Posts filed under Movie Reviews

Summer of '84 - REVIEW

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Last weekend, my friend and I went to the movies. It was Saturday after work and he offered up two suggestions and I offered up two of my own. Long story short, I was vetoed on both my choices and, with a brief description of both Summer of 84 and Never Goin’ Back, I chose the murder mystery (I’ll almost always choose a thriller). Had I taken a few minutes to watch the trailer beforehand, I might have lowered my expectations a bit.

It’s the summer of 1984 (duh) and conspiracy theory-loving Davey becomes increasingly convinced his neighbor, a town cop, is a serial killer after several neighborhood boys go missing. He enlists the help of his friends (a ne’er-do-well, a library-loving nerd, and an overweight teddy bear) to spy on fresh-faced Officer Mackey, played by Mad Men’s Rich Sommer, who does seem increasingly guilty. Is he actually the serial killer? I won’t spoil that for you, but throw in a crush on an older girl next door, a walkie-talkie communication system, and group rides around a quaint Oregon town on bikes and you’ve got a stereotypical 80s movie, right?

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That was part of the problem for me. It’s not that the movie was bad, per se. It was just too heavy-handed on the 80s nostalgia craze that Stranger Things ushered in. A year ago, or even two, it wouldn’t have seemed so forced, but at this point, it just felt late to the game and unoriginal. It definitely paled in comparison to the group-of-friends original classics of my childhood: The Goonies, It, The Lost Boys, ET, and so on.

Now that I’ve ragged on it enough, I really did enjoy the unfolding of the mystery and its eventual outcome. The movie starts a bit slow and is dragged down by visits to the bowling alley and all the teenage feelings, but the end picks up and delivers a few surprises and scares. You know it’s a decent quest to catch a killer when characters start snooping into business they shouldn’t and you literally begin to exhibit signs of stress in the movie theater.

I have to admit my mind did start to wander a bit after Davey sees a missing neighborhood boy on the milk carton one morning. It’s such an 80s reference, but did you know that the milk carton campaign only last two years and didn’t actually help all that much? I’d just listened to a podcast episode about milk carton kids and the skeptical side of me wanted to re-listen to see if they were even used in 1984 still. You can breathe a collective sigh of relief - Summer of 84 got in just under the gun: the campaign ran from 1982-1984.

So, unless you’re really dying (ha) to see a movie about the summer in the last few weeks of summer, Summer of 84 can wait for streaming.    

Posted on August 19, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

The Meg - REVIEW

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Once I heard about The Meg, I was excited. Jaws but huge? No matter how bad it was, I was sure I'd find some enjoyment in it and my expectations were pretty much fulfilled. 

The Meg fell into the problem many creature-features do, where they play up the mystery of what the creature is. A troupe that I find annoying, especially when all the press, trailers, and poster feature the monster you are expecting. Jurassic Park had a Raptor in the opening scene because it was a movie about dinosaurs. The Meg spends the first quarter of the film dodging the camera and hiding in the shadows... We know is a giant shark! Show us the giant shark!  

Now once the beast appears, they don't waste time highlighting it swimming around and tearing stuff up, for that I am grateful. The science behind where it was hiding all these eons is explained, logically and well thought out. I was surprised, as I simply expected a high budget SciFy movie and I was doubley shocked to find out The Meg is based on a book! A well received book at that AND the movie was in developmental hell, thanks in part to Deep Blue Sea, AND at one time had Guillermo del Toro at the helm! Holy Crap!

What we got instead was an action packed(-ish), horror film with a non-karate Jason Statham (nice change of pace for him) directed by National Treasure's Jon Turtletaub. Also filling the cast was, one of my personal favorites, Cliff Curtis who went terribly underused, Rainn Wilson who was really quite good, Ruby Rose, BingBing Li, Heroes' Masi Oka, and a bunch of other who all at one point or another fall into the water with the megalodon. 

This is far from the worst shark movie but it's nowhere near the best but it is a fun shark movie. I won't ruin the ending, obviously, but I will say felt the climax was somewhat lackluster and left me wanting more. Maybe an explosion in it's mouth or something... I guess that would be too much of a copy and paste, huh? 

