Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Fahrenheit 11/9

Fahrenheit 11-9Michael Moore‘s latest documentary agitprop Fahrenheit 11/9 feels like a Frankenmovie. Moore, master of the genre and previous nailer of the zeitgeist in films like Bowling for Columbine, Sicko, and the classic Roger and Me seems to not have his finger on the pulse of what’s really going on in America. Or, perhaps he’s responding to a frenetic schizophrenic political landscape.

Moore’s schtick, while perfect for the Clinton/Gingrich and Bush years, really seems to be wearing thin as well. As a friend who works in liberal causes put it to me, “If a white man in his 60’s is going to tell us what’s wrong with America today, he better bring it.” And, yeah, he sorta doesn’t. While there are attempts at being intersectional and lifting up the voices of the oppressed who are not white and male, the film still takes a primarily class-and-economics based approach and doesn’t really plumb the depths of racism or sexism that also got us where we are. It’s a reductive take from the most sophomoric of your Bernie Bro friends, which is sad. Because this is Michael Moore we’re talking about, and we should expect better.

Rather than focus on one theme and do it well, it’s as if he’s tried to make three different movies with vastly different tones and purposes and then mash them together. The result is jarring and unpleasant. It doesn’t work, and I’ve never felt so much personally in agreement with the politics of a film and yet disliked it so much. Say what you will about agitators like Dinesh D’Souza, but his Death of a Nation was at least cogent even if it was insane and false.

The three movies Moore tries to make here are:
Act I: The rise of Donald Trump,
Act II: The longstanding issues that birthed Trumpism in the first place — and The Resistance and how we’re fighting back
Act III: These people are literally Nazis. . . and we’ve already lost. And it’s mostly this third act that is so jarring and doesn’t work.

But when more is on, he is on. During Act II he delves into the water crisis in his home city of Flint, Michigan, and the politics that allowed this to happen. Moore is in his element here and this is both beautiful and inspiring as he lifts up the local voices and highlights exactly what’s going wrong and how terrible it is. It’s only here he breaks out of his mold and calls out what happened for what it was: the attempted genocidal poisoning of a majority black and poor city. He does similar work in traveling to West Virginia and talking to teachers who are striking, and traveling to Florida to speak with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He also highlights a new breed of political activism and candidates including spending time with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before she won her primary. It’s a beautiful history-in-the-making and A-Star-is-Born moment.

If he’d only just made this film, and stuck with it, it would be among his best. It is focused and cogent the way that Sicko was and laid out a very serious case of the failings of our government that have nothing to do with Trump.

But of course he has to address the elephant in the room, and that means a less-than-stellar First Act which is a stunningly uneffective hit job on Donald Trump. At times funny when it should be serious, and at times overly serious when it should be satirical, there’s also an especially cringey several minute turn where he deconstructs Donald’s gross sexual feelings towards his daughter Ivanka. We get it, Michael. It’s gross. Most of us coming to see this have already seen these clips, this isn’t new, and it’s just plain uncomfortable. There’s no deeper truth or way forward. And when you’re going to take on someone like Trump, it’s sad to see such a failure of imagination to really make something stick.

The best parts of Act I are the skewering he does of several other sacred cows who were complicit in the rise of Trump. This includes both the Democratic National Committee, Nancy Pelosi, and the mainstream “liberal” news media. He goes after their cravenness for ratings and how they propped up Trump as a sideshow. But most interestingly he goes after the culture of sex predation that’s seems to infect far too many corners of the media landscape. He certainly makes a case that the media was always going to be unable to deal with a serial groper and sexually predatory candidate when they themselves are far too much the same way. Again, when Moore is on, he is on. But it’s sad because it never quite gels into a cohesive critique or explanation of what happened.

In Moore’s attempt to cover everything, he ends up truly covering nothing and adding no new heat nor light to the conversation. Perhaps those who aren’t generally tuned in to the news may learn something, but Moore has to understand that he’s preaching to the choir here and he’s generally not giving them anything new to sing about or any particularly good take. He also tries ham-fistedly to re-prosecute some of the elements of the 2016 election and his feelings that somehow Bernie Sanders ran in a rigged primary. At this point it’s just gross, it accomplishes nothing, and Moore should learn to move on.

