Fighting with my Family

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This uplifting sports comedy-drama follows WWE wrestler Paige and her real-life journey from holding small matches with her family in England to becoming a worldwide superstar.

Fighting with my Family not only retains some rare, real genius in its humor that all audiences will love, but also delivers a touching and exciting story that will keep you rooting for the characters from beginning to end. Though Paige’s story isn’t a “shocking” or “never seen before” one, the movie lets you forget that it at times has some familiar aspects by delivering a heartfelt script that won’t take you of the scene for a second. Florence Pugh perfectly embodies her character, who is passionate, tough, and isn’t always set on looking “pretty” but not afraid to fight rough, and Pugh really brings some soul to the role as well. Jack Lowden also delivers some great heart as her brother who has an important role in the story that will also make you legitimately care for him and the relationship between the two siblings. Nick Frost and Lena Headey are not only outrageously hilarious parents who love wrestling as much as their kids, and bigger are cast to get some bigger names out there, but they feel like truly loving and supportive parents, despite their outgoing personalities. That’s where the film’s true strength comes — even when the movie goes for monstrous laugh-out-loud moments, it never forgets to deliver some true heart and soul at the same time, which makes it a terrific theater experience in both the enjoyment aspect, and the actual quality the film delivers. Vince Vaughn, who is normally a comedic performer, is surprisingly in the serious role here, and he excellently takes on a coach who goes hard on his wrestlers because he clearly cares about their future in the sport, and also has some down-to-earth moments with the main roles. And wrestling legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has some very memorable appearances that remind us why he is such an icon in both the wrestling and film industries, and its nice to see him go for a more inspirational role than just the badass running from explosions, even if his role in this film is minimal.

Fighting with my Family proves an excellent debut for Stephen Merchant behind the camera, who, like I said, perfectly balances humor with some authentic substance and strong writing that will make you fall in love with the characters. Even though you can tell how the climax will end, this movie will have you constantly laughing out loud but also cheering for the leading character of Paige thanks to some great performances and an ultimately uplifting and cheerful experience you won’t want to forget.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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The citizens of Bricksburg face a dangerous new threat when LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space start to wreck everything in their path. The battle to defeat the enemy and restore harmony to the LEGO universe takes Emmet, Lucy, Batman and the rest of their friends to faraway, unexplored worlds that test their courage and creativity.

Under the childlike playfulness and humor of a film based on a popular children’s toy line, there’s some heart to be found in this enjoyable and amusing sequel. Despite a concept that was ridiculous when first announced, these Lego movies have actually resonated with critics and audiences as well as at the box office. Though there’s more merit to be found in other animated franchises, the Lego film franchise remains not only a great way for the company to sell more toys, but a pleasing showcase of great cast members, colorful animation, and effective humor. Though sometimes the humor doesn’t hit its mark and feels only aimed towards kids, there’s also some jokes that only adults will get, like references to previous Batman movies (Lego Batman even compares himself to Michael Keaton and Christian Bale at one point), Die Hard, and even an appearance from a Lego version of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As outrageous as it may seem, this film, that’s literally a Lego movie, isn’t afraid to not take itself seriously at all (there’s even a song called “This Song’s Going to Get Stuck Inside Your Head” used to brainwash some characters), but that’s what makes it work. The studios hit the jackpot when they were able to cast Chris Pratt as Emmet because nobody fits the role better than him, but Pratt also plays a new role who’s a clear compilation of Pratt’s live action roles from Avengers and Jurassic World. Will Arnett as Lego Batman is once again another standout, but so are Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz as Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and General Sweet Mayhem, especially Haddish who sings and entertains in her over-the-top but memorable role. Though her character is at times ridiculous to look at, like I said, the film’s ability to go all out on referencing other materials and embrace the ridiculousness of it all is what makes it quite fun, and Haddish as well as every cast member make the best out of their roles (even cameo appearances like Bruce Willis and Jason Momoa who reprise their roles from Die Hard and Aquaman, respectively)

