Category Archives: Jay

Thunder Force

Okay, I’ll say it: I liked it.

I don’t typically think Melissa McCarthy is at her best when her husband Ben Falcone writes for and directs her and this movie hasn’t exactly changed my mind about that, but it was just good enough to make me smile.

McCarthy’s charm is her saving grace; even when she’s not exercising the full spectrum of her talent, she’s still extremely watchable. Joined in Thunder Force by Octavia Spencer, these two ladies have fun chemistry and an even funner premise. A mutation has rendered a handful of lucky sociopaths into supervillains, but unfortunately for the world, no heroic counterparts exist. Thankfully Emily (Spencer) is a real brain, and she’s developed a special treatment that would grant the kind of powers so people could really fight back. It’s possibly that Emily and her childhood friend Lydia (McCarthy) are not the best choices to receive this treatment, but let’s not dwell. It’s happening. Lydia’s getting super strong and Emily’s going invisible and you better believe Lydia’s pretty pissed that Emily’s training is so much easier than hers. Of course, the training’s going to pale in comparison to fighting Chicago’s worst villain lineup, including The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Canavale), and Laser (Pom Klementieff).

Thunder Force is 100% stupid of course, but also like 55% funny. My laughter was often out of sheer confusion, but the kind of confusion that’s curious and maybe even a little awed. It’s still not a great equation but I’ll take it. I may even watch it twice.

SXSW 2021: Sound of Violence

Alexis is a helpful, happy little girl at the age of 10, and although she’s lost her hearing in an accident, she still loves to listen to music. But when she not only witnesses the brutal murder of her mother, but intervenes, managing to kill the assailant with a meat tenderizer, something very strange happens. The experience awakens synesthetic abilities; spontaneously recovering her hearing, Alexis also discovers that she can “see” sound – the sound of violence in particular.

Cut to: Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is now a young woman, pursuing her passion through academia. Everything seems to be going well for her, despite having been orphaned and survived a tragedy at such a young age. But not even Alexis’ closest friend and roommate Marie (Lili Simmons) knows that Alexis’ hearing is once again in flux, and before she loses it again, she’s determined to complete her masterpiece. Of course, the addictive synesthesia that haunts and inspires her requires some increasingly gruesome sound design. The music she creates is accompanied by orgasmic cinematography, fueling her obsession with bloody, graphic violence and its beautiful sounds.

Sound of Violence is indeed a horror film; Alexis may be a composer, but the pursuit of her music sends her on a killing spree that will rank this film quite high in terms of gore. You’ll come to distinguish the sounds of hearts being perforated, skin being peeled from bone, bloody stumps still plucking at stringed instruments, blood pouring out of orifices from too much song. It’s a symphony unlike any other. It pushes past conventional boundaries, and I’ll admit, the movie lost me on more than one occasion, having asked of me just a little too much. But those inclined to horror will appreciate the marriage of savagery and sound – not music to my ears, perhaps, not exactly a pop tune meant for radio, but a rare orchestral piece whose movements will surely awaken something in you.

The Marksman

Jim is an aging rancher and recent widower who still patrols his land along the Arizona border to protect his few remaining cattle even though he’s about to lose everything to the bank. Once in a while he spots IAs (illegal aliens) sneaking across his land, and he dutifully reports them to his stepdaughter Sarah, who works for border patrol. But one day Jim (Liam Neeson) comes across a young Mexican boy and his mother, who aren’t just smuggling themselves across the border, they’re fleeing the cartel. And the cartel is SUPER motivated to eliminate them! Which is how cowboy saviour Jim becomes the unlikely defender of a kid named Miguel (Jacob Perez) against the assassins whom will pursue them both across the United States.

The Marksman feels more like a Clint Eastwood movie than a Liam Neeson movie; a mildly racist old man, patriotic through and through, becomes marginally less racist through an unlikely friendship/ white saviour relationship with a person of colour.

Jim and Miguel, in an epic, odd couple road trip, are pursued by both border patrol, including Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), and a Mexican drug cartel led by the evil Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), who are super invested in murdering a ten year old kid who probably knows less than nothing. But this is the premise, and while you don’t have to believe in it whole-heartedly, you do have to at least accept it in order to enjoy this action-thriller spanning from Arizona to Chicago, which is quite a commitment.