Which leads to the Third Act, where Moore details the rise of the Nazis and how similar this is to what is going on now. However, one of the things Moore fails to mention in his take on this is the inability of the center-left and the far left to effectively combat the rise of fascism because they were too busy fighting each other. And here Moore is pouring more gasoline on the fire and opening up old wounds between Bernie folks and Hillary folks rather than giving a clear sense of vision to move forward.

The ending is completely frustrating because he basically makes the case that we are screwed, and nothing can fix what’s wrong. That sort of nihilism doesn’t sit well, and it also is so completely different from the realism and hope that Moore is able to tell during his second act.

I miss the optimistic Michael Moore from his previous films. While I dismissed as clever hokum the cheery optimism of Where to Invade Next, what was brilliant about that film in hindsight was its beautiful denouement where Moore and a childhood friend walked along the crumbling remains of the Berlin Wall and talked about how magical it was that that wall came down. After decades of it being the symbol of oppression and separation, finally it was all too much and within days the barriers were broken down, and people were literally coming, hammers in hand, to break down this wall to be reunited with friends and family from the other side. We could use a little bit of that optimism here, because especially in context of an election happening in only a few weeks, Moore has to understand that is ending is more likely to depress the troops that would fight the midterm battle.

This is why for the first time in several decades I have to recommend to people to please do not go see Michael Moore’s new movie, at least not yet. Know that it is out there, and know that he’s trying to go back to the well of his greatest hits. He’s critical of Trump, he shows how organized people working hard can stand up to political bullies and make real headway. . . and then he burns it all down in a little literal Reichstag fire with memories of 9/11 and fascism on the move.

In one sense, maybe he’s trying to steel audiences for if something truly terrible does happen in the next few weeks or months or years — which would be an actual moment where democracy could slip away from us long-term. But the actual effects of this are to mostly just be hella depressing. So if you insist on seeing Fahrenheit 11/9 in theaters in the next few weeks, don’t let it stop your resolve, or maybe leave about 2/3 of the way through as soon as Moore starts showing Triumph of the Will footage with Trump’s voice dubbed over Hitler. Because it’s all downhill after that.

2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Peppermint

Peppermint is the same movie we’ve seen dozens of times before, but with a singular twist: this time it’s a woman.

Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, our vigilante heroine, who takes on a Los Angeles drug cartel after her family was murdered. This revenge thriller subgenre has been recently elevated by Keanu Reeves and David Leitch in John Wick, and even by Denzel Washington in The Equalizer,  but this just simply does not live up to that same level.

Instead, it plays out much like a middling revenge thriller with all of its tropes generally intact. Except for one– because in this instance it’s the husband who gets “fridged” instead of the wife. We also get John Gallagher Jr sporting the most 70’s cop mustache seen on film in forty years playing your incredibly typical cop. It’s not bad, just predictable.

Many years ago Jennifer Garner starred in what is likely the worst film based on a mainstream comic book character in recent memory: Elektra. That was a mess, but this film shows what might have been done with Garner in a lead role taking on a bunch of baddies as a badass assassin. She fills that role perfectly, and her recent off screen super heroic actions also help build cache and audience buy-in as we root for her to take down the bad guys. This is a return to form for Garner who first broke out in this type of role in Alias and a reminder of her formidable presence and action star skills that Hollywood recently seems to be ignoring in favor of putting her in more typical “mom” roles.

Back to Elektra– the comparison to comic book movies is not far afield, as the film this most fully resembles is The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. It is not a surprise that our screenwriter, Chad St. John, wrote the Punisher short film Dirty Laundry. . . as well as London Has Fallen. This film’s pedigree also includes director Pierre Morel, who made the first Taken film. Strip away any of that film’s uniqueness and you have that same sort of by the numbers over the top action violence, but that doesn’t make it altogether unenjoyable to watch.

