Friday, May 20, 2016

“The Nice Guys” – Good, but you missed a spot.

Imagine you are on a flight from Denver to Los Angeles. As flights go, it’s fairly eventful – there’s some pretty solid turbulence, projectile vomiting, a spirited game of poker over the new entertainment system on the plane, and a flight attendant accidentally leaving the comm. system on while divulging personal issues to her coworker. In other words, you are entertained for the duration of the flight. However, unbeknownst to you or any other passenger, the pilot has reversed course and when you land back in Denver you ask the pilot “what gives?” and he simply responds with “things never change.” Welcome to Shane Black’s latest movie – The Nice Guys.

(If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m going to SPOILER the end of this movie because if I don’t my whole first paragraph will make no sense. But I’ll do it at the end of this review and I’ll even warn you again.)

The Nice Guys is a mystery/action movie featuring a bunch of people looking for a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Amelia has information relating to a new catalytic converter that releases much more pollution than automakers are willing to admit. She wants to release the information and explains that the best way to do this is by making a porn film with an actual plot (yes, this is the actual plot of The Nice Guys). Unfortunately, the people Amelia wants to expose are killing everyone involved with making the film and Amelia is the only one left. And, for some reason, the movie takes place in 1977. My best guess at that reason is Black found a great deal on bulk disco-era clothing through Craig’s List.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) are our main characters, with support from March’s teenaged daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). Jackson is an enforcer, hired by people to scare/hurt other people to get them to stop a certain behavior. Initially, Jackson is hired by Amelia to get Holland to stop looking for her and Jackson makes good on the contract, hence the arm-cast that Holland sports throughout the film (and in the movie poster). But when Amelia goes missing and a couple of guys try to make Jackson dead (who are also looking for Amelia), Jackson turns to Holland to help find Amelia because Holland is a private investigator. Tagging along on the investigation and consequential shenanigans, Holly serves as a conscience and damsel-in-distress to the two men. Toss in some car chases, shooting, comic relief, and boobies and we’ve got ourselves a good old-fashioned, throwback action flick. Don’t believe me? The porn star’s name is Misty Mountains. Now you believe me.

Black’s strength as a director and writer is his ability to weave action in with comedy (of course, that’s ignoring the mess he made of Ironman 3). Until now, Gosling has always come off us “meh” to me, but Black coaxed a top-notch performance out of Gosling that I won’t soon forget. He plays perfectly into the weaselly persona we tend to associate with sleazy private dicks and punctuates it with a couple blood-curdling screams that seem like they should be coming from his daughter. He’s the perfect contrast to the overweight tough guy that Crowe presents, though who is also a bit of a sleazebag. I’m really not sure why the title refers to them as the Nice Guys, ironic or otherwise, but we do see their hearts peeking out every now and then and the narrative puts them on the “good guy” side of the plot.

As the movie rolled on, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. The movie flowed quite well as the plot progressed and everything felt right about the movie. As the movie finished its climax (did you really think I wouldn’t include any sex puns after everything I just told you?), I felt more than satisfied (*rimshot*). But, then the last scene happened and Holland utters the following line (SPOILER! SPOILER!) – “they didn’t have enough evidence to pursue charges, so they’re going to get away with it.” Yes, you just landed back in Denver and everything that happened in the movie (plot-wise) was pointless. In other words, the villain of our story – who is also a senior member of the Department of Justice (Kim Basinger), a.k.a. a lawyer – didn’t know how evidence works and decided to kill a bunch of people, including her daughter, Amelia (yes, that Amelia), to keep the evidence (the porno) from getting out, even though that evidence wasn’t enough to convict her. Yeah – I KNOW! What’s maddening is the fix for that is so elementary – change Holland’s line to “the film was destroyed, so they’re going to get away with it.” How did they miss that?

My friend said he liked the ending because he thought the entire theme of the film was that things never change and, while I agree with that, my tiny little fix keeps that theme intact without rendering the villain’s entire motivation, and thus the rest of the film, pointless and making me lose my mind for five minutes. Thankfully, other members of the audience caught it as well, so I’m not just a curmudgeon nitpicking at an otherwise really good film. Or maybe I just want to get out of Denver for a while.

Rating: Ask for one dollar back because things should change dammit.

“Angry Birds” – Do it for the children.

