Author Archives: Jay

Jumanji: The Next Level

I admit I was pleasantly surprised to have genuinely laughed during Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Even the first (Robin Williams) one didn’t appeal to me but I was happy to take the win. I was expecting significantly less this time around and that’s exactly what it delivered – but The Next Level wasn’t entirely without its charms.

Now, you would think that after last time, Spencer (Alex Wolff) would have learned his lesson: a very definitely do NOT play Jumanji. Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t keep it around for a rainy day. But there’s one little flaw in the plan. Spencer is a dude. And you won’t have failed to notice that every single person who has played and failed at Jumanji is, in fact, a man. Men are stupid. They do not learn. Spencer’s tenuous reason is that life was going just a little too swimmingly, which caused him to lose confidence. As you do. So to cure his insecurity, he goes back into the game. What, it doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter! He’s a white male: he doesn’t need one, no one will ever really question him, and don’t you dare to start to think you’ll be the first.

The thing is, last time Spencer got to be Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) but this time his avatar is Ming (Awkwafina), a master cat burglar even though Spencer’s an anxiety-riddled little mouse. And once his loyal friends jump into the game to save him, they too will get assigned avatars they aren’t prepared for and never could be. And it’s not just the original foursome, but Spencer’s arthritic Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his longtime frenemy Milo (Danny Glover) as well. It’ll be a real challenge to survive the game with these two dead weights slowing things down, but what choice do they have? The game’s afoot.

Jack Black is very good at pretending to be inhabited by all manner of teenager. Kevin Hart does an entertaining Danny Glover impression. Even Nick Jonas does a passable Colin Hanks. But The Rock? Poor Dwayne Johnson, he CANNOT do a DeVito. Like AT ALL.

The movie attempts to justify itself by being more, and it is – more characters, more whackadoodle scenarios, more adventure – but it’s also considerably less – less funny, less sensical.

By all rights Sean should be reviewing this movie but the poor guy had to leave the theatre at exactly the film’s climax (our sweetheart dog Gertie has been ill, and we were expecting a call from her vet; Sean held his phone in his hand the whole film, waiting for the merest vibration, whereupon he dashed out of the cinema to get the news). If you think it was difficult for him to tell me her results, you don’t know how hard it was for me to tell him how the movie ended. I’ve never felt more idiotic reciting simple facts.

Anyway, there are a few laughs to be had in this Jumanji, but not even enough to fill a 30 second trailer, so multiply that level of discomfort by 246 and you’ll have a general idea of your tolerance for this film.

6 Underground

A billionaire who goes by the name of One (Ryan Reynolds) has assembled a team of ghosts. Six men and women, having faked their deaths and truly gone underground, operate outside of the usual channels to clean up the dirt other people can’t, or won’t.

Two (Melanie Laurent) is a CIA spook; Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is the hitman; Four (Ben Hardy) is a skywalker; Five (Adria Arjona) is the doctor; the new recruit, Seven (Corey Hawkins) is a frustrated, sharp-shooting soldier fresh from Afghanistan. Together they have plans to topple a dictator. Ambitious? You betcha. Especially so early in their mission history. After all, they may be officially dead, but they’re as flawed and vulnerable as the living. The bad guys are pretty angry about their lack of hubris.

6 Underground, a new Netflix original, is directed by Michael Bay and it’s got all his hallmarks: American flags, big explosions, scantily clad women. In fact, there’s sex in this movie where no sex belongs. But it’s the car crashes that are truly nutso bananas. This is Michael Bay, unleashed, unmuzzled, unrepentant. The opening car chase alone threatens nuns, babies, AND puppies. Too much, you say? Bah. Just you wait. Now, Michael Bay didn’t write this one but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally replace dialogue with taglines. The writing is a notch above Bay’s usual tripe, and Ryan Reynolds goes a lot way toward pulling it off. Still, much of the movie is montage, and that’s normally a relief – less cringey lines uttered – though less so when it starts to feel like a wannabe Baby Driver ripoff.