Indeed, many of the action scenes have a glimmer that makes you wish this film was just ever so slightly better. The film also tries to tease out a few subplots around social media use and the epidemic of homelessness currently facing many cities in America but especially Los Angeles, but fails to really land any of them.

What we’re left with is a lot of unmet potential — and in an era where we have John Wick (or Atomic Blonde), this just doesn’t quite measure up. However, it’s certainly better than most of the films that Garner has recently been in, and it would be great to see more of her in these action roles — and generally more women out in front of action films playing the roles that are normally reserved for our Bruce Willises, Liam Neesons and Charles Bronsons.

This is a proof of concept that women can play these roles just as well as men, and a showcase for Garner’s skills as an action star which should be taken more advantage of, but the film never breaks out of its tropes.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: The Meg

themegposterIt doesn’t get more quintessentially end of summer than a scary shark movie, and The Meg hopes that by upping the size of the shark, the size of the audience thrills will increase proportionately.

Welp . . . we’re gonna need a bigger shark.

While the film delivers on some basic scares, its ridiculous premise (ancient megalodon escapes from previously unexplored area of the ocean and wreaks havoc) and over the top action don’t make for nearly as thrilling an experience as the filmmakers would like. But, it’s slightly smarter than a Sharknado, and its effects budget are equal to at least a half dozen Sharknados, so it’s not unwatchable. But it’s as big as it is stupid. That doesn’t mean it isn’t at least a little fun.

A lot of that fun comes from the main cast, with Jason Statham as the action hero and asian cinema mainstay Li Bingbing as a marine biologist. Funding her research is a rebel billionaire played by Rainn Wilson, who brings some comic relief to the story.  And supporting cast like Ruby Rose and Masi Oka do a good job of being story/character chum in the water. While not used to their full potential, they do their job.

Let me take a moment and address the news that Ruby Rose will be playing Batwoman on the CW crossover event later this fall. She is great in this film — as she is in most things — and this is an opportunity to check out what you’re likely to see. She’s not in the film much, but enough to enjoy, and possibly is even the best performance in the entire thing, or at least in a close contest with Li Bingbing.

This movie is best when it embraces being a big, dumb shark movie. It is at its worst when it veers from that. Yes, there’s a romantic subplot. Yes, there’s an adorable child. There’s even a scene late in the movie with an adorable dog in peril! It has plot holes as big as its prehistoric antagonist. But the worst is when it takes a few moments to give us a very special public service announcement:

While tracking our eponymous Meg, they come upon wreckage from a fishing boat, and are surprised to find dead sharks floating in the water. One of them notes the sharks have had their fins removed — The Meg didn’t do this, evil fishermen did. “All this for a bowl of soup,” one of them laments. All we need is the rainbow flying across the sky to tell us “The More You Know!”

I understand that this message was not meant for me, per se, but for the audiences in China that this film was, evidently, largely made. That’s fine. They’re the world’s largest movie market, and not everything has to be made for US consumption. But it specifically takes us out of the film and out of the moment to remind us that what we’re seeing is fake. For those who complain about “SJWs” “ruining movies/tv shows/comics” with “social justice messages,” here’s a reminder of what that actually looks like when it’s done badly.

There’s a certain type of person who needs to see every shark movie, and for those people this will likely check off a number of boxes of what they want to see. It isn’t Jaws, and it isn’t even Deep Blue Sea, but it has its share of fun. If you’re looking to escape the summer heat in an air-conditioned theater and munch through a giant bucket of buttered corn like a feeding frenzy, you could do worse. (I mean, convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza has a new piece of propaganda out there deifying his man Trump, possibly in return for issuing him that crooked pardon, so that goes without saying) But in order to even attempt to enjoy this movie, you will have to de-evolve your brain to prehistoric shark levels.

2.5 out of 5

Movie Review: The Darkest Minds

The_Darkest_Minds_posterKids with superpowers. A dystopian future where everyone under 18 is rounded up into camps or dead. Government conspiracy. This seems like it should be ample fodder to create a new movie franchise, but this film falls flat because of a weak script and some poor lead acting choices.

