Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

I knew two things going into this. I knew it was about someone in a wheelchair, so the title pointed as a certain style of humor that I was feeling. The second thing was that Jonah Hill costars in a dramatic role. That there is enough for me to see this.

Written (the screenplay at least) and directed by Gus Van Sant (remember him from Good Will Hunting), this film is about the life of John Callahan. Specifically, it’s about his road to sobriety after a drunken incident leaves him paralyzed. We follow him thru the AA steps and watch him discover his passion for the cartoons he’d draw that would become his legacy.

The story took a little bit to get going, and it wasn’t until about the second act that I understood what it was trying to be. That’s really my only gripe with this, but it was a disruptive one. That quirky humor I was expecting was there, maybe a bit more subdued than I’d hoped, but still enjoyable.

What this film was really about was the performances. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Callahan, and gives one of the best performances of his career. I say this as someone who goes back and forth as to whether or not I like him. The physicality and emotional depth of his work was incredible. And of course, as expected, Jonah Hill delivered. Obviously, I woulda liked him to have a bigger role, but it wasn’t really his story. However his final scene will bring a tear to your eye. Oh Jack Black is in this as well, and he too had a final scene that took my breath away. I haven’t seen that side of him before, but now would love to see more.

If you like Good Will Hunting, then you might notice some parallels here. It def feels like a Gus Van Sant film, with a delicate attention to relationships. The Hill/Phoenix relationship very much mirrors that of Williams/Damon, and it’s beautiful to watch that grow. That right there was what made it worthwhile to have seen this.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot – \m/ \m/ \m/

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Is this the quickest turnaround for a Marvel movie? We’re still mentally recovering from the end of Infinity War and now we’re back in the MCU with Ant-Man and the Wasp. To be fair though, these stories are meant to be happening in parallel, so it does make sense to keep them close together.

Picking up where we last saw Scott Lang, at the end of Civil War. As a result of the events of that film, he’s been put on house arrest. Fast forward to the end of his sentence and he seems to have been contacted from the original Wasp in the quantum realm. He reteams with the new Wasp and old Ant-Man to try and rescue her. Meanwhile, there’s a phasing baddie out there trying to get their hands on the same technology.

That paragraph didn’t make much sense, but does it really matter what this movie is about? It’s the MCU. You’re gonna go no matter what.

For me, I feel like the biggest criticism of this film is actually it’s greatest strength. It’s light and fun and has relatively small stakes. I find that to be a refreshing change after the doom and gloom of Infinity War. Not every super hero movie has to be end-of-the-world stakes. This felt more like a return to the roots of smaller baddies for smaller supers. I dug it. It was a lot of fun and a reminder of why we got into these movies to begin with.

One of the biggest strengths of the MCU has always been the casting, and that was so apparent here. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Pena, all absolute perfection. Srsly, Douglas is way too good of an actor to be in a film like this, and it elevated the movie to a whole ‘nother level.

By now we all know to stick around thru the post credits, but if you wanna see how this puzzle piece fits into the greater picture, make sure you don’t miss that first post-credits scene.

Ant-Man and the Wasp – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The First Purge

The last film seemed to signal the end (or did it?), so it’s time to circle back to the beginning. I’m too lazy to circle back to my old Purge posts, but I’m pretty sure that I raved about how much I love the concept. I still feel like the films take it a different way than I would think about it, but the point is that the idea is incredible thought provoking and effective. Plus it’s a great excuse for some of the old ultra violence. It’s like watching these films gives me the release that the characters crave.

It’s the not too distant future. A new political party is in play. They’ve teamed up with a psychologist (Marissa Tomei? What is she doing here?) to try a new experiment. For one night, all crime will be legal in Staten Island. Citizens are promised compensation if they remain on the island, and more if they participate in the night’s events. The hopes is that the release will allow people to let go of their anger and function better as a society. If all goes well, maybe this event will be rolled out nationwide. Hey did anyone else notice that the majority of the population of this area is in extreme poverty? Hmm, that could be relevant.

On the ideas front, I liked this. It’s interesting seeing where it all started, even if that proved to be a bit problematic for the action (more on that in a bit). And while the films always dealt with the plight of the lower class, the powers that be in this story were less secretive about their true intentions. They were blatant about the fact that the poorest of the poor were targeted here. So as far as proliferating the ideas of the purge, this film was effective.

