Category Archives: Sean

King Kong (2005)

king_kong_2005Even if you haven’t seen King Kong or its many remakes (like me, until yesterday), you probably know the story. A struggling filmmaker (Jack Black) leads a rag tag crew on a voyage to a forgotten island where he’s going to complete his movie against the studio’s wishes. While there, the filmmaker and his cast encounter a mess of overgrown B-movie creatures including dinosaurs, bugs, lizards, bats, and of course, the giant gorilla who rules them all.

In the course of this grand adventure (which ought to have killed everyone involved several times over), the gorilla falls in love with the lead actress (Naomi Watts), now the damsel in distress, who already has a thing for the screenwriter (Adrien Brody). That leads to a very awkward love triangle.  Things get even more awkward when the filmmaker conspires with the ship’s captain to bring the gorilla back to New York City as a way to salvage the mission once his camera and footage (and film crew) are destroyed.  Indeed, once back in NYC the situation gets so bad that Brody’s character even starts to feel sorry for Kong, as Kong is now trapped in the Empire City with nowhere to go but up (and then a long way down).

Peter Jackson helms this remake and it shows.  That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it just means there’s a three-hour-plus runtime, a lot of CG rag dolls flying across the screen/into walls/off cliffs during action scenes, and a significant number of emotional orchestral swells combined with ethereal vocals and closeups of teary eyed actors to make sure we feel sad at the proper times.  For better and for worse, he delivers a movie that feels like a throwback to classic Hollywood cinema.

But the “for worse” is really, really bad.  Black “savages” feeding a white lady to a monster bad.  It is possible that the issue of systemic racism is particularly fresh in my mind right now thanks to BlacKkKlansman (which, if Jay’s review wasn’t clear enough, you should see immediately),  but a movie pitting backwards black natives against righteous white people only reinforces racist stereotypes that we need to eliminate from our society.   One way to help eliminate those stereotypes would be using discretion and thoughtfulness when remaking old movies to ensure we don’t recycle harmful racial stereotypes.  Jackson failed in that respect, and his failure gives power to those stereotypes instead of helping to put them to rest once and for all.  It’s a glaring mistake.

That Kong contains such racially insensitive scenes is truly a shame, on at least two different fronts.  First, it’s a shame because the Kong that Jackson and Andy Serkis created is absolutely amazing.  Even though many of the other special effects in this movie have not aged well, Kong remains a marvel, an expressive and lifelike CG character who’s worthy of being the hero of this picture.  Of course, hero status is Kong’s by default, since the humans in the film are consistently terrible, destroying everything they touch, acting entitled all the way through the carnage, and worst of all, blaming Kong’s unfortunate ending on beauty rather than the beasts who tried to exploit nature for personal profit.

Which brings me to the second disappointing aspect of the film: but for the racism, the film’s main message would have been as suitable for our times as it ever was, but the presence of racism or at least racial insensitivity makes this film one that is better left in the past.

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Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Our House

Our-House-TrailerOur House is a retelling of the age-old cautionary tale about the dangers of science. As we all know, science experiments’ most common outcomes are monsters, ghosts, and superviruses, with temporal paradoxes or dimensional portals being all-too-common as well.

Despite the known risks of science, Ethan (Thomas Mann) has to experiment and push the envelope anyway, consequences be damned, as he works on his wireless electricity machine. The Fly poster on the wall of Ethan’s garage/lab is a sure sign that his science project is a risky one, bound for disaster, and he should know better. Even so, for a while it seems like Ethan’s project might actually work, since when his machine is on his little sister can talk to recently deceased loved ones, but inevitably, much more sinister beings begin to make their presence felt.

IMG_2042Full disclosure: I was fortunate  to watch this film with a ferocious guard dog on my lap, so I knew I could handle whatever scares were thrown my way. You likely will not have that same advantage, at least while Our House is in theatres. But even without the dog, the first hour of this movie will be bearable for everyone, including scaredy-cats like Jay. There’s not any significant tension in this film until the final third of the movie, but that last third contains a very suspenseful sequence that made me wish the intensity had been raised sooner, to allow for a longer showdown with the ghosts.