Our main lead, however, Amandla Stenberg as Ruby, is not one of them. No stranger to the world of dystopian YA fiction (she played Rue in The Hunger Games and was excellent in last year’s Everything Everything) she holds this film together. The central conceit is a plague that kills most children but that leaves survivors with superpowers. The government rounds them up and puts them in camps (an idea that might not be so distasteful if it were merely fiction and had been released, say, last summer) and segregates them by “color.” Most common and least dangerous are “Greens” who are super smart, then “Blues” who have telekinesis, then “Yellows” who have electrical powers. Least common and ordered to be shot on sight are “Reds” and “Oranges.” Ruby is an Orange with psychic abilities to control other peoples’ minds, which she first uses to convince them “I’m a Green” and is able too hide among the other prisoners.

However, she is eventually found out and then rescued from the prison camp by a doctor played by Mandy Moore. Fearing all is not what it seems with her rescuer, she instead escapes with a small group of kids searching for a supposed safe place led by another Orange. Zu, a mute Yellow, and Chubs, the most precocious Green ever, are great. But Liam, a Blue and romantic interest for Ruby, seems like his actual super power is to be a black hole of charisma. Unfortunately, a lot of the film is dependent on him and it just falls apart.

The other major flaw is this is very clearly based on a YA novel — not that this is a bad thing, as we’ve had a good run with The Hunger Games films and even with lesser franchises Divergent and The Maze Runner. But this film is paced and structured like a book. Which is perfectly fine if you are a book. But it just doesn’t translate as well and so most of the tension and twists and turns are telegraphed miles away.

It’s really too bad, because there are great elements in here. Again, Amandla Stenberg is a superstar and deserves for this to be better. The key group of kids is compelling, and it’s great to see diversity (2 black kids, an Asian kid, a white kid) portrayed as normalcy. The supporting adult cast also includes such reliable presences as Bradley Whitford as the President and Gwendoline Christie as a badass bounty hunter on the trail of our heroes.

The film ends, somewhat predictably, with an opening for a sequel. There are two other books in this series that possibly deserve to be adapted as well. But it’s just too bad as this is unlikely to attract the attention (or money) needed to secure a sequel.

The Darkest Minds is the coolest idea but the most mediocre movie.

2 out of 5 stars


Movie Review: Christopher Robin

christopher robin poster“Oh Pooh. You’re not a bear of very little brain. You’re a bear of humongous heart.”

Ewan McGregor as a middle-aged, overworked Christopher Robin says this to his former childhood toy, but he may as well have been describing this movie.  Heavy on sentiment and nonsense, light on plot or fresh character takes this isn’t a bad movie. It’s quite literally the cinematic equivalent of hugging your childhood stuffed animal or security blanket, remembering when times were simpler and having a twinge of midlife crisis.

The original Disney The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh begins with a narrator telling us “This could be the room of any small boy. But it just so happens to belong to a boy named Christopher Robin.” This movie — a live action sequel to the previous Pooh catalog — could be about the lost childhood of any middle aged man, but it just so happens to belong to a man named Christopher Robin. In post-war England, he finds himself under the thumb of a lazy and unscrupulous boss (Mark Gatiss) who forces him to work long hours and weekends — forgoing a planned holiday with his wife (the always lovely Hayley Atwell) and precocious daughter. This is familiar Disney material– father loses his way, and needs some magical element to help him reclaim his childhood wonder and imagination.

Meanwhile, deep in the Hundred Acre Wood of Christopher Robin’s childhood imagination, Pooh awakens after a long rest and can’t find his friends. Instead, he travels to London to fetch Christopher Robin from the tedium of planning an important meeting and off they go to find ‘Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, and Rabbit. And of course, wackiness ensues, and they have t fight nasty heffalumps and woozles and learn to have childlike wonder again.

A lot of praise needs to go to Ewan McGregor for his work here, as the entire film rests on his shoulders. In much of the movie, it’s just him acting against an imaginary stuffed animal. He’s really charming and delightful, and the supporting cast are almost equally as god. The voice cast here playing the stuffed animals are also great. Legendary voice artist Jim Cummings basically is Pooh and Tigger, having inhabited these roles for decades now.  There’s also some brilliant casting of Brad Garrett as Eeyore and Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, but they are sadly underused as most of the film concentrates only on Christopher Robin and Pooh.

