Friday, June 15, 2018

Tag: Better Than It Should've Been

Remember back in the 90s when the weekend would hit and you'd sit around your house all day with nothing to do and TBS on in the background? It's 5:00 in the afternoon and you haven't changed out of your PJs yet and all you would do is rest on the couch and watch whatever inconsequential comedy TBS was showing all throughout the day. You didn't have a smart phone to distract you from the movies. You didn't have plans because chances are you were a kid, like I was. You hated all the commercials, but the remote was so far away, you suffered through them. You'd watch movies like Dumb and Dumber, Tommy Boy, Encino Man, etc. and it was a great day. It didn't matter the quality of the comedies. It didn't matter how many times you'd seen them. That Saturday was reveled and looked forward to. Had Tag come out around that time and played on repeat on TBS, it would've fit in perfectly. Tag doesn't break any ground in the comedy genre. Tag doesn't have any commentary on any real world situations. Tag isn't going to stand the test of time. But it is a sweet little comedy with more laughs than it should to produce an end result that is better than you'd expect it to be.

Tag is based off of a true story of a bunch of dudes who have played the same game every year for over 30 years. The article showcases the importance and the awesomeness of friendships even as these guys get older. Watching old men play the game of tag like children really does bring a sense of nostalgia to the article and the film really does try to capture a lot of the essence of the article while adding a cinematic spin to it. The movie focuses on Hogan (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress) tracking down the fifth member of the group, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who in the the 30 year existence of the game, has never been tagged. Jerry is getting married and has decided at the end of the month to retire from the game completely. The friends travel to the wedding (that way they'll know his schedule) in order to finally tag him. And that's it. There's not much else to the story. It's just a series of sequences of the group trying to tag Jerry and Jerry evading them in more complex and creative ways. Along for the ride is Hogan's overly-enthusiastic and aggressive wife Anna (Isla Fisher) and an old love interest (Rashida Jones) who used to be a part of a love triangle involving Callahan and Chilli.

I went into the movie with relatively low expectations. I liked the concept of the movie and its hard to argue with a cast like this... but the trailers to the movie made it look very vanilla. It's one of those kinds of movies that you want to be great but will leave you dissatisfied as you leave the theater. Fortunately, I think my low-ish expectations actually helped me enjoy the movie a little bit more. Because while it is definitely a little on the low-fat yogurt side of comedies, it was much better than I expected it to be. What certainly worked best in the film is the chemistry between all five members. I know it's hard to believe that Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm would ever canoodle with the likes of Ed Helms, but somehow it all works. Each character has their own "quirk" that lends to the fun of the movie. Callahan is a successful CEO with a heightened ego. Chilli is the group stoner. Sable stands around spouting off humorous non-sequiturs in absolute Hannibal Buress fashion. And Jerry is basically the Jason Bourne of the group. Each sequence involving the other four trying to tag him is turned into a calculated action shot in slow motion with Jerry narrating his every move. The only weak link in the group here is actually Helms. It's something I hadn't realized until recently, but Ed Helms does not really work as a comedic actor outside of The Office. He was perfect as Andy Bernard and his character and portrayal elevated the show and contributed to the timelessness of it. But nearly everything outside The Office (save for the first Hangover movie) has been a comedic flop-- not just in terms of box office. And while he does have a good rapport with the rest of the group, he's supposed to be the one keeping the game going and everyone together. He's the ringleader and it's wrong to cast him in a role that drives a comedic film. He doesn't have the comedic strength to do it and the moments where the film rests on his shoulders feels really flat.

The best character in the entire movie however is Isla Fisher's Anna. The background of the game is that these guys started it when they were nine years old. They wrote hand-written bylaws that stated no girls were allowed to play. So, Anna, unable to play, gets weirdly aggressive and competitive when Helms' Hogan character is "it" and has to tag someone else. She's the mastermind behind his plans to tag the others and it's some of the best moments in the movie. She lives for the game, even though she can't physically tag anyone herself. I laughed more at her craziness and intensity than I did at anything else in the movie. She plays crazy great and it's the best role she's had since Wedding Crashers. She steals literally every scene she's in. I would watch an entire movie based off her character. The tag sequences are also more clever than I expected them to be. Yes, there becomes a certain repetitiveness to them, but each one brings something new and unexpected to the table. Director Jeff Tomsic treats each one like it's an action scene in a spy thriller. And while the novelty of the slow-mo gag wears thin after awhile, Tomsic still finds ways to make it funny. I didn't laugh as much as I wanted to during Tag, but I did laugh more than I expected.

Tag certainly has its flaws. The entire third act feels like the stakes have dissipated and the tone of the act is certainly different. Though it doesn't really detract too much from the overall fun of the film. There's not really a genuine reason I can give you to go see this movie in theaters when it's one of those rainy Saturday Netflix type of movies, but it's not one you'll regret dropping a few bucks to see. It's harmless, it's quirky, and surprisingly there's some heart and earnestness to the movie when examining the inner-workings of true friendship. Plus, right before the movie ends we get to see some real moments of the real group playing tag. Once you realize a lot of what's in the movie actually came from this group's real life tag antics, it makes their story even cooler. There's not a lot of comedies out right now and you could certainly do worse than watching a bunch of white dudes (and Hannibal Buress) try to touch each other and yell "you're it!"


