INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

June 12, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. In 2004 THE INCREDIBLES became the 6th Pixar film in a row to dominate the box office, and also the 6th straight to “WOW” us with a combination of animation, story, action and characters. All these years later, Brad Bird, the creative force behind the original, is back with the much anticipated sequel. Mr. Bird’s career over those years has featured a blend of other animation (RATATOUILLE, 2007) and live-action (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL).

Bird is not the only returnee for the sequel. Also back is the entire Parr Family: Holly Hunter as Elastigirl/Helen/Mom, Craig T Nelson as Mr. Incredible/Bob/Dad, Sarah Vowell as Violet, Huck Milner as Dash, and Eli Fucile as baby Jack Jack. The story picks up not long after the original ended. “Supers” have been outlawed, and the Parrs are in some type of Super Protection Program – similar to Witness Protection. Of course when one is a superhero, doing the right thing just comes naturally, and the opening scene finds them battling their old nemesis Underminer (voiced by Pixar good luck charm John Ratzenberger, who voices a character in each of the studio’s films). Our heroes stop the crime, but cause significant damage to the city. This leads to our first social commentary when the powers that be scold the Parrs and inform them that the banks have insurance, and it’s cheaper to let the criminals get away so that the damage is minimized.

As superheroes non-grata, the Parrs try to go “straight” and live a normal life. That is until a powerful brother and sister corporate duo offer a proposal. Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (twist that pronunciation just a bit, voiced by Catherine Keener) want to generate a PR plan to help rebuild the reputation of supers. The idea is to make Elastigirl the public face of the program by having her wear a body cam to show off her heroic deeds (in this age of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). She’s chosen over Mr. Incredible for economic reasons, and he’s relegated to stay-at-home parent (or as we called Michael Keaton in 1983, MR. MOM – an unacceptable sexist term these days).

Elastigirl enjoys her time in the limelight, while Bob doesn’t much like being just Bob. Plus he can’t understand why they changed math, as he gets frustrated trying to help Dash with his homework. He’s also challenged with Violet’s teen angst over a boy, and even moreso over the discovery that Jack Jack has POWERS! In fact, Jack Jack has multiple powers, but as a baby, he has little control – though his battle with a raccoon is not a segment you’ll soon forget.

Also returning is Frozone – voiced by Samuel L. Jackson (minus his trademark “MF’er), and costume designer Edna Mode – voiced by director Bird. Other new voices include (Odenkirk’s fellow “Better Call Saul” castmate) Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Isabella Rossellini as the Ambassador, and Sophia Bush as Voyd, one of the new generation supers (which includes Reflux – one you’ll just have to experience).

The big new villain causing problems for Elastigirl is ScreenSlaver, who hypnotizes large groups of people through their screens – more social commentary on our dependence on technology and the addiction/affliction we have toward device screens. The flood of superhero movies over the years since THE INCREDIBLES exposes the not-so-complex story in this one, but it’s terrific that the film keeps much of the original look and feel, and yet brings something new … baby Jack Jack is a star!

Filled with the beautiful colors and art design we’ve come to take for granted from Pixar, the film also features some of the best action sequences you’ll see in any movie. The train sequence with Elastigirl is simply spectacular – as is the final action sequence. It’s also nice to see the flip in gender roles as Mom (Holly Hunter) takes the lead. Michael Giacchino returns as the composer and he blends in a touch of James Bond theme with his wonderful work. If the film needed extra credit (which it doesn’t), certainly the inclusion of a “Jonny Quest” clip would qualify. Family films don’t get much better than this, and even though it runs 2 hours, the closing credits feature the theme song for each of the superheroes, and could easily have been a short film unto itself.

Speaking of short films, a Pixar tradition is to include one before new releases. This time it’s BAO, a Chinese mother/son and food-oriented story from director Domee Shi (animator on INSIDE OUT)

watch the trailer:

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CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

October 13, 2013

capt phillips1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Paul Greengrass seems to thrive on finding the line for unbearable tension and hectic, claustrophobic action. He gained fame for helming The Bourne Supremacy and The Borne Ultimatum, but this one has more in common with his excellent United 93. Somehow he keeps us gripping the armrests despite knowing full well how the story ends. That is a talented filmmaker.

