Saturday, November 18, 2017

“Justice League” – Baby steps (or, I see you, Joss Whedon)

You know how when President Trump gives a speech that doesn’t contain racism, attacks, lies, or ads for his properties, certain people gush over how good or presidential he suddenly is? What’s that - too political? Okay; a different analogy. You know how when your dog doesn’t shit in your living room you gush over what a good boy he is? Oh yesh, jusht such good boy! Here’s a treat! That is where our expectations sit with DCEU movies. Thus, we have Justice League – a movie that can hold its bowels, but still chews up your couch.

Before getting into the movie, we need to talk about the movie production. Zack Snyder was roughly 80% through production when tragedy struck his personal life and he left the project. Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the project, including completion of shooting and extensive reshoots. Bringing in Whedon was a strange choice, not just because of his extensive involvement with the Marvel movies, but because he and Snyder are exactly opposite when it comes to directing and writing (Whedon also was one of the credited screenwriters on Justice League). Whedon makes movies that are usually light-hearted, quippy romps, heavy on character development and relationships. Snyder makes movies like a horny, 12-year old boy with the attention span of gnat who has perfected the perfect slo-mo shot of a just-fired shell casing falling in a drab, sepia-toned world. You will have no trouble distinguishing which parts of the movie belong to each of them. In a normal world, this contrast would doom a movie, but Whedon manages to keep the movie from ruining your carpet.

(Side note: There are also two scenes featuring Henry Cavill where his face has been poorly digitally edited to hide a moustache he wasn’t allowed to shave due to filming Mission: Impossible 6.)

What up, Joss?

(Some SPOILERS because, of course there are. It’s a review).

The problem with the DCEU is a complete lack of long-term vision beyond dollar signs. Snyder has helmed the franchise since the start and his sacrifice of narrative and storytelling for visuals and playing to the die-hard fan boy has resulted in an incoherent mess of nonsense. Wonder Woman is somewhat of an exception (a female director, Patty Jenkins, helped immensely), though still bogged down in parts by Snyder’s bullshit (again, it is obvious which parts). Justice League picks up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist from blowing up four blocks of London, then stopping him from gunning down a bunch of bank patrons. This scene serves no purpose other than to remind you that Wonder Woman is hilariously overpowered. To be fair, it’s a decent action scene, but the bad guy’s stated motivation is to force the world to revert to a simpler time before technology. Huh? By blowing up a few buildings, Earth will be back in the Stone Age? That makes as much sense as Batman (Ben Affleck) wanting to kill Superman because “what if Superman decides to kill everyone?”

Move, Zack.

The plot of the movie is nearly as pointless as that opening scene, which is essentially forming a super team to thwart an impending alien invasion of flying insect monsters. Batman spends the first part of the movie recruiting the heroes promised in Batman v Superman to thwart the bugs. Then, a tall, devil-y looking, poorly rendered CGI guy named Steppenwolf (worst villain name ever, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) shows up via Thor’s warp tunnels to steal a mother box (worst MacGuffin name ever) from the Amazons. We learn there are three mother boxes and if Steppenwolf puts them back together, he’ll be able to destroy all civilization on Earth…or something? He refers to mother and the insect guys follow him and when they smell fear they attack and wow is this story really stupid. We even get one of Snyder’s standard flashbacks of whatever convoluted absurdity he fever-dreamed to give Steppenwolf a back story that explains nothing. As an added bonus, he says he’s finally able to return to Earth because the death of Superman left no Kryptonians on Earth. Okay, shut up. Superman (Cavill) was literally the last Kryptonian and only on Earth for 33 years. Steppenwolf was banished 5,000 years earlier, so why couldn’t he come back for the other 4,967 years? You know what - I don’t give a shit. And that is the crux of the DCEU problems.

LOOK! It’s a bird!...It’s a plane!...It’s a middle-aged balding man wearing a browncoat! While I continue workshopping that sentence, two things. One - Superman is resurrected in this movie and if you didn’t see that coming, I envy your innocence. Two - Whedon injecting some sorely needed levity into the film. The Flash is the most obvious example and has almost all of the quipping lines. But the part that makes you have hope for the future of the franchise in a non-Synder’s hands is when the Flash joins the fray in a pointless Superman-fights-the-team-scene. The scene is in slow motion to highlight the Flash’s speed and as he nears Superman, Superman turns his eyes, then his head, to look at the Flash. The surprised look on the Flash’s face is brilliant and funny and projects everything this franchise could be in a non-pre-pubescent hands.

So, this new script says...