Friday, June 8, 2018

Ocean's 8: A Fun Caper With Some Franchise Faults

I have written ad nauseam about how Hollywood doesn't take risks anymore. They essentially refuse to produce big budget summer movies that are wholly original. The "risks" that they do take still involve previous source material. Something along the lines of a King Arthur remake with Guy Ritchie at the helm. It's risky because no one actually gives a shit about King Arthur anymore. Budding screenwriters (like myself) aren't able to break into the industry with their specs anymore because Hollywood isn't buying. It used to be that if you thought high-concept, you'd have an easier time breaking in because it's something the studios could spend a ton of money on, but make even more money back. Now... (probably thanks to Marvel)... the only thing Hollywood trusts to make them money are movies that have a familiar name. I'm willing to bet that had the Jumanji "sequel" been titled Welcome to the Jungle, featuring the same cast, the same story (about four high schoolers being sucked into a video game and becoming the game's avatars), and removing the TWO Jumanji references... it would've made the same amount of money. But studios aren't concerned with telling original stories. They're concerned with making money. And they THINK the only thing that will make them any donuts will be movies with titles audiences recognize. I think Ocean's 8 could've been a really cool heist caper movie with an all-female cast. But that would take Hollywood's trust... and that's just not something they have for original material anymore. So, we've got a good script, a fun movie, and a great cast that has to make this movie their own and live up to the Ocean's franchise name. Because of this-- the movie succeeds in some aspects, but pales in comparison (a comparison that didn't have to be made) in others.  

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock)-- is Clooney's (Danny Ocean) sister. She's in prison and the film begins with her parole board hearing-- just like the first movie. She gets out of prison with a caper on her mind and puts together a team-- just like the first movie. Her team consists of Lou (Cate Blanchett), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Nine Ball (Rhianna), and Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter). The mark-- a necklace of diamonds worth over 150 million dollars to be put on display around the neck of celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the annual Met Gala. The heist/con is not necessarily just about money for Debbie, but it involves an old love interest and some revenge she feels she needs to take. There's all the same beats for the first half of the movie. Debbie putting together the team. Each member showcasing their skills. The planning of the heist. The practicing of the heist. A few minor problems-- and then enacting the heist. However, where Ocean's 8 differs is that the movie doesn't end with the completion of the heist, which was a fresh touch and an added level of conflict to the film. Overall, Ocean's 8 is a fun caper that showcases some serious female talent and, I'm assuming, will get a better audience response than the all-female Ghostbusters (which I think is still a pretty great movie). 

I have mixed feelings about Ocean's 8 in its entirety-- and a lot of these feelings stem from the fact that it's now an Ocean's film. I can't help but compare this one to the previous trilogy. What Steven Soderbergh did with his trilogy was craft a sleek and stylish caper with an assemblage of smart, yet individually unconventional characters. The reason we like these movies (or remember liking them) has to do with the writing. The dialogue is riddled with wit and quirk and has a certain tongue-and-cheek feel to it that makes the movie feel even sleeker than it is. The plans enacted (at least in the first movie) were ripe with twists and turns and were clever and inventive enough that the audience never saw the entirety of the schemes coming. Each character was given enough time that we felt like we knew them and were on board with their part of the heist. This is the reason Ocean's Eleven worked so well and Ocean's Twelve didn't. Ocean's 8 feels like a mix of the two. My biggest problem with the first half of the movie is that it just didn't feel as sleek as the other movies. There wasn't a lot of the wit in the dialogue or clever wordplay or idiosyncrasies that made each character unique and stand out from the others. Debbie is given enough time and the introduction of her character is brilliant. Blanchett gets almost enough time, but she's such a powerful (and gorgeous) screen presence it still didn't feel like enough. The rest of the group only get brief moments and it wasn't really made clear WHO they were as people and WHY (other than money) they signed up for the heist. I got almost nothing from Kaling's character. Rhianna's character was also very interesting, but we're thrust into her intro scenes just having to accept she is who she is. And Awkwafina-- an actress I was previously unfamiliar with-- was so compelling to me that I felt like I didn't know her at all, but really really wanted to. It's such a diverse and tremendous cast of women that almost all of them felt underused, even with its two hour run time.

