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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Avoiding Dogs in the Dog Days


Avoiding Dogs in the Dog Days by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

We enter the second half of summer, and the list of decent movies dwindles as studios and distributors gear up for the fall and winter awards season offerings.  Still there are some good ones, along with some that will arrive with much hype but little substance (Skyscraper).

Below, we've listed 19 movies by genre.  None will be to everyone's tastes, but sift through and you're sure to find a few to your liking.  Films are in bold and italicized, with best bets in ALL CAPS, preceded by their reputed release date--remember, some of the smaller films may come to a theater near you a week or two later than the date shown.


ACTION

07/13  Skyscraper - In this Die Hard/Towering Inferno mishmash, Dwayne Johnson leaps tall buildings, this time as a war vet with an amputated leg and a tough past. Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber.
  
07/20  Equalizer 2 - The main attraction to this revenge-porn flick is Denzel as Robert McCall, delivering very satisfying vigilante justice, but what if it's someone he loves? Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal.

07/27  MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT - All together now: Ethan and his IMF team race against time in a mission gone wrong.  Rebecca Ferguson is back, does the plot matter? Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg.


ANIMATED

07/13 Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation - Drac receives a vacation on a monster cruise so he doesn't have to serve others at his hotel.  Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi.

08/03  CHRISTOPHER ROBIN - Adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor) reunites with Pooh (Jim Cummings' voice) who helps him to enjoy simple pleasures.  Hayley Atwell; voices of Chris O'Dowd, Toby Jones, Brad Garrett..



COMEDY

07/13  SORRY TO BOTHER YOU - Sundance favorite, Telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) finds success using a "White voice," then things become absurd.. Tessa THompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Armie Hammer

07/20  EIGHTH GRADE - Bo Burnham story of a put-upon middle schooler toughing out the end of 8th grade before moving on to high school.

08/03  The Spy Who Dumped Me - Comedy, two best friends (Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon) become embroiled in international intrigue when one of the women discovers her former boyfriend was a spy.

08/10  BLACKkKLANSMAN - True story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who goes undercover to infiltrate the Colorado Ku Klux Klan.  John David Washington, Adam Driver

08/10  Dog Days - Various Los Angelenos' lives are changed as they are brought together through their mutual love of dogs.  Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria, Lauren Lapkus, Adam Pally, Finn Wolfhard

08/17  CRAZY RICH ASIANS - An Econ prof (Constance Wu) travels to her boyfriend's (Henry Golding) hometown of Singapore to find she is the target of an army of gold diggers who want her man.  Michelle Yeoh.


DRAMA

??/??  LEAVE NO TRACE - Debra Granik drama, a father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie), living off the grid outside of Portland, OR are pulled into urban social services and fight to get back to the wilderness.

07/13  DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT - Gus Van Sant dramedy/biopic, Joaquin Phoenix as a man using art to rehab from a life-changing accident.  Rooney Mara, Jonah Hill

07/20  BLINDSPOTTING - Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this dramedy about race and class clashing in a gentrified Oakland, CA.

08/03  THE WIFE -  A wife (Glenn Close) gives up her career aspirations to support her Nobel Laureate husband (Jonathan Pryce). Also, Elizabeth McGovern, Christian Slater.  Close finally scores an Oscar.


MUSICAL

07/20  Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again - Against our better judgment, we mention this, and we believe they had this sequel's name before they made the original. Meryl Streep, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried.


SCI-FI/FANTASY

08/03  The Darkest Minds -  Based on Alexandra Bracken's YA dystopian thriller, four teenage plague survivors develop strange skills and must escape bounty hunters. Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie.

08/10  The Meg - Guilty pleasure as Jason Statham pursues a shark that makes Jaws look like a minnow to save folks trapped in a submersible.  Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose.

08/31  Kin - Earthly and alien forces pursue an ex-con and brother, who are in possession of a strange weapon. James Franco Dennis Quaid, Zoe Kravitz, Carrie Coon.




