Crawl

There’s a certain level of expectation when Sam Raimi’s name is attached to genre film, even if he’s just a producer. His involvement suggests a really fun time with some crazy gore and overall insanity. I was gonna hold off to see this until next weekend in NYC, but the initial buzz was so positive, I thought it was worth giving up two episodes of the Sopranos on my Sunday afternoon to go see it (and finish off my gift card on an amazing Oreo milkshake). Maybe that Raimi bar was set just a little too high.

There’s a hurricane in Florida (big surprise) and there are alligators (bigger surprise). And the alligators enjoy chomping on people. There is a framing story of a daughter going to check on her kinda estranged father and they get stuck under their house (because reasons) which is now flooding and filling with large reptiles with big teeth. Conveniently she’s a competitive swimmer. Methinks that skill may come in very handy in this movie…

I was expecting something really bonkers and gory (again, Sam Raimi). Turns out it was more of a realistic horror. There was some alligator action, but not to the level I’d hoped for. It was more about suspense and a claustrophobic one at that. The film did a good job in making you feel trapped, but it did seem to me like they spent way too long in one location without enough really happening.

It all felt like it was trending in the right direction, but nothing went far enough for me. I was talking to a coworker about it this morning
-So you wanted more gore and alligators tearing people’s limbs apart and blood and stuff?!
-YEAH! There wasn’t enough
-I think you need help
Maybe I do need help. But right now, all I want is more from this movie. And maybe another one of those oreo milkshakes

Crawl – \m/ \m/ \m/

Stuber

The Big Sick was one of the biggest surprises of a movie I’d ever seen. I went from having minimal interest in seeing it to it being in contention for my favorite film of 2017 and it earned a spot in the latest revision of my Top 100. Star and writer Kumail Nanjiani had been on his way up and up, so I was excited to see him leading a big summer comedy (also was excited about seeing a brown dude on movie posters across town because yay diversity). Unfortunately this ended up being one of the biggest let downs I’ve felt in a while.

Nanjiani is an Uber driver hired by a cop (Dave Bautista) to drive him around town chasing bad guys. Really there’s nothing else you need to know about the premise, it basically all folds into that for a pretty wild action comedy. But for some reason, it just didn’t click for me.

As the film played out, the implausibility and absurdity of the story kept making me cringe. With each line Kumail delivered, I was hoping I’d bust my gut laughing like I did earlier this summer with his scene stealing role in the new MIB, but nothing happened. I wasn’t finding it funny. The people around me in the dine in theater thought it was hilarious, but nada on my end.

To be fair, there was some dine in distractions around me trying to use the gift card I was trying to use besides the usual distractions of food and waiters, so maybe I wasn’t quite on my concentration game. But that wasn’t the only problem. An action comedy like this relies on surprises: unexpected dialog, big out of nowhere stunt sequences, etc. Nothing was surprising me. Envelopes weren’t really pushed. It just fell flat.

Our two leads did have great bro chemistry, and I’d be happy to watch them in Stuber 2: Stuber Pool (and I will continue to look forward to everything Kumail does). This just wasn’t the right ride for me

Stuber – \m/ \m/

Midsommar

I don’t even know where to start with this one. Do you like your movies disturbing? Keep reading. If not, move along.

A group of (I think) grad students make a trip to a tiny village in Sweden where one of them grew up. Hewants to share their annual (it was unclear what was annual and what was only every 90 years) Midsommar festival with his anthropologists friends. One friend brings his girlfriend, their relationship barely hanging on by a thread as she’s dealt with some unspeakable life horrors. That’s only where the terror starts.

I’ve complained a lot recently about the type of horror that relies on jump scares. This was not that. Nary a jump to be had. The majority of the film, there’s little that’s blatantly scary other than a few grotesque images. Still it’s horror thru and thru. The entire time, I had this really unsettling feeling. You know there’s something wrong, but you don’t know what it is, and you pray to God that you figure it out before something bad happens to you.

