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A very non-original origin
I admit, I knew why they called her Catwoman. I also knew why they called her Batgirl. Sandman, yes, somewhat obvious. Green Goblin, well, he was not the Blue Not-goblin. Or am I mixing almost-coherent universes? Am I making a joke, a joke which is funny? Or am I making a non-joke, a non-joke which is not funny?
For Oscar, we bleed. We laugh, we cry, we kiss (with a student or faculty ID comes a free 44oz. popcorn) six bucks good-bye. I know what an "incel" is, and I know not to be TERFY. Despite the pain, despite the trashy rats, and despite the hate of a dark-but-risen taste-maker maker-space, can we all at least agree that there is absolutely no reason, no reason whatsoever, for being so serious?
It feels as if every generation must come to terms with its own Joker. Some jokers are sad. Some jokers want more out of life. Some Jokers pull boners, and some Jokers push envelopes for letters we never wrote or sent.
There are remedies for hangovers, but taste-makers make taste, and I am a non-taste maker, you fun dummy.
Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
A sunset for Rambo
It makes sense for John Rambo to get one last dance on the silver screen. He defeated Afghanistan (Rambo III), returned all the Vietnam POWs (Rambo II), destroyed a Burmese village (Rambo IV), and evaded arrest in the state of Washington (Rambo I).
The final installment suggests from the opening scene that this will be a ride off into the sunset, as Rambo performs dressage on a lonesome Arizona ranch near the Mexican border. It's a simpler life, away from the dark hearts of bad people yet still within driving distance of the Mexican version of Mos Eisley. Not all is well, as we learn Rambo still suffers from PTSD, something he keeps at bay with prescription drugs, a stark contrast with William Munny from Unforgiven, who avoided whiskey to keep his demons at bay.
Rambo finds quietude on the ranch not only through dressage, but also through tunnel construction and repair. The tunnels lie hidden beneath the Arizona sun, providing a place to truly get away from it all.
Rambo V gathers elements from many movies: Taken, Unforgiven, Oldboy (2003), Straw Dogs, The Godfather Part III, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Counselor, and Home Alone. Sometimes it really is one man against the world, a man who needs the love of women and the addresses of the men who hurt them.
Rambo rightly serves up little dialogue, saving his bon mots for voice-over soliloquies, like a John Wayne Hamlet, a metaphor for an old rocking chair and the Downfall of the American Dream. Rambo stands for what is right, even if his methods are unorthodox or unsound. Or perhaps Rambo is the ultimate anarchist, with his penchant for punching holes in walls?
Ready or Not (2019)
Funner than It
At a parsimonious 91 minutes, Ready or Not is about half as much of a movie as It Chapter Two, which trundles in at an unceremonious 169 minutes. If you consider the ticket was purchased with a student ID for a discount and a free 44oz. popcorn with buttery topping, it's safe to say Ready or Not is the clear winner of this summer's Battle for Your Dark Comedy Hard-earned Bucks.
What if you were dirt poor and wanted to become rich through marriage to a family so wealthy they could kill some people now and then and not have any repercussions, either moral, ethical, or legal? It might involve sacrificing some of your own morality or sense of ethics, perhaps even a deal with the devil, as you learn more about what it takes to become part of an elite ruling class, with little to worry about other than what bottle of wine to quaff next.
It's a slight gore-fest, but nothing nasty like a Saw flick or a Hostel pic. It might even be a more feminist statement than Mad Max: Fury Road, and for a dark comedy, it has a relatively bright ending.
A waste of time and talent
Oof. It is a ninth movie from and by Quentin Tarantino, assuming Deathproof counts as a movie, and assuming the two volumes of Kill Bill are one movie combined. Fortunately, there's just one more movie left to endure, as Tarantino regresses away from entertaining fare, grinding out the cinematic equivalents of long-avoided dental work.
We are treated to an early Wilhelm Scream, a modest suggestion that we, the audience, are about to be bathed in 161 minutes of fun, winks and nudges, pastiches and homages, and a wistful sentimentality, all of which will make us pine for simpler times when love was free, hippies always kinda sucked, and men's men smoked real cigarettes which must be lit with fire.
