Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Adam Sandler and his Animated Gang of Monsters Return for a Third Go-Around that is Wholesome Fun if not Exactly Innovative.

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

This Superior Sequel to Ant-Man's 2015 Debut is Funnier, More Inventive, and as Silly and Well-Balanced as any of its MCU Counterparts.

Skyscraper Review

While About as Deep as a Birdbath, Skyscraper Engages with the Characters just Enough for the Ride to be Worth the Trip..

Incredibles 2 Review

Director Brad Bird and the Entire Cast of the Original 2004 Film Return for a 14-Year-Later Sequel that May not be as Insightful as the Original, but is Equally as Fun.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

J.A. Bayona Takes Over for Colin Trevorrow in this More Ambitious Sequel, but as it Attempts More it also Fails Somewhat Majestically in doing so.

SKYSCRAPER Review

So, you know Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? Of course you do. Remember his movie from three months ago? Rampage? The one about The Rock stopping a giant gorilla from destroying Chicago? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t (that could be due either to the fact you didn’t see it or because it’s pretty forgettable, but I digress). Regardless one of the news stories that broke around the time of that movie’s release was the fact Johnson had the screenwriters re-write the climax of the film that had the genetically modified George die. The way this was re-written was that George instead faked his death so as to play a trick on Johnson’s character. Classic, huh? Johnson wanted this done so that the audience wouldn’t go home on a dour note as they came to the movies and to that type of movie especially to enjoy light-hearted entertainment and not to see a CGI gorilla die. Well, that same guy who mandated the monkey didn’t die in his last movie opens his new movie with a flashback scene that features a suicide bomber blowing himself up and murdering his own wife and kids along with him so, happy movie-going! If you consider this a spoiler, I apologize, but this plot point isn’t brought up to spoil, but rather to open up the conversation about how from the word go Skyscraper essentially misses the mark it should have been shooting for the whole time. Why did it need to begin in this fashion? How was that decision going to be justified? I kept asking myself these questions as the film continued to march on even though in the first few expository scenes following that opening it became very clear as to why Johnson’s character was witness to and injured in the murder/suicide spurred by a father that included the unnecessary deaths of his wife and two young children-one boy and one girl. The movie quickly jumps forward a decade and establishes that Johnson’s Will Sawyer has since married the surgeon that saved his life that fateful night, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and that they’ve had a set of twins together-one boy and one girl. It is clear Sawyer will once again come face to face with the same predicament he faced in the opening sequence and will have to once again choose his actions very carefully in a scenario that could just as easily swing in one direction as it could another. I get it and I think most movie-goers who see more than three movies a year or have at least seen an action movie in their lifetime will get it, but the foreshadowing isn’t the issue as in all actuality the script, from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence), is especially symmetrical and pays off each of its set-ups quite nicely. More, the issue with opening your supposed summer popcorn movie among summer popcorn movies with such a scene is the tone it implies and the precedent it sets for the rest of your movie. Due to this decision, Skyscraper never recovers from being this bleak and bloody actioner with an unnecessarily high body count when all it really had to be was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stopping a giant fire from destroying his family as well as the world’s newest and tallest building.

First Trailer for GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN

Sony Pictures has released the first trailer for their follow-up to 2015's Goosebumps which saw Jack Black star as author R.L. Stine in what was ultimately a unique and surprisingly fun take on the children's book series that had seemingly played out long ago. This is the movie that kind of kick-started Black's current run of stealing the show in more family-friendly fare (here's to hoping The House with a Clock in Its Walls doesn't disappoint), but he is nowhere to be seen in this trailer for the sequel subtitled Haunted Halloween. Sony has released this trailer the week that their third Hotel Transylvania movie is dropping in theaters, so it's safe to bet this knows what audience it is playing to and if this official trailer suggests anything it's that this follow-up will be even more kid-friendly and more in the vein of something that might air on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon than in the multiplexes. That is to say, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween looks a little cheap and rather corny with some especially bad writing if the jokes that were chosen to be highlighted here are any indication. It's a shame Sony wasn't patient enough to at least wait on Black's schedule to open up as it is his character's ideas that are the catalyst for any action that will take place in this series of movies universe if not Dylan Minnette's (13 Reasons Why) and Odeya Rush's (Lady Bird) undoubtedly now much busier schedules. Unfortunately, Haunted Halloween doesn't even sport the same director as the original film as Rob Letterman dropped out in the course of production and was replaced by Ari Sandel who is fine enough despite his last feature, Netflix's When We First Met, failing to live up to the wit and heart of his debut, The DUFF. Needless to say, Haunted Halloween boasts a brand-new human cast that includes Madison Iseman (who played Black's real world counterpart in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), as well as IT's Jeremy Ray Taylor. Like the first film, Haunted Halloween combines elements from Stine's actual Goosebumps novels with an all-new plot, this time written by Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit). The sequel picks up in the small town of Wardenclyffe, where Slappy the ventriloquist dummy is resurrected and sets out to unleash the apocalypse on Halloween night. Sarah (Iseman), her brother Sonny (Taylor), and Sonny's best friend Sam (Caleel Harris) somehow wind-up on an adventure to stop Slappy and save the day. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween also stars Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and opens on October 12th, 2018.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP Review

