Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Shock and Awe (2018)


Knight Ridder, which I had never heard of before watching this movie, was at one point the second largest newspaper publisher in the United States. Shock and Awe is the story of when Knight Ridder was the only media source with the balls and attention to detail to challenge George W. Bush’s insistence that there were weapon of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq. 

Shock and Awe feels like an update of All The President’s Men. And in many ways it is. Only this time, the two reporters on a quest for the truth are doing so in wake of 9/11, rather than on the cusp of the Watergate scandal. 

This is strange timing for a movie about 9/11. It feels awkward that with the Trump circus in full swing, director Rob Reiner felt compelled to remind us of the last bonehead president who sat in power of the most powerful nation on earth. Or does it? Is Reiner attempting to show us a parallel between these two administrations?
As the world would later understand, Bush Jr. lied to America about there being WMD’s in Iraq. He took it as an opportunity to settle scores started by his father. 
Trump also seems to be using the White House with his own personal agenda in mind. 
Both Bush and Trump seem to create their own agendas. They both seem to say whatever pops into their heads at any given moment, whether it has any bearing on the truth or not. If ‘fake news’ and presidents having Twitter accounts was a thing during the Bush years, it’s very likely we would see even more commonalities.
The characters even make a remark about the watergate scandal in the movie, providing a third parallel: Nixon had watergate, Bush had the Iraq war, Trump has Russian collusion. One step forward, two steps back as far as the presidency is concerned seems to be America’s letterhead. 

Regardless of Reiner’s intentions with the movie coming out at this point in time, it does do a few things right: it shows an already bygone style of journalism. Social media and click bait have made even the most trusted source in American journalism hard to trust. Seeing reporters banging away at desk computers all day and all night, and chasing down leads will never get tiring, for me anyway; the characters are well cast and give uniformly solid performances; and the story, despite the fact that it sheds little new light on things we’ve known about the invasion of Iraq for over a decade now, is told well enough that the film never gets boring, and at a svelte ninety minutes, doesn’t bother overstaying its welcome, which these types of films often do. 

That being said, the runtime, the strange timing and the general feel of the production gives the movie the air of a pilot to a new Netflix drama, rather than a movie people will want to pay money to see on the big screen. 
With movie goers drowning in Marvel and Pixar and acting giants like Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson in 100 million dollar action feasts, there truly is no place at the multiplex for a tight journalistic drama about a war we never hear about anymore, and a president who now somehow seems not half bad in light of the president now occupying office who is well on his way to being the biggest political blunder in the history of American politics. 

Shock and Awe is good, but is relatively inconsequential. It doesn’t have the teeth for the story it’s telling. It doesn’t feel as dangerous as it should. Which leaves the viewer feeling gummed, rather than bitten. And when you’re telling a story about such a serious topic, you want make sure the audience leaves with teethmarks. 

Rating: ***

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Equalizer 2 (2018)

Washington Boulevard

The Equalizer works best in the in between. In between the action, in between the plot points, in between the flurries of speed and precision exacted by Denzel's character in the seconds before he wipes out an entire room full of douchebags. 
I like the quieter moments in this film and wish that there were more of them. 

The Equalizer is based on a television series that I've never seen, although from what I hear, it's not nearly as violent or retribution filled as these films are. 
But in essence, Denzel plays Robert McCall, an ex marine who takes it upon himself to even the stakes when bad guys mess with innocent people. 

The first Equalizer was a lot of fun and something of a surprise hit for Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua, who has worked with Denzel on numerous films, most notably Training Day, which is still Denzel's best screen performance, as far as I'm concerned. 
Whether a second Equalizer movie was necessary at all is a fair question. It doesn't add anything to the first and unless Washington makes McCall his Ethan Hunt and keeps coming back and making more of these films, an Equalizer franchise seems unlikely. 
But I'm not reviewing this movie based on how much we needed it. I'm reviewing is based on how good it is. 

