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Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Movie Review

Credit: Warner Bros.

The follow up to 2014’s Godzilla, and in the same franchise as 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is about the organization Monarch, who realize that Godzilla isn’t the only monster out there, and these others surface and eventually clash with Godzilla.

The trailers to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, showing only the big, loud action sequences promised a film that looked a lot stronger than this one. Because the truth to this film is that it’s built around those sequences, but has very little to care about in between. Somewhat similar to Kong, which also was lacking in well-developed characters, Godzilla is built and structured around these monster fights, but while they’re (for the most part) well-executed, there’s not enough otherwise to hold the movie together.

Starting with the positives, the CGI in this is fantastic. It gives the monsters a sense of scale and is able to somehow realistically capture all of their abilities really, really well. The CGI also does a bang-up job recreating their designs from the original films and bringing them to life with modern effects. And for most of the film’s action sequences, it’s able to bring together these monsters pretty well too. They interact with each other and provide for some really fun sequences. Which is why the last act disappointed me so much. The final battle took up most of the last act and dragged on for way too long, without anything really interesting being introduced to retain interest. It didn’t help that it was very dimly lit either, reducing the third act an overwhelming barrage of sound and repetitive action that you can’t quite make out. A lot of the big set-pieces have settings that utilize their color pallette, but the last act, which is the big selling point, climactic battle of the movie that it’s supposed to lead up to, looks very dull. While there are fun parts of it, these factors turn it into a slog.

On the character side, most are very thinly written, with generic arcs and even more generic motivations. The villain of this has a motive that’s been overused in so many blockbuster action movies in the last decade, and while it’s clear the actors (made up of an ensemble, talent-stuffed cast) are trying their best, Godzilla: King of the Monsters uses tired cliches to try to get you to connect with its characters, who feel like they exist only to move the plot on and connect each monster battle. The writing fails the performances whether its the sometimes baffling character choices or also cliche dialogue. The film has its attempts at levity, which come through a lot of one-liners that know their campiness and are really trying to work. Still, there are a few parts where the acting is enough to bring up a scene, and a few nice character moments.

Godzilla (2014) barely featured its titular character but provided good character drama, although this wasn’t advertised as much. King of the Monsters, on the other hand, tries to have both, and can’t deliver 100% on either, leading to dull characters, but definitely fun action set-pieces.

Rating: 4.4/10

Booksmart – Movie Review

Credit: Annapurna

The directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, Booksmart follows Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two overachieving high school seniors who feel they missed out on enjoying high school and try to make up for it in their night before graduation.

I heard a lot of positive buzz going into Booksmart, and fortunately, everything I heard was true. This is a movie that really did live up to the hype for me, and probably took the spot as my favorite this year so far. The comedy hits pretty hard, but I think what’s more fascinating about this is how fantastic the entire cast is. Every supporting character gets their moment, and they, for the most part, steal the show. I can name so many moments in this that had me laughing embarrassingly loud, built off genuine interest in all of the characters in this.

But the two leads are also great. Their chemistry is what holds the film together, and provides a lot of its comedy. As much as the phrase is tossed around, it really is woke Superbad.

Credit: Annapurna

I can’t stress enough how great the acting is here, though. I genuinely felt some of the emotional beats in the second half because of the fantastic work by the two leads, and they’re natural and built up to. The end of second-act conflict moment is nowhere near as forced as it is in most comedies. Booksmart also has this crazy ability to get you to really care and sympathize with every character. It plays against the high school movie stereotypes well and gives everyone layers.

Again, though, it’s really, really funny. The jokes know their limits and when to stop, and never feel like they’re really trying for the laugh. Also, the soundtrack (and the score too!) to this is so awesome.

I also wanted to note Olivia Wilde’s direction of this. She gave this movie a distinct feel and really brought out the comedy. Also, the cinematography here isn’t just some of the best I’ve seen in a comedy, it’s some of the best I’ve seen in general recently. Booksmart actually looks like a movie, with it’s own color palette and a lot of long takes throughout! Really interesting stuff there, as is the super clever editing. It knows when to take its time and when to keep going, often with purposefully jarring cuts that brings a number of big laughs.