Where it was less effective was in the action. That’s the flip side of this movies, and why they generally work so well. You’ve got something tangible to think about, but you’ve also got a rush from the action. Here, by the simple nature of this being the starting point, it took way too long for the intensity to build. I didn’t feel any urgency until the third act (and by then, it required ignoring some massive plotholes in order to accept it). I never felt the inner ick that usually comes with being loose on the streets of Purge Night, mostly because this didn’t feel like a true Purge night yet.

Once it picked up, it was good, it’s just that it took a while to get there. There was a really cool fight in the smoke that I was totally digging. It was also around then that the characters finally started to click for me. Their relationships had solidified and I cared about what happened to them. Why couldn’t that have happened about an hour earlier tho?

I still love this franchise and I’m all for it keeping going, I just hope the next one brings us back to the top form that I’ve come to expect.

The First Purge – \m/ \m/ \n

Leave No Trace

Let’s chat for a second about Ben Foster. Back in the day, I used to watch him on the Disney Channel show Flash Forward (yes, I was the target demo at the time). The show was short lived, but the love I obtained for Foster was not. From then on, I followed his career, catching his movies when I could. Over time, especially with films like The Messenger, I realized that he is a damn good actor. So now I really try not to miss his films, even though that often means seeking out indie theaters.

In Leave No Trace, Foster plays a veteran with PTSD who is living off the grid with his tween daughter. They’ve set up an illegal camp on public land in the Pacific Northwest, and live in relative uninterrupted bliss. That is, until their camp is found, and they are forced into a more traditional lifestyle.

Of course, Foster was incredible. His performance was very subtle and the character was well served by his quiet intensity. It’s one of those performances that you almost don’t notice, where he seems to fade into the background, but in a way that shows how effective he is. The one who was at the forefront was the daughter played by Thomasin Harcourt Mckenzie. Now she’s gonna be the one to watch because she owned that whole film. I’m hearing countless comparisons of her to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (same director Debra Granik), and while I feel their performances are different, I could see her growing in a similar career trajectory.

Those performances are what made this film for me. I could see how with weaker actors, I woulda been bored outta my mind. It’s not the dynamic type of film that I generally gravitate towards. It was slow and contemplative and requires some patience. But those actors kept me enthralled in a way that I wouldn’t expect in a film like this. I wouldn’t write this off as just another small time indie. There’s some real magic on the screen.

Leave No Trace – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Uncle Drew

Just like my Daddy raised me on action movies, he also raised me on basketball (Go Spurs Go!). However, this movie didn’t seem to fit my sense of humor, so I was kinda hesitant. I decided to wait and see what Stardust would say about it. The first few reactions I watched started with some variation of “If you like basketball, you’ll enjoy this movie”. Well okay then. Turns out, okay is just about right

Uncle Drew is basketball star Kyrie Irving under some old age makeup, and he’s a legend of NYC street ball. Because reasons, he’s recruited to play in a street ball tournament with his old teammates (other NBA legends in old age makeup). So think Space Jam if the Monstars were the good guys and were old instead of monsters.

I was right about the humor not being my style. I like seeing Shaq do comedy, even if I never liked him on the court (again, Spurs fan). I loved seeing Lisa Leslie in on this, playing with the big boys. I could sense the passion for the game in every frame of this film. I just wasn’t feeling it. I felt lit relied too much on the gimmick and didn’t put much effort in past that. Ida rather watched Space Jam

Uncle Drew – \m/ \m/ \n

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

I love Taylor Sheridan’s films, but from his three films, Sicario is the one I cared for the least. Interesting set up, but just way too slow. Still, because his work got stronger over time, I was certainly intrigued about revisiting this world.

We pick back up with our ethically shady law enforcement officer (I forgot what flavor) Josh Brolin, who is essentially tasked with a covert mission to create a gang war in Mexico. He enlists his favorite sicario (Spanish for “assassin”), Benicio Del Toro, to help kidnap the daughter of a cartel boss, hoping to frame their rivals and unleash some ultraviolence across the country. Oh and somehow terrorists are involved?