I have a rule against reviewing animated movies for many reasons, chief among them is that I’m not their target audience, children are their target audience. Yes, I may sound like a child sometimes, but that’s beside the point. The following is me interviewing my four-year old son to get his take on the film, including his rating.

Did you like the Angry Birds movie?
Yeah

What did you like?
I liked the shooting.

The shooting?
I like the shoot, how the Angry Birds break the buildings.

What was your favorite bird?
The red one.

What did you not like about the movie?
I didn’t like the pig stealing the eggs.

What was the funniest part of the movie?
Yellow.

Just Yellow?
Yellow did this. [crawls along floor and does a random yoga pose]

How did you like how the birds were dressed?
Because I liked it.

How did you like the costumes?
[creepy giggle]

How did you like the eagle?
Where does the eagle live?

Where DOES the eagle live?
Uh, in his cave.

Do you think he should have lived with the other birds?
Yeah.

Why?
[silence.]

Hey Buddy…why?
[silence. I think he’s abstaining.]

Did you think the 3D was good? With the glasses?
Yeah.

Did you like the glasses?
Yeah.

How would you rate Bomb the bird’s performance?
[farts, then giggles]

How did you like the birds’ performances?
Because I... [unintelligible as he takes a bite of Frosty]

Can you tell me about the birds?
The birds went on the swing, and the big red bird pushed it all the way and he broke it.

Oh…okay. If you could ask Red a question, what would you ask?
…..Uh…because….[distracted by the TV]

Hey! What would you ask Red?
I want to ask him about a swing.

Do you think that Red learned his lesson? Was red more angry or less angry at the end?
He was more angry.

How did you like going to the theater? What did you like about the theater?
I liked the Skittles.

Would you tell other people that they should go see Angry Birds?
Yeah.

Why?
Cuz they want me to go to the movie.

Because they should take YOU to the move?
[laughs creepily]

How many stars would you give the movie?
Uh…three.

How many times do you want to watch Angry Birds the movie?
Five.

Rating: $26 because I thought it was 26.

Friday, May 13, 2016

“Money Monster” – I miss Jon Stewart.

One of my favorite moments in journalism happened back in 2009 when Jon Stewart took CNBC to task over their irresponsible financial reporting. In short, Stewart accused them of being nothing more than PR lapdogs for big corporations, charged with convincing people to invest their money in those same corporations regardless as to if it was a good investment. The focus became centered on CNBC’s Jim Cramer, host of a stock-tip show called Mad Money (a show which you would be forgiven for thinking was a reality show featuring a cocaine-fueled lunatic rambling about return on investment behind the stage of a travelling carnival). Near the end of the week-plus of Stewart grilling CNBC, Cramer went on The Daily Show and Stewart destroyed him in arguably the best interview in the history of television. If you have not seen it, just Google “Jon Stewart CNBC Jim Cramer” and watch the three or four Daily Show segments comprising the saga. And, you should watch them for two reasons: 1) to remind yourself never to bet your money based on the rantings of some idiot with a buzzer hosting a show owned by a major multinational corporation and (2) the entertainment value is arguably higher than what you will get from watching Money Monster.

(I’ll try to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but don’t bet on it.)

Money Monster is essentially the worst case scenario of the Jon Stewart-CNBC-Jim Cramer saga, but if Stewart had strapped a bomb to Cramer’s chest and demanded Cramer explain how AIG could need more than $100 billion dollars of tax payer money to stay afloat. The film literally satirizes Mad Money, replacing Cramer with Lee Gates (George Clooney) and changing the name of the show to Money Monster. Gates doles out barely researched stock tips in between really awkward dancing to kick off the show and speaking with his production director, Patty (Julia Roberts), while taking a crap. No, that’s not a euphemism. …But then maybe it is.

One day, Gates is getting ready to interview the CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West), of an investment company that managed to lose $800 million due to a supposed computer glitch when his show is interrupted by Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a blue-collar New Yorker who saw his $60 thousand life savings investment reduced to a fraction of that as part of the bigger loss. You see, Kyle forgot rule number one (above) and decided that the best course of action was to take hostage a financial shows’ stage and crew, strap a bomb to Gates’ chest, and shoot at monitors. But, Kyle’s not there to get his money back (which Gates offers out of his own pocket); he’s there to hold Gates and Camby accountable and to explain how they managed to lose the money. If you’re thinking you’ve seen this movie before it’s because you are thinking of The Negotiator, which has the same premise – hostage taker conducts investigation to uncover the truth relating to embezzlement/fraud, hoping to solve the mystery before a police sniper or S.W.A.T. team takes him out. Samuel L. Jackson just made a better hostage taker than O’Connell.