Leaving me wanting more is not a bad thing, and the movie is right to lean heavily on the family drama aspect with its very strong young cast including Mann, Percy Hynes-White, and Kate Moyer. It’s just that a few more ghosts would have made this movie more memorable, because it’s when those ghosts are actively pursuing Ethan and his family that Our House is at its best.

 

 

Skyscraper

It’s no Die Hard.

That’s my four-word review of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s latest action film, in which he plays an ex-FBI agent turned security consultant who has to rescue his family from the world’s tallest building when it’s set on fire by robbers.

The fact it’s no Die Hard is not entirely a bad thing, because at least it isn’t a blatant rip-off of one of the best action movies ever. But it’s partly a bad thing, because Die Hard is amazing and Skyscraper clearly wants to remind me of it (Skyscraper may also be trying to remind me of other movies like The Towering Inferno if I’d ever seen it, but since I haven’t, you get to hear only about Die Hard).

Skyscraper falls well short of Die Hard for a lot of reasons, but the main difference is this: while both movies are ridiculous, Die Hard fully embraces its implausibility. Bruce Willis is right there with us when we’re thinking that it should never have come to him jumping off a hundred story building with a fire hose tied around his waist. Conversely, the Rock is not with us at those moments, because he’s The Rock, a character that can do anything. When the Rock pulls a very similar stunt to Willis, as far as the Rock is concerned, it is not because things have escalated beyond the point of believability.  It is because that is one of the things the Rock can do that no one else would even try (and, incidentally, whether one is brave enough to attempt a stunt like that is not a measure of one’s love for family, because if you really want to save your family, you have to NOT DIE, and by my count any real human being died about eight different times during the Rock’s rescue effort).

As well, it is an unfortunate sign of our times that the two-minute rope sequence, like almost every other dramatic moment in this movie, somehow is captured live on news cameras, for the benefit of a cheering and live-streaming crowd, and also on monitors throughout the very building that the Rock is trying to sneak into and rescue his family from. This not only adds about 15 minutes of pointless  crowd footage to a movie that feels much, much longer than its 1 hour 49 minute run time, but it also takes away from the cat-and-mouse dynamic because at all times the bad guys can easily find the Rock in this massive 220 story building by watching 30 seconds of live news.

Even then, I was tolerating this movie and willing to give it a pass until the end, when everyone involved had run out of half-baked ideas and just hit the reset button to find a way out of the fire. I shouldn’t have expected any more than that, so don’t ask me why I got my hopes up, and now I owe an apology to Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant man and the waspThe very definition of superhero fatigue is seeing the latest Marvel instalment and having nothing to say. Not a speck of inspiration. Is that Ant-Man’s fault? Only partially. It’s very by-the-numbers, it doesn’t add anything to the ongoing MCU saga, and it’s hard to go back in time prior to Avengers: Infinity War, when we know half of these people will soon be dust (and also, soon after that, not dust anymore so the MCU can keep churning out sequels).

But also, when we’ve had a run of Marvel movies with spectacular visuals and fresh takes on flagship heroes (Thor: Ragnarok), timely and thoughtful takes on nationalism with a fully realized villain (Black Panther), and massive, galaxy spanning tales crammed with practically every hero there is (Infinity War), Ant-Man feels so small. While that’s entirely fitting for Ant-Man, it is a drastic change of pace from those three prior MCU films in particular, and the one-upping arms race that has been the MCU since the start.

Jay said some time ago (maybe on the site, maybe just to me) that the coming-of-age moment for superhero movies was when subgenres started popping up – superhero satire (Deadpool), superhero western (Logan), even superhero rom-com (this movie!). So maybe it’s time to get past this shared universe thing and evaluate Ant-Man as an actual movie. And on its own, it’s a team effort featuring a lot of memorable characters, a nice will-they, won’t-they featuring charismatic leads (and equals), and an entertaining way to spend two hours at the movies.