I’m hard pressed to find anything wrong with this. Everyone, please, go out and support Booksmart. This movie deserves it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Annapurna

Us – Movie Review

Credit: Universal

Us is Jordan Peele’s follow-up to 2017’s Get Out, but this time follows a family (including Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o) who travel to their beach home and are hunted by people that look exactly like them.

I hold Us in equal regard with Get Out, which was one of my favorite movies of 2017, but for somewhat different reasons. Both Us and Get Out work at the surface level as a couple of really entertaining movies, but what’s interesting about this one is that it plays more as a puzzle that slowly decodes itself and leaves a chunk of itself for you to figure out, whereas Get Out reveals its deeper meanings and layers the more you think about it. There are many ways to interpret Us, but I think the multitude of ideas that this plays with makes the overall impact a bit less punchy than it was with Get Out. But I’m gonna stop comparing the two and go into what makes this so great.

Credit: Universal

As I said before, purely as a horror movie, this works in spades. It’s Jordan Peele, so you expect more than just a standard horror flick, and there is more, but as far as the horror aspect, this delivers. You can feel the atmosphere that he creates here constantly. This is supported by both his phenomenal script and the performances in this. Lupita Nyong’o gives the (double) performance of a lifetime. She’s captivating to watch as Red, and what she brings to her double’s character makes it so much more disturbing and at the same time interesting to watch. On the flip side, as Adelaide, she’s just as good, and you buy into her character completely and really want to root for her. This is, at the core, a story about her character. The entire supporting cast is great, though. Winston Duke brings a lot of levity here, and is often pretty hilarious as Gabe, Adelaide’s husband, playing into the suburban dad in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s trying too hard to wring out laughs but also works during the horror set-pieces. Both of the kids are great, and equally creepy as their doubles. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker also bring a lot to the couple that the family is friends with.

Credit: Universal

Also, the score here really stood out, and was creepy in all the right moments. Regarding the script, it’s able to balance horror and comedy really well. The jokes never stick out in a bad way, and (probably because it’s Jordan Peele directing, who’s spent so much time in comedy), the movie feels just like a really dark comedy sometimes, and has this ability to scare you and then have you crack up seconds later. It also injects social commentary into this in a way that has you asking more questions as it goes on, and you form your own idea of what the movie’s trying to say when commenting on duality. The script is, as we would expect from Peele, twisty, but I’m not gonna say another word about that because it’s best left unspoiled.

The movie does loosen its grip on the narrative as it goes along, which both works for and against it. It makes the plot a little messier and more susceptible to “plot holes.” It starts as more or less a home invasion thriller, but turns into something more, and while this is compelling, it leads to a lot of questions. Another remarkable thing about this is the way Peele packs the screen with motifs, clues, Easter eggs, and foreshadowing about what’s to come, similar to how he did in Get Out. It’s fun to pay close attention to the screen, and try to find hints about what everything means. A common complaint about this movie is that there’s a big exposition dump around the end that removes some of the mystery from the movie, and while it does lose a bit of intrigue, it still leaves questions that aren’t answered yet, and I don’t think it’s as big of a down as many say.

Overall, Us was a well-directed, darkly funny, and, yes, creepy horror thriller that not only is great at being a horror movie, but provides a lot to unpack.

Rating: 9/10

Credit: Universal

Shazam – Movie Review

Note: This is an advanced, spoiler-free review of Shazam! , which opens on April 5.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Shazam follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan, who, by saying “Shazam,” turns into an adult superhero.

I really, really enjoyed Shazam. Though there isn’t much competition, Shazam is probably my favorite DCEU movie. The obvious inspiration for this is Big, but I got some Spider-Man: Homecoming vibes from this too. A lot of DCEU movies have tried, and failed to go for a lighter tone, including Justice League and Aquaman, but this one hits the mark on how to properly incorporate humor.