Another "rule" the Ocean's movies generally adhere to is upping the stakes with unexpected conflict and if you've got a movie like this-- you have to stay ahead of your audience. We're expecting conflicts to arise during the planning stage as well as the enacting stage... but the clever solutions to these conflicts have to be inventive. The non-criminal average moviegoer shouldn't be able to come up with a simple solution to the problem, we should be happily surprised with how they figure out overcoming their unexpected obstacles. And Ocean's 8 never really does this. The obstacles that do arise are ones that don't seem like THAT big of a deal and the way they overcome them feel just a little bit lazy. Everything is almost just a little bit too easy for everyone (which, again, is a glaring problem with Ocean's Twelve). However, once the plan is put into motion, the fun really begins and there are some decent twists and turns and it becomes exciting and enjoyable. This is where the movie finds its strength. And while the "end" of the heist feels a tad anti-climactic, like I said... it's not the end of the story-- which I loved. By the end of the movie I was completely sold on the characters and [most of] their motivations. I personally would love to watch a few more movies with these characters. They all have a great chemistry together and there's not a lemon among them. Somehow, each of these strong actors come together to compliment one another, which is no easy feat. 

I think my gripes with the film stem from the fact that I couldn't help but compare the movie to its predecessors. And there's the fact that it does feel kind of like an origin story and the first half of origin stories always falter. I think a sequel has the chance to be even better because we know a little bit more about these women and because of this we can dive into the fun a little earlier while spending some more time with each one to get more character depth. My final gripe-- and this is not really a spoiler since it's shown in the trailer-- is the fact that it's mentioned in the very opening shot of the movie that Clooney's Danny Ocean has died. For those of you sitting there expecting him to make a cameo at the end of the film, showing that he's faked his death or whatever are going to be sorely disappointed-- just as I was. Nope. According to this movie (and it may change if we get any sequels), Danny is actually dead. I didn't like it-- not because I just love me some Clooney and fully want him to be off somewhere spending his millions of dollars with his wife Julia Roberts and kids-- but because it served no purpose to the story. We get no explanation of how it happened or why it happened and the events of the film aren't changed or motivated by his death. It felt completely unnecessary and kind of just sucks when you think about how great of an ending Ocean's Thirteen had. 

But I want more of these ladies. I want more of their capers on screen and I hope this movie makes the money it deserves. And-- this has nothing to do with the movie at all-- if they're planning on adding anymore female actors to the cast... PLEASE get Kate McKinnon on board. This is the perfect franchise for her and she deserves to be among these already great actors. 


Hereditary: You Will Probably Hate This Movie

Hello average moviegoer. Thanks for stopping by. You're here to see what all the hoopla is surrounding the new horror film hitting theaters this week Hereditary. You've seen a few trailers plastered with the phrase from critics "this generation's The Exorcist" and you're wondering if it's actually worth seeing. Well, average moviegoer, I've probably got some bad news for you. If you are the type of average moviegoer who dips into the horror genre with favorites like Annabelle or Insidious or Ouija or Paranormal Activity and consider them some of the best recent horror-- you're going to hate, nay LOATHE Hereditary. Remember how disappointed you were with It Follows? Remember when you turned out all the lights, grabbed a blanket to tuck your head into, popped some popcorn and climbed on the couch next to your giggly friends to watch The Babadook on Netflix and then turned it off halfway through because you were so bored? Remember when you went to Redbox to watch The Witch and then called their customer service line because you wanted your dollar back you hated it so much? Yeah. Hereditary is just like that. A24, the production company behind most of those movies, has made a name for themselves with unconventional horror movies. But they're not YOUR horror movies. Don't worry though... Blumhouse is just a few months away from giving you the movie that you're looking for. So, please, for the sake of us horror-morons who enjoy the disturbing, eerie, unsettling nature of A24's horror films, don't see this movie. Don't go with a bunch of your dickhead friends and laugh during all the tense moments and joke about the plot as you exit the theater. Find a dollar theater near you, buy yourselves a couple of dollar hot dogs with a cup of nacho cheese to dip it in and go see Truth or Dare again. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Are you still with me? You are?! Great! That means traditional horror fare just isn't enough for you and you're looking for terror among the outer rim of the genre. Hereditary will give you everything you need. IF you're patient. I'm talking VERY patient. I'm talking if you didn't love The Witch or The Shining or Rosemary's Baby then you might not like this movie. I fully expect the critic score of this film to be very high and the audience score to be significantly lower. It's what one might refer to as cerebral horror. It's the slow burn that disturbs more than scares. It's unnerving rather than freaky. It's going to haunt you a lot harder after you leave the theater than while you watch it. And that, my friends, is what I call good horror. While Hereditary might not be this generation's The Exorcist, it is a gift from the horror gods. It's been almost a day since I've seen the movie and it hasn't left my head. I keep thinking back to all the early scenes in the movie. Scenes that seemed innocuous-- that didn't appear to have a point and it all connects back with the conclusion perfectly. Haunting imagery from the film plagues my brain as I keep making connections back to minute details from the beginning. It's a film that isn't going to leave me for a good long while.