I heard a bug hit the windshield on my way home from the theater after seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp and genuinely felt bad about it. If that tells you anything about how well this movie will hit you. That isn't to say this superior sequel to 2015's Ant-Man is something of an emotional roller coaster that evokes real sympathy for characters that get minor in the most minor of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, but in some ways...it kind of does. In its earnest portrayal of these characters we come to easily invest in each of their plight's largely (isn't that ironic?) because they are dealing in stakes that are so personal and thus small when compared to that of the end of the world. Is it kind of ingenious? Yeah, a little bit considering Doctor Strange goes to another dimension to stop a blob called Dormammu from engulfing the earth and all things considered that should terrify me far more than if Paul Rudd's Scott Lang survives his last few days under house arrest, but it didn't and I would rather watch Ant-Man and the Wasp a hundred times over than sit through Doctor Strange again. The best part of that? Doctor Strange isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, Strange is simply a generic and forgettable one in the scheme of the last decade of MCU films whereas director Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) and writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, as well as Rudd himself lend their movie a more memorable signature by allowing it to indulge in its inherent goofiness while simultaneously proving this isn't as cheesy an affair as it has to be. I mean, the basis of a super hero being a super hero because he shrinks down to the size of an insect and can then communicate with said insect is a premise wholly owed to whatever drug-induced haze Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby were in at the time (1962 to be exact) which isn't a bold claim considering Lee's cameo here hints at how crazy the sixties were, but the fact is despite their powers being corny and their abilities being used more so for their own agendas than maybe any other heroes in the MCU Reed is still able to execute and exhibit these technologies and the capabilities they enable in ways that are effective and dare I say it...even kind of cool. There are less than a handful of big action sequences here, but that doesn't matter because everything about Ant-Man and the Wasp is enjoyable, but more each of those few action sequences are crafted in ways where it feels every facet of who these characters are and the world they exist within is being utilized in creative and fun ways. This kind of passion for the material also assists with the level of compassion we, the audience, feels toward the characters and thus the level of investment we pledge to what is admittedly a less vital piece of the MCU puzzle. That Ant-Man and the Wasp challenges this precedent set by the first film is enough to solidify its worthiness among the ranks as well as its quality outside of them.

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO Review

Denis Villeneuve Stefano Sollima is not, but that doesn't mean the Italian-born director can't make an entertaining if not necessarily worthy follow-up to Villeneuve's 2015 thriller. To be fair, my memories may serve a bias against any Sicario sequel not directed by Villeneuve or one that doesn't include Emily Blunt's Kate Macer as it was the first film I saw at my first ever Toronto International Film Festival. That said, I haven't re-visited that now first film since it was released on Blu-ray and so, while I remember being overcome by the tension of the piece and the fact its ideas were more prominent than its story it would seem my actual memory of the film as opposed to my fondness for the experience surrounding the film is something that shouldn't allow me to hold that film in as high regard as I did going into this sequel. Day of the Soldado or what should have simply been titled "Soldado" is what might be referred to as a "fine enough" follow-up in that it does the best it can with the tools it was handed in order to create such a follow-up. Where Sicario was an examination of the complexities of these people who were trapped in a world convoluted beyond their ability to be able to rectify it as everything around them only continued to spin in vicious circles this sequel struggles to find anything to add to this statement. With Soldado, Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River) returned to pen the screenplay, but it seems he didn't have much more to say as Soldado more or less addresses the same themes and ideas as its predecessor while exploring them through the (much different) perspective of Benicio Del Toro's Alejandro who was an intentionally vague supporting character the first time around. Granted, Del Toro's performance as Alejandro was one of the most distinctive and memorable factors of that first film to the point the attention is not only warranted, but desired to a certain extent. And though Sheridan's script along with Sollima's direction and Dariusz Wolski's cinematography (though it's hard to beat Roger Deakins) all contribute to delivering an entertaining and tension-filled actioner the main issue is the shifting of perspectives as doing so makes these men who were once shrouded in mystery and their moral compasses all the more unclear less so and therefore nowhere near as interesting. It might also be that given the real-world environment Soldado has been released into that a movie with such content should be required to not be as careless with the complicated Mexico/U.S. relationship, but Soldado is ultimately too generic to leave any lasting scars.

