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The Emoji Movie

the-emoji-movie-gets-character-postersI am way too old to use emojis. I use words to express my thoughts and feelings. Also, I like to use however many characters are needed to express myself. Emojis are a crutch and aren’t meaningful. For example, this movie in an emoji is ūüí©. But that doesn’t even come close to saying how bad it is.

I’ve just hinted that I think emojis are stupid. Not surprisingly, The Emoji Movie does not take that stance (though that would have made for a more interesting film). Instead, the main human in The Emoji Movie loves emojis, uses them at every chance, and seeks¬†the perfect emoji to send to his crush so she will go to the dance with him. ¬†He doesn’t bother to talk to her or just ask her out with words because that’s so 90s.

SPOILER ALERT: the kid finds the perfect emoji because just before the phone store employee deletes everything on his phone, the sentient emojis in the phone text him¬†a new emoji that is like a gif of five very similar looking faces, AND HER RESPONSE IS TO REALIZE HE IS A REALLY DEEP GUY WHO IS GOOD AT EXPRESSING HIS FEELINGS. SERIOUSLY? LIKE, SERIOUSLY? I mean, sending the “perfect emoji” was a slightly better idea than sending Rihanna lyrics (which was the best the main human could come up with on his own) but both ideas really, really suck (at least the kid deleted the Rihanna email, which of course closed with a high five emoji…).

OTHER SPOILERS THAT AREN’T REALLY SPOILERS BUT PROVE THAT THE WRITERS ARE OLDER THAN ME AND HAVE NEVER USED A SMARTPHONE:

1. When the kid’s phone makes noise at inopportune times (because the emojis are moving through his apps, duh), he doesn’t shut off the volume. HE CALLS THE PHONE STORE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO HAVE THE DATA DELETED. I mean (a) you don’t need an appointment at “the phone store”; (b) you can click one thing to delete all data on your phone whenever you want; and (c)¬†deleting the data isn’t even going to solve the kid’s problem according to the movie’s rules because the cause of the noise is the sentient emojis, who would just return to his phone when a replacement “Textopolis” was installed.

2. In the movie, it takes 24 hours for trash to be deleted from the phone – which is not a phone thing and not really even a computer thing. It also takes several dramatic minutes to do a factory reset, and if you change your mind right at the very end you just have to unplug the USB cable from the phone store’s computer and all your data will undelete itself automatically – which is not a thing at all and even¬†my grandmothers know¬†that.

3. The apps visited by the emojis are real (-ish) but they make no sense in execution. Jay correctly called The Emoji Movie a lame ripoff of Inside Out, and the apps are this film’s attempt to build a world inside something both familiar and mysterious (Inside Out used brains, The Emoji Movie uses phones). Inside Out succeeds and makes it look easy. The Emoji Movie fails at every turn because it has no coherent logic. At all. It is all just a bunch of ūüí©.

DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. It is truly terrible in all the worst ways – a real stinker. Avoid it at all costs.

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Dunkirk

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We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

-Winston Churchill, June 1940

Has anyone ever been better than Winston Churchill at giving motivational speeches? ¬†He had a way of rising to the occasion and here, the stakes had never been higher. ¬† This speech was given immediately after the British and their Allies had been run out of France by the invading Germans. ¬†Victory over the Nazis was not on the horizon and must have seemed impossible at the time. ¬†That’s more or less what Churchill said, after all: he is not describing a plan to win. ¬†He is describing a last-ditch effort to survive when the Nazis try to conquer Britain after they finish in France, and a cry for help to the New World to save the day in that bleak scenario (Canada was, of course, already part of the Allied forces at the time, but the U.S. would not be until Pearl Harbor).

The devastating outcome of the Battle of Dunkirk gave good reason for Churchill’s pessimism. ¬†It is a fascinating historical event because it was a loss that could well have broken the Allies, but instead, it galvanized them, particularly in the way that the British survived: hundreds of civilian vessels sailed from Britain to France to help rescue over 300,000 Allied soldiers from the Nazis.

Time and time again, Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be as adept a director as Churchill was a speaker. ¬†Tonally, Nolan’s Dunkirk captures what must have been the prevailing mood on the ground, at sea, and in the air as the Battle of Dunkirk was fought. ¬†Nolan makes an inspired structural choice by intertwining three different stories over three different time periods, and as only Nolan can do, effectively explains a complex structure using only three small titlecards at the very beginning. ¬†Dunkirk is reminiscent of The Prestige¬†in that way – in both, Nolan always provides enough cues so the viewer knows exactly where a particular scene fits into the overall timeline and story, even as he tells the story in a complex, non-linear fashion.

