Friday, July 27, 2018

Popcorn Kernels: Q2 Review Purge, Vol. 2

OK, I'm trying my best here, but it's been super busy so here's a bunch more mini reviews to get us caught up on current releases.

Alex Strangelove
Year: 2018
Director: Craig Johnson
Cast: Michael Abela, Daniel Doheny, Brendan Archer
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: TV-MA

A young teen must struggle to figure out his sexuality when his girlfriend starts to want to have their First Time but he begins to develop feelings for an older guy he met at a party.

Netflix hasn't made a great name for themselves in the original movie realm lately, which is why they should make way more midbudget movies like Alex Strangelove. There's no stakes or expectations like the overindulgent Bright or The Cloverfield Paradox, and it's a pretty dang special movie to boot!

Alex Strangelove is the smaller, weirder little brother to this year's Love, Simon, and it's the movie the world needs even more. Where Simon was buffed and polished by Hollywood to within an inch of his life, Alex grabs the reigns with an American Pie sensibility and is off like a shot. The film doesn't shrink away from the realities of life as a teen, from the awkward sexual fumblings to the filthy language to the first, failed drug experiences (I usually hate the obligatory "drug trip" sequence in this kind of comedy, but that even works here!). For a gentle teen romance, it actually has a bit of an edge, which is exactly what was missing from the charming but saccharine Simon.

The one thing I will say about Alex Strangelove insofar as it's a gay film is that its male love interest takes a backseat for way too much of the run time. We don't get to explore his character much, or why he would be particularly interested in Alex, and Alex's internal struggle is amusing, but it largely takes place when he's separated from his object of affection.

But for the most part, this flick is a right gem, sprucing up that on-the-ground teen realism with some quietly delightful creative visual effects. Alex's struggle is presented in a way that's actually - dare I say it - stylish, actually engaging with the power of cinema to give us images and ideas that no other medium is capable of. Maybe I'm rhapsodizing too hard about cereal boxes labeled "heter-O's" or the animal biology metaphor ripped straight from Mean Girls, but it's been so long since we've gotten a teen comedy that's in any way actually interesting to look at in any respect other than the beefy 25-year-olds playing the teens. Alex Strangelove is incredibly pleasant, and I highly recommend it for that and so many other reasons.

Rating: 7/10

Set It Up
Year: 2018
Director: Claire Scanlon
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: TV-14

Two assistants set up their bosses so they'll be treated better, but maybe they just happen to fall in love along the way too.

OK, maybe my Sunday nights are just going to be owned by Netflix from now on, because Set It Up is the exact sort of forgettable romantic comedy I've been craving from the market for some time. Everyone in it is impossibly gorgeous and oozes charisma, nothing of much import happens to any of them, and we get a few standout comic cameos, most notably from Kimmy Schmidt's Titus Burgess.

Now, I know that poster looks ten kinds of awful, but I promise the movie is completely bearable and even, dare I say it, funny? My knees aren't exactly going to be sore from slapping, but there are definitely some solid jokes that crop up from time to time. It's just thoroughly charming, generously bestowing you with good cheer for its entire run time and not challenging you for anything more. The only even minor quibble I have with it is the fact that we've hired Pete Davidson to play the gay roommate in the now-stock role of "gay dude who is just a straight bro who likes ass." It's a massive overcorrection from the swishy queens that used to populate screens in the 90's, and it's become just as irritating. And now that he's engaged to Ariana Grande, Pete Davidson's smug face is beaming at me from all the ads for this movie on Netflix, and please, give me a break with that.

I really don't have much else to say about this film, because it's not designed for one to think about or analyze. It's designed to be a completely inoffensive soap bubble that blows in the wind, brings you joy, and then pops into thin air, never to be thought about again. As I'll probably mention with one of my later picks, it isn't a sin for a movie to be designed this way. It's just not especially rewarding to really dig into the meat of it with a full review.

Rating: 6/10

Ocean's 8
Year: 2018
Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway 
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

A group of eight ladies seek to fix the wage gap by running a jewel heist at the Met Gala, as if Rihanna needed help getting in.

The cast to Ocean's 8 is great. The concept to Ocean's 8 is great. The music and costuming of Ocean's 8 is great. The director of Ocean's 8 is unremarkable. Now, the blame for the movie falling short of greatness certainly shouldn't fall squarely on the shoulders of Gary Ross (let's give some credit to the screenwriters for also fumbling the ball), but the exercise in pure style and fun that this film should easily have been just isn't quite gelling.

Mind you, the movie is fun, but in a truly insubstantial popcorn movie way. Much like the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, which was likewise... fine, the movie plays it way too safe, leaning back on a story about fast and easy female friendship that doesn't allow a lot of wiggle room for these people to actually become well-rounded characters. We get to watch a lot of shallow people be very good at stealing things, and that's not a bad time at the theater, but it's not a movie I'll be thinking about the second I type the last sentence of this review.

Really, the only thing to really dive into on this movie is the all-star cast, so let's go with that. Sandra Bullock is in top form here, prickly and unlikeable yet nevertheless charismatic in a way she hasn't been since The Proposal. The two runners-up for best in show would have to be Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter, who both are essentially playing cartoon characters toned down just enough to be palatable. But boy are they palatable, and it's an ebullient good time whenever they're onscreen together. 

Sarah Paulson and Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, are actresses I know to be terrific who are given absolute bupkis to do. They're good enough to avoid becoming wallpaper, but they are too handcuffed by the script to do anything remotely interesting. And then there's Awkwafina and Rihanna, two musicians turned actors who have pleasing personalities but aren't going to be winning any awards anytime soon.

It is nice to watch these people hang out, but that's pretty much all that happens in Ocean's 8. By the time you get to James Corden's noxious cameo as an insurance investigator, all the energy has long since been sucked out of the movie, and Gary Ross has forgotten every one of the stylish fillips with which he introduced the story and its characters. Oh well. It wasn't a waste of air conditioning, at least.

Rating: 7/10


Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

After the death of their grandmother, a family must cope with the emotional fallout of loss, guilt, betrayal, and demonic possession.

