Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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FBI agent Matt Graver teams up with operative Alejandro Gillick to prevent Mexican drug cartels from smuggling terrorists across the U.S. border.

Sicario director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, who helped make the first one feel so special, are absent this time, but Stefano Sollima and DP Dariusz Wolski still hold their ground to create beautiful production and violent sequences that nearly hold up to the first one’s glamour. The sound editing is harrowing and elevates the terror of sequences that could feel like real-life combat, and the gunfight choreography and use of blood to elevate terror are fitting. Like the first film, even with a slight amount of violence the stakes can be gripping, which is strong for a world with movies filled with loud sound effects and explosions. Even without Emily Blunt, the cast is great, particularly Benicio del Toro once again as a complex lead who isn’t all heroic and also dark at times. Josh Brolin also has a great return as a man trying to get the job done, and this actor never seems to disappoint or perform under your expectations, as he’s able to embrace every one of his performances to the fullest. Some of the powerful writing from the first film is present — like exploring the children of drug lords and their experience in the crosshairs.

Like its predecessor, Day of the Soldado is very well-shot, with night vision scenes to intense shootout sequences in the desert, and the music is as awe-inspiring as in the first. However, there are some scenes that feel unnecessary to the plot or don’t lead to many places, and the movie introduces some great ideas in the first two acts that are ignored towards the end. The ending feels like its teasing what could be next in Sicario 3 which is fine but it ends a little too abruptly to be taken in. I’m glad it’s unpredictable and well made like the first movie but it doesn’t feel as motivated and suspenseful, and it hardly felt like a complete story because a little too much was left open for the next movie and there wasn’t edge of your seat tension and shock in the climax or most importantly emotion like the first film’s insane final minutes. It’s still got a dark story and themes like the first one that work very well, and holds its ground in terms of style, but in the end never justifies its existence other than promising a hopefully better Sicario threequel.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado feels as well-done and harrowingly violent as its predecessor, with great performances as well, but doesn’t completely embrace its themes and saitsfy in terms of substance by the end. Recommended for action fans who will likely enjoy the  thrilling and violent fight sequences like I did.

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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot follows the true story of paraplegic John Callahan and his dealing with alcoholism, as well as his cartoon drawing which made him famous, and his journey of coming to terms with the people in his life.

This movie promises a great cast as well as an interesting premise from a talented director, and it mostly lives up to the promise. Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favorite actors right now, and it’s hard to find a film where he doesn’t deliver. Here he plays a real-life paraplegic alcoholic so well that you constantly feel his depression and regret present in certain scenes and his brightness in others. Phoenix portrays a physically and emotionally damaged man from real life very intimately and carries the film better than any other actor would have. Also great in a supporting role is Jonah Hill who’s character plays a key role in John Callahan’s recovery. The story is at its strongest when the actor’s performances are at their best, as many scenes’ dialogue are delivered very well by the actors and certain scenes do have an emotional impact. However, the story structure starts to feel weaker in the middle act when not much emotion is present and some scenes didn’t feel too necessary. The story is at its best when it digs deepest into Callahan but sometimes the writing didn’t hit its mark, and the occasional non-linear storytelling felt unjustified and distracting whenever it was hardly there. When the movie focuses on its core themes of recovery and forgiveness, it succeeds greatly but sometimes it focuses more on dark humor or repetitiveness. Thankfully, we do get some great scenes thanks to top-notch writing and acting, and some strong delivery of story and themes.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is elevated by a superb performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a great emotional arc for his real-life character, and though the second act feels lesser to stronger parts in the beginning and end, it’s an often fascinating true story you may want to check out for its cast and writing, and those who like biopics will especially enjoy it when it’s released this July.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Three years after the fall of Jurassic World, Owen and Claire return to the island to rescue the dinosaurs from a volcano that will cause the extinction of all the dinosaurs on the island.