Virtually everyone coming out of the movie said it was okay or just fine or “thank God it wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman.” Despite Wonder Woman carrying much of the movie and Whedon injecting competence where he could, the movie was a far cry from being the pinnacle of the franchise like The Avengers was to MCU. The new characters are minimally developed, even to the point of all of them having the clichéd dead moms (seriously, all but Wonder Woman’s mom is alive, not counting Martha Kent). Don’t get me wrong, there was just enough for me to want to watch a Flash movie, Aquaman movie, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) movie. But Amy Adams and J.K Simmons were completely wasted and I am way off the Affleck-as-Batman train. To top that all off, we get a teaser at the end of the film that is so poorly conceived that it felt like the movie was trolling us (and you have no idea how badly I want to spoil it for you). One of these days, we’re going to get the DC movie we deserve, but a smidge of progress is better than nothing. At least we didn’t have to break out the carpet cleaner this time.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back. It’s fun at times and not fun at other times, but baby steps, people.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

“Murder on the Orient Express (2017)” – Who wants a moustache ride?

It’s time for another edition of “Should You Have Remade That Movie?” For those new to our game, it’s simple. We ask a few easy questions and determine how wrong it was to remake a movie. Tonight’s contestant is Murder on the Orient Express. Now, let’s play “Should You Have Remade That Movie?”

Question 1 - Is the original more than twenty years old?
Answer: Yes. The original was made in 1974. Plenty of room to spare and manages to be older than yours truly *rimshot.*

Good start. Let’s move on to Question 2 - Is the remake a shot-for-shot remake?
Answer: No. Director Kenneth Branagh and writer Michael Green made some minor changes and created their own adaptation of author Agatha Christie’s classic novel (published in 1934).

Branagh really made the moustache his own.

Well done and two for two. Question 3 - was the original great, terrible, or in between?
Answer: Pretty great. Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score is 95% and was very positively received at the time. Uh oh, it was also nominated for six Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

Ooohhhh (sucking in breath). That one hurt and leads us to Question 4 - did it win any of those nominations?
Answer (stalling for time): Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress. I’d say this game just took an ugly turn, but we’re talking about Ingrid Bergman *laugh track plays.*

I almost don’t want to ask the next question, but that’s not how the game works. Question 5 - how does the new cast compare to the old?
Answer: Original cast featured Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, and Anthony Perkins. Oh man, that’s almost not fair. But, wait a minute - the new cast features Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. Two all-star teams you would never bet against, so kudos to the casting director of the remake for living up to the challenge.

If nothing else, the casting director should get a massive bonus.

So far, we’ve got a great matchup here, but let’s take timeout for a word from our sponsor - all libraries. All libraries would like to remind you that you pay taxes for libraries and a massive amount of movies are adaptations of books. For no money whatsoever, you can check out a book and read what your favorite movie was most likely adapted from. But please remember that with great knowledge comes great responsibility. Return your books on time and resist being that jerk that insists the book is always better than the movie. Now, on with the show.

Question 6 – does the remake feature a flavor-of-the-month headliner?
Answer: Not only is there not even a hint of anyone who might have been on Dancing with the Stars, but Rihanna does not show up anywhere.

We’re down to our last question before we tally up the score - how much money did the original make?
Answer: $36 million on a $1.4 million budget. 11th highest-grossing film of 1974. That’s successful, but by no means gangbusters (Blazing Saddles topped the year at nearly $120 million).

While we tally up the score, let’s look at our competitor a bit more so the audience can get to know it a little better, especially those who never saw the original. Branagh plays Hercules Poirot, a world famous detective and circus-strongman-moustache-thief, who inadvertently ends up on a world famous train where a passenger is murdered during the journey. Due to an avalanche blocking the tracks, Poirot takes on the challenge of discovering who of the eleven remaining passengers (or handful of crew) is the murderer. All of the major characters are kept intact from the original, as is the murder being tied to a previous and famous case in which a child is kidnapped and found dead (Christie’s novel being a take on the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping in 1932). The film maintains the classic mystery structure and feels nostalgic in a way that doesn’t come off like it’s catering to your parents. Branagh is easily the star of this show, delivering a great version of Poirot, emphasizing Poirot’s OCD and quirky nature to balance his pompousness. The rest of the cast hits their marks as well, delivering a bunch of characters you will simultaneously like and hate throughout the film. There are a couple of weak scenes near the climax, one in particular that feels out of place (you’ll know it when you see it), but the flow of the movie is great and you will be invested in finding out whodunit almost as much as Poirot.

The envelope, please.

Alright, the judges have just brought me the score, but let’s get one more word in from our sponsor - all libraries. Seriously folks, we exist. Don’t be like the President - read a book or two.

The judges say the remake covers the small things well and really stepped up to the plate with the cast, but took a bit of a beating by thinking it could improve on six Oscar nominations, including one win. On a scale from Ocean’s 11 to Ghostbusters - Ocean’s 11 being an 11 and Ghostbusters being negative 1000 - we’re scoring it an 8. Besides the answers, we took into account that classic novels will always get multiple adaptations throughout time, as well they should. We doubt it will snag any Oscar nominations, but it’s a very solid movie and faithful adaptation that will leave you satisfied at the end.