Credit: Warner Bros.

The chemistry between Jack Dylan Grazer (who I LOVED in IT) and Zachary Levi is super fun to watch, and it balances the wish fulfillment with some nice comedy. I didn’t expect to like the actual kid who plays Shazam, but he did a pretty good job despite not being in the movie a ton. You sympathize with his character, and seeing his relationship with Jack Dylan Grazer’s character develop is fun.

One of my biggest issues with Shazam is how it falters with a lot of the mythology it deals with: the film’s corniness works sometimes in the larger context of the movie, and comes off as earnest, but when it tries to explain the Shazam powers, the dialogue isn’t great, and it felt pretty campy. Mark Strong’s villain, as most times happens in superhero movies, is not the best. Nothing to do with his performance, but he gets a cliche, predictable backstory and is a pretty generic villain throughout.

Credit: Warner Bros.

One thing I really do appreciate about Shazam is the third act. In different circumstances, it would not have worked and been similar to something like Wonder Woman, which ended in a big CGI mess, but this (and I won’t give away anything) put a nice twist on the familiar superhero movie third act that kept the audience more engaged. But overall, the tone of the movie was the standout. Most of the gags worked, and worked well, and this was one of the funnier recent superhero movies. I’m excited to see more of Shazam, and this is the rare DCEU movie I walked out of with a huge smile on my face. It also uses the fact that it’s in the DCEU for some fun references and Easter Eggs, but definitely stands on its own.

Shazam! is a really heartfelt, earnest, super fun movie, and a big recommendation here.

Rating: 8/10

Credit: Warner Bros.

Captain Marvel – Movie Review

Credit: Marvel Studios

Captain Marvel, set in the 90s and directed by Ryan Boden and Anna Fleck, is the story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a pilot, who finds herself with extraordinary powers and in the middle of an alien civil war. She crashes on Earth and encounters Nick Fury (a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), who accompanies her in the latest entry to the MCU.

I really wanted to like Captain Marvel more than I did. By no means is it a bad movie, and there are a few enjoyable sections, including some exciting action sequences, but nothing in this movie stuck out to me. The alien world that we find Captain Marvel on at the beginning is nicely designed, but we barely get to see it. The movie has glimmers of ideas that could work really well if they were fleshed out, but none of them are, and the plot is too unfocused to succeed. One on hand, you have her other life of being a pilot playing out at the same time as the Kree/Skull politics, with the buddy-cop aspect with Nick Fury sort of there for the first half.

Credit: Marvel Studios

But most of all, Carol Danvers felt flat. I couldn’t really feel her personality. Brie Larson tried, but a lot of her dialogue, and just general dialogue in the whole movie came out far cornier than the script intended. It’s hard to connect with her character, and overall, sign on to the movie when the titular character is one of the least interesting parts of it.

The script on this is probably the weakest thing here. In a lot of Marvel movies, when the plot isn’t working, the movie’s entertainment value is still present in the witty banter between the characters, but here, neither were really present. Some jokes worked, but a lot of them faltered. The whole setup with her team when she was a Kree did not work one bit for me, and Jude Law’s character fell flatter than any attempted character arc in this.

Credit: Marvel Studios

As far as highlights, the score was interesting, the de-aging on Sam Jackson, and his performance in general were nice, and Goose the cat (pictured above) was surprisingly funny. Ben Mendelsohn, surprisingly enough, was probably the best performance, getting to do his usual evil businessman villain but with a fun twist. There is also some fun camerawork used here that gets repetitive pretty fast.

The 90s vibe felt cool and nostalgic, but added very little to the story. More than anything, it made Captain Marvel feel like a Phase 1 movie done poorly with an retro filter on it and 90s songs that would play during action sequences. On that note, the last act falls apart, and I couldn’t find myself caring about what was going on in most of it.

Overall, there was fun to be had in this, from Goose the cat to either of the post credits scenes, but the cons outweigh the positives in this one.