As stated previously, this is a script of very little brain, and very much predictability. But it’s pure, uncut Disney nostalgia straight from the source. For those who grew up with Pooh and are bringing their children or grandchildren to see this, you will enjoy this in direct relation to how much nostalgia you have for this particular property or classic Disney in general. It will generally feel like this movie was almost made more for adults than children– the message almost certainly is. And for true Disney superfans, stay through the credits to see and hear Richard Sherman (who co-write the original Pooh songs and half of the classic Disney songbook) perform a new song he wrote specifically for this film. He’ still got it.

Someone needed to remind these folks they were making a children’s movie, as the moral center seems more focused on shaming workaholic middle aged people. And the tone of the film for its first act is extremely dour. It finally picks up in predictable fashion and ends strong with a lot of heart. But with Paddington 2 having hit earlier this year, it’s unfortunate that Disney’s return to this familiar territory didn’t land better as it can’t stack up to the more charming sequel. There are also several Disney movies with this same basic idea, and this compares even less favorably against those.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Mission Impossible: Fallout

IMI Fallout postert’s rare for a franchise to almost completely reinvent itself in almost every outing. It’s even more rare for it to deliver, arguably, its best film twenty years in. Writer and director Christoher McQuarrie delivers his best film ever, as though he’s taken everything he’s learned from his past two and a half decades of experience, writing such classics as The Usual Suspects and being frequent Tom Cruise collaborator, to craft a great movie about the stakes of failure.

Failure is one of the great recurring themes in the film, as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt just wins by sheer luck. Several times in the film you think the good guys lose — because they do, repeatedly — and wonder if maybe this film will end with them losing, or with a noble self-sacrifice.

Our story begins with some stolen plutonium, and a failed recovery plan where Ethan chooses to save the lives of his longtime teammates Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) rather than recover the nuclear materials. So the CIA Director (Angela Bassett) does her best Amanda Waller impersonation and assigns one of their most deadly agents, August Walker (Henry Cavill), to provide “oversight” on the IMF team. Translation: he will kill anyone who gets in their way, including Hunt and his team if they go rogue.

Their clashing styles and the chemistry between Cruise and Cavill provide some of the best material of the film. Cavill is an imposing presence and director McQuarrie somehow makes it look like he hits harder here than as Superman. Cavill is also just really good as a spy and an action movie star, but somehow in a completely opposite way from his turn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But the emotional core here is with Pegg and returning actors Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Monaghan. First, all three of them give great performances. Pegg has perhaps the most interesting character arc of any person in the franchise, going from computer geek in MI:III to hero-in-his-own-right in this outing. But it’s each of the characters’ connections to Hunt and his need to protect them that make the stakes of this so much higher and more personal than in previous outings. PS- If you need more reason to love Simon Pegg, you should see his recent apology for mocking Jar Jar Binks here. Really insightful stuff.

The last Mission Impossible film was full of bombastic stunts and plot, but two years later I couldn’t tell you a thing about it or what happened. Its villain, Solomon Lane, was supposedly so much smarter and always a step ahead of Hunt, but you never really felt that. In Fallout, you feel very much like the good guys are constantly being outsmarted and the stakes for failure — nuclear annihilation for a huge portion of the world’s population — are possible.

McQuarrie writes this in the same way as his tour de force The Usual Suspects, with layers upon layers of misdirection and snappy dialogue. He builds tension and releases it, hiding important exposition n moments of humor to help the explaining go down. Like Usual Suspects, there’s real humor in here. And if you’re familiar with the principle of Chekov’s Gun, he loads and cocks so many guns and leaves you waiting for the payoff. Even when you see something coming — especially when you see it coming — you just are left waiting in anticipation for sweet release of the payoff.

