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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Atomic Blonde

ATOMIC BLONDE

** SPOILERS **

Atomic Blonde stole half the music from my iPod and built an action film where Charlize Theron kills a bunch of assassins in Cold War Berlin set to the tracks. This film in seemingly made for me, except for having a workable screenplay that isn't confounding. Well, you can't have everything. Sporting the same spotty British accent she had in season 3 of Arrested Development (for reasons!), Theron plays an MI6 sent to Berlin to retrieve a List of deep cover operatives on both sides of the Iron Curtain. She picked an opportune time to visit East and West Berlin; it's November 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to fall, and we're a year away from Jesus Jones writing "Right Here, Right Now" about it (that song isn't on the soundtrack, but New Order, Nena, and David Bowie are, and it's grand). 

Even as Charlize narrates how the whole mission went sideways to two old dudes, her MI6 supervisor Toby Jones and a CIA guy who's also in the room for some reason, John Goodman, we can sense all is not as it seems, though the film's excess of style provides constant, worthy distraction. As soon as Charlize lands in West Berlin, she's the target of Russian assassins who know who she is and why she's in town. She makes contact with a perfectly skeevy James McAvoy, the head of Berlin Station, who's gone into business for himself and selling Jack Daniels and counterfeit Jordach jeans to both sides of the Iron Curtain. She also has sexy time with her own Bond Girl, a hopelessly naive French agent played by Sofia Boutella. Boutella is very well serviced by Charlize in her hotel room but very poorly serviced by the screenplay, which makes her do the one dumb thing that of course gets her murdered Corleone-style. 

In the film's centerpiece action spectacle, Charlize tries to smuggle a defecting Stasi officer played by Eddie Marsan to the West when she's betrayed by McAvoy. The Russians come after Charlize full throttle and Charlize engages them in fight sequences more brutal and immediate than anything we've seen even in a Jason Bourne movie. The action sequences are truly extraordinary, all of it set to 80s New Wave music so loud it feels like Charlize is punching you right in the ear in between beating the crap out of Soviets. Not that Charlize doesn't take a licking herself. Even James Bond having his balls literally whacked in Casino Royale didn't have it as tough as Charlize does.

The whole time she's chasing after the List, Charlize is also supposed to be after Satchel, a mysterious double agent whose identity the movie wants us to believe is McAvoy. However, to those paying attention, especially when McAvoy all but announces it's really Charlize, it comes as no surprise that Satchel is really Charlize. She's also not really British (that's not as shocking - that accent fools no one, except the Brits in the movie). Does any of it make sense? Does it matter? Kind of, yeah. But you came to see Charlize kill stylishly kill people, you got your money's worth, move along and don't ask so many questions.

Director David Leitch, who resurrected Keanu Reeves as an action hero in John Wick, works his same brand of eye-popping, violent splendor on Theron. There's no doubt whatsoever that if placed in the same room with Bond, Bourne and Wick, she'd win the fight and kick them all in their dicks. Theron apparently did most of her own stunts. And it shows. The first time we see Theron is days after the events of Atomic Blonde, as she soothes her bruised, scarred, and battered body in a tub of water and ice cubes. Fellas (and some ladies), if you didn't want to drink Charlize's bathwater before, you do now.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lady MacBeth

LADY MACBETH

** SPOILERS **

"She is a disease!" rasps Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), the hapless, beguiled groundskeeper, when he fingers his lover Katherine (Florence Pugh) as a murderess most foul at the conclusion of director William Oldroyd's maliciously spellbinding Lady MacBeth. Based upon the novel "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" by Nikolai Leskov and not something some guy named Shakespeare wrote, Katherine, the "heroine" of this sordid, bloody tale of murder in the manor is Lady MacBeth in kindred spirit only. Kindred spirit by means of body count.

Pugh delivers an increasingly unnerving and mesmerizing performance as Katherine, who is sold along with her parcel of land to a loveless marriage. Her sole duty in this arrangement is to provide an heir; otherwise she can shut up and be part of the furniture for all anyone cares. The extent of her new husband Alexander's (Paul Hilton) willingness to consummate their marriage is to make Katherine disrobe and then turn and face the wall like she's in the shack of the Blair Witch. Then he hits the hay, apparently satisfied.

Katherine, however, is not satisfied by her exceedingly vacuous life of being wrenched into a corset and then sitting silently for hours in an empty house in Northern England. She yearns to make her own decisions and do what she wants. She has simple desires: a little sex, for starters. Oh, and to be rid of her husband and his cruel, domineering father Boris (Christopher Fairbank), who also hate each other. When both men depart on separate business trips, Katherine decides she rather likes being the sole lady of the manor, and starts laying down plans to make this arrangement permanent. Katherine's behavior unfolds haphazardly and with real malevolence she feels is justified, regardless.

Sebastian the groundskeeper thinks he's rather cleverly seduced Lady Katherine when she starts taking him to bed every night, but the poor sod is in way over his head. When Boris returns from his business trip, having heard all about Katherine spreading her legs for the hired help, he beats and imprisons Sebastian. Katherine has never seen a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons, but her revenge would fit right into any episode when she decides to start killing to eliminate her impediments. By the time Katherine's done, her body count is very impressive: two men, a child, and even a horse. The horse was especially hilarious; Katherine had never shot a rife before, and the kickback flings her backwards like she's a cartoon character. 

All's well that ends well for Katherine. It's quite a body count for a bewitchingly ruthless young lady.  Thing's don't go quite as well for Sebastian, who is racked with guilt and has the temerity to betray Katherine. His reward for confessing is being hauled off to the hoosegow, along with "his accomplice" Anna (Naomi Ackie), the hapless maid who goes mute from all ghastly murder she's had to clean up after. Poor Anna; she's the most befuddled domestic servant in a movie since Harry Osborn's butler in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy: "I've seen a lot of strange things in this house, sir!"

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

** SPOILERS **

Welcome home, Iron Man! We missed you! Oh shit. Wait. Let me start over: Welcome home, Spidey! We missed you! (There. Do you think Mr. Stark noticed, Blog Lady?)

For most True Believers and Web Heads, it's been 13 years since we had fun watching a Spider-Man movie. Director Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Homecoming, the loving product of six writers and the Marvel-Sony Alliance, brings the Amazing Spider-Man home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe where he belongs - and where the fun is. No longer isolated away from his superhero playmates in his own universe where he toils and suffers as its only superhero, Homecoming shows us a Peter Parker the way he was originally conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko: as a high school kid growing up in Queens, New York in a world where the Avengers exists and he can interact with them. Keen to not make the mistakes of its five predecessors starring two other Spider-Men, Homecoming goes out of its way (to Washington, DC, even) to show us a Spidey doing things and fighting bad guys we've never seen before. Hopefully, Mr. Stark is impressed.