And it is good. I really liked this movie, for the most part. The first two thirds of the film were really well done, established a nice, easy pace and allowed us to dig a little deeper into this McCall character and his deceptively simple life in inner city Boston. 
The last third of the movie gets bogged down in silly plot semantics and cartoonish bad guys saying cartoonish bad guys things. 
Because at its core, this is a film of narrative vignettes, with a haphazard main plot line that feels tacked on and forced. A self conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers who were probably afraid that the movie's slower pace and more character driven narrative would bore audiences who came to see Denzel kick some silly villains ass. 

And Denzel does kick some ass. As in the first film, he likes to time how long it takes for him to beat the snot out of half a dozen people, leaving all of them broken, bloodied, or just dead. Time slows as he surveys his task and when he does let loose, the action is sped up and it's over as soon as it starts. It's a cool trick. One we've seen before of course, but cool nonetheless. 
There are a couple of neat set pieces as well. One involving a front seat/back seat fight between Denzel and a henchman who tries to stab him while being driven by Denzel to the airport (Denzel drives an Uber type car in this movie). 
The other is in the aforementioned third act, which takes place on Nantucket (I think) in the middle of a hurricane-ish storm. 

Denzel's career has taken an interesting turn in the last couple of decades. Like Liam Neeson, he seems to have found a comfortable groove jumping from one mid level actioner to the next. I'm not complaining. It would be nice to see Denzel do more straight drama, but at his age, you can only do the movie's you're offered. And there are far worse things than watching a 63 year old man kick the shit out of bad people and look eminently cool while doing it. 

Rating: ***

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

I like you just the way you are

Mister Rogers is an easy guy to make fun of. His Ned Flanders-ish disposition. His mild mannerisms, his goofy sweaters, his micro budget, no frills tv show set. He has been parodied on many occasions by many people, some in good fun, some in more cruel ways. But what's striking while watching this documentary about his life and work, is how alien a figure he has become in this day and age. His show has only been off the air for seventeen years, but it feels like a by-product of another time. Some far off time in some far off place. 

Mister Rogers Neighborhood never changed. The show's simple message and unhurried pace captivated children from its inception in 1968, until it went off the air in 2001. 
This documentary, in highlighting the contrast between Mr. Rogers and everything else that ended up becoming children's programming, shows clips of cartoons where these shows continually evolved to keep with the times. Faster, louder, more brash, more crass, more violent. Commercials in the 90's advertising toy guns to kids so that they too can make believe killing all the bad guys that get in their way, just like their heroes on TV. 
And all the while, here is Mister Rogers Neighborhood, starting every show the same way, ending every show the same way. Teaching children the importance of love, compassion and kindness. 

Fred Rogers wanted to be a minister before he discovered television and decided that it was a better vehicle for expressing God's love to the masses. And yet Mr. Rogers never mentioned God on his show. He didn't preach sermons or urge kids to go to church or to convert their friends. For Fred Rogers, being a Christian meant being kind to people. Accepting everyone for who they are without trying to change anyone. 
In the 60's, in the midst of segregation, while racism was at its most disgusting, there was a news story about some African Americans swimming in the same public pool as white people. In an effort to get them out, the owner took some cleaning chemicals and dumped them into the pool. 
That week, Mister Rogers had Officer Clemmons, his (black) policeman friend on the show, share a pool of water with him. They both stuck their feet into a shallow kiddie pool to cool off. "But I don't have a towel", said Officer Clemmons. "Well, that's ok, you can share mine" said Mister Rogers. 
This was Mister Rogers saying, on national television, "fuck segregation and fuck racism", or, in Mister Rogers words, "I like you just the way you are". 

What's so alien about this behaviour in 2018 is that we are being conditioned, much like children are with their faster, louder tv shows, to move fast, suspect everyone of dishonesty and bitch about any little thing we don't like. Facebook is the worst offender of encouraging this mentality, but so is the evening news, national newspapers and other forms of so called 'journalistic reporting' which these days amount to little more than a bunch of click bait articles. 
You see, right there. In order to show what a unique perspective Mister Rogers had, I had to shit on a handful of things I don't like. That's 2018. We only seem to know what we like by knowing, and vocalizing, what we don't like. 