There isn’t anything new or terribly exciting about this movie. You’ve seen it, you’ve been mildly amused by it. Liam Neeson is of course watchable as ever, though he’s getting pretty grizzled, and not a super believable southern cowboy. Director Robert Lorenz puts in the bare minimum effort. He’s not making a masterpiece here, he’s making a fairly disposable movie about an old, implausible guy taking the law into his own hands, with his own guns. Do you need The Marksman in your life? Absolutely not. But if you love old white dudes realizing that illegal aliens are people too, you could do worse than Liam Neeson.

SXSW 2021: WeWork Or The Making And Breaking Of A $47 Billion Unicorn

Adam Neumann really, really wanted to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Or Jesus Christ. I’m not sure which he thought was more attainable, but either way he founded a real estate company and ran it like a tech company, and he was its messianic leader.

Maybe you know about WeWork. Not long ago, it was the next big thing in terms of office space. Aimed at freelancers, entrepreneurs, and start-ups, it wasn’t just a flexible, communal place to work, it was a lifestyle choice. Adam Neumann claimed he wanted to change the world, but first, he’d change the way we work. Charismatic like a cult leader and with an inflated sense of self also like a cult leader, Neumann talked a big game, attracting clients, employees, followers, and crucially, investors. And office space was just the first stop on his quest to dominate the world; next came housing, and education. But as WeWork readied for an IPO, a company that was once valued at an astounding 47 billion dollars went from magical unicorn to bloated corpse in a brisk 6 week death spiral that shocked the heck out of everyone.

What happened? Hulu’s glad you asked, and they can’t wait to tell you all about it.

A Week Away

Greetings from my toilet! I don’t normally write movie reviews from my bathroom but I’ve recently developed a severe intolerance to dairy and it seems imprudent to risk sitting anywhere else.

Yes, this movie is THAT cheesy.

Will (Kevin Quinn) is a teenage orphan and a bad apple. Stealing a cop car is the last straw that gets him kicked out of the group home so as a last resort he gets sent to summer camp. Which is actually church camp. And at church camp, in apparently just the space of a single week, a certain young lady helps him develop a crush on Jesus and saves him from himself. Avery (Bailee Madison) is the pastor’s daughter and has a dead mom herself, so they really bond over seeing their dead loved ones again in heaven one day. Hypothetically, of course, which is what atheists call faith.

Faith is great but prayers are not going to get you through this movie, and that’s because this isn’t just a teenage romance that puts marriage on the table but not kissing, it’s also a musical! An eerily perky, God-centric musical with the absolute cheesiest, boppiest choreography I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Generally I like a good musical, and I don’t mind a sappy teenage romance, but this movie made me hate them both, made me hate movies generally, made me hate even cheese, and cheese is practically my religion.

This movie is unabashedly Christian, though I do think paintball and confetti cannons are rather obvious ways to trick kids into thinking Jesus is cool, and I think tricking anyone into religion is technically a cult. But a cult with an arts and crafts cabin and tater tots on Tuesdays. Care to join? It’s currently recruiting on Netflix.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

The college admission scandal was a hot and juicy news item for a minute. Rick Singer was getting rich kids into college through a “side door” called money. Money paid to Singer inflated test scores while bribes to college coaches went to fabricating phony athletic profiles for the prospective student, allowing the coach to “recruit” them. Kids who stood no chance of getting admitted into a good college were now strolling right through a side door thanks to mommy and daddy’s wallet. This got a lot of play in the media because it meant rich white people were scamming a system already designed to highly favour them. There was not a lot of sympathy in the story (except maybe for the clueless kids whose own parents knew them to be too dumb to earn anything meritoriously). Plus the whiff of disgraced celebrities (Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman) was hard to resist.

This documentary enlists a host of actors including Matthew Modine and Josh Stamberg to reenact an FBI investigation that went after not just kingpin Rick Singer, but the bribed officials and the shady parents as well.

What it does particularly well, and makes it worth the watch, is keeping its target on the “victim” of these crimes, the colleges themselves. The true victims are of course the many applicants who were refused because their rightful places were taken by undeserving kids, but in the court’s eyes, it was the colleges who were defrauded. But as the documentary cleverly points out, the colleges have not only benefited (and not been required to pay back the bribes) from the situation, they’re the ones who created it. The side door was used primary by rich families who weren’t quite rich enough to use the back door that American colleges and universities leave purposefully propped open. Donations of about $10 million tend to net candidates preferential admissions consideration. And that’s to say nothing of the problematic front door, where the most elite schools are only accessible only to those rich enough to pay the exorbitant fees, privileged enough to attend schools that adequately prepare them, and white enough to ace culturally-biased entrance exams. The law may have let these schools off the hook, but Operation Varsity Blues does not.

