Monday, 19 March 2018

Review: Love, Simon

Love, Simon (2018) - Greg Berlanti

         I've had some conversations lately about the state of gay representation in popular culture. My roommate (who I swear exists) is sick of how most movies or TV shows about gay people are either completely kitschy and campy or super dire. And it's true, even a movie like Call Me By Your Name, which is a fantastic, thoughtful, and important movie, is about a torrid, underage love affair. There is a complete nadir or normal love stories involving gay people. Which, in 2018, is pretty much ridiculous. There's still this stigma about it and pop culture, while massively useful, still isn't representing this humongous group of people the way it should. Which is part of the reason Love, Simon works so fucking well. 20 years ago this could have been a completely serviceable hetero normative She's All That-esque high school romance flick, but in today it finally serves to show that gay people can have a normal love story too, and I really loved it.
       Nick Robinson stars as Simon, a totally normal teenager. I know this because the movie makes a point of telling us just how normal everything in his life is (note: It is not normal to have a house that big, a room that dope, and parents who look like Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, that's not normal at all). He hangs with his friends, does theatre, drinks too much iced coffee, and aimlessly drives around in his shitty car (okay that part does sound just like high school to me). But Simon's been keeping his homosexuality from everyone a secret, and it's clearly starting to get to him. Well one day on (I graduated from high school about a million years ago so I can't be sure, but is it normal for a high school to have a salacious gossip blog in 2018? I'd accept answers in the comments, but if anyone reading these reviews is still in high school I'm going to pour gasoline on my laptop and the internet and burn it all down) a student writes an anonymous letter telling everyone he's gay and not ready to come out yet. From there Simon starts a pen pal relationship with the original post writer, Blue, as Simon calls him, while also trying to figure out who he might really be in the high school.
       This is a good movie. This movie's absolute best quality is that its sweet. It takes (almost every, I'll get to that soon) each character seriously and doesn't make light of the things happening to them, even though they're only in high school. The movie very successfully gives us the weight of high school problems, dating, first love, lying, rumours, popularity, but also never makes it obtuse or overwrought. This movie is certainly a drama (and a romance, and also a comedy), but it never feels too dramatic for the sake of drama, and that's unbelievably refreshing. Even without it knocking over the head with dire EMOTIONS, I still basically cried the entire second half of the movie. It was just very, very sweet.
       One of the best things about this movie is that it doesn't have to be a "gay" movie to function well. The main character could easily be a girl (or the mystery blogger a girl) and the movie wouldn't really change much at all. Of course it shouldn't do that, the fact that its about a kid trying to come to terms with himself is one of the crutches of the whole movie, I just want to point out that a love story can still just be a love story, the idea that it's between two males doesn't need to be shocking or different. Our expectations of seeing homosexual relationships on screen is what has been different, so I'm glad the movie doesn't let itself veer off path too much from being just a romantic teenage movie as well as a really strong story about accepting yourself.
       Which is the other best part of the movie: Simon's struggle to come out and be true to himself in front of his friends and families. It's another way the movie is very smart; for Simon his biggest concern is people seeing him differently after he comes out, which, while not everyone who sees this movie will be a gay person who's had to come out, I think everyone can relate to being afraid people aren't going to like you once they find out who you really are. The reason this movie works so well (and why I cried so goddamn much) is because it's smart enough to find relatability in every story line, regardless who's the emotional center of it.
       There's one story line in the movie involving an annoying classmate and blackmail that honestly, in my opinion, goes on way too long. They try to make it a normal part of the story, but honestly the fact that a high-schooler is blackmailing a gay student into helping him or threatening to out him is so morally reprehensible, and there's so little consequence for all of it, that it just becomes kind of angering. And it causes Simon to act like a total dick, lying all around town and whatnot. It's understandable, and Simon eventually does have to face the music, but the kid who actually outed someone doesn't? It's narratively frustrating, especially because this is mostly a movie about nice kids being nice. It doesn't quite fit, but it doesn't ruin it or anything either.
       The end of the movie even has a big spectacle scene where people watch and cheer Simon on as he hopefully finds love with Blue. I hate movies that end in public spectacle, I hate them so much, but even Love, Simon found a way to make the end surprising, exciting, and of course, so goddamn sweet and endearing that I didn't even mind when everyone in the movie and everyone in the movie theatre started fucking clapping at the climax. It had definitely earned it. Love, Simon earns all the laughs and tears it mustered, and I hope more Hollywood movies like this continue to be made and released. It can only lead to good things.