Homecoming amusingly catches us up with how Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a la his own web vlog, was recruited by Tony Stark to fight on his behalf in last year's Captain America: Civil War. We see a different side of the conflict between #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan in Berlin; through the wide-eyed excitement and naivete of the young Spider-Man. For a 15 year old kid who doesn't have a driver's license and had never left the country, being flown around on Tony Stark's private plane (no stripper pole this time) was exciting and intoxicating. No wonder upon returning home to Queens, his normal life of being the smartest sophomore at Midtown Technical High School feels lacking. Peter can't wait to blow out of those halls, don his brand new StarkTech suit, and right wrongs (and get yelled at a lot) as the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (catchphrase coined and trademarked by Tony Stark, thank you very much). Peter also can't wait to report his every activity to Tony's stressed out right hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), hoping he gets the call to hang out with the Avengers. The waiting is the hardest part, so the song goes.

Holland is a Peter like never before; the youngest, brashest, funniest Spider-Man we ever did see. His sense of duty to do the right thing and help out the little guy is endearingly intact. His motivations are unlike any previous iteration of Spider-Man in a movie: Homecoming, to it's credit, only references Spider-Man's famous origin in the briefest way, and we are not subjected to seeing Uncle Ben shot and the pathos that ensues, for the third time in a decade in a half. Every one knows how Peter becomes Spider-Man. What's interesting is what's lost when the Uncle Ben is thrown out with the bathwater: the reaffirmation that Peter does what he does because of the lesson that "with great power comes great responsibility." Peter articulated a version of this to Tony Stark in Civil War, which is why Tony brought him on board. In Berlin, Peter's motivation to fight was "to impress Mr. Stark." In Homecoming, that hasn't changed at all. Peter's sole goal is to shed his humdrum life and become an Avenger. Slinging webs and fighting crime on the ground are just his training wheels, but he needs that training more than he knows.

In his well-meaning blunders and haphazard investigation into a crime wave involving stolen alien tech in Queens, Peter discovers a weapons trafficking operation run by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Toomes ran a salvaging operation to clean up New York City after the battle seen in the finale of the first Avengers movie, but Stark took his living away from him by establishing his own Damage Control operation through the government. Toomes began stealing technology and scrap left in the wake of the Avengers' many battles (parts of Ultron in Solokvia, weaponry from the Triskelion in DC, etc.), refurbishing the scrap as weapons, and selling them to the black market. In his way, he's as industrious as Tony Stark, if his personal accumulated wealth is more modest by comparison, and Toomes has his own winged flying suit, making him the Vulture (no one calls him that). Toomes even has his own evil Avengers: a group of criminals like the Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine), the Tinkerer (Michael Chernus), and the Scorpion (Michael Mando), updating Spidey's rogue's gallery we haven't seen yet in the movies from the original comics. Unlike Stark, Toomes is a family man, which, in the third act, suddenly makes the Vulture's issues with Spider-Man a lot more personal.

Peter's explanations for his disappearances and unexplained absences is his "Stark Internship," a sly shorthand for "Peter is doing a lot of stuff Iron Man does." As a 15 year old Millennial (or whatever Peter's generation, born after 9/11, is called) Peter is comfortable with and dazzled by tech. With StarkTech, he has the best of the best: his new Spider-Man suit comes with flying drones, Iron Man-like Heads Up Display, and its own A.I. (voiced by Jennifer Connelly, a brilliant casting choice as she's the wife of Paul Bettany, who once voiced Iron Man's A.I. Jarvis and graduated to becoming the Avenger called the Vision). "Suit Lady," or Karen as Peter eventually names her, talks him though his latest exploits and bungles. Peter is never brought so low as when, after disabling the tracker in the suit, his inexperience causes the Staten Island Ferry to be ripped in two, and Iron Man has to save him and scold him. Iron Man saves him twice, actually, and later takes his suit away. Unlike Tony Stark, Peter doesn't need StarkTech to be Spider-Man, and while that's ultimately the point of the movie - Spider-Man learns he isn't Iron Man, doesn't need to be, and his dream of being an Avenger can wait another, oh, 10 months or so according to Marvel's move release schedule - it takes the entire length of Homecoming to reach that conclusion. 

Meanwhile, as Spider-Man tries to ground the Vulture, Iron Man: Homecoming was happening all around him: the Avengers are somehow back in business after Civil War (Spider-Man was to be the newest recruit unveiled to the adoring public) even though the fugitive Captain America (Chris Evans) is "a war criminal," and even Gwyneth Paltrow walks back on as Pepper Potts, her broken relationship with Tony Stark healed magically off screen. As Tony Stark, the recognized kingpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey, Jr. lords over all his scenes with or without Tom Holland. There are plenty of times, such as when Spider-Man, clad in his original homemade suit, clings to a Stark Jet thousands of feet in the air, and battles for his life against the Vulture, that we end up wondering if Iron Man will come and save him yet again. If Marvel wants to make Iron Man 4, they should just make Iron Man 4. It seems like blasphemy to suggest, but less Tony Stark is more Tony Stark in a Spider-Man movie.

Still, what Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers for most of its running time is the sheer giddy joy of seeing Spider-Man back in action, this time in the Marvel Universe. Peter's high school life and his classic cast of characters from the Lee/Ditko comics are updated into a multiracial gaggle of teens reflective of what a high school in Queens would look like in 2017. There are numerous jokes that land with aplomb, including a callback to the famous kiss in the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man that tears the house down. If only Peter took more time to enjoy his school chums like Liz (Laura Harrier), Michelle (Zendaya, criminally underused with a reveal that lands with a "huh?"), and even Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) more. Peter does spend quite a bit of time with his first ever annoying endearing no, annoying sidekick, Ned (Jacob Batalon) - too much time, really. Ned wants to be Peter's "man in the chair" superhero support and Peter doesn't have the heart to tell him his suit already comes with an omniscient A.I. "Suit Lady."

There is pleasingly a Homecoming Dance in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but Peter spends nary a moment at the dance with Liz, the most beautiful girl in school. Despite his schoolboy crush on Liz, this young Peter isn't the romantic Spidey his two predecessors were, and it is nice to see a Spider-Man not pining for Kirsten Dunst or Emma Stone ad nauseam. Besides, there's no time for love, Mr. Stark (though Mr. Stark would very much disagree). There's a lot of laughter, fun and heroics to be had in Spider-Man: Homecoming, a Marvel movie dedicated to showing us a Spider-Man doing things we've never seen Spider-Man do in a movie before, but the main lesson we and Peter take away is that this is Iron Man's world and Spider-Man is living in it.


(Also, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) finds out Peter is Spider-Man at the very end just like how Tony Stark revealed his identity as Iron Man to the world and okay I'm done now see you at Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. Bye.)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Baby Driver

BABY DRIVER

** SPOILERS **

"How great would it be if your driving brought joy to people's lives?" signs Baby's adoptive father before Baby complies with his wishes and gets a job delivering pizzas. Writer-director Edgar Wright accepts his own challenge with Baby Driver, a breakneck, blisteringly inventive joyride where Wright heists the car heist movie genre and makes it his own. In Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort stars as the titular character, a young wunderkind wheelman for mastermind Kevin Spacey. A car accident that ophaned young Elgort left him with tinnitus; a permanent ringing in his ears, which he subsumes with music from a fleet of iPods in his collection. (Baby Driver is, like James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, fueled to its benefit by the director's personal music collection.) Behind the wheel, Baby is good enough to join Vin Diesel's Fast and the Furious family, and he just might if the Fast Fam ever pulled a heist in Atlanta.