5 BEST SHARK MOVIES

1) JAWS

2) THE SHALLOWS

3)  OPEN WATER

4) 47 METERS DOWN

5) THE MEG

 

Posted on August 11, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies - Review

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With summer winding down, and the current heat wave in Texas seeming to come to a simmer, my son and I decided to catch a movie.  With MoviePass being the price gouging monsters they currently are, we made sure to beat the afternoon and all weekend price surge by catching Teen Titans Go! To the Movies at 10 am (look for my next article about how unhappy I am with this subscription service I’m stuck with).  As my son and I sat down and slowly watched the theater crowd pack in I realized I made a mistake.  I took my Eight year old to an opening weekend cartoon movie… My son is great and very respectful of other people viewing experience, but I knew for a fact that the other 3 to 9 years olds who were literally lead in on tethers weren’t going to be. Lucky for us,  the adults of these heathen children sat on each side of us, at least giving us a semi-barrier from the chaos. Now, before I get into how this movie is a summer box office sleeper, I want to give you my history of Teen Titans, Go!

My son introduced me to this show after I was forced to issue a strict (but deserved) no Spy Kids policy in our household. After a few days of intense battling and a grounding, my son decided to see what was on Cartoon Network instead of trying to sneak stream a Spy Kids movie under his bed and hidden beneath a blanket. There was a marathon on and he happened to start it at episode one, so after about two hours of hearing him laugh and run for snacks during the commercial breaks, I decided to see what he was watching. I was hesitant at first because I’m not a big DC fan at all, I’ll be the first to tell you other than Batman and The Watchmen I don't really enjoy the DC Universe that much and I didn’t really watch the original Teen Titans animated series, but after catching two episodes with him, I was hooked. It was a different side of DC I hadn’t seen before. One that poked fun of it shortcomings and other franchises as well, while still being a cutesy newer animated show.  So I was looking forward to catching this film with him since it was announced. Also,  I know there’s a lot of the original animated series fans who absolutely hate this show, but if you take it for what it is (a modern day Looney Toons meets a superhero show) it’s really funny and well written.

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Now, with that out of the way and without spoilers I’m going to let you know how you can’t let your summer end without catching this movie somewhere.  Even with a super crowded theater and loud kids I still enjoyed this trip to the movies because Teen Titans Go! To the Movies was fun from beginning to end. With a surprise cast of talent and a cameo that killed my son and me, it had something for everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY! If you listen closely you can catch who the Justice League was voiced by and a few other characters as well.  My favorite had to been the “subtle” yet obvious cameo made by Stan Lee….. Yes that Stan Lee. The Marvel forefather himself.  It also had something for you original animated series fans as well (wait for the after credits scene, I’ll bet you’ll be glad you came).  There was the typical cartoon movie plot where it had to incorporate in a message how children can better themselves by not being selfish assholes like one of the characters in the movie, but even with that plot point, the flick delivered it with enough humor to where it wasn’t unbearable as an adult to watch. So if you're looking for something to do this weekend or just have some free time to kill I HIGHLY recommend you catching Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. It really is a pleasant break from what DC is currently trying to do with their universe.

Posted on July 28, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Thunderdome, More Like Blunderdome.

Recently my girlfriend informed me that she hadn’t seen any of the Mad Max films……. I know but I promise she’s a keeper. So I made sure to change that. I owned the first flick (which we watched) but I had seen The Road Warrior so many times on cable that it became one of my favorite flicks that, for some reason, I didn’t own it. So off to Walmart I went and upon arriving I saw a two pack deal of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome for $3. FUCKING SOLD!

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After arriving home and popping that bad boy in we were excited to watch the 3rd installment of the franchise.  We were wrong for looking forward to it.  I remember seeing the film two times in my life and wondered why I hadn’t seen it more.  I was quickly reminded.  This wasn’t the lovely little indie film like the first two, this was a major motion picture monster ramming it's huge budget in your face right away.  From the heavy 80’s music blaring over the title credits to the hundreds of extras in Barter Town, this movie had some cash to throw around compared to the first two.