I really don't mean to be the guy who comes in to trash the A24 horror films, but at the very least I'm aware that they are horror. Movies aren't disqualified from the genre if they're slow-paced, nor if they reflect deeper themes. So at least I have that going for me before I say that I really didn't care for Hereditary.

Honestly, this movie has all the ingredients to be a movie I truly love (read: Toni Collette), and it succeeds heavily in the first act. Right at the end of the first act, there is a terrifying standout sequence (anybody who has seen the movie will know exactly what I'm talking about) that is perfectly, excruciatingly executed. This has a lot to do with the performance of Alex Wolff, who has graduated from being in the peanut gallery of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to blowing the roof off in a single close-up of his face that takes you on a riveting roller coaster ride of emotion. It's a transcendent performance that goes toe to toe with the always superb Toni Collette, who is operating at 11 throughout this entire film (it's a bit exhausting, but it's what the movie asks her to do and she does it great).

Unfortunately, these stellar performances are given a script that, without spoilers, feels closer to Paranormal Activity 4 than The Witch. Hereditary really falls down a rabbit hole of overworn horror tropes that undermine any sort of specificity and power the story had created in the first act. And the title clearly indicates that we're meant to be really invested in whether or not Toni Collette has inherited a mental illness and everything that's happening is all in her head, but like most movies of this ilk, completely forgets what it's supposed to be doing in favor of shoving creepy imagery down your throat at every opportunity. I don't blame a horror film for wanting to be a horror film, but don't introduce that kind of doubt if you're not really going to do much with it.

It's a frustrating watch for someone who has received a steady drip of these kinds of movies for years, so the fresh and exciting bits are fully drowned out by the clunky, generic material that gums up the works. Maybe if I wasn't so familiar with these types of movies, it wouldn't feel so uninteresting, but this one just didn't do it for me at all.

Rating: 5/10

Ideal Home

Year: 2018
Director: Andrew Fleming
Cast: Paul Rudd, Steve Coogan, Jack Gore
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

A bickering gay couple find out that one of them has a long-lost grandson, who they must care for while his father is in jail.

Ideal Home is one of those indie comedies where you can predict every beat of the plot from the opening credits, but it's also one of those indie comedies that earns its right to be generic. It's comfort food cinema at its best, delivering well-worn tropes with a low key but effervescent sense of humor that is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

And hey! The fact that we can make material this rote with a gay couple as the leads is a remarkable thing about the year 2018. Of course, Ideal Home ain't winning any Spirit Awards anytime soon, having cast two straight men in the roles and considering that literally nobody knows this film even came out, but their sexuality factors into the plot of the movie not one bit, and that actually turns its genericness into a political strength. It's just like every slightly edgy family comedy you've ever seen, and the fact that there's two men in charge doesn't impede the progress of the bland plot one bit.

Then there's the fact that Paul Rudd instantly makes any comedy at least one point better just through sheer charisma. He's rocking an incredibly sexy indie movie beard, but he's still our good ole Rudd, delivering his trademark brand of goofy yet naturalistic humor, this time through a sheen of everpresent supercilious disdain. Ah, and there's the real way this movie differentiates itself at all. The tone of Ideal Home is unusually bitter, refusing to cut its snide, posh characters any slack, as much as it loves them and wants them to love each other.

The film won't blow you away or anything, but at the end of the day, it's a nice way to spend 90 minutes. Also give money to gay movies that don't end in AIDS, tearful coming outs, and/or tragic death. Please, I'm begging you. I don't want to have to sit through The Normal Heart every time I want to feel represented in the culture. Look, if you even have a toe on the Kinsey scale, you're going to find Paul Rudd especially attractive in this movie, so that's a reason right there.

Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 2164
Reviews In This Series
Ocean's 8 (Ross, 2018)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Census Flashback: Globetrotting

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Mission: Impossible - Fallout, I'll be reviewing a movie that features a hallmark of the spy movie genre: exotic European locations. See if you can guess which city this one takes place in: It's Amsterdamned!

Year: 1988
Director: Dick Maas
Cast: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I feel like this summer I've been testing the limits of how far the title of a slasher movie title goes in terms of making the film interesting. Where Mountaintop Motel Massacre and Slashdance have awesome titles that immediately go bust, Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge and Psychos in Love are only improved by their wacky monikers. Amsterdamned is probably the best title yet, so it'll have to be the cornerstone of whatever thesis I can prepare at the end of this. Let's see if it lives up to that promise...

So far so good.

In Amsterdamned, the canals of Amsterdam are being stalked by a maniac in a scuba suit who drags people into the water, never to be seen again except as scraps of bloody chum dredged up the next morning. It's up to detective/single father Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) to discover the killer's identity and capture him, under mounting pressure from the tourism-obsessed Jaws mayor. During the course of his investigation, he meets and falls in love with (or at least into bed with) sexy scuba student Laura (Monique van de Ven) and rebuilds a bridge with his old friend John (Wim Zomer), a member of the River Police force.

All while wearing sunglasses and a rad leather jacket.

I have seen my fair share of European slashers for this project, but the bulk of them hail from Italy, which has a very strong national cinematic identity of stylish, black-gloved slashing and incomprehensible murder mystery plots. But that title isn't just for fun. Amsterdamned hails straight from the Netherlands, and is certainly the first Dutch slasher I've ever come across. It's similar to an Italian giallo in certain ways, but the differences in culture and presentation are extreme and delightful.

For one thing, the film is an extremely effective tourism ad for Amsterdam (which, upon reflection, might not mean it's a terribly scary horror movie), highlighting its beautiful canals, bridges, and restaurants inside windmills with loving caresses every chance it gets. And with the culture being so inherently tied with the water, it only makes sense that that's the arena the killer would be able to do the most damage. It's the Amsterdam version of the guy who hides under cars in the mall parking lot to slash your ankles. The other major difference from an Italian giallo is the wacky joie de vivre that's ever-present in the film's atmosphere, from the komedy kop who tags along with Visser, dropping everything he ever touches and tripping over his own feet, to the bizarre subplot involving Visser's daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet) and her schoolmate Willy (Edwin Bakker), who is a straight-up psychic who can detect the killer's whereabouts. This plot line is given as much credibility as the romantic subplot, as if this were just a thing that happens in Amsterdam every other day.

