Thursday, September 13, 2018

“The Predator” - Flipping stupid.

Eight years ago, I was only a fledgling movie critic.  At that time, I did not have press credentials, I was not part of the Denver Film Critic Society, and I was mostly writing as part of a podcast I co-hosted about reality TV shows (long story).  I was also not yet attending advanced screenings, which means I paid actual money to see 2010’s Predators.  After rereading that review, there are two things that I was very wrong about.  The first was declaring the Predator and Alien franchises dead.  The second was declaring I would never watch another movie featuring either creature again.  Granted, I gave myself an out by starting the declaration with “I’ll probably forget (conveniently) what I’m about to say…” and I definitely forgot.  Since putting my foot in my mouth, I have seen Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, and now The Predator.  I stand by the rest of that review though.  Predators was a shitty movie that should have been the end of the franchise.  Instead, Shane Black (with a writing assist from Ted Dekker) made The Predator thinking “no, this should be the end of the franchise.”

The first mistake made by everyone involved in the making of The Predator was thinking that the best way to revive a franchise - that is really only a franchise due to technicalities - was to double-down on the insipid idea of a mysterious government agency that knows all about the predator species.  Then, they all got drunk with Michael Bay and, the next thing they knew, they had already filmed a bunch of scenes with a ten-foot predator whose skin transforms into armor plating.  Finally, after the most epic game of flip-cup since the great Delta-Rho-Gamma tournament of 1993, they collectively thought “hey - remember how everyone loved the first Predator because it featured peak Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting the most wicked and lethal alien this side of a xenomorph?  What if we did the opposite of that?”

I AM THE KING OF FLIP-CUP!!!!

(SPOILER ALERT - flip-cup is a really fast way to get drunk.  Sorry to ruin the surprise.)

Holbrook plays Quinn McKenna, an Army Ranger sniper who is nearly squished by a crashing spaceship’s escape pod in Mexico during a mission.  And you thought this movie was going to be ridiculous.  Anyway, he manages to defeat the predator in battle using the predator’s own bracer, grabs the predator’s mask, and escapes into the jungle to avoid capture by the Mexicans.  Upon reaching a town, he mails the hardware home, then returns to his command for a debriefing.  Unfortunately, the mysterious agents, led by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), have Quinn designated as a lunatic and throw him on a bus with other soldiers marked as lunatics (that are inexplicably at this same secret facility that Quinn is transferred to).  Meanwhile, Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is called in to examine the captured predator.  All hell breaks loose - and by hell, I mean the predator - and Dr. Bracket and the loonies escape the carnage.  Mean-meanwhile (or is it meanwhile-while), the super predator lands on Earth to hunt down regular predator.  You still with me?  Here is where it gets stupid.  Also, take a drink.

Still smarting from their flip-cup loss, Black and Dekker came up with the greatest idea - take another shot of absinthe and start a line of power tools.  When someone pointed out copyright laws, they came up with a different really bad idea and retconned the motivations of the entire predator species.  Remember how the predators would rip the spines out of their prey like a trophy?  Right.  Awesome.  I know.  But, they were not actually collecting trophies.  They were collecting spinal fluid of formidable foes and genetically modifying themselves with that fluid to make themselves more awesome.  Right.  Not awesome.  I know.  Now drink.

Bwaaaa?

To make matters worse, after dispatching with regular predator, super predator warns everyone holding a gun that he is going to give them all a head start before he murders them all and collects young, autistic Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay) for his spinal fluid.  You read that correctly.  Young Rory was tinkering with the predator technology Quinn mailed home and quickly deciphered pretty much everything about the technology, while also triggering something that allowed the super predator to track down the gear.  Not knowing that Hollywood loves exploiting stereotypical autistic abilities, the super predator decides he simply must have Rory’s pattern-recognizing ability.  Forget about the fact that the predator race has solved faster-than-light travel, invented cloaking devices, and have helmets that allow them to see a huge range of the electromagnetic spectrum.  This kid is the key to finally being able to solve what humans call a Rubik’s Cube, a device that has bedeviled the predator race since first landing on Earth in the late 1970s.

The last piece of this shit pie is that regular predator was travelling to Earth to deliver a technology that would help the humans fight the predator race.  Wait, what?  Why!?  Climate change?  The predator cares about climate change?  Or the human race?  No.  NO!  At one point, agent Traegar explains that the predators are causing climate change to eliminate the human race and heat up the planet so they can move in.  And you thought I was kidding that the filmmakers all got drunk with Michael Bay.

Goddamn climate change deniers.

