Movie review – Gotti

This movie was a muddled mess. This biographic piece couldn’t quite pick up steam or really even figure out what it wanted to be. I was waiting for the big moment but there was none. It was just two hours of a lot of names thrown at you, never fully explaining anything. On a positive note, John Travolta was great. He did an amazing job, his mannerisms and speech was spot on. They also did a really good job of setting the ambiance of the time. I was a little disappointed that I pretty much knew all of what happened. I thought for sure there would be some new information given that the public didn’t already know. If you owned a television and watched the news at all during his reign, then you know exactly what is in this movie. You’re better off saving your money and waiting for the DVD.

Grade: C

Movie Review – Tag

What a darn cute movie. I’m enchanted to learn Tag is based off a true story of some kids who decided never to grow up. The entire theater was PACKED at the first showing, and everyone in the theater not only knew a lot about the film going into it, but were very much into the playful spirit of things, whooping it up, laughing and cheering. The audience clearly had a fantastic night at the movies.

Even during the trailers for completely unrelated movies, they howled and clapped. During the preview for horror flick The Nun, at the jump scare, one person got up and ran around pretending to be the nun/ghost/whatever, and people squealed, excited and happy. I actually wondered it the entire theater was high (this IS California). They were that rowdy and playful. It made the viewing experience unique, and added to the fun.

The cast seemed to have having as much of a ball as the audience. Everyone gave it their all. Jeremy Renner stands out as the unstoppable, never caught tag hero (not caught in 30 years of annual play!), but really, this ensemble really killed it.

I foresee a lot of old friends starting their own games of life-long tag. I want to play too!

It’s late, and a better and more full review will be posted early next week – I’m headed to the San Diego IntergalactiCon for the weekend, in full costume: I’ll post photos here for sure!. I just wanted to pop in and say that this is absolutely worth seeing. You’ll laugh and feel young again.

NOTE: Make sure to stick around through the credit for a charming and very silly version of the Tag guys singing “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies. What a bunch of goof balls. Loved it.

Movie Grade: A-

RunPee Meta: I gave you 3 good Peetimes, each of a decent length, where you won’t miss any of the best chase or humor scenes.

Related, on RunPee: Did you know Tag star Jeremy Renner filmed this movie with two broken arms? And yes, he broke them on set. Read what happened

Movie Review – Incredibles 2

Pixar is known for their genius in telling stories that appeal to adults as much as kids. Incredibles 2 is no exception.

As with every sequel, the question is: was it as good as the first? I’d say, “Close, but not quite.” Which is a compliment considering how good the original was.

I don’t think it was as funny. Not just me, but my five year old niece watched the first Incredibles (for the dozenth time) last night and she laughed repeatedly. She sat right next to me while I did the Peetimes for Incredibles 2 and I didn’t hear her laugh nearly as many times. (There’s never been a better litmus test.)

This is a long movie for kids. It’s two hours long from opening to end credits, not including the seven minute animated short.

Speaking of which, what was up with that animated short? I don’t know about you, but that didn’t seem appropriate for kids at all. Personally, I’d say that short is an excellent time to duck out and make a last run to the restroom or concessions before the movie starts.

Grade: B+

Movie Rewatch – The First Incredibles

This movie is really good! I hate using such an imprecise term, but I’m sitting here shocked at how good this animated superhero film is.

I’d seen Incredibles when it came out in 2004, and certainly liked it, but now, in 2018, I have a different mindset. Back then I had no idea how…well, GOOD superhero movies were going to get. Remember, 2004 was still a few years away from Iron Man and the start of the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, which really defined and perfected the superhero experience. I think back then, all we had were some Spiderman movies of various quality, some Batman movies that really didn’t age well, and early X-Men. And Fantastic Four. Which is a perfect segue to my next point.

It’s clear that the Incredibles are a remake/rebooted version of the Fantastic Four, which is interesting: Fantastic Four tried twice to make their series work, and both bombed terribly. I mean, they were simply awful. So who would think that tweaking it into an animated film would be  a good bet?

Well, the answer is Pixar, now owned by Disney. Using the magic Pixar formula —  irreverent humor,  outstanding animation work, attention to character traits, well-known and respected actors for voices, and a real plot with actual jeopardy — Incredibles really showed it could be done. 

