I first planned to see this movie in July when it was first scheduled. For whatever reason, STX, the distributor, decided to postpone its release until September. Later, they postponed it again to this weekend against movies like Frozen II and It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. So, despite my excitement at wanting to see a crime flick headlined and co-produced by the star of Black Panther, Chadwick Bozeman, my expectations fell to a low.
Bozeman is André Davis, the son of a decorated NYPD police officer killed in the line of duty. 19 years after his father’s death, Davis is under investigation by Internal Affairs because he’s been involved in a lot of officer-involved shootings.
One night, two dudes raid a drug gang’s cache at a restaurant in Brooklyn. However, instead of finding 30 kilos of cocaine, they find 300. They decide to take 50, but before they can get away, four policemen show up at the door to the restaurant. One of the dudes, Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch), rather aggressively takes out of the four cops, but backup arrives, and Jackson takes them out as well. Jackson and his partner, Michael Trujillo (Stephan James), leave Brooklyn and head over to Manhattan to meet up with their contact.
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, precinct captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) drafts Davis to find and dispatch Jackson and Trujillo with extreme prejudice to spare, as we saw in the trailer, the policemen’s families the trauma of “trials, appeals and parole hearings.“ It would seem that someone like Davis with his reputation would be the perfect judge, jury, and executioner.
The FBI tries to take over the case, but Davis and McKenna convince them to give Davis until morning to find the shooters. Davis has a plan: shut down all transportation in and out of Manhattan. He also has lots of questions: questions about why things went down the way they did. So, he and a narcotics detective, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), set out to find the two shooters before dawn breaks.
Director Brian Kirk revs up the tension from the moment the drug heist begins, and he doesn’t let go until the movie ends. That’s not easy to do when he’s directing from the script by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan. Not that the script is weak, but it’s somewhat predictable. However, Kirk has some advantages from the score by Henry Jackman and Alex Belcher and the stellar cast headed up by Boseman, Simmons, Miller, Kitsch, and James. There are some other recognizable faces including Keith David and Alexander Siddig. The cinematography by Paul Cameron is excellent, not burdened with a lot of CGI, and there’s a stellar performance by the city of Philadelphia as Manhattan.
This is one of the first productions from Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO Films; they brought the script to Boseman, who also produced the movie along with his partner, Logan Coles and others.
Unfortunately, this film opened against Frozen II and It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but hopefully, you’ll head back to the theatre and take in 21 Bridges. It’s a welcome treat for adults.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Perhaps this would be better if your kids reviewed this movie, but for some unknown reason, I was intrigued when I first saw the film on the release schedule. Unable to catch it when it was first released, it’s now on home video; so I’ve given it a viewing.
Based on the children’s educational series, Dora The Explorer, this movie isn’t afraid to be self-aware. Very early on, Dora (Isabela Moner) brakes the fourth wall and addresses the audience a couple of times to the bewilderment of her father Cole (Michael Peña) and his wife Elena (Eva Longoria). They are explorers who have been living in the jungles of Peru with Dora. Cole and Elena figure out the location of Parapata, the lost Incan city of gold and decide to set off to find it. However,they also choose to send Dora to Los Angeles to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his parents, who left Peru ten years earlier.
The film plays with Dora exploring life in “the city,” which she is thoroughly unfamiliar with, and she continually embarrasses Diego with her unfamiliarity. Dora doesn’t understand because she and Diego were quite close when he lived in Peru, but Diego has grown quite accustomed to life in the city, and he’s less than enthused in guiding his cousin through the process of acclimation.
Dora and her classmates go on a field trip to a museum, and when she wanders off to explore some off-display exhibits in the museum basement, she, Diego and two other classmates are locked in a crate and shipped off to Peru by a group of mercenaries. These mercenaries plan to use Dora to find her parents and convince them to find the lost city of Parapata.
It’s all somewhat goofy and transparent, but kids will probably enjoy it.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Zack Gottsagen is Zak, a young man with no family and Down’s Syndrome, who has been placed in a retirement home because there is no other facility to place him in. Zak spends his days watching a videotape purporting to teach one wrestling. Zak also spends a lot of time trying to escape from the retirement home.
