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Come with me, won’t you? Come with me to a simpler time. To 1996, when sequels were considered mildly profitable punchlines and the idea of constructing massive cinematic franchises was largely contained to the Spielbergs and Lucases of the world.

That was the year we got “Mission: Impossible,” an adaptation of the 1960s television show of the same name. It was a Tom Cruise action vehicle that did well both commercially and critically and that could have been that. A pair of sequels that caught top-tier directorial talents either after their prime (John Woo for MI2 in 2000) or before it (J.J. Abrams for MI3 in 2006) made it seem like maybe we should stop.

Instead, the franchise has carried forward with three of the best action movies of the past decade. This unlikely wellspring has given us “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” and the latest installment “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” … which might be the best one we’ve seen so far. It once again relies on coherent, well-executed action set pieces, a few moments of winking dialogue and – most importantly - Cruise’s complete willingness to hurl himself headlong into harm’s way if it might allow him to win our love.

Published in Movies

I love me a movie musical. My deep and abiding affection for the joy and wonder of the genre is well-documented. So it should come as no surprise that I was interested in checking out “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” the sequel to 2008’s blockbuster hit “Mamma Mia.”

But here’s the thing – I had never SEEN “Mamma Mia.” This despite not just the aforementioned movie musical love, but an actorly crush on Meryl Streep AND a long-standing affinity for the music of ABBA! It makes zero sense that I would not have seen that film. And so, I rectified that fact before taking in the sequel.

You don’t need me to tell you about the first film, but I can tell you that “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” stays largely true to the unabashedly dorky spirit of its predecessor, packed with impromptu musical numbers and hammy scenery chewing and the inarguably outstanding music of ABBA. It also makes the unusual choice of serving as both a sequel AND a prequel to the original, roughly splitting the story between the two timelines. It is campy, winking and just delightful.

Published in Movies

In today’s franchise-driven cinematic climate, the focus has shifted from performer to property. The notion of a “movie star” – at least in the way we’ve traditionally considered the term – is becoming increasingly anachronistic. But they’re not all gone yet. There are a few who can still legitimately bear the mantle of movie star.

Denzel Washington is one of the few. His latest is “The Equalizer 2,” which sees him reteaming with director Antoine Fuqua for a sequel to their 2014 old-guy-action extravaganza. It’s Denzel’s first sequel, which is surprising. What isn’t surprising is that it doesn’t live up to the pulpy thrills of the original, falling prey to the law of diminishing returns. Still, it’s Denzel, so while the movie might not be great, it’s extremely watchable thanks to the inescapable charismatic magnetism of its star.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 July 2018 12:13

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ comes up big

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the primary driving forces in the world of movies over the past decade. Each of these films makes hundreds of millions at the box office and continues the ever-evolving and unfolding story, moving toward massive paradigm shifts and crossover events.

But here’s the thing – operating on global and cosmic scales presents some issues. Namely – you can’t just keep raising the stakes; narrative stakes can only be raised so many times before things begin to lose their impact and feel forced. To avoid reaching that point, some sort of reset is necessary. With the 20th film in the MCU, the powers that be have chosen to cleanse our palates after the cataclysmic consequences of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” brings the MCU back down to Earth, choosing to tell a smaller, largely self-contained story. Taking place before the events of “IW,” the film doesn’t deal with fate-of-the-universe-level consequences. Instead, its impact is primarily on a more individual plane. It exists mostly independent of the other films, without the numerous cameos and tangential MacGuffins that often riddle MCU offerings. That freedom allows “AM&TW” to be lighter and funnier while still providing the superpowered set pieces audiences have come to expect.

Published in Movies

We’re all aware that sequels and franchises are the primary drivers of Hollywood’s economic engine. That’s the nature of the beast, so it’s something to which audiences have grown accustomed. But every so often, a sequel will come along that is surprising in that its very existence seems to be unnecessary, leaving you to wonder … how? Why?

