Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the milkshake’s actually just vanilla.
Public safety notice: Don’t eat gunpowder. It’s not delicious and it also might set your toots on fire.
Friendly piece of advice: Chocolate beats vanilla. Peanut-butter-brownie’s even better. Salted-caramel-pretzel is the best.
Movie premise: Sam (Karen Gillan) is abandoned as a child by her assassin mom after a bloody diner gun-battle. Sam grows up to be a hitman herself, working for The Firm, led by a greasy guy named Nathan (Paul Giamatti). Sam’s last hit has gotten her into some hot oil: despite merely doing her job, she happens to have killed the son of a very important, and very vindictive man, who has sworn revenge. Even The Firm is upset with her, sending her on a mea culpa mission to recover stolen money, which she learned belatedly (ie after shooting the guy) is intended for ransom to save the dude’s young daughter. Sam takes it upon herself to rush the guy to the hitman hospital, and herself to the rendez vous point to try to save the kid, but at every turn Sam’s only making more enemies, and it’s increasingly unlikely she’ll get out of this thing alive.
My verdict: Derivative. The best parts of the movie are copied directly from other movies. Parts not directly plagiarized flag a bit. Director Navot Papushado is not a needle drop savant; I’ve seen some directors brilliantly and subversively pair an unexpected song with an action sequence, but Papushado is never going to be one of them. The action sequences are actually pretty fun (especially when “librarians” Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett get in on the action), but the terrible music trips them up and tempers our enjoyment. Not really worth the watch unless you’re desperate for some action – or unless you’re trying to convince a producer that a librarian spinoff would be a much more intriguing idea.
Joe (Jamie Foxx) has jazz music in his soul and zero dollars in his bank account. His mother likes to brutally remind him of this little fact, and push him toward accepting a permanent position as a middle school music teacher. Just as he’s about to capitulate, an old student calls to offer him a wildly exciting opportunity to play with the wonderful Dorothea Williams. Ms. Williams (Angela Bassett) is impressed with his jazzing, and he’s engaged to play with her later that evening. But he doesn’t make it to later that evening; he dies on his way home.
Understandably, his soul panics on the way to heaven, and he decides to buck the system, running away from heaven or the great beyond or whatever you want to call it, but unable to get back to Earth/life. He hides out in a mentorship program instead, posing as a mentor soul assigned to help new souls find their spark. Soul #22 (Tina Fey) has been mentored by the very best for eons but has yet to find her spark. In fact, she expects that life is kind of a buzzkill, and she’s actively resisting it. Joe runs through all the obvious things like music and food, but it’s not until they sneak back down to Earth that things really start to gel for her. Of course, it probably helps that she can finally experience things in a human body, one that moves to music and tastes food and is delighted by the strange wonders of the human world. One small hiccup: in the melee, 22 took over Joe’s body, and Joe’s soul…ended up in a cat. Joe is desperate to make the Dorothea gig, but what use is it if he’s a cat? And 22 is deeply distracted by pretty much every single thing she encounters. She’s finally found her spark, but the problem is, she kind of promised it to Joe. You need a spark to get to Earth permanently, and taking 22’s is Joe’s only option. And until very recently, 22 had no use for a spark and no interest in life. She promised it freely. But now…well, what if 22 wants it too?
This movie is beautiful and tragic because life is beautiful and tragic. It is everything you want from a movie and nothing you expect from a cartoon – except it’s Pixar, so you dare to hope. They’ve done it before. They’ve done it again.
In talking about death, Soul is actually discussing how to live. Joe believes that his life will be fulfilled by achieving his dream of performing jazz, but 22 teaches him there’s plenty of pleasure and wonder to be found in simply living, in taking the time to look, listen, and learn. 22’s naivety and newness to the world inspires Joe to slow down and take a look around as well.
Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers are not afraid to embrace the surreal and the intangible when examining the life well-lived, or to ask children to engage in a little introspection. A simple premise allows for a wonderful complexity of ideas embodying Joe’s existential crisis – which may be putting it mildly considering he’s dead and doesn’t want to be. But this spiritual scrutiny is able to include both the joy and the sadness, the fear, regret, obsession, insecurity, and the inspiration, ambition, passion, and life-affirming facets of personal philosophy because Pixar’s trademark playfulness makes it all feel non-threatening and really rather fun.
The voices are well-cast, the entities are well-designed, the movie looks amazing, but most important, it just feels good. It feels right, it feels warm, it feels like a hug from your past self to your future self, and I can’t think of a more perfect (cinematic) way to end the year.
Lewis is abandoned by his mother on the steps of an orphanage. By the age of 12, he’s been through over a hundred adoption interviews with no luck, so he spends his time on inventions that never quite work out. One day his school science fair is interrupted by two interlopers: a weird dude in a bowler hat, and a kid named Wilbur who claims to be visiting from the future. It seems like a pretty dubious claim until his space ship whisks them away.
In the future, Lewis meets the Robinson family, a wacky bunch of people he bonds with instantly. Which is too bad, because for the good of the space-time continuum, he really will have to go back.
This movie feels like it was designed by committee if that committee was a classroom full of kindergarteners shouting out their most favouritest things: robots! dinosaurs! food fights! And Disney’s feeling generous enough to stuff the movie with every last ounce of feedback it received, no idea too outlandish or sporadic to include. A story can be weaved around them all, and it involves time travel and one genius kid with big ideas.
It’s not the best film that Disney has to offer, but it’s got rapid-fire visual gags and a riot of crazy ideas and eccentric characters brought to life by some vivid animation. And eventually it circles back on sweet themes, like family and imagination, things you might expect that Walt himself would have been proud his legacy continues to endorse.