“No man is more important than the mission,” says One, but some of his team disagree. And that’s kind of a big thing to disagree on, real deal breaker type stuff, and the last thing you want during a coup d’├ętat is your little gang splintering. But that’s One’s problem, not yours. If you’re just here to see teeth splatter and brains splatter and people get multiple knife wounds by multiple knives, then this is your jam.

Friday Fuckfest: Keanu Reeves Edition

Keanu Reeves day is officially slated for May 21 2021: the day both Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 will be released. But every day can be Keanu Reeves day, and perhaps every day should. He’s one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors and is almost undoubtedly one of the kindest. He typically shies away from the spotlight, even turning down an enormous paycheque for Speed 2 in favour of touring with his band and doing a small Canadian production of Hamlet, for which his performance was praised.

Dubbed the ‘Internet’s Boyfriend’, and occasionally ‘Sad Keanu,’ the whole world is concerned about his happiness, participating in ‘Cheer-up Keanu Day’ every June 15. Although he’s deeply private, he has publicly admitted to feeling lonely, which, combined with his tragic past (a girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, who was stillborn, and their grief resulted in a breakup, followed by her death in a car accident just months later), makes an irresistible lust bubble. Feast your eyes on:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Richard Linklater managed to get his hands on best-selling source material (the book, by Maria Semple, spent a year on the New York Times bestseller list) and systematically removed everything that was good and charming and unique about the novel to produce a bland and facile piece of film.

In the book, Bernadette is a reclusive but loving mother who suddenly disappears. Her husband and daughter believe her to be dead. Her teenage daughter Bee more or less narrates the story, mostly told through uncovered documents of her mother’s, piecing together her mother’s life, and discovering hidden depths and wells of sorrow. In the film, Bernadette’s whereabouts are never in question – we witness her escape and follow her on her adventure and see things through her eyes. You can hardly blame Linklater for this transition; with Cate Blanchett in the role, it would feel almost sacrilegious not to. But it does change the nature and structure of the story significantly, not to mention negates the mystery completely.

But that’s hardly the film’s only problem. I mean, the characters are just not likable. Bernadette, of course, is not meant to be likable – she has retreated from society, she burned out on humanity and doesn’t suffer fools, or many non-fools either. But her husband (Billy Crudup) is a workaholic, disloyal asshole. Her neighbour (Kristen Wiig) is an entitled twat. Her assistant is a scam artist. His assistant is a homewrecker and a gossip. Their therapist (Judy Greer) is an unprofessional over-stepper. It’s an unrelenting parade of unappealing characters, the only bright spot daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) and we’ve already discussed how Linklater chose to shine the spotlight elsewhere. Oof. But only a few of these characters are without sympathy. Mostly the problem is that Linklater never takes a stance. His indecision is stamped all over this movie. He clearly wasn’t up to making the book spark on screen so he neutered it, shot it very conventionally, and then acted surprised when no one was overly impressed by his mess.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is actually about what happens to a creative genius when she stops creating. That’s the core theme in the book: Bernadette lost her creative outlet and just started wilting. But in the movie, she just comes off as a crazy lady who has a mental breakdown and then flees to Antarctica on some hair-brained mission. And her husband makes so many poor decisions you just wish someone would throw him overboard and give the narwhals a hearty lunch.

The only thing that remotely saves the movie is Cate Blanchett, who is luminous and quirky and vibrant, doing much of the heavy lifting that realistically, both Linklater and a solid script should have done for her (and frankly, for us). She is a delight to watch but you never shake the feeling that this film should be so much more than it is – and that’s true even if you haven’t read the book and you aren’t watching it next to me, a person who is loudly bemoaning the very substandard adaptation. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is sadly lost in translation.