Rating: 5.5/10

Credit: Marvel Studios

Top 10 Movies of 2018

2018 was packed with a lot of big hits and hidden surprises, and while there are a bunch I saw that I haven’t yet reviewed on here, as well as a lot of movies I haven’t seen, this highlights my 10 favorite films, not the 10 best, that I saw this year. If I see anything new that makes the list, it’ll be updated here. Anything here with a full review will be hyperlinked.

Honorable Mentions:

Roma (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

Ralph Breaks the Internet (directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston)

Sorry to Bother You (directed by Boots Riley)

Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler)

A Quiet Place (directed by John Krasinski)

10. Free Solo (directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin)

Credit: National Geographic

Free Solo does a great job digging into the psyche of climber Alex Honnold, and is a stunning portrait of his achievements, and why he does what he does. Not to mention the insane talent required to put this on film. The entire last third will have your eyes glued to the screen.

9. Bad Times at the El Royale (directed by Drew Goddard)

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale, featuring a star-studded cast, explores a lot of really interesting ideas, and is bolstered up from compelling performances from its entire cast. The plot has a lot of mystery, that you slowly learn more and more about, and this feels really original, and like something that doesn’t get made as often now.

8. Hereditary (directed by Ari Aster)

Credit: A24

First-time director Ari Aster created something with Hereditary that’s truly memorable. There are images, sequences in this movie that I’ll truly never forget. The way he creates an atmosphere and refrains from using jump scares, as well as brings out gripping character drama is incredible to behold. The true highlight of this, though, is Toni Collette, who gives a breathtaking, accurate, and at times frightening performance of a mother in a dysfunctional family. Great also are Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, playing Toni Collette’s character’s children. Hereditary works both as a drama about the family and a deeply nerve-wracking horror movie, one that stuck with me for a while.

7. Upgrade (directed by Leigh Whannell)

Credit: BH Tilt

The best Venom movie of 2018 didn’t end up being Venom, but rather Upgrade, with its own Tom Hardy, its own occasionally funny, occasionally terrifying nonhuman being that helps out our hero, and its own awesome action sequences. Upgrade is a blast from start to finish, with brutal action, an exciting, well-paced plot, and a really brilliant ending. Upgrade is super enjoyable without even considering its last few minutes, but its ending brings up some very thought-provoking ideas that I thought elevated this. Upgrade is original, thrilling, and most of all, fun.

6. BlacKkKlansman (directed by Spike Lee)

Credit: Blumhouse

Spike Lee manages to capture a whirlwind of emotions with BlacKkKlansman, but most important of all, makes a statement with it. The cast, specifically performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace, all give their 100%, with some really intense performances sprinkled throughout. Some scenes in this movie had me rolling with laughter and moments later at the edge of my seat with tension. The screenplay here is really powerful, and without giving away anything, the ending is especially poignant.

5. Searching (directed by Aneesh Chaganty)

Credit: Stage 6 Films

Searching floored me when I saw it. From the first 10, 15 minutes, I sat there thinking about how much work it must’ve been to put together (most of) an entire movie on a Mac screen. And the amazing thing is, it never feels gimmicky. The movie uses this technique to its advantage and explores the different ways it can show us the plot progressing just using screens. As far as the actual plot and characters, both are really well done. I cared about the family from the very beginning, and this is upheld even more by John Cho’s performance. The plot is twisty in the right ways and I was pretty glued to my seat for the whole thing.

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

Credit: Skydance

So much has been said about how real everything in this movie feels, and it will be said again: the entire team here’s commitment to providing a white-knuckles, true action-thriller is something to behold. Just like with every new entry in this franchise, each succeeding set-piece here manages to top the last in terms of sheer scale and insanity, and what makes that so noteworthy is that they did it themselves. Take anything in this, and there’s probably a featurette of Tom Cruise doing it in preparation for this. All of which makes it even more frustrating to rank the entries of this franchise.