All of this interplays with some pretty brutal horror elements, all things considered. An autopsy sequence which reveals that the killer stabbed his victim with such force that the tip of the knife literally broke off inside her will send chills up your spine. It's not particularly gory (a huge minus for me: the killer's scuba outfit is a great iconic costume, but his M.O. of dragging people into the water and killing them offscreen neuters some of its potential as a slasher rather than a police procedural), but certain moments of implications are just as rough.

Especially this scene, where she's hanging onto a banister that literally begins to break apart because of how strong the killer is pulling on her ankle.

Also living up to the European standard for horror, Dick Maas crafts some truly indelible images here. The discovery of the first body, where a woman's corpse hanging from a bridge slides across the top of a glass-ceilinged boat full of children and drops down through a skylight wouldn't be out of place in an Argento masterpiece, and a moment where the killer's eye mask is shot, instantly turning his already unreadable face into a web of cracks and shattered glass, is unspeakably beautiful.

So there really is a lot to like in Amsterdamned, and maybe I'm being a baby for growing increasingly weary of it thanks to its run time that brushes dangerously close to two hours. If you're not going to deliver on the gore, you at least need to have a murder mystery plot that keeps you guessing, which this film patently does not. You will never guess the exact nature of the killer because - guess what - it's a character we've never met before (my favorite outcome of a mystery! so satisfying!), but the twists and turns the movie takes along the way are as predictable as an episode of Law and Order.

The third act of Amsterdamned drags on, overstaying its welcome by a kilometer. It sucks out everything good and satisfying about the film and all you can do is focus on its flaws and how tired you are of watching it. But at least there's an awesome boat chase, I guess!

Fly right into my heart, you crazy killer.

Killer: IDK, some guy (Door van Boekel)
Final Girl: This is a cop thriller, so we don't really get one, but technically we do have a female survivor, Laura (Monique van de Ven)
Best Kill: The underwater stabbing is not only one of the few kills we actually get to see, it's a cool concept that I don't think I've ever seen before.
Sign of the Times: Obviously, the prostitute's Debbie Harry wig and giraffe-print dress belong in the 80's horror outfit hall of fame.

Scariest Moment: After Laura knocks out who she assumes is the killer, the real killer lunges at her from the water.
Weirdest Moment: While driving to a crime scene, Eric stops a bakery robbery, slamming the culprit's face into a cake, which the man then begins to eat.
Champion Dialogue: "Does your mother-in-law have an alibi?"
Body Count: 8
  1. Prostitute is stabbed.
  2. Hendrick is decapitated and his head is impaled on an anchor.
  3. Kees is stabbed in the ankle and dragged into the water.
  4. Salvation Army Girl is dragged into the water.
  5. Floatie Lady gets stabbed in the crotch.
  6. Drunk drowns in his own boat.
  7. John is stabbed to death underwater.
  8. Maniac kills himself with a harpoon.
TL;DR: Amsterdamned is a solid wacky foreign slasher that slowly drains itself of potential with an exhausting run time.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1172

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Could I Resist Ya?

Year: 2018
Director: Ol Parker
Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Cher
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

I don't wanna talk about things we've gone through, but as a reviewer it's kind of my obligation. The 2008 Mamma Mia! is a frankly disastrous film adaptation of a shallow but fun stage musical based on the songs of Swedish disco supergroup ABBA. Nevertheless I love it, for reasons almost entirely separate from the movie itself. And I couldn't help but be excited for its ten-years-later sequel, for the twin reasons that it's a movie that should never have existed (the type of thing I'm unduly fascinated by) and that I love the ABBA discography, and going deeper into it is far more rewarding than just skimming off the top of ABBA Gold like the last film did (for more of my thoughts on that, check out my first contribution to one of my favorite film sites: Alternate Ending). Also Cher. But I could have never predicted what I actually got, and I'm all the more dazzled by that. Let's jump in.

Because if there's one thing that's incredibly safe and comfortable to do in those outfits, it's jumping.

That history book on the shelf is always repeating itself, which is how we got this belated sequel in the first place, but the notes of Here We Go Again's plot are still somewhat unfamiliar for this particular glittery universe. We meet up again with Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried) on the eve of the grand re-opening of her mother's hotel on the Greek island of Kalokairi. It has been a year since Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) has passed, of causes unknown (though the random screengrab of her white-knuckling a glass of wine that's hanging on the wall might offer some clues), and she and one of her three dads Sam (Pierce Brosnan) are still heartbroken over it.

Those happy days, they seemed so hard to find, but never fear! Our old pals are back to play, including Sophie's beau Sky (Dominic Cooper), her other two dads Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and her mother's glee team Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski). Joining them are Andy Garcia as the hotel manager Fernando (gee, I wonder when that'll turn out to be important) and Cher as Sophie's absentee grandmother Ruby. As Sophie tries to navigate into the newest stage of her life, she finds that her story is mirroring that of her mother's way back when in 1979, as played out by Lily James alongside younger versions of Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) as she flirts with and beds future dads Bill (Josh Dylan), Sam (Jeremy Irvine), and Harry (Hugh Skinner).

Although it's possible she didn't know they were three separate people, because they all look more or less exactly the same.

It was like shooting a sitting duck to make a Mamma Mia! movie that I'd actually enjoy, whether it was incredible, terrible, or anything in between. But the absolutely terrific thing about Here We Go Again is that it edges up against incredible, at least on the admittedly very adjusted scale that comes from being in continuity with Mamma Mia!

Having the time of your life is obviously the movie's biggest priority, and there are certain aspects in which the movie fails as a whole in its efforts to achieve this. For one thing, the narrative is completely inert. Sure it has more thrust and structure than the previous entry, but that's like saying you have more character drama than a Transformers movie. It's not exactly an achievement. Most of the movie, at least in the present day scenes, is just about people sitting around waiting for a party (which I could relate to, having gotten to the theater an hour early). And the flashback sequences are slavish retreads of the exact material implied by dialogue and lyrics from the original (the "walk along the Seine" line from "Our Last Summer" even gets a totally superfluous nod). And yet, the way the film connects Sophie's experience with her mother's miraculously achieves a sort of tenderness and genuine emotion of which I would have previously thought this franchise completely incapable.