The props and sets looked amazing especially the vehicles,  but all that was for nothing for me.  The PG13 rating and The Goonies-like feeling killed this film. I could forgive the over acting of Tina Turner and the bad writing, but god damn it I will not forgive the horrible idea of trying to make this film a cash cow!  I see why another film wasn’t made until a few years ago.

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There were so many cringe worthy parts in this film I don't even know where to start.  The simple fact that nobody's seen on screen dying infuriated me just as much as the slapstick comedy they deemed was needed for the children seeing this movie. Also, might I add, not one pair of post apocalypse knockers….. Not one pair! If you plan on watching this pile I’d kindly ask you not to.

Posted on July 26, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom REVIEW

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The sixteen year friendship of Reservoir Geeks' founders, Chris and Andy, is due in large part to their similar tastes in all things, including movies. They love the same bad movies, most Gerard Butler action films, Wes Anderson (obviously) and above all else, Jurassic Park. Lines from Jurassic Park are often sprinkled though-out their conversations and was the basis for their first episode of Prequel. Sequel. Reboot. Remake., that was until they left last night's screening of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. A movie that has been likened in reaction to that of The Last Jedi. Fans either love it or they don't and for Chris and Andy, that rang true. So, unlike other reviews we've done on this site, this Jurassic World will have two opposing reactions. 

CHRIS' REVIEW

I think I've calmed down a little bit from last night. I was pretty heated when I walked out of the theater. I won't say I hated the movie, and I won't say that it was a bad movie. It was just.....

I really don't know what it was. 

  I made a meme for how I feel about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I made a meme for how I feel about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

It's as though the writers and director just stuck a bunch of cool scenes on post-it notes on a wall and threw replica raptor claws at it and found a way to string together all the scenes that stuck. Don't get me wrong, the dinosaurs were awesome! I just had a problem with everything else in the movie. It just so damn...wacky. That's the best way I can describe it. And, that's not to say I have a problem with over the top action movies. Fallen Kingdom just gets so close to that line that you wouldn't be insane to expect Chris Pratt to ride off into the sunset on Blue's back. And, you know what, I would have loved that. I could have forgiven the rest of the movie's ridiculousness. The previous films have had their share of silly moments (karate gymnastics, anyone) but it felt like I was constantly throwing my hands in the air in disbelief at either the crazy world these characters are living in, their actions, or the characters themselves.

The tagline for the movie is "The park is gone". Yeah, it is, in the last 5 minutes! The Lost World gave us more dinosaurs in the big city! I was really wanting to see a Jurassic World and instead I got Jurassic Mansion. I think the most irritating part is that if they were so into re-hashing the plot from the Lost World they could have at least followed a similar timeline and given us some more dinosaurs running rampant in the streets. Some compys eating food out of a dumpster behind a Wing Stop would have been funny. **OR** Jurassic World could have trimmed a little fat, added a few small plot threads and added the tail end of Fallen Kingdom and we'd be in the same place. As everyone is escaping the island in Jurassic Kingdom we see helicopters swooping in to remove the animals from the park with Ted Levine in the lead. Jump forward a few weeks with Pratt and Howard having tracked down the animals and now on a rescue mission. BOOM. Animals are loose on the mainland. Sure, Fallen Kingdom sets up a sequel (and that sequel sounds badass) but it really does nothing other than that.

You can hear all of my complaints in our audio review. I don't want to repeat the same things over and over again -- I'm not Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so cynical. Maybe I've just been watching way too much "Cinema Sins". I truly loved any stretch of film that had something scaly in it (luckily that was most of the movie) but I really could have gone without pretty much everything else. I'm sure I'll warm up to this movie like I did to Lost World (I really did not like that one after I saw it). I think I just need to watch it again with a fresh pair of eyes and maybe something more to drink. Bartender, do you have anything that suspends disbelief?

For now here's verdict.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Come for the dinosaurs, but leave your brains at the King Kong-sized gate.

