” He gives his best onscreen performance here as Collin, an African American convict only three days away from being off probation. Part of what makes Collin such an interesting protagonist is that he’s not a wrongfully accused man who falls victim to a corrupt system. Collin committed a serious crime and acknowledges that he needs to make some serious life changes. Of course this proves difficult since he’s constantly influenced by his best friend to make hotheaded discussions.


Rafael Casal gives a hilarious and powerful performance as Miles, Collin’s life-long best friend. Miles is even more prone to irrational behavior than Collin. Since he’s white, though, Miles only risks getting arrested where Collin fears he may be shot on sight by a trigger-happy cop. This becomes especially apparent when Collin witnesses an act of racial profiling that ends in tragedy. Although this shocking moment plays a crucial role in the film, it’s not the sole focus. Unable to do anything, Collin goes about his usual routine, trying to stay out of trouble with freedom just around the corner. Yet, that night never leaves Collin, no matter how hard he tries to shove the memory of the incident into his blindspot.


The highlight of the movie is the dynamic between Collin and Miles. Diggs and Casal couldn’t feel more natural together, which is probably because they both co-wrote the screenplay and have also been friends since childhood. “Blindspotting” isn’t just an exploration of racism in 21st century America, but also a fascinating study of friendship. Chances are we’ve all had a friend like Miles. He’s the kind of guy who’ll always have your back, but half of the time he’s the one who got you into trouble in the first place. On one hand, Collin and Miles are two peas in a pod who work off one another wonderfully. On the other hand, Collin has outgrown Miles in some respects and would arguably be much better off without him. It’s the kind of complicated friendship we rarely see take center stage and the dialog between these two never hits a false note.


“Blindspotting” is a film that constantly takes its audience to unexpected places. It starts off by catching you off-guard with its surprising sense of humor. Then it continues to play with expectations as our characters are overcome with moments of sheer dread. It all builds to a literally poetic climax that’ll have you on pins and needles with every breath the characters take. I won’t dare spoil the ending here, but let’s just say it perfectly fits the tone of this funny, provocative, and honest entertainment.


Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Skyscraper - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on July 11, 2018 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (1)



Through a critical lens, “Skyscraper” is admittedly an insanely dumb movie. The premise is ripped off from countless other action and disaster flicks, most notably “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno.” The story is only slightly less preposterous as Dwayne Johnson’s last two films, “Rampage” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” It’s also probably not a coincidence that the film is set in China, given the country’s prominent impact on worldwide box office. For the record, the film was actually largely shot in Vancouver. As silly as it might be, though, sometimes a summer blockbuster can get by on charm alone. There’s a good kind of stupid and a bad kind of stupid. Much like the recent “Fast & Furious” movies, “Skyscraper” fortunately falls into the latter category.


Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who loses his leg in an explosion. Considering that he was standing right in front of the bomb when it went off, it’s rather miraculous that he didn’t sustain any other major injuries. Then again, this is the Rock we’re talking about. He can survive virtually anything, which Sawyer proves time after time when his family gets caught in a burning building. This isn’t any ordinary skyscraper. It’s an architectural behemoth complete with technological innovations. To make matters even more complicated, the skyscraper is being stormed by terrorists who wish to retrieve a literal plot device from the building’s owner (Chin Han). As the fire rages on, Sawyer must literally go to great lengths to rescue his family.


Johnson is of course perfectly suited for this over-the-top material. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, Johnson doesn’t take this ludicrous plot too seriously, but still appears invested every step of the way. Speaking of which, the fact that Sawyer only has one leg doesn’t hold him back in the slightest as he leaps from massive cranes and outruns the authorities. It’s debatable whether this makes the film more ridiculous or more empowering to individuals with disabilities. Either way, Johnson is clearly having a ball and we can’t help but go along for the ride. That being said, it’s a good thing Sawyer didn’t lose either of his arms because he spends a large portion of this movie hanging off of ledges.


The supporting cast ain’t half bad either. As Sawyer’s wife, Neve Campbell manages to overcome the damsel in distress architype, often coming up with clever solutions to protect her children and herself. The villains, while fairly stock, are a lot of fun too. Roland Møller fits the bill as the leader of the terrorists and Hannah Quinlivan is worthy of a spinoff as his Asian henchwoman. Of course, the best performance in the film doesn’t come any of the actors, but the skyscraper itself.


