The First Purge (2018)

Released: July 4, 2018. Directed by: Gerard McMurray. Starring: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade. Runtime: 1h 38 min.

I remember when I first heard about The Purge. I was excited because of its concept – but it ended up being disappointing. I thought its sequels (2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, 2016’s The Purge: Election Year) were stronger and added to the universe.

Now, we get a boring prequel with The First Purge, that shows the events of the very first Purge. The 12 hours of everything being legal implemented by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) and it’s the 12 hours of all crime being legalized is pitched as a psychological device to let Americans unleash their anger. It’s supposed to save the country, thought up by Marisa Tomei’s Dr. Updale (Tomei’s the film’s only household name and she’s fine, but isn’t heavily involved in the action).

The first experiment takes place on Staten Island and the government offers $5,000 to simply stay on the island on Purge Night. It’s a payday many just can’t pass up. Other incentive offered is a bigger payday for all the crimes you commit. Want to kill a lot of people? Then, wear special contact lenses that videotape your night and you’ll have a nice payday if you survive.

A lot of this film doesn’t work because we know the Purge’s purpose – combatting overpopulation and thinning out the herd, especially those on welfare so the government doesn’t have to take care of them. It’s uninteresting when they repeat the politics, and since they have to establish the new characters, it takes 25-30 minutes to get to any action.

The main characters are Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who live in a low-income apartment building on Staten Island. They have a good chemistry but they’re not memorable.

Her ex-boyfriend Dimitri (Y’Lan Noel, TV’s Insecure) is a drug kingpin who’s trying to protect his business from competing drugl ords who would use the Purge as an opportunity to take him out. He’s also protecting the citizens since the government wants to take out Staten Island’s black population. Dimitri’s a highlight who can be threatening but also sweet when it comes to Nya.

The First Purge in the review

Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade in The First Purge. (IMDb)

He’s heroic and has a likable charisma for a drug kingpin, and has a good presence in the action scenes. Noel has the most presence of the main cast in general. He is a reason the film feels more like an action movie than a horror film this go around, as some it’s more akin to The Raid: Redemption than a Purge movie.

It still maintains its jump scares, but these are stupid. The franchise has evolved a lot from its original conception of home invasion horror and commentary on human nature to this boring affair. It’s also bogged down by its commentary on American extremism – featuring characters dressed as KKK members and Nazis.

The franchise has never been subtle but its subtext feels really in your face this time, especially one of its main references to Donald Trump – a Purger that hangs out in the sewers that traps Nya and grabs her by the pussy. If the action isn’t a clear enough reference, she then runs away calling him a “pussy grabbing motherf–.”

Also problematic are the film’s villains. The masks are toned down this time, but because of the Purgers’ lack of creativity. The Staten Island purgers are boring – but perhaps this is because in The Purge the participants had eight years to perfect their killing style.

The more creative Purgers are silly, from a pair of old women, accompanied by the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” whenever they’re on screen, who rig stuffed animals with explosives, to the film’s main antagonist Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). He’s a junkie and a psychopath who seems to be the only one who really wants to purge.

He’s over the top in every sense of the word, spitting all over the place as he talks. He’s totally crazy and Paul goes completely into the role. The character’s dumb– just because of his over-the-top nature – but he’s also the most memorable villain since Rhys Wakefield’s Polite Leader of the original film. Skeletor just might be the only thing I remember about this bad prequel.

Score: 40/100

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Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

Tag featured

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Released: June 22, 2018. Directed by: J.A. Bayona. Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall. Runtime: 2h 8 min.

This review contains spoilers.

Picking up three years after 2015’s Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on the island of Isla Nublar are in danger as the island’s volcano is about to explode and the U.S. Senate rules that they aren’t going to intervene with the dinosaur’s deaths.

Meanwhile, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) now leads an organization called the Dinosaur Protection Group and the film’s adventure kicks off when she receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) – who works for an old friend of John Hammond – that they plan to relocate the dinosaurs to a different island where they can live peacefully.

Raptor specialist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) also tags along because Blue is still on the island and her survival is his motivation. The first half of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features decent action on the island. But for the most part, the film’s more of the same, as we learn that Mills plans to sell the dinosaurs as weapons at an auction at his boss’s manor.

Spall’s great but his character is one-note and another forgettable human villain of the new trilogy. He’s also like Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) of the first film, who wanted to use the raptors as weapons. Hoskins suggested dinosaurs could replace robots as war’s future, but now they can replace robots and combat nuclear war. But the argument’s basically the same and it’s annoying that they repeat all of this.

