Friday, August 26, 2016

“Don’t Breathe” – Happy Thanksgiving

That tagline will make sense later, but for now let’s talk about the latest horror flick to cross the silver screen – Don’t Breathe. Also, this is the earliest SPOILER alert you will ever get from me.

The premise is simple – three young burglars pick the wrong house to rob. The plot is also simple – will the burglars survive the night in the house or will the blind, Iraq-war veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives there kill them all? It’s your standard slasher, cabin-in-the-woods flick with very morally ambiguous characters. The real question you will have is who to root for? On one hand, the burglars deserve what’s coming to them. It takes a special kind of asshole to rob a blind war veteran, especially, a blind war veteran whose daughter was killed in a car accident. And, yes, the burglars know all of this information prior to the burglary because their goal is to steal the settlement money the man got from the family of the girl that killed his daughter. On the other hand, the movie will reveal some very disturbing things about the Blind Man (I’d love to tell you the Blind Man’s name, but it is never given, his character is literally listed as The Blind Man in the credits) that will make you think twice about rooting for him. In other words, flip a coin.

There's a turkey baster in your future.

Of course, that coin is weighted. Of the three burglars, only one of them truly deserves death – Money (Daniel Zovatto). Yes, that’s his real name and the first glimpse we get of him is during an earlier robbery in which he is breaking things for no reason and pissing all over the kitchen. He comes by his assholery honestly and is purely in this for the money. Conversely, Rocky (Jane Levy) is just trying to score enough money so she can take her young sister to California to escape her dead-beat mother. She’s the easiest one to root for as our third burglar, Alex (Dylan Minnette), doesn’t seem to have a motivation at all. His dad works for a home security company and they seem to be doing just fine, especially considering this is happening in Detroit. Alex uses his dad’s access (in the form of passwords, remotes, and keys) to target and rob homes that use said security service. The best motivation I can come up with for Alex is an apparent crush on Rocky (whose boyfriend is Money), but that’s a pretty thin reason to commit larceny. He’s also the brains of the outfit, constantly reminding the crew what they should and shouldn’t do in order to avoid felony charges should they be caught. He even warns them against robbing the blind man, initially refusing outright, and then ditching them during the penultimate robbery when Money brandishes a gun. Plus, he’s also cautioning them that he doesn’t want to get his dad in trouble, which begs the earlier question – what the hell is Alex even doing this for?

Dick move, bro.

As a standard slasher flick, the movie is pretty tight, but not without flaws. They avoid several of the standard horror movie clich├ęs, but not all of them. A great example is the lack of a double-tap. At one point, Alex clocks the Blind Man in the head with a hammer, twice, then handcuffs him in the basement. The problem is that the Blind Man regains consciousness extremely quickly and even holds a conversation with the remaining burglars before they attempt their next escape. The obvious fix for this is to just leave the Blind Man unconscious because, either way, we know he’s not done. It’s just more believable my way.

If there’s one major flaw with the movie, it’s in the unevenness of the directing. Parts of the movie are masterfully done to create great levels of tension and misdirection while other parts come off like an elementary school play. There are unnecessary zoom-ins on props and set pieces that scream “this will come into play later,” robbing the viewer of any kind of satisfaction of recognizing those things without prompting. There is the terribly misused “let’s show the viewer something at the beginning of the movie that actually happens much later” technique that serves no purpose other than to tell the viewer that a character is going to make it at least until you see that scene again, thus destroying the viewer’s belief that said character might die at any moment. Finally, there are lots of plot elements that you have to just live with if you want a chance to enjoy the movie. (Again – SPOILER ALERT) Don’t ask how a blind man managed to kidnap the girl who killed his daughter. Don’t ask why the Blind Man is the only resident in an entire neighborhood filled with abandoned, dilapidated homes (his home is just fine). Don’t ask why the Blind Man’s senses seem to come and go as the plot requires (he can smell stinky shoes, but not stinky feet. He doesn’t notice or hear the person in the hallway that he misses running into by less than an inch). Don’t ask why a guy holding a hostage in the basement would have an alarm system capable of alerting the police. Don’t ask why security-service-dad keeps a drawer full of keys to his clients’ houses in his desk at home or why said service would have those keys at all (would you trust ADT with the keys to your house?!) And don’t ask why the news report following the conclusion doesn’t mention the weird room in the basement.

No way this works.

But, like I said, there are great elements in the movie as well. The best is when the Blind Man kills the power and we are treated to him hunting Rocky and Alex in his maze of a basement, shot in grey night-vision. There are long takes of the burglars exploring the house upon their initial entry that lend depth and direction to the house. And then there’s the turkey baster scene that will make you fear Thanksgiving for the rest of your life. All I will tell you about it is that the entire audience realized what was going on in unison, uttering a theater-wide groan in revulsion at the revelation. Yes, I said turkey baster.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. My “don’t ask” questions can’t be completely ignored.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“War Dogs” – A case study.

