My Two Cents*
*Actual value may vary
The Last Days of American Crime
Netflix may not be profitable, but armed with daddy’s credit card - I mean shareholder money - the good folks in the content division Live Mas. Explosions, good lighting, sexy sex scenes, explosions … it’s not all bad. Well, actually, it’s pretty bad. How the laughably terrible dialogue, amateur direction, hopelessly painful and trite plot ever made it into a camera is beyond comprehension. Did no adults see the dailies and shut it down? And to release a movie about police oppression at this moment, after Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, shows a brazen lack of empathy and perspective. Recklessly spending daddy’s - I mean shareholder - money is how one’s allowance gets yanked.
I asked my wife what this movie was about. “Oh. It’s a coming of age story.” She had read the book years prior. So … boy meets world. Boy gets blown up. Boy steels unremarkable bird painting. Boy gets kicked around. Boy gets into trouble. Boy does drugs. Boy gets out of trouble, rather unrealistically, after killing someone in a parking garage. Really, this is more of a template for how not to come of age since most of the main character’s decisions are objectively terrible. The main takeaway here is that the painting is a metaphor. Most likely. The lesson I took was to stay in therapy. It saves everyone a lot less unnecessary drama.
A classic whodunit, with Daniel Craig doing his best accent of an accent, an American base with something else — Southern maybe — sprinkled in for flavor. I loved the commentary on wealth and privilege, specifically white privilege. Worth a watch.
Ready or Not
Many things in life are unclear to me, and this movie will forever rank near the top. Why black and white? Why 4:3? Why clipped audio? Why sub-DVD (or 720p) quality? Were the characters in Hell? Purgatory? Was their a lesson, a point to any of this? I don't even remember the ending, was there one? Sometimes artists get an idea and money but lack adult supervision. A circle-jerk inevitably ensues, which I get satisfies everyone in the circle. The rest of us, however, aren’t going to get a happy ending.
What I find most depressing is how, wherever humans go, we bring ourselves with us. The filmmakers clearly agree. Capitalism’s worst impulses? Check. Adult human males with crippling daddy issues? Check. Petty power struggles within large corporations? Check. Despite cool toys, we’re always still us. I think we might consider intelligent life purposefully marooned us on this blue, ocean planet on purpose. Despite humanity’s tiring insecurities, we do know how to shoot a beautiful film. The colors and lighting are all just sublime. Mesmerizing even.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Spoiler alert: She actually does run a marathon. Some have complained about the pacing, which I didn't find bothersome. Actually, it moves at a pace not unlike that of a marathon runner: slow and steady to a much anticipated conclusion filled with pop and circumstance (i.e. a nice closing montage). Much of the route is predictable in this "Girl Meets Boy, Girl Loses Boy, Girl Gets Boy Back" plot structure. The filmmakers depiction of running culture is spot on. They also manage to show how unhealthy relationships fail when one person decides to changes the rules of engagement by cleaning up their act. Nor are Brittany's issues glossed over, which have gestated internally after a lifetime of obesity. Jern's character is a bit of a mess, though. At once a selfish man-child but also super-confident, I found his unflappable demeanor and charm (even when facing scalding abuse from Brittany) a clear fiction. After scores of one-dimensional female characters serving to frame the main, male character, it's only fair. We were due.
The naiveté of these young men is endearing, but at times you wonder if you're laughing with them or at them. The filmmakers really nail the ending, which I appreciated very much. How we got there? Well, it was a wild ride with several laugh out loud moments. Just don't admit how hard you laughed in polite society.
Peanut Butter Falcon
Movies like this are fraught with peril on a variety of fronts. Fortunately, this flick avoids them all but a muffed ending. The two unlikely "outlaws" form a bond that is a pleasure to watch develop, and serves as the scaffold for difficult discussions our culture avoids -- protected and safe versus freedom and risk, enabled versus coddled, in addition to facing our inherent biases regarding those whose minds work on a different level. I went in worried, but came out heartened. The stunning North Carolina scenery acts as another character, as lively and dynamic as any of the humans.
I grew up between two cultures, and appreciate Billi's consternation about having different belief systems coexisting inside one mind. It's not always pleasant. The movie beautifully captures Billi's cognitive dissonance with smart cinematography. Hats off to Ms. Anna Franquesa Solano, the Director of Photography, for her stunning, sublime work.
Hobbs and Shaw
This lively bromance will likely cruise past a billion in domestic and international revenue. If I had a film degree or was concerned about making art, I'd sob at the injustice of it all. Fortunately, I am not an artist and my involvement in the movie biz stops at pithy reviews my mother doesn't even read. So is the movie any good? Well, the Market has clearly spoken. Either that's enough for you or it isn't.