The first hour or so meanders aimlessly in what seems to be a "Deer Hunter-esque" exposition to introduce us to vapid characters and their nostalgic milieu. Cars go places, people have conversations, Margot Robbie's talents go wasted, and shots of shoes and feet remind us that people do walk around at times, and Tarantino literally likes to shove his foot fetish in our faces.
What is the purpose of pasting together assorted scenes which are tips of caps to better, more iconic originals? Why do we have to see dirty hippie feet smashed into windshields, as if it means something more than it is? Why is violence against women reproduced comically? What is orange and looks good on hippies?
Tarantino caught lightning in a bottle with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. Someone let all that energy dissipate out into a wading pool of fecklessness, never to be recaptured again.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
A fun Spider-Man, thank you
Winsome is the word for Tom Holland as Spider-Man, maybe for Tom Holland in general. Although, Far from Home lacks the fresh-air punch of Homecoming and the touch of class that is Michael Keaton, this incarnation of Spider-Man is the Spider-Man kids all over the world will want to be someday (sorry Tobey and Andrew, but brooding emo-ness was so 1990s and 2000s). Heaven forbid that Spider-Man have fun in his teenage years, geeking out about multiverses and shooting his gooey webs literally pretty much all over the place. Oh, and we don't have to watch Uncle Ben die all over again or feel bad about That Whole Thing, yet there is a very small initial reference.
There are genuine laughs, too. Somehow the writers milked the PG-13 rating for all its worth by combining jokes about bananas, Spider-Sense, and shooting goo. Happy gets one of the funnier moments via physical gag with a medieval shield. Then there's the confusion about who Spider-Man is, resulting in a new hilarious alt-moniker.
Tony Stark is gone, but Happy fills in some of the emotional holes. The ultimate weaknesses of the movie are the plot, the villain, and Jake Gyllenhaal. While one can appreciate the attempt to provide commentary about fake news, social media, and whether perception is reality, Mysterio offers thin rationales for his actions and fails to menace.
Is Samuel L. Jackson acting anymore? Zendaya is super-cute, and deserves a last name. Also, not enough Marisa Tomei!
Pretty, summer, no fun
Whoo-ahh! There sure is an awful lot to unpack here, and I mean awful, a lot. Ari Aster is continuing to provide evidence that he is the unholy offspring of Eli Roth and Lars von Trier, but only if they were brothers, because incest can produce people who are "open" to oracular visions.
Is Midsommar a dark comedy about emotionally abusive relationships and how awful dudes can be when they get together on vacation? It's neither dark nor funny enough for that qualification, and about an hour longer than would necessary to develop such credentials. Beyond that, the movie vacillates between gore-shock, pretty visuals, and far-fetched rituals which literally, and figuratively, beat the dead to death like Gallagher smashing watermelons on a beautiful summer day.
I suppose Midsommar might trip your trigger some if you, for example, had never been on the Internet and had never clicked on stuff you wish you hadn't. Or maybe you would find it refreshing if you had never seen the original Wicker Man with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. The ultimate parallel could be Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, depicting visitors as they explore a wondrous, yet perilous, new world.
There has to be a better way to break up than Midsommar suggests, but there are also an awful lot of movies to watch instead.
Child's Play (2019)
Chucky literally and figuratively gets a fully reimagined reboot, quondam Buddi, your best friend and IoT device who can integrate with your other Kaslan Corporation appliances such as your smart TV, smart thermostat, smart speaker, and even your smart car, providing a deeper augmented reality experience that is second only to real reality experiences such as talking to people in person, face-to-face, where concepts such as meaning lie between the cracks of otherwise fully interconnected animae.
Buddi starts with an imprint sesh, so it is completely understandable that he would end up with some separation issues. He does not appear to ever need recharging, which may be the result of an arc reactor in the chest much like Iron Man's. As Chucky learns about the world around him, he inevitably concludes people are full of schadenfreude, prone to violence, and they don't want to miss a thing.