7 out of 10 Different Times I Cried During This Movie

Friday, 16 March 2018

Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider (2018) - Roar Uthaug

       Did you guys ever play video games? Some PS? PS2? Some Game Cube maybe, I dunno, let's get crazy! Well, not to be a dickwad, but I've never played Tomb Raider the video game, and I've also never seen either of those Angelina Jolie Tom Raider movies from the early 2000's. I know she goes to Cambodia in one of them (Oh shit, I just put that together with the fact that she adopted like 600 Cambodian children. Now I'm imagining them on the Tomb Raider 2 set, going to town on the craft services and just making a general mess, because children), and I have also been to Cambodia! That's the closest I've gotten to experiencing a Raiding of the Tomb by Lara Croft. So I went into the new Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander and directed by Roar Uthaug (Hooooow is that a name?) with very little expectations. And in that respect I was...mostly satisfied! Low expectations yield mildly pleasant results (also something every girl I've ever slept with has said)!
       So I'm not sure about before, where Angelina Jolie looked like she was practically Superwoman but in caves, but in this version of Tomb Raider Lara Croft is just a regular girl. A regular, MMA-fighting, parkour biking, genius girl. Her dad died (disappeared?) seven years ago, and instead of dealing with her emotions and taking her place among the Croft business (they're super rich, of course), she's been slumming it, working as a bike courier and having trouble paying her gym fees. That is until she finally decides to admit her father's death, and is given a crypto-puzzle type thing that leads her to discover her dad's (Dominic Cooper, or as he will always be truly known: McNutty from The Wire. Yes I know it's actually McNulty, but Bubbles always calls him McNutty, so McNutty it is!) big secret: He's actually an Indiana Jones-like artifact seeker who's discovered an Ancient Japanese Evil! She's a witch or something? It's not important! Lara decides to follow in her father's footsteps and hopefully discover what happened to him all those years ago.
        So this movie doesn't quite need to exist. I can't imagine that it says or does anything that was criminally lacking in the first Tomb Raider movies. I get the feeling this one is supposed to have more of a "realistic" feel to it, making Lara Croft semi-relatable (She's still ripped AS FUCK, but in the first scene they show her losing a fight with a fellow boxer) and even trying to explain some of the more mystical aspects of the story with science. But this whole movie has a weird, early 2000s feel to it. It's basically the best movie of 2002. Think of The Mummy (Brendon Fraser FTW), or even the later Jurassic Park movie when they started using for CGI effects. It's an adventure flick, complete with Indiana Jones riddles and and even some Hunger Games-like kickass female bow and arrow action. You can even throw some early LOST in there. And while I don't want to only compare this movie to other movies, it's kind of impossible not to. It has a very Hollywood adventure hodge podge to it. It borrows tons and tons of very familiar adventure movie tropes. The main reason it doesn't totally fail is because they've reached from SO MANY different places it doesn't quite feel fresh, but it doesn't feel absolutely boring either.
        However, and this is the movie's biggest issue: A decent amount of it is kind of boring. There are a few pretty good set-pieces (I enjoyed the thoroughly stupid but exciting bike race at the beginning), and I was adequately entertained for most of the runtime, but whenever there were down moments from the action, the movie's flaws start showing. The story is stupidly ridiculous (Why did she actually follow him there? Why are they searching for a tomb by literally blowing up an entire island? How hard is it to find a MASSIVE underground tomb? Isn't there technology for that kind of stuff?) and the screenplay and director (Roar is not a name) aren't quite skilled enough to make the emotions or the characters work. So we have to rely on the action (which ain't terrible) and Vikander's portrayal of Croft to keep the movie afloat.
       And one of the best parts of the movie, luckily, is Alicia Vikander. Hot off her Academy Award win (I've seriously spent the last 14 hours thinking about it, and I truly cannot remember if I ever saw The Danish Girl. It's like it's movie-shaped air. Like, I'm sure I saw it because it won an acting Oscar and I really like Vikander in general because of Ex Machina, but for the goddamn life of me I cannot remember a single thing about that movie. Eddie Redmayne is probably a douchebag in real life) her casting as Lara Croft had to be what finally got this reboot off the ground, and she's pretty great even though there's really not much for her on the page to work with. She's basically a stubborn, heroic, genius, but she imbues the almost-superhuman like Lara with relatability and compassion. And she's legit ripped in it. Her six-pack has a six-pack. But she has such a small frame you almost don't expect her to (even in a fake-ass movie world) be able to hold her own as Lara Croft, but she absolutely does. She's fun and she kicks ass.
       I should mention Walton Goggins is the bad guy in the movie, and he is so incredibly wasted. Walton Goggins is a FANTASTIC actor and he's fantastic because he's such a fucking weirdo. This movie has him playing his stupidly even character so mundanely, so uninterestingly, that I felt cheated. Give me weird Goggins or give me death. Also McNutty as Croft Daddy is pretty silly too. Dude, I love the Wire so much, and I love McNutty, but we gotta face the facts the dude ain't that good an actor.
       The end of the movie obviously sets up a larger universe for Lara to (hopefully for Warner Brothers, who have boondoggled the fuck out of their DC universe thus far and need a win that's not just Wonder Woman) continue exploring and fighting her way through. Some evil group named Trinity is the main foe, and there's a thoroughly unexciting reveal at the end of the movie about who's really in charge. Interestingly enough, however, when it set up the possible sequels and ended, I actually wanted there to be a sequel. I would watch another one of these Alivia Vikander as Lara Croft Tomb Raider movies. Sure that's not the highest praise, but in 2018, among the rampant rubble of reboots, video game adaptations, and endless fucking Star Wars movies, that's actually a pretty big compliment. Maybe the next one can go a little crazier and have more fun. Just keep Vikander there and let her kick all the asses.