Right away, we know something is amiss because, even before the hostage situation, Gates is informed that nobody knows where Camby is and that his Chief Communications Officer, Diane (Caitriona Balfe), will be filling in for the interview. Once Kyle starts demanding answers, it doesn’t take long for Patty to morph into Woodward and Bernstein and start demanding answers as if she was the Secretary of Defense and not the director of some bullshit faux-financial show on cable TV. While Patty is playing investigative journalist, Kyle is screaming about how the system is rigged, that it’s all one big lie and the audience is left wondering why the movie can’t quite decide what the plot is supposed to be. But, Hollywood isn’t interested in the audience thinking the entire system is rigged (that would include Hollywood) so the movie switches to exposing a shady CEO and assuring the audience that their money really is safe. 2008 is ancient history, we promise.

Aside from a plot that shifts gears in the middle of the movie, it’s actually a pretty entertaining film. There are a couple of fun twists on the standard hostage-crisis resolution scenes (cops wanting to breach, bringing in the hostage taker’s significant other), as well as some hilarity with Gates’ first attempt to resolve the crisis. They even manage to sneak in some dick jokes involving erectile disfunction cream that don’t come off as juvenile (unfortunately, the film forgets about it after the second punchline, missing out on some potential fun in the latter half of the film). I enjoyed the actors as well, though Clooney wasn’t able to quite sell me on his character being as big a douchebag as Jim Cramer. Or even half as big, for that matter. In limited time, Balfe was solid, though her accent couldn’t decide if it was English, Scottish, or Irish throughout the film. Of course, I’ll blame Jodie Foster (director) for this because we know from watching Elysium that Foster doesn’t know the difference between a German and a French accent, let alone those of Britain and Ireland. Also, poor Giancarlo Esposito was given next to nothing to do as the police chief, relegated to occasionally barking commands and yelling at people. I actually think he would have made a better Walt Camby considering his turn as Gus Fring, but I don’t think Foster watched Breaking Bad.

I was able to take along two guests to the screening (rather than the usual one) and one of them did not like the movie. He said it was because he couldn’t accept the idea that they would keep filming live the whole time (Kyle actually demands it) because they could just as easily have faked it (Kyle says he’d know if they faked it because he has a phone, but he never looks at the phone after making the statement). My other guest and I disagreed – we both think they would because we’re cynical and jaded, we remember the O.J. Simpson coverage, and $1 billion in free media coverage just went to the flaming car wreck whose name rhymes with Bonald Frump solely because he was good for ratings. If I was picking one thing that was tough to buy, it was the nonsensical explanation of financial software algorithms (stupidly referred to as “algos” throughout the movie, whose developers were equally-as-stupidly referred to as “quants” – quantitative analysts). Of course, I’m a dork who likes math and I know that roughly 1% of the rest of the audience will catch it as well, so I was fine letting it go – the movie explanation works well enough.

A lot of critics are going to compare this movie with The Big Short, but I don’t think that’s a good comparison. While I haven’t seen The Big Short, I know that it wasn’t designed as a thriller featuring bombs and bullets and bad accents (British and New Yawk). What I do know is that I came away mostly satisfied considering the movie wants us to feel good for a hostage taker and sleazy financial show host.

What I’m really trying to say is that I miss Jon Stewart.

Rating: Ask for a couple of dollars back. You can trust me – I don’t have a buzzer.

Friday, May 6, 2016

“Captain America: Civil War” – Let’s get ready to R-R-R-UM-M-M-BL-L-L-E.

At the risk of repeating myself, how is it that Marvel keeps making outstanding movies? I’m not really surprised by this anymore, but I am surprised that they continually top my expectations. At this point in time, the law of averages says they are overdue for a real stinker, but I’m happy to report that the new Captain America smells very nice. Wait…that sounds weird – let me start over. Captain America: Civil War knocked my socks off. No, that’s weird too and makes me sound like someone’s grandmother. Alright, I’ll figure out a better way to say it by the end of the review, but you get the point – Civil War is arguably the best movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

As I said in my review of Batman v Superman, I was really looking forward to Civil War if only to get rid of the taste in my brain from viewing BvS. BvS was always destined to fail at a story level because Superman could just throw a building at Batman and movie over. But the real reason it failed was because the reason Superman and Batman are fighting at all is murky at best and completely nonsensical and dumb at worst. Civil War is exactly the opposite and is more than Captain America v Ironman: Dusk of Avengers – they are fighting for reasons that actually make sense. Sorry DC fans, but the sooner you admit BvS and Man of Steel were just bad movies, the sooner you can start demanding that Warner Brothers hire some writers and directors that don’t suck, follow the Marvel formula, and start making movies worthy of DC’s source material.