When it comes to movies, writing is more important than everything else. Without writing, the stuff in a movie is meaningless. Costumes are being worn because actors get cold and the movie is supposed to be rated PG-13. Sets are just piles of wood, nails, and paint that actors run across because a guy with a bullhorn and a headset just gave the go ahead to blow up that car. Lights are turned on so the actors don’t trip over props while running from the explosion. In other words, nothing is happening for any reason, and nothing you are seeing has any meaning…without a story. Writing gives all of that stuff purpose and good writing ties all of it together in ways that make you glad you spent money and time to watch it. And that’s how we got The Dark Knight. But without a story or any decent writing, I guess a movie like that must simply meet its release date. And that’s how we got Suicide Squad.

But, this isn’t about DC movies. This is about a movie called War Dogs. War Dogs is the perfect example of how good writing makes a great movie. More specifically, it’s a perfect example of how to adapt source material into a screenplay. One of the biggest complaints by moviegoers about Hollywood book adaptations is that “the book was better.” In other words, Hollywood often screws up the source material in an adaptation. While there are countless examples of poor adaptations, there are also numerous examples of superior adaptations, and War Dogs is one of them.

War Dogs is based on a Rolling Stone article titled Arms and the Dudes telling the story of the rise and fall of two twenty-something American men who became international arms dealers and found themselves winning a $300 million defense contract to supply arms to the US military in order to arm the Afghan army.


If the screenplay writers had adapted the story with no changes, it would have made for a fairly uninteresting movie. Don’t get me wrong, the article is fascinating and worth the read, but it isn’t worth two hours in a theater. The two men, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are both greedy war-profiteers who have no qualms about the legality of what they are doing. The US government officials contracting them are well aware of what they are doing and simply don’t care. They work with several shady arms dealers who are all in it for the same reasons – money. Do you see the problem here? Not one character or entity discussed in the article comes off as the hero or even anti-hero in this story. So, in the movie version, who are you supposed to root for? After watching such a movie, you’d wonder why they spent $45 million on what amounts to a 60 Minutes segment.


Rather than bore you with an overly long night-time news segment, the writers took the characters, the bones of the story, and a couple of fun details (David was a masseuse prior to running guns) and turned it into something worthy of a theater. To start with, they made David the hero and improved his motivation. He also gets a pregnant wife, Iz (the gorgeous and scene stealing Ana de Armas), and is forced to work for Efraim because he is failing to earn enough money to support his family. In contrast, the writers bring Efraim as-is because being a sleazy, greedy, shitbag of a friend makes him the perfect villain. Now we have two well-defined characters whose roles are clear throughout the film.


Then, they embellish a couple of the contract stories and align them in a way that perfectly escalates the stakes and the tension as the movie approaches its climax. The best way to describe it is as a movie that plays out much like Two for the Money or 21. Our hero is brought into the lucrative business, finds early success which leads to more success, which leads to the ‘big one,’ which leads to the inevitable crash, which leads to a satisfying end. In addition, the US government doesn’t come off nearly as shady because the movie needs it to be the uncorrupt lawman (if only this wasn’t an embellishment *sigh*).

There were a few more tweaks, but that’s the meat of the movie and I’m not sure they could have adapted the story any better. On top of that, they nailed the casting. Hill was every bit the villain they needed him to be and you’ll want to punch Efraim as much as David does. Teller also proved that he can actually act when given a decent character and we can now forgive him for his abysmal Mr. Fantastic. As I mentioned earlier, de Armas manages to upstage Teller in their scenes together, especially when she calls him out for being a liar late in the movie. And then there’s the gorgeous and scene-chewing Bradley Cooper (playing arms dealer Henry Girard), every bit as engaging as we’ve come to expect from him. Even in his relatively few scenes, it’s hard to believe he’s not actually a slimy, dangerous arms dealer brought into this movie to make it more real. And that, my friends, is how you write a movie worth watching that is based on literary source material.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and go read that article.

Friday, August 12, 2016

“Sausage Party” – Food for thought.

Several years back, I was at my in-laws’ house, it was late at night, and I was watching an episode of South Park. The boys were trying to avoid getting in trouble for hitting Butters in the eye with a ninja star. Halfway through, my father-in-law walked in, watched for a minute, looked at me incredulously and asked “what are you watching!?” I told him there would be a point, he just had to wait for it (and I didn’t know yet what it would be). He did not wait (and went to bed) and the point of the episode was that if sex is involved, nobody cares about violence. The point is that South Park may look and sound crass and juvenile, but there is often brilliant commentary embedded within. In other words, when you watch Sausage Party, don’t be the person who can’t see the forest for the trees.

