Thursday, March 22, 2018

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” - I’ve seen worse.

Coming out of Pacific Rim: Uprising, there were plenty of moviegoers that enjoyed the film and that is cool.  There is plenty of room in our lives for big, loud, popcorn flicks like Pacific Rim: Uprising.  I, myself, enjoyed the hell out of Pacific Rim and gave it a gigantic pass on many aspects of it that were really weak.  But then those same moviegoers said Uprising was much better than the first film and much more fun.  Wait - hold on a minute, I must have misunderstood.  *Checks notes* - Yep.  That is what they said.  *Sighs* Uprising may be enjoyable, but it is not nearly as good or entertaining as its predecessor.  This is why we can’t have nice things.

I am no fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I believe Pacific Rim is the best movie he has made.  And, yes, that includes the hilariously overrated The Shape of Water.  As I stated in my review of Pacific Rim, it hit all the marks that a summer blockbuster needed to hit.  It delivered on its promise of lots of robot-on-monster fight scenes, it had a very simple plot dressed in fun nonsense, someone gives a big motivating speech when all seems lost, the comic relief was both funny and well-timed, the characters were all endearing or likeable, and it delivered on its promise of lots of robot-on-monster fight scenes.  Yes, I had to say that twice; there was that much action.  Uprising falls well short of Pacific Rim on almost every one of those components, though to be fair, somehow manages to not completely suck while doing it.  Just mostly suck.

Have you been practicing your big speech?

(Big Dumb SPOILER ALERT for a Big Dumb movie)

Uprising takes place ten years after the events of the first film, introducing us to our main character, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of one of war hero Stacker Pentecost.  Jake is currently living as a thief who specializes in acquiring old jaeger technology.  During a run into a decommissioned jaeger factory, he comes across a teenaged Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who beats him to a valuable jaeger part.  He tracks her to her hideout where he discovers she has built her own (very small) jaeger.  They are soon discovered by the cops and have a quick chase scene where they are eventually captured by a real jaeger.  This entire sequence exists solely to establish and develop our two main characters and explain how they end up at jaeger pilot training school (not to mention hang a blazing neon sign on the small jaeger saying “THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR LATER”).  It is very paint-by-numbers, which is fine for a popcorn flick, but then the movie decides to forget almost everything it established.

Jake is never asked to use any of his street skills, in fact, quite the opposite.  He is forced to become an instructor to a bunch of adolescent jaeger pilot trainees and team up with square-jawed, by-the-books pilot, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) as Nate’s co-pilot.  In fact, by the end, Jake will even give the big motivation speech (which was anything but motivational) while wearing his uniform straight.  Meanwhile, Amara tries to fit in with the others, but one trainee girl has it out for Amara because she doesn’t think Amara earned her spot there.  At no point are her skills at building jaegers ever put to use on screen, but instead just mentioned again late in the film as a throwaway line to explain how they suddenly have four working jaegers one day after pretty much everything was destroyed by evil jaegers (we’ll get to them in a second).  When I said paint-by-numbers, I meant one color and two numbers.  Three, at most.

You'll have to trust me when I say I already repaired a whole squadron.

The reason I found this movie so lackluster is because it spends the vast majority of its running time telling us about stuff rather than showing it to us.  Considering this movie’s entire purpose in life is visuals, it should have had maybe ten percent as much dialogue as it actually gave.  For example, oodles of dialogue are spent telling us how Jake had some sort of falling out as a jaeger pilot prior to ending up on the streets.  Rather than showing us the falling out at the beginning of the film, we get a quick exchange where he just spells out it to Amara.  And another where he and Nate kind of talk about it.  And another where - you get the point.  For another example, the script instructs Amara to tick off the names of all of the jaegers as she sees them upon first arrival at the training base, rather than revealing them organically during missions or fight scenes.  I realize that the world of Pacific Rim is fantastical enough to require an extra spoonful of exposition, but Uprising piles it on by the quart.