But I won't feel blue like I always do, because this movie has so much more to offer than a mere story. For one thing, it has a director who actually seems to know how movies are made. The first time the camera moved in a scene, I almost jolted out of my seat, because that never happens in the original. Mamma Mia! just plunks down on a tripod and lets its cast of high wattage stars do their karaoke. In Here We Go Again, Ol Parker's camera roves around the set, snatching glamorous and sometimes even glorious images from the tumult of turquoise and glitter. It's entirely refreshing and allows the manic energy of the material to be captured in a way that actually highlights and accentuates its key components rather than sitting back from the material and letting its gaudiness shine through.

The picture clear, everything seems so easy to Parker, who crafts a musical theatre spectacle like his life depends on it. It helps that he doesn't have to rely on the A-listers who wander in and out of the present day portion like they're in one of the Netflix seasons of Arrested Development. He has the freedom to keep them around as their schedules allow, toss them a few bones here and there (thankfully, not too many are caught by Pierce Brosnan, who has not taken singing lessons in the intervening decade), and focus his best on the young, relatively unknown cast in the 1979 sequences. Because their characters are attached to the famous people, he knows audiences will still care, and his casting could focus on actual talent and not star wattage. And they sure are (mostly) talented! Some of the boys sing a little too emphatically, like they're worried they'll be fired if you miss a single syllable, but the production numbers (especially "Waterloo" and "Why Did It Have to be Me?") are lovely little trifles with grand choreography that utilize every little element of the setting and create imaginative dreamscapes that remind one of the best of classic movie musicals.

Although, as much as I love the song "When I Kissed the Teacher," what compelled them to include such a track in 2018 is still a mystery to me.

Would you laugh at me if I said I cared for Lily James' outfits more than most human beings? Costume designer Michele Clapton knows how to make the human body look cinematic, and Lily James is the perfect canvas for some of the best movie costumes of the decade, perfectly flowy and retro yet effortlessly modern and stylish at the same time. But I digress. This is a musical, let's talk about some more music! Here We Go Again resists temptation to repeat too much of the original soundtrack (of the canonical songs that appear in the actual film and not the credits, we just get "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen," an expanded "I Have a Dream," and a blissfully brief reprise of "S.O.S." with the rest of the songs being relegated to the instrumental score during dialogue scenes), and pulls some truly special, unexpected tracks like "Andante, Andante" and "Angel Eyes," two songs I love so much I could't help but thrill with delight.

All my sense had gone away, but I can still admit that there are certain... flaws in more than just the plot. There's still a bit of abrupt song introductions and flat singing (Brosnan and Cooper being the worst perpetrators), Seyfried is sleepwalking so hard you can practically see the drool, and Cher is a lot of things but she's not particularly convincing, as much as I love the fact that she's here at all. And it's a little hard to ignore the fact that they seem to have forgotten that Colin Firth's character is gay (the biggest mention of his character's sexuality is secreted away in an end credits stinger), and that the glitz and glamor of this musical about rich tourists ignores the economic plight of the Greek people they use as props (the film has one scene about fishermen being out of work, and it's used as an excuse to get a character a boat). I'm not saying they're bad for not mentioning it, I'm saying they shouldn't have introduced the concept in the first place if they were going for full musical theater fantasia, because it introduces a bit of a rankling cognitive dissonance.

But the destination makes it worth the while, because - especially in the second half - Here We Go Again is actually genuinely funny as well as entertaining spectacle. The script is much stronger this time around, building gags and character dynamics out of the thin air that was the original characters. Plus, Baranski and Walters (and their younger counterparts) are given some material that's actually quite dirty instead of innuendo so subtle that Christian Grey would even be scratching his head. So, let's add this all together. Terrific, non-obvious ABBA songs, actually talented cast members, solid humor, a director with a head on his shoulders, colors that pop, and a heartfelt emotional throughline? Are you sure this is a Mamma Mia! movie?

Knowing me, knowing you, it's the best they can do.

TL;DR: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is surprisingly tender and terrific.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1591
Reviews In This Series
Mamma Mia! (Lloyd, 2008)
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Parker, 2018)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Census Flashback: Musical Theater

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I'll be reviewing a slasher movie with its fair share of dancing. In fact, it's in the title: 1989's Slash Dance. Yes, this is a real thing.

Year: 1989
Director: James Shyman
Cast: Cindy Ferda, James Carroll Jordan, J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner
Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I have actually learned, my friends! I went into this movie not anticipating that it would be great based on that crazy title, and I was not disappointed! I've had some fun with a couple 1989 slashers, but let's never forget that when we venture this deep into the decade, the death rattle of the slasher subgenre had long since wheezed into quiet decrepitude. So that's one point for me and progress, but I still sat through this entire movie, so let's talk about it I guess.

"Graphic design is my passion."

So, here's the plot of Slash Dance, insofar as it has one, which I'm not entirely convinced it does. Undercover cop Tori Raines (Cindy Ferda, an actual real life GLOW wrestler - who appeared on the show as "Americana") investigates crimes against women, much to the chagrin of her power-hungry boss who so transparently wants a promotion that he mentions it in literally every scene he's in and practically every shot he's in. He wants to avoid a scandal, because one time a topless picture of her leaked while undercover as a prostitute. We can't fight crime if there's boobs! Remember misogyny?

Anyway, so there's a struggling performing arts theater in Hollywood where people showing up for auditions are being murdered violently, so Tori poses as a dancer to investigate. The fact that she doesn't know how to dance doesn't hinder her, because nobody in this movie knows how to dance. There are a dozen anonymous women involved in the dance rehearsals, but the important figures are, naturally, men. Slashers!