The Avengers have always been a tenuous alliance of superheroes, not so much because they don’t get along, but because they have different ideas on how to achieve the mission – world peace and protecting the human race. The film kicks off with the newly reformed Avengers (that we saw at the end of Age of Ultron) chasing down some bad guys in Nigeria who were trying to steal a bioweapon. By the time the scene is over, some collateral damage has occurred including eleven civilians dead. The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the group that more than one hundred nations have come together to decide that The Avengers should no longer be a private entity and must start operating under the purview of the United Nations. Any crime fighting undertaken outside of that oversight is to be considered a crime. As the team digests the information and debates amongst themselves, sides start to form. One side, led by Tony “Ironman” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees that oversight is necessary because they are powerful and dangerous, but mostly out of guilt for the Sokovia incident (from Age of Ultron). This is understandable since it’s literally his fault that Ultron came to be. The other side, led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), believes the opposite – that the various countries and diplomats have their own agendas and the team would end up becoming a weapon to be wielded by the U.N. This is understandable because Cap didn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury were doing in The Winter Soldier (and rightly so, as it turned out). The conflict arises because they are both right – oversight is a good idea, but the decision makers are completely untrustworthy. Talk about art imitating life (*cough* Republicans v Democrats *cough*).

Side commentary – the logic of the SecDef mirrors the short-sighted-can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees thinking that we see in real life today. While making his case to the Avengers, he places the collateral damage blame on them for the following events: (1) the Loki-led Chitauri invasion of Earth (The Avengers), (2) the Hydra-led invasion of D.C. (The Winter Soldier), (3) the destruction of Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and (4) the eleven dead in Nigeria. Here’s how the team should have responded to those: (1) we stopped an alien invasion aimed at destroying/enslaving humanity, (2) we stopped Hydra from taking over America and the world, (3) yeah – that was our fault, and (4) hello – bioweapon. I find it stunningly narrow-minded to get upset about the collateral damage when, had they not intervened, everyone dies or the world is taken over by bad guys or everyone dies. My point is they could have come up with a better list of examples or just stuck solely with the Ultron incident. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The part I really want to put emphasis on is that the competing sides didn’t just jump to punch-kick-shoot, like Batman and Superman did, they literally talked about their ideologies. Following their disagreement, another incident happens and they talk about it again. I know that sounds a little boring (trust me, it’s not), but it makes the battle royale later in the movie much easier to accept because it’s the logical result of the escalation that occurs during the film. And that, dear DC fans and Zack Snyder, is how you make a superhero v superhero movie.

On that note, the battle royale is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. I won’t spoil the who takes whose side, but here are your contestants – Ironman, Captain America, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – and all of them get their fair share of the camera. The scene also has great special effects, a very smooth escalation of fighting, and plenty of fun banter (at one point, Spider-Man is praising Captain America while simultaneously fighting him). Yes – Marvel and directors Anthony and Joe Russo handled a twelve-person superhero fight movie better than DC and Zack Snyder handled a two-person fight.

Aside from the main story, they even managed to give due diligence to the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, which is amazing considering how many characters were in this film. That includes the additions of Emily VanCamp as CIA Agent Carter (to be fair, she’s not new, but she’s given far more to do this time around), Daniel Bruhl as the one true villain of the film, Martin Freeman as another government higher-up (and doesn’t he have to appear in Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch?), and even Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. As incredible as it sounds, not one of these characters felt like a throw-in just to get a silly cameo for an upcoming sequel or standalone movie (seriously D.C. and WB – get your shit together).

So, yeah – Civil War was freaking awesome from pretty much every aspect you can think of. Great characters, great story, no obvious plot holes, tie-ins with previous movies to maintain continuity, great new characters (and a big thank you to Marvel for fixing Spider-Man), great action, great acting, great dialogue, and most importantly, great entertainment. See? I told you I’d figure out a better way to describe this film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back for Batman v Superman again. Then, see Civil War again.