The rest of the movie is a convoluted mess of corporate greed, rogue jaegers, and red herrings trying desperately to tie itself together into a coherent plot by the Precursors (the trans-dimensional beings who sent the kaijus - giant monsters - to Earth in the first film) to terraform Earth (their goal from the first film as well).  The primary success of the first film was showing us giant robots fighting us giant monsters, so the four (FOUR!!) writers of this film decided to replace the monsters with other robots because five (FIVE!!) Transformers movies wasn’t enough.  I am not exaggerating; there is just one scene featuring a giant robot vs a giant fleshy monster and, by then, I forgot we were watching a Pacific Rim sequel.

If it looks like a Transformer and sounds like a Transformer...

(Side note: some people will argue the semantics of the rogue robots being more than just robots, but the fight scenes are still just robots fighting other robots.)

On the character side, you would be forgiven if you couldn’t remember the name of any character beyond Jake and Amara, and I’d forgive you if you forgot Jake and Amara’s names as well.  With the exception of those two and Nate, none of the other pilots are memorable.  For that matter, you should be asking where the hell were all the grown-up pilots in this film.  Then, there is the corporate executive (Jing Tian) who is cold, calculated, and power hungry when her hair is tied up, but comes to the rescue after letting her hair down (seriously, her hair does this).  Finally, there is Dr. Geiszler (Charlie Day), the comic relief of movie one (along with Burn Gorman as his buddy), but who is chewed up and spit out as a really bad version of an Austin Powers villain this time around.  And, he doesn’t even get to do comedy, which might have saved the character as a villain.  Come to think of it, nobody got to do comedy, though you would have thought this movie was funny by the way the person behind me in the theater was cackling at anything and everything even resembling a joke, including a robot flipping the bird to a vanquished opponent (never funny).

Hair up!

The strangest thing about watching this film is that I didn’t hate it.  I just didn’t care about anything happening in the film.  The screenplay made no attempt to develop any characters beyond cliches and most of them didn’t even get that much.  The jaegers were okay, I guess, but the bright color palate of this film took away all of the ominous and dark feel from the first film (a consequence of newbie Steven DeKnight directing this film rather than del Toro), giving it a Care Bears kind of feeling.  Plus, only the main jaeger (Gipsy Danger - the one with the glowy orange chest) is in the vast majority of the film, the climax being the only scene where all four jaegers from the movie poster are seen fighting.  Come on - which writer(s) sharted out that miss?  I wasn’t even all that bothered by Eastwood’s performance coming out as stiff as his jaw.  On the bright side, none of the robots were racist, had genitalia, or tried to hump Megan Fox and for that, we can be thankful.

Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back, but consider that dollar thoughtfully.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Tomb Raider” – We might finally have a winner.

Growing up playing video games, my generation has been waiting year after year for a good movie adaptation of a video game.  Hell, we would settle for just average at this point.  The genre kicked off back in 1993 with the ridiculously inept Super Mario Bros. and has continued to be a wasteland of shit since.  That is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching several of them (I might even defend a couple as solid), but I recognize just how bad most of them are.  Of all of the movies in the genre, the peak critic rating (Rotten Tomatoes) is 44% for Final Fantasy.  When I heard Michael Fassbender was cast in Assassin’s Creed, I thought maybe Hollywood was finally going to put an honest effort into a video game movie.  Then, I watched Assassin’s Creed and cried myself to sleep that night.

So, did I learn my lesson upon hearing Alicia Vikander was cast as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot?  Of course not!  In fact, in preparation for the film, I devoted a healthy amount of time to playing the 2013 video game reboot that this film was based on and I found the game to be quite good and fun.  I even broke my rule of never watching previews and those previews did not scare me off either (despite featuring a terrible scene with Lara holding two pistols and cockily saying “I’ll take two”).  It also helps that I would watch Alicia Vikander read a phone book for two hours, but I digress.

(Side note: Don’t judge me.  I would also watch Michael Fassbender read a phone book for two hours.)

If pictures speak a thousand words, they should use her voice.

If you are looking for an explanation for why video game movies almost universally suck, it is because the stories and elements of those video games are almost universally absurd and poorly written (note: they have gotten much better in recent years).  To be fair, many comic books are also absurd or poorly written and Marvel figured out how to make great movies, so that isn’t a good excuse.  This new Tomb Raider flick appears to have taken note of that.

(Very mild SPOILERS, but nothing you can’t predict.)

