Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Running on Empty

In 1971 Arthur and Annie Pope were just a couple of anti-war radicals among many, but one mistake and seventeen years later they're still on the run from the FBI, uprooting almost every six months as the Feds continually close in. But worse -- now they have children in tow; Harry, who's ten, and Danny who's seventeen, an ace on the piano, and itching to fly the ever-relocating coop to go to school at Juilliard.

Directed by Sidney Lumet. Crank up the Jackson Browne! (They don't actually. Too on the nose? Too similar to Stand By Me? Oh well.)

This is the first movie I've watched just because River Phoenix is in it. I grew up on Indiana Jones of course, and spent plenty of time crushing on young Indy as he fights off bad guys, lions, and snakes on that circus train. And I saw Stand By Me because I expected the movie itself to be great (it is) and got broadsided by that kid's performance. But diving into his less-mainstream filmography, I was expecting movies that have circumstantial importance, that are admirable, well-made, and performed with that Special Something -- but fail to find a personal touch with me specifically. What I ended up with was another favorite coming-of-age movie, and now I wonder how I managed to expect any less.

I was expecting Rebel Without a Cause (not to knock that one of course, I liked it a lot, but you understand) but I was more reminded of this year's Lean on Pete (still my top film of the year) and Billy Elliot. In fact, it seemed very much an all-American version of Billy Elliot, with the background of 70's hippie politics and the auditions and side-focus on music. It could have been sidetracked by the politics, but the family and their relationships were more important. It also wasn't fancy filmmaking, but felt grounded in its time and by the intimate focus on the central family, who are close-knit despite their unusual and often hard situation.

Families that evade the FBI together stay together? They have secret signals and code words and everything!

While Phoenix's Danny is the main protagonist, his parents both have clear cut arcs that feel secondary only by a hair. The scene between Annie and her father is probably the most important of the whole film. It brings the theme together. It becomes an emotional center. And it's a huge turning point of the plot. My favorite scene though, hands down was the birthday dinner. The common chatter, the gift-giving, the dancing and singing to James Taylor's Fire and Rain. Coming-of-agers always have the best dinner scenes, don't they?

And Phoenix does That Thing where the character is always hiding, and it draws you in. Camera placement has a lot to do with it. Long takes are used too, and the camera is most often set unobtrusively behind, to the side, or far away from the actors, allowing the scenes play out like watching real life. In one dinner scene Danny's head is framed directly behind his dad's. But River also hides behind his floppy hair, and wanders around the frame spontaneously. It makes you look for the character, and as I understand it, physically looking for a character helps engage with the emotional journey study too.

He also plays the piano. Like, for real.

He has some explosive moments of emotional acting here too, and I love how fleeting they are. They flash and blind you instead of lingering beyond their welcome. But mostly, he's just achingly melancholy. It's something that only really works in intimate dramas like this, and can't be faked. You have it, or you don't -- and River Phoenix had it like crazy. I also loved Christine Lahti. Effortlessly believable as a mother, and a daughter (you could see her past in her interaction with her dad) and she would worry in such a stable way, and completely brought to life the parental sacrifice part of the story, emphasized so wonderfully by the poetically ironic way it was written.

Judd Hirsch takes third place -- sometimes warm, sometimes closed and distant. He turns on a dime sometimes, but the character gets a lower level of attention to start. What I loved most that involved him was how at the end of the movie, Danny makes the selfless choice to not abandon his family, allowing Arthur to make the selfless choice to let him go. They both get to be the hero and do the admirable thing, instead of Danny rebelling and his father coming around to accepting it. Martha Plimpton is the love interest, and though I was pleased to see and recognize her from The Goonies, I liked her more than I expected to. Her and River's interaction was extra engaging.

Normally it's the height of laziness to play the same song twice in a movie, but the second time Fire and Rain plays, it takes on a different meaning.

When I think about why I like this movie so particularly well, all that comes to mind is scenes, and moments in the scenes. Memorable details, scattered around involving scenes, that are liberally peppered throughout an engaging story, that holds meaningful themes close to its heart; and it all adds up to something simple but very specific, and full of understated beauty. It wasn't made for me, but I found it, and now I get to treasure it all the same.