I actually preferred this over its predecessor. I found it more dynamic and engaging, and I particularly loved that Benicio had a stronger character arc. The people I was with disagreed (as did much of Stardust), but I was certainly more into this one that night than Sicario on any of the viewings I’ve tried in the theater or at home.

I think this film is ultimately gonna end up blending into the background of summer, but it was a good watch at the time.

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Post

And we’ve made it to the last on the list, for now at least. I’m sure Meryl’s list of Oscar nominated performances will continue to grow thru infinity and beyond. I just talked about this movie not very long ago, so I don’t know that there’s much more to add. At my screening, Meryl actually got loud applause at a couple different points in the film. What other actor can boast that?

This role also illustrates a common theme I noticed going thru these movies. Meryl chooses some wonderfully feminist roles. In some cases that just means that it’s a fully developed three dimensional characters, but in cases like The Post, the character herself is a symbol of what women can achieve and what we’ve accomplished. I’m thrilled to have Meryl light that path

Florence Foster Jenkins

Another one I’ve talked about before, but this film is such a joy. It’s hard enough to sing well, but singing badly on purpose is even harder. And being completely delightful while doing it? An impossibility only Meryl can achieve. Seriously, this is a movie that’s guaranteed to make you smile.

Into the Woods

This film is the ultimate example of “Meryl’s in a movie! Let’s nominate her for an Oscar”. Yes she’s great, but it’s nowhere near on par with the rest of her nominated performances. True, that still puts her leagues above the rest of the world, but I don’t think this one quite warranted the recognition.

I’ve talked about the movie before. It’s alright. I think my excitement for it waned over time. I’ve seen many stage productions of Into the Woods and while the cast is great, I don’t know that it really does much better than the better stage versions I’ve seen.

And can I throw in a quick confession. Meryl’s not even my favorite in this movie. That would be Chris Pine, the only one here who truly wowed me. Everyone else, while fantastic (minus Johnny Depp), did exactly what I expected of them. Pine had never done anything like this and blew me away. But we’re blogging about Meryl right now, so I’ll stop. For now.

Skyscraper

Thanks to Stardust and RealD 3D I got to see Skyscraper early! I am happy to report that the Demi Lovato song was in no way a part of the film.

Dwayne Johnson is hired to assess the security of a Hong Kong skyscraper, the largest ever built. Stuff happens, blah blah double cross, now his family (including wifey Neve Campbell) is trapped in the top of of the building which is now on fire, and there’s some baddies going after the owner at the top. Now The Rock needs to find a way into this towering inferno to rescue his loved ones.

It’s easy to kinda write this off as Die-Hard-in-a-bigger-building. I certainly get that comparison. I think if you’re gonna rip off an action movie might as well go after the greatest of all time, but just know you’re never gonna touch it. That said, while the setup may share some similarities, there are some striking differences.

The biggest difference is in the style of the action sequences. Most action movies are about big explosions and gun fire and complex choreography. Skyscraper did something unusual. The sequences were built around feats of strength from The Rock, which created a different kind of excitement. Instead of big and surprising, it was a slow burn suspense, which I found incredibly effective. My heart was pounding outta my chest during some of these bits, marveling at his strength and admiring his love and dedication, while very concerned that there’s no way he could keep going. The crowd around me was cheering and gasping and screaming in a way you don’t typically get in these kinda movies. Also worth noting, I’m not big on 3D, but this is the rare film that was truly served by it. It emphasized the dizzying heights many of these feats were taking place at, giving me a sense of vertigo and heightening my anxiety all the more.

The other major standout for this film was Neve Campbell. So many times the leading lady is just a damsel in distress. True, she was in distress, but she was far from helpless. She is one of the smartest women I’ve ever seen in an action film, with tough mama bear instincts that were on par with her super hubby. Most importantly, she was vital to the story. The way that events played out, Mr Rock could not have succeeded without her. Can we please have more ladies like her in action films? Furiosa, Sarah Connor, and Ripley could use some company.

I had fun (mostly because I got to hang with my Stardust peeps). Skyscraper is certainly not Die Hard and it ain’t ever gonna be, but it’s still a good time. I think it fits well into this year’s trend of serviceable but never gonna be classic blockbusters. Popcorn movies aren’t inherently a bad thing, just keep your expectations in check.

Skyscraper – \m/ \m/ \m/