Shia LaBoeuf is Tyler, a young man who appears to be a crab fisherman, but who we learn is actually stealing crab pots from a man, Duncan (John Hawkes), who took over fishing licenses held by Tyler’s brother (Jon Bernthal) who has recently died. Tyler clearly feels that Duncan “stole” the licenses from his family and, so, he is merely taking what belongs to him. Not that Tyler doesn’t know that what he’s doing is illegal because he’s spending his days ducking the authorities and Duncan.
Zak shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern), who he’s driving crazy with his constant viewing of the wrestling tape; so Carl devises an escape plan for Zak to gain some peace. Meanwhile, Duncan confronts Tyler over the stolen crab pots and threatens him if Tyler doesn’t stop. Tyler doesn’t take kindly to the threat and takes an action that propels Duncan to pursue him.
Tyler takes off in a boat in which Zak is hiding, and it sets up the journey that we are about to follow. While Duncan is pursuing Tyler, Zak is being pursued by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a volunteer at the nursing home who was supposed to be watching Zak and who had dubbed him a flight risk.
Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, who wrote and directed The Peanut Butter Falcon, set up a scenario where the characters Tyler and Zak become traveling companions as Tyler tries to escape Duncan and head to Florida while Zak travels to the wrestling school advertised on his video, which is along the route Tyler plans to take.
My only problem is with the screenplay, which too often takes convenient short cuts to move the story along. However, there are delightful performances by LaBoeuf, Johnson, Hawkes and Gottsagen, who himself has Down’s Syndrome but turns in a dynamic performance as a man who single-mindedly sets out to accomplish his goal of becoming a wrestler. Add in a marvelous performance by Thomas Haden Church as The Salt Water Redneck, the wrestling guru Zak is determined to meet and be trained by.
All too often, society imposes their ideas of what a person is capable or incapable of doing, and this story does its best to implode those myths and give us a different perspective on people’s capabilities and our concepts of friendships and families. I’m a sucker for a story with heart, despite some weaknesses in the narrative.
Despite these minor misgivings, The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the better films of 2019, and I definitely recommend you give it a chance. In limited release and now available on home video, it’s worth your time.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
In real-time, 28 years have passed. In movie time, it has been a couple of decades. A young Mexican couple are making out near a bridge when they notice sparks appearing in the deck of the bridge. A large familiar sphere appears, and a nude female figure falls from the sphere to the ground. When the couple goes to investigate, the police arrive and begin to question the couple about this semi-conscious nude female in their presence. At that moment, the female (Mackenzie Davis) puts a hurting on la policia and takes the young Mexican dude’s clothes and makes her way to find Daniela Ramos. Daniela lives with her brother Diego, an aspiring musician, and their father in Mexico City. Daniela wakes Diego as he and she work in an auto plant; she doesn’t want to be late. She also begs her father to make his doctor’s appointment.
After Daniela and Diego leave for work, sparks fly at their residence and who should turn up at their apartment but another terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) who quizzes their father on the whereabouts of Daniela. Soon after, D&D’s father turns up at their work location because his kids forgot their lunch. Except Diego points out that Daniela brought their lunch. Can you guess who Diego’s father is?
Of course, you can and that’s the problem with much of Terminator: Dark Fate. Much of what we see has either been revealed in the trailer, or it doesn’t take much thought to figure out what’s going on. The previously nude female has been sent to protect Daniela. She battles the Rev-9 on the factory floor and she—identifying herself as Grace—, Daniela and Diego escape in a truck with the Rev-9 in hot pursuit. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) shows up and we’re off on another Terminator adventure.
The balance of the story is a mishmash and rehash of ideas out of originator James Cameron and a committee of storytellers and screenwriters that defy credulity. Cameron and his cohorts have devised a scenario where what happened before didn’t really happen. It’s the old problem of dealing with time travel except this time, we don’t really deal with it. We’re presented a story and expected to accept it, even though it’s banal and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Don’t blame any of this on the actors or the director. The actors do a credible job with the story they’ve been given, and director Tim Miller has kept the action moving, perhaps in the hope that the script won’t catch up to him.
All-in-all, Terminator: Dark Fate is a disappointment. The return of Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Cameron held out so much promise, and only Arnold and Linda delivered. Here’s hoping that Cameron is saving his best material for those Avatar sequels he’s been threatening us with.