That forest idiom is important here because some people get stubbornly stuck on things like cussing or nudity or dick jokes when reviewing movies and call them terrible movies for those things. These people should not watch Sausage Party because they won’t make it five minutes into the movie before running out of ink tallying up the number of times ‘fuck’ is uttered. These same people will ignore the fact that animated, talking food stuffs are doing the cussing. Meanwhile, those of us who don’t have constipation over naughty words will stare in wonder at a movie that looks like Pixar but sounds like Cinemax. Then, we will grin like maniacs when the movie becomes more than food wanting to fuck each other in the great beyond.

Horn dog - meet hot bun.

The premise of the film is that all of the food and products in a grocery store believe that when they are chosen by the gods (humans), they are going to heaven (outside the store). A sausage, Frank (Seth Rogen), and hot dog bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), want to get chosen so they can have sex. When a returned jar of mustard (Danny McBride) rants about how the great beyond is all a big lie and that the gods are actually monsters, he inadvertently prevents Frank and Brenda from leaving the store and getting busy. At that point, the movie becomes a quest – Frank and Brenda want to get back to their shelves for another chance to be chosen. Along the way, they are joined by a bagel (Ed Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz) and pursued by an evil douche (Nick Kroll) – yes, an actual douche – who blames them all for him being denied his destiny (it’s exactly the destiny you think). At this point in time, if you aren’t completely sold on the insanity of this movie, here’s where it gets good and where Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be proud.

You mean heaven is a lie?

On the surface, the film is a crass, profanity-laced comedy about horny food. Every food-sex pun you’ve ever thought of is probably in this film. Just like the forest and the trees, beneath the surface are hilarious commentaries on religious belief vs. science and the absurdity of the ongoing Israel vs. everyone else in the Middle East battle. The bagel – Jewish. The lavash – Muslim. Yes, every complaint these two sides have made will be addressed in this film. But for my money, the religion/science battle elevates this movie to greatness. It bites on the idea that there are people who refuse to bend even in the face of overwhelming factual evidence (currently, we call these people Trump supporters and climate change deniers), then bites back by pointing out that calling those people idiots is the absolute wrong way to try to change their minds. You may be right that they are idiots, but nobody ever changed an idiot’s mind by calling them an idiot, and not for lack of trying.

As you may have guessed already, I loved this movie. If nothing else, it’s an original movie, the kind that people keep yammering at Hollywood to make. But it’s so much better than that. Hopefully, all the people whose assholes pucker at the very mention of sex or potty words can get over themselves long enough to appreciate that Rogen and fellow writers Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill (who also voices a sausage) have created a brilliant and funny movie that asks us all to step back and see the damned forest. And, like in sex (usually), there’s a massive payoff in the end – a giant food orgy. If you thought they hit every food-sex pun before this scene, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back as it should leave a great taste in your mouth (what? I can’t do one pun?).

Friday, August 5, 2016

“Suicide Squad” – A eulogy for the DC film universe.

As I was pondering what to write about DC Comics’ latest movie, early reviews for the film started to trickle out and let’s just say that the DC fanboys weren’t happy with it. This is an actual headline from an article on USAToday, dated August 4, 2016:

“Critics slam 'Suicide Squad,' so fans try to shut down Rotten Tomatoes.” Here’s the story for your amusement.

In short, a person called Abdullah Coldwater started a change.org petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because, to paraphrase he and the 18,494 other people who signed the petition, “critics are big poopy-heads.” Forget about the fact that such a petition carries no ability to actual do or force what it’s calling for, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t actually have a staff that reviews movies. It’s just a place where reviews (that meet a certain set of requirements revolving around quantity of site views or number of publications) are linked to so people have a central place to find them and tallies up all the ratings to get an aggregate score. I’m guessing these geniuses don’t understand that. Nor do they seem to know that Metacritic and IMDb exist – both of which do the same thing and both of which have similarly low aggregate scores for the film – because they aren’t calling for those sites to be shut down as well. But here’s where it gets even more fun – Warner Brothers owns the DC film rights and also owns a share of RT. So, even if RT really was responsible for the bad reviews, why would Warner Brothers publish bad reviews of its own movie? Like I said, geniuses.

(Note: To his credit, as of yesterday, Coldwater ended the petition himself, stating: “In fact i started this petition to gather dc fans to express our anger just for fun. I didn't mean it to be taken that serious.
After thinking. I found this petition is pointless. And the only thing that it does is spreading a speech of hate and online fighting among the supporters and objectors . The movies is something to enjoy. And the hate and fight is the opposite of enjoying.”)