The film plays out very slowly and stretched to nearly 2.5 hours. It was intimidating going into the film knowing that, but the pacing served it well. This is a movie that wants to be discovered in the moment, with every icky moment of that atmosphere thoroughly soaked up. Had I seen this at home, I prolly would have zoned out twenty minutes in and never recovered. In the theater, it became a visceral experience.

Still there was a beauty in what was happening. Many of the disturbing ideas were brushed off as cultural. There were gorgeous flowers and countryside all over. The sincerity in their ritual was stunning. Their customs, while strange, often made an even stranger sort of sense.

I walked out of there stunned. What did I just watch? What did it all mean? What was I gonna eat for dinner?

Midsommar – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Spider-Man: Far From Home

The MCU really is my happy place. I can’t believe we’re so many movies in, and not only are they still good, I get even more excited for them today than I did back in Phase 1. Far From Home to some extent serves as a sort of epilogue to Endgame, putting that final period on Phase 3, and maybe giving us a glimpse towards the next era.

Spoilers for Endgame: Everyone who was dusted (or blipped is the term they use here) has been back for a few months. Peter Parker and his friends are back in high school, and he’s still mourning the death of his mentor Iron Man while Nick Fury is blowing up his phone for some unknown reason. In other words, Spidey needs a vacation, or maybe a class trip to Europe where he can hang out with his bestie Ned and maybe finally make a move on his love MJ. But of course, life is not that simple when you’re an Avenger. There’s some big elemental baddies hanging around, and some mysterious dude that looks like Jake Gyllenhaal, all of which looks like it’s gonna put a damper on the vacay.

We started off with some great tie ins to Endgame, glimpsing how some of the world has moved on or struggled to in the aftermath. Then we kinda hit a lull. Things were not quite adding up and something was missing. It felt very run of the mill superhero, lacking that epic ness and puzzling that Spidey would be the one called to take things on. AND THEN something changed. It suddenly got really good (and if you’ve seen it, you know exactly the moment) and it rode that wave out thru the end. I dare not say any more because this needs to be experienced in the moment.

Jake Gyllenhaal has been one of the loves of my life for a long time (minus a brief period where I got annoyed with his stage door behavior when I saw him off Broadway, but I’m over all that now). The boy is Donnie Darko for crying out loud, I am going to love him forever. Plus he’s also Bubble Boy (shut up, I love that movie). And now I love him as Mysterio, but again, I can’t say too much lest I unintentionally spoil things.

My boy wasn’t the only great person in the cast. I love Zendaya’s take on MJ (No joke, when I was scripting my Stardust reaction, I kept on saying Zendaya’s take on Meechee). She’s not a damsel in distress. She’s smart and capable and has a very uncharacteristically dark sense of humor that I would actually get along with. I also wanna shout out Martin Starr as the totally clueless and dorky teacher chaperone. Oh and of course stay thru the credits for more surprise appearances.

It’s almost not worth calling out Tom Holland because he’s already proven he’s a great Spidey, and that continues here. What I do wanna highlight though is that he had some great science nerd moments in this one. I feel like we hadn’t seen much of that from him, and it especially shows that he’ll be capable of one day filling Tony Stark’s iron shoes.

Ultimately the second half more than makes up for the slow start, so I call this a win. And now I’m gonna go for round four of Endgame

Spider-Man: Far From Home – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Yesterday

Who doesn’t love The Beatles? Even if they’re not one of your favorites, you know who they are and respect their musical contributions. If you think about it, you can probably manage at least a few choruses of their most popular songs. I’m mostly in that camp. I know the big ones, especially those featured in Across the Universe. I remember playing that soundtrack while driving with my Mom some time back, and she got upset about how “my generation” is “stealing her music”. But what if we lived in a world without those classic tunes?

That’s the basic premise of Yesterday. A failed singer/songwriter (newbie Himesh Patel) wakes up after a freak accident during a strange world wide blackout and realizes he’s the only one who remembers The Beatles (and various other pop culture bits). He seizes the opportunity, passing off as many of their songs as he can recall as their own and he skyrockets to superstardom (with an assist from Ed Sheeran). But can he live with himself and this deception? Plus a side plot romance with his long time bestie (Lily James).