He’s also willing to take some risks. There is a point about two hours into the movie when I was convinced it was over, and this would be The Empire Strikes Back of a trilogy about Ethan Hunt and Solomon Lane. Indeed, in a world where Hobbits, Hunger Games, and Harry Potters are split into multiple movies for financial reasons, you can imagine wanting to extend this franchise in that way. But it doesn’t, and gives you this brilliant denouement of a final thirty minutes that gives specific payoff to everything not only from the previous two hours but the last twenty years. Yes, this is two and half hours long. It doesn’t feel like it. Bravo, Chris McQuarrie, bravo.

And then there’s his visual style. Wow, just wow. The cinematography here is brilliant. The pacing is unbelievable. There’s an extended chase scene through Paris that goes on for what seems like twenty minutes, and there’s never a dull moment. Eat your heart out, French Connection. 

This may be the best Mission: Impossible movie. And it is certainly the best spy thriller we’ve had in a long time. This is a cure for what ails the late summertime blues and the rare summer blockbuster that doesn’t require you to turn off your brain to have fun with it.

4.25 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

teen titans go to the movies posterTeen Titans Go! is bright, anarchic, silly and written for little kids. The film perfectly captures the spirit of the source material and simultaneously delivers some of the funniest of easter eggs and deep cuts into comics in recent memory.

Unfortunately, it also keeps the ADHD pacing of cartoon show, making for a disjointed and uneven film overall that ends with a somewhat letdown of a climax. Compared to its peers of The Incredibles 2 and both The Lego Movie / The Lego Batman Movie, this just doesn’t hold up. But, what it lacks in cohesiveness and theme, it more than makes up for with mountains and mountains of jokes.

It does, however, satirize our over-saturation of superhero movies, with specific barbs at competitors at Marvel, a hilarious Deadpool/Deathstroke discussion, and even at Warner Bros problems in bringing many of its heroes to screen. It’s basically Deadpool for children, with all its meta satire, with fart humor instead of sex jokes. But as the most salient part of all of this, our main plot revolves around Robin being upset that no one has made a movie about him yet.

And, of course, because every great hero or team needs an iconic villain, they try to recruit “Slade” (nee Deathstroke) to be their arch-nemesis. Will Arnett, who also produced this film, really relishes playing the villain here, almost as much as he did playing Batman in the Lego movies.

One of the fun and lesser recognized aspects of Teen Titans Go! is its use of music. The movie is also a musical, which is a fun for the most part. However, sometimes they are full-on cringeworthy, including a Titans theme song rap, which is hands down the worst part of the movie. To make it worse, they decide to repeat the entire thing during the film’s climax.  “The Night Begins To Shine,” this is not.

But they’re not all bad. At one point they sing a song called “Upbeat” and the lyrics (and on-screen action) specifically mimic 1980s pop tropes. Yes, a lot of the jokes in this movie will go over kids’ heads. And a lot of the jokes will be too juvenile for adults. Spoiler alert/Parental warning: upset at being cut off during his inspirational speech so they can cut to the credits, Robin tells kids to ask their parents where babies come from. Walking out of the theater, it was clear that many kids were asking their parents just that. Good joke.

However, if you’re a fan of the more mature Teen Titans show, make sure you stick around into the credits, as there is a tease you don’t want to miss.

So, is this film great or terrible. Allow me to pull a page out of Beast Boy’s and Cyborg’s playbook and “waffle” a little bit.

Many will dislike the childish approach to the material– in which case it appears the upcoming Titans live-action show may bring plenty of darkness and edge– but if you’d like to just laugh for 90 minutes in a dark air conditioned space with lots of children laughing around you, this is fun. If that sounds like torture invented by Brother Blood’s Pain-Bot, then stay away. But certainly, compared to the artistry of other recent animated movies about superheroes, this doesn’t quite measure up.

3.5 out of 5 stars

PS – an animated short from DC’s Superhero Girls precedes the film and is quite fun, too.

Movie Review: Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham has been delivering top notch comedy for a long time, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he would eventually cross over into film. What is surprising is how beautiful, heartfelt, and true this movie is.

Burnham is not only a great writer of comedy and mining all that is awkward about literally the most awkward period of our lives, but he proves himself an amazing director, especially of star Elsie Fisher. This is not an overstatement that her performance here as Kayla is Oscar-worthy as she encapsulates exactly what it is to be a young adolescent, especially in 2018, but the themes here are fairly universal.