The question I have for those 18,000+ people is “have you actually seen the movie?” I am often at odds with many opinions of other critics, but I have never accused them of being idiots prior to seeing a movie for myself. I’ve seen Suicide Squad and I agree with the majority of critics – it’s not a good film. It’s certainly not a Batman v Superman spectacle of shit, but it’s the final strike for me in hoping that DC was going to spend any time developing the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) they’ve been touting and that sucks.

Here’s the short version of my review, in case you have somewhere else to be – if all you want to see are a handful of DC bad guys shooting at things for two hours while classic rock songs are played over the action, this movie works. It’s every first-person shooter game you’ve ever played – kill hundreds of foot soldiers while running through destruction to fight the final boss at the end.

Now the long version (and, yes, SPOILERS, but there really isn’t anything to spoil. I’ll explain).

Suicide Squad should have been a tee-ball given the premise – a team of really bad villains is assembled to combat existential, global threats. Awe! Some! But then the movie starts. The first ten minutes of the film are devoted to introducing us to the Squad. You read that right – TEN minutes to make you love and identify with eight characters, the bulk of which is devoted to just two of them, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). And, we get it in the form of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the person who wants to build the team, reading us files on how each of them was caught over dinner with some other government stiff (not so awesome). Even worse, when she first names the character, a bunch of text appears on the screen that describes the character, but is pulled from the screen so fast we’re lucky to catch even half of it. What a waste.

The only two characters that matter.

Cut to a briefing room where Waller is trying to convince an admiral to approve funding for the team with the following rationale – “What if Superman decided to rip the roof off the Capitol? There are more and more meta-humans showing up every day and we want them on our side.” To emphasize this point, she calls upon archaeologist Dr. June Moone, (Cara Delevingne) – that’s actually her name – to demonstrate. You see, the good doctor has been possessed by a 6,000-year old Mayan witch called Enchantress who is super evil and can teleport (among many other things) anywhere she wants. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that? Enchantress teleports, stealing a top secret file from a vault in Iran in moments and the admiral is immediately convinced, even though he was just telling us how bad an idea this sounded like. And he’s right because, how do they control Enchantress? They’ve got her heart in a box and Waller stabs it with a pen whenever Enchantress starts to get out of line. Seriously, that’s her control method and there’s nothing special about the box. But don’t worry, the box has a lid. And it’s in the room with them where Enchantress can see it. And Enchantress doesn’t just snatch it up right then and there, even though the remainder of the movie is Enchantress wanting her heart back so she can destroy the human race with a giant glowing trash circle in the sky. One more thing about Enchantress, she can decide to take full control of Dr. Moone whenever she feels like it and isn’t confined to a room or 24-hour surveillance. The name June Moone doesn’t sound like the dumbest thing in this movie anymore, does it?

I, too, thought Joker was supposed to be the villain of this movie.

To answer your questions, yes, the Squad is tasked with stopping Enchantress and, yes, this whole mess was started by the very person putting the team together to stop messes like this. How does this make any sense? Or Enchantress at all, for that matter? Does she have to stay in the archaeologist’s body? And why isn’t she chipped with the explosive? And even if she was, couldn’t she just possess literally anybody else, including Viola Davis? It also appears that she can manifest herself whenever she wants, so how does Viola Davis think she has any kind of control over her? And again, if enchantress can teleport, why doesn’t she immediately jet with the heart as soon as she knows where the heart is?

Putting aside that awful bit of writing, let’s evaluate this team to find out if they can combat a witch that can teleport, has telekinesis, turns people into deadly soldier things, can conjure up magic that can destroy the world, and is basically immortal. Just ignore the fact that the entire problem can be solved at any time by Waller destroying the heart.

-Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – no super powers, team leader, special ops soldier, has phone app that can trigger explosive devices in the necks of bad guy team members. Oh, and did I mention that June is his girlfriend, because Waller needed June to seduce him so Waller could blackmail him into working for her?

-Deadshot – no super powers, but can shoot real good, and quip even gooder.

-Harley Quinn – no super powers, but is crazy and swings a mean Louisville slugger. Also, comic relief, eye candy, and a convenient excuse needed to justify Joker (Jared Leto) being in this movie.

-Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – no super powers, can hold his breath for a long time, is a great swimmer, and looks like a crocodile. Sure, this guy will come in handy.

-Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) – shut up. That’s not really a character is it? It is? Shut up.

-Slipknot – no super powers, can climb real good. Seems like a climber wouldn’t want the word slip in his name.

-Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – the one character with legitimate super powers – can shoot fire out of his hands and face. Except, he has to get really mad, otherwise he just stands there watching (really, this happens).

-Katana (Karen Fukuhara) – not an actual bad guy. She’s friends with Flag, is there as an extra precaution against the bad guy team members should they not cooperate, and has a sword that traps the souls of its victims. Sure, why the fuck not?