This movie was so charming and delightful and sweet, and it really felt like a breezy summer movie. My heart was so full as I watched this. The sold out auditorium was laughing so hard throughout the entire thing. I was just basking in the glory of the music. I particularly appreciated that there wasn’t much overlap in the song choice with Across the Universe. The Beatles have such an expansive catalog, it’s nice to spread the love around to other corners of it.

I texted my Mom after the movie telling her to watch it. “The songs from my teenage years!” she responded. “And yes you all are still stealing our songs” Welp, might as well be stealing from the best of the best

Yesterday – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Child’s Play

A few months back, I heard the announcement that there was a new Chucky movie and it was going to be released on the same day as a new Toy Story. Genius! I was anticipating how many parents would accidentally buy tickets for the wrong sentient plaything movie. Then the crossover posters started being released, with Chucky tormenting beloved toys, and I got excited. (I also need a set of those posters for my room, but I haven’t found them yet). The stars aligned that the Friday release date was one of our early release days at the office, so I would be able to get in the double feature I was dreaming of for months. What I hadn’t calculated was how big of a psychological and emotional attack this double would be on a millennial like me.

And this really is something that is specific to millennials. We grew up alongside Toy Story Andy (coincidentally the kid in Child’s Play is also an Andy), and loved those toys as our own. When that Andy went to college, we were on similar journeys. Toy Story 4 is even more about growing up and I was crying through the whole thing. I had about two hours to recover before I encountered Chucky–one of the few scary movie dudes that actually scares me. Because again, as a millennial, that means I was a certain age when Chucky debuted. I was just old enough to be aware he was a thing, but not quite old enough to process it, and definitely already had a good start on the stuffed animal and toy stash that I still add to today. As much as I know better, he still freaks me out. Right now, top of my Halloween costume list for this year is his Bride, Tiffany Valentine, and I know I should prolly buy a Chucky doll to carry around with me to make the outfit more recognizable, and I’m seriously considering buying him only a few days before the holiday and giving him away right afterwards because I don’t know that I can have him in my apartment longer than usual. Aaaaand I’m digressing and freaking myself out a little bit now. Moving on.

After seven movies (which I was only able to bring myself to see for the first time last year), we get a reboot in every sense of the word. Previously, Chucky was a doll possessed by a serial killer that voodoo-ed himself into the toy. This time, he’s artificial intelligence gone wrong.

I had some concerns about the change. I thought it would be too simple and it’s a concept that’s kinda overdone. However, I totally got behind it. They gave a plausible enough reason why he was on the fritz AND it gave an opportunity for a hint of social commentary. No, not the “beware of technology” message that’s played out. Instead, you see Chucky learn these behaviors. You could argue that it’s about being careful what you do and say when children are around because you don’t know what they’re gonna pick up from it. Sooooo if you’re watching a slasher movie and laughing your whole way thru it, your kid (or your psycho doll) might think that slashing up somebody is a way to make you smile. For an example.

Let’s be real here, from the getgo this has been a ridiculous premise. Throughout its history, some of the movies tried to ignore it and be as scary as possible, others played into it and didn’t so much care about terror. This movie struck a great balance. It was scary, it was gory, but it was also funny. I wouldn’t call it a dark comedy tho. It was a sinister and dark humor, laced in between the bloodiest sequences. It worked.

A big part of why it worked was Mark Hamill. Yes, that Mark Hamill. He was the new voice of Chucky. And he truly GETS what the movie was trying to do. He gave that depth to the toy’s voice. He wasn’t just some deranged piece of plastic. Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard him sing the buddy song. Although, I suppose if you do hear him sing, odds are you won’t be living for much longer…

Child’s Play – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Toy Story 4

Very few movies make me cry, and even then, it’s only been in the last decade or so that I ever truly start bawling while watching an emotional film. To date, the only one that has made me fully cry on multiple viewings is Toy Story 3. If my reaction while seeing Toy Story 4 is any indication, this one may soon share in that distinction

As you may recall, Toy Story 3 ended with Andy passing on his beloved toys to little Bonnie (the scene that triggered a thousand tears). The toys came to understand that their time with Andy was over. He was growing up, and no longer needed them like he once did, but they could be there for their new kid as faithfully as they were for their first.