3. Avengers: Infinity War (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo)

Credit: Marvel Studios

Acting as the first half of the culmination of 10 years worth of interconnected storytelling, Infinity War did an impressive job. But perhaps what’s most impressive about it is that even though it managed to (for the most part) give each hero their fair share of moments, the villain didn’t have to give up their development, as is so common with MCU films. Thanos will go down as one of the great villains, and the fact that it was in this hero-studded of a movie is all the more credit to the team behind Infinity War.

2. Eighth Grade (directed by Bo Burnham)

Credit: A24

Another incredible movie from a debut director was this year’s Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham, known more for his stand-up and comedy work, took the helm of director, and with the help of star Elsie Fisher and his phenomenal script, was able to capture the essence of middle school. Watching this in eighth grade was a really fantastic experience, and I don’t think I’ve ever related as closely to a movie as to this. Everything here is spot-on, and its more universal themes connect well with its take on today’s generation. Rarely ever before has such an accurate portrayal of middle school been put to screen, not to mention Fisher’s star-making performance. Bursting with humor and heart, Eighth Grade does a fantastic job showing what, in today’s world of technology, middle school can look like.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and SP//DR in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

From the moment the first trailer for Spider-Verse came out, I knew it was going to be something special. The animation style, if you even look at one frame of this movie, was unprecedented, and the balance this is able to strike between well-developed characters, a surprisingly ensemble cast, and an exciting plot is growing scarcer in comic book films. The painstaking attention to detail in every shot, and the “comic-book come to life” visual style not once gets old, largely due to how the film finds new settings, textures, and characters to explore and play with. And that’s just the animation style. You can instantly connect with Miles Morales, in part due to the great job Shameik Moore did with the character, and the writing of him. Basically everything in Spider-Verse is a product of an incredibly talented team coming together and truly bringing a comic book to life.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Movie Review

Note: This is an advanced, spoiler-free review of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which opens in theaters this Friday, December 14.

Credit: Sony

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse left a wide smile on my face from the opening credits to the very end of the (hilarious) post-credits scene. This movie manages to be a comic book movie in every sense of the word, but takes the genre to places somewhat explored in The LEGO Batman Movie, something that I really liked, but does it in such a crazy, bold, and above all slick way that you won’t be forgetting this one anytime soon after you watch it.

Slick’s a phrase that would describe this movie pretty well and is a word that kept popping up in my head the first 15 minutes of this because everything in this movie is just so effortless and cool, yet still so impressive to look at. This has been said a million times before, but it’s being said here: this movie is a comic book come to life. Into the Spider-Verse takes the animation format and uses it to turn everything you’re looking at on the screen into a comic book, full with thought bubbles and action noises during fights, both of which blend seamlessly with the format and visual style. There’s also lots of visual comedy that comes with the overall comic booky-ness of this movie. It would’ve been so easy for Spider-Verse to feel overstuffed or like there’s too much to process at once, but somehow it manages to always feel streamlined, while you can still tell the immense style and detail shoved into every corner of this movie.

Credit: Sony

At various points throughout Into the Spider-Verse, I found myself in awe. Not just at what I was watching, because believe me, this isn’t like anything you’ve seen before, let alone in the animation genre. I was in awe at how many different parts of this movie shot a smile straight to my face. This is one of the best comic-book movies ever because everything that makes a good comic book movie is turned up to 11. It’s a good personal story about Miles Morales, works well as a hyper self-aware comedy, and works as a really good animated movie too.

The action keeps in line with the movie of being great on paper, but having the potential to be an overload much on the screen, but, just like the rest of the movie, is great onscreen too. From the very first action set-piece, the film shows establishes what it’s gonna look like, and does a pretty good job of blowing you away meanwhile. The action is fluid and easily to follow even while juggling lots of things in the background. The third act looked truly crazy to watch on the big screen, and wouldn’t be possible outside of the animation, and specifically this movie’s take on animation, format. But another thing that keeps the action grounded are the characters. From each set-piece to another, you’re constantly rooting for the characters on screen because of how good of a job the movie does establishing them. Even the supporting Spider-Men, like Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, or Peni Parker (with a mechanical SP/DR suit), while not given too much actual depth, are given just enough backstory provided with just enough hilarity that you’ll be smiling at every one-liner each of them crack. 