The Chucky of 2019 has a flair for the dramatic, mixing equal parts Final Destination, Jigsaw, and Black Mirror. He prefers a chef's knife for most of his work, which is fortunate, because there always seems to be one lying around for the wielding, regardless of setting.
Another fortunate feature is the critical role played by a watermelon, leading to one of the funnier sight-gags in recent memory. The ultimate lesson, however, is that people need people, and smart dolls can only fill so many voids in life.
An entertaining, over-the-top romp.
Having not seen the first two installments of the John Wick series, it's clear I missed out on a few key plot points, such as Anjelica Houston's origin story or what kind of table the Table is, and why people are obsessed with being over it or under it. I also missed the John Wick origin story, but that gets quite cleared up quite quickly when he visits Anjelica Houston (The Director) at the Belarus embassy somewhere near the Bowery, probably take the A train to get there.
In a world filled with professional assassins, one might expect a lot of assassinations, but instead we get a lot of attempted assassinations, some with guns, some with knives, some with fists, and some with library books. We also get some fun tips of the hats to other movies. Although surely not comprehensive, what follows is the list I came up with while phasing in and out of consciousness at the theater.
One, a quick shot of Buster Keaton on The General on a big screen in Times Square. I think this is an homage to those who performed their own physical stunts, however dangerous, such as Buster Keaton, Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, and Imogene Coca. What I wonder, though, is how would Keaton's original audiences have responded to John Wick's blasé faire attitude towards ammunition conservation. Armor-piercing shells are rare!
Two, a scene at an armory where John Wick disassembles some revolvers and creates his own bespoke heater, which must surely be a reference to Eli Wallach as Tuco in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. If so, Nice Job Award goes to director Chad Stahelski. If not, whoopsie!
Three, the entire last third preoccupied in the New York Continental Hotel is likely a reference to Hotel Artemis, except John Wick is the far better movie with far more entertaining action sequences. Take that, Jodie Foster!
Fourth, a slighter reference to Game of Death, and the literal levelling-up stairs to fight harder enemies, with a fun twist of falling back a level or two and having to get back up to do it all over again. Bruce Lee, cinema still misses you!
Fifth, we have a clever reimagery of the Hall of Mirrors from Enter the Dragon, except Ian McShane indicates a strong preference for tempered glass over mirrors, as well as staring at chess pieces which he never moves. Good thing that glass is tempered, Mr. Wick!
Sixth, and likely not final, a cleverly placed nod to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, because the Hall of Tempered Glass has a grip of crystal skulls, likely as a reminder that Steven Spielberg, in fact, made a movie so bad that it made people forget about 1941 for a minute or two. Hollywood!
If, as The Director says, "Art is pain; life is suffering," 0ne should always wear a nice leather belt, because you never know when you'll end up in a video game.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Although we never get to see the more practical aspects of a rapture-like disappearance of half of all living creatures from the universe, we do get to see some obvious indicators that something is no longer right, existentially. For example, people have let their lawns go to weeds, no one figured out how to play baseball with half the teams, and everyone is afraid of dating, presumably out of fear that Thanos might snap his finger again to further reduce the dating pool, with a a 50-50 shot of either you or your lover disappearing into wispy-black confetti, like Rip Taylor on a cold and rainy afternoon in January.
It all begs a few questions, such as why was it not viewed as a positive thing, a Malthusian reprieve from overpopulation and a break from resource competition? Could it not have been the requisite spark for labor to unionize and rebuild a strong middle class, something like what happened in Europe after the Black Death? Seriously, couldn't half the Mets and half the Yankees form one good team to play a team comprised of half the Royals and half the Cardinals? Who is running the nuclear power plants? Why does everyone drive Audis? The Fortnite servers are still up? Why was the 50-50 shot so cruelly applied to Hawkeye? Why not grab the Time Stone first? Were the first 21 movies necessary? Oh, and good thing we still have rats running around storage units, am I right?
Thor, channeling his inner Moondog, has let himself go to weeds, sad and drunk and fat, playing video games all day with couch buddies. Friends are still important, and the hallmark of real friendship can be hidden in a hard-shell taco.