The toys are adjusting to their new life playing with Bonnie, all except Woody. He hasn’t gonna used to not being the top toy in town and he’s desperate to find his purpose in the new toy room. He covertly accompanies Bonnie to her first day of kindergarten, which is not going very well. That is, until she (literally) makes a new friend, Forky. Woody makes it his mission to take care of Forky and make sure that he understands what it means to be a toy caring for a kid. Complications ensue on a family road trip.

I think it only took me about five minutes into the movie before I started getting teary. I was tempting to blame it on the spiciness of the orange chicken that I’d smuggled in, but ain’t nobody gonna buy that. It was a few things that got me. The first scene was a sad one for a beloved character, but I noticed a few other things. Toy Story 3 made me cry because I recognized how the toys represented growing up and lost childhood. Here I noticed how pure these beings are. They are made of nothing but love and goodness, and it’s apparent in their every action.

The next scene kinda suggested to me where the movie was ultimately going to go, and every subsequent scene confirmed it. It added so much more weight to everything that was going on. But what really made it pack such a powerful impact was Tom Hanks. He gets it. He’s always gotten this franchise. From him talking about doing the voice for children to him interacting with Woody at the premier, he gets it. He knows what this franchise means, and he knows that he’s the heart of it. I could hear the gravity of that in every word that Woody uttered. That’s why I was nearly in tears throughout the entire film, and that’s why I was ugly crying by the end of it. As I left the theater, all I wanted was to see Tom Hanks standing outside the auditorium so I could throw my arms around him and cry into his shoulder. Of course that didn’t happen, so I had to settle for crying a bit thru my Stardust reaction.

It wasn’t all emotion and tears. It was funny as heck too. I was so excited to meet Forky, voiced perfectly by Tony Hale. We’ve had a neurotic toy before in Rex, but Forky was next level. Everything he said was pure gold, and I would say I have a new favorite Pixar character, except that it might be a tie with another newcomer: Duke ,Kaboom voiced by the one and only Keanu Reeves. If there is a level of pure joy that is the exact opposite of ugly crying, that’s what I hit every time Duke spoke. But I darenot say any more because the less you expect from him the funnier he’ll be.

It’s funny though, only a very specific generation gets this emotional with Toy Story. The kids in the audience were all smiles and laughter. The few people I spotted older than me looked indifferent. But those of us who grew up with Andy, grew up with these toys, and see these toys as a representation of our childhood, oh yeah, we’re hit right in the feels. And it’s so beautiful

Toy Story 4 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Late Night

I’ve read Mindy Kaling’s books, so I know she’s a great writer. Turns out, she’s great at writing screenplays as well (not that I ever had any doubts)

Emma Thompson stars as the host of a late night talk show. While she was once the queen of ratings, her show has stagnated over the last decade, and she’s now faced with the possibility of her reign coming to an end. In an attempt to shake things up and save her show, she hires Mindy Kaling to diversify her writers room that’s otherwise full of white dudes. Normally this is where I’d say hilarity ensues, and while it was in fact very funny, it feels kinda patronizing.

When you think of a comedy, you think of something silly and slapstick and superficial. Not always, and I don’t mean to negatively stereotype, but that’s usually where your brain goes first. Late Night has the weight of a drama. The characters are complex and fully realized. There’s some insightful social commentary. There’s tangible stakes in the plot, and I loved getting a peek behind the curtain of a world I’m fascinated by. And yes, funny as hell.

