REVIEW: “THE DARKEST MINDS” (2018) 20th Century Fox

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Starting us off somewhere in the future, “THE DARKEST MINDS” throws us in into a world where 98% of American kids were wiped out by a mysterious disease called IAAN aka Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. 10-year old Ruby Daly (Heaven Hightower) is one of the survivors and is taken along with other survivors of the plague by the government and put them in a camp – yes, it is eerily reminiscent of not only what has happened in the past, but what is happening right now in the US.

Here, the kids are classified by color, based on the special ability that they possess: Greens are geniuses. Blues are telepathics. Golds have electrical powers. Reds and Oranges are rare, but are also considered dangerous and terminated on site. Ruby is diagnosed an Orange, but thanks to Cate (Mandy Moore), a doctor from the resistance Children’s League who helps Ruby escape the camp. From that point on, she has to discover how to use her power in order to survive.

Ruby (Amandla Sternberg) now a teenager, finally escapes her camp – she meets and makes friends with a group of fellow runaways, namely Zu (Miya Cech), Charlie ‘Chubbs’ to his friends (Skylan Brooks) and Liam (Harris Dickinson). They seek out and find refuge in EDO, a camp for survivor kids. And of course, as in every YA film, a romance blooms between Ruby and Liam, while Chubbs provides the comic relief third wheel and Zu gives us a ‘silent’ performance that isn’t terrible.

I went into this film not knowing that it was based on the first book of a young adult book series written by Alexandra Bracken. Her “The Darkest Minds” series started in 2012, and shockingly is now already into its fifth installment. Maybe had it been done then vs. now it might seem as something new. As it was, this whole film felt like a ‘Maze Runner/Divergent’ retread. And that my friends, is wherein the problem lies with “The Darkest Minds,” it comes out too long after this trend has run out of steam.

Up and coming young actress Amandla Sternberg has lovely quality and screen presence about her and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to predict that she’s got a great career in front of her, though hopefully something with a bit more ummph to it.
Harris Dickinson, who impressed me so much with both ‘Beach Rats’ & his portrayal of J.Paul Getty Jr.,in ‘Getty’, sadly disappoints here playing rebel leader and Ruby’s love interest. Patrick Gibson is the villan of sorts, Clancy Gray, the son of the US President and a fellow Orange who took a special interest in Ruby, steps it up some and helps make the last 35 minutes of this film interesting. Mandy Moore just gave me a “This is Us” mom-vibe for her role and Bradley Whitford as US President Grey, a nasty character that could probably give Trump a run for his money. Which brings us down to our least used star whom I love, Gwendoline Christie. She only has a few scenes as Lady Jane, a bounty hunter chasing runaway kids, but made them work.

Watching “The Darkest Minds” gave me a “been there, done that” feeling. I could not help but see it as just another rehash of all the previous YA adventure series. But what started off quite terribly, picked up the last 35 minutes to make it not a completely wasted watch as it did have its own twists, particularly regarding a certain power that only Ruby can perform. But it will take sequels to explore how this story will proceed from the familiar set-up it has begun with here. But again, it’s 2018 – and the time for this YA genre is long past it’s due date. I predict this one will be in and out of theaters before your mind can go dark.

Grade: C–
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
‘THE DARKEST MIND’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE // WORLDWIDE RELEASE STARTING FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2018

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REVIEW: “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” (2018) Paramount Pictures

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Its almost impossible to make a good summer blockbuster right now – However, Chris McQuarrie accepted that mission and has fully succeeded. “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-FALLOUT” is a visual spectacle that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves a good, smart action film with beautifully done wide shots and a great storyline. But don’t blink as you watch, because the story comes at you fast, with flash modes and ulterior motives at every turn.