The premise is hard to swallow: It's unlikely The Beatles' songs would be popular today. Hit songs are about a place and time, a collective chord the music strikes in the masses. But let that go. Ultimately, we have a clueless boy (Jack) who thinks he knows what he wants, but honestly doesn't know very much about himself or anything or anyone. We can all relate to that; I certainly can. We experience the music industry from his outsider perspective, which isn't all that pretty. We notice the costs of fame, which seem high. We witness the price of living a lie, which the movie does well at portraying. In the end Jack chooses, I think, what matters and is real in this life. So I liked the ending, and the twists getting there were good for a laugh or three.
A fun flick. Having worked in television, the movie gets a lot right. Ms. Thompson's character arc, however, feels unlikely. When television hosts evolve, they usually retire from television to do other things that don't involve adoration from strangers and working in a deeply unhealthy ecosystem. Despite that -- and through some really clever writing and humor -- are pertinent comments on women in the workplace and women in positions of power.
The Dead Don't Die
This movie is many things — a joke, an allegory, a harsh comment on society, a wink and nod to great, past horror flicks, an alternative to a saturated genre — but it is not, I repeat not, a traditional zombie movie. The naturalistic dialogue, sublime lack of manic camera movement, and proud middle-finger to most conventions (fourth wall, what fourth wall?) will leave many dumbfounded and, likely, angry. That’s an option, but, instead, I encourage any viewer to judge this movie’s merits with the spirit the producers intended. You’ll find it more illuminating than being angry, and that Bill Murray is a national treasure. In a world of loud volume, this may be the movie we need.
Yah, everyone loves it. They’re all correct, it’s pretty amazing. The movie focuses more on his early life, during John’s wilder years, and stops after he sobers up. That’s my only beef — he’s done a lot since those days worth depicting. He is more than a reformed addict. Also, I would hate to be his manager, who in the film is depicted as a real evil jerk. Be careful who you piss off, because they might one day make a movie. I believe someone called it, “Character assassination…” online. In my mind, assassinations are quick and clean. This more resembles a slow, methodical beating until life leaks out and pools onto the floor under the still warm body. It’s painful to watch knowing that’s a real person still living (in Australia). Elton must be pleased he got the last word, particularly since he lost the court case again the man in the late 90s.
I don't care what Ryan Reynolds does. I'll go watch it and not apologize for enjoying his charming snark. That I also might find aspirational.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Holy shit! The girl from Stranger Things, Eleven, does more than whisper! Mind. Blown. Speaking of blown — a word that captures the remains of every set or the CGI-budget — you will want to see this movie in a good mood, possibly inebriated, when you’re not looking for Ms. Right, but, instead, Ms. Right Now. You likely know how it begins and ends, and the middle manages to adequately pass the time of this miserable existence we call life. With onscreen monsters instead of the waking horrors we collectively deal with every day. We could discuss plot holes the size of planets, but, honestly, this is Ms. Right Now. Don’t think too much about it. Just lay back and let it happen.
Will this movie win awards? Likely not. However, watch it anyway. Some laugh out loud humor, always clever, sometimes crass — the stuff usually reserved for boy movies — intersperses through tight dialogue, a solid (if standard “We have a mission” plot), which carries this super-cool relationship at the movie’s heart. I remember what it was like to leave the safety of high school and venture into the world, leaving friends behind. I root for these girls’ relationship to make the transition, which means a sequel and more of my money.
A Dog's Journey
The story continues! How (not) shocking. Originally, I thought the first movie in the series would be a good date-night movie. My wife and I both love dogs and had them growing up. I couldn’t have been more wrong - she cried the entire movie as the dog, the movie’s main character, dies several times. I kept reminding her, “But, the dog is reincarnated. He doesn’t really die,” which had zero effect on the tears. The sequel is much the same, but I left the wife at home. Bailey dies several times, again, as the humans stumble through the emotional, multi-car pileup that is their lives. Eventually, everyone figures it out. Thankfully, but it's how you know this is fiction. The ending serves as a potential test for sociopathy. So emotionally manipulative, be concerned if you don’t tear up.
You've seen this before. I think we called it My Fair Lady. The producers made some "minor" changes. So pop some popcorn, pour a glass of wine, and pretend to be shocked it all works out. Through the twists and turns, it's a fun ride.
John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum
Nothing about this movie makes any sense. The twists and turns, though. Christ ... what a ride. Strap in. Looking forward to the 4th installment, because it sure doesn't end with this one.