The craziest thing about The Predator is that the audience clapped at the end of the screening despite nearly everything about the film being objectively terrible and the film coming just short of being a parody of a Predator film.  I could not tell if it was ironic clapping because they were sad or honest clapping because they thought it was that good.  If it was honest, happy clapping, anyone who still makes movies for artistic or serious reasons should quit now.  You have lost.  If it was ironic clapping, it is because they all remember the original Predator and were dying inside after witnessing a tragedy.  The best explanation I have is because the film was stuffed with comedy and maybe they were just happy to hear such lines as:

“He kills people so you can be a mailman.” - Rory explaining to a mailman what his dad does.

“You are one beautiful mother fucker.” - Dr. Bracket paying homage to the original Predator while looking the captured predator over.

“If you don’t stop with this bible shit, I’m going to set you on fire.” - Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) to fellow lunatic soldier.

If it was not those quotes or the ample amounts of blood and death, then they all must have had dinner with Michael Bay prior to the screening.  I hear he is a flip-cup master.

Rating: Ask for $58 back and we will see if I remember not to watch the inevitable next Predator film.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

“The Nun” - Holy shit. (Their words, but who am I to argue?).

My first grade teacher was Sister Julianna.  No last name - she was married to God and God does not have a last name.  Like Prince.  Which is kind of ironic when you think about how weird some religious dudes get about their new wives taking their last names.  What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Sister Julianna was a catholic nun and I attended catholic school through third grade.  One day, she called my parents to report that I had been disruptive in class.  It is quite possible that I was disruptive on other days as well, but I doubt that, because a catholic school teacher/nun was not going to sit on multiple offenses in 1985.  By then, beating disruptive children with yardsticks or paddles was no longer acceptable, even in a faith not exactly known for restraining violent punishments, so ratting out unruly children for even slight offenses was the only relief outlet for wildly underpaid and cloistered women charged with babysitting hyperactive six-year olds all day-week-month-year.

This happened within shouting distance of Halloween, so my dad decided that if the church, erm…school, could not get medieval on my ass to teach me a lesson, he would.  We are not talking corporal punishment here.  No, my dad went far more devious with this particular sentence.  With my Halloween costume already purchased (I was going to be a Transformer), he grounded me from trick-or-treating.  Short of setting Christmas presents on fire or forcing a child to become an altar boy, there is no worse punishment for a first grader.  We could get into the various first, second, and third order consequences of dad’s decision, but that discussion is for a therapy session, not a movie review.  I suppose there is some poetry in taking away the one night a year synonymous with Satan for misbehaving in catholic school.  And, I did learn my lesson.  That lesson being if you’re going to fuck around in class (or at all), wait until after Halloween or be less obvious when you do it.  And, definitely don’t have a catholic nun as a teacher.

Recite fifteen Hail Marys and twenty Our Fathers and maybe you can trick-or-treat next Halloween.

(Side note: If you think that was the last time I ever got busted for being disruptive in class, here is an example of how well I learned the lesson my dad was trying to teach.  As a high school freshman, I once had an angry math teacher dare several of us to take an exam because we were chatting during a review for that exam.  I took her up on the offer.  Now you know part of why my reviews sound the way they do.)

The point of the story is that I am a recovering catholic whose inner six-year old has a bit of a soft spot for movies that poke some fun at catholic mythology.  Demons, relics, holy warriors, exorcisms, flaming swords - there is no better fantasy source from which to draw.  The Nun is the latest film to delve into the millennia-long holy war between heaven’s and hell’s warriors and is about what you would expect.  There is a twist though.  The Nun is part of The Conjuring series, acting as an origin story for real-life, self-proclaimed demonologist (and alleged fraud) Lorraine Warren.  Luckily, even the staunchest of Warren fans should recognize this film as Season of the Witch-level nonsense.

The set-up is that a demon has been imprisoned in the floor of a Romanian abbey and the only thing keeping it trapped there are a bunch of cloistered nuns who take turns praying 24/7.  The film opens with the only two remaining nuns standing at a door inscribed with “God ends here” in Latin, so of course they immediately start praying.  The two are searching for a holy relic that will reseal a crack in the floor caused by errant WWII bombs.  Nun One opens the door and scary-movie cliches occur.  Just before a bloodied Nun One is dragged back into the no-God room, she hands Nun Two a special key and says “you know what you must do,” that being commit suicide by hanging because the demon needs a human body to possess.  Nevermind that Nun One is in fact a human body, a mortal sin must be committed to prevent the demon from escaping.  Some days later, a French-Canadian delivery man who is non-ironically called Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) throughout the film discovers the hanged body.  After the Vatican is notified, they send Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and nun-in-training Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate, despite knowing full-well what demon is at the abbey and that it took several knights and some drops of Jesus Christ’s blood to imprison the demon the last time.  Rereading this paragraph really makes six-year-old me smile.