The main point is these dinosaurs are deadly and can turn on you at any point. That’s something Owen understands. He’s badass and the videos of him raising Blue are heartwarming. His development isn’t expanded on other than that. Claire’s development keeps growing as someone who loves the dinosaurs, an interesting change from when she only cared about her career and thought of the dinosaurs as numbers on a spreadsheet. Pratt and Dallas Howard still have a good chemistry.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom lil blue

Chris Pratt and Blue in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. (IMDb)

The film has such a focus on its plot that it doesn’t develop Owen and Claire further than that and focuses on the new characters. This includes Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), a nerdy programmer who brings humour, and dinosaur veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), who is super likable and has more purpose than Franklin.

Also new is Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Eli Mills’ boss, who is retconned into the universe as someone who helped John Hammond develop cloning technology. I was confused because I couldn’t remember if we ever saw him in previous films – Claire is very excited to meet him and we do not feel this excitement – but he’s just a new character.

His granddaughter Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) is our eyes and ears at the manor for the first half of the film as she listens in on Spall’s conversations – like when he yells at her because he’s on a very important phone call – as the heroes are still on the island. She’s fine and has a nice chemistry with Owen and Claire, but her character does have silly moments.

The film’s mostly non-stop action but it does have some nice, emotional moments. This includes a shot of a dinosaur that closes a chapter on the island. It’s well directed by J.A. Bayona and the cinematography by Oscar Faura – who’s shot Bayona’s four feature films – elicits such emotion in this scene.

Bayona capably directs the scenes on the island and finds his stride when the film’s tone evolves and turns into what you’d imagine a Jurassic Park-themed haunted house would be like. He delves into fears of monsters coming in through your window in one tense scene. Michael Giacchino’s score matches these scenes perfectly, and Oscar Faura’s cinematography is my favourite aspect.

It’s a nice change of pace from the first half of the film where characters run from dinosaurs on a giant island. Now, they’re running from a new creation in a gigantic mansion. The tone changes believably with the story and it has a decent flow – even if everything’s not interesting. Much of the film’s tone is dire – which makes sense, since it is a fallen kingdom.

Score: 65/100

Action Point (2018)

Action Point. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Tim Kirkby. Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Dan Bakkedahl. Runtime: 1h 25 min.

I like Johnny Knoxville. He’s funny. But then a terrible film like Action Point comes along and no matter how contagious his laugh is, you (probably) won’t laugh with him. Keep in mind, this is a film that thinks alcoholic bears and Chris Pontius wearing thongs is the funniest thing in the world.

Knoxville stars as D.C. Carver, who we first meet as an old man reminiscing about the good old days when his daughter, Boogie, would visit him at his amusement park called Action Point which the daredevil runs with his friends, complete with a waterslide and an alpine slide and all.

The summer’s 1979 and Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) comes to visit, but attendance is down because a corporate amusement park opens in town. Action Point’s employees need to figure out a way to attract people to the park, and meanwhile a villainous land owner named Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl) really wants the property shut down for some reason. It’s a half-decent plot in the 80s or even the mid-2000s, but in 2018 it’s dull and unfunny.

The film’s inspired by a notoriously unsafe New Jersey park called Action Park and Knoxville was inspired to make the film after he saw a 14-minute documentary called The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever (link here). It’s interesting and makes the lawlessness of the place look totally fun. It’s a shame because this lifeless film doesn’t capture any of that nostalgia or spirit.

The characters aren’t developed outside of D.C. and Boogie. The twentysomethings that work at the park have cool jobs and that would have been fun to explore (like the summer jobs in Adventureland or The Way Way Back) but screenwriters John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky don’t give them anything to do.

Benny (Chris Pontius) is also an employee at the park. He’s a lifeguard but has more interest in telling stupid stories than saving anyone drowning. The character’s awful, and so is Pontius, but he hangs out with D.C. more than the others, so much so he even gets a love interest (Camilla Wolfson).

Action Point alpine slide

Johnny Knoxville in Action Point going down the alpine slide. (IMDb)

A decent part about the film is the father-daughter chemistry between Knoxville and Worthington-Cox as his daughter Boogie. The relationship humanizes the boring D.C., as he’d be a complete asshole otherwise.

The relationship’s one-note and the main drama of it is that Boogie wants to see The Clash in concert this summer and brings it up repeatedly to D.C. When there’s drama because of this it’s not believable because it stems from bad communication from Boogie, and simply shouldn’t be a conflict. The film also thinks you’ll care about the conflict, but you won’t.