Overall, though, it’s a good thing we have a break in the MCU schedule until next spring, because I badly need one. Of course, you can be sure that I’ll be in line when the next superhero movie comes out, dragging Jay along like always.  What can I say? I’m addicted, always have been, but it’s to the point where I need something stronger to feel as good about these films as I did in the early days.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

4129b10ddb987ee9-600x400Shouldn’t a sequel feel twice as big as the first movie?  And shouldn’t the fifth Jurassic Park and the second Jurassic World feel at least five times bigger than a T-Rex and double the size of the giant fish/dino that ate the Indominus Rex? And shouldn’t Chris Pratt have twice as many raptors on his strike force? And shouldn’t Bryce Dallas Howard be running around in even higher heels than last time? Well, yes, all of that should be happening in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but instead, JWFK feels really small.

Part GMO cautionary tale and part dinosaur conservation dissertation, JWFK takes too long to get going and then when it does, there are almost no dinosaurs to be found! Okay, every once in a while a dino pops up and eats one of the bad guys or nearly bites a good guy, but more often then not, the danger facing Howard and Pratt is of the non-dino variety, which as everyone knows is the most boring kind of danger there is.

JWFK is not a terrible movie but it’s also not a good one. It’s more forgettable than anything, fading from memory only an hour or so after I left the theatre, mainly because it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. For my part, all I wanted it to be was a bunch of loosely-connected dinosaur set pieces, and strangely that is something that JWFK didn’t go for.

One thing JWFK does succeed at is in setting up a whole bunch more sequels, so the studio execs are probably happy with the end product.  But for those of us who aren’t getting a cut of the box office, it isn’t nearly as satisfying. Maybe next time.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

SoloThey pulled it off! Despite the director change and the “creative differences” and the reshoots, Solo: A Star Wars Story is not only a coherent film, it’s a film that lives up to the legacy of the best Star Wars character, hands down: that loveable scoundrel, Han Solo.

Solo is a prequel done right. We get to see those legendary events referred to in the original trilogy, which is what you’d expect. But what you can’t count on, and what Solo delivers, it that those moments live up to the hype AND  fit into a grand adventure that doesn’t feel like a dull connect-the-dots exercise the same way Episodes 1-3 did. Clearly, Lawrence Kasdan should have been writing all the Star Wars films. The script for Solo is a masterful work by Kasdan and his son Jon. The elder Kasdan has stated this was his last Star Wars script, which makes me sad mainly because that feels like the final nail in Han’s coffin.

At least we will always have Solo. While Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t exactly channel Harrison Ford, his take on Han is a credible version of the charming smuggler we know and love.  Woody Harrelson is solid (as always) as Han’s mentor, and Emilia Clarke adds a lot as Han’s childhood sweetheart, but it’s Donald Glover who steals the show as a note-perfect Lando Calrissian (and kudos to both Glover and the Kasdans for maintaining Lando’s hard-A spin on Han’s name). Here’s hoping that rumoured Lando spinoff gets greenlit soon. Lando’s so much cooler than the bumbling Boba Fett, whose spinoff is already in production!

Don’t been dissuaded by the (relatively) poor box office results. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon and a great way to spend an afternoon at the movies, which is, after all, what the original Star Wars aspired to be.

Total Recall (2012)

hero_EB20120801REVIEWS120739999ARIt’s been a while since I’ve watched the 1990 version of Total Recall, and yet it was still obvious to me that the 2012 version was the same in plot but different in setting. The setting change was particularly jarring. It is bizarre to me that Mars does not enter into the 2012 movie at all – Australia stands in, which is not really an even trade.  No offense, Australia, but a destination (/colony) I can reach by airplane is not nearly as futuristic-feeling as a colony on another planet. Also, is the fact they refer to Australia as “the Colony” in Total Recall a little too close to home?

As with all remakes, I waited for the 2012 Total Recall to justify its existence. And like a lot of remakes, it never did. The Total Recall remake is more serious and more down to earth than the original, and both of those are bad things. The original stands above, not just because it did everything first (including the three boobed prostitute) but because it did everything better (including giving a reason why there would be a three boobed prostitute).