Friday, April 22, 2016

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – Read before you write.

Following the screening of The Hunstman: Winter’s War was a Q&A session that I already wrote about. In honor of that event, let’s do Q&A for this review.

Q: I heard a rumor that you and a couple friends are starting a podcast where you fix movies. Is that true?

A: Indeed. The idea sprung up prior to a screening of Batman v Superman, where my friend and I discussed how easy it would be to fix Man of Steel to make it, at the very least, not so dumb.

Q: So your first episode will be Man of Steel?

A: Nope. We’re going with Snow White and the Huntsman, but we’ll be doing Man of Steel soon enough.

Q: I see what you did there. You created an excuse to rewatch Snow White and the Huntsman so nobody would think you were weird for rewatching Snow White and the Huntsman. There isn’t really a podcast, is there?

A: Yes, seriously, there is.

Q: Well…how about that? So, what did you learn?

A: I learned that writers not writing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t bother to read screenplays of predecessors to sequels or even watch the movies.

Q: Do tell.

A: Are you okay with SPOILERS?

Q: Absolutely. Continue.

A: Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is trapped in the mirror and her sister inadvertently lets her out.

Q: Do you mean the same Ravenna that dies at the end of the first film? The same woman who shrivels up into a desiccated corpse on the floor? That Ravenna?

A: The very same.

Q: *Sigh*

A: I know. There is no explanation whatsoever as to how she ended up in the mirror. The fun part of that is during the Q&A, Theron said she didn’t think it was contrived how they brought Ravenna back to life.

Q: Isn’t that kind of the definition of contrived?

A: Yes, but if you read my full Q&A write-up, Theron more than made up for it.

Q: Fair enough. What else didn’t they bother learning from the first film?

A: Remember the scene in the first film where Ravenna’s brother tells the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) how he killed the Huntsman’s wife?

Q: Not really.

A: Well, he did. Anyway, not only is that retconned in the sequel, but she’s not even dead. The queen’s sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), tricks him into thinking she’s dead. Sure, he believes the lie for seven years, which covers the events of the first film, but doesn’t explain Ravenna’s brother reminiscing her death.

Q: Fair enough. So, what’s this movie about, anyway?

A: It starts off pre-Snow White events, showing Ravenna killing one of her previous husbands/kings via chess board. Freya…

Q: Wait – death by chess board? Like, she murders him by hitting him with a chess board? That’s oddly specific.

A: Actually, no. She’s placed a spell on the game they are playing that literally kills him when she puts him in checkmate. Stop interrupting.

Q: Sorry.

A: Anyway, Freya is there later and they discuss how Freya’s powers haven’t surfaced yet and how love sucks. This was the strange way they segued into Freya’s lover allegedly burning their child to death, which causes Freya’s powers – control of all things ice and cold – to explode out of her.

Q: So she’s Elsa? HAHAHAHA.

A: I didn’t even think of that. Nice work.

Q: And was anyone in the theater surprised by the obvious – that it will be revealed Ravenna actually killed the baby?

A: Of course not. She might as well have worn a sign admitting as much.

Q: You still haven’t told me what this movie’s about.

A: Good point. Freya becomes the ice queen of the north and takes over kingdom after kingdom. After each conquest, she takes all the captured children, raises them to be soldiers (referring to them as her huntsman) and tells them that her only rule is that love is forbidden. Of course, her two best warriors – Sara (Jessica Chastain) and Eric (Hemsworth) – fall in love. Freya finds out about it and tricks Eric into thinking Sara is dead and tricks Sara into thinking Eric abandons her after making the two of them fight other huntsman. Seven years later, King William (Sam Claflin) asks Eric to recover the magic mirror before Freya gets it and take it to a special place where its power cannot be used.

Q: There seems to be a lot going on in that paragraph and none of it is the plot. Why don’t you try again?

A: Eric must stop Freya from invading Snow White’s kingdom.

Q: Better. So, why does she need the mirror? She’s a super powerful ice wizard and the only power the mirror has (that we know of) is the ability to pick People Magazine’s most beautiful woman.

A: I have no idea why she wants it. It’s one of the most blatant MacGuffin’s in the history of cinema, but without it, they can’t shoehorn Ravenna back into the movie, which in turn allows them to redeem Freya at the end.