Grade: 2.8 out of 5 Japanese AIDS Witches

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Review: Gringo

Gringo (2018) - Nash Edgerton

       Gringo was advertised as a lot of different things, I'm guessing in a hope to give everybody SOMETHING to say, "oh hey!" It's a comedy with boob jokes and swearing, so that's a start. But also it's a dark comedy about kidnapping! So there's gonna be some, ya know, pretty crazy stuff a-happening. It's about weed, too, right? It's got those weed pills? And action! Because god forbid we make a comedy movie these days without at least three jarring head shots and multiple car chases. But it also has one hell of an ensemble cast! Charlize Theron? David Oyelowo? Thandie Newton, Joel Edgerton, and Amanda Seyfried? Well sonofabitch, I'm interested now. I went into Gringo with low expectations, the premise seemed simple enough, and I really do like that entire cast (even Sharlto Copely is fun when someone isn't encouraging him to just be as weird as possible *cough cough* Oldboy), and I hoped that the movie would pick one or two of those ideas mentioned above and be able to explore one of them into a halfway decent comedy, one that, ya know, hopefully made me laugh. Welp, director Nash Edgerton and writers Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone heard those notes, considered them, and decided to say, "Nah! Let's not do that at all!"
       David Oyelowo stars as Harold Soyinka, the extremely downtrodden and exploited husband and pharmaceutical middle-management stooge (why do 97% of comedies have to star people who everyone treats like shit? It's exhausting before the credits even finish). His wife (Newton) is spending all his money AND cheating on him, his bosses (Theron and Edgerton) take straight advantage of him every day, secretly stuffing him on insurance, and lying to his face about his future in the company when they probably sell the whole thing int he next few months, leaving Harold completely penniless. And this is all, like, in the first twelve minutes of the movie. Trust me, guys, everyone treats Harold like shit. You don't even need a good actor like David Oyelowo to act as him, just draw a frowny face on a punching bag and throw that from set to set.
       Well, they all go down to Mexico to buy a new weed pill (other than the mention of a weed pill, no comedy or humor or plot importance about drugs follows, which I guess is a relief, because this movie would not have done drug comedy well either, but it still seems weird to make it such an integral part of the marketing), or to sell a new weed pill, I have no idea to be honest. Soyinka realizes that his bosses are screwing him over and decides to stay in Mexico and try and get his. Of course, hijinks ensue. The cartel gets involved, doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried shows up in Mexico with her boyfriend on a separate but overlapping mule trip, there are several different kidnapping plots, his boss calls his ex-mercenary brother to go to Mexico and find, oh and also there's a subplot about...ugh, god, who cares?
       Does that sound busy? Does that sound needlessly complicated and like it might be so much narrative rigmarole that you can barely find time to focus on any comedy? Well, it should because it is.  This movie, like a lot of comedy movies, feels like it wasn't confident enough in its jokes so in an attempt to make the movie more solid they add unnecessary sub plots about completely unfunny things (cartel drug lords torturing people, per se) and action set-pieces that don't help long enough to distract from the lack of laughing I'm doing.
       My least favorite thing about this movie, however, is that the comedy that is in the movie is mostly cruel and stupid. Theron and Edgerton are terrible people. Selfish, oblivious to others, and just generally awful. And that's...funny? They don't actually say or do funny things, they're just there to be awful. Theron swears, flirts, and makes sexual innuendos to sell pills, and I guess we're just supposed to think it's funny because it's Charlize Theron doing it? Because she's a serious actress? Welp, just because it's her being constantly racist to Mexican people and also calling people "retards," doesn't make it funny. It just makes it more mind-boggling it's her in such a hodge-podge of a movie.
       It really doesn't work. There are some action scenes that, on their own were kind of fun, but mostly because the movie's non-comedy comedy was so boring I was excited for ANYTHING slightly different happening. But the movie doesn't know how to reign that in either, splashing the movie with out-of-nowhere violence that doesn't fit into the tone the movie spent the first forty-five minutes creating. Everyone in this cast is serviceable and for the most part seems to be trying (I think? I guess? I really can't tell, with this movie), but its crushed under the weight of its own cruel non-comedy and muddled plotting. Not funny enough to be a good comedy, not smart enough to be a good story, and not exciting enough to be a good action movie. After doing a light IMDB search I discovered director Nash Edgerton (Nash. Is not. A name.) is a longtime stunt director and only recently began directing. It all shows, and I don't think he's quite there yet to be able to control an entire story. I also discovered that he's brothers with the movie's star Joel Edgerton (Joel is basically a name, I GUESS), and that kiiind of makes sense as to how he was able to get so many A-list actors in this crapfest? Oof, I I got sassy and I really didn't mean to. Bye!
Amanda Seyfried trying to remember what the fuck she is doing in this movie. She can't.
Grade: That feeling when you spend all day really tired and just dying to be able to go home so you can finally go to sleep but when you get home you know you're going to just stay up really late anyway watching youtube videos. (2 out of 5?)