There are no Mister Rogers anymore. No one is out there, on TV or anywhere else, telling us to slow down, smile and be kind to those around you. Maybe the Dalai Lama. 
And we need that, badly. Now more than ever. We need someone to look us in the eye and tell us we are loved and appreciated for no other reason than that we are who we are. With no expectations to impress or do anything extraordinary. 

This documentary is a pure reflection of the Mister Rogers philosophy. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen. I kept waiting for the controversy. For charges of abuse, of adultery, of Mr. Rogers getting drunk and ranting about this or that. It doesn't happen in this movie because it didn't happen in real life. Someone in the movie that worked on the show all those years says that the big question everyone asked regarding Fred Rogers was "how similar is he in real life to the character on the show?" and the answer is "exactly the same. Exactly the same." 

I cried for twenty minutes after this movie ended. No one moved a muscle in the theatre until the end credits had finished rolling and the lights came up. Everyone was trying to get ahold of themselves. I don't think we realize how negative a place this world has become until we are confronted with something, someone, that is purely and simply positive. Not perfect, but positive, even when things are going awry. 

And that's when Mister Rogers Neighbourhood was at its best. When a tragedy would strike and people would tune into the show that week and hear the words 'it's ok to be sad. It's ok be frightened. It's ok to cry. Just as long as you remember that you are loved and cared about, and that you remember to care for those around you. With that in mind, we can get through anything'. 

Rating: *****

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

Girl power

Pixar is the movie making equivalent of The Beatles. Their output is so good, so consistent and so much better than most of what everyone else is doing in their field. The movies Pixar are making will stand the test of time. Computer generated images may evolve closer and closer to photo-realism, but the stories Pixar are telling, and the emotional depth of those stories, will remain timeless. 
Take Toy Story. It was Pixar's first film and the first ever fully computer generated animated movie. Today, that animation looks very dated. But does that hurt the enjoyment of the movie? Not a bit. It still has the power to make you laugh, make you cry, to excite and uplift, that it did when it first opened 23 years ago. 

The Incredibles was Pixar's sixth film. It took what made The Sopranos so relatable, and adapted it to the family film market. Only instead of a mobster trying to balance family life with crime life, it was a family of superheroes trying to balance family life with hero life. 

The Incredibles 2 builds upon that exploration, while adding a very modern times girl power anchor that enables it to further examine the redefinition of gender roles in today's society, and what effect that has on marriages (or common law courtships). 
The Incredi-kids are also a little older than in the last movie and the filmmakers have a lot of fun using the hormonal teenage years and the terrible twos to put Mr. Incredible through his paces when he finds himself on Mr. Mom duty for much of the film. 

The domestic balancing act, as deftly as it's handled and relatable as it is, is only half the story though. The other half is, of course, The Incredibles. The mask-on Incredibles, here to save the day. This time from an evil hypnotist called Screenslaver, which is much too cute a name to be even remotely threatening. But he tries his best, using the airwaves to turn screens all over the city into hypnosis-machines. He also has a handy gadget in the form of hypno-glasses, which he uses to hypnotize some of the superheroes in the movie to do his bidding. 
Interestingly, Screenslaver doesn't want money, or to take over the world, or even to harm anyone. All he wants is superheroes to go away. 

At the beginning of the movie, superheroes are considered a menace and are outlawed the world over. This is the movie's weakest and most unoriginal plot point. But Mrs. Incredible, with the help of a wealthy fan/investor, helps give superheroes their good name back by saving a train full of people from plummeting off a half finished track. This is the movie's best action set piece and some people have already called this rescue one of the best action scenes in movie history. Whether it is or not, it's super exciting and super impressive, even for a superhero of Mrs. Incredible's mettle. But these heroics piss Screenslaver off and thus, he fights back.  

