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The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

As you might have guessed, we’ve been so busy at Disney World lately that our movie nights have been few and far between. But now that we’re back from Florida, we are trying to catch up as best we can!

The-LEGO-Movie-2-The-Second-Part-Official-Trailer-2The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is a movie I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Picking up right where The LEGO Movie left off, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and the rest of the Bricksburg gang (Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman and Alison Brie) as they battle against the DUPLO invaders. After five years of war, Bricksburg has become an apocalyptic wasteland (and aptly renamed Apocalypseburg). When a new type of invader drops out of the sky and kidnaps Emmet’s friends, Emmet blasts off to the Systar system in hot pursuit.

Sequels are often hard to critique, and I assume even harder to create. Stay too close to the first film and you risk feeling stale. But stray too far from the original and you might lose the magic that drew your audience to you in the first place. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote the original, both return for The LEGO Movie 2 (bonus points to Lord for also writing the outstanding Into the Spider-Verse).  Lord and Miller chose to stay close to the original, and the result is a comfortable ride through familiar territory with a (very) few new characters joining the existing gang. I think it’s the right choice.

The unique feeling of the first movie can’t be replicated, because this is now the 4th LEGO-ish movie, and because I had high expectations coming into the sequel (instead of my zero expectations heading into the original). But the charm, the wit, and the warmth remain. It’s nice to spend more time in the LEGO Movie world, because it’s the world I used to play in with my LEGO as a kid. Except way more professional looking, of course, but the feeling remains exactly right, where adventures are everywhere and where your own creations are more important than the original police station from which most of the blue pieces came.

That bottled nostalgia is the best thing about The LEGO Movie 2. And that’s saying a lot because it’s also smartly written, beautifully animated, and just a whole lot of fun. Sure, it’s not as “fresh” as the first time, but if that’s the only bad thing to be said about this movie, that says a lot.

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Glass

Glass tries to be a different type of superhero movie, it really does. M. Night Shyamalan’s concept of real-world heroes is a solid one. Unbreakable proves that. As far as I’m concerned, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best, one of only two very good (i.e., not quite great) movies he’s made. By making Glass an explicit sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan invites me to compare the two, and Glass doesn’t measure up. Call it a Glass that’s about a quarter empty. Of course, that’s still three-quarters full.

32ef47e0-1afb-11e9-b6e9-9c4bb39de67fMuch of Glass is an extended superhero therapy session for Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) along with Split’s Horde (James McAvoy), after the three are apprehended and institutionalized at the start of the film. These therapy scenes, led Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), are very slow. We know something is going to eventually happen, but the pace seemed wasteful because every minute in therapy is a minute less for the showdown between Dunn and the Horde that I’ve been waiting for since the last minute of Split. Even with their slow pace, the therapy scenes are still enjoyable, though, in large part because of McAvoy’s amazing performance as he gives us 24 distinct personalities without falling into ridiculousness.

When the showdown between Dunn and the Horde finally comes, it feels like an afterthought. I wish that Shamalan’s previous movies had been better, not only so less of my time had been wasted watching that trash, but also because it seemed a lot of the missing flash in the showdown was due to Glass’s limited budget. Since realism is an essential part of the film, I didn’t expect fireballs or eye lasers, but I did expect to see something special, even before Price expressed a desire to have the fight televised to show the world that superheroes were real. The YouTube footage of Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War made me feel like I was watching something amazing. Glass’s footage just wasn’t up to that level and it needed to be for this movie to have a satisfying payoff.

The lack of a satisfying payoff is particularly disappointing once we see how the story plays out. Without getting too spoiler-y, I think it’s safe to say that Shyamalan’s ending pisses away any goodwill left over from Unbreakable. Which is a shame because Shyamalan clearly intended to leave room for more sequels, but in getting there he shattered my desire to see any of them.

 

Uncle Drew

If anyone was going to love Uncle Drew, it would have been me. After all, in the early 90s my bedroom walls were covered with posters of Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller, among others (Michael Jordan’s posters covered the most real estate, of course). Also in the early 90s, I watched Chris Webber call a timeout he didn’t have (after travelling first) and cost his team a championship (which would have been lost either way since that team has been erased from the NCAA record books).