I'm not going to tell you anything about Hereditary other than what you're expecting is 100% NOT what you're going to see. Whatever your preconceived notions are for this film, leave them at the door because your expectations WILL be shattered. And, if you're not sitting there the entire time trying to "figure it all out", you're going to find yourself immersed in the movie and you're in for a much more disturbing ride. First time director Ari Aster crafts a seriously unsettling psychological horror drama centralized around a family and the emotional toil of the events surrounding their lives. The sets, the cinematography, the music, the sound mixing, the artwork-- all of it combines to make one dreadful experience-- and I mean that in the best way possible. His movie isn't spoonfed to you and it isn't about ghosts popping out of the shadows and jump scaring you. It's about ambiance. It's about lingering dread. It's about trying to figure out which part of the screen to focus on and worrying about what's on the other side. It's a damn near mastercraft in horror with a dude who's just put out his first movie. However, none of it would've come to glorious fruition without the work of its wonderful cast. Toni Collette is fantastic as the troubled mother. Horror movies often get overlooked for Oscars, but they were paying attention for Get Out. Hopefully they're paying attention now. She brings some much needed depth to her character as a broken mother whose emotional agony trickles down to each member of her family as they slowly each become broken in their own way. It's certainly not an easy movie to watch. And newcomer, child actor Milly Shapiro, will chill you to your freakin bones. Expect to see her around much more often. I wouldn't be surprised if the Stranger Things guys don't snatch her up for an upcoming season.

I want to tell you guys why I loved this movie. I want to discuss some of the more fucked up moments of the film with you and go on and on and on about the ending. I want to see it again because I know I didn't catch nearly half of the clues and easter eggs littered around the first half of the film. But I also don't want to ruin anything for you. I want you to go into this movie with zero expectations and just immerse yourself into it. Don't try to get scared. Just enjoy the film. And by "enjoy", I mean get ready for a nightmarish wild ride that's probably going to take some sort of pharmaceutical relief for you to ever be able to sleep again. Enjoy irresponsibly, friends.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Action Point: More Like Action Pointless... Amirite?

There are several different types of comedy. There's highbrow comedy. There's satirical comedy. There's romantic comedy. There's parody and dark comedy and slapstick and prop comedy and witty wordplay. But for some reason, nothing makes the majority of human beings laugh harder than man-gets-injured-falls-down comedy. Gimme someone hit in the groin with a football and I'll laugh for hours. This is why Jackass was such a hit-- both the TV show and the movies. It's a bunch of... well... jackasses hurting themselves for our amusement-- and damn did they hurt themselves for us. Ringleader of the jackasses has always been one of the most fearless men ever to live-- Johnny Knoxville. The group of guys themselves were pretty fierce with their choices of things they wanted to use to hurt themselves... but all the hardcore, most terrifying stunts were taken by Knoxville. The guy broke his own dick for us. And we will forever respect him for that. But in no way should we have tried to make him a movie star. I would happily watch a new Jackass movie every couple of years, but once they started putting "stories" around the stunts... that's when it started to go downhill. And Action Point is the lowest of the low for Knoxville.

Action Point is based off an actual amusement park in the 1970s that was run as the most dangerous park in the world. Six people are known to have died in the park and they were never hit with any legal problems other than a fine. It's actually quite an interesting story if you look it up. So, it's a decent set-up for a dude like Knoxville-- who still does his own stunts even at 47 years old. However, the end result is something not even die hard Jackass fans will find even slightly amusing. It's a very dull movie ruined, perhaps, by a trailer that reveals literally ALL of the funniest moments. A lot of comedy uses set ups and circumstance in order for a moment of hilarity to pay off. Knoxville and co. have never needed set-up and punchline to deliver the funny-- it's literally just guy-falls-down humor done in different and creative ways. So, the trailer for Action Point looks very funny because it's just a compilation of all the guy-falls-down moments of the movie. What you end up paying to see is a very thin and weak and poorly acted narrative surrounding each guy-falls-down moment, which, again, you've already seen in the trailers.

Obviously the Jackass guys weren't going to be able to keep up their antics heading into their late 40s. So, Knoxville and others decided to go a more Borat meets Jackass route and combine less stunts with a sort of filler narrative that gives the movie a more cohesive feeling. We, as an audience, don't give two left shits about any storyline, we're there to see the guy fall down. I thought Bad Grandpa was decent, but all of the filler narrative surrounding the stunts and pranks were the weakest moments. I watched it the entire time wishing it was just a fourth Jackass movie. But I still laughed. There's hardly any laughs to be had in Action Point. The narrative is too schlocky and poorly written to even give us a moment of connection to any of the characters. In long moments of dialogue I just kept waiting and waiting for the next stunt to get me in stitches laughing, but each one that came was anti-climactic because I'd already seen it half a dozen times in the trailer. I love Knoxville, but the guy can't act and as bad as he is, it's nothing in comparison to how terrible an actor Chris Pontius is. And the frustrating part is-- if you're going to have a movie of dumb stunts with both Knoxville and Jackass partner Pontius... maybe let Pontius do a stunt or two! He does nothing... literally nothing... but get a chuckle from the viewer once or twice for showing up wearing nothing but a speedo and mesh T-shirt. When I realized these moments were going to be the highlight of the comedy of the film, I knew I was in for a long and arduous ride.