Credit: Sony

Back onto the characters, this movie has a lot but does an impressive job balancing all of them pretty well. Naturally, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) gets the main focus, but the lazy, worn-out version of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) is fleshed out super well too. You understand his motivations, and why he’s there, and he has his own style of humor, a key aspect of being a Spider-Man, alongside all of the other Spider-People too. But Miles Morales is the star of this story, and he does a great job showing that. We get a sense of who he is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing, but the movie shows quite a bit of his personal life too, from his interactions with his parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) to his friends to his uncle (Mahershala Ali), which ties back to a throwaway line from Spider-Man: Homecoming in a way that got me really excited. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is also a lot of fun, and her relationship with Miles and Peter is a lot of fun to watch too. John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage both stand out as Spider-Ham, a…  pig-detective who’s also Spider-Man, and Spider-Man Noir, a 1930s vigilante who only appears in black-and white. Both had me cracking up everytime they came on screen and were welcome additions to the cast. 

Especially for an animated movie, Into the Spider-Verse did an exceptional job managing the tone. At times, it was deeply touching and emotional, at times shockingly dark, but most of all, it knew when to take a breath and have a laugh. This aspect of fun and the humor is present throughout the movie, but is never hammered over the head too much, an issue that movies like LEGO Batman and Deadpool run into. When Spider-Verse tries to be serious or emotional, it knocks it out of the park, whereas films like the other two I just mentioned face a great deal of tonal inconsistency. The humor is consistently great, and there are lots of parts that are directed towards fans of the character and his mythology. Some references go by pretty quick, so if you’re a big fan of the character, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some hilarious references. It’s also meta and self-aware like the aforementioned LEGO Batman Movie and Deadpool, but doesn’t go too far where it’s basically winking at the camera. Written by Phil Lord, who along with Chris Miller, who produces, directed the Jump Street movies and The Lego Movie, Spider-Verse often feels like it was done by them, from the way certain jokes are told to some of the references in the background.

Credit: Sony

However, this never feels like it alienates those who aren’t too familiar with the character, as, at its core, Spider-Verse tells a human story with real characters that you can feel. Its references come from a place of love, whether its from the movie’s heartwarming, truly touching Stan Lee cameo, or the abundance of visual gags hidden in each frame. It has a universal message, furthering hammering down the fact that this can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences, those familiar and unfamiliar with the character, and those of all ages.

The pacing in this is also breakneck. It moves along its rich, concise story like flipping through the pages of the comic book. It takes its time to breathe but also knows when to keep moving and always keeps the audience engaged. Clocking in at just under 2 hours, it feels nowhere near its length, and with most blockbusters, let alone comic book movies, being overlong, this is a breath of fresh air.  Spider-Verse leaves you wanting more of its stunning animation, likable characters, mile-a-minute humor, but most of all, its touching, developed story. This was exactly what it needed to be, and much, much more.

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Sony

Creed II – Movie Review

 

Credit: MGM/Warner Bros.

Creed II is the sequel to 2015’s Creed, and is the eighth installment in the long-running Rocky franchise. It follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan),  the son of legendary Apollo Creed from the original Rocky movies who was killed by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV.  Trained by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester  Stallone), Adonis must face off against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), Ivan’s son, after a public challenge from Drago with the weight of both of their father’s choices behind them.