I haven't disliked anything Pixar has put out. Were Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur disappointing? Yes, they were. But that's only because we've come to expect so much from this studio. Coco was one of the best movies of last year, Inside Out is one of the best movies ever and the Toy Story trilogy is probably one of the three or four greatest trilogies in movie history. 
So when I say that The Incredibles 2 is one of Pixar's best films to date, I'm not messing around. 
I always seem to say this when writing about a Pixar film, because it's always true: see this movie. I don't care how old you are, you are going to love it. 

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tag (2018)

Run for your life

There are dumb ideas that become great movies, and there are great ideas that become dumb movies. 'Tag' is one of those two things. 

I've heard this movie referred to as high concept. That's a little generous, the concept is pretty simple: a group of friends play tag every May, every year. The last person who is 'it' at the end of May, lives the rest of the year in shame. 
Where people are seeing high concept in that premise, aside from the fact that these are grown men playing this game, is in the complexity of the tag itself. 
In the first scene, we see Ed Helms' character, who is a successful doctor, getting a job as a janitor at his friend's company in order to disguise himself, get close to his friend, and tag him. Pretty funny. 
The movie is full of these inventive and outrageous attempts by these friends to tag each other, and most of the set pieces are super entertaining. Unfortunately, the movie fails to generate any real comedy out of these set pieces and what you are left with are a bunch of really funny jokes with no punchline. 

Jeremy Renner plays Jerry. Jerry has a perfect record in tag. In all the years the men have been playing the game, he has never been 'it'. Jerry is a fitness guru and as far as tag is concerned, he is basically James Bond, or the Tom Cruise guy in the Mission Impossible movies. Whenever someone attempts to tag him, time slows to a crawl as he anticipating every move and escapes tagging. Think 'bullet time' but without the bullets. 
The rest of the group decide to get together and gang up on Jerry, who is intending to retire at the end of the season with a perfect record. 
Meanwhile, Jerry is preparing for his wedding. Hijinks ensue. 

One of the biggest problems with this movie is that it's so preoccupied with the game of tag going on, it continually forgets about its own subplots. 
Rashida Jones is in the movie (sort of), in a role so superfluous and underwritten, you can't help but think that the money they spent on hiring her could have gone to a writer who could have written the script into something more palatable. 
There's a weird scene where Ed Helms' mom (in the movie) hits on Jake Johnson's character and then is never heard from again. 
And there's a bit about one of the characters' being in AA, for what we aren't told, and then it isn't mentioned again. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. 

But I could forgive all that if the movie did what I paid $13.50 for it to do, which is make me laugh. I may have chuckled once or twice, I can't really remember. And there's your takeaway as far as 'Tag' is concerned. If you go to a comedy and can't remember whether you laughed or not, it failed. 

Apparently 'Tag' is based on a true story. To what extent, I don't know, although there is a cool montage at the end of the real group of friends popping in and out of each other's lives tagging and ragging. 
Maybe in another writer's hands, 'Tag's humour could have matched it's ambition. 
Then again, as much as we'd all like to think the hijinks we get into with our friends would make a great movie, often, it's just the beer talking. 

Rating: *1/2  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)


The picture you see above you is a perfect representation of this movie. In the simplest terms, Solo is a ride. It's fun, it's fast, it's silly. And it works perfectly as a Star Wars spin-off. 

At its core, this a heist flick set in space. A space cowboy adventure featuring younger versions of characters we know and possibly love. 
If you're a Star Wars fanboy, this is pure pleasure dome material. You get to see how Han meets Chewy. You get to see how Han meets Lando. You get to see how Han acquires the Millennium Falcon. 
What you don't get to see is Han's run in with the pucker lipped Greedo. The job he botched on the beige marble of Tatooine. Or the other adventures directly preceding the events of A New Hope. 
Personally, that doesn't bother me, but it seems to bother many other people. Every negative nilly review I've read on Solo seems to focus on the fact that this isn't the definitive Han Solo biopic. The one that fills in all the empty spaces on his resume. 
It doesn't bother me because I'm not a huge Star Wars person. I don't need the whole picture, I just need the movie I'm watching to be good. And also because I highly doubt this will be our only Solo movie. 
Short of leaving us on a cliffhanger, this movie does end in a perfect spot to set up its own sequel. And there's obviously a lot more story to tell as far as Han's adventures in outer space are concerned. 

