Friday, June 22, 2018

Film Review: The Incredibles 2

Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Elie Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Michael Bird
Rating: P/G
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure, Super-hero, Family
Runtime: 1 hr. 58 min.

Pixar is a powerhouse animation studio known for unleashing original, highly intelligent, and heartwarming films. However, while they still release solid original films like Inside Out and Coco the team has found it fit to drop unnecessary sequels in between; Toy Story 2 and 3 notwithstanding. Monsters University, Finding Dory, and -most notably- the Cars sequels have all run aground featuring razor thin plots bent on selling merchandise instead of instilling passion and heart in the viewer. Brad Bird's (Ratatouille, The Iron Giant) The Incredibles 2 is yet another Luxo Ball dropped.

As with my Finding Dory review, I tend to rate new Pixar films based on previous Pixar films; or at least the "Golden Age" of Pixar. Therefore, I tend to be harder on Pixar films as they have a high bar to reach. With that out of the way let's delve into the review.

The film starts off pretty much exactly where the original left off, sort of; opening with Violet's love interest from the first film, Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird), being interrogated by agent Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks) after witnessing the Parr family in super (this universe's name for superheroes) costume without their masks. The intro is quick, and the sudden appearance of the title screen hits at an awkward moment before leading into the action. Following this we get a look at the family as they go off to fight the Underminer from the first film. Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) are forced to look after Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), while Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) go into the fray. This of course causes tension as the kids want to fight alongside their parents, so they continue to hand off Jack-Jack back and forth. It's played for a gag, but the theme of "growing up and taking responsibility" will continue be brought up throughout the film, and -without spoiling- while it does have a conclusion, like so much of the rest of the film's themes, it doesn't feel earned.

Following the destructive fight, supers continue to be shown by the media as the illegal purveyors of chaos -see the first film- but hope arises in the form of Evelyn and Winston Deavor (Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk) who endeavor to bring supers back to the public eye in positive fashion by televising their heroism. Helen is chosen as the television star due to her "less-destructive" heroism, which forces Bob to take up the daily duties of father to the kids. It's quick, lazy plotting. This family hasn't been together all that much since the first film (it's only been a few days at most), and having Helen leave Bob alone along with her judgment in his incapability as a good father just doesn't mesh well. Either way, Helen eventually happens upon a supervillain named Screenslaver who uses video monitors to hypnotize the denizens of the city and the central plot is set in motion.

As you might guess so far, there are in fact a plethora of plots that are brought up in this film, but their conclusions are quick and easy. Bob has issues raising the kids, but gets over it after some minor character development. Violet has issues with her love interest that seem to just as easily get resolved. Dash has no plot. The main character of the film is Helen, but her mission is so mundane and easily deciphered for even the least attentive viewer that any revelations she comes across have already been considered. The viewer is dragged -or in case of the finale- shipped to the ending before we have had a moment to come to grips with everything that is occurring.

Generally, the film feels rushed and unfinished with too much going on and not enough actual character development nor those Pixar-approved emotional moments. As noted we have plenty of references to the first film, but that released almost 15 years ago. The decision to start the film right after the events of the original is actually a fine idea, but the execution is hamfisted with barely any time for the viewers to see The Incredible Parrs as a family before the next plot takes hold. I am even leaving out entire plot threads with a half dozen new throwaway heroes who work with Helen -only Voyd (Sophia Bush) has any real screentime or personality- and a lengthy subplot involving Jack-Jack, which was handled better in a short from the first film's DVD release. If you were hoping to see the family grow together like the first film you will be disappointed. The plots are too disconnected to come together for the extended third act, and the whole endeavor works against itself to squeeze out a possible future third entry.

The Incredibles 2 feels like a film that could have released two years after the original as a quick cash-in, and while it might make you laugh or smile, there is little heart to be had in this family film. 3/5

- The Catalyst

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Film Review: Set It Up

Directed by: Claire Scanlon
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Joan Smalls, Meredith Hagner, Tituss Burgess
Rating: N/A
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Runtime: 1 hr. 45 min.

Netflix has been cranking out films left and right. With over 80 set to release this year alone (and almost 30 out so far), it's possible that the quality across the board will take a hit. Set It Up is no exception.

The plot centers around Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), New York assistants tired of living lives in their boss' revolving door. Together they hatch a plan to couple their employers (played by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs), so they can finally attend to personal matters. Charlie wants time to date his vapid girlfriend, Suze (Joan Smalls), while Harper hopes to finally finish the article that will bring her into the big leagues. As with most romantic comedies the result is heavy-handed and ridden with clichés.

The first hour though, has some legitimately funny banter and situational comedy. Charlie's roommate Duncan (Pete Davidson) offers some great deadpan retorts, and an incident in an elevator leads to fairly funny interplay from Creepy Tim (Tituss Burgess). Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs are probably the stars people are here for and they do a great job with solid comedic timing and general acting chops. The leads, however, falter.

Glen Powell's Charlie is a try-hard Brad Pitt-type, while Zoey Deutch does her best to channel Ellen Page in each ditzy moment. For the first hour this dichotomy works, but once the film decides to follow the clichéd emotional downturn they just don't have what it takes to make it believable.