ANDY'S REVIEW

I'm not going to lie and say this was my absolute favorite Jurassic Movie but in the entire series, it's neck and neck with Jurassic World for me. Now I apologetically love all the movies (even JP3) and that is thanks mostly to the fact that they are dinosaur movies where there are fluid moving thunder lizards sharing the screen with humans. It's equation that you cannot go wrong with. One of my favorite parts in the entire series is the final act of The Lost World when the T-Rex is running wound San Diego just tearing stuff up and interacting with the modern world. If that is what you are expecting for Fallen Kingdom, don't get your hopes up though. Much like with all trailers, they are deceiving and the mosasaurus/surfer scene is about as close to San Diego as you get. 

The story is now better or worse than any other in the series, except for the original where the story is stellar. If anything the first act is very similar to that of Lost World except instead of grabbing the dinos for a new park, they are supposed to be going to save them for the island itself. There are a few new characters but most serve the same purpose as one who came before; Ted Levine is a hybrid of Roland from LW and Vincent D'Onofrio from JW, James Cromwell is the new John Hammond and the little girl is the kid in danger from any of the other four movies. Seriously, there's always kids and they are always in danger but that's okay because it's all part of the equation of JP awesomeness. 

My only real criticism is that the movie didn't need and we didn't need ANOTHER hybrid dinosaur. It was a statement on consumerism constant need for more in the last movie but this time it came off more as a crutch. The part of the Indoraptor could have just as easily been filled with the return of the Dilophosaurus or even the Allosaurus that the movie was almost obsessed with or maybe even just another Raptor. I don't know, it just seemed like unnecessary rehashing from JW. Beyond that, it was a fun exciting movie that I would definitely recommend to any JP fan and one that I plan on seeing at least a few more times before the summer ends. 

JURASSIC STANDING

ANDY
1. JURASSIC PARK
2. LOST WORLD
3a. JURASSIC WORLD
3b. FALLEN KINGDOM
4. JURASSIC PARK 3

CHRIS
1. JURASSIC PARK
2. LOST WORLD
3. JURASSIC WORLD
4a. JURASSIC PARK 3
4b. FALLEN KINGDOM


Immediately after getting out of Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom Chris and Andy dashed out to the parking lot (Andy on a cloud and Chris underneath it)  to record their thoughts before even sharing them with each other. This is that recording. 

*WARNING: SPOILERS*

  CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE PARKING LOT REVIEW!

CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE PARKING LOT REVIEW!

Posted on June 23, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Action Point REVIEW

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If you love Jackass, as I do, surely you were excited when you heard about Action Point. Mixing Jackass styled stunts with a narrative was something experimented with in 2013's Bad Grandpa and, for me at least, it worked. It was the perfect marriage of Borat and Jackass. The story was alright but the catching people off guard with violent stunts was the magic that picked up where the story let down. 

Action Point is like if someone decided to pull all the great stuff from Bad Grandpa and toss it aside. The story is such an underhand toss, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the example you would find in a Screenwriting for Dummies book but with a theme park added in. So with that you would hope the outrageous stunts would do some of the heavy lifting, but it does not. They come about so blatantly that you long for the days where you would hear, "I'm Johnny Knoxville and this is the Firehose Water Slide"... Holy crap... I'm not kidding at all when I saw that the way to fix this movie just popped into my head as I'm writing this. JACKASS ACTION PARK!

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The idea came about after Knoxville saw The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever and wanted to make a movie about the place. Instead of following the story as it actually happened we get stuck with a movie about a father and teenage daughter but it's not a good one. This movie felt like a high school friend's attempt at making his own version of Adventureland. I would have loved to see them rebuild Action Park, but crappy, (which they did for this movie) and have the Jackass crew do a movie in the park. It would have been easy, fun and far more successful than what is Action Point. 