If awkwardness was a fruit, and you could press it into a juice, then reduce that into a syrup and serve it over pancakes, that would be the essence of this film. Every moment — mean girls, stupid boys, being misunderstood and lonely — rings 100% true and is uncomfortably funny.

The film actually captures such realism as Fisher’s actual acne and wearing ill-fitting bathing suits and having normal 13 year old bodies. But perhaps most surprising is its depiction of social media, phones, and texting and how it absolutely nails how this generation interacts with these things.

Personal story time: I have a daughter about to enter 8th grade. This film gets her and her generation in a way nothing else ever has. And unless you’ve been watching lots of YouTube and Vine and Instagram, you don’t understand where their media is coming from. And everyone wants to have their own channels and break out and be a star, but no one is watching.

Thirty or forty years ago, a protagonist may have written in her diary, fifteen years ago on her blog. Here we get her youtube channel, where she is free and her best self and giving advice to people she is obviously trying to take herself. And while she’s a star in her bedroom alone on her laptop, her class votes her “Most Quiet.” The tension between that is the key to her story and growing up– how much her self-perception differs from how people see her.

We also see some other somewhat shocking elements played off as totally normal and mundane. They have a schoolwide lockdown active shooter drill and actually pretend that children are dead in the hallways, during which time the boy she has a crush on asks her to send nudes if she wants to be his girlfriend. If the latter shocks you more than the former, you missed part of what the film is saying.

And through all of this we have Kayla’s dad. He tries so hard to connect with her and do the best he can and I literally have never connected and empathized with a movie character more in my life. There is a scene between the two of them as they sit around a firepit in their backyard that will make you cry, and also laugh a little in its over-the-top emotional stakes that overstate everything as the worst or best thing ever that is the essence of being thirteen. And of course it’s still glazed in that lovely awkward syrup that is lovingly drizzled over everything in this film.

There are a lot of amazing indie films out there that you need to see. This is one of the best films of the summer and deserves to be checked out. As great as this is, I expect even more from Bo Burnham in the near future. The kids are alright.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Skyscraper

skyscraper_ver2Skyscraper is that type of movie that if you put any thought into it all, it completely falls apart. But if you can somehow manage to prevent your brain cells from firing to notice the numerous high-rise-sized plot holes, you might be entertained by the dazzling spectacle of a ginormous building on fire, people being heroic, and dazzling stunts. It is not high art.

Our protagonist in this story is the building, known as The Pearl, Hong Kong’s newest skyscraper which comes in at approximately three times the size of the Empire State Building. In this movie, the building actually gets more backstory and character development than any of the humans.

Those humans include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who is playing a security expert evaluating the safety of the building. But of course some bad guys want some sort of undisclosed MacGuffin held in the most secure part of the building by the buildings eccentric and rich owner, and so they do what any bad guys would do – they set the building on fire. So The Rock has to scale the building, at times aided only by a rope and duct tape — yes, duct tape, who is arguably the true hero of the movie — to save his family, including Neve Campbell and some really adorable kids. Like, seriously, I’d jump into a burning building to save these kids.

To help the exposition along, we have TV news crews shooting the antics from every conceivable angle outside the building and broadcasting it to multiple screens around Hong Kong. In case you, the audience. don’t know how to react, or when to cheer, or when to clap, they’ve provided a handy bad 80s sitcom style laugh track to the movie to tell you when the jokes land. Did I say jokes? I meant stunts.

That being said, those action sequences are harrowing. And if you’re at all agoraphobic, this movie is sure to make you wish you weren’t looking down, over and over and over again as The Rock precipitously dangles by his fingertips off the edge of the building. The movie is cut from the same cloth as the giant spectacle disaster movies of the 70’s and 80’s– swap out ol’ Chuck Heston for The Rock, and we got ourselves a picture!