I have a soft spot for coming-of-age tales in which the drama is about and around family, and I doubt it will wane anytime soon. Running on Empty is yet another in a long line, that breaks your heart just so you can feel it overflowing, and the effect is as warm, as bittersweet, and as potent as ever.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Predator


When a Predator crashes to earth, military sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) accidentally meets him. Oops. But survives. Also oops. The government finds him, and on his way to be permanently silenced, accidentally becomes leader of a rag-tag group of other damaged soldiers, including Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, and Thomas Jane. No oops. Scientist Casey (Olivia Munn) joins them too, to balance out the testosterone.

Meanwhile McKenna's son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), super smart and on the spectrum, wears the Predator's mask and gauntlet out on Halloween. The Predator wants it back. And leader of the government alien research, Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) wants it too. Let the action begin.

I'd like to admit that I had a blast with this, but I did go with low expectations. But also a small bias. 

The film is pretty basic, but don't confuse basic for dumb. It's basic in that it has a straightforward, one-note goal of being entertaining every second of its run time. To achieve that, it has a lot going on under the surface. The plot is pretty complicated for the amount of time in which we are presented it. The beginning almost feels like jumping into the middle of a story, as we aren't introduced to the characters until after the plot is set on its course. Exposition is saved for later, once the ball is rolling. That way, taking a little time to explain and establish the characters doesn't stall the pace.

It's like, wham, there's a character. You know he's the lead because he's the first person shown, not because the script, or the shot, or the music tells you. Or, you know she's a main character because important, shady-looking people come and ask for her immediate help. Then wham, you're at a scene. Plot things happen. Wham, next scene. Et cetera. Any normal action film would've taken 30 mins to accomplish what this one did in 20 -- just by knowing what's fat and how to effectively trim it. It's a little jarring, but not in a way that's at all inappropriate to the genre.

Pictured: Director Shane Black eliminating the unnecessary.  

You could almost say the movie never gets started, but the truth is, by the time we join, it's already going full speed. We get to use common sense to play catch up, while being fed new information, and paying attention to the constant banter, all at the same time. It's easy enough, but for a "mindless movie" it's impressively engaging. Oh, and that banter. On paper, nothing but dumb and cheesy to actual cringe, but with a perfect storm of the actors' delivery, ultra-brisk editing, and a care-free, self-aware attitude, it became not only pleasant instead of painful, but downright hilarious at times. And there's no wallowing in jokes until they stink; they're still crisp and fresh as we move on to the next.

This pacing works wonders for the plot and action side, never giving us a chance to get bored, but it's also one of the film's biggest weaknesses, as it never allows a slow moment to linger for long enough. There are slow moments, for the use of character developing, but never as much as I wanted. The lingering is only for as long as there's new character information to show. As someone who doesn't mind sacrificing action for character, I wouldn't have minded a few more exchanges between McKenna and his son -- and his ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) too. I wish she had been Casey's character, actually. Casey didn't turn out to be much more than the Token Female Character.

I also thought it was funny how Casey would be cool one second and then oddly incompetent the next. 

The other ex-soldiers are basically red-shirts with unique and fun personalities, though the three I mentioned at the top do grow further than that. They're well-defined, a large bunch, yet easy to keep straight, and when character is touched on it works well, and more was wanting. Sterling K. Brown's villain was all he needed to be: super cool. But naturally, McKenna was my favorite. I heard of this movie's existence fresh off of Logan introducing me to Boyd Holbrook, and a year or so of anticipation later, I wasn't let down. He borders on straightforward action hero, but takes on what meat of the story there is like a pro; puts oomph into the drama, and fun into the bantering action sequences.

I even managed to pick out some themes, which I didn't expect at all halfway through this gleefully bloody fight-and-jabber fest. One, put as close to the front burner as the action would allow, is about how people we might see as damaged in one way or another are simply valuable in unique ways. And the other nearly counters it in the narrative, but instead they work together. That heroes don't have to be the one labeled as important. The Predator judges things by black and white. The facts removed from circumstance. But there's no accounting for the human spirit, and the drive of determination that love can bring. I'm not sure how intentional that one was, but it occurred to me, so I'm taking it.