-Dozens of special forces soldiers – hang on, why are these guys here? The whole concept of the team, as described in detail by Viola Davis, is that they will be sent into impossible situations and disavowed if they fail. So, why put actual soldiers outside of Flag with them? Are they considered expendable as well? And if you have all those soldiers, why do you need the Squad at all?

We're with you Katana - we don't know why he's here either.

So, that’s the Squad, and if we do the math – carry the one, divide by the ratio of soldiers to villains, multiply the number of superpowers by pi – we see that there is no fucking way this team can defeat Enchantress, let alone someone like Superman. The movie even acknowledges this when, after kick-fighting with the squad for a while, Enchantress gets bored and disarms them all with a wave of her hand. Yes, my friend and I both laughed when this happened because it literally nullifies the entire preceding hour of fighting.

If there’s a redeeming quality, it’s that Smith and Robbie lead the cast in what are all solid performances. Robbie and Smith are both doing everything possible to save this movie, delivering some decent one-liners at times and keeping the film from becoming a complete slog of action. It’s also painfully obvious that the movie was set up to feature them and only them. Look no further than the costumes to see how little care was given to the characters not named Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Deadshot gets a red body suit covered in armor, complete with a white mask and targeting eye-piece. Quinn gets a full-body costume consisting of skimpy shorts and cheeky shirt, colored hair and face, and symbols and words all over her body. Killer Croc, Diablo and Boomerang are all wearing jeans and a jacket. Even Flag, who gets plenty of screen time, is almost indistinguishable from the random special forces soldiers assigned to the group. I suppose you could make a case for Joker and Enchantress, both of whom were given far more visual appeal, but neither were in the movie enough to mistake them for equals to Smith and Robbie. My complaint isn’t that this happened, but that it happened with no pre-work done. Marvel wrote the freaking playbook, use it. This movie should have been a follow-up to standalone movies for Deadshot and Harley Quinn (both of which I would absolutely watch…well, as long as Zach Snyder isn’t involved).

You can tell who they are by their jacket.

Look, I know I’m being a little harsh, but this movie suffers from the same problems as BvS and Man of Steel. My friends didn’t think I should completely trash the movie, but the more I let the movie fester in my brain, the more I realized it was worse than I originally thought. Nothing is happening for any logical reason, the characters are woefully underdeveloped (TEN MINUTES), the reason for the team existing at all is a self-fulfilling prophecy, any world building of a DCEU is non-existent, the structure of the opening of the film exists solely to justify the music, the team’s abilities don’t come close to their opponent’s, and the tie-ins to the other DC movies are painfully clunky and forced. The worst thing about the movie is that these bad guys never actually do anything bad, which was kind of the whole freaking point of making this movie in the first place. I’m not saying I hated this movie (it’s the best of DC’s three DCEU movies so far); I’m just disappointed that DC has crapped the bed yet again in an attempt to shortcut their way to what took Marvel thirteen movies to do. Rest in peace DCEU, we never even got to know you.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back if you are not one of the people that signed the shut-down-RT petition. I know 18,000+ who will love this film.

Friday, July 29, 2016

“Jason Bourne” – What, no clever title this time?

Seriously? That’s the best title they could up with? Considering The Bourne Redundancy is the most fitting, but worst for marketing purposes, I can kind of forgive them. But do you know what the worst part of the title is? It screws up the DVD shelf. The first three movies in their viewing order are also in alphabetical order (take your time). While Jason Bourne is in alphabetical order with respect to the franchise, it’s not with respect to the entire movie shelf. Now there has to be a J movie in the B’s and that’s just wrong. And don’t even get me started on the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – what a cluster. My point is that, like its title, Jason Bourne is a generic film rehashing the same plot we’ve seen in every Bourne movie.

Don’t get me wrong, the film delivers on what we’re there for in the first place – Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) kicking ass. It’s just the stuff surrounding it is very tired. In a nutshell, here’s the movie – CIA agent discovers that someone wants to publicly out a black ops program (Ironhand), CIA director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) jumps to the conclusion that Jason Bourne is behind it, young female go-getter agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) promises to deliver Bourne and save the day, Bourne meets up with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), action-action-action, a Bourne-like asset (Vincent Cassel) is activated to take out Bourne, more-action, Bourne remembers some stuff, Dewey and young go-getter butt heads, climax scene, the end. With the exception of small details and tweaks, that describes the first two sequels to a tee. I even joked about it in my review of The Bourne Legacy – that the movies are very redundant of each other. And this doesn’t make any sense because the books these movies are based on aren’t like that.

This looks familiar.

(Without sounding too redundant, very mild SPOILERS coming up.)