Thank you judges and thank you for tuning in. Join us next time where we hope we aren’t covering Jumanji.

Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back and don’t be surprised if we get offered another moustache ride in forty years.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

“Thor: Ragnarok” – Party on.

Among other things, here’s what I said about Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 - “It felt like two hours of dudes fucking around on a film set for two-plus hours and calling it a movie.” Thor: Ragnarok is those same dudes throwing an epic party where everything goes off perfect and everyone talks about it for the rest of their lives. Lucky for you, everyone is invited.

(Mild SPOILERS and I’m sorry for all of them.)

The film picks up two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) dangling in a cage, then bantering with a fire demon. This scene is extremely important in that it sets the tone of the movie at roughly a beer and a shot into the party. Serious, semi-moody Thor is no more, replaced with a Thor who has obviously been hanging out with Star-Lord a lot. Immediately following this scene is another in which Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is eating grapes while watching a revisionist version of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) death. Since we all remember the end of Thor: The Dark World, we know that isn’t really Odin and Thor confronts him. Like the opening scene, this one is all fun and giggles and the tone is now the same as you answering the door at the party and greeting the guy with the cooler full of Jell-O shots and he is Jeff Goldblum.

Fun Bobby is here!

In a movie bursting with great actors and brilliant performances, you can’t go wrong picking any of them. For me, Goldblum as Grandmaster wins because the role fit him to a tee. Grandmaster governs a planet that is one giant garbage dump (literally), running gladiatorial death games as the main entertainment. Grandmaster is Dr. Malcolm, Jack Sparrow, and The Dude hitting a bong while hosting a game show. Brilliant is almost an understatement in this case.

The rest of the movie is a series of those scenes featuring characters as awesome as Grandmaster. It’s scene after scene of max fun, silliness, standout performances, and perfectly timed jokes. And, it gets even better than that because this movie has a plot and also moves us much closer to Infinity War. Ragnarok is a prophecy foretelling the destruction of Asgard, as Thor and Loki learn from the dying Odin. They also learn they have an exiled sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the God of Death, who draws all of her power from Asgard. Pretty ominous, right? Don’t worry. She is easily having as much fun in this movie as everyone else and Hela is weirdly endearing. Anyway, she follows Thor and Loki in one of those rainbow teleporter tunnels and makes it to Asgard, while knocking Loki and Thor out prior to their arrival (that’s how they end up on the trash planet). Unfortunately, Heimdall (Idris Elba) disappears with the big sword that works the teleporter, so she’s stuck in Asgard and can’t begin her conquest of the universe. You might think the party just took a turn for the serious, but Blanchett is the one doing keg stands and kicking everyone’s ass at beer pong.

Best. Party. Ever.

That’s the crux of it and it’s so simple. Thor must escape the garbage planet to stop Hela from going on a conquering spree. Where it ties into the greater MCU narrative is in the supporting cast and where the movie ends up when the credits roll. And what party isn’t complete without the main body of guests? Since standalone Incredible Hulk movies have not gone well, and Ironman and Captain America got their buddy film, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) returns after disappearing during the climactic battle against Ultron to form another Avengers buddy movie with Thor. Since there is no way you haven’t seen a trailer for Ragnarok, you already know that Thor has to face off against Hulk in Grandmaster’s arena and it is you doing navel shots and everyone dancing to Love Shack (baby).

Dancing with you is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is as badass as anyone in the film in a fight and seems as if she’s been part of this franchise since Tony Stark blasted out of that cave so many years ago. The chemistry she has with Hemsworth and Ruffalo defies belief and she damn well better be invited to the next party. Behind you is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who didn’t stay at the party too long (one scene), but reminds you why he’s always invited. His scene is more of a foreshadowing of things to come, but he gets to show off his power and match witticisms with Thor and Loki. If Strange’s toying with Thor and Loki and casually dismissing them means anything it’s that he’s going to be pivotal when Thanos finally makes his move. Finally, that’s Skurge (Karl Urban) over there in the corner, wanting to join the dance, but not sure how to. He seems out of place and uncomfortable and nobody remembers inviting him. He hangs out with Hela for survival purposes and is basically a lost puppy dog for most of the film, but damned if he doesn’t bring it when the life-sized Jenga challenges are thrown down. Ok, I’m really stretching the analogy, so let’s wrap this party up.

Who wouldn't do shots off that?

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen actors visibly having as much fun in a movie as in Ragnarok. The ease in which these characters come to life in the most entertaining ways possible is astounding, even for such seasoned actors as these. I especially loved unrestrained Hemsworth and Blanchett knocking their performances out of the park. The movie pushes the boundaries of action-comedy to the brink of absurdity, but there’s just enough restraint to keep it from crossing the line. Yeah, there are tiny moments of stupidity (they couldn’t resist a bad poop joke, Hulk somehow stays Hulk for two solid years, and Hulk even manages to speak in almost complete sentences now), but what epic party doesn’t include the guy puking in the bushes? Everyone else helps puking guy to a bed to sleep it off, then they all sing 80s rock ballads until they’re hoarse. By the end of the night, they all pass out together in one giant mass of bodies in the living room, waking up with all their clothes on and realizing, with a smile, that everyone is still just friends. It’s the party of the year, friends.