The titular building, which is known as The Pearl, easily could’ve had a very generic look. Production designer Jim Bissell took it to the next level, however, giving us a setting that’s always visually interesting, both inside and out. The fact that the building is technologically advanced also makes leeway for a lot of inventive action sequences, most notably a house of mirrors set piece. It’s scenes like this that demonstrate the real effort and creativity that went into this project, despite not having the most elegantly written script to work with. The setup might’ve set the bar pretty low, but the filmmakers ultimately managed to rise above it and take the thrills to new heights.


Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

The First Purge - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on July 4, 2018 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (1)


It might sound crazy, but “The Purge” movies have become usually relevant in today’s unpredictable political climate. They’re still preposterous and could never happen in real life, but the idea of all crime being legalized for 12 hours seems more probable today than it did five years ago. That being said, “The Purge” still hasn’t aged especially well, at least on a storytelling level. While the sequels made an effort to build upon the original’s intriguing premise and answer some of the gaping plot holes, none of these movies ever quite reached their full potential. The same can be said about “The First Purge,” which tries to work in some more timely political messages, but ultimately comes off as too safe, too familiar, and too on the nose.


In what’s arguably the most unnecessary prequel since “Solo,” this film explores the origins of the Purge. Before it was a national holiday, the Purge was a sociological experiment restrained to Staten Island. The story primarily centers on a couple low-income families, as well as a gang leader with a heart of gold. They have little interest in actually purging, but decide to participate in the experiment in exchange for $5,000. Isn’t that a little low even for people on welfare and food stamps? While there are a few psychopaths who come out to play, most of the murderers are actually missionaries who have been hired by a big bad politician to make sure the Purge is a success.


“The First Purge,” or “The Fourth One” as I like to call it, isn’t without welcome commentary. The movie addresses everything from social class hierarchy to the Black Lives Matter movement. Unlike “Get Out,” however, the filmmakers don’t tackle these serious issues from a unique or thought-provoking perspective. It’s just by the numbers political subtext. Somewhere in there, there’s a really clever, relevant horror flick trying to emerge. Instead, it plays out like the “Captain Planet” episode that attempted to address gang violence. The intentions are noble, but you need smarter storytellers to pull this off.


Politics aside, the biggest problem with “The First Purge” is that it’s kind of dull. The idea of crime being temporarily legal is such a fascinating premise, but this franchise never takes advantage of all the crazy possibilities. Rather than pushing the envelope, the film settles for a lot of cheap jump scares and obvious symbolism. The action largely feels recycled from the previous outings with masked men senselessly running around with guns and knives. Everything else appears to have been ripped off from superior movies like “The Warriors” and “Die Hard.” In the end, it’s another wasted opportunity, as well as a waste of Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei.


It’s a shame that none of “The Purge” movies are entirely successful because there truly is a fun setup at the core of the franchise. With each passing entry, you can’t help but go in hoping that this will be the one that gets it right. “The First Purge” is another letdown, though, and in many respects a step backwards for a series that’s never set the bar too high. Maybe it’s about time another filmmaker borrowed this premise and reworked it as a dark comedy. Actually, “Rick and Morty” already did that so just go watch their “Purge” episode.


Grade: 2 out of 5 Stars 

Leave No Trace - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on June 26, 2018 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)



From “The Hurt Locker,” to “American Sniper,” to “Thank You for Your Service,” we’ve gotten a lot of recent films that explore the side effects of war. “Leave No Trace” is one of the most unique movies to tackle such subject matter. The film has no footage of military combat. Actually, virtually any acts of violence whatsoever take place off-screen. The main character is never even depicted wearing a uniform and his experiences overseas are left mostly ambiguous. At first, many audience members likely won’t pick up on the subtle hints that our protagonist is a veteran suffering from PTSD. It’s this understated approach that makes “Leave No Trace” one of the best movies of its kind, though.