A priest, a nun, and a Canadian walk into a bar...

Other things that made me smile while watching this film mostly had to do with the audience reactions.  Horror films and comedies are usually my favorite screenings because I get a real-time look at how the rest of the audience is taking in the film (action films are typically way too loud to hear anything quieter than a jet engine, let alone audience members).  I know everyone is on the same page when everyone is reacting similarly and simultaneously throughout the film.  For me, the best part of the movie was when Father Burke started following a small bell being dragged across the floor as if he were a mouse following cheese.  That scene in and of itself was ridiculous enough to merit derisive laughter (and it did), but an audience member called out “Nope” during the scene and the entire audience burst out laughing.

The other great moment of shared audience joy was when the on-screen trio finds the relic and the following exchange occurs between Frenchie and Father Burke.

Burke: “This relic contains the blood of Christ.”

Frenchie: “Jesus Christ?!  Holy shit!”

Burke: “The holiest.”

Did Father Burke just refer to Jesus Christ’s blood as holy shit?  *Rereading*  Yes.  Yes he did and my six-year old self was smirking and nodding.

THE HO-O-O-O-LIEST!

I have to give kudos to that bit of dialogue for being hilarious and then recalling those kudos because this movie took itself pretty seriously and the comedic relief was really out of place.  Not as out of place as many other horror flicks, but still enough to realize how hopelessly out of his league was director Corin Hardy (directing his second feature film).

As much as I enjoyed the B-movie-ness of this film, it was impossible not to notice how inept some of the components of the film were, especially the writing.  I cannot nail the film too much for including every standard horror cliche, but I can for the film having no idea how to wield those cliches.  There were moments that could be considered creepy, though all were neutralized by their predictability.  We were told early on that the demon disguised itself as nun in order to stalk the halls of the abbey, so there was never a surprise when a mysterious nun or the demon nun would suddenly appear or disappear.  Symbols could be found scattered throughout the film, but were used as if the set designers added them there because they looked creepy, not because a writer understood even the basic meaning behind them (for example, an Ouroboros is seen on multiple occasions and means nothing in this film).  The story never gives the demon a goal or motivation beyond “I’m a demon” and never bothers to explain why the nuns did not know where the relic was (despite it being a known thing literally kept within the abbey).  It gives the barest minimum explanation for why Irene and Burke are specifically chosen for this mission, and then only to be used as the deus ex machina because the cloistered nuns forgot where they put their holy hand grenade.

Anyone know where I left my Christ bubble?

If you were paying attention, you might be asking how this is an origin story for Lorraine Warren when the main character is named Irene.  The Nun is set nineteen years before The Conjuring, both women have visions, and Lorraine is played by Taissa’s older sister (by twenty-one years) Vera.  Clearly, they are the same woman and this was an inexplicably unnoticed gaffe.  Fortunately, we are talking about a film featuring a shotgun-wielding French-Canadian battling a demon nun in Romania, so Irene-Lorraine; potato-pot-ah-to.

The Nun is not a terrible movie as horror movies go and it does earn points for spending a lot of running time actually showing us the demon nun.  While the exposition in the film runs on the really heavy (and often irrelevant) side, it at least forms a straight line when you lay it out.  But it is a horror movie that provides little in the way of horror thrills and is evidence that the Conjuring series is well past taking its original characters seriously.  If there is anything I took away from this film it is that sometimes talking during something serious can be a good thing.  Please dad, just put the lighter down.

Rating: Ask for twelve dollars back unless you still have not learned your lesson.

Monday, September 3, 2018

“Kin” - I cannot explain myself.

Do you know what the best Labor Day weekend box office (U.S. only) result is for any movie since 1982?  Take a guess.  Lower.  No, lower.  $30.5 million.  Now, try to guess what movie earned that number.*  You know what - forget that.  Try to name any movie that opened on Labor Day weekend in your lifetime.  Right - nothing.  Mid-August through the end of October is hot-garbage time at the theater.  Occasionally, we will get a sleeper-hit like It in September or the random horror movie that everyone flocks to like SawKin is the latest film to test the Labor Day waters and it should have just gone fishing with its dad rather than try to entertain people.

*Halloween (2007).  The fourth best opener was One Direction: This is Us and I am now very sad.