Despite the absurd concepts and non-serious premise, the film finds away to make meaning out of these plastic characters and touch the viewer’s heart by the end. though the first half is basically what you’d expect in terms of story and direction, the movie, especially the second half, connects everything to a bigger theme that applies to the real world — be yourself and let others do the same. This will make for a touching message for audiences of all ages. My one minor problem is — at the end of The Lego Batman Movie, Batman became much more open and decided not to push away those who were like family to him, but here it feels like he’s still trying to not fill that void of losing his parents — I didn’t expect them to go too deep about it, but it almost felt like they undid his development from that movie by having Batman still try to push away any personal relationships. Even though the overall story and script won’t blow you away, the humor and entertaining cast, songs, themes, and references are enough for kids and parents to have a fun time at the movies.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Miles Morales is juggling his life between being a high school student and being Spider-Man. However, when Wilson Fisk uses a collider to open a portal to new dimensions, Peter Parker, another Spider-Man from another dimension, accidentally winds up in Miles’ dimension, joining others from across the “Spider-Verse”.

This animated version of Spider-Man is brought to life with a less popular iteration of the character, Miles Morales, and is animated to look like a comic-book with many different editions of the Spider-Man character appearing, as well as many familiar villains. Though it starts about the same as any Spider-Man story, the second half presents some unexpected and mature character moments that are touching and make the final act of the movie exciting and rewarding. There are some humorous moments throughout, and a solid voice cast, including Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Mahershala Ali. The animation is often vibrant and colorful, even though some scenes and details feel very vague and dull graphically. Even though it did make me laugh a few times, some moments do feel cringeworthy or only there for fan service. The soundtrack was also poorly chosen and the awful rap songs distract from the strong point some scenes were trying to make. Even though I enjoyed seeing villains like Doc Ock and Green Goblin appear, I don’t approve of them turning Fisk from a compelling and unpredictable human being into a heartless, soulless antagonist who doesn’t stop before making evil decisions and has no moral compass like the superior portrayal of the character in the Netflix series Daredevil. It’s clearly a kid’s film, so I don’t expect them to make him an R-rated character, but I was hoping for enough layer to stay true to what I love about the character but also fit for a PG-rated movie. I really loved Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, who I had no idea was also Spider-Woman before seeing this movie (and I’d easily watch a spin-off of her own should Sony choose to make one), and Spider-Ham is also an unexpectedly fun character. There’s also a terrific Stan Lee cameo and a touching tribute to the late legend during the credits. Even though the movie does teach kids that they can all be Spider-Man, we don’t need the line “Anyone can wear the mask” constantly repeated to understand that.

Kids and families will definitely have a good time with this new family-friendly version of the friendly neighborhood hero from New York. However, I personally felt that it’s only in the second half of the film where it really finds its heart and makes up for a predictable first half with some heartwarming moments, adding to its solid cast and characters as well as its unique style.