“Sicario: Day of the Sodaldo” is one such head-scratcher, a sequel to 2015’s excellent “Sicario,” a taut, subversive thriller which starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and wound up with a couple of Oscar nominations. “Sicario” was a really good movie – and a story that needn’t go on.

It seems that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan had more to tell, however, and so we get this weird and unexpected sequel; Stefan Sollima takes the reins from Denis Villeneuve. Blunt is gone, but Brolin and Del Toro are back. The result is a movie that isn’t nearly as thoughtful or challenging as its predecessor; the amorality of its primary figures is largely untempered. In essence, the first film’s misguided-but-present moral compass is replaced with gunfire and action-movie nihilism.

Published in Movies

As the Hollywood landscape has evolved and shifted in recent years, moving toward a model built on a foundation of franchise, of sequels and prequels and cinematic universes, one finds oneself asking: when is enough enough? Where is the line that, when crossed, leaves a franchise bereft of quantity even as quantity marches on? When does the downward spiral begin in earnest?

It’s usually pretty tough to spot, but in the case of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” it’s pretty clear. This is one franchise that has officially jumped the shark. Or dinosaur. Whatever.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 15:22

‘Incredibles 2’ is incredible too

We’ll start with the obvious: like anyone who loves great animated movies (or really, great movies, no qualifiers), I’m in the bag for Pixar. Ever since their initial outing with 1995’s “Toy Story,” the studio has produced an exceptional collection of high-quality fare (and also the “Cars” sequels) – and everybody has their favorites.

For me, while I’ve loved many of the movies that Pixar has given us over the past 15 years – heck, the 2008-2010 run of “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” is as good a stretch as any studio has ever put up, animation or otherwise – but for me, the best Pixar movie has always been “The Incredibles.”

As you might imagine, my affection for that film meant that I was both excited and apprehensive when I heard about the impending sequel. To think that they were finally revisiting that story, bringing these characters and that world into a moviegoing culture that has not only accepted, but passionately embraced superheroes, well … would it work?

Oh yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times yes.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:06

‘Ocean’s 8’ is more than enough

Anyone who digs a good heist/caper movie carries a fondness for the “Ocean’s” series of movies. 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” were a stylized delight, reinvigorating the genre via the directorial talents of Steven Soderbergh and the tremendous cast, anchored by the movie star triumvirate of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon atop some phenomenal ensemble casts.

It’s such a wonderful trilogy, in fact, that one can certainly understand the skepticism felt my moviegoers upon hearing the announcement of a new, female-led installment in the series. However, “Ocean’s 8” largely puts that skepticism to rest; while the film doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of the initial films, it’s got a powerhouse cast of its own telling a story that – while a bit implausible – is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 24 April 2018 16:13

‘Super Troopers 2’ far from super

Today’s Hollywood is built on sequels. It’s no longer enough to make one movie that achieves box office success – you need to make a movie that will beget another movie that will beget still another movie and so on down the line. Some are designed to be ongoing – think the Marvel Cinematic Universe; others evolve into continuing concerns – the “Fast and Furious” franchise springs to mind.

But what about those sequels that simply shouldn’t be? The ones that are too late and/or too lame to effectively capitalize on what made the original special?

What about “Super Troopers 2”?

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are clearly designed for sequels. They are structured specifically to allow for a continuation of the story going forward – sometimes to the detriment of the tale being told in the moment. They’re built to be built again.

And then you have a film like 2013’s “Pacific Rim.” Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget love letter to the giant monster movies of the past felt for all the world like a one-off; a stylish two-hour whirlwind of enormous robots fighting enormous monsters. It seemed to have told the story it meant to tell.

Enter “Pacific Rim Uprising,” a decent-enough sequel that nevertheless feels unnecessary and almost cursory. Without del Toro as the driving creative force – though he is credited as a producer – this new film simply fails to reach the heights of the first, lacking spirit to match the spectacle of the too-familiar action beats.

Published in Movies
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