For reasons that refuse to reveal themselves to me, I kind of liked Kin.  It is not a very good movie.  I can explain why it is not a good movie (wait for it).  I have been wracking my brain for three days to tease out whatever it is about this film that tickled my brain in a positive manner.  Nothing.  Now, I am just hoping that writing words, sentences, and paragraphs for a while will unlock the secret.  So, here is why my friend did not like Kin.

Don't look at me.  I don't know either.

(SPOILER ALERT.  This movie contains only slightly more science fiction than a romantic comedy, so I am going to talk about it.)

The movie poster is pretty cool, depicting a teenager holding a futuristic gun, two seeming aliens of some kind, and a unique font for the movie title.  On the surface, it reminds me a lot of Terminator.  Based on this, my friend and I were both expecting a good sci-fi romp.  What both of us failed to notice on the poster is the tagline that is somewhat hidden in a beam of light coming from overhead.  It reads “No force is stronger than family.”  Don’t mind me…that sound you hear is just me dry-heaving.

The family taking up the vast majority of the film is Elijah Solinski (Myles Truitt), his father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), and brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor).  Hal is a blue-collar working man who spouts tired cliches to excuse being a lousy father.  “I’m hard on you because I love you” or “I’m just trying to do the best I can.”  Fathers who say these things out loud are saying them to convince themselves of it, and their kids know it.  Elijah certainly does.  Then, there is Jimmy, just returned home from spending six years in prison for theft.  Hal has begrudgingly agreed to let Jimmy live at home until Jimmy gets a job, but when Jimmy asks Hal to help him get a job at Hal’s construction site, Hal refuses because he cannot vouch for Jimmy.  There is no mom in this family because she died sometime in the past and we have now completed the tropiest of movie families.

Mopey, Tropey, and Dopey, but at least Mopey is worth rooting for.

While out scrounging for scrap metal to sell, Elijah finds a bunch of dead soldiers in strange armor and the afore-mentioned gun.  A strange noise scares Elijah off, but he returns later to recover the gun and finds that the bodies are gone.  A short time later, two more soldiers turn up, scan the area, discover the gun missing, and begin hunting Elijah.  Meanwhile, Jimmy owes sixty-thousand dollars to Taylor Balik (James Franco), a crime lord who charged Jimmy for protection while Jimmy was in prison.  Taylor wants his money, so Jimmy offers up Hal’s office safe (at the work site), which inexplicably has that much cash in it.  The robbery goes wrong, Hal is (very) predictably murdered, and Jimmy bolts with Elijah in tow.

The rest of the film is a chase movie and you have seen it before, but done far better in other movies.  Logan.  Terminator (1 or 2).  Dogma.  Heck, even I am Number Four.  Kin tries to convince us of some brotherly love connection blossoming as Jimmy drags Elijah to seedy motels, casinos, and a strip club for some reason.  Granted, the strip club is only rated PG-13 (apparently, tops and bottoms are mandatory), but even stripper Milly (Zoe Kravitz) calls out Jimmy for bringing a fourteen-year old into what is clearly a discount, clothed-titty bar.

She is very wise.  Relatively speaking, of course.

Eventually, everything comes to a head in a massive shootout at a police station, ala Terminator, but trite.  Yet, despite the movie doing everything it could to make the audience want to leave early, I never found myself losing interest.  Was some part of me wondering if Milly was going to make Elijah a man?  Was I holding out hope that the space soldiers were going to slaughter everybody?  Was I expecting Elijah’s gun to be more than just a gun?  None of those things came to fruition and, still, no hate from me.

Generic characters, a rambling and drunk plot, and as little science fiction as possible doomed this movie for my friend.  I still do not know why I am giving this movie a shrug and a pass, because, by all rights, I should not have.  The plot line is every young-adult book or movie ever made.  A young kid finds out he or she is special and has to avoid being murdered while learning whatever skill it is that makes him or her special and I just dry-heaved a little more.  Harry Potter, Beautiful Creatures, Divergent, I am Number Four, Jumper.  I am sure you can name more.  The important thing to remember is that if you are going to go fishing, you are not missing anything by doing it over Labor Day weekend.  Probably.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back because you are not me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Operation Finale" - Operation Finale

Operation Finale is the story of how a team of Israeli Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the top Nazi SS officers and main organizers of the Holocaust.  Eichmann was discovered living in Argentina under a false identity, captured in 1960 and taken to Israel, where he was tried for war crimes (among other things) and executed by hanging.  Depending on how much of a history buff you are, this may be a spoiler.  Fortunately, the statute of limitations has expired on spoilers for fifty-year old stories.