Incredibles is good enough to be a Marvel movie, quite frankly. It may as well be one, maybe in an alternate universe. You forget you’re watching cartoons about ten minutes into the film, which starts quite charmingly with an “old news reel” and a flashback to Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl in their heyday.

The movie picks up at a place that would not seem too far from the X-Men Universe: all the supers have been relocated and retired by public demand, due to traumatic collateral damage done in the name of “helping mankind.” The Incredibles family has to hide their powers and try to live normal lives in suburbia. Mr. Incredible works in a dead end insurance job, and ElastiGirl is a stay at home mom. Their kids have to hide their superhero status as well, which chafes them to no end. How can you try to “be your best” when your best can never be tested? How can Mr. Incredible be “normal” when he breaks everything he touches, and has to be constantly vigilant against his own strength? We see him mourning for the good old days, and listens to police scanners at night with best friend FloZone (voiced by Samuel Jackson, clearly enjoying himself), sneaking out to do clandestine hero work.

These are mature themes, and shows why adults flocked to see Incredibles, and will flock again, in 2018, to see Incredibles 2.

I didn’t notice at the time, but in this rewatch, knowing there’s going to be a sequel out soon, I saw how clearly the film demanded a follow-up. When you watch it again, take note of how nothing has actually changed for this family. Well, except for Jack Jack, but we wont go into that here. Basically: at the end of their adventure, the family goes home and back to their “Witness Protection” style life. The supers are still not welcomed by the public, the government, or the world. It’s back to suburban hell. We don’t see that in the movie, because they ended the film on the high note of putting their masks on (which is more symbolic than useful, but just go with it). Their family unit maybe stronger than ever, but now the fun’s over and it’s time to put the leash back on.

So it does demand another film. How has the Incredible family unit been managing, back at mind numbing jobs and public school?  From the trailers it looks like (SPOILER ALERT)….scroll down or not…

 

 

 

Okay, from the trailers it looks like ElastiGirl is back on the job and in the public eye. Mr. Incredible has to be Mr. Mom. So maybe the supers are accepted again? Or is using ElastiGirl a way to slowly ease the public about reintroducing supers? I’ll go with the latter.

Anyway, the sequel looks pretty good, and I know it will pack the theaters, as we’re just not saturated with superhero movies. It’s pretty much a Golden Age for hero movies and we keep lapping them up and asking for more. I’m fine with that.

Incredibles is a fine film, with a lot of heart and humor, charming characterizations, surprisingly good chemistry in a voice-over medium — it’s just enjoyable on every level. The Big Bad is a bit annoying, but creating a great villain is a sticky point for almost every superhero film. You can just ignore whathisname, and get back to marveling at the amazing visuals and snappy banter/bickering.

I recommend seeing Incredibles again, before catching Incredibles 2, just to get back up to speed with these great characters and their family dynamics.

Movie Grade: A

Here’s a link to the blu-ray of the original Incredibles movie, and the logo tee shirt. I’ve seen entire families wearing this shirt, and not just for a family Halloween theme…places like Disneyland, so it’s easy to find each other, or on any family outing to show they are a family unit. It’s fun. 

Movie Re-Watch – Sky High

I honestly forgot just how cute, and how much fun this 2005 film is. And I had the movie conflated in my head with Mean Girls, thinking Tina Fey was the gym teacher. Well, she’s not — instead, we have the equally awesome Bruce Campbell as the gym teacher. And in case you forgot, Sky High itself is a floating castle of a high school, specifically for young Superheroes-in-training. And also, sadly, a school for Sidekicks (AKA, “hero support”).

On your first day of school you get slotted as a Hero or Sidekick. And the teens we follow are those whose powers are so bizarre (melting into a puddle of slime) or minor (shape shifting into a guinea pig) that they are siloed as Sidekicks. And the main character – the son of the Earth’s most powerful superheroes – has no powers at all.