So, keep an eye on the lusty director Logan (James Carroll Jordan), the car-strapped theater owner Oliver (William Kerr), stage manager Rupert (John Bluto) who is somehow both coded as foppishly gay and a trenchcoat-wearing flasher, and Oliver's brother Amos (J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner, who is now a semi-famous forensic psychologist) who is simultaneously playing an extra from Grease and a severely mentally handicapped Lennie-esque character.

This movie contains multitudes.

If Slash Dance were only its first act, it would number among my best bad-good new discoveries. It's a completely nuts genre mash-up where the gay flasher is just the cherry on top of a lot of weird decisions. This portion is surprisingly committed to the loose-cannon cop angle, with a lot of dialogue about "cleaning up these streets" that you don't normally get in a hack-'n-slash picture, and some of it is actually funny. Note that our designated comic relief (more GLOW castoffs in the form of steroid-abusing street rats Repo and Mavis, played by Dee Booher and Kelle Favara - "Matilda the Hun" and "Beastie" respectively) is mostly unwatchable, but there are some brilliant moments like a mid-strangle auditioner shouting, "but I have an appointment!"

It's like a Miss Congeniality movie, if it had awkwardly staged fight scenes, a honking komedy horn on the soundtrack, and periodic flashbacks to a backstory that never comes up again, performed in a misty white void while soap opera melodrama dialogue is read with all the inflection and emotional commitment of a third grader reading their first book report aloud in front of the class.

Plus, there's something almost charmingly straightforward about the kill sequences, which - one after the other - feature random women wandering into a dance studio, loudly announcing their full name, then being murdered almost immediately. 

Sometimes meat and potatoes is the way to go.

Unfortunately, Slash Dance isn't just its first thirty minutes. There's a full hour to go (the audacity, by the way, to make a movie called Slash Dance more than 81 minutes long), and that hour gets increasingly more tedious and stilted once it goes along. For one thing, the kills, as un-gory and lame as they were to begin with, dry up for what feels like 45 minutes, but the worst sin is that the many, many interchangeable dancers we meet aren't even on the chopping block. Why introduce a crop of young nubile women that don't have two character traits to rub together and not include them in the body count? It's ludicrous and lazy, and what these characters get up to in the meantime when they refuse to be murdered is some of the most stultifying padding you ever did see.

As one might expect, we're treated to a lot of dance sequences, but this ain't no musical. We are privy to dance rehearsals, which show us watching the same women perform the same sequence of moves dozens of times over, counting "five-six-seven-eight, five-six-seven-eight" with no musical backup. And they're not even good. It's just minutes upon minutes of vague gyrating, practicing for a show that we never find out anything about, though it couldn't possibly be good.

These are intercut with guerrilla street footage of the Hollywood streets, the audio track removed because they probably knew having a boom mic would be too suspicious and they were either too lazy or too cheap to get the most basic of foley cityscapes. It's mind-numbingly bad, whereas the first third was sort of cheerfully inadequate. There was enough good and bad-good in that opening act to prevent me from hating the experience of watching the movie altogether, but you could easily shut it off an hour before credits roll, not knowing who the killer turns out to be (who could care - there are barely any killees), and be perfectly content with your life.

Killer: Logan (James Carroll Jordan)
Final Girl: Tori Raines (Cindy Ferda)
Sign of the Times: At one point during the endless city footage, we see a movie theater marquee playing A Fish Called Wanda.
Best Kill: Amos' death - when he wants to stage a suicide with a prop knife that has been unknowingly replaced with a real knife - actually has a modicum of tension and irony. And for some reason, it provides a stellar life insurance windfall for his brother, though lord knows why anyone would have insured Amos in the first place.
Scariest Moment: The killer briefly appears in a creepy black gimp mask.
Weirdest Moment: A biker is preparing to attack Tori, so he removes his eyebrows.
Champion Dialogue: "Rupert is the name, a poet as free as the ocean wind. And like a chiseled rock, I shall reveal my cock!"
Body Count: 5
  1. Alice Ryan has her throat sawed.
  2. Misty Rivers is strangled with a rope.
  3. Amos accidentally stabs himself in the gut.
  4. Oliver is shot.
  5. Logan is slashed in the face with a saw.
TL;DR: Slash Dance is a waste of a hell of a bonkers first act.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1186

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Census Flashback: High Altitude Terror

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Skyscraper, which is about The Rock jumping around a tall building with robot legs (?), I'll be reviewing Mountaintop Motel Massacre, another film about the terrible things that can happen to you when you're high up in the air.

Year: 1983
Director: Jim McCullough Sr.
Cast: Bill Thurman, Anna Chappell, Will Mitchell
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It probably says something about how deep into this project I am that one of the big titles I had yet to tackle was Mountaintop Motel Massacre. And yet this is a title I've been looking forward to for a long time, and yes I do mean title. Because not a single thing about this movie is good other than what it's called, and when will I freaking learn, you guys?

This is what slasher marketing does to me every time.

I'm about to hit you with a plot synopsis that could actually be spooky and effective if it was in the hands of someone who had heard of the word "atmosphere." So, a group of unrelated strangers show up at the Mountaintop Motel in Arkansas one stormy night, not realizing that the proprietor Evelyn (Anna Chappell) is a former mental patient who just snapped and murdered her own daughter Lorie (Jill King).

Of course she goes around killing them, and that's pretty much the whole plot, so let's Meet the Meat real quick. There's the drunkard Reverend Bill McWilley (Bill Thurman of Innocent Prey), who is by far the most well-rounded character in the movie, which should tell you something; newly married couple Vernon (Gregg Brazzel, who actually went on to have a substantial career as a stunt coordinator on projects as varied as Road Trip, Texas Chainsaw 3D, and Movie 43) and Mary (Marian Jones); token black handyman Crenshaw (Major Brock); and hitchhiking cousins Tanya (Virginia Loridians) and Prissy (Amy Hill, who is also credited with the costumes, so you know this movie had a budget), who are picked up under false pretenses by the lecherous businessman Al (Will Mitchell).

This would be a great setup if they could afford a light!