Unlike the idiotic and convoluted plot of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film in 2001, Tomb Raider (2018) takes the video game plot and streamlines it.  Lara’s dad (Dominic West) has been presumed dead after going missing seven years earlier.  Lara discovers what her dad was working on and a clue to his whereabouts and sets off to find him.  She enlists a Chinese boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to a mythical island called Yamatai where she believes her father to have vanished.  After crashing on the shoals surrounding the island, Lara and Lu Ren are captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who has been on the island for seven years searching for the tomb of an ancient Japanese Queen named Himiko who was believed to possess powerful magic.  The company Mathias works for (Trinity) believes Himiko’s body still possesses power and wants that power.  In short, Lara wants to find her dad and Mathias wants to find Himiko’s tomb and, obviously, their paths cross and action ensues.  The end.

I knew we would discover a good plot.

What I found refreshing was that the movie doesn’t stray down roads filled with mythical or fantastical nonsense.  They talk about the legend surrounding Himiko, but the film doesn’t inundate the viewer with scenes or stunts designed to convince us of the magic.  Rather, it stays grounded in its reality and focused on its main plot while only vaguely hinting that an evil sorceress may be unleashed.  This allows the movie to retain suspense, shrouding Himiko in mystery and only exposing the truth when her tomb is finally discovered.  Despite Lara’s father’s insistence that releasing Himiko from her tomb will unleash evil on the world, resurrected dead aren’t constantly popping out of the shadows and people aren’t killed by magical curses or demons.  It’s a good old-fashioned tomb raid reminiscent of why the Indiana Jones movies were so fun.  If somebody’s face is going to melt, it won’t be until they actually open the box.

Nothing weird has happened yet.  I say we open it.  Who's with me?

The small cast of main and supporting characters were also a breath of fresh air.  Yes, there were plenty of disposable characters, but the four I discussed earlier are the cream of the film.  Goggins is in his element as the menacing villain, willing to stop at nothing to accomplish his mission for a surprisingly relatable reason.  West and Wu are solid, though I would have liked to have seen Wu given more to do (if you have seen him in Into the Badlands, you know what I am talking about).  Most importantly, Vikander owns this movie and her role, making us forget the fever dreams caused by Angelina Jolie’s awful portrayal of Croft.  Vikander delivers a character that is strong, but not invincible; intelligent, but prone to making common sense mistakes.  In other words, she is human (though looks like she went on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine training regimen, not that I am complaining).

The last thing of note is how well they incorporated elements of the game into the film without making them seem completely ridiculous.  In the game, Lara wields a climbing ax and a rope ascender, both of which only make cameos in the film.  There are also a couple of action sequences pulled straight from the game which worked really well in the film and do not go over the top.  They even dressed Vikander exactly like Lara from the game, all the way down to the bandages on her arm and leg and Lara being covered in dirt most of the time.  The only negative criticism I have is they tacked on that shitty “I’ll take two” scene just before the credits roll as an homage to the original game from two decades ago (or worse, the original film).  The game reboot got rid of that for a reason and so should have this film.

Trust me - it works.

The moral of this story is that we finally have a video game movie that doesn’t make us want to quit movies (and video games) or only watch them when nobody else is looking.  It reminds us of fun adventure movies that didn’t have to resort to pure fantasy to keep our attention.  It means that we don’t have to pretend any more that Resident Evil movies are watchable video game flicks because the bar was set so low back in 1993.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and make sure Vikander always has a phone book nearby.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

“A Wrinkle in Time” - And several in my brow.

Recently, I have watched a couple of classic movies with my five-year old son - Jaws and the original Godzilla (the black and white Japanese version from 1954).  He loved them and has now watched them multiple times.  And, in case you are wondering, no, he has not had any nightmares (#goodparenting).  Upon completion of a screening of the horrific A Wrinkle in Time, my friend asserted that I was being too hard on a movie aimed at kids and that my son would probably enjoy A Wrinkle in Time.  We are talking about a child who has also watched Titanic at least twenty times and I assured her that he would be bored out of his mind watching A Wrinkle in Time

(Do I really need to issue a SPOILER ALERT for a 56-year old book that almost everyone has read except me?)