The Predator franchise has been very kind to me. I'm also a big fan of Adrien Brody.

There's also a lot of bizarre details scattered around that I appreciated for the way they twisted convention. At one point, someone smashes a chair on another person -- but the chair doesn't break. The chair always breaks, but not here. Also, the scene involving the ship and the force field. Since when has the logistics of that kind of tech ever been explored? But it was, and then utilized for awesome results. That scene is a perfect sample of the whole movie. You know what needs to happen, but don't have a clue how; then the How is creative, yet doesn't require pace-slowing explanation, and plays out thrillingly.

Like I said, the pacing is the biggest flaw. It felt like stepping over hot, poolside pavement without shoes on. You want to slow down to smell the metaphorical roses but can't; and running is against the rules, so you keep stepping this relentless brisk but even pace. There were places they could've slowed; to build tension, act structure, and character. But that's the sort of thing that I won't mind come a second view, and hardly mind now. In fact, I daresay the pacing was intentional, and the result was worth the sacrifice. Also there's some odd editing going on, that when paired with the hot-pavement pace, confuses the action a few times and makes it hard to tell where people are.

The practical effects look awesome. The CGI is noticeable but overall perfectly fine.

I know this movie isn't great. Certainly not in a conventional way. But it tried some things differently, and I say the experiments worked out. It feels random at times, but you can tell it wasn't tossed together haphazardly. There's real effort and intention behind it -- it merely comes through in different ways. And a lack of exceptionalism isn't a huge blow, given the genre. It's an alien-monster action flick, so an astounding cinematic experience wasn't the goal. The goal was to be fun and entertaining in a fresh, unique way, and in that it totally succeeded.

And so, in the future, when I want to experience this particular brand of unusually amusing and crazy scifi monster action, I'll know exactly which movie to hunt down.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

When a movie of the rom-com persuasion is crafted with genuine care. See, this isn't a great movie that just so happens to be a romance and a comedy -- like, say, About Time is -- it's a full-blown, classic-recipe, rom-com; complete with a finding-the-perfect-dress montage. It follows the template to a T and leaves nary a trope unused. Thus proving, once and for all, that rom-coms can be traditionally romantic, funny, and cute, and seriously good movies at the same time.

Are we entering another golden age of rom-coms? 2018 is rich with them so far!

American-born to a single Chinese mom, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) worked hard all her life to get where she is now -- a successful economics professor with a loving boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). Life is good. But when Nick invites her to go with him to Singapore where he's agreed to be best man for his friend's wedding, she has no idea how much the trip will challenge her. Because she has no idea that Nick's family is super-duper, stinking, crazy, rich. Turns out he's is a bigger catch than she thought he was, and his family and friends might not be as okay with her as she hoped.

As I said, this is a traditional rom-com in every way. Rachel never really makes a mistake throughout the story, but has her beliefs and confidence in herself challenged as she gets the Cinderella treatment. But whether people are kind or cruel, there's always genuine motivation behind their actions and the movie takes good time to set everything up. I felt like we were introduced to all the secondary characters twice, but it was worth it as it's a giant cast. Since we get to know them all before the main plot gets going, it's easy to keep up later.

Explaining things visually helped me too, with flashbacks and that texting sequence!

But yes -- Cinderella treatment. Rachel's friend from college (Awkwafina) acts as her fairy godmother, lending her gorgeous dresses and informing her tidbits about the Young family. Then she attends lavish extravagant parties and events and acts like a champ as other people act passive-aggressively (and worse) towards her. Most importantly, "Auntie Eleanor" (Michelle Yeoh) Nick's mother. She makes it clear that she doesn't approve and therefore there's no chance of Rachel being with Nick for much longer. But Eleanor isn't mean for meanness' sake. She's the film's most fascinating character, and as she's slowly revealed the fascination doesn't lessen.

Michelle Yeoh also turns in the film's best performance. She simmered beautifully with detailed, refined, and subtle emotion. Comic-relief characters hit some awkward delivery one or two times, but otherwise the whole cast is magnificently on-point in a way that speaks of the great dedication to this project. There's so many characters and they all feel important because of how well-defined and confidently performed they are. Constance Wu makes an excellent lead who's easy to cheer for and sympathize with, and Henry Golding is a classic Prince Charming, who borders on being a blank slate but gets a few great moments and comes through in the end.