Baby is a curious creature who provokes repeated explanation for the bank robbers he carts around, including Jon Bernthal, Flea, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jon Hamm. Wright nigh-overdoses on style early on, with a frankly unbelievable opening car chase followed by a triumphant Elgort dancing around the city streets, as if performing in a personal musical. Thankfully, necessary gravitas is provided by Jamie Foxx, a steely powder keg of violence who doesn't like or trust Elgort. He doesn't like or trust anyone, actually, but Elgort especially rankles him, no matter how much anyone vouches for him. Elgort himself is in Spacey's thrall and working off a debt; one last job doesn't ever mean one last job in the world of crime, which Elgort learns to his chagrin.

It turns out Elgort has a lot to protect, and not just his secret hobby of recording everyone he meets and remixing their voices. He has an aforementioned deaf elderly foster father, and he has a girl he loves, Lily James, the lovely waitress at his favorite diner, though this is a curiously chaste love affair; not quite the sexually charged relationship Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette had in True Romance. James is a conveniently free spirit; she's unattached and dreams of a future that's an endless road trip of adventure. It's a happy coincidence she meets just the right Baby Driver, but also unfortunate that despite his best efforts to shield her from the nature of his work ("You chauffeur important people?"), especially when Foxx suspects just why Elgort is so resistant to pull over at that particular diner, the bad people in Baby's lives come right to her table and order four Cokes.

Wright pulls off a neat trick of creating sympathy for a lead who's monosyllabic and seemingly impenetrable. Baby might be a gifted getaway driver ensconced in a life of crime, but he's got a streak of compassion running through him. Foxx and Hamm (each with a surname containing an extra consonant) take bravura turns as the heavy of the piece, each having a serious bone to pick with Baby, but the kid is good and ends up being too good for them. There's a moment, during a deadly car chase and shoot out with Hamm in a parking garage, where Baby pulls the lever on James' seat, putting it all the way to recline so that Hamm's bullets miss her. With that one heroic move, any lingering doubt as to the quality of Baby's character dissipates. This kid has style - beyond how his black and white jacket is an obvious ode to Han Solo - and he's worth rooting for. That goes double for Wright, who, after cult sensations Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, finally has a breakthrough film that should propel his long-admired talent to the Hollywood big leagues. Wright should gun the engine and never look back.

The Beguiled

THE BEGUILED

** SPOILERS **

In Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, Colin Farrell plays a lobster a rooster in a henhouse. It's 1864, four years into the Civil War, and in battle-torn Virginia, young Oona Lawrence finds Farrell injured in the woods. He's a Union soldier - an enemy combatant - but his leg is badly wounded and he's desperate. Christian charity demands Farrell be rescued; he becomes the unwilling house guest of Nicole Kidman, who runs a school for girls. The presence of Farrell, who quickly recovers and finds ways to make himself useful so he can be invited to stay, upends the careful but combustible order of this house of young women of immaculate repute. There is an electric spark of forbidden sex in the air with this randy soldier recuperating in the music room.

As Kidman, an eternally forlorn Kirsten Dunst, who is the second oldest woman at the school, and their five young charges, including Elle Fanning, fret and debate about their house guest, we wonder what Farrell's true intentions are. No doubt, he has no intention of returning to the war. He's brazen in his attempts to wile Kidman and especially Dunst, whom he seems to take the biggest shine to - and who hesitantly reciprocates the attraction. Meanwhile, Fanning proves herself as brazen as Farrell; she sneaks kisses with Farrell and secretly invites him into her room. When Dunst catches them, her reaction is devastating. She pushes Farrell down the stairs, breaking his injured leg beyond repair. Kidman utters the most ghastly line and provokes the biggest laugh in the movie: "Get me the hacksaw and the anatomy book!"

The Beguiled is shot with a painterly beautiful style and is directed with precision and restraint by Coppola. The performances are equally precise and restrained and justly so: we sense the undercurrent of farce in this parlor drama. The actors seem just a careful held breath away from exploding in giggles and hysterics at moments like Farrell hobbling around on crutches, holding all the women hostage at gunpoint. It doesn't occur to the women that they could easily overpower Farrell, especially in his diminished state, no matter how crazy he acts. Farrell on crutches suddenly develops B-movie killer abililies; he can suddenly appear from out of frame, and he can keep pace with and catch Lawrence, who can run like a sprite. It's ultimately no surprise that the women of The Beguiled come to the decision that they have to get rid of this guy. Almost missing from the final shot is a fade to an iris with the Looney Tunes theme playing -- "That's all, folks!"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Mummy

THE MUMMY

** SPOILERS **

There's a lot going on in director Alex Kurtzman's reboot of The Mummy, but also not a lot going on. It's weird. Here we have a movie hoping to launch an entire shared universe that tries to be so many things and falls short of everything it could be. Sofia Boutella, the scene stealer from Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond, is the new Mummy, an ancient Egyptian princess named Ahmanet. She was supposed to be Queen of Egypt, until her father the Pharaoh went and had a first-born son, putting the kibosh on her ascension. Ahmanet's response was to make a deal with Set, the Egyptian God of Death. Set turned her into a mummy a demon who murdered the Pharaoh and the rest of her family, but she was caught and mummified alive. That's how a princess who became a demon became The Mummy. 

Ahmanet was imprisoned far from Egypt, in a tomb deep beneath modern day Iraq. There she's inadvertently found by Tom Cruise, who plays a soldier of fortune named Nick Morton. However, this isn't the usual invincible Tom Cruise we normally see in Mission: Impossible films; this is more like the Tom Cruise from Edge of Tomorrow - an amoral jerk who gets his ass kicked a lot. I mean, a lot. Tom gets his ass handed to him by the Mummy and all her undead underlings throughout the movie. Cruise and a fetching archaeologist played by Annabelle Wallis survive a plane crash when they try to transport Ahmanet's unearthed sarcophagus, unwittingly unleashing the Mummy upon jolly old England. There's also the matter of the Mummy fixating on Cruise; she decided he's her chosen one whose mortal form will be inhabited by Set - all she needs is a dagger with a special ruby buried with a 12th century Crusader knight found in the bowels of London.

Doing his damnedest to make sense of all of this is Russell Crowe, who breathlessly narrates most of the movie's plot points and backstory. Crowe is the Head Explainer of a shadowy organization called Prodigium, which is headquartered beneath the British Museum of Natural History and tasks itself with "recognizing, examining, containing and destroying evil." Specifically evil in the form of gods and monsters, the more ancient the worse better. Crowe himself is one of those very monsters, as he portrays Dr. Henry Jekyll and his sadistic and cockney alter ego Mr. Edward Hyde. As the leader of Prodigium, Crowe's other duty is to set up the future of what's now branded as Dark Universe - Universal Pictures' shared universe of movie monsters. Prodigium's trophies include easter eggs of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a vampire skull, and probably the Invisible Man (we don't see him in Prodigium, but isn't that the point?).