Having not read the book, I do not know why so many people have such fond memories of it, but if the book is anything like the movie, then those people have really faulty memories.  I had no advanced knowledge of the book, and I watched zero previews.  My only bias was based on the rosy nostalgia from friends, so I went into the movie with positive expectations.  What I saw was a movie that was the equivalent of the glitter farts from Guy Diamond in Trolls.

What little plot existed in this film revolved around the search for Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), a physicist who successfully figures out how to teleport himself across the universe, but never returns (the story takes place four years after his disappearance).  Unfortunately, nobody knows about the teleportation idea except his wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), so everyone believes him to have simply run out on his family and life.  Luckily, precocious young Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), Alex’s adopted five-year old son, has been chatting with three magical women, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who want to help find Alex.  They enlist Alex’s thirteen-year old daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), who spends most of the movie brooding and sulking, even after she is teleported by witches to other planets, converses with flying flowers, and told that her father is alive.  Teenagers, right?

Hello?  Has anyone seen a plot around here?

While on the flower planet, they see a black tentacle cloud in the sky, identified by Mrs. Which as the It and that the It is pure evil.  Mrs. Which also explains that the three women are warriors that fight the It to prevent evil from spreading, but that they avoid the It.  Paging Mrs. ExcuseMeWhatNow?  Did you just say you fight the It by steering clear of it?  This is the first of many, many (MANY) nonsensical statements and actions that make you furrow your brow so hard you draw blood.  It turns out the three Mrs. are nothing more than exposition spouts who can teleport, but are actually worse than that.  At the start of the third act, they literally tell Meg, Charles Wallace (who is annoyingly always referred to by his full name), and Calvin (Levi Miller) - a boy who has a crush on Meg and is brought along on the quest for his diplomatic skills, which consist entirely of telling Meg she has great hair - that they are leaving the evil planet they brought the kids to, so the kids are on their own.  But, don’t worry, each Mrs. gives the kids a gift to aid their quest, consisting of magic eyeglasses that only work in a special room that only the It can take them to, Meg’s character faults (not kidding), and advice to never split up (still not kidding).  Of course, being teenagers, they almost immediately leave Charles alone, but overcome evil when Meg screams her faults at the It.

It is worth noting here that the three women are terribly written characters and the actors knew it.  Oprah appeared as disinterested as possible, as Mrs. Which is given nothing to do beyond wearing sparkly, aluminum foil outfits with cartoonish, glittery makeup and sequined eyebrows.  Mrs. Who literally only speaks in random quotations from other people (most of which aren’t even recognizable), and very few of them for that matter, and Kaling was visibly frustrated at how obviously worthless her character was.  As the rookie warrior (whatever the hell that means) Mrs. Whatsit, Witherspoon chews up scenes trying to cover for the fact that Whatsit is kind of a blithering jerk whose dialogue sounded like Witherspoon had to make it up on the spot.

Do not be fooled; she is dying inside.

During all of this nonsense, there is no point in which we get a clear idea of any motivations for anything happening besides Meg wanting to find her dad.  We don’t know why the It has been holding Alex other than the It is evil, we don’t know if the It actually wants Charles (he’s mentioned as being a genius, though the only indication of it is he is articulate) or Meg (she had a high GPA before Alex went missing, so…) or why the It doesn’t just murder them all when they show up on the It’s planet.  Most importantly, we are never given any sense of time or urgency regarding how long they have to find Alex or stop evil, but the It can make sandwiches out of actual sand so Alex simply must be rescued.

Rather than strive for a coherent plot or use its characters to any worthwhile affect (including getting the audience to empathize), the screenplay focuses on a love-trumps-evil trope, fashions it into a cudgel, and bludgeons the audience with it in the hope of keeping us from noticing the movie sucking.  But it’s not just the writing that makes this film so lousy.  The special effects range from top notch (the first planet they go to is visually stunning) to elementary school play (a scene with Zach Galifianakis asks all of the actors to pretend to teeter while standing on what look like painted-orange Styrofoam blocks).  The music was like listening to four kids singing through kazoos for the last five hours of a road trip.  Most of the actors appear to be there against their will, delivering performances as shallow as their characters.  The film even manages to insult the intelligence of the audience when Alex attributes the success of certain scientific achievements to magic and Meg incorrectly explains how lift works when flying.  You might think that second one is a nitpick, but when a film goes out of its way to tell you a character is brainy, then has her explain a scientific concept wrong, it deserves a call-out.  Plus, it’s a fantasy film - why are they talking about science at all?