What adds to the stressed-filled fun here is that the world’s greatest everyman, Tom Hanks, meets his match with fire-eyed Somalian pirate Muse, played by first time actor Barkhad Abdi. The scenes pitting these two against each capt phillips2other are fascinating studies and the perfect example of vastly different worlds colliding. Hanks plays Captain Phillips, who is charged with guiding the cargo ship Maersk Alabama through the pirate filled waters. Phillips is not the warmest of guys, but seems to be a competent captain with respect from the crew.

Most of us remember watching on TV in 2009 as the 5 day sequence ended thanks to yet another perfectly executed Navy SEALs rescue mission. Greengrass does a terrific job of reenacting this moment. The other two moments that are sure to leave an impression both involve Mr. Hanks. The initial scene on the bridge as the pirates assume control of the ship … when Muse tells Phillips that he is now the captain, we see a flash of surrender in Phillips’ face. A stunning scene for both Hanks and Abdi (and congrats to Abdi for going toe to toe with the acting legend). The other scene worthy of discussion occurs after the rescue as Captain Phillips is escorted to sick bay to be checked out. His “in shock” actions are startling and very brave for an actor. Some may argue that Hanks took it too far, but I would encourage you to imagine yourself in that lifeboat and determine just how courageous you would be. Abdi also has a scene where he first discovers capt phillips3this is an American ship. He reacts as if he has won the lottery.  Since he is now serving time in a US prison, he has probably figured out that American roads are not paved with gold.

It was interesting to see how Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) provide the contrast of the pressure the warlords put on the poverty stricken Somalian citizens and the high-tech, global view of the shipping company and crew.  This same contrast is apparent in the pirates vs. Phillips intrigue.  The film also begins with a peek at Phillips’ personal life and marriage (wife played by Catherine Keener).  We see the signs of a long-term relationship between people who communicate by talking around an issue (their kid and Phillips’ risky job).

Some scandal surrounds this story as there is a lawsuit against Maersk and Phillips brought by members of the crew. The contention being that Phillips knowingly steered the ship too close to the pirate waters in order to save time and money. Phillips went on to write a best selling book recounting the ordeal and he also returned to his job as ship captain. Hanks was the perfect choice to play Phillips as the story is more about a regular guy being thrust into an extraordinary situation. Phillips is no superhero … he doesn’t disarm four pirates. Instead, he uses guts and a will to live …  characteristics we all hope we would exhibit should we ever find ourselves in such a traumatic situation.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy tension-packed, based on a true story movies with expert acting

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer light-hearted Tom Hanks (Big, Larry Crowne) to heavy-drama Tom Hanks (Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzU3UJuV80w

 


ENOUGH SAID (2013)

September 29, 2013

enough said Greetings again from the darkness. A Rom-Com for the 50-ish crowd is pretty darn rare. But then, writer/director Nicole Holofcener doesn’t deliver the typical rom-com filled with lame punchlines and actors with perfectly scultped bodies. Instead, James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss come across as real people with the expected defense mode and vulnerabilities as they try to find intimacy and a personal connection.

Albert (Gandolfini) and Eva (Louis-Dreyfuss) meet at a party and subtle sparks fly as both claim they aren’t attracted to anyone at the party. While at the party, Eva, a massage therapist, also meets Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), a charming poet who wants to hire Eva to help ease her shoulder pain. Albert and Eva begin dating, and Eva slowly comes around on Albert’s grounded and funny personality. Sure he’s a bit overweight and somewhat slobby, but he treats her well and adores her. Meanwhile, Eva’s massage work on Marianne exposes her to Marianne’s incessant complaining about her overweight and somewhat slobby ex-husband. Yep. This causes quite the dilemma for Eva because she likes Albert and she envies Marianne’s cool lifestyle. Oh and both Eva and Albert have teenage daughters getting ready to go off to college, so the couple also share parent-child separation anxiety.

enough said2 The story clearly centers around Eva, and it’s nice to see Louis-Dreyfuss throttle back a little and avoid some of her sitcom standard moves. We are able to relate to Eva and though we see the corner she is backing herself in to, we also understand how quickly a little bit of poor judgment can spin out of control. Although this is Eva’s story, the real heart of the film is delivered by Gandolfini’s performance. This is no Tony Soprano … this is a real guy … a nice guy … yes, even a sweet guy.