Many years later, I got to watch Kyrie Irving take on Russell Westbrook live in Oklahoma City, as Kyrie made everyone besides Russ look like they were standing still.

And like most basketball fans, I never sought out Nate Robertson or had any of his posters, though I am sure I saw him win a few dunk contests (somehow he won more of those than Jordan).

Kyrie Irving plays Uncle Drew, an old guy who’s still got game, and who gets recruited onto a streetball team by Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery in order to beat a team coached by Howery’s childhood nemesis, Nick Kroll. Uncle Drew has one condition: Howery has to help reunite Uncle Drew’s old team. Reluctant but out of options, Howery agrees and heads out on a road trip to search for a bunch of old guys made up to look slightly older (the three all-time greats I mentioned above, along with Robinson).

From L to R: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kyrie Irving on the set of UNCLE DREW. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Seeing Shaq, Reggie, and C-Webb team up with one of the most exciting players in today’s NBA should have been enough for me to somewhat enjoy this movie (with superdunker Aaron Gordon and WNBA/Team U.S.A. legend Lisa Leslie as added bonuses). But it wasn’t. The basketball scenes really weren’t exceptional, and with such a skilled roster, they should have been. They NEEDED to be, because as hard as Howery, Kroll and Tiffany Haddish try, the attempts at comedy in this movie fall flat. So all that’s left is the basketball, which is not even Blue Chips quality (at least Blue Chips features prime Shaq instead of Uncle Drew’s heart attack Shaq).

The Uncle Drew concept made for an entertaining Pepsi ad because Kyrie Irving made highlight-reel plays wearing several coats of old man makeup. Not surprisingly, that concept wears very, very thin when stretched to feature length. The old man gimmick and a bit of nostalgia are really all that Uncle Drew (the movie) has to offer, so it’s simply not strong enough for me to recommend, as much as I wish I could.

On the Basis of Sex

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (a.k.a. the Notorious RBG) broke through the glass ceiling before that term had even been coined. As a young mother, she was one of the first women to attend Harvard Law School (though she graduated from Columbia because sexism). As a law professor and litigator, she was a leader in striking down discriminatory laws, even though no firms would initially hire her due to her gender (a word she brought into use in the legal realm). And then she was the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, where she remains at the age of 85, still fighting for a level playing field for women, minorities, and even, when necessary, middle-aged white men.

Why was it necessary for an equal rights lawyer to help middle-aged white men? Because that was the best chance to have the American courts actually enforce what seemed to be plainly written in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, namely that everyone should have equal protection under the law. Of course, prior to 1954 those nice-sounding words didn’t apply to black people, and prior to 1970 they also didn’t apply to women. We have Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her late husband, Martin Ginsberg, to thank for the latter, and on the Basis of Sex tells the story of how they won that fight.

On the Basis of Sex takes a few liberties with the facts, but does a commendable job of laying out the ground rules for the dispute, particularly in illustrating the power of the principle of stare decisis. That principle is the defining characteristic of the common law legal system, and it requires similar cases to have similar results. The effect of stare decisis is that precedent (i.e., previously decided cases) is the main source of law in the legal system used by most of Canada, and all of the U.S.A. and basically every country that was ever a British colony.

Accordingly, if the first U.S. equality case involving a women denies equality for women (which it did, in the late 19th century), then the starting point in every subsequent U.S. women’s equality case is that the woman should lose. Which is highly problematic if you actually stop and think about it. Common law is an adversarial system that is not built to take account of the larger picture. So it takes a visionary like RBG to unstick the system, by striking down outdated ideas and bad case law, by finding the perfect set of facts to use in her legal arguments. And what better case to take before a panel of white male judges than the sad tale of a white man denied a tax exemption available almost exclusively to women?

