-Catch-up on reviews from the last three weeks!
Director: Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher, The Way of the Gun)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames
with: Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, and Wes Bentley
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
After watching Mission: Impossible-Fallout, I was transported back to remembering the reaction to Mad Max: Fury Road a few years ago where an action movie really inserted itself into the pantheon of some of the most impressive of the genre. Fallout is just that, a monumental achievement in action film-making and stunt work that moves at a breakneck pace from start to finish. Maybe every intricate plot detail doesn’t perfectly add up and the threads get spread a little thin on some of the twists, but as we work through the movie, it manages to consistently up itself with riveting chase sequences, brutal fight sequences, and a fun sense of adventure and spontaneity that modern blockbusters lack these days. When you go through the constant flood of what I call conveyor-belt film-making with popular movies, something like Fallout which pushes the boundaries of what we’ve seen before is really appreciated.
The mechanisms of the plot are somewhat similar to what we’ve seen in these films before. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt takes on a mission with his team to attempt to stop a trio of plutonium cores from being sold from the black market to an extremist named John Lark, who neither the IMF or the CIA have been able to positively identify. The word on the street is that there’s a fancy party in Paris where Lark will be buying the plutonium, and the CIA implants an additional agent named Walker (Henry Cavill) to accompany Hunt and the IMF to track this deal. One action-packed event leads to another, and we have betrayals, a reappearance of Rebecca Ferguson’s character, and Hunt impersonating John Lark in order to get at the villain of the last movie.
Outside of the occasionally muddled plot detail where everything doesn’t exactly come together in perfect harmony, Mission: Impossible-Fallout is an instant classic. It’s perfectly executed as an action film, and it consistently manages to wow the audience at every turn with stunts that have legitimately never been done before. Not many movies will make me laugh out of just sheer ecstasy. This one did.
Director: Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, Cool Runnings, National Treasure, Last Vegas)
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Cliff Curtis, Rainn Wilson, and Ruby Rose
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
Realistically, there really is only one great shark movie, and that’s Jaws. Since Jaws, several sequels came out, as have a ton of poor imitations to attempt to get the same thrill out of audiences. For a movie like the Meg to make an impact, it has to do something to get our attention and be fun enough to justify its existence. You’re not going to get a serious film with a serious backstory when a 50 foot shark is swimming around. Instead, it’s important for the film-makers to use the shark and star Jason Statham in a way that makes it fun.
The movie really only involves a formerly disgraced rescue diver (Statham) sent out to rescue trapped crew-men at the bottom of the ocean when the Meg is swimming around. There’s a crew of notable folks, including Rainn Wilson as the business executive who funded all the deep-sea exploring, but you don’t come to this movie for the characters. You come for the shark.
In this way, the movie fails ever so slightly. It’s clear that the film-makers didn’t want to be pidgeon-holed into the Sharknado style of movie, where everything is a joke and everyone knows it’s a joke. They tried to make something a bit more dramatic and interesting. I understand the desire to want to keep this movie away from the sci-fi channel, but I came to the movies to watch a shark create large amounts of destruction. When the movie felt a little subdued at parts, I was a slightly upset. There’s still plenty of dumb action to latch onto, though, and would say that there are better movies out right now to spend money on in the theater, but if you like shark movies, this one is worth a rental in a few months when you’re missing the warm weather.
Director: Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer)
Starring: Julia G. Telles, Joey King, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, and Taylor Richardson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 13%
I’m going to get my slight criticism about the fact that this movie was even made first. After there was a real-life attempted murder based on this property, I thought making a supernatural film about it was in bad taste, and I still feel that way having watched it. However, if I was a film executive and wanted to use a cool horror property, Slender-Man would be on the list. The game is short, sweet, and fun, and I understand why the movie was green-lit despite its problematic backstory.
It doesn’t justify its existence, however. The film consistently struggles to find any narrative rhythm or tension, and the movie largely feels like a bunch of recycled ideas from The Ring, The Conjuring, and other supernatural horror movies that people actually liked. The story is that these four girls summon Slender-Man by doing the step-by-step process found in a video online. One of the girls then goes missing, and the movie then follows the other girls as they try to get their friend back and begin suffering delusions at the hands of the Slender-Man.
They managed to make him not scary at all, by the way. I’m not sure even what he was supposed to be. He isn’t some cult-like creature like Sinister’s Baghuul, but he’s also not a physical presence, either. There’s a complete lack of Slender-Man in the movie to try to make this work. It was sort-of like a haunting, but without a haunter, if that makes any sense.
When I watched the trailer after seeing the film, I noticed that a ton of the movie was cut out, and that there wasn’t a lot of marketing for it. Much of the film was likely cut either because of budgetary issues or because of the real-life incident, and then the trimmed-down, less tasteless version completely sucked, so the studio didn’t want to spend any more money on it. This endless cycle is why the movie is a complete waste of time. There are no characters, no scares, and there is no reason why you should ever watch this. It didn’t even make it to late-night Netflix rental quality.