The original is campy and dumb and fun. The remake is muted and sterile and dull. The difference between the two is exactly the difference between 80s Arnold (no last name needed) and Colin Farrell (no time period needed since to say he peaked would wrongly imply he was ever much good). No one with any sense would choose Farrell over 80s Arnold as an action hero, and likewise no one should watch 2012 Total Recall when 1990 Total Recall is either in your basement/garage or the basement/garage of a friend, gathering dust with hundreds of other DVDs.

Deadpool 2

deadpool_2_poster.0There are times when it feels like a movie has lost a sense of direction, and is relying on one-liners to fill in the gaps until it finds a way forward. Deadpool 2 never feels that way, mainly because the whole film is a series of one-liners. That is how Deadpool 2 gets Deadpool right.

Deadpool is supposed to be an immortal wisecracking antihero, and that’s exactly what Deadpool 2 delivers. In fact, movie Deadpool may be even more potent than his comic book counterpart, since we have seemingly hundreds of superhero movies to send up and most are easy targets.  Deadpool makes sure not to miss any by taking seemingly hundreds of shots at them. None are spared, with Ryan Reynolds’ past superhero movies (and Reynolds himself) being hit as much as any other (and maybe more). More than anything, that self-effacing attitude is why Deadpool works.

Deadpool 2 is stupid and it knows it.  It will do anything to make you laugh, and it will succeed. But Deadpool 2 doesn’t stop there. As you get into the film’s rhythm, you realize that in between the jokes, there’s a ton of action, a superteam origin story, the onscreen debuts of two classic X-Men characters, significant character development, and best of all, a much-needed mop-up of some major continuity issues. And with an X-Force movie on the way, Deadpool basically has birthed his own cinematic universe (I’m treating it as a separate universe than the X-Men films since aside from Colossus, there are no other A-list X-Men in sight), so for better or worse, Deadpool is sticking around for the long haul.

Overall I think Deadpool’s success is more better than worse (though Jay would surely disagree).  Deadpool 2 is an entertaining movie that can co-exist with movies like Avengers: Infinity War (and Deadpool is probably the superhero best served by being removed from the Marvel Universe, as evidenced by Fox keeping him separate from the X-universe for all intents and purposes).

The comparison between Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War brings up an interesting contrast.  Since I was frustrated with the lazy writing in Infinity War, I should have been equally frustrated with Deadpool for the same reason.  Lazy writing is lazy writing whether or not a superhero breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it, right?  Then why did I give Deadpool a pass when I held lazy writing against Avengers?  The answer, I think, is because Marvel is asking me to take seriously that half of the universe was wiped out with a magic glove, whereas Deadpool is up front about how stupid and meaningless this all is, that everything can and will be undone, and figures out a way to have fun with it.  And that is why for as long as they are making superhero movies, there will be a place for movies like Deadpool 2.

 

 

Anon

anon-trailer-clive-owen-amanda-seyfried-0“Done before and done better.” I could probably leave that as my comprehensive review of Anon, last week’s Netflix original movie, but what fun would that be?

Anon’s premise is simple. In the future, the police can rewind and review anyone’s point-of-view, so can instantly solve any crime. Except lately, there is a glitch in the Matrix, because killings are carried out without the police being able to see the murderer. It’s up to grumpy cop Clive Owen (whose child died young) to solve these cases before the killer does him in and figure out how Amanda Seyfried’s mysterious hacker fits into the puzzle.

In case it’s not obvious by now, Anon is Minority Report’s fraternal twin, somehow born 16 years after its much more atractive sister. Incidentally, Minority Report is currently available on Netflix, at least in Canada, which seems cruel.  But you’ve seen that one before, right?

If you liked Minority Report (and you would if you have any sense at all) then Anon is exactly mediocre enough to watch before you watch Minority Report again – good enough that you won’t feel like you totally wasted your screen time, and bad enough that it will make you appreciate Minority Report even more.

That’s the unexpected virtue of “done before and done better”, that’s the niche that Anon has found, and that sums up nearly all of Netflix’s “original” content.  There’s  simply no need to waste time coming up with your own original idea when it’s way cheaper and easier to tweak someone else’s, and to be safe Netflix covers its bet by having the original on standby, either as a replacement or a superior second feature. Well played, Netflix. Well played.