If you must see this film, wait for home video.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Roman Griffin Davis is Johannes Betzler, a ten-year-old boy who enthusiastically joins the Hitler Youth. “Jojo,” as his mother and second-best friend call him, dresses up in his uniform and talks to his best friend, an imaginary Adolf Hitler, played with delightful abandon by director, co-producer and co-screenwriter Taika Waititi. I’m most familiar, I’d imagine like most people, with Waititi’s work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m now destined to examine his entire body of work which, as it turns out, is rather quite extensive.
Along with his tangible best friend Yorki (Archie Yates), Jojo goes to a Hitler Youth training camp, run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) or rather “Captain K,” in an attempt to make him more accessible. During their training, Jojo is tasked with killing a rabbit in a scene that demonstrates the power of peer pressure and the concepts of nature versus nurture. Jojo can’t bring himself to kill the rabbit. He ends up running into the forest to the taunts of the other campers who have now dubbed him “Jojo Rabbit.” While in the woods, Jojo imagines a conversation with Hitler which galvanizes him into grabbing a grenade from an instructor and throwing it against a tree with disastrous and unforeseen results.
Jojo is injured and while confined to his home, he discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johanssen) has been hiding a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in a secret room in their house. Jojo gives some thought to turning her in, but Elsa convinces him that it would have disastrous consequences for Jojo and his mother. So, instead, Jojo decides to discover what makes Jews tick. Elsa feeds his paranoia, which makes for a delightful narrative.
Waititi has taken a difficult subject and turned it into a masterwork of drama, comedy, and just a tinge of horror. He turns in a delightful comedic performance as an imaginary Hitler while at the same time constructing a tale of a town about to be liberated seemingly against its wishes. The film is exceptionally photographed by Mihai Malaimare Jr., which, combined with the direction of Waititi, communicates feelings subtly and powerfully.
Scarlett Johanssen is marvelous as a mother who is trying to raise her son among the madness of a world at war, and Davis is good as the dutiful son of his parents and the Third Reich. Throughout the film, the relationship between Jojo and Elsa evokes curiosity and tenderness. Sam Rockwell continues to turn in nuanced performances as in this one where he is at times comic and, other times, compelling.
Jojo Rabbit is currently in limited release, and it was challenging to find a theatre where I could see it. Fortunately, it opens in wider release on 8 November. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you see it.
Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Some mild spoilers of the first film follow immediately.
I recently re-watched Zombieland (2009) and this movie basically picks up where that one left off except, as narrated by “Columbus,” some years later, presumably ten. The family of “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson), “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg), “Wichita” (Emma Stone) and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin) are still together after all these years. As the opening credits roll, they take up residence in the abandoned White House.
Columbus and Wichita are still paired off, and Tallahassee has taken a paternal interest in Little Rock, who has grown into a young woman and is now quite restless as a result. Little Rock’s annoyance at being treated like a “little girl” and a miscalculation by Columbus in his relationship with Wichita creates an event that propels the plot of the rest of the movie.
When our family leaves the White House and begins traveling again, they have to avoid a new breed of zombies, which Columbus names the T-800. These zombies are stronger, faster and more deadly than other zombies our troupe has encountered before. Incidentally, Columbus has classified the zombies they’ve come across into groups. So, now the zombie types have names to go along with Columbus’ rules.
The problem here is the way the script develops is somewhat redundant of the first film. Some very similar events happen; so if you’ve seen the first film, you might be getting a little bored as to how things progress. However, other events happen just new enough to keep you mildly interested.
While the script may be lacking, the performances are not. The characters are familiar, but the acting is fresh and delightful. There are also some new characters that we meet along the way, beginning with the daft blonde we saw in the trailer, Zoey Deutch as Madison, and an equally cliche free spirit named Berkeley (Avan Jogia).
The saving grace of the script is that it’s incredibly self-aware, and that brings enough humor to carry us through the entire film. This includes performances by “guest stars” (my phrase) Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch.
If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll enjoy the second one. Although I’ve listed it as a prerequisite, it’s not absolutely necessary to view it before viewing Zombieland: Double Tap. There’s enough exposition in Columbus’ narration that you’ll be able to follow along just fine.