Action Point is pretty wholly devoid of any laughs outside of what the trailer already shows-- save for the blooper reel at the end of the film while the credits rolled. I laughed more at the minute and a half blooper reel than I did in the nearly 90-minute movie of Action Point. The only thing I got out of this movie is the desire to go home and watch the Jackass movies again. Not only was it just underwhelming, it honestly is just kinda boring. The verbal jokes don't work, the physical humor has already been spoiled, and the "situational comedy" isn't really even comedy at all. So, unless you think a bunch of "characters" spouting rude variations of the last name Knoblach is the funniest damned thing you've ever heard-- you can definitely skip this one. Even if you have MoviePass, I'd say your time could be better served elsewhere. At least if you wait until it hits Netflix, you can turn it off when you realize it's nothing like what you hoped and wanted it to be.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Has All The Grace And Quality That All Star Wars Prequels Do

Once upon a time there was a Han Solo spinoff movie being directed by two filmmakers largely known for making comedies. These men are known as Phil Miller and Chris Lord. They previously helmed The Lego Movie, 21/22 Jump Street, and several episodes of The Last Man on Earth. It's not uncommon for low key directors to take over big budget productions because they bring something different to the table-- I mean, hell, the guys who did Avengers: Infinity War were coming off of Arrested Development episodes and You, Me & Dupree. The reason, I imagine, Miller and Lord were selected for this project is their sense of humor aligned perfectly with who Han Solo the character is and was. The two had yet to make a bad project and their way of making movies, though apparently unorthodox, worked when it came to the final product. However, Star Wars has never been a franchise for the unorthodox filmmaker. The producers don't like anyone messing with their structure any longer. And when it came out that Miller and Lord were encouraging improvisation in nearly every take, this did not sit well with Disney. After filming over 75% of the movie, Miller and Lord were fired and replaced with one of the SAFEST directors in Hollywood-- Ron Howard. It's not that I think Howard is a bad director, he's made some great films in the past. But Howard is more paint-by-numbers than staring at a blank canvas and creating something beautiful. Howard knows how to adhere to what the Studio heads want instead of what makes a compelling film. Howard knows how to listen. And so... we get Solo: A Star Wars Story... a tame, lame, and uninspired paint-by-numbers film that fails to live up to any expectations. As I walked out of the theater I could only think one thing-- I really wish I could see the Miller/Lord version of this movie because it couldn't be as lousy as the one I just watched.

Let's throw this out there right off the bat-- Solo is not a good movie. I didn't have super high expectations for it to begin with due to the number of problems it had during production (which is never a good sign), but it failed to even live up to those shallow expectations. First off, and this may be an unpopular opinion-- but Alden Ehrenreich is WRONG for the role of Han Solo. I didn't buy him for a single second in the film. And it's not like he was really even doing his best "Harrison Ford impression" and failed, he really did try to make the Solo character his own-- but it wasn't Han Solo. I don't know who I watched a movie about, but it wasn't Han Solo. His cockiness seemed forced, his "toughness" counterfeit, and his stupid grin looked like something the real Han Solo would've punched. Trying to portray the younger version of an American legend is no easy feat, but Ehrenreich was more like Jake Lloyd's Anakin Skywalker than he was anything resembling Han Solo. So, when your star and title character don't work from the get-go, your movie is going to suffer some. And when you try to give us a love interest with said character-- it's not going to go well either.

Apparently, Solo was in love once. And love was all that mattered. Her name was Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) and she had zero and I mean ZERO chemistry with Han (as he has zero with her as well). The plot hinges upon us caring about these two's relationship, when we really, really don't. It's hard for us to accept the fact that everything Solo does in the film is in service of getting to Qi'ra when we know the two don't end up together, Solo winds up a hardened, flirty, reprobate, and, you know, the whole kinda-important Leia thing. So, the initial mistake (and the mistake most prequels make) is if we know the outcome of the character, don't give us disingenuous stakes for the character's motivations when we're aware they won't mean a damn thing. Clarke's character will also get on your nerves. She's not great as a standalone character and because she and Solo have, I repeat, Z E R O chemistry together, she's not exactly someone you genuinely care about or root for in the film. It also doesn't help that she gets the worst and most clunky dialogue of any character, but I'm not sure cleaning that up a little bit would help the character as a whole.  For some reason, Solo thought that the last few Star Wars films (whether on the main timeline or the spinoffs) were written too well and had dialogue that didn't make you want to bash your own face with a rubber mallet, because a lot of the dialogue, especially in the first hour, is BAD. It's filled with on-the-nose explanations of things we definitely didn't need and none of it feels natural or organic. The opening scene with Han and Qi'ra has them explaining their relationship and their future plans... to each other. That's like you going to your mother and being like: "Hello, my mother. It's great that you've been my mother for thirty-one years. I love the fact that after carrying me in your womb for nine months, you gave birth to me. And that's what makes you my mother." What's even better-- is there is a bit of textual information given to us before the film starts. It's on title cards instead of the classic Star Wars scroll-- but the info given there DOESN'T MATTER AT ALL FOR THE SET-UP OF THE FILM! Had I walked into the movie two minutes late and missed the words on the screen-- I would've been able to understand EVERYTHING. So, why did they not use that time to give us the info that Han and Qi'ra apparently had to spill out to one another???