Sounds fun? It really is. The “evil plot” is a forgettable MacGuffin, so you can feel free to ignore everything to do with it, and get on with the good times one can imagine if an 80’s John Hughes film was steeped in a tea of Marvel goodness. There’s the smart-ass tormentors of the Sidekicks, the pretty mean girls, the snide cafeteria hijinks, the bad boy with a heart of gold, childhood crushes, school tournaments (Save The Citizen!), and kids who really just wants to fit in. Even if fitting in means he simply glows if he tries really hard — and only if it’s really dark enough.

Things to notice: the soundtrack that takes you way back. Funky posters on the walls, silly jokes and throwaway lines in background scenes, sly school loudspeaker announcements that you barely notice, a self-referential picture on a  pinball machine…it’s all there for the joy of it. Also, you’ve got Principal Linda Carter giving kids detention, shaking her head at the children and saying she’s not Wonder Woman, ya know.

Does the powerless kid get his powers? What do you think? Does the gawky girl get the boy? C’mon. From Steve Stronghold (Kurt Russel at his overbearing man-child best) as The Commander, to Ron Wilson, Bus Driver (who I want to give a hug for making lemonade out of lemons), this is a whole heap of fun and a good message. Sky High is a keeper for the download list, a nice background movie ranking next to The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, and…yeah, Mean Girls.

Movie Grade: A-

Movie Review – Ocean’s 8

I understand the appeal of a movie like this — the Ocean’s 11 (and +) movies are popular, and the idea of all these good looking, smart men conducting a high-octane heist is great fun, when done right. Switching it off with Danny Ocean’s prison-sprung sister Debbie, and her classy, femme fatale cohorts should be equally exciting, right?They got the perfect lineup of attractive, well-regarded, and culturally diverse actresses, added a reasonable plot, and mixed it together with snappy lines and pretty dresses.

So I did have a degree of good expectations heading into the theater. What surprised me was how mediocre the affair turned out to be. What do women want? Clearly, diamonds. The male plots didn’t have diamond necklace payouts. And I understand audiences probably enjoyed the high fashion displayed along the way, and the actresses got to have some girly fun…but there it is: that’s the word: girly.

I can even get past the shortsightedness of the Material Girl culture if the film was funny enough, clever enough, or just a rollicking good time. But instead it kind of checks all the boxes expected of a heist film, then calls it a day, satisfied at the end to sip a gin and tonic by a tombstone.

I don’t think it’s enough to go through the motions. In the Danny Ocean movies we get to see why each character was recruited, and what made them perfect for the mission. Here, most of that was skipped over in favor of lightly amusing banter.

I’m not saying it’s a bad film. I’m just confused why this gender-flipped version wasn’t as much fun, or as smart, as the others.

To the good: Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway added some needed zest to their roles. They were delightfully off-kilter, without ever veering into bizarre. I do expect that from Carter, but it’s nice to see Hathaway mixing it up. She plays Daphne like she did The White Queen (in the regrettably Depp-heavy Alice in Wonderland), with an unusual texture and tone. I’m glad to see Hathaway isn’t afraid to break out of the ‘perfect girl’ mold. It’s time to give this actress some rope to play with, because I think she can develop a respectable range.

With the plethora of great movies in the theater this summer, I’d recommend waiting for the DVD on Ocean’s 8. It’s a perfect at-home-with-the-girls movie, with plenty of the above-mentioned gin and tonics. Save your cinema money for the stuff you need to see on the big screen to appreciate — the dinosaurs, the wizards, the superheros, and the galaxies long ago and far away.

So, yeah, a B- isn’t a bad grade, but I’ve given you enough information to decide what you want to do with your time.

Movie Grade: B-

RunPee Meta: It’s not easy to get good Peetimes for heist films, which tend to be lean (not much filler), and have many points that seem minor at the time, only to reveal a big payoff later. I’ve provided 3 Peetimes that are easily summed up in the synopses. I recommend the 1st Peetime, at 42 minutes in, if you can make a pre-emptive break. The 3rd Peetime is best for emergencies. 

Movie Review – Hereditary

Hereditary wasn’t terrible. I was really on the fence about seeing this movie. The trailers made it look really good but I’ve been burned by that so many times I’ve lost count.

I’m not a fan of A24 — the company that released the movie. I haven’t liked a single one of their movies. So I felt almost compelled to see this movie and prove myself wrong. Maybe they can make a movie I like?