On the Basis of Sex is a better movie than it needs to be. Even this small portion of RBG’s career is compelling, and it’s only one item on the long list of her contributions to women’s equality and American society. But like RBG, On the Basis of Sex aims higher in telling its story. In addition to showing where our society has been, the film also shows how far we still have to go. For example, for every 1950s comment to RBG about how lucky she is to be married to a smart man, there are five similar comments made this decade to my brilliant wife, who I literally have never caught being wrong (to the point where I should know to stop trying to, if only I was as smart as her). On the Basis of Sex works both as a tribute to an icon and as a reminder that can’t come often enough: we need to aim higher to achieve equality, because as much progress has been made, there is much more work to do.

Aquaman

How do I even deal with the atrocity that is Aquaman? You probably know already that Aquaman is about a plot by the Atlanteans to attack the people who live on land, and so Aquaman has to become their king to save the world. But what you may not know is that this film is racist.

The only two black people in the movie are criminals (and also father and son). The black dad blows himself up when Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seemingly foils their attempt to steal a submarine from a bunch of white guys (Russians, as it happens).

Then that same submarine reappears to fool some of the Atlanteans into thinking that MV5BMzZjZTU2NjEtZTEzMC00YmRkLWIzZjUtMDczMWI4MDU4ODAxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_the surface world is attacking them to obtain enough votes to attack the surface world. Turns out, one of the Atlantean human-shaped leaders had hired the black guys to steal the sub and fool another Atlantean human-shaped leader. Except then it also turns out that the leader who seemed to be fooled by the sub attack was actually aware it was fake news the whole time and went along with it anyway (and in case it is not clear, all the human shaped Atlanteans we see are white men, every last one, other than Aquaman’s love interest and Aquaman’s mom who are white women).

Then the surviving black guy is hired again by the Atlanteans to kill Aquaman and his love interest in Sicily, and the black guy is willing to go along with it because he blames Aquaman for his dad’s death. That plan fails, with the black guy apparently being killed by Aquaman, and also two non human CGI underwater leaders are either killed or maimed by the white underwater leaders who do not attempt any type of stolen submarine trickery on them at all.

So, to summarize the repeated, overt, MAGA-level racism (on the level of “Look at my African American over here!”):

1. The black son is called “Black Manta” so even when he wears a full suit of armor you can be sure that he’s not white.

2. No effort at all was put into fooling the two CGI leaders who weren’t on board with the plan to kill all humans. Again, those disposable leaders are the two that aren’t white men (and blond, blue eyed white men at that) – one is a merman voiced by a black guy and the other is a big brown CGI crab-man. So you might say the CGI leaders were less worthy of respect than the white ones or perhaps you’d say they came from “shithole” countries, if you were a racist.

3. The Atlanteans are really concerned with following certain rules, namely ones that prohibit going to war against us without four votes, while those same Atlanteans have no problem doing awful things to get those four votes, like killing the CGI underwater leaders who won’t vote the way you want in order to install a new leader who will. Which suggests a set of niceties for white guys that don’t apply to non-whites. Or that the nonwhites were asking for it by looking scary and not giving into what the white guys wanted. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

4. If the Atlanteans hadn’t bothered to steal the sub for fooling reasons, we wouldn’t have needed the black humans to steal anything. But then we’d have missed an opportunity to perpetuate the stereotype that black men are criminals.

Does it matter at all that the racist Atlanteans are the bad guys and they lose in the end? I don’t think it does. This movie is so dumb generally that it is not capable of coherent social commentary, and incoherent social commentary is worse than not saying anything. Further, if the film had wanted to make a point about the dangers of a racist political leader, it needed to make the racism a rallying point for Aquaman and those opposing that leader. In other words, for this movie to be on the right side of prejudice (i.e., against it), the racist Atlanteans needed to lose because of their racism. The non-racists needed to object to the racists’ offensive conduct and resist for that reason, but that never happens in Aquaman.  Instead, Jason Momoa’s character seems to buy into the same stereotypes as the Atlanteans when he leaves the black dad to die because the black guys killed some of the all-white sub crew.

Admittedly, Aquaman later says he learned a lesson from that experience but his application of that lesson is to provide mercy to the all-white Atlanteans. Which means Aquaman does not actually learn the RIGHT lesson, so neither does the audience.  As a result, the harmful stereotypes in Aquaman are perpetuated and normalized, and that’s very, very bad anytime but particularly bad in a film that is targeted at white males.