Unfriended: Dark Web
Director: Stephen Susco (debut), writer on various other horror projects
Starring: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, and Connor del Rio
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
The first Unfriended took a new sort of concept of containing an entire movie just within a few computer monitors. The effect was largely successful, and the first movie was one of the horror surprises of that year. Its sequel isn’t a bad movie. It doesn’t necessarily do anything completely wrong, it just often feels too far-fetched and plays too much inside baseball to be relatable enough to then be scary.
It’s about a group of friends who live apart after college, a few of them are dating each other, and one of the characters reveals he bought a new computer online. Contained on this computer are old files with horrific videos on it with information stashed that leads them to a piece of the dark web where horrible people pay crypto currency to watch violent things happen.
Once are friends begin getting hacked and attacked, they have to find a way to return the computer without jeopardizing their safety. Just like the last movie, the entire film takes place on various computer screens.
It’s mildly tense, it’s decent executed. The acting is below average because they cast mostly no-names in all of the lead roles, although giving a deaf actress a unique part was a nice touch. I think it attempts to be somewhat timely by attempting to make a commentary on what’s hidden on the internet, but this is largely lost in the shuffle of the story-telling. I walked away from this unimpressed, and maybe as a horror outing, will be one that we can revisit another time.
Director: Bo Burnham (debut)
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, and Catherine Oliviere
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
I’ve been a Bo Burnham fan for years, dating way back to his stand-up and video days, so when I heard he was directing a movie, I wasn’t part of the contingent that was surprised. He always fought for emotional depth in his work, almost like there was maturity hidden underneath his stupid, now dated, songs that he wrote for comedy. He finds a proxy to tell the story about being self-conscious and how personality traits interact with the internet generation. He gets us to all see ourselves from this twelve-year-old girl’s point of view. This part of the film is masterful.
The movie covers the last two weeks of eighth grade for Elsie Fisher’s Kayla. She makes inspirational videos about how to be confident and comfortable with yourself, but she could not be further from that online persona. She lives only with her Dad (a fantastic Josh Hamilton), and she wanders around school largely friendless. She experiences life in a way a lot of us do. She has social anxiety and is unable to connect by reaching out, but if someone reaches out to her, she can be talkative and grow into herself.
This hits the kind of movie sweet-spot that festival darlings are supposed to be about. This isn’t a ‘your mom has cancer’ movie, or a ‘exposing the horrors behind this part of the country.’ It doesn’t attempt to be nostalgic, and lay it on thick for older audiences. No, instead, the movie works as a perfect time capsule. It captures this one moment for this one girl. There’s specific social media platforms which Burnham doesn’t shy away from. He doesn’t attempt to disguise the movie to make it remain relevant in 2025. His swift and caring direction over all of these kids and the material works instead to hope that the characters and the situations they’re in is what causes the nostalgia. There’s a first time a boy comes onto Kayla. There’s a ridiculously awkward pool party. There’s a video she sends her future self. The only flaw in it all is that the movie is so honest that it often feels like it lacks purpose. There’s not really a conflict. The movie resolves when the two weeks are over. Normally, I’m more critical of this type of piece, entirely made just to throw the audience into an environment, but the characters feel so honest and true to life that I couldn’t help but be swept up and add on to the praise this movie is getting.
Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada (debut)
Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine C. Jones, and Tisha Campbell-Martin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Here’s my first major disagreement with the critical circuit of the year. I think Blindspotting is easily the most overrated film of 2018 so far.
The movie focuses on two characters: Daveed Diggs’s Collin and Rafael Casal’s Miles. Themes of gentrification are abound, as these two from-the-city Oaklanders run their moving business and attend parties around the city with younger, different people. Collin has a criminal record, and looked at a certain way by the community and his ex-girlfriend because of it. He’s also a black man, trying to make an honest living with the odds stacked against him. His reckless, white friend Miles is less careful than Collin, less receptive to the changing Oakland than Collin, and yet experiences very little of the personal strife Collin goes through.
As an idea, two city-dwellers who run a moving business which symbolizes the changing tides of the city they were raised in is an interesting backdrop. I also like the point the movie makes about color, where Collin is a more careful, more community structured individual, but gets the side-eye because of his record and constant attention by police, when it’s really his white best friend who exemplifies what the police should be constantly monitoring. These ideas could make a nice movie, and add to movies like Sorry to Bother You and BlackKKlansman this year which successfully traverse racial topics.
The problem is that Diggs and Casal are not good actors, or in Diggs’s case, not good film actors. He may have chops as a stage performer, but as a film actor, his performance seems unsteady and out of place. The serious acting, the quiet moments, he struggles in. The movie also attempts to play to his strengths by having random improvised rapping work its way into the script in pivotal moments, and what’s meant to be a powerful monologue turns into the little kid from The Visit trying to be serious. It’s cringe-worthy, and it’s messy. It ruins the entire tone of the film. This, by the end, just felt like a misfire. I love the direction, the way it’s shot, and a lot of what was meant to be accomplished. I just thought the acting really, seriously hindered the execution.