They pretty much made me eat my words on this movie. It was decent. The acting was great, the story was really intense and the mood almost makes you shiver. I felt it could have been slightly shorter, but I see why they did it. They were creating the right mood. It worked. I don’t know if everyone will like this movie, but it was worth the price of my ticket.

Movie Grade: B-

Movie Review – Upgrade

Plain and simple, I loved Upgrade. The acting was great, as was the directing and pacing. Also, Whannell wrote a darn good story, somewhat reminiscent of one of my all time favorite movies —Robo Cop.

I had zero expectations when I walked into the theater, and left pleasantly surprised.

One caveat: it is pretty gory, but not much more than you see on any CSI show. (For those who remember Robo Cop, Upgrade has the same kind of gore, just much more, and administered more creatively.)

Movie Grade:  A-

Movie Review – Action Point

I’m a huge Johnny Knoxville fan; I’ve seen every one of his movies at least five times. It kills me to say this, but I probably won’t watch this one again. It lacked in a way that I can’t quite define. I wasn’t all hyped up after this one, and felt a little blah during it.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few funny moments in it that made me laugh out loud. It just wasn’t up to par with the rest of them. If you are expecting Bad Grandpa, leave that thought at the ticket window. I was kind of thinking that’s what we were going to get here, but it was very far from that.

I’d recommend it for a night in with your friends when the DVD comes out.

Grade: C

Movie Review – Adrift

Adrift is both more and less than I expected. I expected long, languid scenes of a sailboat floating aimlessly at sea; I expected storms; I expected frequent stretches where Tami (Shailene Woodley) learns to sail. Those bits were in there. What I didn’t expect: the absence of any kind of compelling narrative in what should have been a gripping tale of survival, guts, and grit.

I’m not putting it down lightly. It looked like a fantastic movie from the trailers. I personally like  disaster stories, and will hang in there for extended stretches of silence if the action, plot, or characterization is good enough.

Or even if the scenery is good enough.

Making ocean scenes pretty should be an easy task, but everything in Adrift was fraught with glare. That might have been a creative choice to impart a sense of peril, but I feel it’s just a missed opportunity. Instead of offering a great cinematic experience, it comes across like a documentary. Worse, a cheap one.

I wondered previously if Woodley was seasoned enough to carry an entire movie — and in fact almost an entirely silent one — on her back. The answer shown here is: no, she can’t, at least not yet. Emily Blunt would have knocked it out of the park. (In fact, in the recently fantastic  A Quiet Place, Blunt did just that — with less dialog.)

I think the non-linear storytelling device hampers any attempt to build tension, stamping the movie with the cardinal sin of being boring. Adrift should have been told in a straightforward manner, starting with Tami meeting Richard, getting to know him, talking about their journey, and setting off towards disaster. Instead, we start in the immediate aftermath of the event. From then on, the story shuffles between three different timelines. Every time things start to build any emotional resonance, the direction cuts to somewhere else.

I’m not saying every movie has to follow a linear narrative, but what Adrift attempted to do didn’t work. If you are going for an artsy route, you need the right directorial experience, with high-caliber actors to pull it off.

In any case, it made finding Peetimes pretty easy: there really was only one scene where you can’t hop out to the bathroom.

This film is apparently based on a true story, and maybe there just wasn’t enough meat in the sandwich…but you know you’re in trouble when a short movie like this still feels too long.

Movie Grade: C-

SPOILER TO FOLLOW:

 

 

I think the choice of having there be a surprise twist felt cheap. I expected the character of Richard to be a co-starring role, not an almost silent phantom. All their lines together were probably in the trailers, leading me to think that they would work together to get out of their mess – him via talking her through it, her by learning from his commands. Instead, we have a sort of Life of Pi/Fight Club/The 6th Sense scenario going on. Those movies are top notch and earned their endings. This one just sort of…happened. Since I had no investment in anything onscreen by then, the big reveal felt pointless.

———-

Here are links to the true-life book Adrift was based on, plus A Quiet Place, which we can’t say enough good things about: 

RunPee Review of A Quiet Place (with Spoilers)

RunPee Review of A Quiet Place, No Spoilers