Emma was absolutely relishing the role that Mindy wrote for her. Part of me was heartbroken to see that because I recognize it’s the dearth of meaty roles for older women that make this one so precious. But the other part of me just loved seeing her in her element. So with that, once again I implore you, support female filmmakers! Go see this movie

Late Night – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Dead Don’t Die

Mooovies. *shuffle shuffle shuffle* Mooovies. *shuffle shuffle*
The zombies in this movie gravitate toward what they loved in life. And instead of saying “braaaains” they say that thing. The preceding was me as a zombie in this world.

All I knew going into this was Adam Driver and Bill Murray battling zombies. That’s all I needed. I actually rather liked not knowing anything about this film because it meant that I could discover it as it went along and experience the absurd sense of humor.

Just a warning, this isn’t a zombie movie for the mainstream audience. It’s slow paced and it’s weird. It’s not a thrilling 28 Days Later or a hilarious Zombieland. This is a movie for those who don’t want the usual undeads. Everything about the style of this movie are things that I don’t typically care for, but for some reason they really worked for me this time.

First of all, that slow pace. Normally, I’d be bored and falling asleep. But the film felt so bright, it kept me in it. And since I had zero clue of where it was going, the pace drew out my anticipation. I was jumping out of my seat to know what was coming next.

And what came next was usually very strange. So much happened that was completely unexpected. The dialog was absurd, the humor was often brilliantly meta, the action took turns I didn’t forsee. The slow feel actually made the film feel very carefully made, like every element was carefully curated with a purpose. In my case, that purpose was often laughter. But judging by the people sitting next to me who left the movie early, that wasn’t the result for everyone.

There were some great surprises in the cast as well. Driver and Murray anchored it beautifully (I especially loved Driver’s dry line delivery) but there were so many wonderful cameos. Again, don’t look them up. Just be tickled by who shows up undead (but maybe don’t let the undead tickle you).

The Dead Don’t Die – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Men in Black International

I decided to go all out in enjoying this screening. Scheduling had me going on Thur opening night. I was told there were special MIB dark cherry Icees with collectible cups (we won’t discuss where that black coloring returned as fluorescent turquoise) , but after I’d paid way too much for the drink, I found out they had no idea what I was talking about with the cups. (It’s still on your FB page, AMC!) But I’ve loved this franchise and I wanted this to be a fun outting. I don’t know that this movie ended up being quite worth all that, except maybe for one little detail. We’ll get to that

When Tessa Thompson’s character was a kid, she met an alien in her room who was eluding the men in black. Though the MIB neuralized her parents, they missed her. She’s then spent the next twenty years finding these guys who walk in shadow and move in silence to guard against extra terrestrial violance, hoping to become Agent M. Once she does get herself recruited, she’s given an assignment in London and talks her way into working with the top Man in Black, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth).

Again, I chose to go into this film with a spirit of fun. I was going to enjoy myself, and I did. However, the film felt mostly underwhelming. While Tessa and Chris still had the chemistry they cultivated in Thor: Ragnarok, this film didn’t feel like it fully tapped into that. It felt restrained (perhaps since it was lacking the Will Smith magic). Nothign was really bad, but little was getting me really excited. I also noticed that walking out of the theater felt anticlimactic without a big rap theme song playing over the credits (although the theater did hand me a pair of MIB sunnies as I left)

Despite the overall lackluster feel, there was one aspect that knocked it out of the park: the casting. The first absolutely INSPIRED choice was using World of Dance champions Les Twins as aliens. If you saw them on that show (or on the YouTubes) you know that their movement truly is otherworldly, so putting them in this role was perfect. I don’t even know how else to describe it.

However, the single best part of the film, which simultaneously earned a half a point on my rating, and the main reason to watch this film, Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny. Pawny is a pocket sized little alien who joins M and H on their journey, and he is the cutest and funniest little dude this side of the galaxy. The things that he says and the way that he says them made me laugh hysterically every time. Pawny is the X factor that elevates this film from “eh alright” to “yeah pretty good”. And now I want my own little chess piece alien to pledge his loyalty to me and follow me around. That’s my takeaway from this film.

Men in Black International – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n