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.

THE EQUALIZER II Review

Denzel Washington is sixty-three years-old and will be sixty-four this coming December. I can recall taking note of this fact when writing about the first Equalizer film when Washington was about to turn sixty and how impressive it seemed that the guy had no intentions of slowing down. In the interim between that 2014 film and what is the first sequel one of the world's most charismatic actors has agreed to be a part of, Mr. Washington has still shown no signs of slowing down. Since The Equalizer Washington has already paired with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) again prior to this latest entry with their remake of The Magnificent Seven which I found to be immensely entertaining as well as having adapted, starred in, and directed August Wilson's seminal piece of work in Fences for which he was shrouded in awards love. And again last year, the actor earned another Best Actor nomination for his work in Dan Gilroy's quirky, but largely effective Roman J. Israel, Esq. (which I probably liked more than you). The point being, each of these gave Washington the chance to continue to do what he loves as he flexed a different muscle in regard to each respective project, but the choice to return to the character of Robert McCall among every character Washington has played is a curious one. I enjoyed The Equalizer upon initial release and was happy to find it wasn't simply another case of an aging star attempting to cash in on the Liam Neeson-proven method of combining a once valuable name on the poster above a newfangled action-centric conflict. Of course, Washington was never relegated to being a star whose name ever lost any value. Denzel is Denzel and no matter what he does people typically turn out in fair enough numbers to justify his mid-range action projects and awards contenders. In fact, since 2009 (which accounts for Washington's last ten films), the star has never seen less than a $50 million lifetime gross with the exception of Israel last year with seven of those ten releases doing over $70 million worth of business during their theatrical runs. Denzel, the man, is typically all the brand recognition that is required and so it feels weird that Washington has been brought into this fold of sequels and franchises. Maybe it's just the first time someone has offered the actor a follow-up to one of his projects or maybe it's just a sign of the times. Whatever the case may be, The Equalizer 2 isn't exactly what one might hope for in a "first" from Denzel Washington, but more it plays into what the first did more to subvert in not being your by-the-numbers action flick as this sequel, with nowhere else to go, had no choice but to surrender to the trend.

Ten Years On: THE DARK KNIGHT

In July of 2008 I was a twenty-one year-old college student who'd just finished an extra semester at the local community college in order to up my GPA so that I might earn a transfer scholarship to the university I wanted to attend. It was at this university I would begin studying digital filmmaking and eventually come to discover my love of writing and passion for story. It's not hard to remember the first day of class in your first filmmaking class and that aroma that emitted a pungent combination of eagerness and anxiety. One of the first assignments our professor doled out was that of listing our top ten favorite films. Not necessarily what we thought were the best films of all time, but our current ten favorite movies that first sprung to mind. It was no surprise the next time we all convened that a fair number of students in the room had included The Dark Knight on their lists; a film that had come out a mere month before this class probably took place. I can remember hearing the professor state that he wondered how much of a flash in the pan this new Batman movie might be as he could remember lists of this ilk flooded with the likes of The Matrix or Pulp Fiction the semester after those films had premiered and while I doubt there are nearly as many lists a decade down the road that include The Dark Knight as there were in my class that day I have a hard time believing, in this golden age of super hero cinema, that the gold standard for all super hero flicks no matter ones choice of tone, isn't at least on a few people's lists. That is to say, there have been many incarnations of the super hero film in the decade since given The Dark Knight came out a mere two and a half months after what was, at that time anyway, the unknown birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet it is still Christopher Nolan's epic crime saga as told with people in silly costumes that remains widely considered the best super hero movie of all time. I'm not here to dispute that fact. I agree with it. I agree with it because The Dark Knight is the most memorable movie-going experience of my life thus far and I highly doubt that will change any time soon if ever.

Official Trailer for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY Starring Rami Malek

The second and official trailer for the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, has been released by 20th Century Fox ahead of its early November release date. The film, which has a hell of a development history seemed destined to have some production troubles as well and those came in the form of original director Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Susapects) being fired from the gig due to tensions with his star, Rami Malek, and his apparent lack of regard for punctuality. Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher was brought into complete the film, but now it has been finalized that Singer will in fact be the credited as the director on the picture though I can't imagine he's had any say in the final cut of the film. It's a weird road, no doubt, and as much as I would have loved to have seen the Freddie Mercury-centric film that Sacha Baron Cohen would have liked to have made this latest clip along with the first teaser trailer for the film have more than piqued my interest in Malek's performance. Malek certainly looks the part and if you've seen any of the behind the scenes video that puts on full display how well he's been able to mimic Mercury's movements during the Live AID performance, but while I'm all in on any kind of music biopic I have to wonder how much of this will indeed be focused on Mercury and how much of it will put equal stock in the remaining band members given they were seemingly given their way when Cohen stepped away from the project. The text cards during the trailer itself certainly seem to play up the fact this is ultimately Mercury's story and as Singer is an out and proud gay man I assume the film will find a respectful, but honest way to discuss Mercury's own sexuality as well as his fast descent into sex, drugs, and the rock and roll lifestyle that came to too quick an end in 1991 when Mercury died from AIDS. Regardless, what comes to pass-whether it be a masterpiece or a dumpster fire-will certainly hold a fair amount of intrigue up until its release and likely even through to some if not every aspect of the finished product. Bohemian Rhapsody also stars Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Aaron McCusker, and opens on November 2nd, 2018.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 17, 2018

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.