Q: Couldn’t they have just made Freya evil from start to finish?

A: This movie is from the same people who brought us Maleficent.

Q: Got it. How about you wrap this up in the way I know you’re dying to use – how would you fix this movie?

A: It’s about time. Here goes – I would remove the mirror altogether and go all in on an evil ice queen; no more of this garbage where the bad guy has to start off good or be misunderstood. She’s an ICE QUEEN. I’d have Eric and Sara learn about the fake-out at the end of the film. That way, we can still have the betrayal moment in the woods, but it makes more sense. And, instead of everyone chasing the Magic MacGuffin, let’s just have them defend the kingdom from the ICE QUEEN. We conclude with the climactic fight scene where Sara learns of the fake-out and turns on Freya. Maybe the two lovers die, maybe one of them dies, maybe neither of them dies, but they take down Freya and save the realm.

Q: Nice. So, you must have hated this movie.

A: Actually, no.

Q: Wait – what?

A: If you can ignore all the side stories of this film and incongruity with the first film, it’s actually a decent fantasy quest movie, despite the MacGuffin. The actors and characters are all good, comic relief was added to lighten the tone (and it worked very well), the visuals were splendid, and, overall, it was more entertaining than the first movie.

Q: It was Emily Blunt, wasn’t it?

A: I’ve got a podcast to go prep for.

Rating: Ask for half your money back. At the very least, you’ll be glad Kristen Stewart doesn’t make an appearance.

Monday, April 18, 2016

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – Q&A session

If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I sometimes present my review in a Q&A format. What you are about to read is not me pretending to interview another me or inventing an imaginary Q&A session with actors, but an honest, actual Q&A session with Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron and hosted by some guy whose name I forgot to write down. While I won’t be presenting it as a straight Q&A (I have commentary of my own mixed in), I wanted you to know that I did not make up any of this. This session followed an advanced screening of The Huntsman: Winter’s War and was shown live across the screens of about a dozen Alamo Drafthouses.

(Note: I will be paraphrasing all of the questions and answers as I did not record the session, but did take notes. Also, I will be referring to the interviewer as Anonymous Guy or AG. Sorry, AG.)

My immediate impression of this session was both disappointment and satisfaction. It was disappointing because I assumed the audience was going to get to ask the actors some questions, even audience members in different states, but this did not happen. I mean, it is 2016 and we all know how to use Skype. Plus, isn’t that the point of having the session in an actual theater with actual human moviegoers? Apparently not. The host took one single question that was asked via Twitter and again, he could literally smell the breaths of people in the audience right in front of him. I’ll give you one guess as to what that extremely predictable question was. You are correct.

Twitter: What was your favorite scene in the movie?

Chastain: The scene where we all get caught up in the net. It was very difficult to keep a straight face because the dwarves were improvising a lot and it was hilarious.

Theron: I was jealous of the other actors because they had many more scenes than me. At one point, Emily (Blunt) got to ride in on a polar bear and I thought – where’s my animal mount?

I liked the answers, but when the interviewer moved on, I wondered the same thing you are now wondering – what was Hemsworth’s answer? Unfortunately for Hemsworth and us, that wasn’t the only time the interviewer skipped/ignored him. We’ll come back to this because this happened toward the end of the session. Aside from that, the actors were surprisingly candid (Theron dropped an F-bomb at one point) and made the session worth listening to.

Here was the rest of the session (my comments italicized):

AG to Charlize: This is the first time you’ve reprised a role. How did you feel about it?

Theron: I was flattered, but had my reservations because my character died in the first film. I was concerned that the way they brought her back would be contrived, but after reading the script I didn’t think it was contrived at all. This was probably my greatest job because the other actors are so great.

I love that she was worried about contrivances, but I have to disagree with her – it was very contrived. You’ll just have to read my actual review for the explanation because I’m trying to keep this SPOILER free.

AG: Tell us about the training.

Chastain: The stunts were very challenging. It was a lot of fun after doing all the depressing movies that I’ve done. Also, Chris is obnoxiously tall and muscular.

The audience loved that last bit and Chris was very humble about it. Not even a flex for all the ladies.

Theron on the chess scene: I don’t know anything about chess and we had to do many retakes.

AG to Theron: Why do you like “bad” roles?

Theron: You get to do stuff that you don’t get to do in contemporary films.