Rating: Worth ten times (or more) what you’ll pay for it and you won’t stop talking about it for months.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

“The Snowman” – The Iceman Cometh.

Oh man, am I proud of that tagline. I always try to avoid using clunky puns in my taglines, and this movie just begs for something hacky like “This movie leaves everything out in the cold” or “You just got snowed in” or “’Snow joke this movie is bad.” For the record, those last two came from my wife and they are brilliantly awful. Basically, anything where the author is forcing a pun into a random sentence should be auto-deleted by whatever method they are using to write. That includes pens, by the way. On a related note, Val Kilmer is in this movie and now you know why that tagline is awesome. I wasn’t even sure he was still alive, especially after he was tricked into doing MacGruber. If you asked me to name a movie he was in after Red Planet in 2000, I would have blankly stared at you until you wondered if I had fallen asleep with my eyes open. That includes me completely forgetting he was in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2006), and I liked that movie. The point I’m trying to make is great job, KJ. Why, thank you, KJ.

But seriously, what the hell happened to Kilmer’s career? His IMDB page claims he hasn’t stopped acting, but reads like a bad recommendation list on Craig’s List. Kilmer was one of my favorite actors, and I guess I assumed he just retired. Imagine my surprise to see his name in the opening credits of The Snowman. I thought “Oh hey! Cool. Val Kilmer. I’ll be your huckleberry.” Now, imagine my surprise when something that can only be described as the physical-embodiment-of-a-witch’s-curse-on-Val-Kilmer appeared on the screen. And to add insult to injury, the role was just barely above glorified cameo. As I sat through one of the worst films of 2017, I was devastated to see what The Iceman had been relegated to, and I wondered what he did that caused his career to swan dive into a wood chipper.

Symbolism.

So, yeah, The Snowman is the kind of shitty movie that one would expect to see a former A-lister in because he crapped in some studio head’s cereal, so I’m hoping Val will clear up my confusion (call me!). However, that doesn’t explain Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, James D’Arcy or Toby Jones headlining a film where the lead character’s name is Harry Hole. No, I did not make that up and, no, this movie is not a porno. To be fair, the series of novels the film is based on (particularly a novel with the same title) features that same character with that same name, plus are Norwegian (the author is Jo Nesbo), but come on. There is a zero percent chance that less than five fake vaginas or butts were left in Fassbender’s trailer.

I have to believe that the book is orders-of-magnitude better than this film, but I don’t speak or read Norwegian, and if there’s an English translation of the book, I wouldn’t know about it. Call it a hunch. I did read the wiki page for the novel and, based on the plot synopsis, it’s a safe assumption the screenwriters didn’t read the novel either. Hell, the marketing people didn’t even bother reading the screenplay because the movie poster says “Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues,” even though nothing even remotely similar to that happens in the movie. Speaking of which…

You know what is never in this movie? This.

(SPOILER ALERT, but please keep reading in order to save ten dollars or more).

I thought this movie was going to be another Silence of the Lambs or Se7en type of movie, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, there’s a serial killer and a cop investigating the murders, but any similarity ends there, including a sympathetic protagonist. Hole (Fassbender) is an alcoholic detective who is only still employed because of his legendary past. Two of the first times we see him, he is passed out in a public place, lucky that nobody lights a match near him to keep him from freezing to death (the film takes place in Oslo). Want to know anything about Harry’s past cases that are so famous they are literally studied at the police/detective academy? Too bad. Wondering why supercop is a fall-down drunk? Synd (that’s Norwegian for “too bad”). Want to know if all houses in Norway include an interior window into the master bedroom? Too ba…wait, what? Really? Were those windows in the books and that’s actually a thing in Norway? No wonder the kid in the beginning of the film became a serial killer with mommy issues. It’s a better explanation than because his mom tried to kill them both by parking her car on a frozen lake (in the slowest ice break you will ever see).

(Note: seriously, those windows are in the movie. One of them is in the wall between the master bedroom and little girl’s bedroom. Either parents use that window to scare their kids away from ever having sex or figure it’s easier just to show them the birds and the bees talk.)

I’d like to tell you that any of the other characters are more interesting, but then I’d also like to tell you that wasn’t really Val Kilmer in the movie, but Jame Gumb wearing Kilmer’s skin as a suit. Ferguson plays Katrine Bratt, a detective assigned to the department investigating a 9-year-old cold case from Bergen, Germany. When a woman is reported missing, she connects the old case (in which a woman was murdered and partially dismembered) with the missing woman based on - I swear to you I’m not making this up - the old murder and the new disappearance happening during a snow storm. This connection is so stupid, Harry even calls her out on it, pointing out that it snows a lot in Northern Europe. As the movie reveals the actual motivations and M.O. of the killer, we learn that connection is indeed flat-out wrong. Of course, it turns out she’s out for revenge on Arve Stop (Simmons) because she believes Stop is responsible for her father’s death because her father was investigating the cold case before it became a cold case. Did you follow all that? In short, she’s a bad detective bent on murder.