Ms. Holofcener has set her precedent with snippy banter from intelligent characters with her previous films Please Give (2010) and Friends With Money (2006), the former I liked very much and the latter I cared little for. This time, all of her characters and their dialogue ring true and are relatable. Eva’s married friends are played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone (married in real life to Melissa McCarthy) and they have the only hollow sub-plot with their “should we or should we not fire the maid” dilemma. The two teenage daughters are played by Tracey Fairaway and Eve Hewson (Bono‘s enough said3daughter) and both have scenes that really strike a chord and ring true.

Mr. Gandolfini passed away earlier this year and there was the thought that this would be his final released film. However, it’s been decided that Animal Rescue will be finalized and released in 2014. It’s difficult to watch him and not think what could have been over the next few years, though his legacy is quite secure. His range was much greater than many give him credit for, and I would recommend watching him in both True Romance (1993) and Welcome to the Rileys (2010).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see a well made rom-com featuring those around 50 instead of those pushing 30 OR you want further proof of just how talented James Gandolfini was

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your rom-coms to be filled with mindless slapstick and cast with actors who could model for Abercrombie

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEEJaIjF_Lo


A LATE QUARTET (2012)

November 13, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those little indie flicks that will probably get lost in the shuffle. Director and co-writer Yaron Zilberman delivers a twist to the familiar life lessons and substitute family story lines, and is wise enough to let his outstanding cast do what they do best.

It is by no means a great movie, but there are some terrific and wonderful moments thanks mostly to some top notch acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanik and Christopher Walken make up a famed string quartet who are approaching their 25th year together. All heck breaks loose within this group that thrives on precision when the patriarch (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This announcement is followed immediately by a battle of egos between the two violinists (Hoffman and Ivanek), a falling out between the married couple (Keener and Hoffman) when he has an affair, and a break in trust when Ivanek starts a relationship with the much younger daughter (Imogen Poots) of Keener and Hoffman.  It’s kinda like Peyton Place with classical music.

If this sounds like a dysfunctional family, that’s a very accurate description. These four people are outstanding musicians who made the decision to forgo solo careers and build something even better with the quartet. It’s a life lesson that four people working in harmony are both much stronger and more fragile than any one person going it alone. The music is what drives these four despite their other issues. Watching them battle through the challenges is quite similar to any film based on familial shenanigans, but the actors are so good that a few moments really resonate.

The chamber music is a joy to listen to, though the plot devices are often quite familiar and predictable. Christopher Walken has a couple of scenes that are alone worth the price of admission. Ivanek expertly captures the ego-maniacal first violinist, and Keener is perfectly cast as the one who can’t help but wonder how her life turned out so. Mr. Hoffman may be up for an Oscar thanks to his performance in The Master, but it’s these “small” roles which I find so complimentary of his talent.

Kind of off topic, there is a scene featuring Wallace Shawn drinking wine as he converses with Walken. Wallace Shawn drinking wine will forever remind me of The Princess Bride and the lesson of going up against a Sicilian when death is involved! To summarize, the individual pieces here are much stronger than the overall film … just the opposite of a world class quartet.

**Note: that’s the real Nina Lee (world class cellist) who steals the scene near the end

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy “little” films with great acting

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a soap opera disguised as top notch chamber music has you longing for the next Bond film

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX66lRnNmqs

 


CYRUS (2010)

July 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Trying to come up with the best way to describe this one. It seems to be billed and marketed as a comedy, but it’s very dark and only funny in a few places. The drama is pretty weak at times and uncomfortable all of the time. The comedy really stems from the mano y mano of John C Reilly and Jonah Hill. Marisa Tomei is a not so innocent bystander.  The film just doesn’t lend itself to a particular label.