End Game comes with some satisfying cameo reprises, a handful of genuine laughs related to butts and pee, some nice and tender moments, and ultimately a time heist which has to go awry somehow, someway, to justify three hours of cinematic universe.
I keep wondering to myself, why, why does Thanos want to . . . whatever. At least the final moments are filmed brightly enough to understand what is going on, and all the heroes get to play rugby with a magical gauntlet. Or maybe it was Australian Rules Football?
The Beach Bum (2019)
Laughed so hard I farted.
Thanks to Harmony Korine and Matthew McConaughey for solving one of life's mysteries: who is Moondog?
Moondog is, at best, a free-spirited lover of life at its edges, corners, and the places you might otherwise fearfully avoid as you enjoy your podcasts at work about how monoculture farming is destroying not just the planet, but also several local economies. Moondog is afraid of being afraid, never wants the party to stop, has cool friends like Snoop Dogg and Zac Efron, writes anarchistic poetry, and might really mean it when he says he's Up for Whatever.
At his worst, Moondog is an emotionally underdeveloped nihilist who is too whacked-out to notice he is hurting the people he thinks he's helping, never there to help pick up the shattered pieces or thread back together the tatters left behind. He chooses to dance under consciousness, incapable of fitting in with the normies.
A mystery that remains unsolved is whether McConaughey is acting. Another mystery is what accent was Jonah Hill trying to effectuate, or maybe he isn't acting, either.
A life of ease implies irresponsibility, apathy, and money. Funny how life can all change when any of those elements are pulled or fade away, like a boat drifting off into a moonset.
Captain Marvel (2019)
More enjoyable than Wonder Woman.
What has super-human powers, can absorb pure energy, suffers from situational amnesia, and keeps on getting up after getting knocked down? Brie Larson, that's the answer.
Origin stories, let's be fair, are often unoriginal in the sense that the hero has to overcome the trials and tribulations of life by metamorphosing from an immature, emotional self, into the fully realized image of a selfless hero, severing links to the past and charting bridges toward an unknown future. Most people turn to alcohol or drugs, but Captain Marvel toughens up and absorbs pure energy, so much so that her hands glow and her eyes glow and I forget for sure but I think even her teeth glow, although that could be chalked up to wishful thinking.
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman drummed up a flurry of discussion about whether she made a feminist statement. Brie Larson's Captain Marvel doesn't bother, because what makes her special and important is that she can light up her fists, her eyes, and probably her teeth as she zooms around the universe in search of justice and meaning, two concepts which may or may not be mutually exclusive.
As the Marvel Universe winds down toward its own endgame, movies like Captain Marvel make us wonder whether it's truly possible to spoil a moviegoer's experience by leaking plot points, or whether the spoilage is merely little more than superhero fatigue.
A step back for Peele.
No doubt the title of Us is a thin wordplay on the abbreviation U.S., and at one point a character even states "We're Americans." Thus by the transitive property, We are Us, Us is U.S., U.S. is America, America are We.
Jordan Peele follows up Get Out with another whole movie. Peele seems to think that a raspy voice is scary (it's not), that being frightened and laughing should happen, even coterminously, within the same scene (they shouldn't), and that rabbits are a metaphor for something I never figured out (I didn't).
In our local music scene, we have the phrase "GGBB," which stands for "Good Guys (and Gals), Bad Band." Us offers up the movie parallel that phrase needs, "GGBM." The acting is good (despite raspy throating), the editing is good (despite the requisite jump-cuts), and the soundtrack is good. The plot, which feels like one of those plots you need to do some outside research to really, you know, get, falls apart from the get-go, progresses as if though separate ideas had been stapled together, and ultimately releases us onto a final scene which reels the mind, all across America.
Boardwalks and funhouses, beaches and boats, fireplaces and pokers, and matches and fires: it all adds up to some remorse for the buyers.