The story’s truly where Action Point falls flat on its face. At least with the Jackass movies we knew it was just stunts, and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa had a decent story and good stunts. Action Point has mediocre stunts and a terrible story. Maybe this would have been better if most of the Jackass crew would have been in the film besides Knoxville and Pontius – but these two seem to be the only ones interested in still doing this stuff while in their 40’s. Still, props to Knoxville to doing his own stunts.

The plot’s so paper-thin I’m convinced it only has the scenes of D.C. as a grandpa to pad the 85-minute runtime. It’s 15 minutes of filler throughout and it offers nothing to the story. It’s either filler or Knoxville just wants to be dressed as an old man in all his films, but in Bad Grandpa at least there was a reason.

There’s a scene of him as a grandpa here that’s so bad I considered walking out. It’s a gross-out gag with his granddaughter painting his hideous looking toenails the colour of blood. There’s no comedy here and my gut was telling me this film would never get any better, and I should have listened.

Score: 25/100

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell. Runtime: 1h 58 min.

Writer/director Brad Bird and stars Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are well-aware it’s been 14 years since the The Incredibles, as they address this wait before screenings of Incredibles 2. It is a long time – long enough for Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl) to turn 60, the same age Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) was when they made the original in 2004.

But now Incredibles 2 is finally here and it’s a great nostalgia trip after all these years. I smiled so much during the opening scene because it’s so entertaining, and I thought it was worth the price of admission alone.

Politicians of Metroville still want superheroes to stay hidden and not intervene. Not everyone wants supers to be hidden – as the CEO of a telecommunications company, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have come up with a way to get supers back in the good graces of Metroville.

They want to use Elastigirl (Hunter) to show the government supers can save the day without a lot of structural damage. That’s the main reason they pick her over Bob (Craig T. Nelson) – because he causes the city so much money. “Big problems need big solutions,” Bob explains. This time, Helen’s out on secret missions and Bob’s the stay-at-home dad.

It’s so cool watching Elastigirl fight crime for the bulk of the film this time, as her powers of stretching all over the place is visually more interesting than Bob just using his strength on everything. Plus, Holly Hunter is generally amazing so more screen time for her is welcome. The rest of the voice cast is also really great.

The main plot is Helen foiling the plans of a mysterious figure called the Screenslaver, which is entertaining and has a lot of well-animated, dazzling action scenes. Some aspects are predictable, but the pure entertainment of the third act more than makes up for it. The story’s also very well-written.

I generally loved the plot so much because it’s so cool going back to these characters, and the Parr’s family dynamic still feels fresh after 14 years. The parents do switch roles this time. Bob deals with jealousy of Helen fighting crime and him being pushed into the shadows of parenting, and it’s handled with humour.

He seems more like Bob in this film than Mr. Incredible, but he shines whenever he’s in his super suit. Speaking of super suits, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also has enough chances to shine. Other fan favourite Edna E. Mode (Brad Bird) also has a great appearance.

Bob helping Dash (Huck Milner) with homework and him screwing up trying to help Violet (Sarah Vowell) with boy problems will be relatable for dads. The biggest laughs come from the scene-stealing Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) who’s unable to control his newfound powers. That’s a huge thing Bob has to deal with. Anyone who’s seen the Jack Jack Attack short film will definitely love this sub-plot. He’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the film and Brad Bird seems like he’s having a blast writing this.

Besides the great old characters, we get to know a few new heroes – Sophia Bush as Voyd, for example – and they’re fun side characters that Bird explores. The film’s storyline flows nearly as well as the original and the dialogue’s still sharp and the humour’s great. Michael Giacchino’s score helps a lot with the film’s nostalgic feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Score: 90/100

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean's Eight poster

IMDb

Released: June 8, 2018. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway. Directed by: Gary Ross. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Midway through “Ocean’s Eight”, the spin-off of the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) tells Lou (Cate Blanchett) that there’s no room for men in this heist. “I don’t want a him,” says Debbie. “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.”

This all-female led cast isn’t one to be ignored. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister, and the movie starts with her in a parole meeting – the same opening as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.” She gets released and with the help of Lou, they round up a team for a heist.

This includes Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pick-pocketer Constance (Awkwafina). Debbie wants do this job because stealing is her talent – established by clever little after she’s out of jail. She tells a guard: “I have forty-five dollars, I can go anywhere.”

The heist is at New York City’s annual Met Gala, and the target’s a diamond necklace called the Toussaint, valued at $150 million, which will be worn by Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway).