You see, it is all about falling snow.

The parade of bad characters continues while the plot contorts itself into a Dali painting. Stop may or may not be raping orphans and abortion patients, but definitely has a weird phone fetish and is leading the bid for Oslo to be awarded the Winter Cup Games (don’t ask). Hole’s ex-girlfriend (ex-wife?), Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is kind of sympathetic until bad scene #78, where she goes to Harry’s apartment to yell at him for forgetting his camping trip with her son, then hikes up her skirt and rubs around on Harry’s bumpy part for a minute because her live-in boyfriend, Mattias (Jonas Karlsson), goes to a lot of conferences. Then, because this really isn’t porn, she just stops all the rubbing before the movie has the decency to remove either actor’s clothing, which should have been the reward to the audience for sitting through 119 minutes of reheated leftover Hot Pockets.

At this point, you are probably just hoping to hear about whatever clever thing the movie does with the snowmen, but clever is wildly optimistic. As I noted earlier, there is no cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the police, despite what the movie poster promises. The killer is never taunting Harry or leaving clues. The killer leaves a snowman sometimes, the body of a snowman with a human head sometimes, the head of snowman and a human body sometimes, and sometimes just builds a snowman on the back of other snowmen. Most of the time, the snowman goes completely unnoticed by Harry and Katrine, if it is there at all (the partial snowmen melt before the cops show up). The snowmen in the movie serve the same purpose as every snowman you have ever built - decoration or building something to distract your mind from dwelling on just having seen your parents 69-ing it through the Norwegian viewing window.

For about four minutes after the movie ended, I tried to talk myself into the movie not being that bad, but my friends immediately started crapping on the film, which is usually my lead. But can you really blame me for hesitating? Fassbender and Simmons are amazing actors, D’Arcy and Jones are great character actors, Ferguson shows a lot of promise, and Val freaking Kilmer. Every one of them gave it the old college try, but the college was Trump U. Bad writing, undeveloped characters, sluggish pacing, cliched dialogue and motivations, and false promises combined to form a movie so bad that not even Kilmer’s doppelganger should have been forced to appear in it.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, plus the last fifteen years of Val Kilmer’s career.

Monday, October 16, 2017

“The Foreigner (2017)” – Jackie Chan for the win.

Of all the actors you’ve seen in a film or television, can you name one that appears to love their job more than Chan? You know when you hear he’s in a new movie, you are in. You don’t even need to know the title; just when the film opens in a theater near you. Thus, I present to you The Foreigner, a movie in which a 94-year old Chan fights the IRA.

Okay, so Chan is actually just 63, but the make-up people for The Foreigner made him look old enough to have witnessed the birth of flight. Don’t worry - he still gets to kick some ass. Also, IRA means what you think it means - Irish Republican Army. This film is based on a book published in 1992 called The Chinaman by Stephen Leather. If you know anything about the IRA besides bombings it is that the official peace between the IRA and the United Kingdom happened in 1998. Having been written prior to 1998, the plot of the novel is the Chinaman getting revenge for the death of his daughter from one of the bombings. The film takes place in 2017 and, this being 2017, a couple of things were changed about the story to make it current.

The Vietnamese Chinaman Foreigner.

The first thing they changed was the title because the main character in the novel is Vietnamese. While the movie mostly features Brits and Irish, the productions companies behind the film are all Chinese. I know next to nothing about Chinese culture or politics, but I’m guessing they must not be very keen on a Vietnamese, revenge-bent, special forces soldier murdering people being referred to as a Chinaman. I’ll even go so far as to guess they frown upon Vietnamese people in general being referred to as Chinamen (and vice versa). So, Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, a Vietnamese, revenge-bent, special forces soldier murdering far fewer people. Not having read the novel, I can’t say how much they changed the character, but Quan is very restrained in the killing department.

(Note: they also made a minor change to the character’s name for the film, which I have no explanation for at all.)

The screenwriter also had to have added or modified Pierce Brosnan’s character, Liam Hennessey. Liam is the First Minister of Northern Ireland, but was a former bigwig in the IRA. I’m assuming the book has a very similar character because both book and film have the protagonist demanding the names of the bombers responsible for his daughter’s death. Anyway, Quan goes to the British police first to get names and meets with Commander Bromley (Ray Fearon), who assures Quan that his top priority is identifying and catching the bombers. Bromley is telling the truth, too, because we see him and his team chasing clues and homing in on IDs throughout the film. Of course, it wouldn’t be a very entertaining movie if Quan heeded Bromley’s advice to be patient, so, Quan redirects his focus to Liam, whom Quan believes knows who the bombers are.