New Trailer for THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, despite being a straight-up kids movie with a release date in the dead of September, is one of my most anticipated of the fall if not of the entire year. Why you might ask? Well, first there is Jack Black who has done well to understand the current phase of his career and with last year's Jumanji sequel as well as Goosebumps he is kind of establishing himself as the guy that will be fondly remembered by the tweens and younger teens of the current generation for being the funny dude in all of their favorite movies-that is, if this turns out to be as good as it promises to be. Better even, when those same kids get older, they can go back and discover even more of Black's rather impressive collection of work. Second, this is a kids movie with Cate freakin' Blanchett in it. Now, I know Blanchett has been doing a more commercially viable popcorn work lately with the last Thor film and Ocean's 8, but it seems it would take a really great script or idea or whatever it is at the heart of this story that is based on John Bellairs' 1973 novel of the same name to entice her into doing something explicitly for the children. That said, the actress looks as if she is having a great time with this role as she gets to play a witch who lives next door to Black's Warlock as he introduces his young nephew (Daddy's Home alum Owen Vaccaro) to a world of magic and sorcery. Third, and this is more a point of curiosity than intrigue, is the fact Eli Roth is directing. Yes, that would be the Eli Roth who made Cabin Fever and Hostel and who starred in Inglorious Basterds, but who hasn't had a hit movie since maybe The Green Inferno (maybe? It barely made it's $5 million budget back, but it created a fair amount of conversation at the time). All of that taken into account, it will be interesting to see how the guy who's already re-made Death Wish earlier this year fares with full-on kids material. My hope is that with his sensibilities, if they were well-balanced, he was able to keep the film appropriately scary while injecting an underlying quality of sincere terror. The point being, I'm always down for a movie aimed at kids that looks as if it could become a Halloween staple and this certainly seems to have all the ingredients to create such a favorite. The House with a Clock in Its Walls also stars Kyle MacLachlan, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Vanessa Anne Williams, Sunny Suljic, and opens on September 21st, 2018.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Review

Come what may, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a curious middle chapter that will likely be remembered more for its curiosities than its contributions to the overall arc of this new trilogy. What will allow the World trilogy to always have an upper hand over that of the will-always-be-superior original and its two less than successful follow-ups is that of the coherency this new set of films will seemingly possess and thus is what initially makes Fallen Kingdom so intriguing. Intriguing in a morbid curiosity kind of way as the first act of the film would have one believe it was something of a task to bring together our protagonists from the first film. Bryce Dallas Howard's no longer high-heel wearing Claire Dearing has become a voice for the dinosaurs left abandoned on Isla Nublar as a volcano is set to erupt at any moment threatening another extinction-level event. Convenient, right? Well, as it turns out this is not only an opportunity for writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow to move the action off of the island (a good thing), but it also creates inspiration for Claire to reach out to now ex-boyfriend and "raptor wrangler" Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) so that they may reunite in an effort to rescue as many dinos from the island as they can. Is it necessary that Owen be brought back into the action? Not entirely and Fallen Kingdom does Pratt's character no favors by giving him little to do other than become a human super hero who in turn becomes more of a dinosaur whisperer than a trainer that is also doomed to repeat the romantic beats of the first film with Claire, but to not have the star of the first film return would feel weird as well. It makes sense to a degree, but this contradiction of sorts in need versus obligation is symbolic of what seems will come to define the shortcomings of this new trilogy as well. Owen is a fun and charismatic character that functioned well for the plot of the first film, but who is only called on to be fun and charming in this sequel despite the function of his character within the plot being largely pointless (though this wouldn't be as glaring if there were more depth to the character). The movies themselves are breezily enjoyable and often times massively entertaining, but the plots on which they function will seemingly only feel more and more strained the further they push this. In essence, other than for financial reasons is there a story worth telling that justifies the existence of more of these movies? The moral dilemma of should man do something simply because it is capable has been obliterated as yet another genetically engineered dino is at the heart of Fallen Kingdom with this film moving more into should these dinosaurs be regarded in the same way as other endangered species despite being created in a lab. Much in the same way Owen is charming and fun to have around even if his presence is mostly unnecessary Fallen Kingdom only brings up said points to try and validate its existence without ever exploring them enough to make this movie feel necessary.

