Sunday, April 22, 2018

Upcoming Best and Worst of Summer 2018

Summer movie funtime is almost upon us again, movie fans. We love summer movies because we get big production value, sequels to movies that don't need sequels, little indie movies that pop up and quietly make decent money that end up being the best movies of summer, and gems that look terrible but wind up being good. So, once again, here is your summer movie guide to what you should see, what you should stay away from and what you should do a little bit of research on before you take the Dwayne Johnson-sized leap to the theater. And now, without further adieu...




Our friends Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno) and Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) are back with another comedy together. Separate, they've had some interesting career decisions, but they really work best when together. Young Adult was a very underrated dark comedy, and it looks like they're taking that energy for Tully. A story about an over-worked mom (Charlize Theron) who, in need of a break, gets a new nanny named Tully. There's the hint that it's going to be a bit of an R-rated Mary Poppins thing going on, but either way-- early buzz has it that this movie is as funny as it is equally heartbreaking.

Deadpool 2


I have to say... I was seriously won over by the first Deadpool movie. Little did we know that we, the oversaturated Marvel audience, needed a movie that not only upped the violence, but called out all the other cliches from Marvel movies in general. The way the character Deadpool can be such a snarky asshole, full of raunchiness and vulgarity, all the while breaking the fourth wall and telling you why his movie is better (or not as funded) as other Marvel movies is such a fun thing to watch. Finally, with a bigger budget and a better bad guy, I'm willing to say this is probably going to be the best superhero movie of the year that doesn't involve Black Panther.



I'm going to be honest with you-- I don't know much about this movie other than what the trailers have shown. But I've heard it's supposed to be scary and disturbing as all hell. It's being heralded as The Exorcist of this generation (as most sub-par horror movies are), but from the trailer I can tell you it already looks balls-to-the-wall f**ked up! A24, the company releasing the movie, does a good job with horror. They're like a darker, more gritty, more gruesome Blumhouse productions. With The Witch and The Babadook already in their arsenal, I'm willing to take the leap and say this is going to be another horror staple for an already reliable company.

Incredibles 2


I'll be honest with you-- I wasn't a huge fan of The Incredibles. I didn't think it was one of Pixar's weaker entries like Cars is, but I just wasn't really sold on the whole movie. I thought while it was particularly well done, it was a little on the boring side. However, Pixar has been on a roll lately and there's no reason to suspect this movie is going to be any different. I almost put this one in the Wildcard section, but if you can't trust Pixar to give us one of the best movies of Summer, then who can you trust?

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado


Here comes the onslaught of sequels, people. Most of them look mediocre at best, but there will be a few that surpass the challenge of being an inferior movie. Sicario 2 looks like it knows exactly what it needs to be. Benecio Del Toro, a side role in the first movie, was the best character of the movie. So, the natural progression of things is-- if you're going to make a sequel... make it about him. Sure, it's sad we're losing Emily Blunt, but the problem with the first film is they didn't know what to do with her in the first place. Following Del Toro, now facing his ally from the first film Josh Brolin, is going to give us a gritty, dirty, violent, and overall exciting sequel. Hopefully.

The First Purge


This definitely has to be the first time I've put a Purge movie in the Best Upcoming section. While The Purge movies have all been great ideas, most of the time the execution just isn't there. The last one-- Purge: Election Day was the closest we got to a great Purge film. But this one... this one looks extraordinary. Judging by the poster alone, it's clearly going to be an indictment of our current presidency. And judging by the trailer, it looks like they know exactly what they're aiming for. If the purge was an actual thing-- OF COURSE it would be used to systematically wipe out all minority figures in this country and target people of color. DUH. The fact that the filmmakers know this gives the movie all kinds of chances at political commentary, while being a solid thriller too. They also got Marissa Tomei, a real movie star, to join the film, so there had to be something in the script that stood out to her, no? Don't make me regret putting you up here, The First Purge, because I really don't want to be wrong about this.



As much as you want to fight me on this, you know I'm gonna be right. The Rock, as we've seen with Rampage and Jumanji, can turn anything into solid gold. Now he's doing a movie where it's like a combination of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard, only he has a prosthetic leg?! I'm definitely in for that. Written and Directed by Rawson Thurber (Dodgeball, We're the Millers, Central Intelligence), he's already demonstrated he's a capable filmmaker and that he's got somewhat of a rapport with The Rock... I can't wait until I get to see this on the big screen. It could be the biggest turd wrapped in burnt hair... but The Rock will still make it come out smelling like roses.

The Equalizer 2


What I love about Denzel-- he gets to do whatever the hell he wants. He got to do Fences and he got to do Roman J. Israel... but now he wants to go back to being a badass action star... and we are all going to watch and love this movie. The reason I know it's going to be one of the best of summer is this is Denzel's first sequel he's ever been in. Ever. Dude has never been in one. So, for this to be the one to break that streak... and judging by the trailer alone... this movie is going to be just as good as the first one, if not better. The Rock can make any trash movie fun. Denzel can make ANY movie great. And I'm calling this one great.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout


 Forget what you feel about Tom Cruise as a person. Think back-- what was the last Mission: Impossible movie to disappoint you? Probably the second one, right? I know at this point the last few kind of all run together, but they're very good movies. And in fact, this is one weird series of films that actually gets better with each movie. Cruise doing is own crazy stunts, the gagetry they keep coming up with, the "masks" concepts, and Simon Pegg as the comic relief-- these movies are awesome and there's no reason to think there's going to be a regression in quality now. They're doing the thing that the 007 movies are having a hard time keeping up with-- they're getting better with each passing film.