‘Fallout’ picks up two years after ‘Rogue Nation’ and we get a better insight into Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as a character and his motivations. We learn that although Ethan stopped the Syndicate, the Syndicate agents left alive now call themselves “The Apostles”. Due to a tough decision Ethan makes early on, the Apostles now have three balls of grade A plutonium, enough to make three nuclear bombs with strategic destinations plotted for each of them. And so begins our heroes globe trotting heroics to stop these nuclear disasters as it’s up to Hunt and his gang of IMF agents to find them before it’s too late. Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), all return and they’re joined by Henry Cavill’s no-nonsense CIA operative August Walker, Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) as his handler, and Rebecca Ferguson’s MI6 spy, Ilsa Faust is also back along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. A rather elaborate plot full of double / triple / quadruple crosses, treachery and assumed identities, take the team around the world in a whistle-stop tour of some famous cities. A frenetic car chase through the streets of Paris, a rooftop run through London and a helicopter ride from hell in Kashmir – all impress as do the cast, of particular fun is Vanessa Kirby’s mysterious White Widow.

And Tom …oh Tom, Tom, Tommy, damn, you have this action star thing down pat and do the genre huge justice here. Cruise is as reliable as ever and at 56 – yes I said 56 – he shows no signs of slowing down even if it might take him a little longer to recover from a battering these days. Sorry to call it out, but Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson needs to take page or two from Cruise’s handbook on how to be an actual action film star and make a good action movie. As for Cruise, whether it’s leaping from buildings, jumping from airplanes during a lightning storm or riding a motorbike the wrong way around the Champs-Élysées – he’s coolness personified and is the catalyst for another adrenaline fueled thriller that takes cinematic stunts to a new level. And for the most part, they are actually done by him – without a lot of CGI blah-ness thrown in. This is the real deal people. I applaud him and the crew for raising the bar. The man is a legend and honestly shows that CG is a long way off being as good or as exciting as live action scenes.

The bond of the team (Cruise, Ferguson, Cavill, Pegg and Rhames) is what makes this work and the chemistry of the cast is amazing. I loved Michelle Monaghan back as Julia in this film for the few scenes she has. The chemistry with Cruise is emotional and I love their story together and where it has gone. Henry Cavill too, is a welcome addition to the series and honestly steals some the film best moments. The bathroom fight scene is easily one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen. It was great to see him get his teeth into a different type of role. He doesn’t disappoint here.

I also loved that that for the first time they referenced the other sequels which was brilliant but for anyone who hasn’t seen the previous movies it will not go over their heads or is there the need to have seen them.

This film easily takes the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise to another level and proves that with a great cast, crew, director and writers, that sequels and series can progress the story and get even better. Hands down, “Mission: Impossible-Fallout” is easily the must see action film of the summer, possibly the whole of 2018.

Grade: A-
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Media Review Screening: Monday, July 22, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” WILL BE OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2018 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWS IN AUG 2018

REVIEW: “MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” (2018) Universal Pictures

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Oh my my my my “MAMMA MIA!! HERE WE GO AGAIN” had me from the moment one with my devotion and love for true icons ABBA & C-H-E-R all in one movie. What I didn’t expect, was an actual good movie.

Starting off, this sequel to ‘Mamma Mia’, which also presents itself as a prequel, in my world, this is a two-for-one deal of epic-ness that I loved from the get go. “Here We Go Again” has a much better story line than the original, and while all your faves return, you also make some great new ones. Writer/director Ol Parker – gets some good deeper cuts in, too with this being a new, complex and more mature story involving the characters we’ve known, and sang and danced along with for the past decade. The film quickly establishes the parallel stories with it’s fantastic opening number of “I Kissed A Teacher” and boom! we are introduced to the world of a young Donna (played terrifically by Lily James). Moving along back into the world of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is re-opening the hotel her mom Donna (Meryl Streep) ran. Donna died the previous year (this isn’t really isn’t a spoiler). In her mom’s honor, Sophie has renovated the place and is ready for a big celebration, with nearly every important person in her life invited, including Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Donna’s Dynamo sisters – Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

“Here We Go Again” explores within it’s flashbacks, a vibrant and spontaneous Donna of the 1970’s, as she seeks an adventurous life – and we see how she meets the three younger versions of the men whom will play major roles in her life – Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine). It would take more space than I have to touch on every performance, so I’ll just sum it up and highlight a few. With this turn as Donna, Lily James is now officially a STAR as she will charm the socks off of you. In one simple, minute-long scene, Brosnan redeems himself for his lack of singing ability from the original. And in spectacular fashion with white silk wig and pantsuit to match, the one..the only..Cher makes a grand entrance in the final act as Sophie’s grandma… and instantly captivates the screen. And though how she gets to the point of singing is a big spoiler that I just can’t reveal, I will happily admit to yelling out “YES! YES! YES” when it did happen, media screening or not. (no one usually does something like this during them – but I wasn’t alone in my squealing joy of this.. so 🙂 )