The Mummy is pure B-movie schlock. Like a real mummy, it's missing some blood and guts, and at 107 minutes, it zips along like it's got somewhere else to be. Ahmanet, emaciated after 5,000 years of mummification, spends much of the movie trying to get her hotness back (#MAHA - Make Ahmanet Hot Again) and become the queen she was supposed to be (#MAGA - Make Ahmanet Great Again.) Despite this, and a couple of perfunctory but neat looking moments like unleashing a patented Mummy sandstorm with a Mummy face right in the heart of London, Boutella's talents are oddly underutilized as The Mummy. Cruise and Wallis have some fun on the run throughout the movie, and Cruise amusingly gets tossed around by Ahmanet in every fight, until he decides to give in to his destiny and become a monster to save Wallis' life. Thus, Tom Cruise becomes not just a monster but, by virtue of becoming the host of Set, Tom Cruise becomes a god. One cool thing about being The Mummy and Set is that when their evil magic kicks in, Cruise and Boutella each have four eyeballs. Makes rolling their eyes at the silliness of The Mummy doubly effective.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

WONDER WOMAN

** SPOILERS **

In Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins places a perfect human being right in the middle of the starkest of horrors humanity is capable of and asks us to consider her, as she in turn considers us. Not that Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) is a human being. She is an Amazon, one of an ancient race of female warriors created by Zeus himself to defend humanity. The daughter of Zeus and of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana is much more than a mere Amazon. Goddess is a more apt description, and not just to be complimentary. With her bulletproof gauntlets, glowing golden Lasso of Truth, and her unshakable belief in herself and in the best of humanity, Wonder Woman is who all the world has been waiting for. As Hippolyta says, the world doesn't deserve her. To which, Diana learns, sometimes it isn't about what you deserve. Thank gods.

It's 1918, the First World War - the War to End All Wars - has raged for almost a half decade, and the war comes right to the shores of the Amazons' Paradise Island. When an American pilot spying for the British named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the magically camouflaged island of Themyscira, with German boats in hot pursuit, the Amazons face the male half of the human race for the first time in millennia. Man now has more deadly weapons: guns, bombs, and for the first time, mustard gas, which doesn't discriminate who it gruesomely murders. Faced with this reality, Diana, trained from youth to be the greatest of the Amazon warriors, decides she must go and fight to save the world. Diana and Trevor escape the island, and the roles are reversed: Diana is now delightfully a fish out of water in a world she hardly understands. The deeply ingrained patriarchy of Georgian society certainly doesn't understand this beautiful, headstrong, sword wielding woman who can't possibly be Steve Trevor's 'secretary.'

As confused and occasionally repulsed as Diana is by the world she finds beyond her island paradise, she believes mankind is simply being coerced by Ares, the Greek god of war, who is the last survivor of the Greek pantheon after murdering all of his siblings, including Zeus. Diana believes wholeheartedly that she must simply kill Ares and it will end not just this war, but all wars, forever. As cultured and learned as Diana is in many other respects, her naivete in this matter is downright charming. Who Ares is and where he's hiding is a mystery, though all signs point to General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), the German leader who wants nothing to do with signing an armistice that signals Germany's surrender, preferring to gas everyone he can thanks to his pet chemist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Finding out that human beings aren't completely under the thrall of an evil god - that people, including Steve Trevor - are messy, complicated, and prone to having all kinds of petty failings, is a crisis of conscience for Diana. In the end, what makes Diana a superhero - what makes her Wonder Woman - isn't her incredible power or prowess in battle, it's her ability to find empathy for people, even those who don't deserve it.

"I wish we had more time," Steve says to Diana, and we agree. At times, Wonder Woman feels a bit slight with its superhero origin story meshed with a gruesome war movie - though there are lots of familiar odes to Justice League director Zack Snyder's 300 as well as echoes of Wolfgang Petersen's Troy and Captain America: The First Avenger - right down to a blond soldier named Steve concluding the movie by hopping in an airplane and flying off to his doom. (Not to mention Wonder Woman's spiritual predecessor, Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie.) This is a film that could actually have been even longer, with more connective tissue to add more robustness, especially to the villains and all the characters who aren't Diana and Steve. Yet there are moments in Wonder Woman that truly sparkle, like Diana and Trevor's conversation and first night "sleeping together" on a boat, Diana's interactions with Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) in London, and a magical night in a tiny town in Belgium after Wonder Woman spectacularly liberated it from the German army. Even more moments like these would have been wonderful.

What makes Wonder Woman work - and why it rises high above its brethren in this current era of DC Comics superhero movies - is Patty Jenkins, who completely understands the power, grace, majesty, and boundless capacity for empathy that makes Wonder Woman special, and Gal Gadot, a magnetic, endearing screen presence who ranks with Christopher Reeve's Superman and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Iron Man as a most perfectly cast actor to play her chosen superhero icon. Jenkins proves time and again, both in quieter character moments between Diana and Trevor and in a handful of truly awesome action set pieces - the No Man's Land centerpiece battle is one of the all-time greatest superhero movie action sequences - that she knows exactly who Wonder Woman is and what we want to see her do. In Gadot, she has the greatest partner, a superstar born for this role you can't take your eyes off of, who delivers above and beyond, and makes you believe in Wonder Woman. Most importantly - because gods know we need it - Wonder Woman believes in love, and in us.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Baywatch

BAYWATCH

** SPOILERS **

Baywatch is like a fish pulled out of the water, flapping around hopelessly on a boat deck. Even the visuals miss the boat: If one thinks hard of the "classic" TV series and can see past the image of the buxom lifeguards in their high-cut red swimsuits, one recalls the bright blue skies and sun-kissed California beaches the show was set in. The Seth Gordon-directed feature film, set in "Emerald Bay," substitutes South Beach and Savannah, Georgia for Malibu, and the dreariness speaks for itself. Only a small percentage of the movie takes place in South Beach, or on the beach in general, and somehow they forgot to shoot scenes when the sun is out. Most of Baywatch takes place in Savannah and comes off more like the ill-fated spinoff Baywatch Nights, with the lifeguards performing a lot of nocturnal undercover detective work in a nonsensical plot the movie takes great pains to try to explain - as if anyone in the audience cares for even an instant.