Just a nit?

Despite this film being a front runner for worst movie of the year (relax, it’s early, folks), I still want to read the book.  I have a really hard time believing that so many people are remembering a shoddy book so favorably, and I am always willing to give a book a chance.  But, if the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, I will be pointing my kid toward reading Cujo because I know what my kid likes (#parentingfail).

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, plus the twenty minutes of my son’s music class that I gave up to get to this movie on time (#iffyparenting).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

“Annihilation” – Is something burning?

One of the best signs that you have just seen a worthwhile movie is you want to see it again.  It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure whether you liked it or disliked it because bad movies almost never illicit yearning for a second viewing.  Well, unless you are into ironic viewings of garbage like Evil Dead 2 or Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which case, you keep doing you.  Annihilation is definitely worthwhile and I think I liked it, but I am not sure.  Somewhere around the midpoint of the film, one of the characters explains what was happening to them and everything around them and my brain went “I am not so sure you have figured it out.”  For the rest of the film, I tried to make sense out of the explanation and I may have smelled charred bacon at one point.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Think about it, but not too hard.

(SPOILER ALERT, but since this movie is based on a trilogy of books, I’m only mildly apologetic.)

After a year missing, special forces soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows up at his home, scaring the crap out of his wife Lena (Natalie Portman).  Kane remembers nothing about the past year, then quickly becomes violently ill.  En route to the hospital, men in black grab Kane and Lena and take them to a secret facility called the Southern Reach.  There, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) questions Lena, then recruits Lena to accompany her and three others, Anya, Josie, and Cass (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny, respectively), into the Shimmer, a region of swamp land that appears to be covered in a giant soap bubble.  Ventress reveals to Lena that Kane is the only person to return from the Shimmer and suggests that an answer to why Kane is dying lies at a lighthouse inside the Shimmer where the Shimmer started (from a meteor strike).  Ventress also makes it clear that their main mission is to get to the lighthouse to find a way to stop the Shimmer from spreading (which it has been doing for three years) and eventually enveloping the Earth.

Once in the Shimmer, the group experiences odd happenings (forgetfulness, rashes, paranoia, among others), as well as taking in sights straight out of Wonderland.  There are crazy flowers and plant life, mutated animals that suddenly split into copies (think cell division), and a couple of large predators that will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep after watching the film.  One beast in particular is terrifying, especially when it is fully on display in one scene (you’ll know the one).

That is not the nightmare beast.

Everything I have described so far is why you should see this movie, especially because this film asks you to think a lot.  It is similar to Arrival in that things are not exploding every five minutes and you have to pay attention to what is happening lest you miss a detail.  Cerebral science fiction flicks are my favorite kind of movies.  The problem with this film is that it asks you to think a lot and it isn’t as smart as it thinks it is.  For example, all five women have a specific vocation - psychologist (Ventress), biologist/former soldier (Lena), physicist (Josie), geologist/surveyor (Cass), and paramedic (Anya) - but those skills are used to the barest minimum, almost always simply to lend a modicum of credence to whatever exposition is being recited.  Most of the time, they are just walking.  At another point, the physicist tries to explain her theory that the Shimmer refracts everything, including DNA and that is why everything is mutating.  This is also the point I mentioned earlier regarding my brain.  It has been two decades since I studied physics, but I still remember how refraction works and that isn’t it.

That word does not mean what you think it means.

Luckily, the refraction explanation is minor enough that one can accept it and move on, but then, unluckily, you notice how thin Josie and Anya are as characters.  Like every survival movie (which is what this movie really is), there are always characters who you shrug at when they die or almost die and Josie and Anya are those characters.  We know their jobs and a nugget of their back story (thanks to Cass) and that’s about it.  To be fair, Anya’s demise will evoke a response from you, but that’s because of the scene itself, not because you are invested in her character.  Aside from Lena, the only other character who was interesting was Cass and I was sorely disappointed when she bought it so early in the film.