With Dunkirk, Nolan has outdone himself. ¬† Given how consistently great he has been throughout his career, it is incredible to think that he has gotten better, but that is clearly the case. ¬†Dunkirk is absolutely masterful filmmaking from start to finish. ¬†Above all else, Nolan’s film captures the essence of Dunkirk and gives us a true sense of the anguish of war, the desire to survive, and the fear of the unknown that soldiers must deal with constantly. ¬†In particular, I am reminded of the scenes featuring Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot, all of which inserted me into the battle and truly made me feel how claustrophobic a Spitfire’s cramped cockpit would be, and how difficult it would be to spot, identify, and track an enemy fighter, let alone shoot it down.

For the viewer, this is a vital, visceral, and draining experience. ¬†Dunkirk is a 106 minute movie that feels like it’s four hours long (which Nolan would take as a high praise, I think, if he ever read this review). ¬†From start to finish, it is tense, it is devastating, it is awful and it is brilliant. ¬†Dunkirk is filmmaking at its finest and a fitting tribute to one of the defining events of the 20th century.

 

 

A Ghost Story

ghost-storyFilm as a medium is almost infinitely flexible, universal and personal at the same time. Film is capable of so much emotion and yet it’s also capable of conveying the complete absence of it. Beauty or lack of it. ¬†Terror or peace. And, as A Ghost Story proves beyond any doubt, film can make you feel so fucking uncomfortable and voyeuristic that you would give anything for the director to just yell “cut” already!

Put another way: how long do you think you could bear watching someone eat pie? Think carefully before you answer. For the full A Ghost Story experience, write your response down on a little scrap of paper and hide it in your house (or underneath a rock if your house is just a couple of pegs in the ground).

Whatever you think you can bear now, the inescapable truth is that no amount of tolerance for pie voyeurism will be enough to survive A Ghost Story unscathed. In one strange, haunting scene, A Ghost Story makes its mark, and there are lifetimes of other achingly lonely scenes for you to digest (but only if you can stomach it).

A Ghost Story plods, skips, stops, philosophizes, winks, and does whatever it wants, conventions be damned. It is a wonderfully strange, unique and brilliant experience that I cannot recommend enough.

By the way, see A Ghost Story in a theatre if you can, because there is a magical dichotomy¬†in the mixture of loneliness and comradery that should result from experiencing this film with others. That contrast is yet another example of film’s versatility, and doubles as a valuable touchstone if you ever happen to become a ghost. It will all make sense in the end, and that is a¬†comforting thought, isn’t it?

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

spidey11.pngSpider-Man: Homecoming may not be the best movie in the franchise (since my favourite Spidey villain is Doc Ock, I have a soft spot for Spider-Man 2) and may not even be the best superhero movie of the summer (Wonder Woman is undeniably great).  But the fact that those were the conversations the assholes were having after we saw Spider-Man: Homecoming last night shows that Homecoming is a great movie in its own right.

Most importantly, Homecoming GETS Spider-Man. ¬†This is a movie that is fan service from start to finish. ¬†The Marvel Cinematic Universe features prominently in the story as the events in the Avengers and Civil War are built on (and Iron Man plays a pretty big role). ¬†There are also a ton of familiar names for fans to find, from Ned Leeds to Flash Thompson to Mac Gargan, and one or two more that I’ll let you discover for yourself.

Even better, the story calls back to several classic comic moments, including this one from Amazing Spider-Man #33 (1966), which is a defining moment for Spidey:

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I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Spider-Man finds a way to succeed even when it seems there’s no chance, and the final battle in Homecoming is a great display of what I love about Spidey, from start to finish. ¬†The conclusion of that battle especially reminded me of the first Spidey comic I ever read, and really, every Spidey comic since. ¬†Spider-Man’s desire to do the right thing is what makes him my favourite and I was extremely happy to see that made a focus of the film (“with great power comes great responsibility” is never actually said, but it’s the movie’s underlying theme and that’s a far better approach than giving us another depiction of Uncle Ben’s death).

Fittingly for Spider-Man, the hero who can’t stop saying corny one-liners as he fights the bad guys, this may also be the funniest superhero movie ever made. ¬†It captures the light-hearted, good-natured awkwardness of Peter Parker and the awkwardness of high school in general. ¬†There are a lot of laughs from start to finish, and like¬†Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy¬†before it, Homecoming always finds a way to entertain the audience in between the action (often at our hero’s expense, as it should be with Spidey).

(SPOILER: sometimes the humour even comes at the audience’s expense, as you will find out if you stick around to the very end.)

Spider-Man: Homecoming met my high expectations, and then some. ¬†This is how you make a great superhero movie, by staying true to the character, and when that character is your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you’re in for a treat.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Hype

I am counting the hours until we see Spider-Man: Homecoming tonight. ¬†This movie has been circled on my calendar since¬†Captain America: Civil War, and when I heard there’s no origin story I became even more excited!