In spite of its enduring 1990's camp value, the Baywatch television series was never technically a comedy. So I suppose it's fitting that Baywatch the movie isn't either, though it would be surprised to learn such. In Baywatch, Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchanan, the hero of the beach. Johnson is in full-on Samoan Thor alpha male mode, which rankles new recruit Zac Efron, who plays former two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming Matt Brody. There are fleeting jokes surrounding Efron not being very bright but overall the main joke driven into the sand is Efron being utterly baffled that Johnson and his Baywatch brigade think being lifeguards requires them to perform routine crime-fighting duties best left to the police. If they'd kept the action confined to the sandy shores, Baywatch might have tread water safely. Instead, the plot plunges headlong into an endless and immensely boring investigation of Priyanka Chopra's nefarious activities. She's running some sort of drug smuggling deal concurrent with some kind of real estate swindle. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't matter, but it's the most important thing to the Baywatch lifeguards to stop and it eats up most of the movie's 2 hour run time. (That's two episodes of the old TV show, of which most people could only endure watching a few minutes at a time. Guess which scenes. Meanwhile, Baywatch the movie is at pains to provide any of those scenes.)

As Johnson and Efron take turns dominating the screen, languishing off to the side being utterly under-utilized are the three female Baywatch babes: Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker, Alexandra Daddario as Summer Quinn, and Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden. Combined, they have virtually nothing to do except stand around and give reaction shots as Johnson and Efron muscle each other across center stage. Daddario fares the best of the three, in that Gordon's camera realizes her expressive blue eyes give off the best reaction shots. Meanwhile, the comic relief Jon Bass heroically provides struggles mightily to register in a film that has zero understanding of comedic timing, how to stage suspenseful action sequences, or even competent editing. Dutiful walk-on cameos are provided to Baywatch's two greatest icons, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, and even these make zero sense as The Hoff and Pam are also playing Mitch Buchanan and CJ Parker. Not that it matters to Baywatch, which manages to be both desperately unfunny and bewilderingly unsexy; an R rated slog that is under the mistaken impression anyone at all turned up to see Zac Efron diddling a bare penis in a morgue. Baywatch ends up being an utter waste of a valuable beach day

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant

ALIEN: COVENANT

** SPOILERS **

38 years ago, (not yet Sir) Ridley Scott directed Alien. Since 2012, he's been on some sort of mission to put together a cover band and recreate the old hit. His first cover band, Prometheus, couldn't get the number quite right. This new band, Alien: Covenant, gets a lot closer. That Alien: Covenant takes the title of Best Alien Movie Since Aliens is faint praise, but Covenant clears that low bar set by every attempt to make an Alien movie after James Cameron's space marines v Xenomorphs sequel. No one ever tried to remake Cameron's masterpiece; everyone else who made an Alien film riffed on Ridley Scott, including Sir Ridley Scott (twice).  

Alien: Covenant plays the old notes with ready familiarity. A rough and tumble space crew employed by Weyland-Yutani, the corporation with the worst business model of the future - send humans into space to die in droves - is en route to a new colony with 2000 cryo-sleeping souls on board. A distress beacon coaxes them to land on an Earth-like planet surrounded by ion superstorms. The crew, led by Billy Crudup and Katherine Waterston (who looks like she's perpetually about to burst into tears at any moment), of course discover Aliens, which attack with merciless abandon and slaughter their panicked, hysterically outmatched crew. But also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the android from Prometheus, and boy, is he a piece of work. 

Also on board the starship Covenant is Walter (also Michael Fassbender) an identical but newer model android. The two Michael Fassbenders on screen provide Covenant's most interesting moments, as they recite Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" to each other, fight each other, and gradually reveal what David is really doing on this planet: This is the homeworld of the Engineers, the pale, bald, giant space gods which created the Xenomorphs and probably humanity as well. David and Noomi Rapace, the survivors of Prometheus, arrived on this world on board the Engineers' ship, whereupon David unleashed the Xenomorph virus on the Engineers and slaughtered them, turning the Engineer City into a "dire necropolis." Then he killed Rapace and used her as one of his incubators for his genetic experiments to breed the perfect Alien, i.e. one that looks like the original version designed by H.R. Giger in the 1979 film.

One can almost imagine Sir Ridley Scott rolling his eyes in boredom recreating the same old scenes of facehugging, chestbursting, and of humans running from Aliens hunting them in dark, blood-splattered space ship hallways. Sir Ridley seems far more engaged whenever Michael Fassbender is talking to himself on screen. Fassbender delightfully alternates between Walter's labored American workaday accent and David's high-falootin' British foppishness. Sir Ridley also seems to think audiences really give a rat's ass where the Xenomorphs come from and how - they're the creations of David, who hates humanity, especially the one particular human who created him, played by Guy Pearce

Otherwise, Alien: Covenant is Alien Redux: the same old scares shined up like new, with a couple of nods to Alien movies past (which happen in this universe's future), like using an industrial crane claw to trap an Alien; an ode to Sigourney Weaver using a loading bay exosuit to fight the Alien Queen in Aliens. Sir Ridley Scott reportedly intends to make two more Alien sequels leading to the events of the 1979 film. Two more fucking Alien sequels! Two more of the same fucking thing before we get to Sigourney Weaver, the first fucking thing. These Alien movies are a Xenomorph eating its own tail.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

** SPOILERS **

Behold Your Born King!

When musing about King Arthur, what comes to mind? What do you expect to see in a King Arthur movie? Never mind any of that, director Guy Ritchie and Charlie Hunnam will answer for you with the thing you didn't know you wanted from King Arthur: swagger. In King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword - the first of a planned six film (!) Arthurian cycle - Ritchie and Hunnam, as the Born King, give us an Arthur unlike any before: bristling with the maximum swagger of a Men's Health cover boy and the best dressed man in Camelot. Almost nothing in Legend of the Sword is business as usual King Arthur. The Holy Grail? What's that? Sir Lancelot? Who's he? A love triangle with Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot? No one's got time for that, mate. 

Your Classical Literature Professor will be utterly baffled by Ritchie's reinvention of the mythology of Camelot, but that's all part of the bloody fun of this ribald adaptation of King Arthur.  Legend of the Sword is Camelot by way of a Guy Ritchie heist film, where a motley gang of back alley scalawags plot a revolution to snatch the throne of England from the usurper King Vortigern (Jude Law) lock, stock and smoking barrel. But first, some backstory, and quite a lot of it. Legend of the Sword is King Arthur Begins, a three hour movie delivered in two hours by way of hitting the fast forward button. Ritchie rockets past tons of exposition in montages of breakneck speed. Keep up now: 

When Arthur was just a young lad, Camelot already existed. In an unspecified era of England, the country is at war. Men, led by King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), who wields the magical sword Excalibur given to him by Merlin, battle an army of Mages, led by Mordred (who is not Arthur's son as is tradition). Uther wins the war but is immediately betrayed by his brother Prince Vortigern, who succeeds in his coup. Uther and his wife Queen Elsa (no, not that Queen Elsa) are killed, but young Arthur escapes by boat. The boy floats down river to the city of Londinium, already a multinational city. Arthur, who has repressed memories of his royal lineage, grows up in a brothel and ends up running it as a grown man with his randy mates. He also learns how to fight in a dojo from a Chinese martial arts master named George.