The film centers on Ben Foster’s Will and Thomasin McKenzie’s Tom, a father and daughter eternally camping in the woods. The opening scenes are largely clouded in mystery as we try to wrap our heads around their unusual living situation. Did aliens invade earth like in “A Quiet Place?” Did Will take parenting advice from the dad in “Captain Fantastic?” Is Meryl Streep about to pop out singing “Stay with Me?” The circumstances start to become clear after Will and Tom are discovered by the cops. Unable to return to their camp, the two are put up in a house via social services. It doesn’t take long for Tom to adjust to this change, getting along well with her new neighbors. While Will makes an effort, he simply can’t integrate himself back into society after enduring such trauma.


Foster has been doing reliable work as a character actor for well over two decades. Where he was previously seen as a wild card of sorts in “Hell or High Water,” Foster gives a low-key performance here that strikes just the right note. Like numerous other veterans, Will often appears cool and collected on the surface, but is overcome with pain and paranoia underneath. After everything he’s been through, this man is only able to find comfort in solitude. The fact that Will is responsible for his daughter’s well-being greatly complicates matters, though.


McKenzie delvers a powerful breakthrough performance as Tom, who loves her father and is willing to follow him wherever he goes. Once Tom gets a taste of a normal life, however, she may never able to go back to living in a tent. It would’ve been easy to depict Will as an abusive, manipulative parent who forces is beliefs on his child. While Will’s parenting techniques are indeed unethical, he’s also an understanding dad who wants his daughter to be happy. Since they’re unable to stay on the same course, though, Will may have no choice but to let Tom go. As unconventional as their condition might be, the audience doesn’t doubt Will and Tom’s rapport for a second.


Director/co-writer Debra Granik previously brought us “Winter’s Bone,” which was draped in dreary snow. In “Leave No Trace,” Granik submerges the audience in a green, springtime setting that’s beautiful while also being isolating, which perfectly fits the film’s tone. While the premise is certainly heavy-handed, the film merits a PG rating with no sex or bad language. This is a surprisingly inclusive drama that can appeal to wide range of ages. If you come from a military family or know somebody who’s gone through a similar ordeal, it’s definitely a must-see.


Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars 


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on June 20, 2018 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)


The original “Jurassic Park” was such an exciting, quotable, and rewatchable blockbuster that it would’ve been crazy for Universal not to build a franchise around it. After the disappointments of “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III,” however, it seemed like there wasn’t much left to do with this franchise outside of milking it for every cent. Then over a decade after the franchise was seemingly extinct, “Jurassic World” came along and not only made a butt-load of cash, but also evolved the original’s premise. It was the best “Jurassic Park” sequel by a wide margin, bringing the series into modern times. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” attempts to build upon its processor, but Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s script sadly comes off as half-baked.


Bryce Dallas Howard is back as Claire, who’s still trying to correct the mistakes of Jurassic World by preserving the dinosaurs that were left behind on the island. With a volcano about to erupt, though, it looks like the prehistoric beasts are about to become extinct yet again. Claire finds a wealthy benefactor in Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who works for John Hammond’s former colleague Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Mills claims that he wants to rescue the surviving dinosaurs and give them a habitat far away from humankind. Chris Pratt’s Owen decides to join Claire on this rescue mission in hopes of reuniting with the raptor Blue, the true love of his life. It turns out this was all a setup, however, as Mills is actually planning on auctioning off the dinosaurs for money, money, money!


Herein lies the biggest problem with “Fallen Kingdom:” why do we need human bad guys? When you have a T-Rex and a volcano about to explode, what’s the point of throwing in a bunch of wormy, forgettable human villains who just make one colossal mistake after another? Granted, even the original “Jurassic Park” technically had human antagonists, but the filmmakers were smart enough to remove them from the equation half-way in. Here, we’re stuck with Mills for most of the run-time and he’s not nearly as memorable as Dennis Nedry. The villains simply slow down every scene they’re in when all we really want to see is badass dinosaurs doing their thing.


That being said, when “Fallen Kingdom” keeps the focus on the dinosaurs, it’s a pretty fun ride. Director J. A. Bayona, whose made some genuinely thrilling films like “A Monster Calls” and “The Orphanage,” brings his signature visual flair to the film, which features some jaw-dropping cinematography and effects. The best set piece by far takes place on Isla Nublar as our heroes dodge a dinosaur stampede and volcanic doom. It would appear nothing can stop Chris Pratt in his tracks… except for Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet. Bayona plays his best hand too early in the film, however, as nothing that follows even comes close to topping this stunning action sequence.