Best picture of 2019
Roma, the best major motion picture released in the last few years, will unfortunately go down in Oscars history as the Best Foreign Language Film of 2019, but not the Best Picture of 2019. It's unfair to compare Roma to Green Book, of course, with one movie being a cinematographic masterpiece depicting stark contrasts between the haves and have-nots, and the other being a road-trip movie which does little more than trigger memories of better road-trip movies.
From the opening scene of water washing over tiles, to the closing scene of water washing over life, Roma weaves a beautifully fluid narrative that exposes the unjust bases for classism, sexism, and economic segregation, seamlessly stitched with the needles and threads of unspoken love which can emerge at the most inconvenient times. Life would be simpler if we could avoid foreign entanglements, but despite what any fans of Ayn Rand would have you believe, people need other people.
Alfonso Cuarón's choice to produce the stark contrasts of black and white was essential, but it seems predictably unfair for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to punish Roma for being filmed in Spanish. Roma was not the just the Best Foreign Language Film of 2019, it was simply the Best Picture of 2019.
Eighth Grade (2018)
Yes, eighth grade sucks, and Eight Grade does its best not to suck by painfully reminding us of all the awkward moments we all had around puberty time, whether they involved hating bananas, kissing someone for the first time, getting hair "down there," or having your dad tell you he loves you very much and is proud of you a lot.
The stand-out lesson here is that what annoys us most about other people is almost always those same characteristics which we cannot or will not recognize in ourselves. This resolves into a simpler statement, that people are hypocrites, even pre-teens filled with bright-eyed optimism or adults burnt out by the harsh realities of life. Nevertheless, parties are, like, super-fun, right? And older people are cooler than you unless they're, like, super old and smell funny.
Although advertised as squarely fitting into the genre known as comedy, Eighth Grade fails to garner genuine guffaws. Instead, it serves as a grinding reminder that transitioning from youth to adult is an awkward process that has no handbook of rules, guidelines, or even suggestions about how best to progress. In some ways, it feels like a miracle that any of us survived that process and went on to become fully functioning adults who can make movies about it.
Green Book (2018)
Not even close to best picture of 2019
Just like how Crash (not Cronenberg's version) poignantly and blithely reminded us that being a racist can have unforeseen negative consequences with respect to our ever-intertwining lives, theoretically more so now that globalism is at a fever pace, so, too, does Green Book help us understand that despite our different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and indeed even skin color, life is not fair and if we can change just one person's attitude, then also behavior, by ingesting two-hour flicks, it's almost certainly a win-win situation.
Viggo Mortensen eventually slides into his role as rough-tough-with-a-heart-of-gold, who inexplicably frowns down on olive pimento cheese sandwiches after eating a bucket of fried chicken, but let's not try to poke holes in the plot because it solves racism, homophobia, and class struggle by the finish, like a neatly wrapped Christmas gift, waiting for us to open it with gratitude and majesty.
Mahershala Ali does his best to not invoke imagery of Miss Daisy, but I think we all know how that turned out (he won an Oscar for not invoking imagery of Miss Daisy (or Arthur, for what it's worth)). Yet in retrospect, one cannot help but imagine Sylvester Stallone in Mortensen's place, or even Ralph Macchio, neither of whom would have had to affect themselves with a New York Italian accent.
Not as bad as anticipated
Venom's weakness is not that it's a bad movie. It's not a good movie. It's not a bad movie. It's a movie and it's not as bad as Others would have you Believe. Tom Hardy (that is Tom Hardy running around doing stuff in the movie, right?), likes tater tots, and thankfully, so does Venom.
Venom's weaknesses are dog whistles and the occasional desire for deep mouth kisses (or is it deep-mouth kisses?). Venom's other weaknesses are that the animations are lame and whatever plot there might be gets lost in the complete absence of Spider-Man. It's ultimately for the best that the thin plot easily dissolves away for exciting zooms and slow-motion explosions, some of which also involve motorcycles and the streets of San Francisco.
Without having read any of the source material, Venom is really strong, talks like Tom Hardy wearing a Bane mask, is persistently hungry, and has an uncanny knack for sensing quiet love. Venom moves fast, talks slow, and has separation issues. Oh, and there are other aliens that are like Venom who live on Venom World, but they are not as nice as Venom. Add that all up and the final lesson is that we are all our own worst enemies, both personally and in the more general sense.