Three mothers, originally friends because their sons were
friends, have stayed in each other’s lives even after their sons have all moved
away. We meet them at a mother’s day brunch they’ve thrown themselves because
their lousy sons always forget (if any one of them had a daughter, or even a
daughter-in-law, this movie wouldn’t exist; daughters are not allowed to
forget). Not content to just sit around bitching and whining about their lives,
they decide to inflict their neuroses on their grown sons, uninvited. So they
pack themselves into the world’s most hostile road trip and storm New York City
to make their problems someone else’s.
You likely know a mother or two just like this, and if it’s
your own mother, well, god bless you. This kind of mother wants it both ways:
she decides she MUST become a mother because her life is incomplete, but then
she spends her kid’s life telling him or her that it was a completely selfless
act that requires a well of gratitude whose depth cannot be measured as it is
bottomless and unending and nothing will ever be enough. And when the child is grown,
the mother is lost and without purpose because motherhood was everything and
now she is nothing. And improbably, all three female characters in this film
are suffering from this affliction.
Personally, I know tonnes of mothers who have managed to
maintain a balance between forging a career, having their own life, nurturing
friendships, and being better mothers because of it. I don’t imagine that’s
easy, but it’s life, and the last time I checked, motherhood IS optional. But
these women are acting like life is over because their grown sons don’t
immediately reply to their inane and constant texting.
It must have been difficult for Netflix to promote this
movie since one of the three women is Felicity Huffman and she’s not exactly
winning any motherhood prizes right now (if you’re just poking your head out
from underneath a rock, she’s one of the parents accused of believing that her
kids are such profound idiots that they could only get into college with the
help of large, illegal bribes, and that they still deserved to be there,
perhaps taking the place of your own kids, who would have otherwise merited the
position, because their mother is rich and famous and quite possibly she just
wanted them out of the damn house). Leaving her aside, Netflix managed to
convince both Patricia Arquette and Angela Bassett to join the ranks of the
pitiful. And frankly, Arquette does nothing to dispel the pity party. She’s
gotten a little too comfortably playing the kooky, offbeat, perpetually single
mother. When she breaks into her son’s apartment to bake for him, it’s
uncomfortably believable. When she fails to learn a lesson about meddling and
instead declares that the only problem was that she didn’t meddle soon enough,
you believe that too.
Bassett, on the other hand, is an asset. Her character has
certainly invested too much of herself into living for the men in her life (her
husband and her son), especially when those men haven’t deserved it, don’t
return it, and don’t even want it. But because it’s Basset, her character doesn’t
feel pathetic. She holds her head high. She clearly has strength. And she DOES
learn her lesson, and earns herself a better life; in the end, she’s the only
one we’re really rooting for.
I think a lot of women, and perhaps parents generally,
struggle with the transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult. But
the truth is, that role is always changing. A newborn baby is a round-the-clock,
soul-sucking (and hopefully soul-nourishing) job; a two year old is a battle of
wills; a twelve year old is an exercise in diplomacy; a fifteen year old is a
test of nerves. You never stop being someone’s mother, but mothering stops being
invasive and starts being supportive at some point – if you’ve done it right. Not
everyone gets it right, and that’s okay too, because we’re all human and we’re
all learning on the job. You might even have to be someone’s kid while also
being someone else’s parent. But neither of those things should subsume your entire
Otherhood isn’t a great movie but it’s possibly worth
watching just because there isn’t enough Angela Bassett in the world as it is.
Stories about women are worth telling. We don’t always get them right. We’re
all fumbling around trying to figure shit out. And if you haven’t recently been
federally indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up
to 20 years in prison, you’re probably doing okay.
Aside 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.
What do you get when you cross Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett with Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron? A Blade Runner wanna-be that doesn’t get over the hump but is not even close to the worst thing you can find on Netflix, as long as you can get past how dated the movie feels.
Given that Strange Days was co-written by James Cameron, it’s very odd that the
technology central to the movie feels so old-fashioned. Even if the effects don’t hold up, Cameron’s near-future technology usually does, from Terminator to Aliens to the Abyss. Not here. I shuddered every time a character waved around a mini-CD containing a clip of someone’s memories (literally a first-person-view replay of whatever the person experienced). Because I’m so over CDs; I’m a vinyl guy. That means I shuddered a lot while watching Strange Days, because the plot of the movie revolves around those little plastic relics – they’re everywhere!
While it may be silly to criticize a movie set in the year 2000 for using CDs, that sort of logic is not going to stop me even for a second. Any world that has the technology to record and replay memories in the year 2000 must also have invented storage technology that is far better than CDs, right? Who’s with me?
The acting is dated as well – it’s from the silent era. Watching these characters experience other people’s memories is entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The facial expressions, the moaning, the anguish, it’s all way, way, WAY too much. I didn’t need to see those reactions even once but just like the omnipresent CDs, we get at least one shot of each main character overacting when they plug into a SQUID (which, unfortunately, is what the memory recorder and player is called).
In particular, Ralph Fiennes’ off-the-charts overacting and general greasiness in the film makes it surprising that he ever found work again. I think in order to enjoy Fiennes’ catalog from now on, I will have to pretend that the star of Strange Days was actually Bradley Cooper. Which probably won’t be that hard since they may be the same person.
So if you’re a fan of the English Patient, you should probably skip this one. On the other hand, if you are a more a fan of cheeseball 90s sci-fi than cheeseball 90s romances, then Strange Days will be right up your alley.
Strange Days gets a score of five unrealistic Y2K parties out of ten.