Ant-Man and the Wasp


Ant-Man and the Wasp review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) gets a lot more right than it does wrong, and in Ant-Man and the Wasp it hits on all cylinders.  The third movie from the studios this year, it is also the most modest.  It isn't the mega-blockbuster that gives us a whole new nation and MCU's first person-of-color lead, nor is it a mega-superhero apocalypse.  But it is the first Marvel Studios movie with a female character in the title--Evangeline Lilly's "Wasp" AKA Hope Van Dyne--and it's arguably the funniest film in the canon, thanks to Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a regular guy and ex-con who is the most ill-suited superhero (thank goodness his "Ant-Man" suit sizes change at the push of a button).  Rudd also wrote the script, along with Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari.  The writers and Director Peyton Reed inject enough heart to keep the story grounded but not so much that it's schmaltzy, and they add just enough humor to enhance the strengths of a gifted array of actors, keeping the exposition and sciency talk light and palatable.

As the movie opens, Scott is still under house arrest for becoming one of "Cap's" outlaw allies in Captain America: Civil War, which also explains why Ant-Man is missing from Avengers: Infinity War.  Those exploits, unfortunately, also put Hope and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) on the run, but they are also on a mission.  Harking back to the first Ant-Man, when Scott entered the Quantum Realm and returned unscathed, father and daughter rekindled hope that Hope's mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) might still be alive after entering that subatomic realm some 20 years earlier.  Using Hank's size-changing technology, they stay on the move with a laboratory that can shrink to suitcase size, complete with travel handle and wheels.  As angry as they are at Scott, they find that they need him in their quest, an adventure Scott doesn't want with only three days remaining on his two-year house arrest.

With that set-up, a mind-boggling array of characters and subplots complicate matters: Scott wants desperately to be the father his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) deserves and to work together with ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a cop, to bring it off.  Speaking of cops, FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) makes a habit of surprise house checks, trying to catch Scott violating his house-arrest.  And, along with his former prison mate, Luis (Michael Pena), Scott is trying to get a security business off the ground with partners Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian).  Meanwhile, Hank and Hope purchase black market quantum technology from Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a profiteer who double-crosses them.  Hank solicits help from Dr. Bill Foster, (Laurence Fishburne), who left Hank's lab years ago under a shadow of suspicion.  And we haven't even gotten to the big villain yet--"Ghost"/Ava Green (Hannah John-Kamen), who wants Hank's Technology for her own ends.

There was a point, about one-third of the way in where we thought, there's too much going on; like a juggler with too many balls in the air.  But by the midway point, the tangents started connecting, and by the last act, everything fit nicely.  This is a credit to both Reed and the writers, who deftly intertwined all of the moving parts.  One of the smartest moves was one of the most original: having Scott and his family, including the man who took his place, be mutually supportive.  This convention-defying plot element gives Scott a stable base amid the chaos that surrounds him.  The writers do a marvelous job of setting Walton Goggins up to play the cheerfully verbose baddie he excels at.  Randall Park is equally effective as Scott's socially and emotionally conflicted watchdog.  It seems odd to mention comic relief in what is essentially already a comedy, but Michael Pena's manic enthusiasm, with T.I. and Dastmajian playing off of him, create a team that rivals the Marx Brothers for zany antics.  On the more serious side of the movie is our "villain": Hannah John-Kamen is electric.  We first saw her playing a terrorist in season 2 of The Tunnel, and she is a force on-screen.  Like Killmonger in Black Panther, Ghost has reasons for what she does, and we can sympathise, to an extent.  But it is Evangeline Lilly as Wasp/Hope, who steals the movie.  She has trained all her life, and when Hank lets her take wing (literally), she does so with passion and gusto.  Rounding out the cast with Douglas, Pfeiffer, and Fishburne, we are hard put to think of a better ensemble in the MCU.  See this one on the big screen for the full visual treat.
9.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale


  

Incredibles 2


Incredibles 2 review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

First, we have to mention the Pixar short, Bao, that preceded Incredibles 2.  It's the story of a Chinese mother coping with becoming an empty nester.  A tearjerker for parents and a giggler for kids; we are convinced it's going to win awards.  Everyone in the theater loved it, except Guy S. Malone, Researcher.  Needless to say, we think GSM,R needs to get out of the dungeon more, or stay in it more, we're not sure which.