The Meg


Okay, so I can't tell you how I know this-- but I KNOW this movie is good. I will be able to reveal my "source" to you when the film finally comes out, but trust me when I tell you that The Meg is going to be the most fun at the movies this summer. Forget how terrible the poster is (seriously, the guy who created the poster for this movie should be fired immediately) and just understand and soak in what I'm about to tell you: it's Jason Statham versus a Megalodon shark. It's so much better than you think it's going to be and it's seriously just some great, great fun at the movies. You WILL enjoy this film. I promise. 




First, let me ask you-- do you know that this movie is a remake? If you had to- could you name the actors that starred in the original version? Yeah, I didn't think so. Talk about a remake to a good movie that NOBODY wants. People who remember the original love it so much that this movie looks terrible. People who don't know the original-- do you even care? I mean Anna Faris isn't exactly a box office draw anymore and the humor being portrayed in this movie feels decades old... BECAUSE IT IS. Sure, it's clever to do the gender flip on the original story, but that's not going to make up for a movie that's going to provide zero laughs and make no money.

Life of the Party


I think Melissa McCarthy is a hilariously great comedic actor. She doesn't use her weight as a punchline and she can hold her own with all the Ferrell's, Stiller's, Rogen's of the comedy world. She and Paul Feig make comedy magic together. But, whenever she makes a movie with her husband in the Director's chair-- they're her worst movies. The two previous collaborations between them have been Tammy and The Boss, arguably her two worst movies. Life of the Party looks just as bad. I hope I'm wrong, because with the right people in her corner, Melissa McCarthy can make me laugh harder than anyone, but with the wrong people it's just another missed opportunity for her comedic talents to shine. This film leaves me with little hope.

Show Dogs


Yeah, there's really not a more obvious entry into the Worst category than this one. Go ahead and name the last GREAT movie that involved talking dogs and Will Arnett. Actually name the last great movie that involved either one. Don't worry... I'll wait.

Uncle Drew


It stars NBA basketball star Kyrie Irving as an old basketball phenom, and old I mean elderly, Uncle Drew. Nope. This movie is going to be terrible. It started as a series of silly commercials and worked its way up to a movie. There are SNL sketches that are longer than the commercials that couldn't sustain the joke long enough for a movie. But it clearly has enough fans that it was greenlit. Which means it will make a decent amount of money. But it won't be good. People. You know it won't be good.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation


Let's review the last few movies that have taken place on a cruise ship: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Boat Trip, Speed 2. Yeah... this movie smells worse than Jack and Jill.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again


People! How many movies can we make surrounding the songs of ABBA?! There are a lot of people who really enjoy the musical, but did you see the first movie? It's one of the worst put together musical movies of all time. And it had freakin' Meryl in it! Just look at the trailer for this landfill of shit. It's pretty much implied that Meryl's DEAD. And that she wanted nothing to do with this sequel. Are there even any ABBA songs left to sing? Because clearly there are just some re-used ones from the first movie with a bunch more white people dancing. Oh, and Cher. Great. Cher. Cool. Go to Hell, people associated with this movie. "Here We Go Again" sounds less like a tagline and more like the uncomfortable sighs spoken by people who are forced to see the sequel to the movie they hated in the first place.

The Darkest Minds


More YA novel adaptations that are a mistake from the get-go. They're all trying to capture that Harry Potter magic and it's never going to work again. Ever. I promise you. The big draw here is that it's produced by the dudes who did Stranger Things. Produced. That's it. And the biggest name attached to the movie is Mandy Moore. When I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought they were showing me a trailer for a new show on ABC Family (or FreeForm as it's now called). Cheap, stinky, bad.


Avengers: Infinity War


I know. I know. You're ALL excited about this movie. It looks epic. But do you possibly think it looks too epic? Like there's literally TOO much going on that no filmmaker, no matter how capable, could organize this many A-list actors and Marvel heroes into one movie? How is it not going to be a cluttered mess? I mean, Captain America: Civil War was such a mess it was hard to care about anyone! We can't lock on to anyone here to care about much, we have to rely on how we feel about them in previous movies. I don't know. I'm not saying it's going to be bad... but I just don't see how it's going to be that good either.

Solo: A Star Wars Story


This is going to be the biggest Wildcard of the Summer. With everything happening during production, the firing of its original directors, the bringing in of Ron Howard to re-shoot and re-write most of the movie... I'm worried it's going to be a mess of epic proportions. Now, Rogue One was really good and went though similar problems, but I would LOVE to see the Phil Lord/Chris Miller version of this movie. They're the exact type of directors and writers who can handle a one-off Han Solo film. Ron Howard is very capable... but he's also very safe. So, hopefully it's better than I'm expecting. But really... we know we're all seeing it for Donald Glover's Lando character. No one actually wants to see a movie about Han Solo where he's not portrayed by anyone other than Harrison Ford. That's just blasphemy.

Action Point


I only put Action Point in the Wildcard section because I didn't know where else to put it. I don't think it's going to be one of the best of the year, nor do I think it'll be the worst. The trailer looks funny enough, but I feel like it's going to fall into the hole that Bad Grandpa did where we just want another Jackass movie and not a movie that has real-stuff in it, but is put around a fake movie plot. So, it'll be funny in some areas and a bit incoherent in others. Connecting these moments to a plot is going to be a bit of a stretch, but watching Johnny Knoxville hurt himself is one of life's greatest pleasures.

Ocean's 8


So, I genuinely think this movie is going to be a good movie. I love the fact that they're making another Ocean's movie with an all-female cast. I'm in for that. And I had originally intended to put this in the Upcoming Best... but I just couldn't shake the fact that this is still a spin-off/fourth sequel to a franchise that really ran out of steam fast. I like that there's new characters and new capers... but is it really going to excel in the series where the others didn't? Chances are it's just going to be another acceptable entry, but not really elevate itself over any of the other films in the series. Except Ocean's Twelve. It'll be better than that.



