Tag Archives: popular culture

Transformers: The Last Knight

why-critics-say-transformers-the-last-knight-is-2017s-most-toxic-movie (1)I wrote a whole other review of this horrible, awful, infuriating movie and then accidentally deleted it.  Honestly, my review was unremarkable for the most part so it’s not a huge loss.  This movie makes no sense, it’s the fifth movie in a tired franchise that was only ever enjoyable if you, like me, liked seeing robots decapitate other robots in slow motion (and which stopped being awesome four movies ago), and it’s got Mark Wahlberg doing his usual “acting” by which I mean that he talks really fast in a whiny voice when he is under pressure and otherwise just stands around flexing his biceps and looking confused.  In short, it is the worst Transformers movie yet, and the next one will probably be even worse.

But there was one part of my review worth saving, and it’s this: Mark Wahlberg was clearly born to be in Michael Bay movies.  It is the perfect match of all perfect matches.  These two eventually found each other, but there are so many Wahlberg-less Michael Bay movies, and isn’t that a shame?

So…what if Michael Bay made special editions of his back catalogue, George Lucas style, and digitally inserted Wahlberg into all his “classics” as a way to link all his movies together?

Think about it!  It would be the greatest shared universe of all time.  We could have Bad Boys fighting bad robots under the supervision of Wahlberg and his good friend Joe Pantoliano, the space shuttle in Armageddon could be a robot who owes a favour to Wahlberg and who figures out a way to save Bruce Willis as payback, and Wahlberg could help bring Sean Connery and his estranged daughter Claire Forlani together while at the same time helping Nicholas Cage foil Ed Harris’ plot to steal that face-meltingly-deadly VX gas, this time without losing Michael Biehn’s whole SEAL team.  And then Wahlberg could assemble a team of one million Ewan MacGregor clones along with the time travelling pilot duo of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett to destroy the Transformers once and for all, saving us all from ever having to see Transformers 6: Shia’s Revenge.

This needs to happen.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

blade4Has there ever been a more beautiful vision of a dystopian society than what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins serve up in Blade Runner 2049?  Even a photo of a dead tree will be captivating to those around you.  Nuclear wastelands, city-sized garbage dumps, and coastal dams will all amaze.  Visually, this is exactly the sequel that Blade Runner deserved.

Story-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is probably the sequel that Blade Runner deserved as well, though that’s not necessarily a compliment.  The story is muddled right from the hard-to-read title cards that try to bring us up to date on what’s happened in that world’s last 30 years.

The facts in the title cards turn out to be quite important to keep up in Blade Runner 2049’s world as we follow an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery involving our old friend Deckard (Harrison Ford).  Though it is unfortunate that the title cards are as dense as they are, I would not have wanted the movie to try to retell its background story, as the 163 minute run time is plenty long enough already!

Refreshingly, Blade Runner’s world is not our world.  It is an alternative future, so there is no attempt to revise the original’s timeline (as you may recall, Blade Runner is set in 2019 in a world where robot slaves are fighting space battles and colonizing other planets for humans, so things did not exactly turn out in our world as the first film predicted).  Interestingly, those differences make it easier for the view to focus on the similarities between their world and ours.  Villeneuve has delivered another very thoughtful, deliberate and satisfying sci-fi film, and it’s easy to analogize to our world every time a replicant is treated as disposable property (which happens a lot).  The film also offers a lot to chew on regarding memory and the nature of reality.  Honestly, I’m still digesting it all as a I write, while also trying to sort out a few of the story’s finer points, and this film is one that I’m going to have to watch again to get everything sorted.

It’s remarkable how closely this sequel resembles the first movie,  in style and substance, despite being released 35 years later.  More remarkably, at the same time it is paying tribute to the original, Blade Runner 2049 is telling a fresh story set in this familiar world, and manages to leave the original movie’s largest question unanswered in a surprisingly satisfying way.  So while Blade Runner 2049 is not the best movie of 2017, it is a good movie made great by its technical excellence, which naturally makes it the perfect sequel to Blade Runner.

Nico, 1988

nico-1988-trine-dyrholmYou may not know Nico by name, but I bet you have heard of some of her friends, people like Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. Nico, born Christa Päffgen, was part of the Velvet Underground for their first album (getting co-billing in fact) and, as a musician, that would seem to overshadow anything else one might do from then on. Nico, 1988 joins Christa in 1986 as she tours in support of her latest solo album. Understandably, Christa would prefer to keep the focus on her new music, but the press keeps asking about her past.

Nico, 1988 makes the viewer feel the weight of that past. This film gives a revealing and honest look at Christa’s life, stitched together from memories of those who knew her, including her son. It feels like a documentary, in large part due to a great performance by Trine Durholm in the lead role. Durholm shines both offstage as well as onstage, handling vocal duties herself.