Every single person here, from our older versions of Harry (Colin Firth) & Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) doing a bit of ‘Titanic’ for us all, to Fernando (Andy Garcia) & Sky (Dominic Cooper), looks like they’re having an absolute blast, and that happiness is resonates throughout the film and spreads to the audience. ‘Here We Go Again’ provides a carefree, yet meaningful, fun energy that’s so hard to find these days, even in musicals. I got chills during performances of “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen”, though those are saved till a little later in the film, as the first half has some of Abba’s lesser known hits dominating – though a true ABBA fan will know them!

Sure Mamma Mia 2! might not be perfect – and I might be a sap for anything musical related to ABBA & Cher – but I can guarantee a good time will be had by all who see it. And the beautiful, sweet final scene has a spirit all its own, touching on loss and new life in ways that will hit very close to home. I can only say — I do, I do, I do, I DO want you to see this film.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Monday, July 16, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” WILL BE OUT NATIONWIDE/WORLDWIDE ON FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2018

REVIEW: “EIGHTH GRADE” (2018) A24

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“EIGHTH GRADE” – directed by Bo Burnham, is a candidly witty and honest film about the life and times of the super-relatable, awkward eighth grade student Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she lives her way through her last weeks of middle school and prepares to enter the big, bad world of high school.

From the beginning, we the moviegoer, are pulled into an awkward teen video blog being shot by Kayla, in which she discusses, with all of the stammering teen lingo, the importance of being yourself to her very scarce amount of viewers. After Kayla stumbles her way through this vlog, a bright, electronic, loud song comes on as we see her walking up the sidewalk and into her school. Immediately the songs from the film pull you into the story, which abruptly ends as soon as the scene switches to Kayla sitting in her classroom. As we watch throughout the movie, the music in this film is designed to be not background music, but foreground music, playing its own role in the film. The music lifts when Kayla is lifted, builds the tension in her anxious, nervous moments, and stops abruptly in big moments, as though the audience is personally in and experiencing the moment with her.

The plot line of the movie takes even the most ‘popular’ people back to middle school in that the awkwardness and pain of trying to fit in, as well as the joy in figuring out who you are. These sheer realization moments are so relatable that it hurts as much now, as it might have then. The camera work with awkward close-ups, immediacy of confusing acts caught in slow motion, and montages that represent the sporadic-ness of the middle school girl’s mind follows the actions and thoughts of Kayla in such a way that the audience feels like they are reliving middle school with her. Through the first crush on a boy Aiden (Luke Prael), to trying to fit in with the popular girls Kennedy (Catherine Oliverie) & Steph (Nora Mullins) – to being at the mall trying to ‘hang out’ and having your older ‘cool’ high school freshman guide Olivia (Emily Robinson) and friends Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) & Trevor (Fred Hechinger), catch your dad (Josh Hamilton) spying on you at the mall.

Much unlike other middle school or high school coming-of-age stories, the film beautifully and accurately explores the eighth grader’s journey in trying to figure out who they are and find their identity as a person with all of the awkward, painful, triumphant and hopeful moments that come with this stage of life. Again, we the moviegoer watch with the struggles with Kayla as she tries to find herself amidst trying to be someone she’s not.

The acting by the entire supporting cast is so spot on – but the complete and total standout of this film is Elsie Fisher. What a brilliant, bright, nuanced performance this young actress gives. Keep an eye on this one people, as I predict she will be doing so much more and probably even better. All in all, this movie can be hard to watch, but I think that that’s because it is honest and truthful about what eighth grade can be like. I think some will relate more to it than others, but ultimately, it’s a really well-done take on the struggle that is middle school.

Grade: A-
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Review screening: Thursday, July 12, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent
‘EIGHTH GRADE’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE AND IN U.K. // WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATE UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME

Post Q & A photo – Bo Burnham, Elsie Fisher, Elvis Mitchell – interview at Film Independent.