 Great concept. Great cast. But the execution is going to be a little bit more of a challenge. I'd heard about the idea of a group of friends playing a 30-year game of tag and thought it sounded humorous. People getting tagged at weddings, funerals, etc. is all ripe for comedy. But then the trailer came out and I'm less convinced it's going to be funny. It's probably going to be your run of the mill summer comedy that has a few very funny moments, several chuckles here and there, and be forgettable as soon as the credits start to run. I doubt it'll be the best... I'm just hoping it's not one of the worst of the summer.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


I was so excited when Jurassic World came out. I thought it looked like the perfect vehicle for Chris Pratt. After seeing the movie, I was devastatingly disappointed. Not only did they misuse Pratt, but it's the worst movie of all the entries. It's somehow NOT fun and it's the reason director Colin Trevorrow lost the ninth Star Wars movie. Now, if they'd let him direct this sequel, it was easily going into the Upcoming Worst section. And while he's still credited as a writer... new director JA Bayona is someone I trust. The Orphanage and A Monster Calls are brilliant movies. I feel like he's got what it takes to look at the trash Trevorrow puts out and make it actually work. The fact that they're using animatronic dinosaurs again makes it even better. CGI, even as great as it looks these days, still makes the dinosaurs look fake. If he can breath some life into this movie and especially its hollow and boring characters, this could be one of the best movies since the first one. If he lets too much Trevorrow creep in... it's going to be just as much of a letdown as Jurassic World was.

The Nun


Now, there's not a trailer for this movie, yet, but here's why I can't put this film into either Best or Worst category-- I love what James Wan has done with The Conjuring franchise. Yet, the first Annabelle was terrible. But the second one was good. Spinoffs are tricky. The Nun character in The Conjuring 2 was terrifying because we got no background. It was just horrifying to look at. Trying to create a mythology around the character may elevate the scares or completely diminish them. I hope it's the former, but chances are it'll be the latter.

The Spy Who Dumped Me


Huge Kate McKinnon fan. Not a fan of Mila Kunis. I don't think she's funny and yet she's the supposed star of this movie. It's supposed to be an action-comedy that finally lets empowered women have their own action-comedy movies... yet it's titled after the male spy who dumped HER. So, I don't know. The trailer doesn't look great, save for McKinnon's parts. And we've seen with Rough Night that she can't always save a movie, even though she's great in it. My instinct is to say this is going to be bad and just go watch Melissa McCarthy's Spy again... but it might actually surprise me.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Super Troopers 2: Seventh Grade Me Is So Happy Right Meow

I saw Super Troopers in seventh grade. My grandmother dropped me off at the theater to see something else- I dunno, probably Spy Kids or something. But I snuck into Super Troopers and it was one of the best movie-going experiences of my entire life. It was the first movie I ever snuck into. It was the first R-rated movie I'd ever seen in theaters. And it was the first movie I'd ever seen alone. From the very beginning, when the trio of stoners are pranked by the "serious" highway patrolmen, I was laughing so hard I had to quiet down for fear of being noticed and kicked out. Super Troopers will always have a special place in my heart. I've seen it dozens of times and every time I watch it, it brings back those moments of glee from seventh grade me watching it alone in the theater and I can't help but laugh. However, this is the problem with waiting 17 years to do a sequel to a comedy-- comedy evolves. Look at the last few comedic sequels that waited 10-20 plus years before offering the world a second helping. How have they fared? Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2, and Dumb and Dumber To were not very good movies. We saw them, and even convinced ourselves we liked them because the originals were such iconic and original films when they first came out. They defined the comedy brand of their time-- but the comedy brand evolves quickly. If one waits too long to make a sequel to the funny... the funny isn't funny anymore. After Will Ferrell made Anchorman he made Talladega Nights which was in the same humor-vein that Anchorman was. Then he made Blades of Glory, then Stepbrothers... then it kind of fizzled out. When was the last time you saw a Will Ferrell movie like that? He's had to adapt to the times. Ben Stiller doesn't make "character based" movies anymore and Jim Carrey apparently just doesn't make movies anymore. Comedy evolved past these humors. Hell, as sad as it is to think about... even the Seth Rogen/Apatow crew aren't churning out movies like they used to. Comedy is an ever-evolving thing, so sequels need to happen immediately... or not at all. Super Troopers made the seventh grader in me so happy... because that's where the humor is at. It's 2001 humor in 2018 and anyone who's not a die-hard fan of the first film isn't going to enjoy this latest entry.

The troopers are back! All five, comprised of comedy troupe Broken Lizard. Our favorite stoner cops, Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Mac (Steve Lemme), Foster (Paul Soter), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), and of course, Rod Farva (Kevin Heffernan). If you recall, their Vermont highway patrol station had been shut down and they became local cops. Now, they're all working odd jobs, but none are cops anymore (due to what is only known as the "Fred Savage incident"). However, the governor of Vermont (Lynda Carter) has learned that the border between Vermont and Canada actually extends more north. A small Canadian region is now an American region, and needs a small police force in order to smooth over the transition of Canada to America. So... she recruits our troopers. From there, it's a series of gags, puns, and a shit-load of Canadian jokes (seriously, I didn't realize how much material you could generate from jokes about Canada). Rob Lowe plays the Mayor of Canada who runs a Hockey bar/brothel. Will Sasso, Hayes MacArthur, and Tyler Labine play French-Canadian Mounties hired to show the troopers around, even though they're losing their jobs. And Emmanuelle Chriqui is a French woman who has something to do with the plot, but I'm not entirely sure. There's also a sub-"plot" involving drug smuggling that they tackle briefly, but mostly it's just there to keep it looking like an actual movie.