As far as this story's concerned? I'll share this gripe about this otherwise entirely pleasurable Star ride. The story the movie tells is pretty hackneyed. 
In short, there is a very expensive, rare, explosive item that Han and some bandit friends want to steal. Botching their first attempt, they run afoul of some space gangsters and now have to steal even more in order to wipe their debt and keep their lives. 
If you replace the rare item, called coaxium here, found in mines, with diamonds, replace the space gangsters with the Mafia, and replace spaceships with fancy cars and boats, you have every other heist movie ever made. 
So the writing, in plot and atrocious and silly dialogue, is not good. 
But in spite of this, the movie is. 

Solo is directed by Ron Howard. Ron Howard knows how to make movies. Whatever the subject matter, if Howard is at the helm, it's probably going to be good and may well win many awards to boot. 
I would be surprised if this film won many awards, but it looks gorgeous. Befitting the subject matter, Howard has taken a page or two from the film noir handbook and painted the frames of Solo with dark, cloudy skies and foggy, shadowy streets. It doesn't reach Blade Runner levels of gloom, but let's just say there are no pretty, double moon sunsets to goggle at either. 

If you are concerned about this feeling like a Star Wars movie and not drifting too far from the Lucasfilm blueprints, relax. There is more than enough Star Wars-ia within the runtime to erase any doubt that you are watching a movie set in that universe. Including a  Tie Fighter battle. You know Tie Fighters, don't you? The flying eyeballs with bowtie- looking ear-wings that sound like a constipated Wookie trying to take a dump? They haven't changed much since their first appearance in Episode IV. 

And speaking of hairy assed Wookies, Chewy hasn't changed much either. I was thinking while watching Solo that Wookies must have dope lifespans because Chews looks as good in Solo as he does in Episode VIII. Then Han makes reference to the fact that Chewy is like 190 years old (!) in this movie. I'll have what he's having. 

Another bit of bitching that I've read regarding this movie is the supposed miscasting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han. Apparently he's not Harrison Ford enough to sell that it's supposed to be a young Harrison Ford. Again, this didn't bother me. I think Alden is great. In fact, I think Alden is best when he's not trying to mirror Ford's mannerisms. Yes, this version of Han is more joyful and less pissy than the one we know and love in Episodes IV-VI. But that's due as much to how the character was written back then as to the fact that Harrison Ford is probably a pretty pissy person in real life. Sorry Harrison, but your resting bitch face tells many tales.

So who should see this? Everyone. It's fun for adults, it's fun for kids. It's fun for Star Wars nerds and for nerds who don't much like Star Wars at all. 
Its story exists without so much as an ounce of originality, and the dialogue sounds like it was written by a twelve year old. 
But it looks great, moves fast, has some great performances- holy cow! I just realized I didn't even mention Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. See how good this movie is? I almost forgot one of the best things about it. 
Time is money and I'm not trying to write a book here, so I'll keep it short. But in short, while Alden was best when he wasn't imitating Harrison, Glover is best when he is imitating Billy Dee Williams. It's not an out and out SNL-type imitation. But the small ways in which Glover incorporates some of Williams' speech patterns and cocksure swagger into his performance is a pleasure to watch and adds some nice nostalgic spice to the Solo cake. Glover's interplay with his sassy droid L3 (there must always be a sassy droid in a Star Wars movie, spin-off or not) is fun as well. 

I didn't see Solo in 3D, and I don't think you need to. Although the first time the Millennium Falcon jumps into hyper-drive I was kind of wishing I had. Hyper-jumping through space in 2D is like eating an apple without removing the stem first. It just ain't right, man. 