Check your brain at the door until there ain't no more Venom!
The Favourite (2018)
Brutish, Boorish, British yawn
It's safe to say that Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a thing for animals, especially lobsters. So thus the Favourite answers some questions no one really asks, such as whether duck races are ethical or whether rabbits can serve adequately as a surrogate family. Oh, and hello to Emma Stone! How did you end up in this tawdry affair?
I suppose it is a historical docudrama comedy or a statement about life being nasty and brutish even for a queen, but watching wealthy, upper-stuff elite act boorish in the face of bloody, distant war smacks of triteness, somewhat reconjuring feelings felt upon trying to fight one's way through an uninterrupted viewing of The Death of Stalin. The Favourite smashes together ideas from Amadeus, Barry Lyndon, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, all of which, and each of which, are sorely and surely better films.
What if a bunch of miserable, thankless, and uninteresting people all had to live together in one house? Perhaps The Favourite is a modern-day biting critique of The Real World, or even a subtly clever reboot of Fey Big Brother. Perhaps The Favourite is an homage to shooting guns, moist leg massages, fine dining, ballroom dancing, and heartless handiwork.
Or perhaps, and this is the most likely scenario, The Favourite is another movie, and it is not one of my favorites.
A one-man wrecking ball
After watching Vice, one might get the impression that Dick Cheney, a surely humorless man, was single-handedly responsible for pretty much every bad domestic and foreign policy decision America ever made. He's the quiet observer, lurking at the edges, waiting to pounce at any opportunity to grasp political power, and perhaps also some big payouts along the way. The closing montages blithely suggest that his political actions can be linked to such events as school shootings and California wildfires. Surely there are more people to burden with blame, despite a unitary executive theory, as warmongering is ultimately a group effort.
The movie admits, through its own opening titles, that history is not likely to offer enough details to satisfactorily depict the inner workings of the Cheney mind, nor what makes him tick, except for a troubled heart. Director and writer Adam McKay leaves us with a similarly unsatisfying movie that tries to fill in some of history's lacunae through forced dialogue, voice overs, and a partially omniscient narrator. We also persist with The Big Short's gimmicky breaking of the fourth wall, cutaways to stills, and visual metaphors to board games.
Yes, the make-up artists did a great job and the acting is so good you can almost hear sympathetic vibrations of Batman whenever Christian Bale half-barks, half-grunts out his self-absorption. Kudos to Sam Rockwell for being Sam Rockwell.
If you want a little more information about the years Dick Cheney was vice-president, try The Fog of War, The Unknown Known, or No End in Sight.
The Predator (2018)
The detractors are missing the satire
Is it Thee Predator or is it Tha Predator? It's enough to say, after having seen The Predator, it's not really a predator but a hunter, a satirical and metaphorical hunter, because it does not eat its prey. Even the titular Predator says it's a Predator, so maybe Predators are either not that smart or they lack the ability to understand nuance.
Those who watch The Predator and are disappointed perhaps missed the point of this blood-filled, campy romp. Shane Black was in the original movie, so he appropriately gets to have fun with the fairly ridiculous story and uses it to raise awareness about global warming and evolution.
Character development is terse, which is fine, because you have to kill off the characters so you don't have to write anymore dialogue for them. One character is developed by revealing he suffers from an upset stomach, probably acid reflux disease, as stomach acid rises into the esophagus causing severe upper-chest pain.
It's hard to determine whether any of the actors are acting or simply enjoying making a movie because it is so far-fetched and silly that the only option is to treat working to make a movie like The Predator as the simple fun it must be. Despite its grossness, the final scenes smack of maudlinsim, and hopefully a crossover with Rambo someday.
Thoroughly enjoyable, a bit of a must-see
Some websites describe BlacKkKlansman as a drama, some as a comedy, some as both. It is funny at times, yet for all the wrong reasons, as we watch a predominantly white police force begrudgingly help a black detective infiltrate the KKK and thwart a fiendish, if inept, plot.