If you have seen the preview, you know the basic story. John C Reilly is a socially inept oaf who gets dragged to a party and makes a fool of himself. Marisa Tomei views him as something of a lost puppy and takes him under her wing. The big reveal occurs when Tomei’s grown son (Hill) shows up at an inopportune time. Yes, he lives with her and they have a very unique and close relationship.

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (writer and director) are known as part of the mumblecore movement – they subscribe to the less rehearsal and minimal script school of film-making. Luckily for them, Hill and Reilly take to this beautifully. Their scenes together are very good at creating an inner turmoil and utter frustration. Luckily for the audience, Reilly’s character has two scenes where he can unleash the lines that the viewers are all thinking! It makes for a nice release of tension.

Hill creates Cyrus as the epitome of a “sneaky little devil”. OK, he’s not so little, but the rest fits. His acts of subversion are well thought out and pure acts of passive aggressiveness. These three characters make for quite the odd little group, but there is surely some insight into single parenthood, loneliness and over-protective parenting. Don’t expect a slapstick comedy in the Judd Apatow mold … this one is a bit creepy and dark.  John Malkovich played the role in Con Air, but Jonah Hill is the real Cyrus the Virus.


PLEASE GIVE (2010)

June 6, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. If not for a friend’s recommendation, I probably would have avoided this one on the basis of writer/director Nicole Holofcener‘s last film, Friends with Money. I found that to be a miserable film filled with miserable people. This one, on the other hand, is a wonderful film filled with miserable people!

OK, that is a slight simplification, but it is an extremely well written story that showcases the imperfections of people, social situations and society as a whole. Sometimes it seems the harder we try, the worse things turn out. Such is the life of Catherine Keener‘s character. She and her husband (Oliver Platt) run a furniture resale shop. Kind of a Ghost of Furniture Past.  She carries around this enormous burden because they stock the store by buying cheap from grandchildren stuck with death’s aftermath … and then reselling to arrogant metrosexual types who live for kitsch and cool. Keener spends her time trying to scrape off the guilt by doling out money and doggie bags to the homeless.

There are many interesting characters in the film and that adds to the fun. Rebecca Hall (uptight Vicky from Vicky Cristina Barcelona) plays the dutiful granddaughter taking care of her 90 plus year old monster granny played colorfully by Ann Morgan Guilbert. Many will remember Ms. Guilbert as Dick Van Dyke’s neighbor in the early 60’s sitcom. Her key job in the film is to get on with dying so that Keener and Platt can take over her apartment and expand – the ultimate dream for a NYC resident. Hall’s character is the budded flower – the one just waiting to bloom as soon as the sun comes out (granny dies).

The mean-spiritedness of the grandmother is matched only by the vile spewing from Amanda Peet, Hall’s less than caring and untrustworthy sister who is obsessed with tanning … and the girl who “stole” her boyfriend. Peet’s character often just says what she is thinking which adds dimension to most conversations! There are some terrific scenes and moments and characters in the film, but the best written scene is the dinner party. Keener and Platt invite Hall, Peet and Guilbert over in a guilt-easing attempt to be civil while waiting for Granny to kick the bucket. The scene takes on an entirely new life when Keener/Platt’s daughter makes an appearance. Sarah Steele plays Abby as a smart, insightful teenager. Oh, and she is also mad at the world and bitter about her complexion and slightly pudgy build (which makes finding the right jeans a quest). The whole scene is one uncomfortable statement or moment after another. Beautiful to watch.

I could go on and on about the intricacies of the characters and their relationships with each other and outsiders, but what matters is that the film is well written and well executed. It is not some sappy, save the world rom-com, but rather a character study of what goes on in real life and in real moments. Plenty of humor, but also plenty of truth. Amazing how often those two go hand in hand.