It doesn't get much better from there in terms of a lot of characters just not sounding authentic. Jokes are written for some of the characters and I'd say 1 in 10 pay off because they're clearly pre-planned jokes. None feel natural and off-the-cuff (because remember... improvisation isn't what anyone wants in a Star Wars film). There's even a moment in the film that felt like a big F**K YOU to Miller/Lord (and it could legitimately be coincidence) but when Han and his team are about to enact one of their plans-- Han's mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson) specifically yells, almost to the camera, "stick to the plan. No improvising!" Like this is what makes a plan (*cough* movie) work. When you improvise and deviate from the set plan-- everything goes to shit. Then, of course, they do improvise and the plan only works BECAUSE they deviated, but whatever. Miller/Lord clearly got the shit end of the stick. Or maybe the audience did? Let's call it 50/50. I don't know how the film looked when Miller/Lord were in the directors chairs, but I seriously hated how it looks now. The film is so dark and grainy it was difficult to tell what was going on. The beauty of the Star Wars movies is that we're given worlds and creatures and ships and space that we've never seen before. It's all new for us and it is generally visually stunning-- that is... when you can actually SEE what it is you're watching. Solo was filmed so dark and cloudy, it was like watching the movie through six layers of cigarette smoke. You can tell people are doing stuff, it's just difficult to tell what they're actually doing and it's actually very frustrating. There's a moment when Chewbacca actually rips a guy's arms off. Yeah! How awesome does that sound? I know. However, I didn't get a chance to laugh at it because it took me until the shot was basically over to realize what Chewy had done and that he was holding arms. Not because I was in shock of it, but because I visually couldn't tell what he was holding, the movie is so dark. I don't know who thought this particular aesthetic was the best choice for Solo, but have fun enjoying a movie that looks like you're watching it while sitting in a Vegas casino full of 80-year-old chain smokers.

I think the heart of the problem with Solo comes down to the fact that we really didn't need this movie. I don't know anyone who even wanted this movie. Yes, Star Wars fans are going to see it, but when Disney sat down to figure out how they're going to Marvel-up the Star Wars franchise and give us an infinite amount of spinoffs-- I doubt anyone was clamoring for Han Solo. He's one of the few untouchable characters from an actor whose portrayal is maybe more iconic than the original trilogy themselves. It suffers from the same problems the prequels (Episode I-III) do, including bad dialogue. I didn't need to know how Han actually got the name Solo (in fact, I'm kind of annoyed that's not actually his birth surname). I don't need to know the backstory of the "dice". I really didn't need to know the details of how he and Chewy met (because it kinda sucks-- but it's too dark to really see anyway, so who cares). And I sure as shit didn't want to know any of the details about the Kessel Run. Ever since Episode IV, the Kessel Run has been a running joke in Star Wars and it works because we, as an audience, don't know what any of it means. What would the Kessel Run entail? What is a parsec? It's funny because we don't know anything about it, but it's such a big deal to everyone else in the movies. It's got its own mythos that was better when we all had to imagine what it could possibly be. Showing it to us was never going to live up to our own imaginations-- and while the run was better than I expected it to be-- it was still somewhat of a letdown.

I do believe the one area of Han's past that I did want to know about was the backstory his him and Lando. Donald Glover is one of the few shining stars in the movie that make it not a complete loss. It's clear that the film should've been about Lando and his adventures and his misdeeds because they got his character right. Sure, it helps that the casting for it is perfect, but Glover IS Lando both in look, speak, and swagger. He's perfect in the movie and I would see any number of Lando movies. Solo... I wish I could tell you this was going to be a one-off like Rogue One (which is still a far superior film). But, of course, this film has been set up for a sequel, so we really don't get any of the answers we want (especially those surrounding three years of Qi'ra's life that's pretty important for us to understand). And, without spoiling anything, there's a cameo of a past character to set up a sequel that makes legitimately NO SENSE. It's a dumb as balls moment that's only really in the film so Ron Howard could see the stunned look on all our jerk faces (probably).