In fact the latter half of the film understands it's leading into cliché territory, so it continues to try to rattle it with more awkward comedy, and hurried plot points. A fight in a jewelery store is eyerolling, and -as you might have guessed- there's definitely a scene where someone preaches a confession to someone standing on a balcony above them. Instead of letting the ending breathe the audience is leapt quickly through forced plot points so we can arrive at the predictable conclusion.

Set It Up is a serviceable romantic comedy. Bingeable material, but offers little to make it worth seeking out. Don't waste a date night on this one. 2/5

- The Catalyst

Friday, June 1, 2018

Best of May 2018

June is on the horizon, but let's take a look back at the albums memorialized in May. These are my favorites from last month. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions:

"I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer" - The Body

"Look, Here Comes the Dark!" - Abraham

"The Monuments of Ash & Bone" - Wolvhammer

"IV" - Grayceon

"Light Will Consume Us All" - Chrch

"Amr" - Ihsahn

"The Colony Slain" - Age of Taurus

5. "World’s Blood" - Wayfarer

I've been a fan of Wayfarer since their atmospheric 2014 debut "Children of the Iron Age". Their previous effort "Old Souls" was exceptional, and "World's Blood" continues the group's trend upwards. It's infinitely listenable with lucid shoegaze tempered with crushing riffage and battle-cry beats. Album outro "A Nation of Immigrants" deserves mention as it's one of the more emotional tracks I've heard so far this year. The album might admittedly be overly melancholy for some listener's but it hits home whenever I press play. They're a group I look forward to hearing from each and every time, and hopefully this album garner's the following they rightly deserve.

4. "You Bastard!" - Professor Black

Chris Black is inarguably the hardest working person in modern hard rock/heavy metal. Most widely known for his solo project High Spirits and the recently disbanded Dawnbringer, Black has also featured in a plethora of other acts including Aktor, MetalUSAfer, and Superchrist. "You Bastard!" is Chris' first outing under his long-assumed Professor Black moniker, and it's a straight up six song headbanger. The album stays true to the elements spearheaded in his previous works, most notably High Spirits, and while it doesn't change up the formula too much, Chris continues to prove that honest lyrics and solid instrumentals is all it takes to make a hard hitting song. Black's vocals also aren't revolutionary, but there's emotion and intensity behind each word. Overall, "You Bastard!" isn't going to shake up the foundations of rock and heavy metal, but instead it sticks to those foundations and offers the escapism lost in much of today's popular rock scene. As I said at the start, Chris is undoubtedly the hardest working individual in the genre today, and he deserves all the recognition he can get. So show it to everyone you know and play it loud for all to hear.

3. "Witch Mountain" - Witch Mountain

Witch Mountain have had an interesting few years. After the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin after 2014's "Mobile of Angels", it seemed the band was over. Thankfully, rather than shelve the band, guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson took it as a welcome opportunity to find their next voice. Then they found Kayla Dixon. Kayla almost instantly clicked with the band's style, and her crooning is indelible. The band reborn decided to name their first outing together "Witch Mountain". It continues the group's signature blend of bluesy doom featuring Rob's heatseeking guitarwork with the addition of more violent vocalwork from Dixon; whose growls infect "Burn You Down". The album could have used another song or two since it consists of five tracks, including a cover of Spirit's "Mechanical World" and the short escapist track "Hellfire", but it's enough to show that Witch Mountain are back, and better than ever.

2. "Queen of Time" - Amorphis

Amorphis has been producing top notch melodic death metal since their inception in 1990. Over their nearly 30 year career the quality only dipped a bit with 2003's "Far From the Sun". Since then and the induction of Tomi Joutsen, the group has been hitting higher and higher notes. 2015 saw the release of "Under the Red Sun", which saw it's name slapped across plenty of best of the year lists, and was arguably the band's best album to date. Not only has "Queen of Time" matched the expectations set by this previous album, but completely blown them away. It's a triumph of an album featuring intricate musicianship, composition, and a perfect, simply perfect, vocal performance by Joutsen. Amorphis continue to outdo themselves, and one wonders what their 30th year will bring.

1. "Geometria" - Thy Catafalque

Tamas Katai is Thy Catafalque. On the new album "Geometria", Katai integrates a substantial variety of genres. It's actually nearly impossible to name them all with elements of folk/jazz/electronica/pop/crust/classical, and sprinkled within is always the black metal foundations. The opening track "Hajnali csillag" intros with a psychedelic and ambient soundscape, and slowly transitions to folk-infused metal. This track is followed by the scorcher "Szamojéd freskó" demanding the listener respect the ebb and flow of Thy Catafalque's style. "Tenger, tenger" is the standout track for me with Misha Doumnov's excruciatingly emotional violin work. It's a fantastic track, which might be a little straightforward given the rest of the proceedings, but there's still a lot of texture in the instrumentation and vocal work, and I find myself returning to it again and again.

- The Catalyst