I love a good romance, and would see Ms Theron pretty much do anything. In Long Shot she plays a powerful woman, and Mr Rogen plays, well, himself. Many laugh out loud moments dot the sometimes raunchy dialogue. While in no way realistic -- women like that don't notice men like Rogen -- I did still like Rogen's character's arc. I think others will note, while he does evolve, it's a pretty moderate shift compared to her. One cannot help but suspect Theron's character could do better. The movie comes off the rails late, during the Presidential announcement, and ends a few fumbling scenes later. There was a better way to wrap this, but it doesn't detract from solid laughs and a touching denouement. As Rom-Com's go, it's fine.
Another fun animated film, which has a lot going for it. Spoiler: Who knew Yeti's were so racist!? Lots clash in this pic: The old world and the new world, belief and science, belonging versus not. Some clever dialogue and animation-porn (super awesomely rendered hair, fur, and textures) adorn the standard story of discovery and journey. What sticks out, though, is that the missing link, aptly named Mr. Link, is more evolved than the male human. Hollywood is trying to say something here.
Nobody asked, and yet Disney answered! Sure, I dig the recent trend of female characters who kick ass and lead the plot. I think it's great to see young women in positions of power, masters of their own destiny, exhibiting inner, emotional turmoil male characters have traditionally done. But, sadly, much weigh down this movie. The metaphors, for one, land so thick and heavy it's hard to breathe. Is this how it feels to have a heart attack? The plot has only one main surprise: The mom lives! Disney, after a rich history of murdering scores of parents, allows her to come home to my utter amazement. The animation feels lazy - hair and fur are exquisitely rendered but ear lobes look like roughly sanded polygons. The small cast does well, but actors can only excel when everything around them hums. The machinery in and of Wonder Park creaks instead.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
In an industry that routinely takes itself too seriously, it's refreshing to watch a movie where everyone seems to have fun. (Though several useful lessons get imparted along the way of a well-crafted plot.) How Lego managed to imbue its ethos into the machinery of Hollywood is impressive. Others have tried this irreverent voice -- which Pratt and Arnett excel at -- with mixed success. The jokes fly fast, but most of the laughs were from parents chaperoning their offspring. The movie's target may be "for kids," but that's a joke everyone making it seems in on. Much of the humor sailed well above anyone under ten.
So, to recap ... irreverent and honed plot, catchy soundtrack, layers of jokes, great voice acting, time travel, and smart integration of live-action and animation make The Lego Movie 2 worth a go.
There are people who think all this was faked. What I kept thinking while watching this emotional and enthralling depiction of the moon landing was, one, how fucking stupid can you be to believe all these people lied and somehow kept it a secret and, two, how insulting that "theory" is to these same men and women who made it happen. The editors forgo dialogue and voiceover, instead just applying a powerful score with the stunning imagery. While you know the crew succeeds and comes home, it doesn't stop you from noticing all the instances where things could have gone very different.
Alita: Battle Angel
The large, CGI-enhanced eyes of the main character draw viewers in to the delicately crafted, bleak world of Iron City filled with, you suspect, rich back stories around every corner. I wanted to hear them all. I should probably read the source material.
In many ways, Alita, just follows recent science regarding teenage brains — they feel and do everything more intensely than their older or younger compatriots — and combined that with a solid plot. And Alita is intense, almost every moment of the movie, from her innocence at the beginning to her anger and, later, deadly resolve. Reentry into the real world after the final, “middle finger” to what’s his face up in Zion (Hello sequel!?!) took some time. Fight scenes flow, as do the Rollerball scenes, which in 3d iMax left me feeling shocked and awed. We root for Alita because, deep down, Americans have always liked our heroes slightly augmented. And who can resist a fight against an unjust system run by an abusively powerful boss? AND teen romance? Phew. I can't wait for seconds, but need to still recover from round one.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Sure, the whole debacle made us all chuckle from afar. However, this documentary (and the one by Hulu) lays bare the actual costs, and it’s anything but humorous. Mostly, it’s horrifying. Retold through deftly edited interviews and found footage, the doc’s narrative chops are strong. We witness it all unravel, fueled by infinite amounts of ego and denial. The film stops short of any broader implications of these two combustible ingredients (The White House? Brexit?), which left me wanting. I wanted answers as to why smart individuals so easily get duped when working in groups? How people can so quickly escape culpability? How do people become so malleably (and unable to act ethically) when money (like the balance of their fee) is held over them? I wanted introspection. Instead, we learn Billy is likely a sociopath — a master manipulator of wills — which, conveniently, absolves everyone (including the film makers, who did Fyre’s marketing) of responsibility. How nice for them.