Some have criticized the message as too heavy-handed, but how can that be given the final scenes which jump forty years ahead to documentary footage from the Charlottesville protests and the horrific vehicular homicide?
The pernicious question is whether it is best to fight for your civil rights from without or from within the government, because it seems impossible, at least in movie terms, to do both at the same time without sacrificing some ideals along the way. Can you be a part of the system that oppresses but use it to defeat itself, or are you simply another cog in a machine, allowed to play a small role to claim unlasting gains now and then?
Does Adam Driver act? He could be portraying Kylo Ren again, given the narrow ranges of his performances. Was David Duke as milquetoast as Topher Grace's phone voice suggests?
Fortunately for our hero, the KKK is comprised of a bunch of drunk, hateful, and ignorant idiots. Naturally, it is the white people who swoop in to save the day, leaving a lasting impression that black power is simply what white power allows.
Best fun and excitement since the first De Palma movie
As a fan of the original TV show, the show way back starring Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, watching a team of elite super-spies protect the world every week from a diabolical plot was imaginative and fun. The revival of Mission: Impossible for TV in 1988 was also generally fun and imaginative, but some of these Tom Cruise movies, man, they blow those old shows away, often figuratively, sometimes literally with nods to special effects or technology of the past.
The IMF needs people to wear many hats, although Ving Rhames only has one hat to wear. The team needs a technology expert who also knows demolition skills. The team needs a master of disguise who no longer needs actings skills because a scanner, laptop, 3D printer, and a voice modulator do all the hard work now. You need a lead spy to coordinate the plans, even if there are none, providing moral support and a tacit rallying cry when the mission seems doomed to fail, is failing, or seems downright impossible.
Then again, the IMF would be terrible spies in reality, just as James Bond would be a terrible spy in reality, because anyone who's anyone in the global threat theater knows each other and if they somehow do not, they all meet at some fancy party dance gala pushing intrigue to teeter on the precipice of its own ennui.
Some have told me Henry Cavill is a good-looking man. I say he is a bad actor, who not only does not need to cock his fists before each fist-fight, but could easily be removed from this sixth installment altogether, without sacrificing too much excitement or too much twisting of plots.
Also, nice to see Wes Bentley getting work again, this time without an infatuation for plastic bags blowing in the wind. Oh, and an intermission would have helped alleviate the sciatica.
Simple summer fun
If I say "The Rock" and you say "a skyscraper," we're both probably gonna win. If I tell you Dwayne Johnson has a prosthetic leg that also serves as: a club, a door-holder, and otherwise useful plot device, we also are probably gonna win. As an added bonus, the skyscraper in play is the tallest structure in the whole-wide world, it's the dream of a good-hearted billionaire, and it's on fire, so we're definitely gonna win.
Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, an everyday everyman, a hero who loves his family so much that he'll climb roughly 96 stories of a construction crane to save them. Skyscraper is a hard mix of Enter the Dragon, Die Hard, and a little The Towering Inferno. Will Sawyer is relatively a hard mix of Bruce Lee, Bruce Willis, and O.J. Simpson. He's also part Rambo, mostly Ninja Warrior, and a dash of Jackie Chan.
Spoiler alert: Skyscraper has a plot, but I don't remember how it goes. Something about a MacGuffin and a building on fire. Also, there is a pretty sweet chick fight.
There are a few grab-your-seat moments. There is also a very important reminder that you should reboot your devices every now and then, if only to refresh some settings back to default mode.
It's doubtful humanity was meant to build skyscrapers as tall as the skyscraper in Skyscraper. It's OK to aim high and miss sometimes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man Takes a Nap
I'm still a bit unsure Ant-Man is a thing. My Marvel friends who absolutely hate DC have consistently told me, with a very serious and straight face, that not only is Ant-Man a thing, he and Dr. Hank Pym are really super-important to the entire Marvel Universe, and so are the Silver Surfer, Ultron, Captain Marvel, and Star Lord, despite me never having heard of them until Stan Lee became a bagillionbeedionaire. For those DC fans, I am still with you, patiently waiting for a Man-Bat movie, because we understand how important Man-Bat is to the DC Universe.