While I did not know this story going into the film, it was a safe assumption that the film would end with Eichmann’s capture (an assumption I made three seconds after the characters were assigned the mission).  Knowing that, I would still recommend you watch Operation Finale because we currently live in 2018 where there are still large numbers of human garbage that will watch this film rooting for Eichmann.

If we lived in a normal world where all of our politicians and electorate still openly condemned Nazism (rather than the half that continue to sit silently as these fascist shit stains are openly supported by our President), I would tell you to skip this movie unless you are a massive history nerd who cannot get enough Ken Burns.  From the little bit of research I did after viewing Operation Finale, the actual capture of Eichmann is almost comically uninteresting.  The Israelis follow Eichmann for a while to make sure he really is Eichmann, snatch him after he gets off a bus at the end of his work day, then take him to Israel.  It could not be less eventful, and it shows in the way the screenplay tries to insert drama and suspense into the film.  It could very well be that the movie is faithful with the drama and suspense (I have not read Eichmann in My Hands by Peter Malkin), but it feels manufactured for movie reasons.  In fact, the most interesting part of the entire story might be the trial of Eichmann itself, but the film only spends a couple of minutes on it at the end.

Being a big history nerd myself, I was never bored by the movie, but I could not help noticing how inferior it was to a movie like Munich.  Munich is another film about Mossad agents tracking down enemies of Israel (Palestinian terrorists who kidnapped Israeli Olympians), but Munich does not shy away from the ruthlessness these agents sometimes operate with.  Conversely, Operation Finale depicts its Mossad agents as if all of the agents are rookies who needed multiple tries to pass the test.  They bumble one thing after another, perform surveillance as if they believe they are invisible, and overlook basic operational security principles like not paying their informants or in-country aides.  Perhaps the most unbelievable part is when their arranged airline delays the exfiltration flight because they want a signed letter from Eichmann confirming he is Eichmann.  This, despite the lead agent informing us that nobody knows what Eichmann’s signature looks like so they cannot forge it.  If nobody knows what it looks like, why would the airline demand it and how would they know if it was faked?  This becomes the MacGuffin and drives a relationship that develops between Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Eichmann (Ben Kingsley).  The movie is hoping this relationship distracts you from the fact that the signature is one of the more absurd MacGuffins you will ever see in film.

However, the relationship exposes a handful of takeaways that relate to current events.  One is how Eichmann is adamant that he was just following orders when he came up with more efficient ways to exterminate the Jews during the Holocaust.  Nevermind the fact that he joined the Nazi party and SS in 1932 voluntarily.  Nevermind that he headed the department responsible for Jewish affairs through the end of World War II.  Nevermind that he could have chosen to defect or leave the country and go into hiding or disobey those orders at any time.  We heard this same bullshit excuse coming from the Department of Homeland Security and ICE when they were indiscriminately deporting immigrants (many of them legal immigrants) and separating children of asylum seekers from their families and locking them up in cages because those were there orders.  It is not hyperbole to point out how the current treatment of immigrants by the White House administration and most Republican congressmen is very similar to the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

Another takeaway is how Argentina turned a blind eye to the Nazi war criminals hiding there and the rising number of Nazi sympathizers gathering together.  The film depicts the Argentinian police as working with Nazi groups and being led by Nazis to track down the Jewish agents in broad daylight.  While we are not quite that far here, we have high-ranking White House officials who have made no secret of their anti-Semitism and hatred of non-white people.  I know this is a movie review, but if we do not pay attention to movies like this trying to tell us something, I may not be able to write reviews in the future.

Given that it is the end of August, you probably are not paying attention to new movie releases.  Ordinarily, a movie starring Kingsley and Isaac (with shout-outs to Nick Kroll, Melanie Laurent, and Haley Lu Richardson) is the kind of movie that opens closer to award season and draws critical attention, but it is opening in August for a reason.  It is the kind of movie that history fans will find some interest in, but casual fans will not because the story just is not very compelling.  The best I can tell you is that it kept my interest for reasons that had little to do with movies, a lot to do with history, and a bit to do with the sad state of current affairs.

Rating: Ask for six dollars back and always pay attention to history, or you’ll be doomed to repeat it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

“Mile 22” - Just brutal.

As I have been thinking about what to say about Mile 22, I spent some time perusing other reviews to see what other critics have been saying.  Of note, the early-review embargo for Mile 22 was not lifted until Thursday, so pickings were slim.  The initial consensus was that the movie is a brutal action flick with far too much action and that director Peter Berg edited the film - especially the action scenes - like a rabid chipmunk on crack.  Also, that the film is a species of shit.  While I agree with most of those sentiments, too much action?  That is like complaining that a comedy has too many jokes or a porno has too much sex.  This is not a problem.