There isn't a whole lot to say about the movie other than that. The directing was okay... Acting was good and it's always nice to see Chris Pontius around. Brigette Lundy-Paine was a pleasant surprise to see, as I am a fan of the Netflix series Atypical. Knoxville did a fine job but it appeared that he was injured early on in filming because he moved like a mannequin riding a skateboard down a cobblestone street. I wish I could have loved Action Point but I didn't. It kept getting so close to getting good and then would shift gears to crap again. I wouldn't recommend seeing it in the theater or renting it but if you see it streaming somewhere, throw it on while you're doing something else.  

Posted on June 3, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Solo: A Star Wars Story REVIEW

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Han Solo brought cool to the sci-fi genre with his aloof attitude, lack of hesitation to shoot first, and style. It's a character unlike any other before him and led to countless copycats up to Marvel's Star Lord. Through the original Star Wars trilogy we watch as Solo develops from a selfish smuggler out to make a few bucks to becoming a team player who makes sacrifices to help his friends and family until his death at the end of his own son in Force Awakens. Oh crap! Spoilers for Force Awakens...  But what was the space rebel without a cause like before the fate of the Galaxy was thrust upon his shoulders? 

Solo: A Star Wars Story is what Phantom Menace should have been. A prequel that skips the needless childhood years and jumps right into the formative young adulthood age. Showing a young Solo as the scheming outlaw we already know him as but without all the rough edges fully roughed up yet. Unlike the current offerings in this Disney Star Wars universe, it seems that the writers dipped into the Lucas well of cannon backstory a bit. That is the film is penned by none other than Empire and Jedi writer Lawrence Kasdan and son Johnathan a duo who are both parts responsible for the characters we know and grew up knowing them. Solo feels the most tied to the original Star Wars trilogy in both characters and world. Gone are the annoying jokey-jokes of Last Jedi and back is the familiar world we all fell in love with. 
A criticism I have of this film and Rogue One is that the droid technology seems to be more advanced in these films than in Episode IV-VI. I know it's nitpicky but Lando's droid, L3, has the operating system of a sassy woman while 10 years later 3PO is all persnickety and adheres to all requests made of him. Perhaps we simply did not see an independent thinking droid before K2SO and L3 because 3PO simply was not programmed that way but where were all the other droids like K2SO in the original trilogy?!?!?! Okay, sorry. That went on too long.
Beyond that I really enjoyed Solo quite a bit and am excited knowing that Alden Ehrenreich has signed on for two more movies. Now will those be three more Han-centric films or will the films deal with stories set in motion in this film, is yet to be discovered. Whatever the case; if the other two films are on par with this one then it is a trilogy that will be ranked high in the list of Star Wars trilogies. 

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I'm not going to be delusional and swear up and down that you will love Solo because that might not be true. This will absolutely be a movie that some people will love while others hate, a trend that seems to be following these Disney Star Wars movies. Since Force Awakens, I've been on both sides of it. I really loved Force Awakens but hated Last Jedi while others felt the complete opposite about both. I do believe that a huge complaint will come from the camp of people that cannot get over the fact that Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford and I understand it but that is not a reason to count the film out as a whole.
Back in 2009 many people praised Chris Pine for having his own take on Capt. Kirk while at the same time also loving what Karl Urban did with his spot on Bones. Ehrenreich manages to do both with his portrayal of Han Solo dancing perfectly on the line of imitation and originality. While he embodies the character he somehow manages to make it his own and if you allow yourself to relax enough and accept this new reality, it is not distracting at all. On the flip side Donald Glover's Lando is spot on, perfect on every level, and steals the scene every time he is on screen with the same charisma and charm that Billy Dee Williams breathed into the character. Obviously Chewbacca is amazing with Joonas Sutamo now taking over the role from the great Peter Meyhew. Chewy and Han's budding friendship is given full respect and is far better than the originally conceived Episode III idea wherein Han was raised by Chewbaca (and idea that thankfully was never fully realized). Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, and Jon Favreau round out the supporting cast of heroes and Paul Bettany plays that part of the villainous Dryden Vos so well you want him to have his own prequel just so we can know what's up with his face.