I think Theron is a great villain, but has yet to be given a truly well-written one to portray.

AG: Who was the most uncomfortable during the “hot tub” scene?

The hot tub scene features Chastain and Hemsworth in a hot springs making out. The movie’s PG-13. Sorry.

Theron: The director probably…”Jessica has amazing tits.”

I don’t remember what she said during the … for obvious reasons. And yes, that is the one direct quote I’m giving because it was awesome. Jessica turned a shade of red trademarked by Coca Cola and Theron continued to elaborate. When AG tried to go to Hemsworth for the next question, Hemsworth (correctly) stated that the audience wanted to hear more about Jessica’s boobs. I told you this session was worth staying for.

On the comedic scenes with Hemsworth, the ladies said he added more fun and humor and that they were allowed to inject their own humor.

This is always a question we want to know because some scenes just feel improvised. It’s also where the blooper reels get their filler and, often, funniest stuff.

Theron on the costumes: Sets and costumes make it easier to perform because they help the actor get into character. Of course, we women bitched to each other constantly about the weight of the dresses and having to walk up stairs in them for multiple takes. The costume designer (Colleen Atwood) didn’t care because she’s been nominated for ten Oscars and “you’ll wear what I tell you to wear.”

I sympathize with the women because I think some of the dresses were solid metal.

The last question of the night, following the “most fun scene” question I already told you about, was what the actors were doing next. I don’t remember what Chastain said and Theron said she is doing Fast and Furious 8, to which I shook my head. Then AG thanked everybody and the actors and I sat there wondering how he could continue to skip Chris Hemsworth on these questions. He’s sitting right next to you, AG and he’s not a small guy.

If I was rating this interview, I’d say it was worth your money unless you were only there for Hemsworth. While the questions were predictable, they at least led to some interesting insight and fun answers and it was clear the actors enjoyed making the movie. And, like I said, the candidness of Theron was something to behold; a refreshing reminder that these actors are red-blooded people just like us. The only thing that could have made this session better, aside from some questions from the audience, was hearing what Emily Blunt thought of Chastain’s tits. Apparently, they’re amazing.

Friday, April 15, 2016

“The Jungle Book” – Your kids will have nightmares.

As I sat through the end credits of The Jungle Book, it ended in a way that I was not expecting – with a big rating block proclaiming that the movie was rated PG-13. I wasn’t actually waiting for the rating block; I was watching the credits to confirm that Christopher Walken and Bill Murray did in fact sing their own songs (we’ll get to that in a minute). My point is that, previous to the screening, I had read that the movie was rated PG. The best way I can describe my surprise at the truth goes something like this – how many teenagers out there are excited to watch a movie featuring a young boy in a red diaper, running around the jungle and singing with animals? You’re with me now, aren’t you?

Just to be clear, I wasn’t surprised that this movie was rated PG-13 after watching it. Swap in humans for the animals and you end up with the equivalent amount of violence as most of our superhero movies, plus of healthy dose of scares. Though, none of our superhero movies have featured a monstrous snake about to swallow a small boy whole and, yes, there were kids in the theater crying during this scene. It is legitimately frightening for younger viewers, and good luck ever getting those kids to go near even a garden hose any time soon.

So, who is this movie for? If teenagers don’t give a shit and younger children will be traumatized, why did Disney spend $175 million to make a live action version of the 1967 animated classic? Surely, they don’t think adults are going to flock to the theater for nostalgia, do they? Maybe it’s because they have so much Star Wars and Marvel money lying around that interns were vanishing in piles of thousand dollar bills spilling out of the break rooms and OSHA made them address the problem. I might not be able to discern the target audience for this movie, but I am sure of one thing – this movie brings nothing new to the table, and it’s a very expensive table.

(The only possible SPOILER in this movie is the end, since this movie is almost a clone of the 1967 cartoon. And, yes, I’m going to spoil that end because it sucked.)

If you are unfamiliar with the story of The Jungle Book, it’s about a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is raised by wolves in the jungle, but must leave the wolves and the jungle before a tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), kills him. It’s a simple plot and the meat of the movie is Mowgli’s journey, highlighted by run-ins with a bear, Baloo (Murray), and an orangutan, King Louie (Walken), the climactic showdown with Shere Khan, and the presence of his escort, a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who is trying to get Mowgli to the man-village. To answer your question - yes, I am describing the 1967 version and, yes, I am describing the 2016 version. For $175 million, Disney made an unoriginal, 3-D, mostly CGI-animated version of a cartoon, but without any of the charm of that cartoon.