Above all else, “Fallen Kingdom” just doesn’t seem sure what it wants to say. There’s clearly an animal rights message somewhere in there, but it gets lost considering that the dinosaurs cause so much destruction and we’d probably be better off letting nature take its course. Speaking of which, our heroes are constantly preaching that we shouldn’t interfere with the dinosaurs, but that’s what they’re constantly doing and often making things worse in due course. There’s also a mystery surrounding a little girl played by promising newcomer Isabella Sermon, but the big reveal fails to go anywhere. She’s not the only one who comes off as underutilized, as Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm briefly returns merely to spout a couple lines for the trailer.


As disappointing as this “Jurassic World” follow-up is in parts, it does offer some intriguing ideas, particularly in the final act. It’s too bad these ideas weren’t introduced earlier in the film, but they do have me interested to see where this franchise will go in its next inevitable outing. With a more fleshed-out screenplay, there’s true potential for another stellar action adventure. For now, though, “Fallen Kingdom” feels more like a stepping stone to better things to come. If only it had spent more time in the incubator.


Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Ocean's 8 - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on June 8, 2018 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)


Your enjoyment of “Ocean’s 8” will entirely rely on how much your you liked Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” trilogy. If you couldn’t get enough of the previous three films and have been yearning for more, you can bet on having a good time here. If you’re officially Ocean-end out, this sequel/soft revival probably won’t offer many surprises. While safe and fairly by-the-numbers, it’s still a well-executed heist comedy with enough star-power and glitz to keep the target audience entertained. Anybody who’s onboard going into the theater will get what they paid for, no more, no less.


Sandra Bullocks takes the reins of the franchise as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s equally crafty sister. Following a five year prison sentence, Debbie plans to pull off the biggest heist of her life at the Met Gala. Anne Hathaway is an MVP here as a self-centered celebrity named Daphne Kluger, who will be wearing a $150 million necklace to the ceremony. Of course Debbie can’t pull off this job alone. Her eccentric crew consists of Cate Blanchett as her right-hand woman, Helena Bonham Carter as a struggling fashion designer, Mindy Kaling as a quirky jewelry maker, Awkwafina as a sketchy pickpocket, Rihanna as the world’s most gorgeous hacker, and Sarah Paulson as a housewife who comes out of retirement for one last job.

 

While this “Ocean’s” film has been classified as an all-female reboot, the leads aren’t written as stereotypical woman. Most of these characters just as easily could’ve been played by a man, but the presence of these eight charismatic actresses brings something refreshing to the equation. The entire ensemble shines and everyone works off one another wonderfully. Although Soderbergh didn’t return to direct this outing, Gary Ross captures the same slick style and cheeky tone. The heist itself is a creative one and leaves the audience guessing how exactly these people are going to get those diamonds off Hathaway’s neck.


What the film lacks is a compelling villain. From Andy Garcia to Al Pacino, this franchise has attracted some pretty cunning baddies. Here, however, there’s not really anyone for the audience to root against and the character who comes the closest to being an antagonist is completely forgettable. It briefly looks like James Corden might shake things up as an insurance agent, but he’s sadly underutilized. As a result, our heroes seem to have the upper hand from the start and there isn’t really a sense of dread.

 

In spite of its shortcomings, “Ocean’s 8” ultimately compensates with its capable cast and Ross’ confident direction. While it isn’t the franchise’s best outing, it does provide a solid launching point for a new era. It would’ve been nice if the filmmakers took more chances, but that’s what we have sequels for. It’d actually be fun to see the series continue with “Ocean’s 9” and “Ocean’s 10,” bringing things full circle... just like an O.


Grade: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars 

First Reformed - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on May 24, 2018 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Over four decades ago, Paul Schrader forever changed cinema when he wrote “Taxi Driver.” While Martin Scorsese’s direction often soaks up most of the credit, Schrader deserves just as much recognition for crafting one of the 20th century’s most gripping character studies. “First Reformed,” which Schrader both wrote and directed, has the essence of a modern “Taxi Driver” with a touch of "The Last Temptation of Christ." It’s not as good as those films and chances are it won’t leave behind the same impact. Schrader’s film evokes many of the same feelings, however, taking the audience on an unsettling, understated, and uncompromising journey they won’t soon forget.