I refuse to spoil anything in these reviews so I can't dive as deeply as I would like into very specific scenes I love but there is plenty to enjoy, if you allow it. The movie is good, if you let it be. If you can let go of what you don't like about it before you see it, you will enjoy it much more. It's not the best Star Wars movie but it is the best we've had since Force Awakens, if not more so simply for the fact that is hearkens back to the tone and feel of the originals. It's all the best of Lucas's Star Wars with the good parts of Disney's Star Wars.
Let yourself enjoy Solo. You'll be happy you did.

Posted on May 25, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Avengers: Infinity War REVIEW

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Sorry James Cameron, comic book movies are here to stay. For a while at least. 
Avengers: Infinity War hits the ground running and pulls no punches. I will go as far as to say that this is the greatest ensemble comic book movie to date. At a run time of a little over two and a half hours, the movie never stagnates and uses every second to the fullest. Contrary to the second two LOTR films in the trilogy, Infinity War never feels like multiple separate movies going on at the same time. All the individual stories serve the larger story and introduction between worlds are fluid and cohesive. 

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In a movie with such an enormous cast I was concerned that maybe some characters would be only on screen for a moment and I was mostly wrong. In a trend that seems to be recurring with the MCU a couple of folks were MIA (one which was expected) but someone from the past shows up and filled me with much joy and excitement... but that's all I'll say about that.
As I stated before, Infinity War is packed beginning to end with content and every character is given their time on screen. Each character serves a purpose and no one ever feels like they are there just because it's expected. Every moment these heroes have spent on screen in this movie and before was building toward the finale of this movie.

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The story was so well executed that if you told me that this was this first film written and they worked their way backwards with each film, I'd believe it. There is not one scene that could be removed in this Rube Goldberg machine of a movie that is the end result of perfect cinematic universe building. A fitting crescendo to a nerdy symphony ten years in the making! 
I wouldn't only recommend you see Avengers: Infinity War, I would recommend you see it twice or even thrice. It is that enjoyable. 


Below is the link to the SPOILER riddled Parking Lot Review I did with fellow Reservoir Geek, Doug Bashore immediately after seeing Avengers: Infinity War. If you've seen the movie or don't mind spoilers, enjoy!

 
 
 
Posted on April 28, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Super Troopers 2 REVIEW

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The problem with comedy sequels is far too often the second movie relies on material from the first movie too heavily. Take The Hangover 2 for instance; it is improbable that the exact same group of people would have the exact same experience twice but in different locations. The third movie was a departure from formula and was far superior to the second. Then you have a Bill and Ted situation wherein the second movie is vastly different from the first and it fails at the box office. An example of a well executed comedy sequel is 22 Jump Street; a sequel that is so aware of itself, it has many funnier moments than the first but makes the first necessary in order to enjoy the second.
Super Troopers 2 pulls off a bit of all three but never to the point in repeating itself to where it comes off as annoying or a waste of time and never dependent on the success of the first film. The story is another investigation into drugs (fitting as they are law enforcement) but this time set in Canada making it a fish out of water scenario. No character is underutilized and even the throwbacks to the first film feel natural and fluid to the story. 

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Something that makes this sequel special is that the entire core cast, outside of the Broken Lizard crew, returned. Brian Cox is used well throughout and is let loose with his comedic talent, a side we don't always get to see from the often serious actor. Even in the first Super Troopers he never went as far into the deep end of the comedy pool as he does here. Marisa Coughlan returns for a couple of short scenes as Ursula from the first movie showing that her relationship with Foster is still in full swing. As to not spoil anything I will keep my lips closed for any further mentions of cameos. 
Super Troopers 2 is not only a good sequel but a good movie. It's sequel status is improved more over by the fact that the second doesn't necessitate the first. Sure there are a few jokes and references but never to the point of the "most annoying noise in the world" from Dumb and Dumber. It's a fun time and a very enjoyable comedy. 
You won't be disappointed that you saw it. Maybe even make it a double-feature with the first. I don't care. What am I your dad?

To hear what we thought about Super Troopers 2 right after we saw it, click the picture below to listen to our SPOILERY episode of Parking Lot Review!

 
 
Posted on April 21, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.