To be fair, there are a couple of differences worth noting, but none of them are good. King Louie is roughly the size of a Pizza Hut because the tree-sized snake, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), wasn’t scary enough for small children. And speaking of Kaa, she gets one single scene that lasts about three minutes – just enough time to try to hypnotize and eat Mowgli before being swatted by Baloo. What a waste. Then, there are those songs you remember, but butchered by actors who do not have singing careers for a reason. Maybe there was a time decades ago when Murray and Walken could hold a tune, but this was just bad. I once heard Kevin Pollack joke that when he gets a crappy song stuck in his head, he uses Walken’s voice to help get it out by singing the song in that voice. That’s how “I Want to Be Like You” sounded in the movie. On the flip side, Johansson does a solid job reprising Kaa’s “Trust in Me” during the end credits, but that just makes you even more annoyed at how little screen time she got.

But, the most notable changes relate to Mowgli. For starters, the kid knows how to solve complex engineering problems despite having grown up with wolves and never having attended even one class at MIT. He’s adept at making ropes, pulley systems, and cutting tools, much to Baloo’s delight as Mowgli succeeds in obtaining the honeycomb that Baloo was lusting after. Of course, as in the cartoon, Mowgli doesn’t know how to make fire (much to Louie’s dismay), which seems a little odd considering the rest of his technical knowhow, including banging rocks together to crack them into cutting tools. Are you really telling me that not one spark flew during all that banging?

But the biggest change is the ending. The best thing about the cartoon was how, after all of Mowgli’s resistance to going to the man-village, all it took to convince him to go was a cute girl batting her eyelashes at him. And that’s perfect because that’s exactly how a child nearing puberty would act. Unfortunately, Disney is hell-bent on franchising The Jungle Book (they’ve already begun work on a sequel), so the film ends in a full circle – with Mowgli running through the jungle with the wolves and nary a cute girl in sight. Of course, for the sake of sequels they probably shouldn’t have dropped Shere Khan from a tree and burned him alive, but at least now we know what got them that PG-13 rating.

Besides Mowgli, the other large change is with Shere Kahn. Rather than hunting Mowgli, he simply kills the wolfpack leader, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), and tells the rest of them to spread the word that Akela is dead, assuming that Mowgli will come racing back to avenge Akela’s death. Seriously?! Nevermind the sheer laziness of this event – that very act, which happens early in the film, removes nearly all of the tension and drama of the film because now there isn’t an angry tiger hunting Mowgli and it’s only a matter of time before the script tells Mowgli to fulfill Khan’s assumption. Plus, blood-thirsty tiger hunt was the only thing left to keep those teenagers interested and now they don’t even have that.

Based on early reviews, you’re going to think I’m crazy (as of 1:00pm on April 13, the movie has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but those critics are making the same mistake they made with movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick. They are deliberately ignoring a regurgitated story (or non-existent story in those other movies), inconsistent world building, and a worse ending because of the visuals or, as The Guardian put it, the “hyperreal digital animation.” They aren’t asking questions like “why can’t the elephants or monkeys talk, but every other animal can, including King Louie – a monkey?” or “if Shere Khan didn’t know Mowgli was in the cave when Khan killed Mowgli’s father, how does Khan know that Mowgli is that guy’s son?” or “the man-village seems to consist of a bunch of drunk idiots and a massive bonfire – how is what seems to be a Texas A&M pep rally gone bad safer than a murderous tiger?“ or even “the animals know what propaganda is, but not fire? How creepy is it that they all refer to it as The Red Flower? It’s a jungle – I’m sure they have actual red flowers there.” Essentially, these critics are saying “look at the pretty colors” while lapsing into a state of stupor brought on by 3-D IMAX.

I realize this is a lot of complaining about a movie that is the very definition of the word “meh.” It’s really not that bad of a movie, just a flawed movie lacking any creativity or something new to say about the source material. It’s a movie that seems to have no real target audience beyond people who are enamored by shiny things. But the real problem with this flick is that it is inferior in every way, save special effects, to a fifty-year old cartoon made for $4 million that actually is appropriate for your young children to see.

Rating: Unless your only motivation was to see a fake CGI jungle in IMAX, ask for all of your money back. You’ll need it for your kids’ therapy.