I found Zombieland: Double Tap to be mildly humorous, but other people in the audience were laughing out loud, and I can understand why. There’s a mid-credits scene you should stay for and a post-credits scene you can catch at home whenever you get around to watching it there.
Red Band Trailer:
Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix team for an unconventional comic book movie about a man and a city’s descent into madness. There has been some discussion that this isn’t a comic-book movie, but it undeniably is. It is an origin story.
Arthur Fleck is a devoted son. He lives with his mother, but he is not dependent on her. Rather, he takes care of her, and he does it by working as a clown for hire. His job takes him to various places: for example, a music store going out of business and a children’s hospital. Arthur also suffers from a (real-life) condition, which causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times. So much so that he carries a card that can explain it to people when he cannot.
The construction of the story is masterful and subversive, and it requires the audience to think and deduce some of the action going on before them. Phoenix’s performance is nuanced and skilled. It captures some of the cartoon-like nature of The Joker without it being cartoony. In some form, you respect Fleck’s struggle, and then he shocks you with his behavior. In a sense, Fleck has a code, and until the very end of the film, he never violates it.
To tell you more would spoil the experience.
Rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images, Joker is the best comic book film with that rating since Logan.
I highly recommend it.
#MCURewind and How “I” Got to Avengers: Endgame
A shoutout here to Joshua M. Patton, whose writing and social media presence I discovered when serendipity intervened; I used a similar hashtag on Twitter, #MCURewind. I hadn’t intended to use that hashtag when, independent of the rest of the universe, I decided to “countdown” the days to the premiere of Avengers: Endgame. (Apparently. Joshua hadn’t either since the original title of his piece was “MCU Rewatch.”)
With every prior MCU premiere, I had marathoned every previous film beforehand. I have a YouTube playlist (linked below) set up just for that purpose. However, this time around there was sufficient time to plan a one-a-day re-watch of every MCU film to-date. (Hopefully, on 25 April, my local movie theatre is still showing Captain Marvel.)
By way of introduction, Joshua (although anyone reading is welcome to follow along), I’m a 65.5-year-old commentator on the social zeitgeist. (Don’t let that avatar fool you.)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the things that got me back in the movie theatre. When Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk first appeared, I was more than content to allow the rest of geekdom to trot out to the theatre while I sat back and consumed the MCU the way I consume most forms of entertainment these days: in the comfort of my own home.
When those movies hit streaming, I purchased them on my Digital HD service of choice — VUDU (an unsolicited, unsponsored blurb) — and watched both movies to see what all the hubbub was about.
To go even a little more in depth, at that time, I had found comic book movies to be a hit-or-miss proposition. Between 1980 — the year Superman IIpremiered — and 2005 (Batman Begins), I had seen little in the realm that pleased me. There were a few exceptions: Michael Keaton’s first turn as Batman (1989) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) which I enjoyed much more than The Sixth Sense. Other attempts such as subsequent Batman-, Superman-, and any Marvel-branded films were left on the wayside and pretty much ignored by me.
Batman Begins, a DC comic-book based movie, was the first to make me take notice. It wasn’t because it was a comic-book film. It was because it was a Christopher Nolan film. Christopher Nolan was the other thing that got me going into movie theatres again.
I consumed my first Nolan film like all other content — at home. Batman Begins was a serious and extraordinary take on the Batman mythology, and I was impressed with how Nolan told the story — so much so that I wanted more. In 2008, as Marvel Studios was gearing up to develop the MCU, Nolan, Warner Brothers and its corporate cousin, DC, produced a second film based on the Batman character, The Dark Knight (2008). I was in the theatre. Those first few moments, which Nolan filmed in IMAX, had me hooked.
As times passed, I consumed everything Nolan: Insomnia (2002); Memento (2000); Following (1998), which has presumably an unintended reference to Nolan’s future work directing Batman movies; and, finally, The Prestige(2006). I was ready for how Nolan was to conclude his trilogy.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in SoCal, a producer named Kevin Feige had a plan. Perhaps it was a small plan; maybe it was a grandiose one. That’s a story for another correspondent to tell. For me, however, I hadn’t been consumed by comic-book culture; so Marvel Comics and characters were foreign to me. I had certainly heard of them, but in the framework of Marvel vs. DC, I had always been a DC guy. I had never read more than a few comics, but when I had, they were DC-branded ones. I knew of Marvel and certainly of Spider-Man, but I never much paid attention to them.