The strange thing about the film is that the very first thing we hear is Bourne’s voice telling us that he remembers everything. If that were true, then why is he off on another crusade to learn about his past? Several times throughout the movie, Bourne experiences flashbacks revealing things he didn’t previously know or remember. This time around, the memories are of his father’s death and the circumstances surrounding Jason’s recruitment into the program. I understand that they’ve tweaked it to be that his memory of the event isn’t the actual truth, but it still boils down to learning about his past. Maybe you still want that out of these films, but I’m well beyond over it.

This is what we're here for.

To make matters worse, he’s not even actively searching for answers in the beginning, he’s street fighting. He only gets drawn in because Nicky shows up at a fight to tell him what she found out about his father and the Treadstone program after hacking the CIA. Incidentally, this is where that conclusion leap happens by the CIA director – someone hacks into the black ops files and, even though there is nothing to suggest it’s Bourne’s doing, it must be Bourne. Thank you captain contrivance.

The truly missed opportunity with this movie is that it could have kicked off a narrative from the books surrounding an assassin known as the Jackal. Instead of revisiting the same tired what’s-my-past story, why not have the go-getter agent secretly recruit Bourne to help take out the Jackal? Let’s say the Jackal is taking out their assets and they need someone equally skilled who is outside the program to help. You could even keep the head-butting between Dewey and Lee. When people complain about Hollywood not being original, this is what those people mean (even though those people don’t realize it, instead couching it in the form of whining about sequels and reboots). Heck, you could even keep a smidge of the what’s-my-past story by having Lee dangle information in front of Bourne as his payment. This isn’t exactly a new plot either (Mission: Impossible and The Jackal both use it, to name two), but it’s fresh to this series.

In all fairness, the plot of this movie didn’t really bother me; I’m just noting that we’ve been here several times before. The one thing that did bother me is how bad they handled integrating current issues into the narrative. Ironhand (the black ops program) is nothing more than the CIA working with a social network developer (Riz Ahmed) to have a backdoor into said network (Deep Dream – a name as uninspired as the movie’s title) to collect everybody’s information to – say it together with me – “keep us all safe.” Hilariously, the movie tries to simultaneously emphasize the importance of privacy, but both just come off as trite and irrelevant and sound as bungled and tone-deaf as our real-life politicians. This might have worked if the movie had focused on this as its main plot, rather than Bourne’s past, but, well now I’m starting to sound repetitive.

They're worth it.

Much has been written by critics and users about how the new Star Trek movie is nothing special, that it’s more like a mid-season episode of a television series with nothing new to say. Jason Bourne is very much the same. But, is that a bad thing? Most of us watch those repetitive shows precisely for the familiarity and formula and count the days to next week’s episode. Most importantly, if you’re a fan of Damon or Vikander, you will be very pleased with this film. It’s just that with movies, a multi-year wait in between episodes leads us to want more out of the movie. At the very least, they could have given us a more familiar title.

Rating: Ask for four dollars back. Or two if you like Damon and Vikander as much as I do.

“Bad Moms” – We interrupt this programming to bring you a special message.

Over the past couple of years, women’s equality has been a major topic of discussion, especially in the entertainment industry. Equal pay and lack of female leads have been two prominent issues in the film industry. Then there’s GamerGate in the video game industry. (If you haven’t heard of GamerGate, I’m not even sure you should go look it up. I’ve read a bunch of stuff and I still don’t fully understand it. It’s a combination of misogynistic assholes, corrupt game journalists, and extremist feminists all accusing each other of being terrible people…I think.) Most recently, we’ve had to put up with the asinine narrative surrounding the Ghostbusters remake, in which Sony and many media outlets accused anyone not liking the film of being sexist because a handful of actual sexists started trolling the film when it was announced that the Ghostbusters would all have vaginas. I have no idea why the sexists had to be such raging dicks about Ghostbusters (other than because they actually are raging dicks) because the women spend a good portion of the movie waving phalluses around. I also don’t know why pro-women’s movement people would defend Ghostbusters for the same reason – giving a woman a fake dick doesn’t make them equal to men (also, it’s an atrocious movie). Luckily, after two years of people getting all wound up over the wrong things, we finally have an example in film that actually is pro-women without pandering, lying, or making them drive giant penis-shaped trucks (sorry Furiosa) – Bad Moms.

The genius of Bad Moms is that it isn’t just a movie to empower women, though it primarily is that. If you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t understand deadbeat dads or men that refuse to change diapers, this movie is for you as well…but in a whole different way.

[Jostling at the computer…wife cuts in.]

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Does anyone else see the irony in a man reviewing a movie, and talking about how it empowers women?

I read and edit all of the Number-9 movie reviews, and he tends to ramble. Let’s just get to the point.