As a person who loves both good and bad movies, the greatest sin a film can commit is being boring. And Mountaintop Motel Massacre is boring as hell, so boring that it leached all the energy out of me to the point that I couldn't get out of my miserable pile on the couch to set it at 1.5x speed and get through it that much quicker (a blessed trick I have employed on certain of the worst of these flicks). 

The bulk of the plot involves these ill-defined characters constantly wandering from one cabin to another identical cabin, having a brief conversation, then going back to the original cabin. All of this scintillating nonsense (that, come to think of it, probably just used the same cabin set over and over and over again) is constantly intercut with Evelyn doing something nefarious in the tunnels beneath the motel, but it's usually too dark to see and very rarely involves actually murdering someone. Mostly it just involves putting cockroaches or rats in someone's room, because Yelp didn't exist yet so you could just do something like that.

And when she does finally get down to the murder business, it involves a lot of cutaways and smears of ketchup blood on body parts that don't quite match the action of the scene. If being boring is the greatest sin of any movie, having boring kills is Original Sin for the slasher, a mistake so bad it goes on to negatively affect every single other element in the film.

She puts the "Eve" in "Evelyn."

And, as always, it's not like I'm promoting exploitation necessarily, but this is a slasher movie with multiple sex scenes that doesn't even have the decency to show nudity. That's the last gasp of potential interest in a movie like this, and they don't even have the balls to use the cheapest special effects in Hollywood: boobs and butts. Mountaintop Motel Massacre provides not a single reason to justify its existence, not even the relatively unusual fact that it has a female killer.

I was hoping from the poster that Evelyn would turn out to be a grande dame of crazed bloodletting like Betsy Palmer from Friday the 13th or Susan Tyrrell from Night Warning, but Chappell underplays every single line of dialogue she's given, and the blocking that has her wander around uselessly in the dark isn't doing her any favors. 

Add in the truly uncomfortable Me Too-ing of Al and the cousins, and you've got a recipe for a truly unpleasant, unbearable film. Mountaintop Motel Massacre escapes being the worst of these Census Bloodbath entries on the merits of actually having the structure of a movie (I'm looking at you, The Outing), but it's a dreadful effort that I'd only recommend to people who self-flagellate and have misplaced their cat o' nine tails.

Killer: Evelyn (Anna Chappell)
Final Girl: Tanya (Virginia Loridans), through no fault of her own
Sign of the Times: In order to find a place to stay for the night, Al uses his car phone (!) to call his secretary and ask her to check the hotel guide (!!).
Best Kill: Evelyn's death was too complicated to actually even tell what was happening, but at least there was a special effect, so... great job?
Scariest Moment: Evelyn stares at the onlookers at her daughter's funeral and imagines their voices all saying she's crazy.
Weirdest Moment: When Crenshaw sees Evelyn peeking through a trapdoor, he calmly grabs a nail and hammers the door shut without a second thought, then moves on with his life.
Champion Dialogue: "Where in the name of God's angels did rats come from?"
Body Count: 8
  1. Lorie's Rabbit is decapitated with a scythe.
  2. Lorie is slashed with a scythe.
  3. Prissy is scythed in the face.
  4. Reverend Bill is scythed in the chest.
  5. Mary is scythed and stabbed.
  6. Vernon is scythed in the neck.
  7. Crenshaw is scythed offscreen. 
  8. Evelyn gets impaled in the throat with some falling wood.
TL;DR: Mountaintop Motel Massacre is much too boring for the title it has.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1070

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Popcorn Kernels: Q2 Review Purge

In which we run through some mini-reviews of current 2018 films that I either didn't have time or interest to review fully.


Year: 2018
Director: Jeff Tomsic
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A group of five grown men play the same game of tag every month of May, and they're pulling out all the stops for their final season, interrupting the wedding of the only friend who has never been tagged.

Tag is a hangout comedy through and through, and luckily you mostly do want to hang out with these people, even if they're textbook examples of the white heterosexual man-children that occupy so much space in the comedy arena. It doesn't hurt that one of these people is Jon Hamm, who takes to comedy like a fish to water, and excels in any of the few places that ask him to be funny. Ed Helms is also never a bad personality to spend time with, Jeremy Renner's asshole character is in too little of the movie to make a negative impact, and Jake Johnson's cartoon stoner character isn't as foregrounded as another movie would have made him,

OK, well now that it's laid out like that, maybe I don't want to spend time with these people. Who I do want to spend time with is Isla Fisher as Ed Helms' wife. She occupies the Rose Byrne in Neighbors role here, as the supportive wife who is eighteen times more invested in the antics than her partner, to the point that it's almost psychotic. She steals the movie like she's auditioning for Ocean's 9, with a relaxed confidence that is effortlessly cool and compelling.

Where Tag fails is anytime it tries to apply any sort of dramatic subtext to the goings-on. We don't care about Jeremy Renner's relationship with these people for the same reason that it's troubled: he's never with them. There is no rapport established at any point in the movie, even in the many lame slow motion flashbacks to kids running around like gremlins.

Although his character is no good for drama, Renner does give the movie its best sequences, where it turns into a slapstick action movie. He channels the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes with a perfectly calculated inner monologue that show what an absolute machine he is when it comes to the game of Tag. These sequences are probably a bit too violent for how seriously the movie takes the rest of its characters and their situations (there is a really bad bit where the fakeouts and reality blend in a way that is much too brutal for what the stakes of this game really are), but they're also energetic and fun bright spots in a movie that mostly presents its world in a drab color palette of slate greys and shadow.

It seems like it's trying to be one of those indie comedies that isn't really funny, but an occasional Paul Feig burst of energy emerges to save the day. This doesn't add up to anything particularly special, but I had a decent time watching it, if only to see some fun personalities chill with one another and chatter pleasantly about the good old days.

Rating: 6/10


Year: 2018
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Rosco Campbell
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A man whose wife has been murdered, leaving him a paraplegic, gets a computer chip installed in his spine that allows him to exact bloody revenge.