Having said all that, it is very possible I missed a bunch of nuance and subtlety due to thinking about refracting DNA and gaping at the gorgeous visuals in the film.  Despite its flaws, the film is very engaging and there are some genuinely tense scenes that have you holding your breath along with the characters.  I really do want to watch this movie again and, thanks to Netflix, I can do that from my couch in three weeks (much to the chagrine of director Alex Garland).  Hopefully, a second viewing will calm my brain.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back and see if that scary-ass beast doesn’t haunt your dreams tonight.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

“Game Night” – Can I play?

Have you ever wanted to participate in one of those murder mystery nights with a group of people?  Yeah, me neither.  I tried it one time years ago and it was one of the most awkward memories I have.  In order for it to be even remotely fun, everyone involved has to be 100% into it and also be an extrovert and that does not describe my experience.  Otherwise, it’s like to trying to conduct a bible study with people who believe everything in the bible is literal and agnostic biblical historians who bet on the Patriots to beat the Eagles.  Now that murder mystery nights are not a thing any more, Game Night introduces a gaming concept sure to be the next big thing after we’ve exhausted every Escape Room in the city - hiring a company to conduct a kidnapping of the game night host and offering a prize to whomever tracks down the host first.  This is a bulletproof idea that definitely does not have the potential to involve law enforcement.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are an ultra-competitive married couple who live for hosting game night.  They invite the usual crew, married couple Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury, respectively), and their friend Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his flavor-of-the-week/date, Sarah (Sharon Horgan).  Everything is going swell until Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), returns to town and shows up Max at the latest game night.  At the end of the night, Max offers to host the next game night, promising to up the ante, as it were.  Thus we learn about Brooks contracting the kidnapping game and offering up his corvette as the prize.  The game starts out as planned, but is interrupted by two men breaking into Brooks’ house, fighting with Brooks for a couple minutes, and dragging him off while the three couples look on.  They erroneously believe the break-in is all part of the game and the movie kicks into its main plot - the couples start playing the game, but eventually learn the men who kidnapped Brooks were not part of Brooks’ game.

What could possibly go wrong?

You probably noticed I did not give a spoiler warning and that is because I want you to enjoy this movie as much as I did when you go see it (and you should definitely go see it).  The film is one part mystery and one part adventure, all drizzled in comedy sauce.  If I were to tell you any more about the plot, it would spoil much of what I found so entertaining in the movie, namely that I could not guess what was going to happen and being shocked on numerous occasions at what did happen.  This is the kind of movie that makes sitting through crap like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword worth it.

What I can tell you about is how much I enjoyed the characters, especially McAdams and Jesse Plemons. Plemons plays police officer (and next-door neighbor of Max and Annie) Gary Kingsbury.  Gary is super creepy and stopped getting invited to game night after his wife divorced him.  Plemons’ delivery is so awkward and unsettling that he would fit right in as host of a murder mystery game night, except you would believe Gary is an actual murderer.  One scene in particular (when the couples go to his house for help) punctuates how likely it is that Gary is secretly keeping a woman in a well in his basement.  Make sure to listen to the music playing in the background and look at the things decorating his house.

Do you guys have any lotion?  I ran out.

But, McAdams is the one who carries this film to its comedic heights.  If she has played a true comedic role (in contrast to the kind of role she did for Wedding Crashers or Mean Girls), I’ve missed them and that makes me sad.  McAdams is brilliant as Annie, manages to out-funny Jason Bateman (no small feat), and nearly had me in tears a couple of times.  Like with Chris Hemsworth in the latest Thor, McAdams shows how funny she can be given the chance.  I will definitely be checking out some of her past comedies to see if I missed out (not to mention how, like Hemsworth, easy she is on the eyes).

Did we win?

The best part of this movie though?  Somebody hired a continuity person/crew that didn’t take a night off.  With the exception of one small subplot, everything introduced in this film is wrapped up when the credits roll.  Each couple and person is given a sub plot/issue to work through and all of them are given a chance to breathe and play out throughout the film.  The best movies have this figured out, fleshing out their characters while moving the plot along without having to crush the momentum of the film to do it.  There are also great technical continuities on display, one of which is a continuous long take of a scene featuring our couples trying to evade capture inside a mansion (another of which didn’t occur to me until all of the reveals and explained what I initially took to be a standard action movie cliche).  Add it all up and Game Night is a movie where everyone ends up a winner.  Now, who is up for another Escape Room?