I had a hard time dealing with the fact that Super Troopers 2 isn't a very good movie. Because Broken Lizard is very important to me. They're one of the very few comedy troupes still making movies-- and they haven't even made one in close to ten years. They had commercial success with Super Troopers, elevated their game to Club Dread, leading to the culmination of their careers in Beerfest which is arguably the best movie they've done. Then... they fizzled out. How many of you saw (or even heard of The Slammin Salmon)? Exactly. It was their Beerfest follow-up and it felt like a movie they could've made in college. Clearly, studios weren't trusting them enough to give them any real money and it cost us a chance at seeing if they could surpass Beerfest before becoming irrelevant. They had to use Indiegogo and crowd-source the money to get Super Troopers 2 made, and that's a shame. Because now, they've been out of the spotlight so long, they can only resort to making the same jokes and playing up the same humor that was in style over 17 years ago. Comedy evolved, but studios wouldn't let Broken Lizard evolve with it.

Something I've noticed about comedy sequels that are made decades after its predecessor-- there is a weird thing where they have to try to keep the characters the same... call back to a lot of the old jokes... and try to make it feel relevant in the new era. Super Troopers succumbs to this trend as well, though they somehow succeed backwards. The call backs (which never really work because the joke is already known) are some of the funniest parts of Super Troopers 2. Somehow, they've been able to take old jokes, use them again in a new time, and they're funnier than most other stuff in the film. However, it's when they try to make jokes adhering to what's relevant now-- is when the film fails. The movie feels like a couple of high school stoners got together and tried to write a movie with humor from 2001. For example, one of the most disappointing parts of this film is what they did with Thorny's character. I've always been a fan of Jay Chandrasekhar and I think he is the strength of the Broken Lizard gang, but his character, in the midst of the drug smuggling case, takes a female boner-pill called "Flova Scotia" and winds up having "female traits"-- like bitchiness, being overly-emotional, and having a bad sense of driving direction. These stereotyped jokes about females were tired in 2001, but maybe would've illicited a laugh or two. In 2018, they're beyond unfunny, they're offensive.

That's how a lot of the humor goes in Super Troopers 2. It's strange the different chasms of comedy they rely on for laughs-- like pun-based jokes. Don't get me wrong, I love pun-based humor, especially when it's used well. But when it's relied on for nearly 75% of the dialogue of your main characters, it becomes tedious and eye-rollingly bad. Seriously, I don't remember everyone just speaking in puns in the first movie, right? Poor Foster... all he really gets to do is keep bringing up why purchasing a police "Triangulator" was a good idea... funny? There's endless jokes about Canadians which runs its course well before the movie is even half over. Which reminds me-- in Beerfest, one of the best parts is the Broken Lizard characters had German rivals played by American comedians doing hilariously bad German accents-- and it was HILARIOUS. It worked. Here, the Broken Lizard characters have Canadian rivals played by American comedians doing humorously bad Canadian accents-- and it's just meh. There's really only one scene with them that got me rolling and it had to do with an argument over who Danny DeVito is. It's that weird kind of humor that made Broken Lizard so popular-- not archaic stereotypes about women or dialogue filled with over-used puns. The first movie worked so well because they gave each member of the troupe a different, fun quirk, which all came together to produce this magic comedy energy each member could feed off of. Now, they all have the same quirk, while trying to add a new quirk and it's just kind of disjointed.

There are some very funny moments, however. Throughout a lot of the tired and dated humor are moments that had me laughing now just as hard as I did back then. But they're so few and far between. However, there is one thing Super Troopers 2 does better than every other comedy sequel that came out well past its expiration date. Most of these comedy films know who the breakout star of the movie was. In Anchorman, yes Ron Burgandy was the comedic focal point-- but he wasn't the funniest character of the movie. That was Brick Tamland played by Steve Carell. So, what did Anchorman 2 do? They over-used the character, tried to give him more to do (even though the character Brick worked best when just in the background) and wound up making him the most annoying, irritating character in the sequel. I anticipated this is what would happen with Farva. They know he's the fan favorite and he's got to be the most fun character to write because he's such a blowhard asshole. However, not only did they not kill the character's comedy... he's the best part of the movie. They give him more to do, they up the ante on his obnoxiousness... and it works. All of the best and funniest moments of Super Troopers 2 involve Farva in some way. And this is why the film is not a total loss.

So, what can I say about the movie that you don't already know? No. It's not even close to as good as the first film. Yes, if you loved the first movie, there is plenty in here for you to like, but you're not going to leave fulfilled-- you're going to leave with this aura of disappointment. Probably the same disappointment you were hoping wasn't going to happen before you sat down to watch the film. The jokes that don't hit (and there are a lot of them) just aren't elevated enough to warrant many laughs. There's so much they could've done with the movie. Thorny lactating from female estrogen pills isn't funny. There's a scene in which a bear enters their station, which was ripe for any number of comedic situations winds up turning into nothing but Farva ending up in a porta-potty and getting knocked over... which isn't funny. The end reveal of what "actually" happened to Fred Savage (which could've been one more HUGE laugh) is such a let down that you realize this movie is trapped in 2001. Had this movie come out a year after Super Troopers was released, it may have been received just as well as the first one. But too much time has gone by, too much in pop culture has evolved and the only people that are going to appreciate the movie are our former seventh grade selves who found the first film as funny as it was. I do hope this movie makes money so Broken Lizard is able to continue making new movies instead of resorting to sequels, but I hope this is the last incantation of Super Troopers we ever get.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rampage: The Rock Is A Magic Man

I'm convinced that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made a deal with the Devil because there's no reason the dude should be a huge as he is. I mean, seriously... no one actually wanted to see the new Jumanji movie. Most scoffed that it looked like a cheap knock off that sullied the late Robin Williams' name. Yet, it made a TON of money and no one walked out of the movie hating it. For the good part of the 20-teens, The Rock has been able to smolder his way through movies and make us love him. And none of the movies are all that great is the thing! With a less affable actor on board, they wouldn't have made shit. He single-handedly revitalized the Fast and Furious franchise. Vin Diesel's career was all but over and then came this mountain of a man to breath fresh life into an already exhausted franchise. Central Intelligence was just okay, Baywatch was humorous at best, hell, the dude made a damn Hercules movie fun! He's able to take mediocre source material and turn it into solid box office gold. Rampage is no different. This movie is bad. And yet... I had a great time watching it. Thanks, in large part... to the man, the myth, the rampager... Dwayne Johnson.