Friday, 9 March 2018

Review: Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds (2018) - Cory Finley

       When you're growing up, in high school in particular, every problem seems monumental. Your parents are awful and no understands you. Now, the moment you get old enough to not be a total idiot, we know this isn't true. Our problems in high school were adorable little pre-life problems, and sometimes movies suffer from trying to make these little non-issues so dramatic. It goes doubly for movies about rich people, whose "problems" usually make me so irritated I wanna flip the laserdisc player over. For teenagers in movies, and in real life, every small struggle or issue is basically life or death. Well Thoroughbreds, the new thriller/dark comedy from writer/director Corey Finley takes that idea quite literally. What if instead of crashing our mom's Tesla, getting a wrist tattoo, or crying for hours while browsing memes on Instagram when something bad happened, we hired drug dealers and plotted murder? It's certainly not a bad idea, just one that requires a deft hand to keep it from being too twee. Luckily, Thoroughbreds is a fun, exciting movie that mostly justifies its character's choices to be insipid, pecunious teenagers.
       Amanda (Olivia Cooke) has problems. Her doctor can't quite pinpoint it: bipolar, borderline schizoid tendencies, depression, whatever whatever. Basically, she feels no emotions at all, the closest she can muster being hunger. After a disturbing incident a few years ago involving a beloved family pet, Amanda was taken out of school and placed in a psychiatric ward, which is when her friendship to Lilly (and well, everybody else) ended. After a few estranged years, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda are hanging out again, at the behest of Amanda's mother for SAT tutoring, though it's clearly not just that. When Amanda discovers how much Lilly hates her rich asshole stepfather (lion hunter, bull runner, samurai sword haver, and monthly juice cleanser Paul Sparks), she suggests they just kill him. Lily is horrified at first, but, well. Obviously some things change otherwise there wouldn't be a movie.
       This movie mostly works. It has a very distinct style and the two main actresses have some fantastic moments together. The movie is able to navigate its way through black comedy and creeping tension quickly and adequately. Considering this is the first directorial effort from Cory Finley, it's surprising how well the movie is shot and its dialogue comically solid. There are only a few times that the film veers off too far into ham-fisted. Discordant tribal drums blare out to build suspense, and it only works sometimes. At times it feels forced, along with the long montages of incredible opulence. This is a movie about extremely wealthy people, but the movie never takes a stance on how we're supposed to feel about them. Are they assholes because they're rich, or are they rich because they're assholes? The movie feels like it's missing some key elements of commentary, instead happy to just show us how rich this entire asshole family is, but not what that any of it actually means as far as their characters are concerned.
        The movie's clear standout is Olivia Cooke as the emotionless Amanda. It's through her complete lack of awareness the audience finds its surrogate, which is a neat trick. The girl who can't feel anything is the one that we most relate to, and cook definitely earns it with her performance. Her lack of empathy is actually endearing because you can tell she's trying. "It's not that I'm bad. It's that I just have to work a little harder to be good." That's definitely something everyone on this big dumb Earth can relate to, and she sells it. The only problem is when you go a little deeper and you realize, if the emotionless sociopath is our most relatable character, then whaaat does that possibly say about the other characters? Namely Lily.
      It's certainly not actress Anya Taylor-Joy's fault, because I think she's doing what' written on the page sufficiently, and like I said before, the interaction between the two girls is definitely the best part of the movie, but her character just isn't there. And the problem there is simple: Irony. Without spoiling anything, because this is not a movie you want spoiled, the movie, especially in the second half, operates on such a hyper-ironic level that it becomes more and more difficult to find an emotional through-line to the story. It seems like Finley came up with the story beats before he fully figured out the characters, and it robs them of some of their agency. Their decisions seem pre-determined. The movie also seems to have difficulty deciding who its protagonist is. It wants to us relate to Amanda, but we're very clearly supposed to able to connect to Lily better. But I don't think we end being able to get too deep into either of them.