Ethan Hawke delivers one of his most powerful performances as Toller, a former military chaplain whose son died in war. Being the one who convinced his son to join the armed forces, Toller is already riddled with guilt and grief over his death. Although he’s clearly suffering from a fatal ailment, he’s reluctant to seek medical help. Toller has for the most part cut himself off from having meaningful relationships, only occasionally speaking to a fellow pastor (Cedric the Entertainer) and a well-meaning yet nosy choir conductor named Esther (Victoria Hill). This man of the Lord only becomes more conflicted as he grows closer to a pregnant woman named Mary, beautifully played by Amanda Seyfried. She asks Toller to council her paranoid husband, who’s convinced that the environment is beyond repair. Unfortunately, Toller not only fails her husband, but also slowly comes to believe that mankind has doomed the world God gave us.


Environmentally conscious films tend to range from well-intentioned to unbearably self-righteous. “First Reformed” isn’t without its preachy moments and can at times be a bit too on the nose, especially when it comes to tackling big corporations. More often than not, though, the film avoids the clichés you might expect. This isn’t a movie that tries to provide an easy solution to a global problem. Rather, it’s about a man desperately searching for answers, but finding nothing but uncertainty around every corner.


Like Travis Bickle, Toller simply wants to fit into something greater. The more he struggles to find a purpose, though, Toller starts to take extreme measures in hopes of fixing a timely issue. A more straightforward film would’ve just made Toller a one-dimensional martyr. Instead, he emerges an incredibly complex protagonist. You could argue that he’s a Christ-like figure willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good, but he could also be seen as a deeply troubled individual on the verge of committing suicide.


In terms of style, Schrader keeps things subtle and intimate with a tight aspect ratio. The film isn’t without its surreal moments that catch the audience off-guard, however, most notably a psychedelic flying sequence reminiscent of “The Big Lebowski.” The ending in particular is going to have a lot of people scratching their heads. With nothing spelled out and a slow pace, “First Reformed” admittedly isn’t for everyone. For those familiar with Schrader’s work, though, you’ll definitely walk away with something to think about.


Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


Solo: A Star Wars Story - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on May 17, 2018 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)



There have been amazing “Star Wars” movies like “The Empire Strikes Back,” awful “Star Wars” movies like “The Phantom Menace,” and even divisive “Star Wars” movies like “The Last Jedi.” Now we get “Solo,” the first “Star Wars” movie that’s just… fine. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a thoroughly assuming adventure that’ll keep die-hard fans and casual viewers entertained, although the experience probably won’t stick with them like any of the of the previous entries. Considering that the film’s production had so much going against it, most notably director Ron Howard taking over for Chris Miller and Phil Lord, it’s comforting to see everything come together with mostly positive results. Since this is “Star Wars,” though, you’d think that the film would spark more passionate feelings, be they good, bad, or mixed.


The film naturally provides an origin story for young Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich, who wishes to become the galaxy’s greatest pilot and reconnect with his old girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). On his road to becoming an unlikely hero, Han of course crosses paths with a Wookiee named Chewbacca and a charming scoundrel named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). He’s also taken under the wing of a Long John Silver-like smuggler known as Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Beckett signs Han up for a job that’ll make them all wealthy, although the odds aren’t exactly in their favor.


Han Solo is such an iconic character that it’s impossible to separate him from Harrison Ford. That being said, Ehrenreich does about as well as any young actor possibly could in the role. It’s been reported that Ehrenreich was required to take acting lessons well into filming at the request of Lucasfilm. This had many fans worried, recalling the scene from “Hail, Caesar!” where Ehrenreich’s character is miscast in a comedy of manners. Fortunately, Ehrenreich ultimately pulls off a believable performance, successfully mimicking Ford’s voice and body language. While it can feel like an impression at times, Ehrenreich wins us over with his charm and charisma. The same can be said about Donald Glover, who’s the next best thing right after Billy Dee Williams. In other words, this isn’t another Hayden Christensen situation.