The plot of the film... well, the plot of the film matters little. The Rock is a monkey doctor. Or a monkey wrangler. He's a monkey taker-carer and his albino gorilla, George, is his best friend. A pathogen created by a shady company is aboard a space station. The space station explodes. The containers holding the pathogens make it through Earth's atmosphere without burning up and land in the zoo next to George's enclosure. He ingests the pathogen and it turns him humongous and angry. The pathogen also lands in the wilderness where a wolf inhales the green chemical as well as a swamp where it affects a gator. Enter an ex-employee of the shady company, Dr. Caldwell (Naomie Harris) who knows how to find the cure for big ol' George. Enter dickhead, self-proclaimed "cowboy" government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to take over the "situation" and totally mess everything up. Enter head of the evil corporation Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman). Through this laundry list of people, they inadvertantly lead huge, angry George, evil flying wolf, and croc the size of a football field to the middle of the city where they, indeed, RAMPAGE the shit out of it.

Rampage reunites The Rock with his San Andreas director Brad Peyton, so we already know the two have some sort of chemistry and together can make a fun disaster-type movie. Instead of bad weather, we've got mutant animals rampaging through town. But, the movie is bad. It's really, really bad. But, and I'm sure you've already realized this-- it's fun bad. It's fun to laugh at how bad the movie is until the monsters do their destruction and then have to (of course) fight one another. The Rock is really there to keep us happy in our seats, so we don't get the urge to walk back to the box office and demand our money back. Because it's really, really bad. The dialogue, in particular, is the worst part. Evil Claire is there to spell out in excruciating detail her evil plan. Harvey is there to do a piss-poor southern accent and grin like a moron all the while spouting cowboy cliches and causing minor conflict for The Rock. Caldwell is there to look good next to The Rock and give his character answers to lingering questions he has. And all of it is junky and schlocky and bone-headed... but damn it if I didn't have a really good time watching the movie.

There is a significant amount of destruction caused within the film and wayyyyy more casualties than I expected, and some of the fights with the "monsters" are a little shaky and fast... but because The Rock runs around fighting back with them-- it works. He saves the movie from being just another forgettable creature feature. The latest Godzilla was a mess and arguably worse than the hated 2008 Matthew Broderick incantation... but I'm willing to bet had they cast The Rock in that film... it'd have made triple the money and be remembered as America's best Godzilla movie ever made. As strange as it sounds-- a movie about a giant albino gorilla, an evil flying wolf, and a massive teeth'd out crocodile shouldn't fail no matter who the star is. But without The Rock... the movie wouldn't have made any money, any sense, and anyone leave the theater feeling like they had a hell of a good time.

Look, video game movie adaptations suck. The Rock doesn't. You figure it out.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Blockers: American Pie For The Feminist Era

Coming of age sex comedies have been around for several decades. It seems every generation has one. The 70s had Animal House, the 80s had Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the 90s had American Pie, the aughts had Superbad and now our youthful high school millennials have Blockers. The trend, until now, with "sex pact" movies and films whose plots center around high schoolers wanting to lose their virginites is that we've really only gotten the male point of view. When a high school male intends to lose his virginity, we root him on. We desire for him to go through his journey a boy and come out at the end a man. Hell, in American Pie when Jason Biggs' dad finds out about all of his sex fantasies, he has an awkward man-to-man talk with him about it, but never questions the reasons surrounding it. It's just understood-- he's a high school male who wants to have sex. That's normal. That's natural. That's understandable. Yet, there's this stigma still lingering, even in 2018, that it's okay for a boy to want to lose his virginity, even go off on a quest in order to lose it-- but if it's a girl... she's to innocent and delicate to even want to have those thoughts. She's a little flower who needs to be protected because she can't make decisions on her own and if she loses her V-card in high school, for the rest of her life she'll be perceived by others as damaged goods. Blockers takes this stigma and presents it as it really is-- a truly messed up double standard. It's done in a very clever way and for all teenage girls out there right now dealing with these archaic societal issues... this is the movie they need to see. Blockers is the coming of age sex comedy the twenty-teens deserves.

Julie, Kayla, and Sam have been best friends since elementary school. Julie's mother Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla's dad Mitchell (John Cena), and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) have known each other just as long. On prom night, the three girls decide to make a sex pact in order to lose their virginities. Julie is "in love" with her boyfriend. Kayla just wants to get it out of the way, and Sam, who knows she's gay but hasn't been able to come out to anyone, doesn't want to be left out of the group. They're three different reasons to take "the plunge", yet all three are very relatable to nearly every teen dealing with hormones and feelings of their own. After leaving for prom, Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter discover their sex plans and set off to c**k block their daughters because they don't believe they're ready. Lisa, a single mother, doesn't want Julie accidentally falling for the wrong guy, making bad decisions and ending up in the same situation as she. Mitchell considers himself his daughter's hero and doesn't believe any guy is good enough for her. And Hunter, who's always known about his daughter's  "secret", doesn't want his daughter to make it with a dude and ruin the person she's eventually going to be.