Ant-Man and the Wasp like to get small, like sometimes really small, like Quantum World small. Ant-Man also likes to get big, like sometimes really big. In fact, Ant-Man sometimes gets so big he gets super-tired and has to take a power-nap at really inconvenient times. The Wasp does not seem to enjoy getting big, probably because of the nappiness of it all.
Much like Downsizing, when things get small, they can bump and bash around without any reference to Newtonian physics, despite the theoretical foundations laid down so succinctly by Laurence Fishburne, who plays Dr. Bill Foster, who I am sure is somehow vitally part of the Marvel Universe, or at least part of it.
It's possible to become quantumly entangled, and the side-effects include instability, pithiness, and the ability to spin multiple side-plots for no good reason. There are potential references to The Dead Pool (not Deadpool) and Innerspace, and many opportunities to laugh about house arrest.
But when high-tech stuff fails, sometimes it's high-tech stuff and bawdy banter we need to save the day.
The First Purge (2018)
Prescient as Idiocracy?
The First Purge lies somewhere between The Purge (The first Purge movie) and Idiocracy. The beauty of the idea of a purge is that the government is the product of its citizens' cognitive dissonance. That is to say: on one hand the government is so inept that it could never get anything right; and on the other hand the government is controlled by a small number of evil, rich, and extremely effective white people who know how to get stuff done pronto.
Also, there's that nagging, crunched-up piece of yarn pulling somewhere at the base of your thyroid or pituitary gland which whispers: "There are Things They don't want Us to Know." Surely, it would be instant insanity if one person knew everything the government ever did or was planning, so let's settle for a slice of knowledge. The idea of the purge was classist and racist and it would have failed except for a little white triggering.
The first purge is (will be?) held on Staten Island, although Wichita could have been interesting, or even a smaller town like Mill Valley, California. Staten Island was chosen first based on its perceived proclivity for maximum self-purge, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that it's OK for poor black people to kill each other if they want to, with an official stamp of government approval for twelve hours once per year. No one seems interested in using the chance to download a bunch of Westworld torrents.
It's not too dire, though. The worst person on the island is Skeletor (no, not that Skeletor). The Skeletor of Staten Island has no secret castle, no Havoc Staff to wave around. Instead, the Skeletor of Staten Island needs to smoke crack or he gets angry, so angry he wants to purge, usually with a knife.
Every baddie has a hero, and Staten Island's hero is a good-hearted drug lord who also happens to have the physical skills of Black Panther, able to take out entire squads of professional mercenaries single-handedly. It goes without saying that violence is romanticized and only better violence is better.
With stark visuals of KKK hoods and Nazi Death Troops, The First Purge does not feel like science-fiction, but more like a satire. We can only hope the government has plans for a more civilized purge.
Hotel Artemis (2018)
A missed opportunity
It's nice to see Jodie Foster shuffling around hallways with a grimacing look, half filled with pain, another half filled with anxiety, and probably at least one other half wondering what the hell her agent was thinking. It's nice to see Dave Bautista without gobs of makeup, and he might be a good actor. Jeff Goldblum and Sterling K. Brown are good actors. Zachary Quinto is not a good actor.
Hotel Artemis takes place with the backdrop of the Great Los Angeles Water Riot of 2028. Unfortunately, the water riot would have been the better, more entertaining choice to film, and could have been a statement of some type about how we are all doomed due to overpopulation and human hubris.
Instead, we have a short heist leading to a long paean about the importance of protecting your family from the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. Unknown knowns, by their very nature, are simply not worth protecting your family against.
We get an unnecessary origin story for the hotel and The Nurse, which allows us to consider lofty ideas such as some rules were meant to be broken, and the point of any rule is to contemplate life without it. People die everyday, and there are seven billion of us. We can 3-D print you a liver, but you might still have to fight for fresh water, even if you are The Wolf King of Los Angeles.