Hathaway’s fun in the role, playing an exaggerated version of herself, shown best during a fashion-related panic attack. I’m glad the franchise kept that meta sense of humour, even if it’s not as obvious as the scene in “Ocean’s Twelvewhen Julia Roberts plays Tess Ocean pretending to be Julia Roberts.

Everyone’s performances in “Ocean’s Eight” are stronger than their characters. They’re basic characters and Debbie has the most development. Helena Bonham Carter is quirky and entertaining as the Irish fashion designer Rose.

Ocean's eight pic

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna in Ocean’s Eight. (IMDb)

Rihanna’s also great as Nine Ball. Her hacks are clever, and I love that her computer mouse is a nine ball (pictured above). Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson are charming, and both Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling are amusing. James Corden is among the only male talent and appears in the third act and makes things livelier, and he’s good for a few laughs.

It’s difficult for this film to avoid comparisons to the original trilogy. Steven Soderbergh brought so much style to his trilogy and to the heist genre. In comparison, this is flat, especially during the setup.

Without any great characters here, the cast mainly kept me interested. It’s entertaining enough on its own but it doesn’t have much style under Gary Ross’s direction. Style only shows up on the night of the Met Gala with all of its glitz, glamour and celebrities.

I like how writers Ross and Olivia Milch make the characters steal something off the neck of someone instead of them having to figure out how to get inside a vault to steal the necklace. There’s creativity in the plot and the implementation of the Met Gala plan is decent fun, even if the suspense doesn’t come close to any of the originals.

Score: 65/100

 

 

Adrift (2018)

Adrift. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, the Ocean. Runtime: 1h 36 min.

“Adrift” is a lost-at-sea survival drama based on a true story, a welcome change of pace of summer survival movies after survival against sharks the past two summers (“The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” respectively).

Characters still fight for survival, but a shark isn’t an obstacle. Instead, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, also producing) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) deal with the aftermath of being caught in a Category 4 hurricane.

We’re put into the story right when Tami wakes up after the hurricane. The screenplay takes us between survival drama and romance as we’re told their story through flashbacks. The jumps back in time sometimes span multiple scenes, and as the film advances there are shorter scenes as the timeline catches up to the present, where Tami and Richard are “adrift” in the Pacific Ocean.

The transitions are creative. There’s a scene where Tami sails Richard’s sailboat, the Mayaluga, for the first time and she shouts in excitement. It’s a moment of euphoria that switches to distress as it slams forward in time as Tami shouts for Richard, unable to find him. The story structure helps for pacing. Though, it takes a while for the hurricane scene to actually happen –it’s great when it comes, especially because of the immersive sound design.

The constant switch between the two genres helps it feel diverse, as too many consecutive scenes of the survival portion and it starts to feel flat. The scenes of romance between the two adventurous characters is also nice because Woodley and Claflin have a nice chemistry. There a lot of sweet flashback scenes, and there are also pretty moments on the boat before all hell breaks loose.

We don’t get to know a lot about Tami before she sets sail other than she and Richard like sailing, she’s traveling the world and is a free spirit who doesn’t want to go home. Shailene Woodley’s consistently good and that’s no different here. She plays romantic very well and makes those scenes feel sincere. After the hurricane hits, we learn the character’s resourceful and it’s great watching Woodley get into the psyche of survival. She plays the moments of strength, as well as heartbreaking moments of vulnerability, really well.

Adrift featured

Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in Adrift. (IMDB)

Sam Claflin is good, too, but he has so much more to do during the romantic part of the film and doesn’t do much during the survival because of his injuries. His performance will frequently be an afterthought to Woodley.

There are a few surprises in the story, which is nice, and while it sometimes feels derivative of other survival movies, it’s very much fueled by the strong connection between the characters. It’s a faithfully adapted screenplay written by twin screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kendall (part of the writing team on Pixar’s “Moana”), who wrote it with Woodley in mind to star. Writer David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”) also joined as a writer later.

The film’s directed by Baltasar Kormákur, returning to the survival genre after 2015’s “Everest,” and it’s a good return to the genre. He gets great performances from his primary cast, and there aren’t many other principal cast members to direct. The only ones important to the story include an older couple, Peter (Jeffrey Thomas) and Christine (Elizabeth Hawthorne). They give Tami and Richard $10,000 to sail their yacht back to California, and are the reason why the couple cross paths with the hurricane.

Partly due to the lack of supporting cast, Kormákur easily makes the Ocean feel like the film’s third star. This is also assisted by the amazing cinematography by Oscar winner Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator”, “JFK”) who captures the scope of the direness of the characters’ situation. He makes every scene look beautiful, and that more than makes up for where the film lacks in non-stop tension.

Score: 75/100