First Trailer for CREED II Starring Michael B. Jordan

There is both much to be excited and much to be pessimistic about when it comes to Creed II. This sequel to the 2015 Ryan Coogler-directed film that continued the story of former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa as he served as a trainer to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend Apollo Creed, is a sequel MGM and Warner Bros. wanted to move forward with despite Coogler's obligation to Marvel and Black Panther. That is the first point of concern as Coogler, who had made only one feature prior to Creed, the cutting Fruitvale Station (also starring Michael B. Jordan), is/was a voice on the rise and it was his touch that made Creed a vital part of the Balboa mythology rather than just another way to capitalize on a known brand. For the sequel, the studios brought in Steven Caple Jr. who has also only directed only a single feature thus far, but has a fair amount of TV work on his résumé including episodes of Grown-ish and the documentary miniseries, Rapture, about hip-hop's impact on global culture that is now available to stream on Netflix. I haven't seen any of Caple's previous work, but judging by the look and feel of this first trailer it seems the guy has a capable pair of hands that this franchise has thankfully been placed in. They say the greatest weapon in a director's arsenal is a strategically placed song and even if Caple had no input on the trailer itself the use of Kendrick Lamar‘s “DNA” is a perfect pairing that indicates what is hopefully the overall tone and style of the picture. The other aspect that is somewhat concerning is the fact Sylvester Stallone penned the script for this thing along with Luke Cage scribe Cheo Hodari Coker, but to what degree they collaborated is unknown. Yes, it's a nice thought the writer/director/star of the original Rocky film has such a heavy hand in continuing the arc of characters born out of his original franchise, but given the plot details we know thus far it seems reasonable to worry this might be a re-hash of what has come before rather than Jordan's Adonis and his family unit making the franchise their own. Then again, I did enjoy 2013's Homefront so what do I know? All of that said, this trailer is indeed pretty great and if the final film carries out the energy and drama hinted at here I can't imagine being disappointed in what Caple, Stallone, and Coker have cooked up. Creed II also stars Florian Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Andre Ward, Russell Hornsby, and opens November 21st, 2018.

INCREDIBLES 2 Review

It has been fourteen years since the Parr family, including Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), and their three children-Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and Jack Jack (Eli Fucile)-were introduced to audiences through the magic of Pixar and the imagination of writer/director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and arguably the best Mission: Impossible movie-Ghost Protocol). In those fourteen years since the first Incredibles film Pixar has steadily upped its output of sequels going from only a single sequel in Toy Story 2 as of 2004 to Incredibles 2 being the seventh Pixar sequel of some sort. Does this say anything about the studio outside of the fact they enjoy making money and are not immune to capitalizing on IP's the same way every other studio does? No, not really, but it does always feel like something of a missed opportunity when Pixar releases something that re-hashes a striking original rather than releasing what is hopefully another striking original. This is all to say that while The Incredibles always seemed like the most obvious choice for sequels, it was also a stand-alone film that didn't necessarily require any type of continuation. Thus bringing us to what is probably the most impressive thing about Bird's Incredibles 2 in that not only does the film seem to effortlessly pick up right where the original left off, but it validates itself thoroughly and makes its case that not only is its existence justified, but rather that the original needed this extension of the story to exist. And while this is impressive for obvious reasons it is the ideas the film dolls out as well as the engaging if rather complex without actually feeling convoluted premise that will earn Incredibles 2 this sterling reputation as a sequel that both earns its place alongside the original as well as one that improves upon it. Incredibles 2 will undoubtedly please the generation that grew up on it and are now entering their early twenties, but as someone who was among the Toy Story faithful, Pixar blossoming just before we did, I was getting ready to enter my senior year of high school when The Incredibles was released and feel no inherent connection to that original whatsoever. Due to this and the fact we live in a time where the market is saturated by super heroes it was genuinely surprising how much joy came from watching a family of super heroes strike a balance between feeding the machine and rebelling against it. Which, as Pixar sequels go, is par for the course.