As a politician, he kills people in a different way.

As with Bromley, Liam assures Quan that he does not know who the bombers are, but is trying to find out. Unlike with Bromley, Quan believes Liam is lying and enacts plan B where B is for bomb. Recalling his special forces training, Quan resorts to terrorism to frighten Liam into giving up the names. This is where the movie is a bit weak. It’s a safe assumption that Quan thinks the only thing an ex-IRA member would understand is violence, but he never hints at that rationale. He just jumps straight to bomb, bomb, bomb it out, though doesn’t kill anyone and does everything possible to limit the injuries. This is weak writing because, while his motivation is solid, his jump to violence seemingly comes out of nowhere (we don’t find out about his training until much, much later in the film). While nobody is going to root against old man Chan taking on the IRA, it is hard to root for Quan at first, especially when everything we’ve been shown and told so far is that Liam and Bromley really are trying to find out who are the killers. At this point, I’m kind of with Bromley - Quan should just be patient.

Forgiving that is pretty easy though. While that part of the writing is weak, other parts are quite strong. The cat and mouse game between Liam and Quan is pretty entertaining, especially as Quan ramps up the terror. In addition, we know almost immediately that someone within the IRA ranks is trying to restart the bloodshed. What’s fun is that Brosnan does an excellent job of showing exasperation at being harassed by Quan because he really doesn’t know the identities of the bombers. Not to be outdone, Chan is remarkably sad and morose and comes off like your grandpa. Well, until he starts blowing things up, that is.

I may look ancient, but you should really help me.

As entertaining as the movie is, I do have one more criticism. There is one too many investigator in this movie. At no point do Quan and Bromley’s investigations overlap with each other or help/hinder each other. Each of them solve the puzzle independently, so are redundant. Since we came this movie to see Jackie Chan kick someone, Bromley and team should have been reduced down to brushing off Quan multiple times, then disappearing from the film. It would have been as easy as Liam requesting a few days to ferret out the bombers to remove the cops from the film and let us focus more on Quan and his campaign of guerilla warfare.

Again, forgiving those minor writing issues are easy with this film. Watching Quan morph from a hobbled old man to an IRA member’s nightmare is borderline cathartic. I also liked the subtle commentary on how the decades of bombings and shootings only ever lead to death and not an independent and unified Ireland like the IRA wanted. It’s a clear allegory to the current state of affairs in the Middle East, though nobody in a position of power (on any side of the conflict) is going to see this movie and have a change of heart (unfortunately for all of the innocent people who are caught up in the bullshit). If allegories aren’t your thing, just enjoy the 63-year old centenarian terrorizing a bunch of assholes. That’s always worth the price of admission.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and hope Chan never stops loving his job.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

“American Made” – This actually happened.

If the only thing you think of when you hear the word contra is up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a-b-a-select-start, you’re not alone. Even with as much history as I consume, I still haven’t jumped into the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s involving the Central and South American rebels and their U.S. backing. But, I did know of them prior to watching American Made, which probably puts me ahead of most people. Also, I never did beat that game in just three lives.

I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise the human, but I am a big fan of Tom Cruise the actor. I especially like him when he plays against type. In other words, when he’s not sprinting somewhere or hiyaah-ing people. In American Made, Cruise plays Barry Seal, and actual guy who flew covert missions for the CIA, including capturing photographs of enemy Junta camps and running guns to arm the contras. I know that sounds exactly like Cruise’s typical characters. Admittedly, I thought the same thing prior to this film because the only thing I knew about it was the movie poster, that Tom Cruise is in it, and that it’s billed as an action-comedy. Just trust me or look at this actual photo of Barry Seal.

I mean, look at that guy.

Believe me now? The actual story begins with TWA pilot Barry Seal. Barry is bored of his job, smuggles Cuban cigars, and doesn’t have sex with his scorching-hot southern belle of a wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright). One night, Barry is approached by Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleason), a CIA agent who blackmails and bribes Barry into working for him. It starts with Barry taking the photos, but Barry is soon captured by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia), who would eventually come to be known as the leaders of the Medellin drug cartel. They offer Barry a lot of money to smuggle drugs back to America for them and Barry’s only concern is how much cocaine he can carry in his CIA-gifted plane.

The film follows the same formula as movies like Gold and The Wolf of Wall Street. The hero rises to the top, has piles of money and spends a lot of it, then crashes back down to Earth in spectacular fashion. What makes this movie more fun than those two is that Barry is just a schlub in way over his head. The lead characters in those other two movies are both conniving thieves trying to screw people out of their money, whereas Barry is just doing what people ask him to do because the money is really, really good. Okay, Barry is not completely innocent. He has a deal with the cartel to trade some of the guns to them for shipping cocaine back to the United States, and Barry gets a massive amount of money. And he figures it is fine because many of the contras don’t really want to fight anyway, but they are still getting some of the guns. Incidentally, those are not the same contras in the Nintendo game. The Nintendo guys are dead serious.