Light Of My Life

A man known only to us as Dad (Casey Affleck) is camping deep in the forest with his young daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky). Only it turns out they’re not so much “camping” as “hiding” and “surviving.” They’ve been doing it for so long that Rag, who’s about 10, has never really known other people. Their lives depend on escape plans and emergency contingencies; their home consists of whatever of their campsite they were able to shove into a sack before fleeing. Dad is paranoid about everyone. They take no chances.

Is this another Leave No Trace? Sort of. But with a bit of Bird Box mixed in. A “female plague” has decimated the female population, leaving the country in ruins. Rag is one of only few girls left, and her father is desperate to keep the secret. I could easily imagine the intense pressure of safe-guarding what is most precious to him. We are never without a sense of dread. It’s actually a bit difficult to watch because the tension is enormous – we are always anticipating the next threat around the corner, even when their lives are quite peaceable.

Written and directed by Affleck, he’s awfully fond of really long scenes in which he tells rambling, long-winded stories. Sean had more patience for this than I did. I preferred exploring the unique bond that crops up between father and daughter when they have no one else in the whole world, and what it does to a kid to grow up with such vague but serious threats: everyone is the enemy, even if she’s not yet old enough to understand what these “bad men” want with her. Her innocence rubs up against our own understanding of the hostility toward her. It’s an agonizing watch, really, brutal and brilliant, a dismaying test of ethics.

Skywalker's Sacrifice

Over the weekend, Sean and I did a 24 hour Star Wars movie marathon. That’s all 10 movies: Episodes I, II, III, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rogue One, Episodes IV-VIII, quite a recap going into Episode IX next week, a nice refresher. I’d only kinda seen Episodes I-VI before this – Sean made me watch them once, but I was pretty high on pain pills after a back surgery and clearly didn’t remember much. All I knew is that I really didn’t connect with them as much as people who’d grown up with them did.

Having now rewatched them properly, I think I know why I don’t love the original trilogy: it’s made for kids. So if you were a kid when you first saw it, you probably feel all warm and fuzzy toward it. But if, like me, you were a grown up, well, it’s harder to excuse a lot of its flaws. I was routinely unsettled by the characters’ coldness – every time there was a big battle, they’d immediately celebrate their victory with high fives and hugs all around, no word of sorrow for literally hundreds or thousands or a whole planetful of their friends who were just slaughtered. And the so-called romance is completely passionless. You’re telling me Han Solo is a cold fish? Really? I’m pretty sure a scoundrel like him would be making use of all the supply closets and cargo holds in the Millennium Falcon. I’d bet there’d be boxes of condoms falling out of every console on that ship. But what really gets me is the overly simplified concepts of Light and Dark. There’s good guys and bad guys and nothing in between. I thought Luke Skywalker was a bit of a wiener in Episode IV, but Mark Hamill grows him into a hero over the whole of the trilogy and I suppose George Lucas wanted to tell his fellow nerds: look, we can be heroes too. Darth Vader, meanwhile, is pretty much the epitome of villainry – the way he looks, talks, breaths, walks, it’s all so imposing and threatening. I love him as a bad guy and have a hard time getting over that he wasn’t the bad guy boss, and an even harder time understanding how quickly he was ‘turned’ by Luke in the end. I know that as a 6 year old, little Sean was relieved that Luke’s dad was now ‘good’ but big Jay (god I hope that doesn’t stick) feels quite conflicted about it. It’s just a little too easy, and unearned. Plus, the dude has slaughtered millions at this point. Sparing one hardly seems like adequate contrition.