REVIEW: “SKYSCRAPER” (2018) Universal Studios

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You know how sometimes you see a movie that is so bad..it’s good. Well, “SKYSCRAPER” was not that movie. It’s just flat out completely terrible. There is not one redeeming quality to this film except for maybe the fact that you will laugh out loud at how bad it truly is – as the audience at last Monday’s Arclight Hollywood media screening most certainly did. They also erupted into applause in scene after scene, noting the absolute straining of credibility and common sense this film puts forth.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (whom I believe doesn’t use The Rock anymore at all – but come on, it’s still a fun name) plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI operative who loses a leg during a botched mission. Yes people, I shit you not, The Rock is an amputee who uses that fake aluminium leg in more ways than anyone ever thought possible. The good thing that seemingly happens to you when you blow a mission & a leg is that you find a combat surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell),and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) & Henry (Noah Cottrell). Picking up 10 years later, Sawyer is now a security consultant and is in Hong Kong to access and give approval to the worlds tallest building “The Pearl” owned by Hong Kong developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).

Little does he know his best friend whom he survived his mission years ago with – Ben (Pablo Schreiber), is stabbing him in the back and setting him up to fail as he is working for our villan of this silly movie, Kores Botha (Roland Møller). Kores kidnaps his wife & kids and in order to get them back, he must of course do all sorts of crazy antics – such as, but not limited to, scaling up 96 stories on a construction crane and pulling himself thru windows with his own sheer will of strength (sigh), all while the ledge is crumbling around him. Oh..and let’s not forget that Sarah is calling up to him from the ground floor of the building at one point and he can ‘hear her’. Yes, bionic hearing at it’s best.

There really isn’t any reason to go any further as this movie is just flat out ridiculous. And look, I get it, Johnson ia the replacement for Schwarznegger, Stallone and Willis, as they are just too old at this point. But some of their movies were actually good. I’m still waiting for that one of The Rock’s that is.

So let me do you all a solid here and advise you that instead of seeing this one, spend your hard earned money on a great indie film whose whole budget is probably .000018% of what The Rock got paid, and see a good movie instead.

Grade: D-
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Media Review Screening: Monday, July 9, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“SKYSCRAPER” IS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE/WORLDWIDE (regrettably)

REVIEW: “UNCLE DREW” (2018) LIONSGATE

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Taking this Pepsi ad/web-series one step further, Director Charles Stone III turns “UNCLE DREW” into a full length 1 hr 43min run-time feature film. As someone who doesn’t really follow basketball, I might have only known who a few of the players were. Though even if you’ve never seen the Pepsi ad, you will catch on immediately that it is a lot of young players were made to look old, enhancing the effects by adding in Shaq as basically the basketball Wolverine. Besides that, this is a very familiar story-line of the forlorn seeking justice in the form of an underdog sports match. And so it goes ——

Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a basketball obsessed Foot Locker salesman whose dream to coach a tournament- winning street ball team. This dream is made all the more sacred due to the fact his longtime rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll) swatted out his game winning 3 pointer in a high school final match up, which he has never lived-down. Then to top it off, Mookie not only steals his prize player Casper (Aaron Gordon), but his team and his materialistic girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish). Dax has spent his life savings on Harlem’s Rucker Classic registration entry fee and is desperate to get another team when he learns from Louis (Mike Epps) and Angelo (J.B. Smoove) about the legendary street player Uncle Drew. Dax finds the now 70-something Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), a street-ball legend who famously played in the same tournament 50 years earlier. Uncle Drew agrees to play for Dax if he can recruit his own roster of players. The adventure begins as the duo road trips to convince Drew’s old teammates to join the team. So off we go and meet Preacher (Chris Webber), wheel-chair bound Boots (Nate Robinson), Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neil) and the legally-blind Lights (Reggie Miller).