Look, Solo does have a few redemptive moments here and there. Usually when Lando is around or Woody Harrelson's character is around, but as the film goes on, it does tend to get a little better, but for the most part there's nothing that exciting to latch onto and actually care about. Let me put it to you this way-- in the middle of the movie, during a pretty important-to-the-plot action sequence, the sound cut out in my theater for a solid five minutes. The audience was yelling "rewind it!" Several people left their seats to get someone to fix the film. When the sound came back on, everyone was shocked that they just continued the movie, and there were several mutterings that "they better give us passes", which I assumed they would. When the film was over, and my sold-out screening walked out of the theater, there was no one waiting to apologize or hand over any passes. Some people were downright pissed and some people just kinda shrugged it off and left. This is how Solo feels. The studio has given you a movie in the way they feel they needed to give it to you. Whether that's in line with how you actually enjoy films or not, that's the way it is and they're not going to apologize for it. You can get mad or you can shrug it off and realize that this is the just a drop in the ocean of Star Wars spinoffs to come and there's no sense of expending any further energy feeling much else toward it. I just hope the studios see that in order to keep the franchise exciting and fresh and new... they need to start taking risks with their filmmakers and, for the love of God, stop making PREQUELS.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Deadpool 2: A Lot Of The Same, But In A Good Way

Marvel is having a very good year. The top two movies at the box office with nearly three billion dollars earned are Marvel movies. You know who's having an even better year? Josh Brolin. You know those two Marvel movies both resting comfortably at the top of the box office charts I mentioned earlier? Josh Brolin plays the villain in both of them. And he's not done. We all knew Avengers was a two-parter, so the dude is gonna be back in Thanos purple next year too. Mad respect for the Brolin. Anyhoo, there's really no point I was trying to make about Brolin, I just thought that little tidbit of information was relatively interesting. So... onto Deadpool 2. What can I say? I am a big Ryan Reynolds guy and it's nice to see him in the spotlight once again. He's got to be one of the most charming and charismatic actors around and not many would be able to do the Deadpool character and make audience members fall in love with him as opposed to sickened by him. I liked the movie. I didn't love it. I liked it. In fact, I liked it just as much as I liked the first one. I've only seen it once. I might watch it again in the future, but it's a movie I was happy to see. laughed at, and moved on from. This is exactly how Deadpool 2 is. If you can't be better than your predecessor, at the very least, don't get worse. And Deadpool 2, while it isn't really better, it certainly isn't worse.

It's the same schtick. Reynolds is Wade Wilson-- a human "avocado" looking anti-superhero who dispenses justice in violent and sickeningly awesome ways. He's crude, he's crass, he's vulgar, and he's hilarious. He frequently breaks the fourth wall with his narration and points out the major faults in most of the pop culture surrounding other Marvel and DC superhero movies. He's the anti-superhero superhero. This time he faces off against Cable (Brolin), a soldier who sends himself back in time from the future to stop the person responsible for causing the deaths of his wife and daughter. It's very Terminator-y, but that can be overlooked because Reynolds' Deadpool is there to acknowledge this and remind us how lazy his writers constantly are with his movies. The action is good, the comedy is good, the CGI is... well... it's sometimes pretty awful. Overall, it's pretty passable, but with each Marvel movie showcasing an ever-evolving technology where most CGI is frighteningly realistic-- there's some pretty bad and cheap CGI. It's not involved with many of the larger scenes, but it's pretty evident the studios cut costs on the quick moments they needed effects. This also could've been done on purpose as an in-joke to the movie constantly complaining about its own budget, but it does stand out like a sore thumb.

We get to meet a few new characters, but the two that stand out are Domino (Zazie Beetz) whose superpower is that she's lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney) who has no superpower whatsoever, he just found a flyer for the "auditions". There's almost a Mystery Men feel to the middle of the movie and it's definitely not unwanted. There's also a lot more X-Men involved in the plotline-- none of the familiar ones, of course, but they do play more into the central arc of the story. And, finally, audiences who aren't me who were waiting anxiously for it get the inception of the X-Force. The rest of the movie pretty much plays out like the first one. There's the rise and fall of a villain or two. There's the rise and fall of Deadpool himself. There's a lot of swearing, a lot of cool violence, and a lot of narration that holds the movie together. I will say this-- I was impressed at the amount of funny material the first movie generated, but there were a lot of jokes that just didn't land. Or maybe they did land, but they fell very flat. This one has less of that. It's very funny, but the story had me wanting more. The two movies compliment each other very well as they make up for each other's faults.

I do kind of hope that this is one of the last Deadpool movies. Not because I don't enjoy them, but they're so experimental, they should quit while they're ahead. Eventually, the novelty of the movie will fade and it'll ruin what magic it once had. I'm impressed they've been able to make such quality films twice without bordering on offensive and/or failing to achieve an actual comedy value to the film. But, while it's out, it's worth watching. There's a lot of fun to be had and you need to stay for the end credits scenes because they're funnier than they should be. Deadpool doesn't break any new ground with the character and they may have gone a little bit overboard with the self-awareness of being in a movie, but if you liked/loved the first film, it's a lot more of the same. And for once, that's not a bad thing.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Tully: Visual Birth Control

--Written by Guest Reviewer Ashley Green







I'm not a mom, but I thought I'd like to be one someday. After seeing Tully, that day... is... far, far, far away... beyond sight... if it even still exists.

Tully is not a feel-good movie. Tully will gut punch you with the realness of motherhood and then laugh at you because you were dumb enough to think it's all cute baby clothes and an occasional shitty diaper. Tully will make you feel bad for all the moms ever.