There’s no surprise that audiences, including me, will continue to go pay watching dinosaurs wreak havoc on the big screen, not just because I enjoy it, but also because Jurassic Park is still on my top 10 favorite movies and I continue to have high hopes for the franchise. Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom ditches a lot of the heart this series used to have for new high-paid cast members and plenty of scenes dedicated to rich corporate officials talking about dinosaur genetics. Jurassic World was far from perfect but still really enjoyable and had tons of edge-of-your-seat suspense, and one of the best parts of that movie was Chris Pratt’s protagonist, Owen Grady. Last time we met him, he was a unique dino trainer who knew the creatures better than anyone and took on threats in style. Here, there’s nothing heartfelt or fun to his role that all of Chris Pratt’s other performances seem to possess. His character is hardly developed this time around and his connection to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is done the exact same way as in the last movie. The new characters played by Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, and Toby Jones are anything but engaging and a large subplot involving a young girl made zero impact on the film’s plot. The child protagonist subplot didn’t work well last time, so why try it again with a new child character? Also, if the movie can afford Jeff Goldblum in its budget, why only have him in two scenes instead of having him be a main character again like the old times? The movie’s character roster could have really used a lot more of him as none of the characters outside of Pratt and Howard are interesting at all.

If you’re looking for some monster fun, don’t worry, this will probably please you as plenty of scenes are entertaining for a wide audience. The CGI is great, and even better than the last time around. Every dinosaur has a fun look and characteristic to it and the dinosaur action is quite pleasing most of the time, especially a scene on the island which has been highly teased in the marketing. Viewers new to the franchise and those who love the fright the previous films offer won’t be let down on an action standpoint, and director J.A. Bayona quite delivers with some great shots and visuals. The story does start off with a nice concept that raises the question of whether these creatures that us humans created deserve to live — but it rushes to the action without much meaning or strong buildup. Soon the plot becomes too uneven and it focuses not enough on its main characters and too much on useless or boring parts without moving forward into new ideas the franchise hasn’t explored before. The trailer makes this seem like the Empire Strikes Back of the Jurassic Park movies but there isn’t much tension or suspense besides the constant dinosaur noise after dinosaur noise, and even the action scenes have the familiar “characters making dumb mistakes near monsters” tropes. At the end, it didn’t feel like I had watched a complete movie because though the story could’ve been something very thrilling, there isn’t much depth to it. This could’ve worked really well and even been one of the best Jurassic movies, if only there was a reason to care and get invested into the plot aside from great CGI and chases. The ending is an interesting choice that teases a (hopefully) better final installment, but there wasn’t much of a reason to get excited when it ends. I remember at the end of Jurassic Park, I felt like I had seen something magical like never before, and at the end of Jurassic World, I felt like I had to catch my breath after all the intense and awesome action, but here, there’s no reaction or takeaway that I felt like I did with previous installments of the saga.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom works on the surface as a good looking dinosaur extravaganza with action that will please many wide audiences, but the story has nothing fresh to the franchise and the character focus is out of place. I would recommend it for its action but as a film with real quality, not much is offered that will resonate. It doesn’t reach the heights of what’s been done before and I feel that this saga has much more to it than what’s offered here. It ends up being a mediocre monster movie that many can still have fun with, but won’t be remembered as one of the greats.

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Incredibles 2

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After defeating Syndrome, the Parr family continues to balance their superhero lives with their civilian lives as Elastigirl is recruited to help legalize superheroes.

Since The Incredibles was released 14 years ago, it’s become one of Pixar’s greatest sensations and it’s no wonder everyone anticipated this sequel for so long. Having grown up with the first movie, I was one of the people waiting so long to see this one. I loved the action, heart, and approach to the superhero genre the first one offered, as well as the brilliant style we always see from Pixar. Thankfully, a lot of that returns in Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up that carries down all the heart the first film had. It’s not just a movie about superheroes fighting villains, but a movie about being a family while having superpowers. The terrific cast from the first movie is mostly back — Holly Hunter is wonderful as Elastigirl with plenty of fun to her character once again as she takes on new duties in the spotlight, and it’s also great to see Craig T. Nelson back as Mr. Incredible as he strengthens his bonds with his children after being away in the first movie, and learns to take care of the home life as a father. It’s also great to have Samuel L. Jackson back as the lovable and awesome hero Frozone, and director Brad Bird once again voices the hysterical suit designer Edna Mode. New additions to the cast are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener who are both great as siblings who are advocating to legalize supers.