Meanwhile, circumstances place Arthur back in Camelot, where the Sword in the Stone awaits. Of course, Arthur draws the sword. Then he faints, besieged by visions. Soon he is about to be executed, for England cannot have two kings and Vortigern rather likes ruling the kingdom too much. This has to be the first and only King Arthur movie where Arthur's head is placed on a chopping block. Arthur escapes with the help of his mates and a Mage sent by Merlin (Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey). The Mage has the most frustrating job in the movie, trying to get Arthur to accept Excalibur and his destiny to rule as the Born King. Arthur is stubborn. He has no desire to be King. He even throws Excalibur into a lake, where the Lady of the Lake catches it and then literally forces the sword back into Arthur's hand. When Arthur finally accepts Excalibur, he becomes a fighting machine worthy of being one of the Avengers. Excalibur grants him superpowers; he can fight with astonishing speed, cutting down a horde of Vortigern's soldiers with ease. This merely adds to Arthur's swagger.

The Legend of the Sword offers unexpected surprises around every corner of Londinium and beyond. Giant magical monsters, like war elephants the size of mountains? Check. A secret magical island called the Dark Lands where even more giant animals dwell? Check. The ghastly Syrens, comprised of three women with octopus bodies who transform Vortigern into a giant skull-faced demon covered in fire? Check. Arthur's mates, including his father's former lieutenant Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a criminal archer named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) turn out to be the Knights of the Round Table as Arthur raises them up to knighthood when he claims the throne. Gillen's participation is extra fun for Game of Thrones fans; as the guy who plays Littlefinger, it must inspire him to see a brothel owner become King. Even if Littlefinger ever won the Iron Throne of Westeros, he could never carry himself with the swagger of Arthur, dragging Excalibur behind him as he strides into the fight of his life against his evil uncle. When King Arthur confronts a gaggle of Vikings at the end of the movie, his swagger is at maximum levels. "You are addressing England," he decrees to the Vikings before they bend the knee to him. Bloody hell, what's next? God save England, God save us, and God save our weird new King.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Screen Rant One Million

SCREEN RANT ONE MILLION

A little under five months ago, I began my venture as a Feature Writer for Screen Rant. In my head, I had a number I wanted to hit: 1 million page clicks. An arbitrary number, but 1 million was a big round number where I felt if I could hit it, I would feel like I'd 'made it.' I figured it would take the entire calendar year to hit that number (100K page clicks a month even sounded like a goal too lofty to be realistic), but my plan was to write like hell, be productive, do hopefully good, entertaining work, and see what happened.

This is what happened: 1.01 million clicks in just under 5 months with 59 published Features. Un-fucking-believable. THANK YOU to everyone who has clicked on my work, read my work, incessantly shared my work and even filling their own FB timelines with links to my stuff, and everyone who has offered support or encouragement or even complained about some dumb thing I wrote about Arrow or some shit. Special thanks to Iron Fist for being the single biggest Feature I've written so far (149K clicks), and thanks to your friends and mine, the Guardians of the Galaxy, who pushed me over the top. Achievement unlocked, and yes, I do feel like I've 'made it.' I'm a million clickionaire now and I couldn't have done it without you! 

Next stop: 2 million. Here we go.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

** SPOILERS **

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an incandescent starburst of coloful joy candy, the gooey center of which is the heartwarming theme of family. Director James Gunn's deeply personal and idiosyncratic follow up to his 2014 smash that truly made the Marvel movies a cinematic universe, Vol. 2 brings big laughs, all the feels, and doubles down hard on everyone and everything audiences loved from the original film. Yet Vol. 2, packed to the gills with jokes, songs, heart, and good times, ends up with too much of those things while not enough of important other things. 

As we careen across the Marvel multiverse with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), we visit some far-flung and truly odd-ball places as the Guardians work out their various family issues. First and foremost is the issue of who is Peter Quill's father? A flashback to Missouri in 1980 reveals it to be Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient and powerful Celestial. Ego is a god (small G) on a mission: to seed the inhabited worlds of the universe with himself. He hopes to spawn an offspring capable of wielding his Celestial powers while his seedlings grow to allow Ego to absorb all those planets into himself. In Star-Lord, who previously held an Infinity Stone in his hand without dying, Ego has found a son worthy of following in daddy's footsteps. Peter and Gamora, who's committed to not dealing with the unspoken sexual tension between them, don't trust Ego, but follow him anyway back to his planet - which is also Ego. Originally a giant brain floating in space, Ego became a planet, and then became a man, taking the form of Kurt Russell and later David Hasselhoff while still being a planet. It's weird. 

Meanwhile, the Guardians are being hunted by the Sovereign, a golden race of perfect beings, whom Rocket promptly stole from after taking a job from them to fight a giant space monster. The Sovereign's high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) soon turns to the Guardians' old nemesis the Ravagers, lead by Yondu (Michael Rooker) to kill the Guardians for her. Yondu has other ideas, and as long-held secrets as to why Yondu, who was hired to abduct Peter Quill as a boy, never delivered Peter to his father Ego are revealed, Rocket begins to commiserate with the tortured soul Yondu really is. More family issues: Nebula (Karen Gillan) is back, looking to murder her sister Gamora for a lifetime of abuse inflicted on her by their adoptive father, the Mad Titan Thanos. All of these belabored family dynamics come to a head in a series of heartfelt conflagrations where the characters gradually make peace with their long-held resentments and come to understandings with themselves and each other.

Vol. 2 is overflowing with 1980's TV and movie references and major laugh out loud moments where Gunn trades wholesale on the warmth and love audiences feel for the Guardians. It's also crammed with more of Gunn's favorite hits from the 1970's and 1980's; the previous Guardians soundtrack was so commercially successful (its style of blasting hits since shamelessly copied by other superhero movies like Suicide Squad) that Vol. 2 rocks out even longer and harder. What Vol. 2 is missing, however, is a powerful through line for its story. Much of Vol. 2 sees the various Guardians separated from each other and waiting around while information is gradually revealed to them before they come together for the slam-bang big fight finale in, on, and all around Ego the planet. 

The biggest victim of this malaise is Drax, who literally has nothing to do for the entire movie except sit around, point, and laugh at his fellow Guardians while being brutally and hilariously honest and forthright with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego's antennaed, empathic servant. It's a testament to Dave Bautista's charisma that he repeatedly gleans the biggest laughs in the movie. A detractor might say the real Ego of this movie is James Gunn, who operates without limits and pushes Vol. 2 as far into excess and absurdity as it can go, but Gunn routinely pushes all the right buttons for sweetness and feels, even when a world literally ends around the Guardians. In the end, the Guardians of the Galaxy are more than an island of misfit toys jaunting through outer space; they're the family we wish he had when we have no one else. We are Groot and we love them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Lost City of Z

THE LOST CITY OF Z

** SPOILERS **

In The Lost City of Z, Charlie Hunnam, a British Major strangely undecorated despite achieving that rank, is summoned to the Racist Royal Geographical Society by Emperor Palpatine himself (Ian McDiarmid). It is 1906, Europe is on the brink of the First World War, but Palpatine has a strange offer for Hunnam: go to the jungles of Amazonia between Bolivia and Brazil and survey the border between the two countries to prevent a war between them. Palpatine doesn't sugarcoat this sweetheart deal: "There will be terrible sickness, murderous savages, and you'll be gone for years." If he succeeds and, you know, lives, Hunnam gets a medal. Naturally, Hunnam jumps at the opportunity. He leaves behind his pregnant wife Sienna Miller, his young son, and heads to the jungle.