It focuses more on romance than comedy, but it had me laughing several times.

What really sets this movie apart is the culture. It's like Great Gatsby-land was in Singapore this whole time and no one knew. And it allows for the themes to come through clearly without being preachy or narrow-minded. All the characters have their intricacies, and no one comes out as full-blooded evil or as Mary Sues. There's complexities, and characters to explore -- but in the background, the craziest, most lavish parties you've ever seen and brilliant, rich landscapes and locations. It's wild and electric, and boy, that wedding scene was stunning. All good rom-coms need some wish-fulfillment too, remember.

And maybe it has its unrealistic parts, but the movie makes it feel real and grounded all the same. The real-life drama that happens inside those amazing parties. Drama that isn't fabricated out of nothing either, but is organically involving, drawing you in to the character's plights. It all comes down to dedication. This movie could've easily fallen into any number of holes. Eternal soulless partying. Sappy, unrealistic romance. Paper-thin straw-men characters. It's based on a book and that was a good starting point, but even then, when a movie is assembled in a familiar way it's easy for the repetition and unmotivated tradition to replace the desired heart and soul of a story.

A real charmer, all around. 

Here -- like Rachel playing a mental game of chicken with her boyfriend's mother -- a story that has meaning, a purpose, and a soul is playing chicken with the rom-com rules. Rules that have grown cold in their long years. It's Heart vs. Tradition. But in the end, instead of one defeating the other, the best of both worlds survives, gets married, and lives happily ever after inside this sweet and lavish movie.

Crazy Rich Asians may have endless supplies of wealth, but it still works hard to earn that happy ending.

Monday, September 10, 2018



Upgrade is the visceral, single-vision action film that 2018 desperately needed, but probably doesn't deserve.

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, an Australian actor, writer of Saw and Insidious movies, and relative newbie director as this is only his second film. You'd never guess it watching this stylistic and taught scifi actioner. The basic idea is that a quadriplegic is given mobility again via a billionaire inventor's chip implant -- an AI that can control the body -- and uses it for a little revenge hunt, falling into a deeper mystery along the way.

Mystery that requires a wonderful amount of violence to solve!

The plot is so trimmed and concise that despite it being a mystery action thriller set in a slick and extensively-imagined distant future, it clocks in at just an hour and forty minutes, not feeling rushed for one second. The plot is no Chris Nolan thinker or Marvel menagerie, but it keeps you on your toes the whole way through and delivers twists and turns with ease and confidence. And as I said, it is clearly the vision of a single person -- a single person with a very clear vision. It doesn't falter, it doesn't stumble; if it has faults it doesn't care.

After an action year that's so far been almost nothing but big studio pictures made by committee (even if they're made well by committee) I can't tell you how refreshing it is to get a clean, unaffected story told in a single voice. It had the same effect on me as if I had been listening to 5 different songs at the same time for the past few months, and then they all stopped for a moment to allow this to shine through. You can feel the silence in the background. And that single, confident voice cuts through, crystal clear and refreshing as cold water.

On paper it may seem familiar. But with the way its presented it's nothing if not unique.

And then it cuts some guy's face open cause this makes big use of it's R rating, violence-wise. It doesn't go over-the-top relentlessly, but when it gets violent, it gets violent. I think the movie even boasts itself as being ultra-violent. But the great thing is, it doesn't overwhelm, so the moments that do go for it have a maximum impact. There's lots of hand-to hand style combat filmed in a super cool way, and the choreography is top notch. It has a calm but swift, robotic style to it -- which make sense since it's the robotic chip who's fighting. And it's filmed with the same style in mind.

The main guy, Grey, is played by Logan Marshall-Green, who's mainly recognizable for supporting work in flicks like Spider-Man: Homecoming (He's the Shocker -- look at me, I'm the Shocker! What is this, pro wrestling?) and I went into this expecting no less than for him to fade nicely into the fight sequences, a mere vehicle for carnage (like his character) but the guy has skills -- the least of which is a great talent for robotic-type jerky start-and-stop movement. A detail that I adored. His character has actual character, and he handles the drama flawlessly. It's not dwelt on, it's action that's the main focus, but he genuinely gets you to care, with simplistic and confident beats.