Another element worth noting is how the animation has stepped up since 2004 which really shows in every frame. The years worth of animating work pays off with the stunning detail in every picture. Another welcome return is the brilliant and exciting score by Michael Giacchino, who also composed the first movie, arguably his best film score. The jazz feel to the music makes it feel different than any superhero film or animated movie. The villain definitely isn’t as memorable as Syndrome from the first movie or even close, the rest of the script feels interesting and engaging enough despite a predictable villain reveal. Though the action isn’t as memorable as in the first, some are so great you could even expect to find them in a Marvel movie. Even though so many superhero franchises have started since the first movie was released, none of it feels affected by the fact that we get so many superhero films a year, and it still feels like the Pixar family adventure we got in 2004. Every character feels unique and heartfelt once again — Elastigirl is determined to make the world a better one for supers, Mr. Incredible is determined to take care of his children on his own, Violet has boy problems at school, Dash needs help with math homework and enjoys annoying his sister, and Jack-Jack — you’ll just have to see. These characters don’t just feel like action heroes working together — they feel like a real family. And that’s what this movie is, a family movie. It’s not just about fighting crime, but also getting along as a family and helping the ones closest to you. This also feels like something even adults could enjoy — one could see it as much of an action superhero movie as something like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers. At no point does the movie feel compromised to impress children, all of it feels like it could be pleasing to the most mature of viewers but kids can also love it. Basically, this movie is for all ages, and definitely one to go watch with the whole family.

Incredibles 2 is another fun animated movie built for all ages, with great animation, action, cast, characters, and music. You can count on Pixar to make the 14 year wait worth it.

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Upgrade

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When Grey Trace’s wife is murdered and he’s left paralyzed after an assault, he is offered a piece of technology that helps him walk again, which sends him on a path to avenge his wife.

Upgrade has a clever science fiction concept boasted by great action and directing. It takes a while for the adrenaline to kick in, as the first 20 minutes aren’t interestingly written and feel dull in terms of style, but when the story really begins, the movie picks up and becomes and engaging ride. Logan Marshall-Green isn’t one of the biggest Hollywood stars right now but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him in a leading role and he impresses me every time. He not only brings charisma to the main character but also emotional strength which he demonstrates in some scenes. The action is very well done and always entertaining, as the cinematography is creative and the over-the-top blood is fitting and adds to the excitement of the violence. The movie raises some interesting questions about technology and how far its usage could go, and though it struggles with making its villains and side characters as strong as the hero (none of the characters besides the lead are any memorable), it’s got some note-worthy action sequences and suspense, as well as a brilliant twist ending. I was also amused by the quality of the visual effects for such a low budget film. Upgrade looks impressive and also has a solid plot and thoughtful elements that fans of action and science fiction can enjoy.

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Hereditary

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After the death of her mother, Annie Graham must shield her family from the psychological and supernatural demons she believes she’s inherited from her mother.

A24 continues its streak of truly disturbing, frightening, and upsetting movies that redefine the horror genre as we know it. This movie has a layer of terror that no other horror film I’ve seen lately has offered. Not only does it offer scares, but the emotional depth and damage the characters have is the most terrifying part of it because it feels more grounded than what comes later. What’s so disturbing about Hereditary isn’t just the supernatural aspect but also everything that our characters are already put through before, which could be a tragedy on its own. Ari Aster does a terrific job creating suspense and placing the camera in creative angles, without using too many cuts within scenes. He also elevates tension with effective use of music. He writes a nightmarish family drama that escalates into screams, visions, and paranoia in nearly every scene. You can never tell what will happen in the movie, from a scene in the first 30 minutes that’s so unthinkable and disturbing it makes your jaw drop. Toni Collette is not to be ignored in her deep and unsettling performance as a woman dealing with grief and loss, and her character acts somewhat insane at some points, but Collette’s performance is believable enough to be taken seriously and she brings chills down the viewer’s spine in some scenes. There are some truly terrifying sequences that will have your heart racing and some gory imagery, and I should warn you that if you don’t like gore or slower, less conventional horror movies, then you should probably stay away from this one. This movie has strong psychological fright and themes about grief and broken families, but I feel that the ending decided to go more supernatural and I hoped for a more emotional blow that stuck true to the themes rather than the scares, like most A24’s horror movies have done. Other than that, Hereditary will live up to the expectations of those hoping for scares, but it’s also got the depth that fans of the studio will be looking for.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