When Marvel and Feige decided to produce a slate of films based on their stable of comic-book characters, I was sufficiently intrigued that I decided to watch those first two films on Digital HD. As you mentioned, Joshua, Feige’s decision to use mid- and post-credit scenes in those and subsequent films was important, if not critical. Feige had either learned or intuited what moviemakers of the past had discovered. Those scenes built those individual movies into something akin to the old Saturday matinee serials that our parents and grandparents were exposed to during their lifetimes. It is also the basis of television since its invention until the current day. Give audiences characters and stories that they care about and they’ll keep coming back for more.
By the time Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)rolled around, like Nolan before him, Kevin Feige had me sitting in a dark theatre again. Ever since, I’ve discovered not only numerous Marvel and DC comic-book movies but countless other films that I’ve watched and enjoyed in a movie theatre.
So, Joshua, like you and millions of other movie fans, on April 26th I’ll be sitting in a dark theatre — an IMAX 3D one — preparing myself for, perhaps, the conclusion of the greatest Saturday-matinee movie serial of my lifetime: the Infinity Saga, as you called it. I hope we all enjoy it.
And so it goes.
[Also published on Medium.com]
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
As the movie opens, the Enterprise of the Kelvin alternate universe is in the middle of its five-year mission of space exploration. Captain Kirk returns from an unsuccessful diplomatic mission questioning his role in Starfleet. As Bones McCoy points out in a private moment, Kirk is still competing with his dead father, especially on the impending anniversary of Kirk’s birth (and his father’s death).
The Enterprise heads for a deep space port named Yorktown where the crew can have a little downtime. However, we learn that Kirk is tiring of trekking and, to no crewmembers’ knowledge, has requested a transfer to an administrative assignment. Elsewhere on Yorktown, Spock, who feels he should be doing more to help New Vulcan, receives a visit from two Vulcans who notified him of Ambassador Spock’s death. His melancholy has already affected his relationship with Uhuru as they have broken up.
Before Kirk and Spock can act on their feelings, however, they are assigned to help rescue a stranded crew on another planet in the quadrant. However, just before arriving, the Enterprise is attacked and Kirk and crew must fight for their survival.
Star Trek Beyond deconstructs the characters and relationships of this alternate timeline crew and then spends the film reconstructing them. As the situation separates them, we see Kirk and Chekov working together. Sulu and Uhuru form another team on a different mission. Scotty and a newfound alien, Jaylah, are another team. Finally, we have Bones and Spock working together. As the film meanders along, these teams come together to fulfill an even bigger threat off planet.
One of the striking things to me, as a fifty-year viewer of this television and movie franchise is how well these new actors have stepped into the old shoes of their predecessors. The newer characterizations are so spot on that my brain is willing to accept the massive cast shift. This has been evident since the 2009 reboot, but this is the first time that I’ve felt the characterizations have moved beyond imitation and parody into inhabiting the characters as we grew to love them. I’m fully invested in this cast. Kudos to cast member Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Doug Jung who wrote the script which reflects the heart of the original television series.
At this point, I should mention the untimely death of Anton Yelchin, who played the rebooted Chekov. Unlike that of original cast member Leonard Nimoy, Yelchin’s death is not dealt with within the context of the film. Both are handled with slides at the beginning of the end credits.
Justin Lin has directed Star Trek Beyond with great energy which many expected as Lin made the Fast and the Furious franchise what it is today. However, Star Trek Beyond does not feel like Fast and Furious in space. The set pieces are fantastic, but Lin handles the character interaction with great skill. Idris Elba (as Krall) and Sofia Boutella (as Jaylah) are great as guest stars.
Star Trek Beyond is a welcome 13th edition of this franchise and third film in the rebooted series, Producer J.J. Abrams has already stated that another film is in the works with Chris Hemsworth returning as George Kirk. So. James T. Kirk will have the opportunity to work out his “Daddy” issues.
Meanwhile, enjoy Star Trek Beyond.
Live long and prosper.
★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Originally published 22 July 2016 20:00 on View from the Seats