The one thing those reviews barely mention (if at all) is that you have seen this movie before.  Many times.  The main plot is that a team of secret agents has a limited amount of time to escort an informant from point A to point B while a whole lot of people try to kill them.  S.W.A.T., Babylon A.D., Safe House, you get the idea.  There are plenty of others, but those three are the same level of quality of Mile 22.  That *ahem* quality appears in the title - the distance between said point A and point B, but with bad grammar.  Given how microscopically thin the characters and story are, that title makes perfect sense.

No fight scenes?  You know I am Ronda Rousey, right?

James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) leads a team of paramilitary agents that are so secret and lethal, they are only called upon when diplomacy and the military failed.  No, seriously, he tells us this, describing their operation (codenamed Overwatch) as option three.  On the surface, this statement makes no sense whatsoever, but when you think about it for a minute, you get a headache.  The film opens with Silva and team raiding a Russian FSB safe house and displaying why Silva and team are option three instead of option one or two.  Using technology from a galaxy far, far away to peer through walls and locate five people in the house, they herd them into a sitting room where the team does not tie up the Russian spies and while one team member rummages through hard drives.  Due to action movie cliche requirements, their magical x-ray drones miss a sixth person in the house and all hell breaks loose, ending with six dead Russians, one dead agent, and an exploded house.  Silva is right - rolling a tank through the house was probably a better idea, but someone decided to skip straight to option three instead.

I have the hard drive you guys need because you are bad at your jobs.

Months later, in a country in southeast Asia that is not important enough to named by the film, the team is tracking down a supply of cesium.  In case you do not know what cesium is, you will after Silva berates a team member with every scary cesium fact he knows because that team member has not cracked the uncrackable encryption of a hard drive in the five minutes since the last time he yelled at her.  Speaking of which, Silva is an asshole.  We are supposed to be forgiving of his assholiness because he is on the autism spectrum (implied) and had a rough childhood.  In what passes for a backstory for Silva, we find out his mind works faster than everybody else’s, he is prone to violent outbursts, and his parents died in an accident when he was twelve, so of course he became a Jason Bourne type agent.  The problem is that when he is not shooting bad guys, he is obnoxiously snapping a large yellow rubber band on his wrist (we are told this is to keep his emotions in check, which means he would otherwise be murdering everyone in Overwatch without it) while monologuing in the worst case of diarrhea-of-the-mouth outside of a certain president’s Twitter feed.

The problem with Silva’s backstory is that none of his traits are useful, including his so-called super fast mind.  All it actually does is tell us why he was recruited as an agent, which does not matter to the movie or to the audience.  But, at least he got a backstory.  With the exception of agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and the informant, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), not a single character is more than a trope, and Alice and Li only barely.  There is a computer guy, a computer girl, another computer guy and another computer girl, a boss, another boss, three team members who probably had first names, and John Malkovich playing John Malkovich with a buzz cut.

Cool 'do.

I get it though.  This is an action movie, so let me tell you a bit about the action.  Those other critics are not wrong about the insane number of cuts shredding the visuals.  But, that did not bother me.  That is how most movies are these days and we are used to it.  Do not get me wrong - I wish it would stop so we could actually see all of the choreography in the scenes.  From what I could see, Iko Uwais appears to be an amazing martial artist kicking the ass of everyone near him.  Also from what I could see, he grabs a guy by the head and rakes that guy’s neck back and forth over the broken glass of car door’s window frame.  Cut away!  Cut away!

In short, the film is a brutal action flick with nothing more to say than scary words like ouroboros and radioactive.  The film fails in almost every way possible, including casting Ronda Rousey and not giving her a single fight scene (not kidding even a little bit).  There is a good moment or two, especially an unexpected twist at the end, but you may be so numb from the brutal violence and Silva’s brutal dialogue to notice or care.  It is too bad there was not an option four.

Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back and remember to snap that rubber band rather than the alternative.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

“The Meg” - I’m meltiiiiinnnnngggg.

Am I a bad parent for taking my six year-old to see The Meg?  Maybe.  In my defense, he really, REALLY wanted to see it.  I am not saying it is a good defense, just a defense that is slightly more effective than that of the Cleveland Browns.  Hi Clevelanders.  At some point, every parent decides when to let their kids watch their first scary movie and I decided to let my kid watch Jaws months ago.  And Jurassic Park (and all the sequels) a few weeks ago.  So, when my son saw a preview for The Meg after watching videos on YouTube Kids featuring fake Megalodons (eighty-foot, prehistoric sharks), the only real decision was choosing between coke and cherry for our flavor of Icee.