Anyway, all that to say it’s a total relief when we finally get to the newer movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. They are so much more emotionally and thematically complex that I respond to them on a whole different level. They’ve made me cry, while the previous ones didn’t even make me feel. The Last Jedi in particular feels like a real triumph in cinema – after I saw it in theatres, it grew on me the more I thought about it, the more I traced the themes of failure and perseverance and hope and redemption. But it’s only now, having watched all of the films in quite succession, that I can truly appreciate all that this film accomplished. The Last Jedi is more or less Luke’s film. He’s been in exile but Rey tracks him down, determined to gain his help for the Resistance. But Luke denies her. He is a beaten up old man who just wants to be left in peace. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. The fight has gone out of him. He suffered a major setback in training his nephew, Ben. He couldn’t keep Ben from turning to the Dark side. It even brought out some Dark in Luke as he contemplated ending Ben before he could turn into Kylo Ren. Ever afraid of the Dark, Luke runs away in shame and sadness, to a quiet life of contemplation. He turns himself off from the Force. And he’s not the only one who is suffering. His sister Leia may still be fighting, but it’s taken a toll on her. Now she knows that even victories come with a cost. She is emotionally exhausted, and burdened. And that’s to say nothing of her son, whom she has lost. It was shocking in The Force Awakens to learn that Han and Leia shared a son, but losing him tore them apart, as grief does to so many parents in mourning. We see how much life has changed Han – still a plucky, trouble-making smuggler, but also a grieving father keening for even a glimpse of his fallen son. Luke too is changed – no longer the young boy filled with optimism and confidence. He has seen too much, suffered too much. His wisdom has made him weary. It’s hard to see Luke without hope, but it reminds us of his master Yoda – he too had exiled himself in the face of failure. In fact, he only broke his exile to train Luke. And now here we are, some 40 years later, with a new young Jedi and Luke is the teacher. A reluctant teacher, of course, because Luke has been so disillusioned he’s lost his faith, yet he can’t help but step up in exactly the way that his teacher did before him, even giving his life for Rey in the same way that Obi-wan did for him. When Luke’s cloak flutters empty to the ground it’s a direct call-back to Obi-wan’s own demise, and a brilliant cinematic moment.

I liked The Last Jedi for having the courage to show us failure. Every other movie (and by no means do I just mean Star Wars) shows us heroes facing down impossible odds and overcoming them. This is a new kind of test: how to get knocked down and get back up again. How to keep going in the face of failure. How to let go of the past. And these films mean that last bit in more ways than one, literally passing the torch between the older generation and the new, but teaching both that only by letting go can we truly move forward.

Video evidence of our movie marathon:

Hot Air

Lionel Macomb is the king of conservative talk radio. By shouting outlandish opinions and wildly distorting facts on hot button, right-wing issues, Lionel has made himself an empire. For 20 years he has slept on a mattress stuffed with cash but now a former protege, Whitley, is threatening his domain by presenting himself as a kinder, gentler (read: religious) right-wing alternative.

Lionel (Steve Coogan) isn’t exactly going to just let Whitley (Skylar Astin) walk away with a piece of the pie, but he’s been losing ground steadily and suddenly even his long-standing feud a Senator he dismissively refers to as “The Hyphen” (Judith Light) isn’t as fun anymore. It’s a terrible time for his life to be disrupted but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it wasn’t. In waltzes a long-lost relation he never knew he had, 16 year old Tess (Taylor Russell). Tess challenges him and pushes his buttons, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate her to him. In fact, the only reason she’s allowed to stick around at all is an intervention by girlfriend Val (inexplicably, Neve Campbell), who is notably not as asshole but bewilderingly in love with one.

I love Steve Coogan and would happily watch him in anything. This role is great for him, caustic, wordy, with a ranty-ragey charisma. But then the script fails him. Tess arrives on the scene to humanize him, and while she does provide context, there’s not a lot of growth. It’s like writer Will Reichel forgot why movies exist. Maybe (and I’m being generous here) the point is that conservative “personalities” lack the basic human ability to change. Certainly a lack of soul is an asset to a career in punditry. But then why introduce Tess at all if he’s going to refuse to learn from her? It makes for a frustrating end because there’s no real redemption, and you get there only to realize that there’s also been very little on the journey there. Lionel Macomb is a talking head, a very good one thanks to Coogan, but a whole bunch of people spent a whole a bunch of money on this movie and nobody thought to ask: is there a point to this? Shouldn’t there be?