Now... most of the movie is following the pratfalls and hi-jinks of the parents trying to put a stop to their daughters night, but as audience members we know their intentions are 100% wrong. What the writers of this film have done well is given us enough about each girl for us to realize, yes, they are naive teen girls (as ALL teenagers are), but they're also not dumb. Each one is strong enough to understand what they're doing and are smart enough to make the decisions they're making. The only ones who don't understand it are the parents. It's presented in a way that if this movie had been about their three sons... there wouldn't be a movie to begin with. Each parent, in their own way, admits that it's different for girls than for boys. The "consequences" of losing one's virginity for a boy isn't even comparable to that of a girl. And this is the fallacy that director Kay Cannon is exposing with Blockers. Most people have sex for the first time at a young and naive age. Most people don't wind up marrying the person they lose their virginity to and most people come away with it unscathed-- boys AND girls. And the stigma around girls losing their virginity needs to come to an end. Blockers is a good start for that.

As far as the movie goes, it's very well done, and pretty funny. It's certainly not laugh-out-loud, roll on the floor, choking on your own laughter funny, but there are some pretty great moments of comedy throughout. Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz are made for movies like this because they can play the neurotic parents, but also bring the laughs. The stand-out of the movie, however, is John Cena. I love the fact that ten years ago, Hollywood was trying to make this guy an action star. His hollow, wooden performances and overall bad acting (plus the fact that NO ONE saw his movies) kind of ended that attempt at movie stardom, but those in the Apatow/Fey-Poehler clan saw that this guy had a real knack for comedy. He's making a comeback in comedies playing against his type. He's a mammoth of a human being, but when he's playing at his most vulnerable, it's hilarious. His comedic roles in Trainwreck, Sisters, and now Blockers are doing for his career what 21 Jump Street did for Channing Tatum. Watching Cena as the sensitive father (who has the propensity to cry a lot) along with two other capable comedic actors, elevated the movie's comedy. And yes, the butt-chugging scene is even funnier than the trailers.

I'll be honest-- when I first saw the trailer for this film, I had no desire to see it. A lot of the great comedy in the film was left out of the trailer (thankfully), but its announcement of being from the writer of the Pitch Perfect franchise really made me disinterested. However, after hearing really good word of mouth, and seeing such a high score on rottentomatoes, I had to check it out for myself and I'm really glad it did. While I'm unfortunately a little too old and a little too male to be the intended audience for the film, this is a film I would show all teenage girls and close-minded parents. Even through all the scatological humor, there is a real feminist message shining through. Hollywood, you're on a roll the last few years... lets keep our comedies and our films in general trending in the right direction like Blockers.


Friday, April 6, 2018

A Quiet Place: Silent, But Deadly

John Krasinski is not a name you would typically (or ever) associate with the horror genre. As an actor he's been in mostly comedic roles, and as a director he's done a few low-budget quirky indies. A Quiet Place marks his first ever widely released film (as a director) and his first foray into the jungle of horror films-- and he does not disappoint. For someone like Krasinski to step out of his comfort zone and step behind the lens of a genre he doesn't have any experience with, there has to be a hell of a good script to back it up. After seeing the film, it became clear why he was so drawn to the film. It's fresh, it's tense, and it's nothing I've ever seen in the horror genre. And it's really, really good, people.

Set only a few years in the future, the world has been ravaged by monstrous creatures who kill at even the slightest noise. However, because these creatures only possess the sense of hearing, the very few who've survived have learned to live in silence. They walk on roads of sand with their bare feet, they play board games with crocheted game pieces, and they speak entirely in sign language. We follow the Abbott family. We get a slight glimpse that there are a few other survivors, but not many. Papa Abbott (Krasinski), pregnant Mama Abbott (Emily Blunt) and their kids have survived in this world for at least two years. This new way of living has become routine for them and they have backup plans for everything. But, of course, all does not go according to plan. Little noises here and there, separation of family members, and the birth of an infant all lead to a very intense back half of the film.

Krasinski does a very good job of keeping the tension high and steady. Once the shit hits the fan, it does not stop spinning until the very last frame of the movie. There is hardly any dialogue in the entire film and most of it is spoken through sign language subtitles. The background music is scarce and the tiny noises of their lives are heightened to give the viewer an intense and breathless movie-going experience. The way the family keeps the noise to a minimum is very creative. The troubles they get into with noise, and how they get out of it, is also very inventive. And the creatures themselves are brilliantly crafted. They're fierce and fast and aggressive and terrifying. Krasinski does a good job of revealing them slowly over the course of the movie, only giving us a full look at the climax.

The biggest challenge facing the script and the film is getting these characters to connect with the audience without any dialogue. Not only do we care for this family, but we root for them. There is a significant amount of heart and emotion in the film. There's tears and heartache and real human depth and emotion. This is also something not very common in the genre and something an outsider like Krasinski is capable of bringing to the table. The other part of the movie that was really well done that immediately set the tone and terror of the movie is the first five minutes of the movie. It's one of the most shocking openers of a movie I've ever seen since Scream. The film hooks you with the horror, keeps you with the emotional connection, and leaves you out of breath by the end.

A Quiet Place is getting rave reviews, and they are well-deserved. There was really only one plot-holey thing about the movie that slightly irked me, but not enough to ruin anything about it. At a crisp 90 minutes, the film never over-stays its welcome. But make sure you don't see this movie in a full theater. This is one of those to see at noon on a Tuesday. The movie's scares are elemental to its silence and any giggling high school kids or douchebag there who laughs to mask the insecurities of being scared are going to ruin the film for you. I don't want to immediately pigeon-hole Krasinski as a director, but if this is the quality of horror films we're getting from actors who are more known for their comedic efforts, then I want Krasinski to stay in this genre as long as he possibly can.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Isle Of Dogs: The Fantastic Mr. Chief