This films writer and stunt coordinator also seem intent on showing you that all of the skills you were supposed to learn in elementary school gym class were actually the most important ones. Balance beam, climbing a rope, doing a pull-up, and so on. For those of you who got the Presidential Fitness metal, this movie salutes you. You too can save your family from a burning state-of-the-art skyscraper!

(Pulls out imaginary social justice warrior soapbox) Where this film excels, however, is in its depiction of those with physical limitations. The Rock’s character has a prosthetic leg, which if you think about it is actually a really cool idea to break down ableism. The problem is, it treads into that trope of “disability as superpower,” which is very dangerous territory. (Insert “autistic genius who solves everything” cliche here) You can make a drinking game out of the number of times that his prosthetic leg saves him.

However, I mean this in all sincerity and while I know this review has mostly been incredibly snarky, I really do hope that this helps. And it’s important to have someone of The Rock’s celebrity and physical stature show that a prosthetic limb does not preclude you from being a superhero. I only wish it had been done a little more deftly, and in a far better movie. But for those for whom this resonates, this is likely an important representation for them on the big screen, and we shouldn’t just gloss over that.

That being said, this movie is horrifically dumb. It’s not the dumbest movie of the year – that title is still held by Den of Thieves – but even compared to other recent disaster porn movies starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson, this sticks out as being egregiously IQ-challenged. This makes Rampage look like it got a master’s degree, and San Andreas graduated top of its class from Harvard Law.

That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a movie being just some cheap thrills and spectacular stunts, but when your other choices in the theater right now include The Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and even the incredibly-smart-looking-by-comparison Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, let’s just say you have some other options to seek those thrills.

2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Perfectly adequate. That’s the best way to describe the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp. I loved Ant-Man, as the film in 2015 was one of the earliest to shake up the Marvel movie formula in many ways. The movie still stuck to a lot of what we’ve seen, evil corporate bad guy (who wears three piece suits and is bald), it broke the mold by adding in comedic aspects. The movie was the first real comedy released featuring a more relaxed style and visual jokes, not to mention a dialed back villain that lowers the stakes of it all. Ant-Man and the Wasp takes a lot of that formula to give us a family friendly film that has laughs but misses some of the charm of the original.

Taking place after Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is on lockdown attempting to stay out of trouble and be a father. Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym are on the run and need Scott’s help to find Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife. The villain is two fold. Ghost, a character who needs Hank Pym’s technology to cure her and Sonny Burch, a technology dealer who wants Pym’s technology to sell to the highest bidder. Then there’s the FBI who wants to arrest Hope and Hank for having the tech they have.

The story is a bit convoluted and is best to not think too hard about. Things are either over explained or not explained enough and we’re expected to roll with it. Each aspect feels like an excuse to present so visual gag involving size or explore the Quantum Realm, the place Scott shrunk to in the first film and where Janet is lost.

While Ghost is a potentially interesting villain, the actions taken by her leave you wondering why she wouldn’t just reach out to Hank to help to begin with instead of attempting to steal his technology? There’s a backstory but much feels watered down and lost from the original comics’ tech focused anarchist who presented as originally released would have been a much more interesting villain. Burch, as played by the always entertaining Walter Goggins, feels like the villain version of Michael Peña‘s Luis whose entire aspect is to give us a moment of respite (the ongoing jokes about a truth serum) or to set up some action sequence.

And that’s the issue at the heart of the film, it provides little new and you feel like you’re sitting there waiting for the next gag or in my case Michael Peña’s rants. Yes, he steals the show as usual delivering entertaining recaps and there’s far too few of them. There’s an energy about his performance where he immediately creates a spark in any scene he’s in. It’s a fun energy that feels like it’s missing everywhere else and the closest we come is Paul Rudd as he interacts with his daughter with childlike fun.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the film but it’s clear this is the family friendly release of the year to change things up, much like the original. After the weightier films that are Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a film geared towards families with younger kids who’ll laugh at the visual gags. Ant-Man and the Wasp is empty entertainment that’s a step back from the original missing… something.

The visuals are entertaining and we get a new world to explore in the Quantum Realm but overall the film feels like empty calories that will fill you up temporarily but in the end leave you wanting an hour later.

Overall Rating: 6.95

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