(Note: Coke is the correct answer.)

Writing a full review of The Meg is far more than it deserves.  There is a reason why nobody reviews SyFy channel monster flicks.  Those films are stupid on purpose and made on a budget little more than a high school kid’s allowance.  And good for SyFy.  Obviously, people watch these *ahem* films and enjoy them, so you do you, SyFy (though I am still mad at you for giving up on the excellent The Expanse which, thankfully, Amazon snatched up to continue producing).  The Meg is absolutely the same quality as those shitty monster flicks, but is getting a full review because a bunch of film studio executives bet $150 million dollars that those same fans will show up to the theaters in droves and that a billion people in China are willing to set their money on fire.  It really is a shame that the idiotic tariffs imposed by our idiotic White House administration did not prevent this film from showing in any theaters.

This is the high-water mark of special effects in this film.

Alas, it will show in theaters and we had the unfortunate opportunity to view it in an Imax.  Imax - where it is not just mind-blowing visuals and earth-shattering sound (their words, not mine), but where stupid is amplified to brain-melting levels (my words, but you know they are thinking it).  I was prepared to accept some Deep Core levels of bullshit in this film, but I was not prepared for “the ocean floor is actually a cloud.”  Yeahhhhhh.  You can hear your brain draining into your throat now, can’t you?

(SPOILERS ahead, which is exactly what this film deserves.)

Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has funded a billion-dollar, underwater research facility.  The scientists employed by Morris hypothesized the cloud-floor idea and have decided to send a submersible with three people to test the theory by diving through the ocean floor rather than sending a probe or something first.  You know – just in case the floor really is a floor.  And that was the best depiction of science in this movie.

I signed up for deep-sea clouds?

Once through the cloud, the explorers discover a full-blown ecosystem of life.  Twenty seconds later, the submersible is attacked and crippled by a Megalodon.  Trapped on the real ocean floor (which is inexplicably only a couple of hundred feet below the cloud) the explorers have twelve hours or so to live.  On the station, Mac (Cliff Curtis) and Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) decide to bring in the best deep-sea rescuer they know, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham).  Yes, that Jason Statham and he is no Ian Ziering.  Also, Statham never gets in a kick fight with the Meg, which is arguably the most disappointing thing about this movie.

Jonas quickly hops into another sub and, racing Dr. Zhang’s daughter, Suyin (Li Bingbing), reaches the crippled sub.  And is attacked by the Meg.  But not before Suyin is attacked by a giant squid.  Oh man, if this movie had been the Meg versus the Squid versus the Statham, I would have had so much more fun.  What was I saying?

We did not even get a chance to know you.

Science.  That is what this movie is really about.  Using smart-words to make the bullshit they are slinging sound slightly less plausible than the nonsense spewed by Flat-Earthers.  An absurd amount of time is spent trying to explain everything we are seeing in a movie featuring giant mythical creatures trying to eat people, including that the reason the Meg stayed below the cloud was because the cloud was cold.  We do not care and, holy crap, that might be the dumbest possible explanation short of the Meg being cross-eyed.  Update - the Meg is not cross-eyed.  Bring on the blood bath.  Wait, you are right - my son is there.  Bring on the not-too-much-blood bath.

After the Meg discovers the permeability of clouds, it races to the surface of the ocean and does not immediately die of the bends.  Also, neither do any humans.  The Meg starts destroying boats, as sharks do, so the humans decide the best course of action is to jump on a boat and chase it.  This chase goes on until the end of the film, as well as through the most crowded beach and waterfront you will ever see (imagine seven thousand people in inner tubes, all touching) until Statham slashes the Meg in the stomach with his submarine, then pokes the Meg in the eye.

Like that game where you try to fit as many Skittles in your mouth as possible.

As terrible as this movie was, I was primarily concerned with keeping an eye on my son rather than my eye on the screen.  Had we been in a non-Earth-shattering-sound theater, I would have been less concerned, but my son spent age four and five covering his ears around toilets that flushed loudly.  Like most six-year olds, he hates loud sounds (except the ones coming from his own mouth - what is that about, anyway?) and scares easy.  I asked how he was doing at every worrisome moment in the film (there were maybe five) and I was prepared to walk out of the theater if he gave me a thumbs down.  In short, we saw the whole film and I am definitely more scarred from it than he.  Now I just need to scoop up the rest of my grey matter before I get the bends. 

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back because you already set it on fire.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

“Christopher Robin” - Rufio-o-o-o-o!