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The Favourite

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In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her friendship with the Queen threatens Sarah’s place in court.
Yorgos Lanthimos has already made a name for himself as a filmmaker with a distinct style and a cult favorite, though his style definitely won’t appeal to all audiences. I, for one, am a huge fan of his dark humor that feels fresh and different from any other films, as well as the pessimism and dark character relationships and themes he presents. The Favourite brings the dark humor he’s known for and will make some laugh and other cringe and feel awkward. However, these moments make for some of the phenomenal scenes in The Favourite, ones that you won’t forget because they dare to break the standards of what one would expect in a period piece, though those familiar with Lanthimos know what they’re in for. The Favourite is a beautiful looking film with the best costumes and sets of the year and inventive cinematography that changes camera distance mid-scene or even mid-action and breaks known filming rules such as the 180 rule. Another standout is the performances from three exceptional women. Olivia Colman is a queen who often appears less as a leader but a woman “stalked by tragedy”, who is often rude and feels sorry for herself but also seeks to care for those closest to her, or her “favourite”. Rachel Weisz is also great as a deceitful woman who is unlikable but also just wants to maintain her relationship with the Queen. Emma Stone was the standout to me, and this is up there with her Birdman and La La Land roles as she nails an English accent and plays the only character you really want to root for, though by the end, the film makes us wonder if anyone was really a good person here. By powerfully showing a rivalry between these women begging for love and favour from the Queen, Yorgos conveys the themes that people want to reach high status and just want to satisfy their immediate feelings and passion, but do these prizes really solve everything? The Favourite is never really a fun film but you will be intrigued by this main storyline, even though the style is not for everyone. At times it does slow down whenever it focuses on the Queen’s leadership and the Parliament, but the main strength comes from the spirit these actresses bring to the screen. The Favourite is a movie that needs a lot of reflecting on, with a final shot that’s as meaningful as it is puzzling and odd but brings so much layer to the film.
The Favourite is top-notch filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos doing what he does best — bringing a unique style to the screen with spectacular prestige cinematography and strong, pessimistic themes anchored by three wonderful leading performances.
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Ralph Breaks the Internet

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When a Wi-Fi router is plugged into the arcade, Wreck-It Ralph and his best friend Vanellope embark on a journey into the Internet to save Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush.

Wreck-It Ralph was released in 2012 and remains one of Disney’s most impressive animated films in recent years, but do people still want to see Ralph on the big screen again six years later? Well, according to the box-office response of this newly-released sequel, adults are still taking their children and having a great time with characters like Ralph and the idea of a video game character going on a virtual journey. Thankfully, it wasn’t too late for a Wreck-It Ralph 2 and even though not everyone was sold with the product-placement-heavy idea of the Internet as a setting when it was first announced, it comes off as entertaining and expands the world of its setting and characters. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney adds a fun, well-animated, and at times touching family flick to their roster, even though it doesn’t reach the bar the first one set for this franchise. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman still fit very well in their main roles and even though Fix-It Felix and Sgt. Calhoun have roles demoted from the first film to very minor appearances, the new cast, especially Gal Gadot as a tough yet inspiring racer named Shank, is still impressive. The depiction of the Interent is creative and some of the references are fun, even though not all of them hit home and come off as trying too hard to feel relevant to the cringeworthy meme content of 2018. There’s a particular scene that’s been marketed in the trailers in which Vanellope goes to a Disney website where she meets Princesses, Stormtroopers, and other Marvel/Star Wars/Disney characters, and this could have easily been a simple declaration by Disney of how much they own. However, this scene turned out to be the highlight of the film, as it feels self-aware about cliches faced by the princesses and hits the mark with animation, humor, and eye-catching references. The humor will often make you laugh even though it does sometimes feel too childish, which is disappointing because usually Disney’s humor is more mature and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, but that felt a tad less present here. The movie will touch some viewers with its profound themes of friendship — however, this arc for its lead characters only comes in around the final act, and before that it’s just a fun adventure with humor that doesn’t always achieve its goal. Lots of Disney’s films have a great message viewers of all ages can take away, and here it’s only present at the end and before that there isn’t a clear emotional arc to drive the characters. In the first film, Ralph embarked on a journey of self-discovery in which he made friends and learned that you don’t need a medal to be a villain. Here, despite the entertaining concept throughout, there isn’t that emotional core that drives the film the whole way like in the first movie. However, the animation, cast, and overall plot is pleasing enough for viewers and Disney fans to enjoy — just don’t expect it to be as meaningful and satisfying as the first one.

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The Grinch

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Christmas is arriving in Whoville, and everyone can’t wait — except for The Grinch, who despises the holiday. Together with his trusty dog Max, he sets out to steal everyone’s Christmas gifts and end the beloved holiday once and for all.