The original Incredibles was released in 2004 to critical acclaim, huge box office, and awards recognition--it was nominated for four Oscars and won two, including "Best Animated Feature Film."  In other words, it produced the kind of results that would normally have inspired Hollywood to drop a dozen sequels, prequels, and spinoffs by now.  But here we are, a decade-and-a-half later, finally getting Incredibles 2.  It's a mystery of the faith.  Fortunately for us, the sequel is nearly as good as the first, and though the plot may lack originality, it more than makes up for that in striking at the heart of the zeitgeist.

Fourteen years later, and superheroes are still illegal, but writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) is about to change that, thanks to his imagination, a terrific cast of voice actors, some, erm, incredible, eye-popping animation, and a very cool jazz soundtrack.  He has brought back the Parr family: Bob "Mr. Incredible" (voiced by Craig. T. Nelson), Helen "Elastigirl" (Holly Hunter), and their kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huckleberry Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), and, yes, the Parrs' best friend, Lucius "Frozone" Best (Samuel L. Jackson).  Incredibles favorite Edna Mode (Brad Bird himself) returns, but her part is disappointingly small.

The reason our superheroes are not allowed to use their powers is, a la The Avengers, their crime-busting tends to wreak a lot of collateral damage on the town.  As they eke out a living in a seedy motor court, their ennui is broken when the Deavor siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk), salesman extraordinaire, and Evelyn (Catherine Keener), tech whiz, approach them with a proposition.  Great admirers of the Incredibles, the Deavors want to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves and all superheroes--specifically, they want to give Helen the opportunity.  When Bob protests, Winston points out that Mr. Incredible  is particularly destructive of municipal property; besides, as Evelyn points out: Girl Power.

So it is, Bob is to stay home with a sulking Violet and her boy problems, Dash and the challenges of learning new math ("Who can change math?" Bob grumps), and Jack-Jack, just as he begins to display an array of powers that would be the envy of an entire Avengers team.  The crime-busting is left to Helen, powered by a super motorcycle and a bodycam to record her derring-do.  A new, mysterious supervillain, "Screenslaver" and one or two plot twists challenge even the flexibility of Elastigirl.  Family, friends, foes, and a few new superheroes with impressive (some, hilarious) gifts join in on another riotous adventure, leading to a "Marvel"-ous conclusion.

Incredibles 2 is certain to be one of the enduring hits of the year.  As we expect from Disney, it is family-friendly.  Bird is a gifted storyteller; he realistically portrays family love and devotion, even as they drive each other a little nuts, especially as each deals with the double-edged sword of super powers.  He also supplies ample self-aware humor that will appeal to adults.  The animation is mesmerizing: Helen's first motorcycle chase delivers the exhilaration of a roller coaster, and other scenes bring almost overwhelming kaleidoscopic effects.  As is the case with all Bird films, Incredibles 2 is a treat for senses; perhaps our favorite aspect is returning collaborator Michael Giacchino's score, which both complements and enhances the film.
8.0 out of 10 on both Entertainment and Artistic Scales.


American Animals


American Animals review by FilmZ

A brief aside before we begin: This film had our very own Quincy Wagstaff Googling Transylvania University, hoping for Vlad Tepes references, but he realized to his disappointment that only Jefferson Davis, two Supreme Court justices, and a ton of statesmen count among its alums.  Also, after the film, Guy Malone, Researcher, hustled out the door, saying he had some business to conduct at the Franklin and Marshall College Library.  We haven't seen him since, hence my name on the review.