        I would be remiss to not talk about the fantastic Anton Yelchin. It's been almost two years and his death is still one big goddamn bummer to the entire movie industry (GODDAMN YOU, JEEP). He's a fantastic, emotive, and interesting actor. In Thoroughbreds he plays a small (and unfortunately, kind of inconsequential) part as a neighborhood drug dealer the two girls attempt to blackmail into killing Stepdad Mark. I get that he is a stepping stone to the girls getting more morally ambiguous, but it doesn't quite pan out. He's funny in his own completely delusional way, but like other parts of the movie, he seems like a bit of an afterthought, possibly a way to pad the already short run-time of the movie.
        The movie has a hell of an ending, but I question how it got there. The finale is sort of surprising, but at the same time sort of isn't. Overall it really does work, and it's because of the unsuspecting humanity of our horse-killing (kind-of) protagonist. The movie has some flaws, but I can't express how much I appreciate movies like this: Ambitious, original, and has a definite point of view. All of the details might not be quite there, but I very much look forward to seeing what Finley has to say next, because with some work, I think he could a really successful successful and blackly funny auteur.

Grade: 7 out of 10 Dead Beloved Family Horses

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Review: Death Wish

Death Wish (2018) - Eli Roth

       We live in a pretty terrifying time, where the violence in real life is starting to seem scarier than the things we are seeing in movies. Is it life imitating art turned up to 11? Or is the job of filmmakers to make critiques of the violence we all witness, to try and comment on the craziness surrounding us as they (hopefully) entertain us as well? Or is it all just a crapshoot, totally random and basically, at its heart, just an excuse to squeeze a dollar out of every last consumer in America? Well don't worry, because the remake of Death Wish (1974, which spawned four sequels, four!) starring Bruce Willis and directed by splatter-house horror director Eli Roth is absolutely, unequivocally uninterested in answering any of those questions! They're also not at all interested in justifying the need for a tired remake that champions vigilante justice and gun violence! Cool!
       Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a nice guy! And a surgeon! He's great to his wife (a plastic faced Elizabeth Shue, who should seriously just star in this show because it'd be better) and daughter (Camilla Morrone) and even his deadbeat brother (Vincent D'Oonfrio, who seems to have lost most of his Daredevil weight, which bothers me)! He's so nice and good and calm, you'd ALMOST think he's barely acting (hint: It's true, because Bruce Willis). Until one night, something absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking happens to him. His house is robbed, and when things go wrong both his wife and daughter are shot, leaving his daughter in a coma and Detective Shue (Shoe Police!) dead. What is a grieving father with a daughter in critical condition to do? Well, go out and shoot a bunch of people, become a viral sensation, and gosh darn it have a little bit of fun while he's doing it! It's like how John McClane got his groove back!
       Forget that this is a movie in 2018 that features scenes about how easy (and fun!) it is to buy and operate high-powered assault rifles, and how tone-deaf it is to the current social and political climate. This movie is completely tone-deaf in its own self-contained universe. The flick goes from Kersey crying on the train, trying his hardest to cope with the loss of his wife, to him playing target practice with a stolen gun while fucking AC/DC blares over everything ("Cuz he's back! In! Black!) What the hell am I supposed to do with that? His daughter almost gets raped one minute, and the next I'm supposed to be cheering because he decides to start killing people? He's a surgeon who, in the matter of weeks, goes from saving lives to torturing people, and having a lot of fun doing it. Is violence bad? It sure was when it happened to his family. But when it's really over the top and ridiculous then it's fun? How realistic is this movie supposed to be? The screenwriter, director, and no one else involved seems to have any idea.
       It's so disjointed and uneven it makes it hard to even enjoy the "action" (which is really just violence). There's just so many non-human decisions that make up this entire movie. In fact, I don't even have the time to fit all of them into a normal review, so in the honor of the movie's love for guns, let's bullet point all the stupid, nonsensical things about this movie! (See what I did there?) Also, some spoilers ahead, but I promise, you don't care:

  • Do people still actually listen to the radio? How is Mancow still a thing? (P.S. I grew up in Chicago my whole life, and I thought I was fucking done having to listen to Mancow by this point).
  • Also, why set it in Chicago at all (if for any other reason than to flip the locations of the original) if you're not going to make some kind of commentary that means something about gun violence? The movie starts with police reports of senseless Chicago violence, and then proceeds to celebrate more senseless Chicago violence.
  • The cops (Whatup Dean Norris/ASAC Schraeder) searching for Kersey's family's killers (and Kersey, who DJ jockeys have coined as The Grim Reaper), basically find out it's Bruce Willis who is killing people, then leave him alone for weeks for no reason, and then absolutely let him go. YOU'RE THE WORST COPS EVER. 
  • At a scene in a pizza place a group of four people have three ALMOST EMPTY deep dish pizza trays in front of them. You're trying to tell me four people ate almost THREE DEEP DISH PIZZAS? Fuuuuck you. I'm a fat Chicago deep dish guzzling WHORE and not even I can eat more two slices of that without dying and exploding from the stomach and butt. 
  • The violence is so ridiculously over the top that it makes me irritated we had to sit through a scene where a 17-year-old almost gets raped. A fucking bowling ball falls on a dude's head. No joke.
  • There's a scene where a copycat vigilante killer tries to replicate Bruce Willis' terrible example and died immediately and then is never mentioned again. Bruce Willis has zero reaction to this.
  • Actually, Bruce Willis seems to have zero reaction to almost everything. What I'm saying is: He's a crotchety old man who clearly doesn't give a fuck.
  • The attempts at humour (Gluten-free things taste bad!) are sad. I felt sad.
  • HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY HAVE A DEATH WISH. His daughter is in a coma! He's not trying to die. This title is stupid. It's a stupid, mistitled title. 
       This movie's not so much terrible as it is just completely unnecessary. If you want to watch a movie where a man's family is brutally murdered and he decides to take vigilante justice as a coping mechanism, just watch the first one. I truly have no idea why this movie exists in 2018. It's odd that no one else involved in the production process ever stopped to ask themselves, "Um, why?" It's not like this was a big cash cow either, just raking it up at the box office (half a week after its release it's made 14 million dollars on a 30 million dollar budget, so). Just adding memes (which were so painfully and obviously written by a guy who's forty-five) and changing the location to Chicago doesn't justify its existence. If you're gonna make a violent revenge thriller, then do it. If you're gonna make a movie about a desperate man who's family was destroyed, then do that instead (please don't do that).

Grade: 2 out of 5 Mancows

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Review: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow - Francis Lawrence