Marlo (m-fing Charlize Theron-- God bless everyone) is an overwhelmed, totally exhausted mother of three... well, two in the first twenty minutes of the movie. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston, who is aging decently if you were wondering), is an aloof and absent dude. Not a terrible guy, but definitely not in the top percentile of husbands or fathers. The two have been drained by life. The film opens with Marlo brushing (with an actual brush) the body of her son Jonah, a therapy technique she discovered, meant to help with his "quirkiness". This "quirkiness" is arguably Asperger's, but it's never confirmed in the film. Also, I'm not a doctor. But I'm like 85% sure it's Asperger's. I was raised by a childhood behavioral therapist. Not because I was in a facility or anything, that was just my aunt's job. Whatever. I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Marlo's day-to-day life is stressful. Even sitting in the audience, knowing what I was watching was just an effing movie, my anxiety was on par with hers. She is constantly going. Whether it's getting her kids from point A to point B, breaking down over Jonah's meltdowns, or listening to Jonah's principal telling her that he needs an aide or needs to leave the school. Marlo is consistently at a 10. Or rather, life around Marlo is consistently at a 10. And she's pregnant.

Even the time she tries to take for herself is sad. There's a scene with Marlo at a coffee shop, trying to order a decaf coffee and some asshole lady informs her that there are "trace amounts of caffeine, even in decaf", but Marlo doesn't care. Then, the asshole lady is outraged that Marlo ordered it anyway. THEN Marlo's ex, the totally hot Violet, bumps into her and is clearly horrified by what has become of Marlo. And Marlo is clearly horrified of what she's become as well. Side note, I AM LIVING FOR BISEXUAL CHARLIZE THERON.

After visiting her extremely wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) and his we're-better-than-you-guys-and-we-know-it family, we find out that Marlo and Drew weren't planning on having a third kid and Marlo's brother can see that she's not particularly overjoyed about it. So, he gives her the number of a "night nanny", a person to take care of the newborn overnight so she can actually get some sleep. He tells her that he'll pay for it, and that she needs to take care of herself. Marlo stares at him and I want to give all of the awards to the person who painted on those dark circles under her eyes.

CUT TO: the birth of her third child.

It's a quick montage of what some movies draw out. Her water breaks, she and Drew go to the hospital, she's in the designated birthing room, she's screaming because she's having a baby, etc. The thing is, throughout all of these quick scenes, Marlo doesn't say anything, and Drew really doesn't either. It feels like, to them, this is just another thing to get done. When we see Marlo after she's given birth, she's indifferent to the baby next to her and Drew has fallen asleep in the chair. She gets out of the hospital bed and walks toward the bathroom, her adult diaper the main focus of the shot. I could feel my own vagina sewing itself shut.

After countless nights of taking care of her newborn and dealing with her two very young children, Marlo caves. She's no longer above her hoity-toity brother's night nanny gift.

Enter Tully.

Tully (Mackenzie Davis who is so cute I want to SCREAM) is basically an overbearing hipster, but she's sweet and she's kind and she makes everything better. Marlo's life changes drastically. She's laughing again. She's having fun. She's playing with her kids and enjoying life and dressing up Tully in an old school diner waitress outfit and then letting Tully bang the shit out of her husband, but it's fine! Marlo's there too and she's giving direction! Everyone is happy! Tully's existence in Marlo's life is actually really beautiful to watch. Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron have such good chemistry that it's like seeing a genuine and real friendship unfold. While Davis' character isn't very dimensional, she pulls depths from Theron's and helps to create a fleshed out, whole version of Marlo.

Of course, whatever happiness we're given in this movie is quickly taken away because duh. Tully arrives one night riled and upset. She convinces Marlo to out with her and party. They spend the night in New York, driving through Marlo's old neighborhood, drinking, and attempting to drunkenly visit Marlo's ex, Violet. It's a whirlwind of drunk emotion centered on the life Marlo lived before getting married and having kids. After some sad and destructive moments between the two, it's revealed that Marlo's maiden name is, in fact... Tully.

We were Palahniuk'd, people! It's Tyler Durden all over again. Although it isn't very surprising, it doesn't feel cheap. It actually works for the movie. Without Tully, we wouldn't really know Marlo. We would have been stuck in a ceaseless, mundane insanity without ever getting to understand what is beneath Marlo's Postpartum depression and why her depression exists in the first place. What Tully brings to the table is an intimate and heartbreaking look into mental health. It enhances the moviegoing experience, which is why it's a spoiler, but not like a, you know, Avengers-spoiler.

This movie was good. It was really, really sad, but it was good. Charlize Theron is such an incredible actor and your heart will be all kinds of broken when you leave the theater. I think any and all types of moms will like watching it because it probably captures the loneliness of motherhood. I think anyone who wants to be a mom should watch it because we are all naïve and dumb and know nothing of motherhood. I think expectant mothers should maybe not watch it because if I had a kid in my gut and saw that life play out in front of me... needless to say, I'd be really stressed out.