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a big deal. ¬†Spidey’s on the outfield wall at Yankee Stadium, we watched Peter Parker take in the Warriors’ victory from Tony Stark’s penthouse, and I even¬†got to BE Spidey when the¬†spider-man-homecoming-vr-experience-1.pngSpider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience released last weekend on PS4 (it’s also available on PC).

The Spider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience is a freebie/tech demo that someone absolutely has to turn into a full game. ¬†I loved putting on the suit and shooting webs – I’ve played through the thing like ten times (it’s about five minutes long). ¬†But that five minutes is such a tease. ¬†I hone my skills, webbing bottles and drones and knocking down debris, but then can’t do anything to the Vulture when he starts blowing things up. ¬†Maybe I’m just a bad shot? ¬†If you’ve hit the Vulture, please let me know!

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If that’s not enough Spidey for you, there’s also an app called Holo that lets you take selfies and videos with Spider-Man. ¬†I can’t think of a better way to impress my nephews than a selfie with Spidey (mainly because I’ve already got a picture with Lightning McQueen)!

Spider-Man is truly everywhere right now as his latest movie/reboot opens this weekend. ¬†I’m trying to manage my expectations for tonight but of course they’re sky-high because Spider-Man is my favourite superhero, hands down! ¬†I’ll let you know whether the movie lives up to the massive hype and my even bigger hopes.

Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches? ¬†Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing? ¬†And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way. ¬†But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves. ¬†Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should. ¬†The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s. ¬† Which of course I got. ¬†Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed. ¬†Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more. ¬†Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all. ¬†You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Mindhorn

mindhorn_final.jpgCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable. ¬†So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are. ¬†Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire. ¬†I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours. ¬†I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable. ¬†Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire. ¬† If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh. ¬†As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use. ¬†He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”). ¬† But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective. ¬†Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth. ¬†Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then. ¬†In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks). ¬†So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system). ¬†Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time. ¬†And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious. ¬†The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old. ¬†So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Megan Leavey

megan leaveyWar is hell, but returning from war is really rough too. ¬†As we’ve realized the devastating effects of PTSD and how severely it has affected an entire generation of American soldiers, war movies have more frequently shown us the human effects of conflict. ¬†In my view, that is a welcome and long overdue change. ¬†I was somewhat apprehensive going into Megan Leavey, because I feared that it would try to glorify or justify the invasion of Iraq. ¬†That’s a non-starter for me because there was no legal basis for the invasion or occupation, and no glory to be had over there. ¬†You will never convince me that it was a good idea for the U.S.A. (and not just them) to send hundreds of thousands of troops to a no-win situation in the Middle East. ¬†Many of those troops didn’t come back and those that did were never the same.

Megan Leavey (the movie) is the story of one of those troops. ¬†Megan Leavey (the person) is a former marine who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. ¬†Leavey’s experience in Iraq must have been the most stressful tour of duty imaginable, because Leavey toured Iraq with a partner: a bomb-sniffing dog named Rex. ¬†Leavey and Rex went “in front of the front lines” to sweep for bombs and weapons intended to kill the troops supporting the new Iraqi government.

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The real Megan Leavey and Rex.

The Iraq we see in Megan Leavey feels authentic. ¬†Much of Iraq was (and still is) a war zone, an awful place for a soldier to be, and a worse place for civilians to be. ¬†Whatever their reason for joining the armed forces (and for Leavey her reason is to escape upstate New York), the American soldiers deployed there were largely good people with good intentions. ¬†We can judge their leaders for numerous bad decisions and questionable motivations, but the fact remains that the soldiers on the ground were doing their best while in harm’s way and on edge because the threats they faced were not obvious. ¬†It was not just buried bombs, though that was the prime threat to Leavey and Rex. ¬†Most of Iraq’s residents did not (and do not) support terrorism, insurgency, or Saddam Hussein. ¬†But a few of them did, and they weren’t wearing name tags, so for an American soldier, every single person not wearing the same uniform as you might be planning to kill you.

Whatever your political views on the war, it should be obvious how bad a situation it was to be an American soldier in Iraq, and in fact politics often get in the way by dehumanizing the situation. ¬†With the knowledge we have today, you can (and should) be against the invasion and occupation of Iraq while also sympathizing with the troops who suffered through that insanity. ¬† Megan Leavey chooses to remain neutral on the political side and focus not just on the war but also on the aftermath, in service of Leavey’s (and Rex’s) story. ¬†The result is a compelling tale that is broader than Iraq, and Kate Mara’s performance really conveys the anguish that returning soldiers suffer through, whether they’re humans or dogs. ¬†It’s a very focused movie and more of a tribute to the bond that forms between us and our dogs than a true war movie. ¬†I really enjoyed it.