       The trailers for Red Sparrow were all sleek and sexy, with Jennifer Lawrence's sparkly red dress, her femme fatale Russian accent, and her Charlize-Theron-bleach-blonde-hair a la last year's Atomic Blonde. It was sold as a more psycho-sexual spy thriller, where J-Law uses not only her smarts and strength but also her....sessuality. And while I don't take issues to a movie not quite adhering to its marketing campaign, I do take issue when all the things about the movie that made it look trashy and fun were actually hard to watch and at times basically upsetting. Atomic Blonde had fun, but Red Sparrow seems almost intent to make sure the audience is, while sure, probably engaged, because it is a well-made movie with decent tension and good performances, squirming uncomfortably and wishing to hell an old Russian scientist would give J-Law a necklace that actually shot poison darts or something. This movie's pretty rough.
       Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Ergova (who has a Russian accent but doesn't speak Russian once the entire movie and I know, at thirty years old, and an avid movie watcher, this sort of thing shouldn't bother me, BUT IT DOES. IT ALWAYS BOTHERS ME) a famous ballerina who, because of a terrible injury, is forced into the world of Russian espionage. Yep, pretty much just like that. Her uncle is big into the Russian secret service, and she very quickly gets embroiled in a web of lies, murder, treason, secrets, and Joel Edgerton's sexy abs. Is she playing the Americans? Is she playing the Russians? Will we find out who the mole is?! (Because of course there's a mole. It IS a spy movie).
       There are some things about the movie that work: Jennifer Lawrence is solid and believable (as always). The direction by Francis Lawrence curates a good level of dread and suspense throughout, and the movie definitely has a visceral charm to it that makes it, while not fun, engaging. The first scene of the movie, in fact, was pretty tight, combining a ballet sequence with a thrilling spy chase scene. But after that, the movie's excitement begins to fizzle away. At its core narratively, the movie is kind of a mess. And the main reason for that is none other than Dominika herself.
       This isn't Jennifer Lawrence's fault as a performer. She does an apt job making us care for her. The biggest problem with the movie is that Dominika is a very passive character. A lot of things happen to her, and she's forced to react to them, but throughout the egregiously long run-time of the movie, she is able to make very few actual decisions. I understand that she is continuously put in these situations where the character doesn't have much of a choice, but that simply doesn't make for a very entertaining movie. I'ts her lack of agency that honestly makes large parts of the movie much less interesting. She does this because her uncle says she has to. Then she does that because her evil spy school teacher told her. There are small moments where she tries to reclaim some of herself for herself, but the oppressive world she lives in is so dominating and cruel that for her the biggest choice she gets to make is fucking someone she doesn't want to missionary position instead of doggy. Yes, it was a cool moment for the character, but she really doesn't get to do a lot.
       Yes, by the end of the movie there is, of course, a big reveal (Spoiler Alert: It's not a big reveal. My spoiler alert is that there isn't much of a spoiler alert. Did I just blow your mind? I did. I'm a dirty little mind blower), it's too little too late. I'm glad that things, ya know, work out for her, but it feels like she didn't have a lot to do with any of it until the very end. And even by the end, she's still trapped in a particular cycle that the movie makes very clear she doesn't want or deserve, but because she has so little say in any of it, it's meant to be cathartic, but isn't.
      The movie has very, very little action in it. A good thriller doesn't need car chases and non-stop hand-to-hand combat, but some kind of excitement would have very much helped break up the brutal assault of torture and terribleness the movie settles into from the very beginning. The first job she agrees to, which is supposed to be a simple phone swap case, turns into a scene where the man raping her is murdered while he's still inside her. She almost gets raped again at her training school, which is like a horrifying, sexually manipulative Hogwarts. And then there are no fewer than three more LITERAL torture scenes. Yes, Russians love to torture people (apparently), but the movie is honestly not good enough to take on such brutal and thematically dark material.
       Yes, Jennifer Lawrence plays a strong female lead, and yes, the movie has some pretty good mood going for it, but overall the feeling is one of a flick that just slogs about, not all that excitingly. Definitely not excitingly enough to justify how unpleasant most of the film is during its (did I mention far too long?) run time? Somewhere in the murky, depressing murk of this movie lies something more fun and engaging, but neither the screenplay or the director had the wherewithal to quite find it.

Grade: Much, much better than the nude photos J-Law were leaked online. Oh, but as a movie? Eh. 5?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Review: Game Night