Have you heard of the odious movie trope known as "fridging?" The more you're aware of it, the less you'll like the first act of this movie, which uses a dead woman as a kick-off to a man's arc like many an action flick. This is not forgivable by the fact that Upgrade transparently wants to be a sci-fi version of Death Wish, though maybe it's a little more comprehensible why anybody thought that plot line was a good idea in mid-2018. Maybe.

That aside, I liked Upgrade quite a bit. Other than its obvious Death Wish ties, it also seems to be a pre-remake of the upcoming flick Venom, with a murderous symbiote grafted to a Tom Hardy lookalike. It's like an Asylum studios project, only actually fun!

Set in a Blade Runner-esque near future (the fact that this movie only serves to remind you of other movies could have been a liability, but the way it mixes and matches the tropes its pulling does give it a certain madcap playset energy that does it well), Upgrade exists in a beautifully conceived setting. It's not a particularly wide world they have created, but the honeycomb design of most of the futuristic spaces combined with the still-recognizable remnants of our current society that haven't quite been phased out is a triumph of mid-budget production design.

Although the characters are stock archetypes and the plot is predictable as hell, it's still fun to watch this roller coaster ride play out through this world, and the action sequences contained therein are pretty phenomenal. Logan Marshall-Green gets a chance to show off his best Bruce Campbell impression as his body performs incredible stunts, much to the shock of his face. The duality of the two characters inhabiting one body is never forgotten, and his physical performance is terrific, adding a boost to well-choreographed fights that end in ecstatically gruesome gore gags.

Sure, Upgrade isn't the most original or provocative movie that tumbled into theaters this year, but it was a hell of a turn-your-brain-off good time. Leigh Whannell knows how to entertain an audience, and in the summer season that's exactly what the world needs.

Rating: 7/10

The Death of Stalin
Year: 2018
Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

After the death of Josef Stalin, his political comrades struggle to fill the power vacuum he has left behind, with hilarious [sic] results.

The Death of Stalin is a comedy for fancy people. I like to consider myself a fancy person every now and again (at least in my movie tastes, though that fact that I give equal marks to Breathless and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre probably disqualifies me from the club), but boy was this movie a chore. If you took the most forgotten sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus and expanded it into a feature film, it would be exactly like this movie. Except funnier.

This is Monty Python through a game of telephone, with characters jostling for attention through a series of comic vignettes that quietly refuse to land. It's a very meat and potatoes comedy, relying on setups and gags that are creaking and musty with age. But that's probably not fair to the movie either, because Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times uses every comic trick in the book and it's still fresh nearly a century later. It just kind of doesn't work, at least for my personal sense of humor, which is obviously extremely subjective.

The thing I think people are having a hard time separating here is the difference between "something smart" and "smart humor." Sure, this movie knows a heck of a lot about Russian politics, but faithfully presenting that throughout multiple extended scenes of murder and torture isn't funny. It just... is. Death of Stalin works better as a low budget History Channel documentary than a comedy, faithfully presenting so many events that it leaches the humor right on out of them in favor of historical footnotes and endless cameos from political figures of the time.

Maybe I'm just an uncultured boor who likes things to be loud and in my face, but this one just wasn't doing for me. And the less said about Jeffrey Tambor's presence, the better.

Rating: 4/10

Deep Blue Sea 2 (For the Scream 101 episode about this title, click here.)

Year: 2018
Director: Darin Scott
Cast: Danielle Savre, Rob Mayes, Michael Beach
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A businessman brings a team of experts to an ocean facility where he's experimenting on sharks to create a pill that increases intelligence, and obviously the sharks eat most of those people.

And here is the movie that I'm going to give the same rating as Death of Stalin, even though my enjoyment with it took me about ten million light years further than the former. I contain multitudes, everyone.

I have seen my fair share of direct-to-video, many years later sequels, and I must say, Deep Blue Sea 2 delivered exactly what I was expecting (a pale wisp of the original that acts more as a remake than a bona fide sequel). And yet, there's some spark about it that kept me invested more than usual. I wouldn't go so far to say that it qualifies as a true bad-good epic, but it certainly flirts with being entertaining more often than not, which is more than I can say for a lot of its ilk.

There are certainly a great deal of budgetary limitations that lead to a drab set, subpar acting, and an alarming lack of shark mayhem for long periods. But those limitations also lead to some very special moments, most notably a completely indelible scene where a shark puppet spies on a conversation through a porthole. Also, the one element where the film truly feels like a sequel is by far its best: instead of the giant sharks being the villains this time around, it's a herd of baby mutant sharks that have been let loose in the facility.

These baby sharks are the stuff that B-movie dreams are made of. They're adorable partially because of their low-fi nature, they allow for some creative kill sequences that wouldn't be physically possible with a larger specimen, and they allow this film to have some sort of feeling of generational legacy and passing the baton that gives it the air of a sequel, even if it's really nothing of the sort.

Sure, I could do with a lot fewer scenes of the characters wandering down the same metal hallway and bleating about their divergent philosophies. But for my money (which, mark you, was $1.75 at Redbox, I ain't no big spender), I had a decent time with this one. Recommended to anyone who likes sharks and isn't discerning.

Rating: 4/10

Sicario: Day of the Solado
Year: 2018
Director: Stefano Sollima
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

American operatives attempt to ignite a cartel war by kidnapping the daughter of a kingpin.

I have no large amount of love for the original Sicario, which is a beautiful but deeply unpleasant experience. But the deeper I got into the cumbersomely titled Day of the Soldado, the more I realized the value of that film. Because this is exactly the movie Sicario could have been if the script wasn't guided by the firm hands of director Denis Villenueve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and star Emily Blunt.

Replace those people with an Italian TV director, the dude who shot the "Eternal Flame" music video, the cellist from The Revenant, and, well, nobody could replace Emily Blunt, and you have stripped away everything that made Sicario great. Instead of being a slick, tense, visually stunning descent into bleak nihilism, this film is just a shotgun blast of misery that begins to falter in the third act and falls face first in the mud before credits roll.