American Animals has nothing to do with any of that.  Documentary filmmaker Bart Layton wrote and directed this account of four college students who planned and executed (we use the term loosely) the heist of rare books from the Transylvania University Library.  It opens with the disclaimer: "This film is not based on a true story"--and then the words "not based on" are lifted from the sentence.  True to his original calling, Layton's story is a docudrama with a twist: as the film unfolds, the director cuts away from the story and to the actual robbers who annotate the events we are watching actors dramatize.  This gives the film layers that critics who disliked it seemed to miss.  But we'll get to that.

Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), a laconic teen from a solid upper middle class family is entering Transylvania (KY) University as an art major.  On Spencer's campus orientation tour, librarian Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd) takes his group into the rare book room and shows them an original edition of John James Audubon avian paintings.  The book, worth $12 million, is kept under a locked glass case, inside the secure room, all of which is under Ms. Gooch's close watch.  The seed of temptation is planted.  Spencer tells his best friend and loose wire Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), a disaffected jock from a disintegrating family.  Warren interprets this information as an invitation to join in on a daring heist. As much as Spencer denies he meant to suggest they steal the book, he isn't sure about that; either way, the idea takes hold, and as Warren's excitement builds, Spencer becomes swept up in it.

The conspirators watch heist movies, they draw up floor plans, Warren Googles how to pull off a robbery, and they even locate a "fence" on a trail that leads to New York and Amsterdam.  As they begin to develop fine points, Warren decides that they need two more men to pull off the heist: pensive accounting major Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and the aggressive, entitled Chas Allen (Blake Jenner).  But as the plan becomes more complex, their impatience leads them to go lax on details.  And what to do about Betty Jane Gooch? As heist films go, we are accustomed to slick jobs, performed with Swiss watch timing by experienced crooks, each with a particular set of skills.  This ain't those movies.  These are kids, amateurs feeling their way.  Juxtapose this film with the slick, high-budget Oceans 8 that we discussed a few weeks ago, and you have two opposites; in Oceans 8, the plan is pat and foolproof, and whenever a glitch arises coincidence and deus ex machina combine to ensure that everything falls into place.  The heist works, but the film doesn't because there is no sense of risk.

 Amplifying the sense of risk in American Animals are the aforementioned cutaways to the actual robbers, now in their 30s, and their parents. The real Spencer and Warren relate their own memories about how it all went down, and in some areas their recollections don't match, but we never get the sense that they are whitewashing their culpability.  Eric, perhaps more than the others, expresses a wistful sadness over his dashed dream of working with the FBI, and Chas just wonders how they could have been so stupid.  Layton captures their personalities, their reflections, and especially the introspection that Spencer expresses.  Most revealing is the conviction held by all four that they were raised to think they were destined to become something special and the dawning realization that, in order for it to become actualized they would have to make it happen. These documentary interludes are what makes the film work.  The men mention a line they were about to cross that would change their lives forever, no matter the result.  Before that line is crossed, they are fearful, seeing risk as well as reward, and the promise of reward wins out.  After crossing that line, we see regret.  As our own Captain HE put it, "It was a gut check on our moral compass ... a forensic examination of the psychology of morality [that] demands an introspective review of what keeps the majority on the 'right.'"

As you have probably guessed by now, things don't go well, or as Serfing Dude put it, "The execution of the caper by those students was how it would probably go if FilmZ and his merry band would have plotted to steal popcorn from the concession stand."  Keeping things from becoming too tragic are the layered performances by talented actors on the cusp of stardom, especially Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, American Horror Story), who captures Warren's manic charm and whose wry grin and glint in his eye give low-key enhancement to the films lighter moments,  Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk) is more nuanced, but equally effective as a pensive fatalist.  The always excellent Ann Dowd (Hereditary, The Handmaid's Tale, The Leftovers) is perfection as the, erm, dowdy, dutiful librarian.  This is one of those films people look back on in ten years and say, "Damn, all that talent in that cool little movie."  The entire gang enjoyed American Animals immensely; in the end, I agree with Don Swedanya's final grade:
8.0 out of 10 on both Entertainment and Artistic Scales.



 
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