Tag Archives: popular culture

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

636866-jumanji-dwayneThe trailers for this movie set the bar so unbelievably low that I thought Jumanji could not possibly disappoint. The only surprise this movie has to offer is that it is a sequel not a reboot. Otherwise, it is completely by-the-numbers, including lots of CG animal stampedes and even more cliched character growth. In short, it is the perfect counter-programming for liberal propaganda like Spielberg-Streep-Hanks snoozers about fake news. More on that later.

The rules of Jumanji were well-established in the first film and Jumanji so compulsively follows those rules that it’s scary. The only difference between the two movies is that Jumanji 2.0 takes the form of a video game rather than a boardgame. That way, there can be lots of jokes about video games, which comes in handy because the main character is a video gaming nerd so when he becomes the Rock we can be reminded that he is still a nerd and he can explain to the other characters and the audience how video games work.

I can’t remember if Jumanji 1.0 had as much explanation about board games but I feel like even it aimed slightly higher than this. I guess that’s why it is a “classic” that has now spawned a “franchise”. Putting those words in quotes is the only thing keeping my head from exploding.

I hate to play the movie snob card and honestly, I never imagined I would be this guy, but there are a ton of really good movies in theatres right now, it being Oscar season and all, and Jumanji is not one of them. Nonetheless, Jumanji is by far the biggest box office draw right now. That’s not surprising, North America, since we are just the worst right now (LIKE, THE WORST), but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s resolve as a continent to stop making bad decisions in 2018. Let’s do things differently. Let’s stop dumbing things down. Let’s start thinking critically. Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s watch films like The Post, The Shape of WaterLady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, instead of mindless, vapid and soulless fare like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Saying no to Jumanji is one small step toward a better world.

 

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Bright

bright_unit_06597_r_wide-67b1f15cb792c81ccc1359a7e8a2e6c0bce7b718-s900-c85What’s worse than being flat, derivative and uninspired? Being all those things, showing a tiny bit of promise in spite of them, and then throwing the interesting parts away in search of a flashy climax and tidy resolution. That’s Bright.

The concept is sound – what if there were Elves and Orcs and magic in our world? It’s not a new idea and that’s fine. The hodgepodge of fantasy elements forming the basis of this world are standard fare as well, straight out of Tolkien or World of Warcraft. Orcs are brutes with sharp teeth, Elves are beautiful and rich, magic wands are super powerful but not everyone can use them. The script, complete with minority and 1% allegories, practically writes itself.

The problem is, it feels like no extra effort was put in to creating Bright. Like, at all.  Like, I’m pretty sure Will Smith was quoting himself from Men in Black every time he let a sarcastic quip fly. Not incidentally, well over 90% of his lines in Bright are sarcastic quips. Either stop phoning it in or stop being in movies, please.

Joel Edgerton doesn’t phone it in like Smith but he is totally unrecognizable and totally wasted here as the sensitive Orc sidekick. He had no chance of saving this mess. Full disclosure: this is a recurring exchange between Jay and me:

Jay: We should go see [small indie movie]. Joel Edgerton is in it.

Me: Who’s Joel Edgerton again?

Jay: The guy from [slightly older small indie movie that we saw a few months prior].

Me: That was Joel Edgerton?

Jay: We literally just had this conversation when you made me watch the Star Wars prequels.

Me: JOEL EDGERTON IS IN STAR WARS?

Jay: I hate you.

It happened again in Bright only I swear, this time it was not my fault. It was David Ayer’s, and Bright is proof that we should have cut Ayer off long before Suicide Squad. Thanks for writing Training Day, really, but that goodwill was used up long ago.  A glimmer of promise and then an avalanche of mediocrity and disappointment – just like Bright.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

ridley-hamill-last-jedi-trailer-ht-jef-171121_12x5_992It is a good thing that Disney did not try to stick a Frozen short in front of Episode XIII, which weighs in at a hefty 2 hour and 33 minutes not including ads and previews. It doesn’t help that much of that time is spent watching Poe Dameron try really, really hard to learn a fairly simple lesson. Poe got it on what by my count was the fourth try, during a battle that took me by surprise because I expected the movie to have ended before that fight even started!

So this was not the ideal movie to have dragged Jay to, with it being an unusually long entry in a nerdy franchise she has less than no interest in. At least trying to spot the rumoured William & Harry cameo kept her busy for a while. I hope.

For those of us invested in this behemoth franchise, this is a solid Star Wars film that changes things up a bit more than did The Force Awakens, though this one sometimes feels like it’s spinning in place. Still, being the Star Wars fanboy I am, I was more than willing to forgive a few extra scenes and a few too many contrivances because what this movie gets right, it REALLY gets right.

At the top of the “gets right” list are the Last Jedi. And  since Jedi is plural, that makes for multiple entries on the list.

First, Luke is actually in this movie for more than one scene and it’s the Luke we know from all three original films, for worse and then for better, and then for so much better. Bear with Luke as in the course of this movie he manages to transition (again) from whiny back-planet farmboy to ass-kicking robed avenger. It’s truly fantastic.

Second, Daisy Ridley’s Rey is really, really great for the second movie in a row. She is the heart of this third trilogy and for my money she’s the best Jedi we’ve ever had (because unlike Luke, Anakin and Ben Kenobi, Rey never had a whiny phase).

Third, we get a Jedi ghost appearance that was an unexpected bit of closure I didn’t even know I needed, as it’s one last advice-giving opportunity from master to student.  It will make you wish that Han Solo was a Jedi so he had a chance to pop up in ghost form during Episode IX to rehash the good old days.

Speaking of the good old days, it is bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher get a prominent role here. Great as it is to have Leia be the true leader of the resistance, her importance means Fisher’s death will leave a massive hole in Episode IX that can’t (/shouldn’t) be filled (CG stand-ins creep me out and should creep you out too). RIP Carrie.

It occurs to me that a two hour version of this movie might have been my favourite Star Wars of all, if they had cut out much of the Poe and Finn stuff (which are the scenes that inspired my earlier reference to spinning in place).  As it stands, this is still a good film that did not disappoint, and it might edge out Return of the Jedi for third place on my list, which is pretty damn respectable.

 

El Camino Christmas

El-Camino-Christmas-featureI count Die Hards 1 and 2 as two of my favourite Christmas movies, so I’ve seen a hostage situation or two play out on-screen during the holiday season. But El Camino Christmas proves that not all hostage situations are created equal, mainly because not all cops are Bruce Willis. Some cops are Dax Shepard or worse, drunken Vincent D’Onofrio (who is either a very good actor or has a serious alcohol problem, or maybe both). El Camino Christmas is the opposite of a how-to hostage negotiation video, as things start bad and somehow get worse.

With Dax Shepard involved with the film, I expected some dumb comedy but El Camino Christmas seems to not even be trying to be funny. And if it was trying, well, it failed miserably.

On the “plus” side, if you have been suffering from Tim Allen or Jessica Alba withdrawal, El Camino Christmas will give you a shot of both. Neither needed to be here but they both showed up anyway for a little Christmas green. Really, why not say yes, when Netflix is throwing money at everyone else?

Some of those other Netflix originals have been pretty good but El Camino Christmas is not even middling.  It’s a totally predictable, cliched, and boring film.  It’s not the least bit entertaining, not even unintentionally. There is really nothing to recommend about El Camino Christmas. It is bleaker than a stocking full of coal, so just watch those Die Hards again instead. Especially if you can catch the dubbed for TV versions for the true holiday experience. Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon!

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.

 

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.