Rating: Do not ask for any money back and remember at the next game night, it’s just a game.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

“Early Man” – Soccer? Really?

Of all the animated films I’ve taken my son to see, Early Man is easily the weakest.  Of course, that doesn’t matter to my five-year old, so the only thing I will say about this film is if it inspires my son to want to play soccer (which the very idea of watching makes me break out in hives) I will write my own review of this film.  For now, here are some things my son had to say about Early Man.

What was Early Man about?
Cavemen. And villagers.  Playing soccer-ball foot-ball.

Is it soccer or football?

Are you afraid that Europeans might get mad at you?
What? Peens?

No, Europeans.

People from England!  You think they’re okay with you calling it soccer?

Who was your favorite character?

Who’s that?
The caveman’s pig.

One of them is the MVP.

Did he play soccer also?
Yeah.  On his team!

Where on the field was he?
Um, on the side…?

Was he the goalie?  Stopping the ball from going into the goal?

Why were they playing a soccer game?
Because they do.

But why?
Hog-nob keeping the ball from getting into the goal.

Remember, they were trying to save their home.  Do you think it was cheating that a pig was playing goalie?
It’s not cheating.  Because pigs think it’s hard to do it, and hard is kind of fun.

Do you think you’re a better artist than the cavemen who drew on the cave walls.

We quit playing for a reason.

Because I’m the goodest drawer in this house.

What would you draw if you were drawing with them?
Like a football.  An actual football.  An oval football.

What were they hunting?
A bunny.

Do you think they hunted the duck, or was the duck too scary?
That caveman saw that giant duck, and he was hungry. He was going to eat the giant duck.

Did he eat it?

Why not?
Because he ran away because he’s gigantic.

Tell me about the bad guy.
He was the king.

He's all about the brass.

Was he a fun bad guy?
He looked angry.

What did he want?
He wanted....i don’t know.  But the mouse ate all the coins.

What mouse?
The mouse that goes like this [arms in the air] side to side.  He heard a noise and he looked around and the mouse was eating the coins!

Do you think it’s okay that Lord Nooth didn’t want girls to play soccer, or was that mean?
It was kind of mean.

Do you think it was weird there were no trees outside of the valley?

What happened to all the trees?
Chopped down.

By whom?
A giant duck.  Maybe the duck stepped on all the trees. [looks disinterested] ….ask me the question what’s your favorite part?

Okay, what’s your favorite part of the movie?
When the duck pooped on the king.

Soccer does seem easier than hunting that guy.

What part did you not like?

Nothing?  You liked the whole thing?

If you could change one thing, what would it be?
Change the ball to an actual football.

Would you tell other kids to see the move?
Mmhmm.  Because they might like it.  Like me.

How much money do you think people should pay to see the movie?
Like five.  Because it might be easier, cuz they want to see the movie SO BAD!

Rating: He called it - ask for half your money back.  It’s what I would have said.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

“Black Panther” - You almost had it.

For the first 114 minutes of its 134-minute running time, Black Panther is a really good movie.  Those 114 minutes are exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Studios movie - fun, witty, and visually excellent, with memorable characters you cannot wait to see more of in future movies.  It even manages to tackle a couple of social issues without stepping on itself.  So, what the hell was the last twenty minutes all about?  It was like watching Hamilton, but getting hit in the face with a pie during the final act.  Since the rest of the movie is good, you’ll forgive the pie, but not cool bro.

(SPOILERS - I am going to describe that pie.)

There is a lot to like in this movie, so that is where I am going to spend most of this review.  The film begins with a quick back story of the fictional African country of Wakanda - a country filled with vibranium and magic herbs delivered by a meteor strike centuries ago.  Using those two things, the Wakandans developed super-advanced technology, including imbuing their ruler with super powers (making that person the Black Panther), flying in anti-gravity, UFO-like aircraft, and healing all manner of disease and injury.  It also begs the question “where were these jerks when aliens invaded the planet in The Avengers?”  I’m guessing the Avengers would have appreciated the help, considering Wakandan technology makes Tony Stark’s tech look like he’s playing with Duplos.