Isle of Dogs REVIEW

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It’s no secret that I’m a Wes Anderson fangirl. If there’s a Wes Anderson-esque post or meme on social media, friends tag me. There’s a Wes Anderson Week on Instagram every year and I play along with images of symmetry, family, nostalgia, and overhead shots (do yourself a favor and start following #wesandersonstyle). I once dressed a vintage portrait to look like Royal Tenenbaum for a party room with those Reservoir Geek guys (you heard of them?). What can I say? The man’s got a style I can’t help but admire.
Despite my love for Mr. Anderson’s work and all the inspiration it affords me, I have to confess that I went to see Isle of Dogs with great trepidation. Why? To be honest, Anderson’s last two films, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, weren’t my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still great… they just aren’t my favorite. But they aren’t my least favorite, either. That would be Fantastic Mr. Fox. Hence my sense of trepidation.
Anderson’s previous undertaking of an animal stop-motion film was charming and stylistic, but it was derivative and it just didn’t click with me. I was worried Isle of Dogs would be the same, albeit with an original story this time around. From what I’d read online as the film was being made, I wondered if Anderson could successfully navigate such a cultural departure, not to mention focusing on an entirely different species, from his usual work. I am so happy to report that my fears were unfounded because, doggone it, I absolutely loved Isle of Dogs.

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From the opening credits until the final seconds, I was enchanted, both by the quietly humorous, though at times dark, story and the stunning cinematography. Written by Wes Anderson with two of his previous cohorts, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, along with newcomer Kunichi Nomura, Isle of Dogs tells the story of flu-ridden canines in a not-too-distant-future Japan who are exiled by the government to Trash Island. A young boy, Atari (aka The Little Pilot), risks his life flying to the island to rescue his beloved guard dog Spots; after crashing on the island, he encounters a ragtag gang of alpha dogs who agree (one of them, grudgingly) to help reunite The Little Pilot and Spots. And the hero’s journey archetype commences. But who exactly is the hero? I won’t spoil it for you.
The stop-motion in Isle of Dogs was effortlessly detailed and really quite amazing. It had no ambition to be cutting edge and lifelike, nor was it distractingly opposite and clunky. In between moments of wondering how many hours of production it took to meticulously shift and film every tiny movement, a cloud of cotton batting comically sufficed as the dirt kicked up in a (sometimes gruesome) dog pack scuffle. It didn’t take itself too seriously and it was perfect. My favorite stylistic touch in Isle of Dogs was the incorporation of Japanese 2D animation. Any scene visualized through a screen, be it television, radar, or messaging screen, was rendered in beautifully flat and stylistically opposite 2D animation. It was a wonderful juxtaposition that Anderson wouldn’t have been able to pull off in a live-action film and I loved it.

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Of course, there are plenty of signature Wes Anderson traits sprinkled throughout the film if that’s what you’re looking for: symmetry unleashed from the get-go; clever color schemes (the colors of Japan were bold and intense, while the colors of Trash Island were muted and dusty); an eclectic soundtrack featuring works by Alexandre Desplat, songs from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Drunken Angels, and jangly psychedelic folk rock vibes from The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band; and an ensemble cast of now-beloved Wes Anderson regulars: Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, to name a few. Anderson newcomer Bryan Cranston was great as the gruff Chief, as was Koyu Rankin as the kind-hearted and determined Atari.
I went to see the movie with a group of friends and, afterwards, we all chatted about which dog was our favorite (mine were Oracle and Duke - he just likes to gossip) and which parts made us cry (because you’re gonna cry). Isle of Dogs is about unlikely friendships, despotic governments (you can decide how much you want to read into the politics), vulnerability, and perseverance. Most importantly, it will also make you want to go home and give your best dog buddy a scratch and if it doesn’t, you have no feelings. Or you just don’t like dogs and that’s okay, too...  I guess. While it didn’t quite knock out my first place Wes Anderson film (The Royal Tenenbaums, always and forever), Isle of Dogs made a quick leap to the top of the list. Two enthusiastic paws up.

 
Posted on April 7, 2018 and filed under Movie Reviews.