There's a joke that he's the "discount Tom Hardy" but he didn't for a second remind me of him.

The camera-work was one of my favorite details. The camera often tracks Grey during fight scenes to keep him in the center of the frame -- twisting and bending to unconventional angles as he does. The result of emphasized movement is unusual and intentional, used to enhance the thrills through motion, and achieving something I've never seen before to this degree and with this kind of electric style. Visually, the whole movie is brilliant, with precise framing, plus coloring and lighting that's basically non-stop silhouette against neon. My absolute jam.

Still my highest compliments must go to the dogged vision of this film. I loved the direction that it went; the stylistic and narrative risks it took. Despite a mess-free simplicity that boarders on basic, the narrative takes some turns that I could never see a big-time executive approving in my wildest dreams. It's just too unsafe. Unconventional. And it's the exact reason why this film works so fully, and feels complete and finished when the credits start to roll.

I mentioned the world-building right? I expected great action but not this fantastic scifi world!

A story told in sensory high-definition. There are elements that probably could have been polished up in a pinch -- but as a whole it feels so polished and unblemished, you can practically see the glistening sheen. Or maybe that's just a puddle of blood on the tile floor. Either way, it's slick, hot, and dangerous -- and possesses the unmistakable taste of hardcore metal.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser

...but her movie wins big time.

A Netflix high school romantic dramedy, this flick sees Shannon Purser as Sierra, an unpopular girl who unexpectedly receives some very interested texts from a hot guy she's never met before. Turns out a mean, super attractive cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gave him Sierra's number as a way to both brush him off, and mess with the girl who irks her. But Sierra, pretending to be Veronica though texting, begins to really like this Jamey (Noah Centineo), and when Veronica's college boyfriend dumps her for not being smart enough, Sierra sees an opportunity for mutual benefit.

Our Beloved Barb Holland!

Next thing you know, Veronica is the fake face of Sierra's budding relationship with Jamey (the kids call it "catfishing"), while Sierra tutors her into sounding like a deeper person. You can probably see where it's all going and imagine the unlikely situations that must be navigated. But this movie has a little bit more going for it than a classic Disney Channel-style rom-com plot made with a Netflix budget, and that is a theme that had genuine thought put into it, and defying convention when it comes to easily stereotyped characters.

Sometimes I watch movies that are similar to this and think "If only they'd done this, it would be a genuinely good message." Someone must've been on my wavelength because this movie does exactly what I wanted. At first Veronica is like we've seen a million gorgeous cheerleaders portrayed. Ostensibly, her bullying comes out of nowhere and she's a drama-crating device. But as Sierra gets to know her we understand why she might be inclined to mean to someone she deems lesser and ugly (it's still detestable, but there's tangible motivation), and she becomes as important part of the story -- a true character we want to see get better along with Sierra.

A heavy-handed trope turned on its head.

Note that I said "along with" Sierra. We know she'll face her trials here because she's not conventional and gorgeous, but she starts out with apparent good self-esteem over her appearance. Good thing. But the movie digs in and finds her weaknesses, and as she faces them she comes away a better person. But, she gets worse before she gets better, even going so far as to engage in terrible bullying herself. Elsewhere it might be called anti-bullying, but it's the same, and this movie acknowledges that. I love this. It says that bullying bullies is never the answer, and no matter how impenetrable someone's defenses appear, you never know the damage you may do.

It says that we shouldn't judge by appearances, but it applies that message to all -- not just the outcasts, but to those who have a flawless public face and might be struggling underneath, too. Just because you're pretty doesn't mean you can't hurt. Just because you put on a confident face doesn't mean you don't feel vulnerable. It's all the same, and most teen rom-coms don't seem to notice that. In this day and age, we know that the outcast may have a winning personality and a heart of gold, but we can't seem to accept both them, and the ones who puts effort into appearance at the same time. But we either judge by surface appearances, or we don't.

A person's value isn't based on their outward appearance, one way or the other.