 

Premium Rush

premium-rush-movie-wallpaper-20You know who drives me crazy?  Idiot cyclists who weave between cars, ignore the rules of the road, and inevitably get killed/seriously injured by an unlucky motorist.

You know who else drives me crazy?  Idiots who think that all lawyers wear suits or that lawyer is the only profession you can do with a law degree.

And don’t even get me started on idiots who are so EXTREMELY against wearing suits that they would rather take a job as a New York City bike courier and earn next to nothing ($30 for an hour and a half ride from one side of Manhattan to the other).

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Premium Rush is all of those things. ¬†Naturally, I hated Premium Rush. ¬†What is most egregious, I think, is that if I put aside how angry Premium Rush made with its premise and main character, Premium Rush becomes a totally forgettable MacGuffin chase featuring one of the lamest villains in recent memory, whose motivation is his “poor impulse control”. ¬†That means he’s selfish and willing to do anything to pay off his gambling debts so he can turn around and gamble some more, and of course that’s more important than whatever plans any other characters have for their lives or their money. ¬†Not even Michael Shannon can give the bad guy more than one dimension.

You may like this movie if your fantasy is to take your bike-riding idiocy to the big stage of New York City (or I suppose you may also relate if your fantasy is to live a life of corruption in order to feed your gambling addiction, though in that case this movie may not have quite the ending you’re hoping for). ¬†If that’s you then allow me to point out that you are a terrible person and I would rather you spend your time watching this movie than inflicting damage to those around you. ¬†For everyone else, Premium Rush is one to avoid.

 

 

Cars, Cars 2, and Ultimate Lightning McQueen

My nephews love Lightning McQueen and have¬†about a thousand¬†toys bearing his likeness. ¬†So when I learned about the¬†Ultimate Lightning McQueen, I had to get it, even though I had never seen Cars (or Cars 2 for that matter). ¬†For those who¬†aren’t on Sphero’s mailing list, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is a remote controlled car that costs US$300, and here’s why it costs so much money:

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is not just an RC car. ¬†This is a robot that has animated eyes and mouth, reacts to touch, and can recite¬†tons of lines¬†from the movies either randomly or in pre-programmed scripts. ¬†Basically, it’s the toy robot that little Sean always dreamed of.

With the toy on the way (it arrived last night!), I¬†felt like I should finally watch Cars beforehand so that I knew the basics about Lightning. ¬†So that’s what¬†we did, and it turns out that Lightning is a real jerk. ¬†Like so much of a jerk that he doesn’t have a pit crew because he can win on his own. ¬†So much of a jerk that he doesn’t change his tires, which naturally givecars-movie-disney-pixar_large out on the last lap and cost him a win. ¬†So much of a jerk that when he gets lost in a small town and is pursued for speeding he wrecks the whole main street.

Lightning eventually does redeem himself in a very weird way, but here’s the thing: my nephews have such short attention spans that I guarantee they have not ever watched this movie past the opening race. ¬†They will have watched that race a thousand times but probably have no idea that Lightning ever¬†becomes¬†less self-involved or that he ever needed help. ¬†So it is a good thing that Ultimate Lightning can say so many¬†lines, because I am going to be choosy with my catchphrases. ¬†That way, maybe I can¬†redeem Lightning in real time and teach my nephews that they do indeed need a pit crew (/more applicable sports metaphor), just like Lightning eventually figures out.

For good measure, we also watched Cars 2, which is more Mater’s story than Lightning’s (though Lightning doesn’t miss the chance to be a jerk to Mater in the sequel). ¬†Just like in the first movie, Lightning wins with the help of his friends. ¬†It would be¬†a mycars-2-02172012stery why he is so¬†loved, except that he is definitely the coolest looking racecar in the movies and that’s really all the explanation required, isn’t it?

And now, we have Cars 3 to “look forward to”. ¬†My hopes are not high, because these movies definitely aren’t Pixar’s best work. ¬†Still, it’s something I know our nephews will love and now that they’re old enough to go to the movies, something that we’ll probably get to enjoy with¬†them, and that’s good enough to make me genuinely excited about Cars 3 even though I thought the first two movies were entirely forgettable.

It also makes a US$300 Lightning McQueen toy feel like a bargain, because I know our nephews¬†are going to lose their little minds when they see it in action. ¬†Ultimate Lightning McQueen is everything I could have expected –¬†it blinks, it looks around, and moves as though it is alive. ¬†It is truly animated in every sense of the word. ¬†As a bonus, it is a powerful little car that is really responsive, does donuts on command, and has a turbo button. ¬†Because who doesn’t love a turbo button? ¬†Having tried it out, I am even more excited to show off Ultimate Lightning McQueen to Lightning’s three biggest fans!