Seaspiracy

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch this documentary; how smart could it be, I wondered, if it went with Seaspiracy over the rather obvious and clearly superior Conspirasea.

Film maker Ali Tabrizi is clearly passionate about the subject matter but let me tell you a little secret about documentarians: they’re not necessarily experts in the subjects they’re covering. Of course, some documentarians are well educated, and some are journalists, but some just want to make movies, or get famous. Their films’ content isn’t always deep, or thorough, or correct.

Seaspiracy is so general that I don’t doubt it’s fairly accurate. Its main thesis is: oceans are dying, and the commercial fishing industry is largely to blame. Tabrizi seems genuinely surprised by most of the facts he “uncovers” in his film and not particularly well-versed in basic ecology despite a self-proclaimed love for oceans and marine life. He’s also got a remarkable love for himself, and a good portion of his film is overshadowed by his own presence. Are the oceans being saved by shots of him shaking his despondent head as he scrolls the Internet? Or of him wiping away definitely not manufactured tears? Not likely. But he’s sad, guys, very sad, and worse, he’s disappointed. But he’s also very heroic! Don’t take my word for it – he’ll provide multiple statements to that effect, lauding him for risking his life to “report” on this important subject. Never mind that his courage is a little late to the party; his attempt to surreptitiously film a dolphin hunt at “a cove,” as he calls it, is actually The Cove, you know, the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary?

I don’t have a lot of respect for Seaspiracy but I suppose it’s an able enough introduction to the subject matter, perfect for children raised by wolves, people living under rocks, and mole women rescued from underground bunkers. If, however, you’re a normal human person, this particular doc might only be of interest for Tabrizi’s overzealous use of the word ‘equivalent.’ He loves when things are equivalent to other things! And while Seaspiracy exposes corruption and even slavery, its white saviour complex is as troubling as its integrity is suspect. Even if I agree with it in large part, I believe that almost anyone else would have done a better job.

Secret Magic Control Agency

Fairy tales come together in a new and only mildly interesting way in this buddy cop animated film with a magical twist that’ll only prove satisfying to young and undiscerning audiences.

You may have heard of Hansel and Gretel, who in this film are all grown up and sadly estranged. But they’ve reunited, against their will, to work a very important case. Gretel is a dedicated agent at the Secret Magic Control Agency while her brother Hansel is a criminal who uses magic to swindle folks. But when the King is kidnapped by a disgruntled royal chef who can bring food to life to act as her henchmen, for some reason only Hansel and Gretel together can solve the case and save the king. And, I should mention, in the process they get turned into children, making their mission even harder, as people tend to discount kids and not take them seriously and shit.

This movie didn’t strike me as special or interesting or good in any way, but I do think that sentient spaghetti and cupcake dogs will have a certain irresistible cachet with young kids. For adults, though, or even kids over 8 with good taste, this one’s not quite going to cut it.

Bad Trip

Chris (Eric Andre) doesn’t have much going for him – no nice house, or good job, or even a car, but when his childhood crush walks through the door, he feels like the luckiest man in the world. Unfortunately, Maria (Michaela Conlin) is just passing through Florida – though she does suggest he look her up in Manhattan if he’s ever in town. It sounds like a polite kiss-off to me and you, but Chris is desperate to take her up on the offer, so he enlists best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to hit the road with him.

Neither has a car, so they borrow Bud’s sister’s car. And by borrow I mean they take it without her knowledge or permission, which she would never give. But Trina’s in prison, so what can she do? Break out of prison, for one, and pursue them all the way to New York City for another. Trina (Tiffany Haddish) doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Anyway, this flimsy plot is really just the framework to allow Eric Andre to pull a series of pranks on unsuspecting rubes up and down the east coast.

Not as political as Borat nor as foolish as Jackass, Bad Trip is thankfully not mean-spirited, but it does get to some pretty outlandish heights (or lows, really), including but certainly not limited to gorilla sodomy and projectile vomiting. I’m not really into pranks but most of their victims weren’t just good sports but good people (discounting one while guy on a golf course), which is sort of heartening to see. And the trio are clearly having so much fun getting away with their tricks it’s kind of irresistible. With a few genuine laughs, this isn’t a terrible option if you don’t mind rude, juvenile (yet still R-rated) humour, but no one’s mistaking this for great. Maybe just a bit of harmless escapism to get you through another weekend in the Red Zone.