Monday, May 13, 2019

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Spoiler-free!

I am not educated in Pokémon, so forgive me for the following. That's the thing about this movie though -- it trusts its audience to know, or to be able to pick up with minimal exposition, and that opens up a ton of space for expansive storytelling. Also, wise-cracking one-liners and fuzzy yellow adorableness!

And old-fashioned mystery!

In a city where humans and Pokémon live in equality, Tim (Justice Smith) gets the news that his estranged detective dad has died. When he goes to clean out his apartment, he finds a deer-stalker-wearing Pikachu, and is surprised to find that he can understand what he's saying. (I suppose it wouldn't occur to him to be surprised that he sounds like Ryan Reynolds.) Pikachu claims to be Tim's dad's Pokémon partner, and though he has amnesia he's almost certain that Tim's dad is still alive. They join forces (reluctantly on Tim's part, who used to be obsessed with Pokémon but now wants nothing to do with them) to track down the trail of clues in search of him.

Instantly you get an old detective noir vibe which pairs perfectly with the cyberpunk world. They lean into it more than is required, and as a noir fan I appreciated that. It's mostly present visually, with the apartment buildings and Venetian blinds and neon cityscapes, but there's also a hardboiled interrogation (through mime for a good laugh), dramatic plot twists, a secret laboratory, and shady characters. And an intrepid, spunky reporter girl (Kathryn Newton) who knows something sinister is going on. The plot is easy to follow and if you were inclined to think ahead you might figure out the destination fairly quickly, but I was simply too swept up in the story and fun atmosphere to even try and predict anything.

Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe are also there. And another Deadpool vet, Karan Soni has a cameo type role.

In cases like this it helps to be like a kid, oblivious to tropes and probable outcomes. It is a kid's movie after all. But it's also good nostalgia fodder for adults too, who grew up with the game. I didn't myself, and felt a warm welcome stepping into the Pokémon world for the first time. It's good nostalgia because it doesn't draw attention to that aspect. It doesn't even appear to be made with adults in mind, just age-appropriate at such a high quality that anyone can enjoy. It deserves to have fun with silly tropes and to not worry about a complex plot or trying to avoid cliches. Those things are naturally included, and it does justice to them instead of attempting to circumvent them out of fear or misunderstanding.

It's like a throwback to before tropes were taboo -- and to a time before the Great Franchise Push. This movie attempts no sequel-baiting, and leaves no ends loose. It's a complete, stand-alone story, and that may be my favorite thing about it of all. Fully rendered; leaves nothing off the table; explores as far as it can as fast as it can, knowing this is its one shot to satisfy. The world building is effortless because of how much ground is covered. It doesn't dawdle but is eager to move further, and forward, to the next cool place and the next fun and informative scene. Plentiful fun and plentiful content, existing together instead of distracting from the other.

As it should be for a no-holds-barred entertaining time!

For instance, there was one action sequence that I found incredibly boring, but they moved on from it so quickly that it barely made a dent in my enjoyment. And I know there were one or two jokes that I didn't find at all funny, but since none of the jokes are overplayed (hello, Marvel) I simply forgot them, and there was no ill effect. The whole movie seems to exist because of how funny Ryan Reynolds can be, so scene-stealing might be expected, but he doesn't. Certainly not from Justice Smith, even though I expect he could have without proper control. The characters are crafted to work together and play off each other, so there aren't distracting rabbit trails of one-upping humor.

The story is Tim's, and Smith carries the movie more than you'd expect, and does it well. The best work I've seen him do. And Reynolds isn't solely for comedy though that's where he shines. Tim and Pikachu's developing friendship has all the ups and downs that a good story needs, and the movie doesn't shy away from drama. It pulls off a winning theme to hold together all the adventuring, detecting, action, and comedy with the glue of deeper meaning. And the structure is very solid. I feel silly being impressed that it didn't fall apart in the end, but that's just the standard of late I suppose. All my issues are in details and are less missteps than things that didn't work for me personally.

There was basically nothing that detracted from the movie objectively. Even the bits I didn't care for are hard to recall.

It's not going to turn me into a Pokémon fan or anything, but since I've always been a fan a solid and meaningful stories, with engaging characters populating vast and fantastic imaginative worlds with devotion and humor -- it did all it needed in order to leave me happy as a Pikachu getting his chin scratched!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Upcoming Movie Roundup - May

Last month I saw Shazam! Unicorn Store! The Perfect Date! The Man Who Killed Don Quixote! And, Avengers: Endgame!

Unicorn Store (review) and The Perfect Date (review) were Netflix watches and also the worst of the bunch, but still enjoyable in their own ways. I loved the heart and soul of Shazam! (review) but there were a bothersome flaws from time to time too. Avengers: Endgame (review) was a mostly pleasant experience since I was ready to be pandered and fan-served to, but that doesn't mean I didn't take issue with anything either.