First off, all of the performances in Creed II were fantastic. Michael B. Jordan is yet again really, really great. He gives an emotional, committed performance as Adonis Creed and perfectly conveys his character’s feelings and the legacy he has to live up to. Sylvester Stallone gave an amazing performance in the first Creed, and remains great here. He owns the role of Rocky Balboa, as he always has, and the relationship between him and Adonis as his trainer is still super entertaining to watch. Tessa Thompson also gives a strong performance as Bianca, Adonis’s girlfriend, with great chemistry with Jordan, as does Phylicia Rashad, who reprises her role as Creed’s mom, MaryAnne. Finally, both Dolph Lundgren, who is back as Ivan Drago, and Florian Munteanu as his son give more layered performances than one might expect from the treatment of Lundgren’s character in Rocky IV, but more on that later.

Credit: MGM/Warner Bros.

While I really enjoyed Creed II, its main fault lies in how predictable and familiar it feels at times. While the first Creed was also similar to the original, it felt fresh enough to look past that. This one, while also being stronger than most of the original Rocky films, isn’t always able to get past that. Lots of parts of this are very resemblant of moments from a few other Rocky films combined and it becomes easy to predict the trajectory of the film by the second act.

However, it does execute all the classic components of the Rocky formula that it uses well. The fights are well-done, and the last one in specific gets your fist pumping at a number of moments. They feel physical, like you’re right in the ring with Creed, and are all shot decently well. One of my favorite parts of every Rocky movie is the iconic training montage, and this one’s pretty inspiring (as all of them should be), which was great to see. Another thing that the best Rocky movies do are establish the stakes before the climactic fight, and those that fail to do so lose a lot of the effectiveness of said fight. Fortunately, Creed II does a great jobs showing the stakes of the fight and what both of the fighters have to lose. The fighters’ motivations are also clear by the end, making the final fight all the more satisfying.

Credit: MGM/Warner Bros.

The character work is very strong in this movie as well. Adonis grows quite a bit throughout the movie and his arc is visible and satisfying. Other characters, too, don’t feel one-dimensional or shallow and all get their own moments in some way or the other. Something really impressive about this movie is how much it fleshes out the villains. Ivan Drago wasn’t given much of a character in Rocky IV other than being an almost robot-like, exceptionally good, no-nonsense fighter, but both him and his son get backstory and moments outside of the main fight in here. The film gives you reasons to sympathize and connect with the villains, and you do understand their motivations and see into them.

As solid as Creed II is, the first Creed is still slightly better.  Ryan Coogler brought a lot to that one, and his absence weakened this movie a little. However, the new director, Mike Staple Jr., also did a great job with Creed II, although he wasn’t as subtle as Ryan Coogler. Additionally, the score, again by Ludwig Göransson, is definitely less impactful this time.

Overall, I had a blast watching Creed II. It’s a entertaining, emotional ride, that, while not as good as the first movie, is still a super enjoyable time. It does what a good Rocky movie should do: tell a good story, and still get your fist in the air by the time the credits roll.

Credit: MGM/Warner Bros.

Ralph Breaks the Internet- Movie Review

Credit: Disney

Ralph Breaks the Internet is the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph from 2012, which was a fun, original movie that utilized its unique concept of living inside a video game and had lots of clever video game references, but a solid story behind them. It’s about two arcade game characters, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who go into the Internet to retrieve a part to fix the racing game, Sugar Rush, which Vanellope is a character in.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a worthy sequel to the first Wreck-It Ralph, and similarly to its predecessor, goes beyond just showing the characters exploring different parts of the Internet, which has potential to both be used very well and become worn-out quickly. Luckily, for the movie, it was the former. The Internet felt like it had a purpose in the story besides being there for product placement. It propels the characters into an eventually emotional story about friendship that doesn’t pander or beat you over the head with the lesson, but is just subtle enough for all ages to appreciate.

Credit: Disney

The movie is driven by the fantastic plot. It manages, somehow, to deliver both the entertaining renditions of various aspects of the Internet, but also a story focusing on the characters that lets them grow and develop while delivering an important lesson about friendship. You spend enough time with the characters to understand their relationship and this is what makes the final payoff so affecting and what makes it have so much heart. Both Ralph and Vanellope are voiced super well by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, and Gal Gadot and Taraji P. Henson, who play supporting characters in different places on the Internet, are lots of fun to watch.