It's those things that for me, raised this flick above the bar, but otherwise it has its balance of pros and cons. For one, the cast is super charming, but not exceptional. Shannon Purser is -- and don't murder me now -- a fine actress and manages to lead this movie well, but I find her delivery oddly wooden at times. Other times, she's genuinely impressive. I also find it amusing that she, the girl who's been America's sweetheart since her debut in Stranger Things could possibly be perceived as the full-on loner outcast this movie wants her to be -- no matter how unconventionally-sized she is. She's so lovable. Who couldn't adore that genuine and lovely smile?

I dub this movie "The Movie of Charming Actors With Fantastic Smiles" actually, because Kristine Froseth's smile is gorgeous too. Though the whole girl is drop-dead honestly. I loved her character, because of the depth she was allowed to get to, and how most of the movie was secretly about her unexpected friendship with Sierra. She sold it all. And Noah Centineo has one of the most infectious smiles I've ever seen. Ever. If you've seen To All the Boys I've Loved Before you know what I mean. (Another Netflix rom-com I'd recommend!) His character takes a bit of a backseat in comparison with Boys, (it has to, as the deception can only go so far before it has to fall apart) but he's a worthy and charming inclusion.

Sierra's best friend Dan (RJ Cyler, aka Earl of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) is decidedly most underused.

Sierra's parents are Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck, and I especially liked seeing Alan Ruck because of his popular character Cameron Frye who also learns self-confidence. His character here is an off-the-wall famous author who quotes other authors all the time and I just really enjoyed him. There's really a lot of uniqueness to delve into and appreciate, but a word of warning -- I wouldn't call it a comedy. It's marketed as such because of the situational plot but it's really more of a lighthearted drama. Most of the things I laughed or smiled at was character-interaction based, not actual jokes. Just to gauge expectations.

The ending is what drops the ball the most but I say they still carried it across the line. I love that the heroine makes a genuine bad mistake that's fully on her, but there's still that pitfall of misunderstanding thrown in there. And I wish they'd taken longer to wrap things up, as amends for bad things done comes too easily, even for a light little flick. Emphasis on the hurt she caused was left wanting. The situational elements go over-the-top, but that's to be expected, and some of the scenarios work impressively well, like the Skype-call date scene. And it's a little detail but I love whenever a movie slips in some sign language usage and a deaf character and this one made great use of it.

Noah and Shannon had good chemistry on the phone but I wish they'd had more real screen time together.

If anything, this flick stretches itself too far, as I would've loved to see each plot line developed further, but there's no time. One more odd thing: in spite of all the texting included, it's never superimposed on the screen; a useful technique, not utilized. This isn't a grand cinema-type movie, but really, rom-com-drams do not need to be. Netflix is the perfect outlet for flicks of this type -- they can be unique and dig in to say something meaningful without having to be Extra artistic, while easily reaching a wide audience eager to be entertained.

If that appeals to you, stick this one on your queue. Or, better yet, sit down and play it without putting it off. Sierra Burgess might be a "loser" but we all know she's really not. And you won't be either.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Meg

Some spoilers.

One of the most enjoyable, and definitely one of the most confident shallow copies of Jaws out there, The Meg makes sure to circumvent expectation in search of unexpected, uncharted waters, but winds up intentionally swimming around a few things that would've been useful along the way.

The Meg is the definition of the adage, "bigger isn't always better." In this essay I will...

This CGI fest of a monster movie does its best in the beginning to do "the Spielberg" and refrain from showing the shark. We don't get our first glimpse until the very end of the first act. And I suppose this movie is evidence that even though Steven himself did "the Spielberg" accidentally due to his malfunctioning Bruce, that's not the only variable that makes for masterful suspense in a film.

Both movies start with the titular shark causing a death that the lead knows about. Where The Meg loses footing is it then cuts over to its other characters who are unaware of potential danger. We know they're in danger, but they don't -- and I guess that's important to transferring suspense to the audience. There's even a plot point where the lead (Jonas, Jason Statham) has tried to tell others that there's "something" out there, but he's written off as crazy. Compare that with Chief Brody, unsure and worried, trying to keep his town safe while not stepping on toes. One is clearly more effective at producing a tone of dread.

Good cast. Very large. Lots of red-shirts. 