It's like Schafer is looking at toe jam.

Of all of the Tom Cruise movies I’ve seen, I’d argue that this is one of his top five performances. Barry is a lovable schmuck that gets to play secret agent and live it up in a massive house in Arkansas with his wife and kids. He doesn’t have to sprint anywhere or hold his breath for eight minutes or shoot a gun. All he has to do is fly a plane, be a bit of a southern goofball, and sprinkle some trademark Cruise cockiness on top. You will root for Barry, not just because Agent Schafer is an arrogant prick, or because drug lords are bad people, but because Barry is friends with those drug lords and is genuinely just trying to provide for his family.

Gleeson is also really good, delivering an agent who clearly looks down upon Barry and treats him little better than plastic eating utensils. Schafer never grows a conscience and never does anything to defend Barry. He doesn’t even try to get Barry more money when Barry asks for what is essentially hazard pay. Then, there’s Lucy. Wright isn’t given much to do, but she owns the little she has. Lucy tries to have morals a couple of times, but succumbs to the riches as quickly as Barry. But, she’ll defend her family to the death, even if it means giving up everything they’ve amassed from Barry’s adventures.

Giving new meaning to the phrase "riding high."

American Made is neither an action film nor a comedy, but does contain a bit of both. As I have said in past reviews, I love a good based-on-a-true-story history film, especially one that doesn’t tell me a story I already know. This one keeps the story front and center by not overdoing the action and comedy, but using it in just the right places to enhance the tone the film. It’s the kind of move that makes you want to read more about what actually happened and about the full scope of events referenced. As much as I enjoy Mission: Impossible and every science fiction movie Tom Cruise does, American Made reminds us that Cruise isn’t just an adrenaline junky who must run everywhere he goes. Now, if you’ll excuse…b-a-select-start.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and look at that picture of Seal again. Seriously, that guy.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” – It sucked, but not because it’s a sequel.

Just before the movie It released and shattered box office records, a bunch of Chicken Littles wrote a bunch of articles bemoaning the poor summer box office returns, reheating a classic groupthink explanation for those poor returns. Variety provided a great example of this intellectual emptiness, stating “Yes, all the aforementioned titles are reboots or part of a major franchise. Yes, that’s precisely what summer ticket sales indicate audiences are tired of.” Really? That must mean the highest-grossing movies of the year aren’t reboots, sequels, or franchise entries. Strange, that list isn’t mentioned or referenced in the article, so we’ll have to go somewhere else and look and, oh…

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. The Fate of the Furious
3. Despicable Me 3
4. Wolf Warriors 2
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
7. Wonder Woman
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
9. Logan
10. Transformers: The Last Knight


Huh. Not one of those movies is even remotely new material. But, surely those movies at least have lower grosses than the top films from last year. Checkiiiinnnnggg, nope, pretty much the same numbers and the top two movies this year eclipsed the top two from last year (which were also not original). Oh, wow, we still have Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Star Wars VIII, and Pitch Perfect 3 left this year?

After reading several more piles of similar drivel, I starting writing up a rant in my head to counter them, but came across a piece in The Atlantic that seemingly stole the rant right out of my brain. Without reciting the entire article, the author makes very good points about how nobody complains about television shows being recycled. I’d like to take that argument down some parallel roads. Nobody ever had a good first date, then turned down a second date because it featured the same people. Nobody ever ate a good slice of pizza and turned down a second slice because it was made with the same ingredients. Nobody ever watched a sporting event and vowed never to watch another game from the sport again because now they know what to expect. Nobody ever had sex and turned down a second romp because been there, done that. I’d bet my house that if you haven’t expressed that very same “Hollywood is just reboots and sequels” cliché, you’ve heard at least seventeen other people say it. And every single time it sounds just as vapid.

Two people nobody wanted to see in this film.

With all that in mind, wow, did Kingsman: The Golden Circle sequel suck. The first movie received well-deserved accolades and reviews and the sequel takes all of that goodwill and wipes its ass with it. Movies like this are one of the reasons why the aforementioned cliché won’t die. But it didn’t suck because it was a sequel. It sucked because it was a poorly written and lazy movie. What it did do that a lot of other crappy sequels have done is completely fail to understand what made the original so likeable. After watching the original, you almost undoubtedly reminisced about the church scene, the bar fight scene, the chick with the sword legs, or everyone’s head exploding into a shower of fireworks. It was the perfect blend of insanity, political commentary, comedy, and action. The Golden Circle is none of those things, barely even trying to be at times.