That would have been helpful against the Chitauri.  Or Ultron.

Incidentally, this refusal to help others or share their technology is the driving conflict between the main characters of the film.  King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and wiseman/priest Zuri (Forest Whitaker) want to keep Wakanda’s secrets hidden from the world (like their civilization has always done), while special operative/former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and the exiled Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) want to reveal the hidden secret of Wakanda to the world and help people.  Like in Captain America: Civil War, both sides make really arguments, so it is tough to decide which side to root for.  I mean, you’ll root for T’Challa because he’s the Black Panther, but you’ll question him while you’re doing it.

For most of the film, it feels like we’re watching a James Bond flick.  T’Challa and a couple of warriors, Nakia and Okoye (Danai Gurira), embark on missions to stop people from smuggling vibranium out of the country.  They are repeatedly seen inside a command area and they even have a gadget maker in T’Challa’s 16-year old sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright).  When they learn of a museum heist involving an artifact that was actually vibranium, they determine the perpetrator is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).  I know - I thought Klaue was dead too and this confused me for a while.  Also, I think Serkis was ecstatic to play a character that didn’t involve motion-capture because he was visibly having as much fun in his role as Cate Blanchett had in Thor: Ragnarok.  Anyway, they hatch a plan to catch Klaue by undercover to a casino where Klaue plans to sell the artifact to a CIA agent, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman).  And, just in case you don’t think I’ve sold the case of this film being James Bond: Marvel Edition, they stage a car chase scene with a high-tech luxury car.  The only thing missing was British accents.

I made these.

While I was really into the spy-esque thriller feel of the film, I also couldn’t help marveling at a couple of the characters and the performances being delivered.  As good as Boseman is in the title role, the sneaky good performances come from Serkis, Wright, and most especially, Gurira.  Wright attacks her part with an earnestness that endears her to the audience immediately.  Serkis revels in a villain role where we can actually see his face and invokes glimpses of Joker-level crazy/genius.  But Gurira steals nearly every scene she is in, combining her tough-as-nails Walking Dead persona (Michonne) with a patient and wise advisor to create a character every bit as powerful and charismatic as Black Panther.  Watching her admonish T’Challa as if he were nothing more than her pupil made me wonder who was the real leader of Wakanda.

So there I was, minding my own business and enjoying a really good movie when, out of nowhere, Klaue is unceremoniously replaced as the villain by Killmonger.  Aside from the fact that Killmonger is a terrible villain name, his character is woefully underdeveloped.  In fact, Killmonger is such a thin character that agent Ross (who is also laughably underdeveloped) is forced to monologue Killmonger’s backstory for the Wakandan leaders, as well as the audience.  Turns out, Killmonger wants revenge for his father’s death and I lost interest in anything he did or said after that.  Apparently, the writers also recognized this so, after about a five-minute digression where the movie becomes The Lion King, they wrote in a Lord of the Rings-style, epic, battle royale where Wakandans fight other Wakandans for no reason while dodging armored rhinos.  *SPLAT!!*

Can you see me now?

What’s so frustrating about this climax is that the movie goes to great lengths to detail Wakandan culture and tradition, featuring the succession ceremonies and fierce loyalty, then tosses it out the window because rmored rhinos dammit!  Plus, half of the Wakandan warriors decide to fight T’Challa after discovering he is still alive, meaning Killmonger isn’t technically isn’t their king (after besting T’Challa earlier).  Even if you enjoy such battles in your movies, the tonal shift in the film to get there was so jarring it felt like it came from a whole different movie.  It was like watching a baseball manager bring in his worst relief pitcher when the starter was throwing a shutout.

Despite the uninspiring climax and dull (second) villain, the rest of the movie was so strong that I would still rank it in the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Panther being the eighteenth film in the franchise).  I’m very interested to see where they go from here with Wakanda, their technology, and Tony Stark realizing he isn’t the smartest person on the planet.  I can’t wait to see how Okoye plays into the larger picture and no actor is more satisfying to watch than Boseman as Black Panther.  In other words, Black Panther is well worth watching and a great final lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War.  Mmmm…pie?

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless that pie ruined your shirt.