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The lastest Star Wars prequel tells the story of the galaxy’s greatest smuggler and what he was up to before he teamed up with Luke and Leia in the original movie. We follow Han as he meets his best friend Chewie, and makes new alliances as he pulls off heists and fights new enemies.

If the record-breaking sequels weren’t already enough, Lucasfilm has decided to come up with spin-offs that take place after the prequels but before the original trilogy. First we had Rogue One, about how the rebels got the plans for the Death Star, and now Solo, focusing on the past of one of cinema’s most beloved heroes. I can’t say these Star Wars Stories are the strongest of the franchise (though definitely better than the George Lucas prequels), but they’ve still got plenty for fans to enjoy. I still feel that these spin-offs are missing the heart and emotional strength that the main installments currently have, but so far they have the right mix of fun and nostalgia to be worth the trip to the theaters especially for fans, and Solo is no exception. It’s got plenty of entertaining action sequences and brings back some of the memorable characters we love from the original films, which includes not only Han and Chewie but also Lando Calrissian. Alden Ehrenreich, who you may remember from the Coen brothers’ recent work Hail, Caesar!, doesn’t perfectly capture everything Harrison Ford brought to the role but on his own he carries the movie with charm and spirit. The bar is set high for a performance of a legendary character from a legendary actor, and it’s tough when you’re expected to imitate another performance, and though he’s nowhere near as charismatic and fun as Ford was so brilliantly, he still was a good choice and did a nice job bringing the adventurous sense to the character. Also great is Donald Glover as Lando, who’s probably the standout of the film, as he gives a strong interpretation of the character with also lots of enjoyment to him. Woody Harrelson is always great, and here is no exception and Beckett, and Emilia Clarke as Q’ira is a well-realized partner and anchor for Solo’s character. Also worth-noting are Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau in noteworthy voice roles, and of course, don’t forget to be on the lookout for the once again lovable and awesome wookie Chewbacca.

Ron Howard directs Solo with a beautifully realized visual style and excellent CG-planets and settings created in front of your eyes. The cinematography and color palette is marvelously done and the screen is always filled with wondrous settings and creatures. The action is very entertaining, from heists to chases on the Falcon, some moments will definitely have you on the edge of your seat. Despite the fun action, filmmaking, and cast, I feel this movie could’ve used stronger writing. We see how Han does things like meeting Chewie and Lando, as well as getting the Falcon, but most of the notable events that Han does in the movie have already been explained through exposition in the original trilogy. There isn’t much change for Han on an emotional level to justify why we need this movie to precede the original film. I expected to learn more that’s new about Han that we haven’t learned about already and that’s important to know about his past, but nothing really powerful impacts Han on a substantial level that brings him to be the person we’ve come to know in the originals. Despite a connection to a lover that is established well, there aren’t too many strong character relationships that he has, and some of the story arcs aren’t really figured out by the end and feel a little contradictory to what’s set up earlier. There’s also a cameo at the end that shocked me but doesn’t do much else other than set up who knows how many more spin-offs.

Solo is definitely a fun time that offers a lot of entertainment and many Star Wars fans like myself will enjoy, but I felt it was missing the strong script and heart that the sequel trilogy installments like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have both realized so fantastically. Solo misses some of its potential to be as great as I was hoping, and though it’s definitely a fun ride that I’d revisit sometime and future generations will enjoy watching along with the other films, doesn’t completely justify its existence and misses some emotional marks that I think it could’ve gone for (which I feel Rogue One missed some of as well). Definitely watch it if you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s a solid film with good work from Ron Howard and the cast, but it’s far from the franchise at its best like we’ve known to love it in the past.

A group of people standing in a row, in the middle stands Han Solo pointing his blaster. The background is divided into blocks resembling a cockpit window.