I've never seen a Transformer movie. I probably wouldn't have seen this one either, except I saw the trailer for it so many times (thanks AMC-Pass!) I couldn't escape, my fate sealed. This prequel, taking place in the 80s, shows the beginning of the saga (which I know nothing about) and how Bumblebee lost his voice (which I didn't know he never had). I clearly missed all the Easter eggs, but it didn't detract from a solid if predictable plot, a female heroine who kicks butt, and what's his face playing the hot bad guy that (eventually) figures it out. Last, I might add. I dig the CGI, but found myself wondering more about how they transform and where everything goes more than the plot points. So, like, does the muffler have the same function in car form as it does in upright form? How about the windshield wiper fluid?
Three Identical Strangers
Three brothers find each other; things do not go well. I'm struck by a few things. Man's inhumanity to man. Also, how people, “… just doing their job,” can so easily shed culpability. (This alone must be the source of so much suffering in the world.) Also, our penchant for overlooking data points that don’t support biased conclusions we prefer to tell ourselves. Finally, how sunlight really is the best disinfectant. Hopefully, through this movie, these families will find answers. I do think this doc settles the argument of nature v nurture: Nature matters, and is most evident in the physical, but nurture matters a whole lot more.
There’a metaphor here somewhere — of large municipalities gobbling up smaller municipalities, plundering the environment in a never ending quest to survive — that lives deep in the boughs of a plot decorated with creepy, archetypical characters, a “tough-girl-I-won’t-let-you-in” love story, and CGI. So, so much CGI. I got the sense the world of Mortal Engines was rich and filled with stories; the movie alludes to them. However, they exist beyond the scope of this two hour sojourn and given the overall production, it’s likely we’ll never know them.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
The basic gist -- a quest into the modern internet (complete with jokes about us and our consumption of it) -- acts as the infrastructure for an interesting morality tale about neediness, insecurity, and the difficulties of changing circumstances and relationships. It's a lot to unpack for young audiences, but what comes across clearly is our changing attitudes about who needs saving: in this case, it's the boy. The show's female characters are all badasses, including the often hapless Disney princesses now recast as modern, awesome women. It's good to see Disney change, while poking fun of itself in the process.
This feel good movie does well at depicting the harsh realities of the foster system and the children caught up in it. It walks many lines deftly, managing to show varying perspectives of complex issues and practices. It shies away from little, at times charging into uncomfortable territory politle folks keep to themselves. Wahlberg (over the top) and Notaro's (very dry) humor disarm many of these scenes, but they stick with you. It ends in a romantic, Hollywood-celebration after an emotionally charged climax, which feels slapped on by a movie studio and a sugar-coating of what these children and parents will likely face. The message, however, is clear: Being a foster or adoptive parent is one of the greatest, selfless acts of our time. Only the strongest even dare.
Anna And The Apocalypse
A holiday, romantic, zombie comedy musical, complete with teen agnst? Yes, please! Sure, mostly everyone dies and the movie ends without a lesson learned or a solution found, but did I mention it's a musical?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald
Magic! Adventure! CGI! Cleverness! More CGI! Another series!?! Jesus. The love story at the center between the two main characters is a charming draw, plus we're all wondering how this series will tie into the original Harry Potter books. Who's Harry's relative?! Tell us! Grindelwald's racism (against muggles) is all too familiar, pushing this fantasy squarely into our reality. Escapism it's not, but that's always been the sly trick of the series -- a bait and switch under clever Latin utterances and whiz-bangry. The movie pauses rather than ends. You might call it a cliffhanger, but the dude blows up the cliff. Yah, we get it. Wait for the run to complete before opting into an unsatisfying long wait.
A "touching" take about a guy with clear brain damage climbing a mountain without ropes. Spoiler alert: he survives, but the stunning videography still tweaks your nerves the entire time. The story of his girlfriend and ethical dilemma facing the camera crew add unexpected depth, becoming the actual story since you're pretty sure he lives. What he achieved was amazing, clearly, but let’s not forget the cold fact something is wrong with him. That, we should not celebrate. He’ll likely be dead by 40, like others of his ilk, leaving a wake of grief and questions regarding how and why someone would or could do this unanswered.
The movie begins with an abundance of slap-stick humor clearly, meant to engage and disarm younger brains. However, it quickly turns more serious, teaching us that questioning old beliefs and seeking Truth are noble and just causes no matter how unpleasant the journey or result might turn out. Accompanying this are mega-doses of perspective shifting -- showing how to opposing perspectives can co-exist, both wrong and both correct. Let's also not forget the plot supporting these surprisingly deep themes - a story about a human and yeti learning from one another. The religious and hardline anti-immigrant among us need not see this flick, because its lesson is pretty clear and you're not going to like it.