He’s not wrong. Bad Moms is a great pro-woman, pro-mom movie. It offers a wonderful peek into how moms often get the short end of the stick. And I don’t mean from men, and I don’t even mean the dirty-diaper-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-clean-barf-off-my-shirt end of the stick. I mean the pressure to simply do a good job. Books tell you that you suck (“don’t drink caffeine while you’re pregnant, or your baby might have eleven toes”). Articles tell you that you suck (“14 alternatives to watching TV this summer”). Pinterest tells you that you suck (“77 bento box lunches that don’t include sandwiches”). And other moms might not tell you to your face that you suck, but they’re sure as hell thinking it. Being a mom can often feel like you’re doomed to fail, even when you’re doing the best you can.

Don't be these moms.

Bad Moms walks right up to those books and articles and people…and flicks them all in the nipple.

Or we do this.

Bad Moms is realistically empowering. This is key. Empowering a female character does NOT mean dropping her into an established male role, handing her a penis-like weapon so she can shoot stuff, while her impossibly stupid, male secretary cowers in the corner. Empowering a female character is building up her power IN THE SPACE SHE ALREADY OCCUPIES. Ghostbusting is not relatable. Tearing down entitled, insensitive men is funny the first couple of times (I will admit), but still does not drive home the point. ….But a female character showing up at a 3-hour PTA meeting about food allergens in the bake sale on a Friday night with food spilled on her blazer, resulting in a mental breakdown and a wine binge….now THAT’s relatable.

Catharsis.

Not to mention, Bad Moms is funny. Fuuuuuuunny. If you don’t laugh during this movie, then you’re probably the author of those condescending Pinterest articles.

I drank Diet Cherry Pepsi while pregnant. My kid watched non-stop Paw Patrol all weekend. And his lunches this week included cheese sticks and Fig Newtons. ….I’m often just doing the best I can. And my family is going to be juuuuust fine. Including my husband, who (thank the Lord) is NOT a nincompoop.

Rating – Two enthusiastic tits up. Because I actually put on a bra today.

Monday, July 25, 2016

“Into the Forest” – Why?

I normally don’t mention who I think should watch certain movies because I’d like to think everyone is open to any movie (they’re not). Plus, people have different tastes in movies. Some people like big, loud action flicks, others like romantic comedies, and still others can’t get enough documentaries. But there are some movies that seem to be made for nobody and today that movie is Into the Forest. I get that certain people are entertained by certain things – and, ultimately, the point of a movie is to entertain while telling a story – but I have no idea who is going to be entertained by Into the Forest.

For starters, this movie is classified as science fiction. As a big fan of science fiction, I can unequivocally tell you that, in no way, shape, or form is this movie science fiction. Here’s the movie summary from IMDb – “After a massive power outage, two sisters learn to survive on their own in their isolated woodland home.” Apparently, anything considered apocalyptic is science fiction and Arthur C. Clarke just rolled over in his grave. The power outage is never explained, there are no aliens lurking in the woods, and nobody is driving hovercars or teleporting around the country. In fact, the sisters’ (and father’s) mode of transportation is an old Jeep Cherokee. Does that sound like science fiction? Of course it doesn’t – science fiction requires science (somebody should tell that to the SyFy channel in regards to some of their “movies”).

Advanced technology?

But the bigger reason I can’t identify an audience for the film is because the film has no plot. And I don’t mean a thin plot or a convoluted plot, I mean zero plot. That summary I read you is literally the entire movie. Let me expound a little to prove it (and by prove it I mean some SPOILERS).

Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) live with their father, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) in the deep northwest (USA, or Canada) woods, away from the nearest town. We know they’re secluded because they tell us that it is a three-day walk to town. Nell is studying for some exam that she doesn’t need to take, explaining that “I just want to know if I would have got in.” Her only other interest is her boyfriend, Eli (Max Minghella), because she’s a horny teenager (which kind of explains the test thing). Eva is a ballet dancer practicing for a national competition, but also trying to recover from a past knee injury. This is the only thing that matters to her as their house has a dance studio in it. Robert is a Mr. Fix-it kind of guy, but the kind who thinks covering holes in the roof with a tarp is a good idea for a house in a very soggy climate. This stuff only matters because you will spend the first hour of the movie watching them do these things (dad’s lack of attention to detail leads to a predictable chain saw accident leaving the two sisters on their own), but without electricity. After dad is gone (much earlier in the film), we get to see that the word “learn” in that movie summary is kind of a lie.