(SPOILER ALERT)

The best way to describe the components of The Golden Circle is watered down. As stupid as Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp was in the first film, he was at least a great villain in all other respects. This time, we have Poppy Adams, a bland villain phoned in by Julianne Moore with no interesting or memorable characteristics. Poppy is the head of a drug cartel that makes $250 billion per year and makes her headquarters in some Cambodian ruins partially made over to look like a 1950s era main street. Hilarious, right? Also, she is stupid. I don’t mean just the character in general, but she’s actually written to come off as really stupid. Early on, she blathers about how humans can’t be trusted and we meet her robot dogs, robot hair stylist, and…no other robots. $250 billion a year can buy a lot of robots, so why does she still have so many humans working for her? This contradiction is punctuated when she forces a henchman to feed another henchman into a meat grinder. And her evil plot? She has laced all of her drugs with a poison that gives people blue veiny rashes, causes them to dance, paralyzes them, then kills them and told the leaders of the world that she will release the antidote once they legalize all drugs. Her stated motivation is to be a legitimate businesswoman so she can move out of Cambodia. Think about that for a second. If her cartel was a country, it would have the 45th highest GDP in the world, but she decided to risk it all by stealing the Joker’s plot from Batman so people would like her. I never thought I’d miss the lisp.

We're laughing because we can't figure out how you won an Oscar.

Then there are the characters. Remember all the ones you liked from the first movie? Well, too bad, all of them are quickly and unceremoniously killed in the first half hour except Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). I’m not counting Princess Tilde (Hannah Alstrom) because I honestly do not remember her in the first movie. At all. Not even a little bit. Also, Colin Firth is brought back to life by a magic, rubber head wrap because science (he was shot through the eye and brain in the first film and was definitely dead). Or director/writer Matthew Vaughn loves soap operas. Either way, it was a poor writing decision (and I like Colin Firth). All of the dead are replaced with cardboard cutouts played by a couple of Oscar winners (Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and Elton John), Channing Tatum, and that guy who played the Red Viper in Game of Thrones (Pedro Pascal). What’s that? I made up the Elton John part? I most certainly did not. I’ll have you know he delivered the best performance of the film…and that’s really sad.

(Note: All kidding aside, Sir Elton really did outperform everyone else in this movie, maybe because he was the only who realized how truly insipid the screenplay was and really had fun with it.)

The common thread is that the writing is what you’d expect from a ten-year-old second grader. Go ahead and do the math; I’ll wait. Throughout the bloated 141-minute running time, bad dialogue competes with stupid code names which fight with pointless actions that are stomped on by humorless jokes, all of which don’t look so bad next to the mind-numbing science/gadgets and soulless love story. Want some examples?
• Eggsy steps on a land mine despite having a mine detector.
• Poppy has kidnapped Elton John (playing himself) and her two robot dogs are named Benny and Jet. (Side note: COME ON!!!! Tiny and Dancer are the two obvious joke names for two killer robot dogs.)
• The Kingsmen are named after Knights of the Round Table, which is clever. The Statesmen are named after liquor, which is not clever. Plus, they are not even consistent - Halle Berry is codenamed Ginger Ale.
• Eggsy calls his girlfriend to tell her he has to sleep with a girl for his job, thus setting off the rom-com misunderstanding.
• Immediately after that call, Eggsy fingers the girl with a tracking condom on his finger (I wish I was making that up) because “it has to be in a mucous membrane.” To top it off, this scene somehow features zero nudity (the girl is in her underwear and Eggsy is fully clothed).
• In order to force a bar fight into the film (ala the last film), after a conversation in a bar between the agents, a random barfly stands up after a short silence and, with exactly zero provocation or even eye contact with the agents, yells at the “faggots to get out of the bar.” Nevermind, the wildly inappropriate and out-of-place usage of that slur (another thoughtless writing choice), you could all but see a cue card for the guy to pick that fight in order to show us that Whiskey (ugh) can CGI-twirl a rope and whip.
• The Statesmen have baseball grenades.
• Merlin makes a point of grabbing a gigantic knife before the climax, only to be killed before getting to use it.
• The traitor (of course there is a traitor) wants to prevent everyone dying from the poison from being saved because his girlfriend was killed in the crossfire of two meth addicts shooting at each other.

Want to see my whip?

It’s important to know that I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, there are very few movies I’ve hated. Hating a movie and criticizing a movie for being garbage are two different things. My friend said he was at least kind of entertained and I can respect that. I’ve been plenty entertained by terrible movies, too. Unlike during my screening of American Assassin, I took some notes (no light pen required) to capture corpse count (102, not counting the robots) and novelty deaths (shoved in a meat grinder, impaled by a ten-foot tall scissors, cut in half by Whiskey’s magic lasso) because those things tend to make purposely absurd movies more fun. I also jotted down some quotes, one of which sums up this movie nicely: “That’s the first decent shit I’ve had in three weeks.” I couldn’t agree more.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and stop saying you hate sequels. You don’t hate sequels; you just hate bad movies.