The Grinch is an adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss story many grew up reading and knowing, which was previously adapted by Ron Howard in 2000 — so was there really a point in this movie being made? We all know how the story goes and this movie offers nothing knew that the story benefits from with another adaptation. The plot is very by-the-books and the humor is aimed for children and children only. This film is marketed as a “reimagining” but no imagination is put into the script or themes that will make audiences discover something new. Kids will have a blast with the ridiculous humor, but as one who has seen tons of animated movies, every joke was predictable and felt recycled to me. Some scenes made only to extend a short children’s story to a 90-minute feature film are so laughable it’s hard to imagine film executives sitting in a pitch room planning those scenes out for a movie. The computer animation is dull and not very exciting compared to Disney’s animated films which bring so much energy into their animation. The ultimate theme of kindness will likely appeal to young ones and teach them a lesson — one that adults have seen many times already and don’t need repeated to them. Benedict Cumberbatch was a solid choice to play the Grinch, but it feels like a missed opportunity that they chose to use his American accent instead of letting him use his natural English accent that has worked as menacing and villanous in many films before. There’s also one other entertaining voice role, played by SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, but lots of the film also focuses on a young girl named Cindy Lou, and this subplot feels like the most bloated and tough-to-sit-through part of the film until the message of it only makes sense at the very end. The book this movie is based on is called How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the actual stealing of Christmas which is the objective of the whole film is mostly skimmed past in a montage. There are also some very weird soundtrack choices like an awful rap version of the classic hit “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the original adaptation, and other oddly placed music like a song from The Sound of Music. I enjoyed the first two Despicable Me movies, but after that it looks like Illumination has lost their originality when it comes to animated films with films like Minions, Despicable Me 3 and Sing which all felt like wastes of time and effort, retreading the same ground and offering less of a family invitation and more of a “kids drag their parents to it” kind of films to make money. It seems like Disney and Pixar are the only animation studios that still deliver new and unique family films in my eyes, and the rest have given up.

The Grinch offers no originality or justification to be watched or even made, compromising itself to please young children more than families, and covers the same kind of humor and themes that too many animated films have already taken on. You may want to your kids if they’re interested when it comes out next week, and you may even enjoy it like my sneak preview audience mostly did, but don’t expect anything insightful or fresh. We may just have to wait until Ralph Breaks the Internet for the deserving family film of the season.

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Crazy Rich Asians

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Rachel agrees to go with her boyfriend to meet his family in Singapore, not knowing the rich lifestyle and reputation they have there.

An all Asian cast is a great move for diversity in film when we need it, to help make everyone feel represented on screen. There’s some solid casting with an especially great turn from Michelle Yeoh, and the leads played by Constance Wu and Henry Golding are impressive as well. By having both Asian-American and Singaporean characters, the script has some interesting ideas about how different Asian cultures see each other and how their lives differ. Unfortunately, it’s not until the last act that the film realizes this, and the road there is a poorly directed and edited series of extended party scenes, unnecessary subplots, and an overabundance of pathetic supporting characters, especially an annoying role played by Awkwafina. Not much of the film focuses on the chemistry between these leads which is unfortuante because everything else is either repetitive (a 20-minute party scene dedicates most of its runtime simply to Rachel’s boyfriend introducing her to side characters that are useless and quickly forgotten about). Sometimes the dramatic moments feel unauthentic or too over-the-top to fit the rest of the film. The editing is all over the place and doesn’t know how to stay focused, and whenever the dialogue thinks it’s being funny, it’s actually insufferable. The movie compromises itself too much to please a wider audience simply looking for cool party aesthetics and happy moments instead of going for a profound journey for its main character. Just when the ending seems figured out, the ending feels like a cop out because the film is too afraid to take any risks. With the ideas this film had, it’s a pity the director made poor choices to focus less on the meaningful substance I’m sure they were aiming for. This is a step up for diversity in movies but not for mainstream comedy filmmaking. Keep in mind that the majority of audiences seemed to have loved this film, but I personally was not impressed by what I saw. If you want a film about what’s really important in the world today, I’d strongly recommend BlacKkKlansman.

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