Dressed like Brian Fellows from Saturday Night Live and with an unrecognizable Rob Pattinson along for the journey, Hunnam's adventures in Amazonia involve floating on a rickety wooden raft, getting shot at by spears and arrows by "the Indians" who are all terrible shots, and finding pieces of pottery in the jungle. That last part is most significant; Hunnam realizes the tales of Conquistadors past who wrote about a fabled "lost city of gold" must be true. Hunnam doesn't stick around the jungle to keep looking for the city, though. He goes back to England to a hero's welcome and, in the movie's best scene, Hunnam stands in front of the assembled talking heads of the Racist Royal Geographical Society and argues that they must find the "Lost City of Zed" (they pronounce Z 'Zed' because British). Hunnam gets his expedition funded and back to Amazonia he goes, where he does not find the Lost City of Z and returns to England empty handed, just in time to be sent to World War I and nearly die after being gassed in the Battle of Somme.

Hunnan actually ventures into the jungle three times in Lost City of Z. Three times! Does he find the Lost City of Z? No, he does not. The movie takes place between 1906 and the 1920s, and by the third expedition, Hunnam brings along his grown son, Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Despite all of these walkabouts in Amazonia where the real Charlie Hunnam Leftenant Colonel Percy Fawcett spent years and years in the jungle searching for the Lost City, the movie itself doesn't even spend an hour of screen time in the jungle. Indiana Jones spent more screen time in the jungle in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This true story tragically ends with Hunnam and son lost in Amazonia; they are never heard from again and the movie never shows us the Lost City. This is a gigantic ripoff. You know what? It doesn't matter what actually happened. This is a movie and there are rules to movies. By the third fucking time Hunnam goes into the fucking jungle, the audience deserved to see the fucking Lost City of Z. Even the stupid flying saucer Indiana Jones saw is better than no payoff at all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Batman is Dumb

BATMAN IS DUMB
 









Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell Sample Scene


** SPOILERS **

My rewrite of the key opening scene of Ghost in the Shell.

INT. TOKYO HIGH RISE - JAPANESE RESTAURANT - NIGHT

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Thanks for coming to this business dinner, Africans. We want to sell you robots. Hanka has had great success putting Japanese Ghosts in Caucasian Shells.

AFRICAN BUSINESS MAN
What do you mean 'great success'? We looked at your books. In 99 tries, you only made 1 that worked.

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Yes, but she's hot. She's about to burst in here and save your lives.

AFRICAN BUSINESS MAN
No, she won't. She'll be too late diving off the roof. We'll already be dead when she gets here.

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Yes. Well. We'd better make that deal now, then. Would you be interested in deep-diving a geisha?

  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

GHOST IN THE SHELL

** SPOILERS **

The following review is written from the perspective of someone who has never seen the Ghost in the Shell anime, and never will.

For me, personally, watching Ghost in the Shell was akin to the experience of visiting an art museum. There's lots of cool stuff to look at, and sure, I dig what I'm seeing, but I was still kinda bored. In Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson is the Major; her human brain was implanted into a robotic Shell to make her the perfect super soldier. We witness her creation, which is similar to how the Hosts are 3D printed on Westworld, by the Hanka Corporation - a vast and powerful conglomerate super duper into human-looking robots. The money men and science-y types in the Hanka Corporation must have watched Robocop for decades, decided they wanted their own, but technology has evolved so no more clunky tin can cops. It's the high-tech, day-glo, holographic Tokyo of the future! Their robots need to be sleek and hot.

Scarlett is the first successful cyborg prototype after 98 previous attempts crashed and burned. And boy, Hanka did a good job with Scarlett. She has an awesome cloaking ability, she can leap off tall buildings without fear or dying, and she can kill with efficiency. In the Terminator movies, dogs always bark at the Terminators because they can sense they're artificial. Dogs love Scarlett in Ghost in the Shell, though, and dogs always know who and what's good. Scarlett's not flawless, though. Her human mind and her soul, which is called her Ghost in this movie, seems to be glitching. She randomly remembers people and things that are overriding what turns out to be memory implants Hanka placed in her to keep her from asking too many questions. Other than that, Scarlett is a model soldier. Hanka loans her out to Section 9, a black ops strike force, and for one year, Scarlett exhibits an exemplary record of successful kills. Johansson, the actress, does cool things as a cyborg; she stomps around instead of walking normally and stands with a weird gait, as if she can't figure out how to be properly idle in her Shell. Plus, she's really beautiful. Don't take my word or your own eyes for it; every character in the movie makes sure to tell Scarlett how beautiful she is.

One of the characters who tells Scarlett how beautiful she is happens to be Michael Pitt, a fellow cyborg who mounts cyber attacks against the Hanka Corporation. What he's after isn't hard to suss out even though the movie wants us to think it's a big mystery: Pitt is obviously a previous model of Hanka cyborg whose Ghost rejected his Shell. Pitt is kind of interesting in that he has a deformed cyborg body and he speaks with the voice of a Japanese man speaking English through Stephen Hawking's vocal simulator. But that's as far as Pitt being interesting goes; once he gives up the goose about who and what he is, he's out of ideas. He is literally just relying on Scarlett, armed with the information he delivers on who and what she is, to go on the offensive and bring down Hanka for both of them. Pitt tries to lend a hand, but he turns out to be pretty ineffective in battle with a huge Hanka Spider Tank. Pitt's really good at whispering sweet nothings in Scarlett's ear, though. "No matter what, I'll be with you in your Ghost," he romantically coos at her. A real Romeo, this Pitt is.

Of course, the real bad guy in Ghost in the Shell isn't Pitt. No surprise, the Big Bad is the evil Hanka Corporation itself, personified by its CEO Peter Ferdinando. Once he loses control of Scarlett, he decides to scrap her and start over, completely forgetting they had 98 failed prior attempts before succeeding with Scarlett and they don't have a viable back up Ghost to put in a new Shell. But never mind, Ferdinando is all about the bottom line: murder. He kills the kindly technician who built Scarlett's Shell, Juliette Binoche, and he declares war on Scarlett and Section 9. Luckily, Section 9 is commanded by "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, a crusty old chief who likes to communicate telepathically and is no pushover with his .44 Magnum. The war between Hanka and Scarlett is exceptionally brief, and guess who comes out on top.