Game Night (2018) - John Francis Daly and Jonathon Goldstein

       High concept comedies are tough. Hell, regular comedies are tough.For a comedy to really work, follow with me, you don't need prat falls and fart jokes (not that I don't enjoy people getting injured and flatulence, because trust me, I do), you need characters you actually like, who are actually understandable, who you have an investment in, falling down and shitting their pants. Otherwise it's just bland and lazy. "Farts are funny, right? Well here's a THOUSAND OF THEM." Not so, Mr. and Ms. Movie people! I want there to be relatable stakes when someone farts or falls down. I know I sound crazy, but follow along here. The best comedies are based in character, regardless of plot (think Ghostbusters, or Superbad, or Mean Girls). High concept comedies are even tougher, because you have to funnel down all that character development and growth into one main, idea: One simple "concept" that drives the whole movie that is USUALLY outside the realm of reality (think Liar, Liar or Groundhog Day). A lot of normal comedies end up being terrible because they care about the shitty jokes than actual characters, and a lot of high concept movies end up being terrible because they lean too heavily into the one crazy conceit instead of actual characters. Game Night, however, smartly avoids failing on both levels, and actually creates an enjoyable, funny movie that also basically succeeds in its main general conceit as well. Game Night, honestly, surprised the hell out of me, and I quite liked it!
       So the plot, which is quite easily explainable in a short amount of words (because high concept!) is that married couple Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) are married and looove game night. Their friends all love game night, comprised of Ryan, Kevin, and Michelle (Billy Magnnussen, Lamorne Moriss, and Kylie Bunbury) and whoever Ryan happens to be dating this week (this week it's his less-Instagrammy-than normal coworker, the fantastic Sharon Horgan). Things go awry when Max's brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes into town and, as always, upstages his younger brother with the promise of a more exciting, thrilling game night, complete with a kidnapping mystery. But then, because of Brooks' secret criminal life, he really is kidnapped! Cue insanity! Cue hilarity!
       It would be easy for a movie with this plot to become very tiresome very quickly, but a large reason it doesn't is because the entire cast is funny and they're game. They definitely commit, and even the less sketched out characters (namely the middle school sweethearts arguing about a short lapse in their relationship, Kevin and Michelle), are still charming enough to watch, even if their story-line is pretty thin. Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman are pretty great as the main couple of the movie. Their relationship is sweet but believable, and they clearly support each other but aren't perfect. Yes, of course, he's ten years older than her in real life and sure that bothers me a little if I stop to think about it for too long, but they work and they play off each other well. The whole cast does. Everyone is funny, even if they end up a bit inconsequential.
       So yes, the comedy movie is funny. That is most of the battle, but if you're going to go high concept, you have to commit to the concept as well. And for this movie, the directors don't make it easy on themselves. Basically, the entire plot of the movie plays out like it's a mystery thriller, complete with David Fincher-esque title cards (that also cleverly look like game pieces, furthering the motif of the movie) and a Trent Reznor like score that actually make for convincing thrills. Usually when comedies blend genres, especially when it comes to action-comedies, which this movie essentially is, no matter how good the comedy is the action usually feels pretty shoe-horned, mostly because that's the world the filmmakers created and they have to stick to it (I love 21 Jump street, more than Game Night, even, but the action scenes of that movie don't amount to much for me). Game Night doesn't quite feel that way, partially because of the flow of information the characters get, partially because the cast is very funny, and partially because the action/thrilling set pieces are done really well.
       There's a particular scene where the entire group has to play hot potato with a fabrigee across an entire mansion that Daly and Goldstein created into one long shot. It twists and turns and keeps the audience on bated breath. It was fun, exciting, worked comedy into the actions, but also added up because of what we'd already learned from each character. It was a really awesome scene that had a technical proficiency most comedies don't really reach for.
       For me, the two standouts in the movie were the Magnussen/Horgan coupling, and Jesse Plemons. Magnussen (who is fantastic in everything I've seen him in, especially Ingrid Goes West) plays stupid without going annoying or too broad. And Sharon Horgan (Pulling, swoon, Catastrophe, SWOON), is reliably fantastic. He's young and gorgeous and she's slightly older (and gorgeous), and even though there's very little screentime dedicated to it, his asking her to the game night even though he wasn't initially attracted to her is endearing and leads to some nice character moments between the two of them. And ugh, Jesse Plemons. He's killing it you, guys. Between Fargo season 2, Black Mirror, and Bridge of Spies, he's one of Hollywood's best character actors today. He plays Gary, the creepy as fuck cop who was outed from game night after he got divorced from his still very beloved wife. Every scene with him is hilarious, creepy, and so slowly paced I bet the movie gained five minutes screen-time from his line reads alone.
       Yes, a few characters definitely get sidelined. Yes, the plot gets slightly too twisty-turny towards the end, but the movie has a strong basis of good character writing and just general good writing to keep its momentum throughout. It's also a very 2018 kind of movie. It feel fresh and relevant without pandering, and it's very referential without being annoying ("Well that's some real cute full-circle bullshit," a character explains during the climax). It's a smart, funny movie that knows it needs to be a smart, funny movie. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I was going to. However, some of that might be because of how often I saw the goddamn trailer (at least 20 times). This Moviepass, man, it's a blessing and a curse.

Score: Pass Go. Collect 200$. Do Not Go to Jail (GET IT? IT'S A GAME REFERENCE) *Fart noise?*