Rating: ****

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Bullet time

I keep saying this, but only because it's true. Superhero movies need to go away now. Like Nickleback in the early noughts, this particular piece of entertainment has been shoved so far down our throats, it's becoming impossible to taste anything else. And the taste was never that delectable to begin with. 
I know Marvel has a multi-year plan for multiple films that will probably all culminate in a Marvel vs. DC showdown throwdown that will be four hours long and include every character who has ever appeared on a comic book page. But you can count me out on that. 
Truth be told, I don't even bother seeing many of these movies anymore. You couldn't drag me to the latest Avengers movie. I liked Black Panther, but probably won't watch it again. And Thor: Ragnarok was fun, but again, I probably won't bother with a double dip. 

So why Deadpool 2 then? Why bother with another Marvel movie, albeit a snarky, swear-y, blood and gore-y one? Because it was playing at 10:30am and I wanted to get out of the house for a couple of hours. 

All this grumbling to say that I come to this movie, and therefore this review, having expected nothing. Because I wasn't a huge fan of the first Deadpool movie, I didn't go in expecting its sequel to be good. And because I didn't hate the first Deadpool movie, I didn't go in expecting its sequel to be bad. I just had a couple hours to burn, that's all. 

If you were a fan of Deadpool 1, and you're wanting more of the same snarky, swear-y, blood and gore-y super antics, then fear not. This movie is nothing if not full of rude humour, offensive language and carnage. 

I don't remember the plot of the first Deadpool, or even how he got his powers of invincibility, but in this film, bad guys kill Deadpool's girlfriend (I'm including this tidbit without a spoiler warning because it happens in the first five minutes and was spoken about in interviews). Deadpool, despondent, pulls himself together, with the help of some X-Men B-characters, and charges headlong into a whirlwind of bloody vengeance and halfway funny one liners. 

Actually, one of the best things about Deadpool 2 is Julian Dennison as the mutant pre-teen Russell. He's the best thing about the movie not only because his character's story arc is the most interesting, but because Dennison, who was amazing in the wonderful film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is so fun to watch and has such natural acting ability. 

If you know comics, the Deadpool ones and certainly the X-Men ones as well, Deadpool 2 will be a feast of 'oh yeah, I remember that guy/girl from this or that issue'. There are some cool characters who don't get much love in the 'proper' X-Men flicks. And there are a bunch of cameo characters that may or may not have origins in the comics themselves, I honestly never really read comics, so if you're asking me, you're asking the wrong guy. But there are some fun cameo drop ins by stars as diverse as Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Terry Crews. 

Deadpool is full of humour. Even in the movie's more serious moments, Ryan Reynolds is cracking some sort of joke. And while this is to be expected, it got to be a little much. The character of Deadpool isn't written a great deal differently than some of Reynold's other comedic roles. In fact, if you were to take Reynold's character from Waiting, slap a Deadpool suit on him and give him superpowers, you'd probably have it pretty close.

One thing people have been pointing out about the comedy which I agree with, is that it is used to mask, by pointing out, the lazy writing. Rather than write a good plot, the filmmakers seem ok with writing a lazy one and having Ryan Reynolds break the fourth wall continually and wink at the audience with some line about that plot point being lazy. 
That would be fine if it happened once or twice, but there are so many silly plot points in Deadpool 2 that it feels like Reynolds is doing it throughout the whole film. 
It's not clever to write a bad plot into a movie, then let the audience know it's a bad plot. It's clever to write a good plot to begin with. Again though, this is a Marvel movie. I wasn't expecting Inception when I bought my ticket. 

And that's also Deadpool 2's greatest asset. It doesn't seem to care that it's not as clever as a Nolan film. It doesn't seem to care that you can tell when the filmmakers are using CGI. And it certainly doesn't care if it pisses you off or offends you in any way. You want protagonists who don't swear? Go see Infinity War again. This is Deadpool fucking 2, bitches. This guy kills the bad guys, bangs the pretty ladies, and looks cool doing it. Oh shit, I just realized something. Deadpool is basically a James Bond movie. If James Bond was a burn victim and said things like shitballs and fucknuggets. Which he definitely should. Someone get Barbara Broccoli on the phone!

Rating: ****