Wes Anderson is a polarizing director. He's one of the few I'd say you either love him or hate him. His style of directing, his dialogue and his humor in general are tailored to those who understand his work. Even when he's gone "mainstream" with wide-released films like Fantastic Mr. Fox, there's still the Wes Anderson machine at work. Every actor is deadpan, spouting lines of dry humor within a very symmetrically shaped scene frame. I personally love it. I find most of his movies to be original pieces of work that bring happiness and joy to me as a movie-goer while dealing with real-life complicated issues. They're "fantastical" without being expensive. He uses a vast array of colors and set pieces that could fill a museum. His imagination is that of a Del Toro, only instead of using it for darkness, he uses it for quirk. My first experience with Wes Anderson was The Life Aquatic and then The Darjeeling Limited. Both of these films are generally relegated to the bottom of his filmography totem, but they're still my favorites because they're the ones that got me to love Anderson as a filmmaker. His brand of humor is unique and it's a nice change of pace to see a "different" comedy that makes me laugh and giggle and grin as much as a low-brow comedy can. And what's crazy-- he keeps getting better. The dude finally earned his first Oscar noms with The Grand Budapest Hotel, and in my opinion, Isle of Dogs is one the best movies he's ever made. The movie is elevated past some of his most iconic works on pure whimsy alone. I loved every second of it.

Set in Japan, an outbreak of "dog flu" has forced cat-loving/dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi to exile all dogs to Trash Island. There, a pack of dogs roam the island battling other factions of dogs for bags of trash. The dogs include Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), and Chief (Bryan Cranston). All, except Chief, have been taken from their masters and forced to adapt to the lives of trash-dwelling strays. Chief, on the other hand, is a stray from very young and the leader of the pack-- due to his inclination to fight for what he wants (which is mostly, again, just bags of trash). A young boy, Atari, crash lands his little plane on the island in search of his lost dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). The pack band together to help young Atari locate his dog. The B story of this tale involves an American foreign exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig) bringing to light a cure for dog flu that has been covered up by the Mayor in an attempt to keep dogs out of Japan. The adventure these characters go on is so fun and whimsical and seriously creative that it's hard not to sit there with a big dumbass grin on your face and giggle.

Isle of Dogs works in almost every way a movie can work and then some. Every single risk Anderson takes pays off. Starting with the idea of going with stop-motion again. The attention to detail Anderson takes, coupled with his unique style of filming and cinematography only enhances the gorgeous world (that just so happens to take place on an island of literal pieces of trash). The dogs are all meticulously constructed and animated, you forget you're watching figurines. Their eyes are vulnerable, their noses wet, their fur blowing in the wind-- it's almost more impressive to see than some of the best CGI we've seen in recent memory. All of these dogs are quirky and fun. Even the hard-nosed Chief, who is a self-proclaimed biter, is a lovable enough character that it's fun to watch his rough exterior change (even quite literally in one scene) to softened lovable pup. You can tell by watching this movie that Anderson really does have an affinity for canines.

The movie is also very funny. Wes Anderson, who looks like one of those dudes who lurks in the shadows of a Starbucks with his laptop, doesn't strike you as a guy with that great of a sense of humor. But he is. He's getting funnier too. His dry sense of humor, coupled with witty dialogue makes this movie humorous as well as charming. It's a love letter to dogs, with an adorable story at the forefront that reminds me why I started loving Wes Anderson in the first place. All of the voice actors fit in perfectly with his style and the deadpan delivery of lines mixed with the cuteness of the dogs somehow works-- even when it seems like it wouldn't. I'm really, really hoping this movie gets the attention that it deserves. 

You know those white people who are just obsessed with other cultures? A lot of times it's nerdy white dudes who just love Asian cultures-- this comes across very clearly with Wes Anderson. You can tell he has an affinity for all things Japanese. Along with hiring Japanese writer Kunichi Nomura to help make sure every detail was presented accurately, I love the fact that Anderson took the time to do so. All of the Japanese characters speak Japanese and while we do get some of the translations, a lot of the time we don't. And we don't need to. The dogs don't need to understand Atari's language to know that he's hurting for the loss of his dog and will do anything to find him. Is this cultural misappropriation? Maybe? I think there's a strong argument on both sides. Is there an inherent reason this movie needed to be set in Japan? No, probably not. But, I respect the fact that Anderson didn't just throw in his white-perception of Japan and actually took the measures to make sure everything was presented accurately and respectfully.

Keep in mind, parents with small children, even though this movie is animated and it's about talking animals-- it's not exactly a kids movie. There are some rough fights, some scarred up characters, a little bit of language and themes that children aren't going to understand (hence the PG-13 rating). There's no goofy singing and dancing and loud, outlandish dog characters there to entice children. It's a Wes Anderson movie. Had this movie been about people, the script would only need to change the species of its characters. It's not his attempt at a family film. But it is a well-executed, incredibly charming, overwhelmingly whimsical, dreadfully funny film that will melt the hearts of dog lovers everywhere. I loved this movie and even after just a single viewing, I can tell you that this film quickly encroaching the top of Anderson's filmography totem-- at least to me.


Ready Player One: I Heart The 80s

Steven Spielberg made a name for himself in the 70s and 80s by being the director who could make movies that were not only poignant and long-lasting in the zeitgeist of pop culture, but that were also very fun. He's the guy that brought us Jaws and E.T. and Indiana Jones and Hook and Jurassic Park and that's the just movies he directed. There's hundreds more you love (like Back to the Future) that he produced. Most of the pop culture references we reference from 80s movies have, in some way, to do with Spielberg. Then... he decided he wanted to become a "well-rounded" director and brought us things like Schindler's List and Munich and (ugh) War Horse. In his later years, Spielberg has stopped really continuing his legendary run of films. He's become more of a paint-by-numbers "that guy used to be so great" kind of director. It's not that his movies lately have been bad, but they're just not as ground-breaking as they used to be. It used to be an EVENT when a new Spielberg movie hit the marquee. Did anyone think The Post was an event? So, it's nice to see Spielberg getting back into the fun of movies. And what better movie than one who's every reference harkens back to the time when Spielberg was the king of pop culture?

