Upgrade (2018)

Director: Leigh Whannell
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson
Runtime: 95 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

When technophobe Grey (Marshall-Green) becomes a paraplegic after muggers shoot him and kill his wife, he moves again with the help of the computer implant STEM. We’ve seen plots like these before, and the ending doesn’t shock, but Whannell’s approach mixing body horror and revenge thriller tropes has the right upgrades. Just after a spectacularly gory revenge scene takes place, for instance, Grey’s remorse echoes that of, say, Kevin Bacon in James Wan’s hugely underrated Death Sentence, but STEM won’t be stopped. The near-future angle towards the tech, too, gives Upgrade a thoughtfulness sorely lacking from most genre fare. (99 words/A MINUS)

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany
Runtime: 135 minutes
Viewed at: Cinemark Round Rock

The irony of Star Wars’ rulebreaker being the subject of its safest installment to date shouldn’t be lost. Sure, the light and freewheeling nature of Solo plays well with its fun action sequences and exploration of Han Solo’s backstory, particularly the wonderful turns of Ehrenreich as sci-fi’s most prominent outlaw and Glover as jovial gambler Lando Calrissian. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if Howard, who replaced Lord-Miller for directing duties, lost that duo’s trademark spunky bite – the kind of thing a storied franchise craves. At least it’s way more entertaining than Phantom and Attack. (95 words/B)

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Director: David Leitch
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy
Runtime: 119 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

Yes, the sequel to Reynolds’ iconic role, in the raunchiest, most meta superhero film ever made, lives up to its lofty expectations. The jokes and potshots fly harder and faster, the stakes are higher, the action feels more fluid (unsurprising, considering John Wick‘s Leitch directed), and the new faces in the cast, particularly Dennison as the kid Deadpool reaches out to, are excellent. But there’s more on this sequel’s mind than being meta – it’s almost like an even raunchier Guardians with its message of unlikely friends uniting like family. Also, greatest post credits scene of all time. No joke. (99 words/A PLUS)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt
Runtime: 149 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

The ambition taken in the best Avengers yet astounds in its “everything and the kitchen sink” theatrics. The thrill of seeing favorite characters fight side by side does not negate the way the Russos seem to seamlessly seam stories together with six Infinity Stones. Not to mention the deep emotional core with Thanos, surprisingly human for a destroyer of worlds. And the series’ trademark quips don’t nullify anything this time. It’s usually wrong to say a film leaves you wanting more, but I don’t want to be right – Infinity War is as moving as superhero blockbusters can get. (99 words/A PLUS)

A Quiet Place (2018)

Director: John Krasinski
Stars: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Runtime: 95 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

Intense, moving psychological horror filmmaking like this rarely happens, and Krasinski did it with little sound as his prime conceit. His monster of choice – Eldritch abominations with razor-sharp hearing – aims for high-concept scares, landing them with a gradual form of tension. There’s a poignant emotional core, excellent production values, amazing performances (especially Simmonds’ – two films later, she’s earned her place among the best Deaf actresses working today), and gore that obliterates PG-13 boundaries. Yet, Krasinski’s willingness to add his new factor and twist old horror tropes is what truly makes A Quiet Place a cacophony of cinematic horror goodness. (99 words/A PLUS)

The Apartment (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Runtime: 125 minutes

Film-wise, there is nothing like Wilder’s influential farce. Lemmon is terrific as a meek but driven executive lending his apartment to his higher-ups for trysts, but his life changes when he falls in love with the elevator girl in the midst of such an affair (an equally terrific MacLaine). While the production design is very much of the era, Wilder’s incredible script, on the corporate ladder’s pitfalls and the importance of human connection, is timeless. And the wit and direction still capture that spirit of early ’60s ennui perfectly and capably. Classic cinemaphiles should pay The Apartment a visit. (99 words/A PLUS PLUS PLUS)

The Emoji Movie (2017)

Director: Tony Leondis
Stars: (voices of…) T. J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Sean Hayes, Patrick Stewart
Runtime: 91 minutes
Viewed on Netflix (curiosity killed the cat.)

😤… I’m not copping out, no, certainly not when it comes to a fifth-rate Pixar knockoff inside a Sony phone. That’s a taste of the product placement. Textopolis plays out like a modernized technological successor to THAT classic Wayne’s World scene with absolutely none of the irony. There’s more: idiotic plotting, lowbrow humor, unmemorable characters, atrocious dialogue, and of course, Stewart phoning his 💩 in right after his stellar turn in Logan! Yet, there’s a depressing, soulless heart here. I’d expect a cynical message about society being emotionless idiots from a European art film, not a children’s movie. 🖕🏻 (96 words + 3 emoji/F)

Ready Player One (2018)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Runtime: 140 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

RP1 takes us back to the Spielberg I’ve sorely missed, full of so much wit and wonder, my disbelief isn’t just suspended, it’s downright obliterated. And what better material to match him with than Ernest Cline’s reference-laden, fantastical sci-fi doorstopper? Yet, this is its own beast, and his methodical approach brings the Oasis to life with incredibly rendered CGI, a terrific cast, and – naturally – a dizzying array of wisecracking pop culture homages. Let’s just say A.I. has been dethroned as Spielberg’s best Kubrick tribute. Like the Oasis, the only limit to Spielberg’s entertainment value is his own imagination. (99 words/A)

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: (voices of) Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood
Runtime: 101 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Arbor 8

Anderson’s second animated effort handily takes best in show yet again. The delightful, uncompromising and incredibly detailed animation, not to mention his all-star cast, give way to a deep and enchanting masterpiece. His futurist metropolis of Megasaki echoes the same postwar Japan where Kurosawa and Ozu gave us incredible cinema, crafting a wonderful love letter that also upholds the bond between man and best friend at a level appropriate for kids (mildest PG-13 ever), but sophisticated and intricate enough for his hipster fanbase. Even the minor trouble spot, Gerwig’s grating white savior exchange student, doesn’t put down these Dogs. (99 words/A)

Red Sparrow (2017)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons
Runtime: 140 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

Lawrence directs Lawrence again in this nice slow burning slice of refreshingly old-school Russian espionage. JLaw shines as Domenika, a former ballerina who becomes a seductive spy, honing her craft at a brutal training ground, and crossing paths with American rivals. The plot has more twists than a backroad, punctuated by bursts of lurid sex, graphic violence, or both. The challenging runtime comes from some unnecessary padding in the second act, most of the accents get grating, and the unflinching brutality sometimes feels unwarranted (even to me). Yet, those looking for a solid and satisfying spy thriller will enjoy. (99 words/B PLUS)