The first third of this movie had quite a few good jabs at laughter and puns with some good comedic timing moments. From there it seemed to turn itself more into trying prove itself as a ‘good family film’. And while it somewhat succeeds at that, although having Kroll play the same role he always plays, and casting Lil Rel as a Kevin Hart type character – makes it fall somewhat short in this aspect as you can’t help but compare the two. Acting isn’t really a strong point here as per usual, basketball players aren’t really the best of actors. But it doesn’t matter as in essence, I don’t think this movie set out to be anything along those lines of best actor, best film etc… I think it set out to be exactly what it is, a little bit funny, cute portrayal that shows family isn’t always just blood relatives, it is what you make it to be by whomever steps up to the plate.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment
“UNCLE DREW” WILL BE OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2018 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING IN JULY 2018

REVIEW: “THE INCREDIBLES 2” (2018) Disney/Pixar Pictures

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All these years later, Director Brad Bird, the creative force behind the original ‘INCREDIBLES’, is back with the much anticipated sequel – “THE INCREDIBLES 2”.

And Bird is not the only returnee for the sequel. Also back is the entire Parr Family: Holly Hunter as Elastigirl/Helen/Mom, Craig T Nelson as Mr. Incredible/Bob/Dad, Sarah Vowell as Violet, Huck Milner as Dash, and Eli Fucile as baby Jack Jack. The story picks up not long after the original ended. “Supers” have been outlawed, and the Parrs are in some type of Super Protection Program – similar to Witness Protection. Of course when one is a superhero, doing the right thing just comes naturally, and the opening scene finds them battling their old nemesis Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Our heroes stop the crime, but cause significant damage to the city. This leads to our first social commentary when the powers that be scold the Parrs and inform them that the banks have insurance, and it’s cheaper to let the criminals get away so that the damage is minimized.

As superheroes non-grata, the Parrs try to go “straight” and live a normal life. That is until a powerful brother and sister corporate duo offer a proposal. Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) want to generate a PR plan to help rebuild the reputation of supers. The idea is to make Elastigirl the public face of the program by having her wear a body cam to show off her heroic deeds (in this age of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). She’s chosen over Mr. Incredible for economic reasons, and he’s relegated to stay-at-home parent – basically a ‘Mr. Mom’ so to speak. Elastigirl plays up her time in the limelight and clearly enjoys it immensely, while Bob doesn’t much like being just Bob. Plus he can’t understand why they’ve changed math (something I can VERY much relate too, being someone who really doesn’t like the maths at all 🙂 ), as he gets frustrated trying to help Dash with his homework. He’s also challenged with Violet’s teen angst over a boy, and even more so over the discovery that Jack Jack has POWERS! Yes, you read that right. Jack Jack has powers. And boy are they fun! In fact, Jack Jack has multiple powers, but as a baby, he has little control – though his battle with a raccoon is not a segment you’ll soon forget.

Also returning is Frozone(Samuel L. Jackson), and costume designer Edna Mode – voiced by director Bird himself. Other new voices include Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Isabella Rossellini as the Ambassador, and Sophia Bush as Voyd, one of the new generation supers (which includes Reflux – one you’ll just have to experience).

The big new villain causing problems for Elastigirl is ‘ScreenSlaver’, who hypnotizes large groups of people through their screens – more social commentary on our dependence on technology and the addiction/affliction we have toward device screens. The flood of superhero movies over the years since THE INCREDIBLES exposes the not-so-complex story in this one, but it’s terrific that the film keeps much of the original look and feel, and yet brings something new in that baby Jack Jack is a star!

Filled with the beautiful colors and art design we’ve come to take for granted from Pixar, the film also features some of the best action sequences you’ll see in any movie. The train sequence with Elastigirl is simply spectacular – as is the final action sequence. It’s also nice to see the flip in gender roles as Mom aka Elastagirl here, takes the lead. Honestly, Family films don’t get much better than this, and even though it runs 2 hours, the closing credits feature the theme song for each of the superheroes, and could easily have been a short film unto itself.

What can I say except..This movie truly has no flaws and “THE INCREDIBLES 2” is soooo worth the wait of every one of those 14 long years. Not only has it upped it’s game, but somehow it actually improved on those still fun and amazing characters, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Edna, but with new break-out characters, notably Jack Jack, it goes full-tilt fun!!

Grade: A
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Review Screening: Thursday, June 7, 2018 – Courtesy of Film Independent and LACMA
“THE INCREDIBLES 2 WILL BE OUT NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2018 // U.K AND WORLDWIDE IN JUNE/JULY/AUGUST