Still The Meg deserves props for giving character any attention in the first place. Jonas has his issues to work through, though they're mostly perceived issues in the eyes of his peers not true faults. Still he gets to prove himself. And I genuinely wanted things to happen between him and the secondary lead Suyin (Bingbing Li) who has a cute and feisty daughter for some instant and effortless additions of charm, humor and stakes. But the best of the lot was Rainn Wilson's nerdy billionaire who funds the ill-fated deep-sea research center. The town mayor, if you will, and Wilson gave an unnecessarily good and nuanced performance.

As things roll along a parallel to Jaws' final chase pops up in the middle, with a tagging, shark-diving, attempting-to-poison sequence, that ends in the killing of a shark, but the wrong shark. As in Jaws, relief is temporary, but I'm wondering why that was included at all, as it divides the movie's attention between two indistinguishable monster-villains. The second one is bigger, sure, but they're both Megalodons, so.... they're both massive. The difference between a massive 50-foot shark and a massive 70-foot shark isn't very much when everything's underwater, hard to see, and made out of computer pixels. As a result, things never get personal without one clear thing to fear.

More like The Megs, plural. Misleading title.

With a desire to be more of a clear-cut action blockbuster type flick, this movie forgoes the horror killings of The Boy Who Wants To Go Swimming, and The Dog, but for some reason the characters still have parallels. The Meg does pick off a number of supporting characters, but it feels arbitrary in its choosing. The boisterous action is where the movie shines. With memorable sequences involving the shark-cage, the beach (where Meg drags floating docks around in lieu of yellow buoys) and the end sequence that goes over-the-top in a fun way. Oh and Jonas swimming with the shark in order to tag it was both amusing and probably the tensest scene the movie had.

Those moments were exactly the type of fun ridiculousness you'd expect from a Jason Statham movie about an overgrown shark. But those moments are surprisingly few and far between, and what takes its place isn't worth the trade-off. Character plots that take too much time to not go anywhere meaningful, and attempts at tension-building that falls flat five times to every one time it works. The best I can say for it is that the dumb fun works when it's there, for those who go in for Fast and Furious type antics underwater. I do. And the Jaws references are impressively earned, though it sidesteps copying anything Jaws did that would have lent much needed gravity.

If facing down an aggressive 70-foot shark doesn't cut it, you have some problems with your movie.

Does a Jason Statham underwater Fast and Furious installment featuring prehistoric sharks really need gravity? Well, I personally don't think so. But the movie spends way too much time attempting it regardless, with results equal to if they'd thrown a few tidbits in here and there between action beats. If they honestly wanted character there's easier and more effective ways to get it done. All they end up with is a laboriously rendered semblance, and semblances are easy to recognize but not exactly involving, and involment is the point of putting character development in your story in the first place.

The movie knows what it is: A massive blockbuster flick about a massive shark that might've delivered mass thrills, but instead whittles them down, trading in longevity for mass appeal and mass safety. It's only disappointing because they knew exactly what they were doing and still did it anyway.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - September

Well, I didn't get out to see any of my August picks. I thought I might not, but I'm still looking forward to most of them, so I'll just have to catch them later. I mostly stayed home and played catch-up on some earlier 2018 releases: The Endless, The Hurricane Heist, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Rampage.

I did go to the theater though -- Dad and I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey for it's 50th anniversary. It was a cool experience, definitely more powerful and effective on a big screen with cranked up sound! It's a fascinating film, and I seem to enjoy it more with each rewatch.

Hopefully I'll get to the theater this month -- there's at least one that I'm hoping to get out for! Not a huge spread this month, as summer wraps up, but definitely still some interesting ones! What looks good to you?

Cold Skin
Sept 7th; NR
I know, I know. I know what this looks like, and I know there's no way it's a really good movie -- but I want to see it anyway. It's the kind of lower-rate fantasy action horror that I enjoy. At the very least it has a memorable premise and setting. Ray Stevenson in in it, and the main actor, David Oakes I've seen around the block on Masterpiece productions.