"Say something nice," Scarlett says in the movie. Okay, here goes: I kinda dug Ghost in the Shell. Except for The Thing I Didn't Dig So Much. There's a Big Twist in Ghost in the Shell, and here it is: Hanka Corporation has a real case of white envy and white privilege. Ferdinando is a white guy in Japan who prefers Caucasian cyborgs. The Ghosts provided for all the failed Shells - and the one successful one, Scarlett - came from kidnapped Japanese people. Scarlett herself was actually a Japanese runaway who was dragged out of her hovel and had her brain removed from her real body and placed into the Scarlett Johansson Shell. Pitt was her Japanese boyfriend and had his brain removed and placed the Michael Pitt Shell. This is pretty wack. One way to possibly deflect this unsavory creative decision: the Spider Tank they fight should have been able to talk and could have said, "What are you two complaining about? I was a white guy they turned into a Spider Tank!" Then it'd be all about perspective for Ghosts in the Shells.



Monday, March 27, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

T2 TRAINSPOTTING

** SPOILERS **

The first image we see in T2 Trainspotting is of a treadmill, and right away, director Danny Boyle slyly and deftly addresses our worst fear: a retread. Moments later, the treadmill's occupant, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has a heart attack and is launched from the treadmill, collapsing in a heap on the floor. We're jolted, we're alarmed, we're uncomfortable, we laugh. This is Trainspotting. We're back, indeed.

20 years later, T2 Trainspotting reunites the original crew of Edinburgh drug-addicted hooligans. Improbably, they're all still alive: Renton, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Sick Boy and Spud go by their Christian names now, Simon and Murphy. They're both still addicts; Simon's drug of choice is cocaine, while poor Murphy has never been able to shake heroin, which renders him unemployable and cost him a happy life with his wife and young son. They're both still hustlers, stalking the darker alleys of their yesteryear in this grander, cleaner, gentrified Edinburgh. As for that fearsome sociopath Begbie, he finally escapes prison after 20 years, little knowing the reason he went to prison in the first place has returned to Scotland. The joy of McGregor, Miller, Bremner, and Carlyle being reunited with Boyle behind the camera is palpable and electric.

Renton unceremoniously returns to the city he fled in 1996 after stealing 16,000 pounds from his mates. Spud, at least, is happy to see him, though this is after his initial bitterness at Renton for foiling his puke-filled suicide attempt. Sick Boy is less pleased to see Renton, but after coming to blows and declaring his intention to ruin Renton's life to his Bulgarian somewhat-girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova - a fantastic addition as the only woman in this movie), even she can see he's secretly over the moon Renton is back. "You two are clearly in love with each other," she tells them in Bulgarian. "It's uncomfortable for me to be in your presence." Of course, all they do is reminisce about old times and old football matches, and soon they're up to a scam: stealing and blackmailing to finance Sick Boy's dream of turning a dilapidated old pub into a bordello, pardon me, sauna. Meanwhile, Begbie has resumed his life of violent petty crime, until he learns Renton is in town in a callback to the Worst Toilet in Scotland in the original Trainspotting.

T2 Trainspotting is the rare sequel that walks in the same path as the original but not only moves the story forward, it recreates much of the same exhilaration while illuminating and enhancing the original film. As they look back on the friends and family they lost, the trouble they caused, the needles they shared, the scams they pulled, the music they heard, and the near misses of what might have been (Kelly MacDonald, now a successful barrister, is a welcome face to see again, for Renton and us), T2 Trainspotting makes us all complicit. In Sick Boy's words, we join Renton and we all become "tourists in our own youth." Through Renton and the boys falling into old patterns and getting into new trouble with the old gang, we remember that we were with them every step of the way, and we missed them as much as they missed each other.

Renton launches into a fantastic new version of his "Choose Life" monologue, not only telling us where it came from ("Choose Life" was an anti-drug epithet in the 1980s) but updating it in an inflammatory derision of Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and our morally empty social media-obsessed culture. And we realize that Renton did choose life, but he, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie have been terrible at life, and always have been. They're right back where they were, older, sadder, maybe wiser, but at least without heroin. The bright spot, fittingly, comes from Spud. "First, there's opportunity, then a betrayal..." writes Spud, after Veronika encourages him to put pen to paper and tell the stories of himself, Renton, Sick Boy, and Begbie. Sick Boy wonders who would want to read these stories, but we know better. "I've thought of a title," Spud's wife says, and we smile, knowingly. With style, wit, joy, and utter confidence, T2 Trainspotting takes us back and pulls us forward, kicking and screaming, until we feel the same rush as young Renton running from the police down the streets of Edinburgh and the same release the now-46 year old Renton feels, dancing alone in his childhood bedroom to Iggy Pop.

Life

LIFE

** SPOILERS **

Remember how good you felt when you watched Gravity? Sandra Bullock was stuck in outer space orbit, the International Space Station got smashed up by meteors, George Clooney was there too for some reason, and Bullock had to figure out a way to get back to Earth. And then she did, and it was awesome, and we felt great for her and for us. That's not Life.

In Life, the International Space Station is crewed by six movie movie star astronauts. Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool, who brings soil samples straight from Mars on board to study. They discover a single celled organism that quickly - and I mean quickly - grows and involves into a tentacled starfish the size of a large pizza box in a matter of weeks. The Martian is kind of like Starro the Conquerer from DC Comics, so we'll just call it Starro from here on out. At first benign when it's just a miraculous little microscopic dot confined to a quarantined lab, Starro suddenly becomes incredibly violent and starts murdering the astronauts, crawling inside them as if all evil starfish on Mars have seen the Alien movies. Reynolds locks himself in the lab with Starro and tries to roast it with a blowtorch, but Starro takes out Deadpool and does him in from the inside out.

The rest of the astronauts, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, scramble to figure out how to lock Starro out of the ISS. But that insidious Martian starfish outsmarts their best science-y efforts at every turn and starts picking off the crew in grotesque ways. Then, and here's when Life really jumped the shark, Starro grows an evil alien face so it can have eye-to-eye staredowns with the humans. It soon becomes clear, especially when Earth receives the ISS's distress beacon and Starro massacres the crew of the rescue ship that docks with the station, that there's no way to beat Starro. The only thing that matters now is to keep it from reaching Earth. 

Gyllenhaal comes up with a plan to use the last two Lifeboats to trick Starro; he'll pilot one into deep space with Starro on board and sacrifice his life to save Earth while Ferguson takes the second Lifeboat and tells the world what happened. This is when Life really screws us, manipulatively fooling the audience into thinking the plan is working when the exact opposite happened: Ferguson's Lifeboat got hit with debris and careened into deep space while Starro tentacle-to-arm wrestled Gyllenhaal for control of his Lifeboat and sent them both to Earth. The well-meaning fisherman in Thailand who sailed to meet the Lifeboat that landed in their waters never knew what hit them. But we know. It was Life that fucked them, and us, over.

Life was going pretty well in the beginning, seeming like a derivative, but well-shot and decently interesting science fiction story in the serious and thoughtful vein of Arrival. When Starro instantly grows into an unstoppable CGI movie monster impervious to fire or the vacuum of space while managing to outwit six super duper brainy movie star scientists at every turn, Life goes right down the shitter. All I know is Life sucks, and everyone who sees it deserves a better Life.

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