The rest of the cast is well-suited for their roles too. Harrelson is a likable con man, Clarke is an alluring dame, and Paul Bettany is a menacing gangster. There’s also Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, a droid activist who wonders why her kind can’t be served at every cantina. It would’ve been nice if the film provided more commentary on machine prejudice in this universe, but perhaps that’ll be another “Star Wars Story.” The action, while nothing mind-blowing, is keenly executed and the visuals are nothing short of stunning. The film isn’t without pacing issues, especially in the final act where we get multiple climaxes. There’s also a surprise cameo that’s admittedly pretty cool, although adds little to the plot. As far as space westerns go, however, “Solo” is a solid piece of work, even if it really didn’t need to exist.


Han Solo is undeniably one of the greatest characters in the history of cinema. After the original “Star Wars” trilogy and “The Force Awakens,” though, it feels like everything has already been said about him. This film does nothing to diminish Han Solo’s legacy. On the contrary, it’s true to the character’s spirit from beginning to end. The film just doesn’t add anything new to the character, or the “Star Wars” mythology for that matter. Considering that “The Last Jedi” left the masses split down the middle, it makes sense that “Solo” would be safer, but it’s hard to get really invested in a story where you can predict everything that’s going to happen. In a nutshell, if you want a “Star Wars” picture that takes risk, this isn’t the picture you’re looking for. If you’re in the mood for a brisk, lighthearted romp in a galaxy far, far away, however, “Solo” is satisfying, albeit a bit scruffy-looking.


Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Stars 

Deadpool 2 - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on May 15, 2018 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)


In an oversaturated superhero movie market, the original “Deadpool” stood out with its self-aware sense of humor and unapologetic R-rating. “Deadpool 2” is essentially more of the same. That’s not at all a bad thing, as the film ultimately delivers exactly what we want: more over-the-top violence, more gratuitous swearing, and Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth. On one hand, it’s kind of disappointing that “Deadpool 2” doesn’t up the ante, but it’s hard to imagine how a sequel like this could possibly be as fresh as its game-changing predecessor. It’s still a most entertaining second chapter with enough memorable moments to warrant the price of admission.


Reynolds is better than ever as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, who acknowledges upfront that the Oscar-nominated “Logan” is a tough act to follow. Similar to Wolverine’s relationship with X-23, this film follows Deadpool as he takes a temperamental mutant named Firefist (Julian Dennison) under his wing. Firefirst lands in hot water, however, when he’s targeted by mutant solider from the future named Cable, played by Josh Brolin. To protect his little buddy, Deadpool forms a new team called X-Force, which includes Zazie Beetz as the lucky Domino, Terry Crew as the not-so-lucky Bedlam, and Rob Delaney as the powerless Peter.


While you’ll go to the theater to see Deadpool himself, Reynolds fortunately doesn’t have to carry the movie on his own. Deadpool has a terrific ensemble to support him and his interactions with everyone, from Stefan Kapičić’s Colossus to Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead, are a delight to watch. Brolin also further proves that he can do little wrong with his debut as Cable. Funny to think that Brolin dominated the MCU as Thanos only a couple weeks ago and now he’s in another Marvel movie. And yes, Deadpool doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at this.

 

As you would expect, “Deadpool 2” is full of hilarious comic book and movie references, most notably taking shots at the DC Extended Universe. There are even some obscure references you never would’ve expected to see in an “X-Men film,” such as the parallels between “Frozen” and “Yentl.” Although the jokes mostly hit bullseyes, “Deadpool 2” admittedly slows down whenever it tries to be a real superhero movie. You don’t care that much about Deadpool’s growth as a person and the story is nothing new. As a matter of fact, the plot here would be a pretty basic rehash of “The Terminator” or “Looper” if it weren’t for the humor. Unlike “Kick-Ass 2,” though, this film fortunately doesn’t forget that it’s supposed to be a comedy above all else.


For all the moments that drag, “Deadpool 2” always has an inspired gag or an inventive action set piece waiting around the corner. Even if it’s not as good as the original, it’s sure to be enjoyed by anyone who likes Deadpool. It also has what might be the greatest end credits sequence in the history of film. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that it makes up for the sins of the past while opening the door for a potentially interesting future. With that said, bring on the “X-Force” movie!


Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars

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