This film has a lot of problems, but it starts by introducing a wholly unnecessary terrorism element in favor of being "topical" before completely ignoring that plotline to continue their heavy-handed drudgery about the Mexican border (a topic that in the age of Trump is even more unpleasant to engage with, by the way). This allows the movie to reintroduce Josh Brolin's amoral character in a torture scene that reminds you how unsympathetic he is, before forcing you to spend the entire movie with him.

Also returning is Benicio del Toro, whose entire motivation has been corrupted by the need to bring back somebody else from the original film. He at least gets to act across from one of the only two interesting people in the movie, the young and talented Isabela Moner (the other is also a newbie - Elijah Rodriguez as a Mexican-American living in a Texas bordertown).

But the movie is still an endless repetition of shots and elements of the original, but worse. Even the overhead shots of helicopters soaring over the Mexican desert are more boring and ill-framed, and those were literally just shots of objects moving in a straight line. This is a sequel that never should have existed in the first place, and every single thing it does serves to remind you of that fact, especially the two worst elements in the movie: a pair of pulled punches in the third act that convert the film into a half-hearted fist-pumping hero flick, and Catherine Keener as Brolin's boss, totally lost in her nothing of a character. One to miss.

Rating: 3/10
Word Count:
Reviews In This Series
Sicario (Villenueve, 2015)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sollima, 2018)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff

Year: 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña 
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

So this is how the Marvel movie year ends, not with a bang but with Michelle Pfeiffer. A scant two months and change after Avengers: Infinity War ravaged theaters worldwide, we're getting Ant-Man and the Wasp, a wispy summer treat before the MCU goes dormant until 2019, giving us some much needed rest. In which time we'll be getting Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Teen Titans GO to the Movies, Venom, Aquaman, Hellboy, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Never say Hollywood doesn't try to capitalize on a trend.

So, we pick up nearly two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War (remember those? me neither). Ant-Man is on house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords (yeah, I don't know), and he is three days away from being allowed to return to the world. Unfortunately, right about this time is when he discovers a quantum entanglement with Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the long-thought-dead wife of original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). This reunites him with Hank and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, who for continuity's sake has to wear her original bowl cut wig in several scenes, causing me to giggle for about twenty minutes straight because I did not remember how stupid it looked and it really caught me by surprise), and they struggle to rebuild their relationship while figuring out how to rescue Janet from the quantum realm. I promise I reduced as much pseudo-science gobbledygook as I could from that paragraph. It was a Herculean effort.

While our heroes run through a video game-esque gauntlet of "Need Object A? Acquire Object B to gain access to Object C to get it," they must avoid the FBI officer Jimmy Woo (my boy Randall Park), the rogue tech black marketeer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a girl whose particles keep expanding and contracting, allowing her to phase through objects, but keeping her in intense pain. She thinks she can cure her condition by sucking the science juice out of Michelle Pfeiffer, or something.

Though honestly, the pain seems like a fair trade for such a rad evil suit.

So far both Ant-Man movies have felt like a bit of a break from the MCU at large. The first one had a stronger separate core for its own story (namely, the heist element), whereas this one does have to deal largely with the implications left behind from a previous spinoff, but for the most part it's equally contained. The plot itself is a bit more sprawling, but it doesn't spill over into any other characters or plot lines, which is a welcome respite after the world-shattering character collisions of Infinity War  that required an MCU encyclopedia to get through.

And also much like the first one, there isn't a lot of meat on these bones. Anytime the story turns its focus to its feeble character drama, it becomes almost laughable. Lilly and Rudd's total lack of romantic chemistry exposes the mechanical artifice of the script. Whenever they exchange a glance or a kiss, you can hear the plot gears chunk into place. These things don't happen because they want them to, they happen because the narrative needs them to. The same goes for this film's wrinkle, the fact that Ant-Man's suit is a prototype and sometimes malfunctions, randomly changing his size at inopportune moments. But this happens only when its most convenient to the plot for a joke, and doesn't cause any major strife other than yet another one of the film's endless video game side missions.

"Alright, who ordered the plot contrivance?"

Honestly, I'd be more content if this was just a comedy about being on house arrest, because as usual the humor is by far the strongest element of the movie. The bulk of this is delivered by Michael Peña, who returns to once more prove that the entire movie lies in the palm of his hand, but we also, blissfully get an appearance by Randall Park. I've long been a proponent of Park, but this is the first side role he's gotten in a comedy where he really gets to shine, allowing his character's businesslike exterior and seriousness convert into awkward ineptitude and confusion at the drop of a hat. It's his best work in a long time, and he's always doing his best work.

Paul Rudd is of course on fire as well, but whenever he has to deal with Lilly and her bleating nothing of a character, he flounders a little bit. He flounders a lot bit during a scene where [SEMI-SPOILERS] he channels a woman's spirit into his body, which he plays like a high school freshman trying drag for the first time in drama class [SPOILERS OVER]. But come on. He's Paul Rudd. He acts his way back out of that paper bag over and over again. And then there's Michael Douglas, who at this point is just expensive window dressing. 

At least they fixed Hope's hair. This is an even bigger triumph than Jurassic World correcting Bryce Dallas Howard's footwear.

But even if the drama is firing on zero cylinders, the action is solid enough to provide a satisfying popcorn superhero romp. They really lean into our heroes' abilities to change size here, turning various small rooms and San Francisco cityscapes into wonderful Alice in Wonderland playsets, finding new, creative uses for everyday objects that is tremendously satisfying, even if it's not particularly groundbreaking.

Really, Ant-Man and the Wasp does what it needed to do. It provides us a (blissfully short, for one of these movies) two hours of distraction from the world outside (and, if you live near me, the blistering heat wave we got last Friday). It doesn't try your patience or test your brain in any way, it just lets you sink into a morass of fun, funny people doing spectacular things and not asking you to feel too much about it other than excitement. It won't go down in the pantheon of great summer movies, but it hits the spot, for sure.

TL;DR: Ant-Man and the Wasp is a forgettable popcorn movie, which is exactly what it needed to be.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1048
Reviews In This Series
Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015)
Ant-Man (Reed, 2015)
Captain America: Civil War (Russo & Russo, 2016)
Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016)
Black Panther (Coogler, 2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (Russo & Russo, 2018)
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018)