The truth is they survive doing as little as possible. Apparently, Robert was a doomsday prepper because the girls survive for fifteen months almost exclusively on food stored in the house. To be fair, they have chickens (that don’t last) and plant some pumpkin seeds, but it doesn’t occur to them to start foraging in the forest until several months into the blackout. Even worse, we are told there are wild pigs running around and they don’t hunt them until month fourteen. Wait – that can’t be right. One, two…yep, fourteen months. (Who wouldn’t go searching for live, fresh bacon?!) But the food is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember the tarps I mentioned? Those never get replaced by actual wood or metal to seal up the house and the film shows us the black mold growing throughout the house. And, yes, this leads to the house literally falling down around them. They also chop wood every now and then, but that’s the extent of any survival activities going on with this family. Even after several weeks of the power not returning and dad’s death, these girls continue studying and dancing as if those things are still going to happen (yes, I get that some people would live in denial, but this was a little over the top), rather than doing anything to survive.

Survival means arguing over gas to listen to music.

As the movie drug on and I checked the time every three minutes (this might be the slowest movie I have ever seen), I wondered if they were ever going to get to a point. As it turns out, they do, but probably the worst and most unexpected point you could imagine. As it turns out, Robert was not a good planner beyond stockpiling food. Case in point, they own a generator because it’s prudent to own such a thing when you live in the boonies, but didn’t stockpile any fuel (nor any for their car). Wait, so dad thought to save food, but not gas? Early in the blackout, they drive into town to stock up on goods and he’s able to purchase just five gallons of gas. That’s their entire fuel supply, which includes if they decide to drive to town and back again. The gas leads to fighting between the sisters (Eva wants to use her share to play music while she practices dancing) because, say it with me friends – contrivance. The movie was so dull they needed a reason for the sisters to fight, even though it might be the dumbest reason ever concocted considering the scenario (though points to how incompetent these two women are).

Anyway, there are three semi-interesting things that happen in the movie from the time dad dies until the credits role. The first is when Eli shows up and asks them to go with him to Boston. There’s a rumor that Boston is back up and running, but Eva doesn’t want to leave because, sometimes, you just gotta dance (also, she balks at the eight-month walking trip). Nell decides to go, but not until after getting naked with Eli in a hollowed out tree stump-turned childhood fort. I note this because we get to see all of Ellen Page and she is definitely successful enough in her career to not need to do nude scenes. Of course, Nell changes her mind and returns, though without Eli.

I hope they didn't get any splinters.

The second thing is when a creepy dude from town shows up and rapes Eva. Yes, the movie was so bored with itself that it needed a rape to get our attention back. Like the fighting over the gas, this scene is totally contrived, also because of the gas. The guy that sold them the gas is the rapist and he walked three days to their house, deep into the woods, why? For enough gas to get him back to town and a little further when he could have just walked the other direction to begin with? And, Nell was out in the forest picking berries all by herself because it makes total sense for them not to go out into a dangerous place together. But, hey, where two contrivances are good, three is better, as this leads to the third thing and the message this movie wanted to convey – abortion is bad. I told you you wouldn’t see that coming.

After both Nell and Eva realize Eva is pregnant, Nell cracks a book to learn about abortions and when she mentions to Eva that they should discuss their options, Eva immediately fires back “I’m keeping this baby. It’s not responsible for its dad’s actions.” Nell opens her mouth to argue, but Eva shoots her down and they move on with no more discussion. This is the point in the movie where I was internally cussing (okay, externally as well). Forget about how you feel about abortion for a moment – this movie is asking us to swallow Eva being cognizant enough to argue pro-life despite being a shell of a human due to the trauma of being raped (she even refuses to eat) and immediately returning to that shell after the argument. And that’s on top of them having little to no food, a decrepit house, and the fear of the rapist (or anyone else for that matter) showing up again, which Nell doesn’t even bring up even though she was extremely practical in the gas argument. It’s bad enough that the movie was dull, but to become incoherent and preachy destroyed what little narrative this movie attempted to have.

(Side note: for the record, had the argument been pro-choice I would have reacted the same way. The fact that Eva gets pregnant at all is a shitty element, especially since they make a big deal out of Nell not getting pregnant earlier in the movie. If Nell had gotten pregnant, it would have sort of fit in with them continually making bad decisions to survive.)

My expression during the entire film.

Between the lack of plot, interminably boring stretches of movie, unsympathetic characters, and stupid political content (not to mention a complete lack of even marketing this movie), I can’t even begin to guess at who might enjoy this movie. A little research reveals that the movie is based on a book of the same title (by Jean Heglund), published in 1996. It sold 100,000 copies, meaning it wasn’t even a popular book, and I have a hard time believing that many of those people even know it was adapted into a movie (nor, do I suspect, would they care). If the movie is anything like the book, I guess the people who should watch this movie are the people who were able to read the book in its entirety. So, Heglund’s mom?

Rating: Ask for your all of your money and time back. This movie isn’t for you.