Let's put this out there immediately-- Ready Player One is, by no means, groundbreaking. It's not that "holy shit Spielberg is back!" movie. But it is very, very entertaining. I wasn't expecting it to be, especially in the first twenty minutes or so. The film begins with some very loose exposition from our narrator Wade-- who is also our main character. The year is 2045 and people LIVE online. Everyone has a VR mask and suit and live in the Oasis. They work in the Oasis. They make money in the Oasis. They game, they dance, they date, they spend their entire lives online only breaking to eat, pee, or sleep. The creator of the game, Holliday (Mark Rylance), now dead, has placed an easter egg somewhere in the system so that the person who finds it (after passing a series of tests) becomes the rightful owner of the Oasis. Of course there's a competing company, the IOI, who want control of Oasis and their evil CEO Sorrento has been training an army of gamers to figure out Holliday's clues and gain control of the one thing that runs the world. Okay-- back to Wade. He's a gamer who lives in "The Stacks", a poverty-stricken trailer park community that's basically just trailers stacked on top of trailers as high as skyscrapers. For unexplained reasons, he's an orphan and lives with his abused aunt (who we get hardly any story around). He's hellbent on finding the easter egg. He works in a team with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and three faceless others. The film is them trying to beat the IOI guys from finding the easter egg. Back to the beginning-- this is all given to us from Wade's voiceover. It's so explanatory-- Spielberg uses his words as the entire backstory instead of building up this incredible new world for us. While I wasn't really left with any begging questions, I was really disappointed I didn't get to see more into the world other than the brief "let me catch you up" narration he gives us. Then we get to see Wade's avatar in the Oasis: Perzival. He's an anime looking weirdo who, everyday, drives in the same race (heh heh with a Delorean) to try and get a clue to the egg. And then... it's just kinda like watching someone play video games. Which, if you've ever done that... it's not that entertaining.

But then the movie started to suck me in a little bit. After really disliking watching Wade's avatar, the real world starts to become integrated in the conflict. And I started to care. A little. Once the adventure begins, I was hooked. Spielberg was entertaining me in a way that I hadn't been entertained since I was a kid. There's a lot of cool stuff in the movie and some really impressive CGI and an entire sequence involving the main characters and the hotel from The Shining that was really, really cool. But all of this entertainment was very surface-level. There weren't any complex characters. There weren't any underlying or internal struggles that each person has to overcome. There wasn't even really a ton of heart in the movie. It's just pure "forget everything else" entertainment. When you're not engrossed by the adventure, your eyes are darting all over the screen looking for all the 80s movies and music references scattered about. You're rooting for these characters, even though you're not wholly emotionally invested in them as people. And the games they have to play, the puzzles they have to figure out, and the way they overcome adversity is all very clever. But, that's about it. Don't think about it too hard after because Ready Player One definitely leaves you wanting much, much more-- which is weird because it's 140 minutes long. You'd think they'd given you everything you needed. I didn't read the source material the movie is based on-- so this review is purely from a blind cinematic experience, but in my opinion, I feel like it would've worked better as an HBO mini-series than a one-off movie.

For all the good in the movie, there's the "less good". One of the puzzles they figure out is very, very easy. Yet, we're told experts have been trying 24 hours a day to crack the code for nearly five years. I figured it out before Wade even does. That strained credulity a lot (though I'll give them this-- it was the only one. The others are pretty clever). Spielberg has his characters explain things-- a lot. It's explained enough that a decent audience should understand what's happening, but it feels like Spielberg doesn't his trust his audiences enough anymore and it's explained further and further as if to a child-- yet, the people doing the explaining already know what's going on, so there's no reason to explain it to each other. It bothered me. Several times. The "love story" part of the movie is actually kinda creepy. Wade is smitten with Art3mis after meeting her once. He tells her during the second meeting. She reveals that she's not the same person in real life that she is in the game. They meet. He's still in love with her.... so she now loves him? There's not much chemistry between them and the way he keeps PUSHING with the whole "I found love you guys" starts to become a little... I don't know... yeah, just creepy. And because we don't get a whole lot of underlying emotional groundwork laid for any of these characters (other than Wade doesn't have parents for some reason), we can't really understand their reasons for doing anything. Finally, there's the pop culture references. Some of them are really, really fun (especially the Zemeckis cube-- I loved that). But, in the battle at the end, when all the characters from all the 80s references collide into one big battle-- Spielberg is all over the place too quickly. You can hardly rest your eyes on any single character. The fun of the film is seeing all the different characters you watched during your childhood, but the camera work is so frenetic all you're able to make out is a hodgepodge of animated characters battling an army of assholes. If you're going to make a movie devoted to 80s pop culture, let us bask in it a little bit and point to the screen and go "hey! That's Terminator!" or "Hey! That's Rambo!" But it was too difficult to see much of anything other than the fight.

Ready Player One is very enjoyable and extremely entertaining, but I do believe Spielberg in the 80s was more qualified to direct this film than Spielberg today. There's a fair amount of action and humor in the movie and if you turn your brain off, then it's a solid way to spend nearly three hours in a theater. But it will definitely leave you wanting more. The good news is-- that "more" you want can be satiated by just watching all the movies referenced in the film. I can get what I want out of Ready Player One by going home and watching Back to the Future. I can get my fun and excitement with character depth by popping in Jaws or Jurassic Park. It's not good enough to declare "Spielberg's back!", but it does give make us hope that Spielberg can churn out a few more sci-fi adventures before the end of his career. And if you're a video game/80s nerd... this movie will be like porn to you. But you already knew that.

Oh-- and Simon Pegg with an American accent-- totally diminishes what we love about Simon Pegg. We'll let it slide this time, Pegg. Don't do it again.