But the best of the bunch hands down was The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (review) which I rented and rewatched multiple times, and it only seemed to get better and more brilliant each time, going from overwhelming fever dream to intricately choreographed dance between reality and fantasy. It's still a film that won't appeal to all, but the only way to know for sure is to watch it.

I'm not super hyped for any movies this month, but there is a next season of a great Netflix show I liked, and a few flicks that I might get out to see too. What looks good to you this month?


The Intruder
In theaters May 3rd; PG-13
I wouldn't normally include a movie like this because they don't usually catch my attention, but the special circumstance here is that I keep hearing hype (or maybe call it anti-hype) that it's quite bad, but kind of in a good way -- or maybe really quite good but everyone will say it's bad. Something like that, haha. Anyway, seems like something I might enjoy watching with my brothers for so-bad-it's-good kicks. No theater trip though. Dennis Quaid does seem quite hammy!




Clara
Streaming May 3rd; no rating
Well this one caught my attention by being a scifi movie (I'm so easy) and then I was amused by recognizing the actors from oldish TV shows -- the guy was the lead in Suits and the girl was McGee's sister on NCIS -- and it gave me flashbacks to my cable days. Oh and the two are real-life married which is always cute. The movie looks more like a drama and then low-key scifi but that makes sense, and the trailer implies some kind of scifi development near the end too, so yeah, I'll keep an eye out.




Pokémon Detective Pikachu
In theaters May 10th; PG
I thought this was just called "Detective Pikachu." Huh. Anyway, boo to me because I never watched, or played, or did whatever it is people do with Pokémons. I think I get the premise though. It's the trailer that won me over really, with how odd yet funny Ryan Reynolds's voice sounds coming out of cute realistic Pikachu, and how they played Holding Out for a Hero without an ounce of apology -- it give me the impression of being a Deadpool movie but rated PG. (They even both have the initials DP!) And if that's what it ends up being like, I definitely want to see -- history with Pokémons or not!




The Rain - Season 2
On Netflix May 17th; MA
This is a Danish-language scifi series where the rain was infected with a deadly virus. The last season ended in a way that made me wonder how it could continue in an interesting way, and based on this trailer they figured it out. They closed off elements in season 1's storyline, and are now adding new connected elements -- like apparently Rasmus is super-powered or something. And going in new directions. I loved the tone and the characters, and the story was neat presenting familiar apocalypse tropes in a freshly compelling way. I will 100% be watching this!




John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
In theaters May 17th; R
I like John Wick because of the simple straightforward plot that doesn't need much exposition or conversation to drive it, so that the emotionally-driven stylish action can constantly be front and center. Chapter 2 muddied that formula too much for my taste, so I'm hoping Chapter 3 will be a return to full form. The plot is simple. But the trailer also shows a lot of dialogue scenes, so I guess we'll see.




We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Limited release May 17th; not rated
I heard of this book but never read it. It's a mystery thriller, set in the 50's or 60's I suppose, and it being based on a book gives me more confidence that the story might be good than the trailer does. It's got an appealing cast too, with Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, and even Crispin Glover! Seems like the sort of flick that won't need to be particularly good in order to entertain me.




Aladdin
In theaters May 24th; PG
I was vaguely interested in this before, and I guess I'm not totally apposed to watching it ever, but since I was more interested in Dumbo and never got around to going to that I'm not even going to bother trying with this in the theater. I relatively liked the idea of a live action Aladdin but the tone and everything is so much an uninspired copy that I doubt it'll be what I wanted. My brother is a fan of the animated too, and thinks seeing this will taint it which is probably true, so we may not even see it for laughs. I expect it'll be good for a laugh, though, personally!




Brightburn
In theaters May 24th: R
The idea of a horror movie with a Superman-powered character is admittedly interesting, but I just can't see it being something I'd truly enjoy unless it had a great, meaningful twist in there somewhere. So I'll pay attention to what others think but it's a no thanks at the moment. I expect it'll be objectively good though.




Godzilla: King of the Monsters
In theaters May 31st; PG-13
Despite the aggravatingly slow pace of the 2014 Godzilla, I found the good parts of it good enough to have natural interest in this sequel. But then, based on the trailer it looks like an actual improvement over the first. Maybe the filmmakers heard the bored complaints. It looks like it better embraces the inherent cheese of its subject, and puts even more effort into appealing visually -- while not completely abandoning the subdued tone of the first. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are back, but no more Aaron Taylor-Johnson or Elizabeth Olsen. Added are Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and the great Bradley Whitford. I bet I'll be in the theater for this one since I'm sure it'll be at it's best on a big screen!