The music is the beating heart of Nico, 1988, which is entirely appropriate for a biopic about an avant garde innovator whose music Rolling Stone called “a really worthwhile venture into musical infinity”, music that others have described as desolate, terrifying and unlistenable.

Judging from the soundtrack in Nico, 1988, all those descriptions are accurate. Sometimes, Christa sounds horrible, but once in a while, it’s magic. One ill-fated concert in Prague shows the heights that Christa can hit. Her energy and the crowd’s mesh perfectly and draw the viewer into the front row. Not coincidentally, that’s the only performance in the film that Christa delivers drug-free. Christa’s struggles with addiction are part of her story, and they feature in this film just as they did in her life.

For music lovers in particular, Nico, 1988 is essential viewing. It provides a behind the scenes look at the life of a true artist, a musician’s musician who cast a shadow too large for herself to escape from. Catch it if you can!

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.

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!

Alien: Covenant

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You always know better than the idiots in horror movies. Don’t go to an uncharted planet streaming John Denver songs to the universe. Hell, don’t go into space period! When you get to the planet, don’t trust its lone inhabitant who lives in a graveyard and conducts science experiments in a drippy cave. Especially when the results of those science experiments look suspiciously like the creepy little things that just blew up your only ride off the planet. But if not for those dumb decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, and certainly not one about Aliens with a capital A.

As the SXSW Sneak Peek hinted, the idiots in Alien: Covenant are more tolerable than most, because every bad decision leads us to a place we want to go. Ridley Scott’s playful approach here elevates Alien: Covenant above every entry in this franchise since Aliens. The bad decisions aren’t infuriating, they’re chess moves, most of which lead to another piece getting ripped apart into gooey chunks by space monsters.

Everything in this movie services the Aliens, including the speedy pace at which they burst out of people (taking only as long as needed to cause maximum carnage). Alien: Covenant felt like a Star Wars prequel in that respect, as the technology (in this case, the creatures produced by those previously mentioned science experiments) behind the Aliens seems better in the “past” than in the “future”. I suppose that’s inevitable when prequels are made 30 years later, and I was a lot more forgiving of it here that I was with Star Wars. I think that’s because in Alien: Covenant, the changes from the original rules make the movie more entertaining, while the changes in Star Wars made the movies into a CGI tutorial mixed with a boring political drama.

Above all else, Alien: Covenant is fun, and that’s because Ridley Scott and his cast (led by stellar performances by Michael Fassbender (x2) and Katherine Waterston channeling Ripley and kicking Alien ass just like Sigourney Weaver did) deliver everything this franchise’s fans could possibly have asked for. No unnecessary exposition, no extraneous plot points, just Aliens mowing down idiot after idiot.

For that, Alien: Covenant gets a score of eight chest-bursting xenomorphs out of ten.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Good-Cop-Bon-CopAs someone who grew up in Ontario (mostly) and now lives in Quebec, I can say with authority that Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a fantastic send up of the occasionally pained relationship between the two provinces.  There’s a lot of history and a lot of angst to be found in that relationship, and somehow we now seem more distant from each other than do the English and French, whose historic animus is the basis for our long-standing conflict.

When I go shopping in Quebec, I do not speak French and neither does Jay even though she’s totally bilingual.  I am not bilingual but I know enough to order a Happy Meal in French if I wanted.  But I DON’T want to – I want Quebec McDonald’s to speak English to me.

That stubbornness goes both ways.  Not only do many frontline retail staff refuse to speak English back to me (especially older ones), Quebecers are consistently terrible drivers who poke along well below the speed limit in the fast lane and refuse to move over for my bright orange racecar no matter how close I get to their bumper.

And yet, we consistently have each other’s back when push comes to shove.  When it rained for what seemed like a month straight in April and May and the Ottawa River started overflowing its banks to the point that it came onto our backyard, those same French bastards from McDonald’s and the highway banded together to deliver sandbags to us (and thousands of other English speakers in our border city) at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday and then helped us put those sandbags in place, with smiles on their faces as they asked in English whether they could do anything else to help.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop nails that dynamic at every step, as two cops (Ontarian Colm Feore and Quebecer Patrick Huard) are forced to work together to solve a murder in which a body was found straddling the Ontario-Quebec border.  Of course they’re going to try to one-up the other, of course they’re going to set stupid and arbitrary rules about who does what and which language gets used when, and of course their petty squabbles are going to put everything in jeopardy.  Because that’s what we do.  But in the end, we accomplish what needs doing, and we share a grudging respect that binds us closer than geography alone ever could.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop captures our relationship perfectly and pokes fun at it at every opportunity.  That made Bon Cop, Bad Cop enjoyable in spite of its cliches, nonsensical plot, and cheap shots at Gary Bettman (okay, the last bit was enjoyable on its own).   But if you’re not from either province, you probably won’t get it, and truthfully we kind of like that you don’t.   We may argue over which of Ontario and Quebec is better but we agree that both are way better than wherever the hell you live.