As origin stories go, this wasn’t a bad one. The bad guys are really, really bad, and the good guys are, well, hungry. Some plot points require a pretty big gulp, but overall it’s a fun ride with a relentless pace that keeps moving through the entire movie. It ends as expected with big, flashing signs suggesting sequel.
A Simple Favor
A smart, roller-coaster tale of love, death, and money too bizarre to be true, which it isn't, despite the filmmakers suggesting otherwise. Witty dialogue adorns the delicately crafted plot, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively shine in the roles seemingly tailored made for them. An excellent soundtrack accompanies, and the loud music choices pair nicely with the simmering action. A must-see for fans of either Anna or Blake, or just those who appreciate a good yarn.
This movie doesn’t break new ground or say anything not already said. It’s still enjoyable as hell watching Jennifer Gardner kick ass and wreak holy revenge on the bad guys. The ending pleases and surprises, leaving room for a sequel which everyone will surely watch and then judge harsher because the main character is a woman.
The title makes no sense, sure, but the movie is still a fun tale of a woman finding her way — shedding a pretty insufferable guy and existence in the process. Anyone would be attracted to Hawk’s character given the audio effect "Sultry But Conflicted Past Rocker," used throughout the movie to great effect, which would cause any sane person to ignore the wreckage of his character’s life and swoon. That said, it’s still a great tale about life, mistakes, and growing up. I like how it ends, hopeful but not explicitly so. The lesson, we can muck up in our past but that doesn’t ensure a ruined future, is a good one. Also, hidden deep are potent points about what art means to the artist and fan, how they can differ, and how mutually exclusive perspectives can be both correct. Art (and life) can be complex stuff.
The filmmakers did an excellent job expressing the scale of the world early humans barely knew, so vast as to be infinite, and the many dangers our species faced in its early days. It is humbling to think of a time when we participated in the food chain, as opposed to dominating it. But the casting is unlikely and the dialogue (told in sub-title) feels like cheating. Did these people really communicate using complex sentence structure, all the while communicating very abstract and complex ideas regarding leadership? I have doubts. But I like dogs, so I'm pleased things worked out.
The Happytime Murders
A crude, simplistic story that's technically impressive, and even sorta funny. Just make sure your inner 13 year old is who watches the movie, because pretty much any other inner age will be disappointed in how you spend your time.
I'm for any movie that shows how black Americans are and have been treated in this country. It's shocking to hear this vitriol coming at you. The white, racists are portrayed as backwards, simple, and clinging to a world order rapidly evaporating. Little has changed from the movie's time to now. The main characters, acting as one, engage in the most delightful shenanigans. The parts of the story that stick center around them and their difficult conversations. The bomb sub-plot? A dud.
Growing up is bad. We get it. Working too much is bad for your marriage. No shit. I think if a magic talking bear (and friends) living in an entirely alternate universe accessed through a stump were part of my childhood, I wouldn't grow up to be such a pill. Still, the movie's antics are enjoyable and the animation engaging. You see the catharsis coming four miles off, but whatever. The bad boss gets it and the worker(s) saves the day! It's all very charming. Just save yourself a huge amount of hassle and don't grow up.
The Darkest Minds
Studios are so desperate for the next teen series to squeeze. This will not be it, unfortunately, because the rich, sci-fi backstory has potential. The angsty, teenage feelings of love and betrayal take center stage and feel pretty rote. I get it, hormones. And ticket sales. Also adults are bad, which is true from a teen's perspective whether you have superpowers or not. Did the movie end, or did they just stop filming? I don't remember.
Sorry to Bother You
A brutal satire of the economy, technology creep, and the black experience in America. The movie comes at you fast, is messy, all over the place, and taking it literally will lead to disappointment. However none of that doesn't detracts from its blistering critique.
The Shape of Water
Turns out the past is heavily saturated and highly contrasted. The sets are magnificently decorated. For those fans of Bio Shock (a computer first person shooter), everything will feel familiar. Some of the themes are pretty familiar too -- women not respected and ignored, men too proud and warlike to figure anything meaningful out, gay discrimination, Communist witch-hunts. The main character, so put off by her own species (and who can blame her) turns to a fish-like creature for companionship. Fortunately, the details of their coupling are left to our imaginations, but the message remains clear: In a world built by men, swimming with the fishes is absolutely preferable.