There’s so many other problems here but I won’t get into them because trafficking in stereotypes is the real issue here. Aquaman is intolerant and intolerable and you should avoid giving DC one more dime for this hugely problematic film.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What’s better than Spider-Man? TWO Spider-Mans (or is it Spider-Men?)!  Either way, take that thinking to its conclusion, like Lego Movie co-writer Phil Lord did, and you end up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a cinematic universe to end all cinematic universes.

MV5BMjA0MTgwNTM5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyODI4NjM_._V1_SX1777_CR0_0_1777_744_AL_.0Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has hit a bit of a rough patch in middle age, as has teenager Miles Morales, who just got bitten by a radioactive spider and is going through some changes as a result on top of struggling with fitting in a his new school. Right after being bitten by that pesky spider, Miles stumbles into a science lab where another Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a dimensional portal.  During the battle, Kingpin kills that Spidey but not before the first Spider-Man, the middle-aged one, is sucked through the portal that the Kingpin’s machine created.

Confused? You should be, but the most amazing thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that this jumble of Spider-Mans (Men?) makes perfect sense on-screen. And that’s a compliment in two ways. First, because there is so much happening in this movie that it has no right to make sense, and second, because there are a whole lot of other amazing things about this movie.

Spider-Verse’s animation, particularly the art style, is stunning. A number of other superhero films have taken inspiration from the comics, whether in using captions,  multiple panels, or bright colours.  Spider-Verse takes that to a whole other glorious level, owning its comic book roots and jumping off the screen even in classic 2D.

Spider-Verse is also remarkably accessible. This is not a solo superhero film with only two or three familiar  characters to track. Spider-Verse is chock full of obscure one-offs, alternate takes that faded away, including an entire “Ultimate” comic book line that was canned by Marvel in 2015 due to lack of interest. All of that can sit comfortably in the background but no prior knowledge of anything is necessary, even of Spider-Man, to understand and enjoy this film.

 

 

 

Creed II

Since Ryan Coogler was busy making Black Panther, Sylvester Stallone took back the writing responsibilities (with Juel Taylor) for the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise. As a result, Creed II is as much a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV as a sequel to 2015’s stellar Creed and as much Rocky’s story as Adonis Creed’s.

In Creed II, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has won six bouts in a row and is about to fight Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler for the world title.  Creed wins the fight and then, shortly after, proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and she says yes!  At that point, Creed should be on top of the world but he’s about to learn that creed_iithe championship belt is heavier than it looks, because he’s now the target of a bunch of wanna-be champs, including a Russian whose father killed Creed’s dad in Rocky IV. Creed will need Rocky’s help to beat the younger Drago, who so far has brutally beaten every boxer he’s gone up against.

Rocky’s part in this story is an important one.  In fact, several pivotal events that happen to Creed are shown from Rocky’s point of view, suggesting this is Rocky’s franchise again. Which makes sense when Rocky himself is writing the story.

Is that a bad thing? Kind of, which is hard for me to say  as a fan of the Rocky franchise. There’s something magical about the super cheesy and entirely predictable Rocky lovefests from Rocky II through to Rocky Balboa (Rocky is excluded because being the original, it is only predictable in retrospect). And Creed II captures that same magic at all the right moments. It’s a solid addition to this four-decade-old franchise.

But it’s a step back from Creed and that regression is further proof of Ryan Coogler’s genius (as if we needed any). With the first Creed, Coogler took the Rocky franchise in a new direction and included a ton of callbacks that riffed on the original formula without feeling derivative.

Unfortunately, Creed II doesn’t ever get to that same level because it is content to recycle the tried and true Rocky formula: a win at the outset, followed by a setback at an opponent’s hands, and then after a super-sweet training montage, a well-earned victory over that same opponent. Creed II executes that formula as well as any of the Rocky-titled films, but it never separates itself from that pack.  Rocky fans will leave Creed II satisfied, but fans of Creed may be in for a bit of a letdown.