If I saw a kid carrying a bunch of stuffed animals and those stuffed animals were talking, I might raise an eyebrow as I walked by.  It is 2018 - a talking toy of any sort is commonplace.  However, if it were 1948, I might follow the kid home, then find a priest to exorcise the demons.  The unanswered question of Christopher Robin is why everyone in late 1940s London who sees a bunch of talking, moving stuffies come to grips with possessed toys in under ten seconds.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Christopher Robin is Hook on antidepressants.  That is not to say Christopher Robin is a sad, disappointing, or depressing movie.  It is actually a very good movie that will make you smile.  It is just that Hook featured Robin Williams acting like child in a movie that oozes 1991.  Where Hook is a manic, neon, skateboarding fever dream, Christopher Robin is a quiet afternoon, curled up on a couch with your favorite book.

The parallels between the two films do not stop at classic childhood-storybooks-turned-movies.  Somehow, five different writers are credited with this film (not including A.A. Milne or Ernest Shepard - the original creators of Winnie the Pooh) and all they did was tweak the plot of Hook and swap Pooh and friends in for Peter Pan and friends.  Five. Writers.  In Christopher Robin, Christopher is all grown up, has an upper-middle class job that sucks up all of his time, to the detriment of his family.  Christopher is then drawn back into the fantasy land of his childhood, where his friends do not recognize him, until he learns how to have fun again.  Eventually, he realizes how much he loves his family and everyone lives happily ever after.  The only thing missing to complete the mirroring is Julia Roberts flitting about, trying to break up Christopher’s marriage.

There was definitely not a scene in Hook where a character played with Peter's face to find the real Peter.

Yet, despite knowing full well that it would be Christopher Pan due to the previews spoiling every bit of the movie, I found myself enjoying the film.  A lot.  And that is not just because my six-year old son loved the movie.  The child in me that still loves playing with Legos (again, not just because of my son) took over my body for an hour and forty-four minutes and made me a kid again.  A kid with sometimes-achy knees, but a kid nonetheless.

Aside from loving Winnie the Pooh when I was a kid, this movie charmed me because Ewan McGregor was the perfect casting choice to play Christopher Robin.  In addition to simply being a great actor, McGregor has a smile best described as unbridled joy.  Early in the film, his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) points out that he has neither smiled nor laughed in years, which is a huge loss when you live in a city as joyless and dreary as post-WWII London.

What a Bergen looks like after eating trolls.

Of course, my son would say the best part of the movie were the animals and his opinion of this movie is more important than mine.  His favorite was Eeyore because Eeyore has a funny voice.  Eeyore is also most of the comic relief in this film, though most of the jokes fly right over the heads of six-year olds.  My son also laughed at the slapstick comedy, particularly when Pooh falls down the stairs.  I am okay with this until he pushes someone down the stairs…so just make sure you always let him lead if you come to my house.

There is still the open question of the anthropomorphic stuffed animals that everyone can see, when it was thought that they were purely constructs of Christopher Robin’s childhood fantasies.  Pooh and friends are not just figments of Christopher’s imagination.  They are not just his subconscious projecting onto inanimate objects to break his mind free of this grown-up rut.  They literally walk around in London and Sussex and introduce themselves to Evelyn and Christopher’s daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).  Christopher literally takes his family to the Hundred-Acre Wood.  Eeyore and Tigger scare the hell out of a cab driver, a cop, and food stand proprietor.  In the wise words of Winston Zeddemore, “These things are REAL.”

"I have seen shit that will turn you white!"

I am really not trying to nitpick, but I want to know why the movie makes it seem like honey spilled on a drawing of Christopher and Pooh is what brought Pooh back.  That scene indicated that it took Christopher remembering Pooh to bring Pooh back into reality (Pooh is shown waking up in his tree home when the honey spills), yet the animals just decide to enter real life and talk to Madeline when they feel like it, no Christopher required.  Luckily, child-Kevin was still in charge of my body and brain, so none of this made the movie any less fun for me.

And that is the point.  Despite being very much a remake of Hook with a watered-down color palette and excellent motion-capture animation, Christopher Robin makes you remember why you liked Hook so much in the first place.  It reminds you of being a kid and allows you to forget about the bullshit of life for a while.  It is a relatable movie for both kids and adults, much of which is due to it staying very grounded in England rather than the acid trip that is Never Never Land.  Admit it - even as a kid, it was absurd to watch a kid dunk a basketball while riding a skateboard in a half-pipe.  Then again, Christopher Robin features Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet being catapulted from a speeding trunk onto the windshield of Christopher’s speeding car and the kid in me approves.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back because your childhood memories are worth it.