Credit: Disney

That being said, the way the Internet is used is so well that the product placement never feels blatant or like a cash grab, because it’s used in such a way that complements the story and characters without sacrificing any of its humor. It plays on various aspects of the Internet and lets you see what a given website would look like in a way that’s both comedic and exciting to see. There are lots of really clever jokes and parts of the Internet that are explored which I won’t ruin here, but are tons of fun. There’s also a very self-aware section with Disney princesses that was glimpsed in the trailer that riffs on all of their previous movies, and is one of the funniest parts of the movie. The movie looks great too! While Pixar still takes the cake for best-looking movies, the animation on Ralph Breaks the Internet is vivid and really impressive, especially in the design of the Internet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is truly a movie that can be enjoyed by all ages: the more you use the Internet, the more hilarious references and parodies you can catch, and the message isn’t pandering nor is it too saccharine. You go to the movie to watch Ralph and Vanellope explore your favorite websites, but you stay for the touching story and message.

Credit: Disney

Ocean’s 8- Movie Review

Credit: Warner Bros.

Ocean’s 8 is the newest movie in the Ocean’s franchise that started with Ocean’s 11 (2001), starring George Clooney, and this one stars Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean from the originals. It’s about her pulling off a heist in which she has to steal a diamond necklace from the Met Gala off of Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). The team she recruits includes Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, and Mindy Kaling, among others.

I have pretty mixed feelings about Ocean’s 8: it’s an overall light, entertaining movie with good performances and interesting camerawork, but its predictability and lack of suspense drag it down.

Overall, the performances are great. Sandra Bullock does a great job as the star of the movie. She really sells her character and is fun to watch onscreen. Anne Hathaway is funny and gets more than just one dimension to her character. She seems like just a superficial villain, but gets more to do in the plot. The rest of the crew all give solid performances and play up each of their personalities well. The character interactions are also super fun to watch. They play off each other well, and the group has good chemistry that makes the central heist more entertaining. Their dynamic and chemistry is crucial to the movie, and luckily it works really well here.

Credit: Warner Bros.

However, none of the characters get much development or dimensions to their character besides maybe Anne Hathaway’s character. All of them are entertaining, but still feel very one-note. Debbie Ocean gets some backstory, but besides her and Daphne, there’s not much to the characters.

Visually, Ocean’s 8 is stylishly shot, has good costumes, and a very polished look overall. It almost imitates Steven Soderbergh’s style from the original, but given how good-looking his camerawork was there, it’s not really a complaint. The framing of some shots is clever and goes with the slick feel of the movie overall.

As far as the plot goes, the heist section is entertaining for the most part, but it lacks a lot of suspense. There are barely any obstacles for the crew to face, and there was maybe one moment in the actual heist where i felt tense. Everything else goes exactly to plan for the crew, which loses any sense of suspense in what’s supposed to be a thrilling, exciting heist.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Additionally, there’s no real villain in the movie. There’s no one to root against, like Benedict from the original Ocean’s 11, and this removes any motivation for the heist. The other reasons that the characters are doing it aren’t well explained, and the lack of a drive makes it harder to care about the heist.

Ocean’s 8 doesn’t really subvert your expectations either. It’s very reliant on the heist movie formula and feels too similar to the original to stand out. Some aspects of the movie are switched up, but it’s pretty predictable in most parts. It also requires a bit too much suspension of disbelief at some points; while this can be expected from a heist movie, this movie gets very unrealistic in one specific part.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Overall, Ocean’s 8 is a breezy, but definitely flawed heist movie that can be very entertaining, but lacks substance. It’s well-shot and mimics Steven Soderbergh’s style from the original, which is a big bonus. The performances and chemistry of the crew is all great, with Anne Hathaway as a big standout. However, the movie fails to do much new with the franchise or genre and comes up short on the original in terms of its suspense and villain.

Rating: 6/10