The Predator
Sept 14th; R
My boy Boyd Holbrook leading a Predator movie? After Logan I'd watch him in anything, but with how much I enjoyed Adrien Brody's take on a Predator hero, I get the impression that this is going to be a real treat. Maybe I should try and watch the original first though. I never got around to that one. Also I'm not sure this one looks as good as Predators, but even if it isn't, it would take a lot to keep me from enjoying it! Jacob Tremblay, Tom Jane, and apparently Yvonne Strahovski are also in it. So, that's extra cool. If I had to pick only one movie to see this month, at the moment this would be it! (Red band trailer.)


Patient Zero
Sept 14th; R
Alright, now that's what I'm talking about! This is what I was hoping for whenever Matt Smith left Doctor Who -- that he'd get to star in original movies that were fun but expanded from Who. (I was super disappointed at his role in Terminator Genysis, and then he was still underused in P&P&Z) But this looks neat. Zombies, but a new and imaginative take on them. And he's the lead. At this point I don't even care if it's bad. I mean, I'd watch it anyway because I like zombie flicks. Also, there's Natalie Dormer and Stanley Tucci, and Stanley Tucci is always a good idea.

A Simple Favor
Sept 14th; R
I don't want to watch this so much as I just want to know then result of the mystery. The style is appealing. It claims noir, and the plot has a noir tone, and it reminds me a bit of Thoroughbreds, but then I found that it's directed by Paul Feig and I'm wondering if it'll really have that style or if it's just an effective trailer and good marketing.

I Think We're Alone Now
Sept 14th; R
One of THOSE scifi movies. I'm a fan. Well, I mean, I like slow and cerebral scifi, anyway. This trailer really wants you to know how art-house-y it is, and otherwise reveals so little -- besides that it's got Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning, everyone else is dead, there's some white X's on the ground, and it's all super dramatic -- that I don't have anything to say except I'll probably watch it just because I like scifi.

The House with a Clock in it's Walls
Sept 21st; PG
After the unusually enjoyable Goosebumps movie, kid's fantasy movies with Jack Black have an extra appeal for me. Ooh, and Steven Spielberg produced. And Cate Blanchett. She's golden. The kid looks like Jacob Tremblay, but it's not him. Based on a book and you should know what I think about that by now! (It's generally a good sign.) It's like Harry Potter lite, with more little-kid fantasy. Yep, I want to see this.

Life Itself
Sept 21st; R
Okay, but do all the story lines connect? It looks like it's gonna be one of those Love Actually things where there's only a loose connection and so many stories because one wasn't meaty enough to make a whole movie. That the impression I just got, anyway, but hey, I'll watch it. I'll watch it for Oscar Isaac and Olivia Cooke, and also for Olivia Wilde and Mandy Patinkin.

The Old Man & the Gun
Sept 28th; PG-13
Robert Redford's last movie before he retires from acting, apparently where he plays a gentleman bank-robber, and Sissy Spacek becomes his Bonnie. It looks like a very nice and well made film, though not exactly the sort I'd watch out of interest for the plot. Still I'll keep my eye on it and the reviews and maybe something about it will catch my fancy. At this point in my life, Redford's older movies are higher on my priority list.

Black 47
Sept 28th; R
Nice. Hardcore Irish revenge drama in 1847, during the famine. Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Freddy Fox, and Barry Keoghan. The lead I've not seen before -- no wait, I have, in Animal Kingdom. Anyway, I like the idea of violent period dramas, most of the one's I ever watch are more on the romance side, and Dickens is the darkest it gets. On the downside of that though, more tragic and meaningless character deaths (I can only assume) because of the famine, a real-life thing, which is sad. Still it looks like it's worth a watch.

Summer 03
Sept 28th; NR
Haha, so this is for kids who wanted to like Lady Bird but it turned out to be too meaningful and not romantically cliched enough, right? Kids that probably don't even remember the early 2000's. I do, and being catholic wasn't unusually popular. So the fact that this movie has it as well as Lady Bird which was set only a year later, seems like a rather big coincidence. That's all I have to say. I don't want to watch this movie. (And I don't really care if it's Lady Bird lite either.) (On another note it feels super weird to me that so many movies are being set "back" in the 2000's. Like, it feels like it just happened yesterday. Is it really vintage already??) (ALSO I generally love coming of age movies, but the sexual ones are literally the worst???) Okay I'm really done now. Have a nice day!