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Baby Driver

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You rob to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit.

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When Edgar Wright stepped down from directing Ant-Man I was sad. I think the final product of that movie shows how his prep did not work in another director’s hands. I bring up that *** film that some people seemed to love because this is Edgar Wright’s worst movie. My buddy Jon, who has very different tastes than I do (he’s never seen Star Wars, but has seen like 5 Nicholas Sparks movies) really hated this movie and I assumed that I would love it because we often disagree and Edgar Wright is just the best. I cannot type the words Hot Fuzz without wanting to put that classic on. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was almost a perfect movie, in my estimation.

Those successes set the bar very high for Baby Driver and it just did not measure up. Part of me wonders if Brett “Rush Hour was my only good movie” Ratner had directed this if I would be more impressed with it, or if I would take a flamethrower to the flick for wasting such an amazing collection of talent. I will admit that I did not fully get At World’s End, so maybe I missed a lot going on here, and I probably did, but a movie’s job at first is to make me want to watch it again, or to leave me with certain things stuck in my head. Movies are supposed to make you feel something, and I did not really feel anything when I was watching this movie. Not wanting a kind old blind man to get killed, for instance, is not an earned emotion, just a knee jerk for most reasonably decent human beings.

Obviously much of the music in this film was great and populated with many lesser-known gems. Obviously the action scenes were shot interestingly. Obviously the film had a cool factor. But it was less Snatch and more Smokin’ Aces. And I *** enjoyed Smokin’ Aces, which I saw in theaters because Joe Carnahan wrote and directed it. That was the last of his films that I have seen. But Wright has more successes than Carnahan, and I fear that I might have lost my last must-see director, except Peter Jackson—I did not see The Lovely Bones in theaters, but I watched the rest since Fellowship on the big screen. I do not even see all of Steven Spielberg’s movies, so it takes a lot to earn my trust to this level. And if Peter Jackson’s last three movies were not The Hobbit I probably would not have gone to see them in theaters.

I really, really wanted to like this movie, to love it even, but it was as if The Town were directed by a crappier director. I do not like making that comparison, yet it struck me from the opening bank robbery, and it still seems true now.

**½

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Boone: The Bounty Hunter

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***

America – you’re welcome.

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This indie film was the passion project of John Hennigan, whom I know best as Johnny Mundo from “Lucha Underground”. In support of his movie he even wrestled as Boone: The Bounty Hunter. That is some next level mental gymnastics that return me to an earlier age. I reviewed No Holds Barred a few years ago. It was just awful, but part of the madness with the marketing for the film, was how the villain, Zeus, wrestled in the WWF. Not Tiny Lister, but the character. Contrast that with Hulk Hogan, who is played by Terry Bolea, but whose character in that movie was Rip. Rip did not wrestle in the WWF to promote the movie, Hulk Hogan did. Got that all?

That promotion seems almost appropriate for what is a throwback movie. It has modern technology and uses “Dog: The Bounty Hunter” as its satirical starting point, plus Hennigan showcases his awesome parkour skills, but at its core this is a 1980s action comedy. He is not the Terminator, he is more John McClane, but in Mexico. I really enjoyed watching it and hope John Hennigan gets more acting opportunities after this. And if you want to watch a good review of this, I recommend Wrestling with Wregret.

Ready Player One

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***

People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.

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This 80s nostalgia and video game mashup tells a solid story about the dangers of capitalism and teen relationships. What this comes down to is that Steven Spielberg made this movie, and he is so good at it that even when it’s an uninspired thing such as this, he can make you care. Some have called him a manipulative filmmaker, which makes me laugh. You could create a dichotomy of art that is trying to make you feel a certain way and art that just exists, and hate all art that is made by someone trying to elicit certain emotions at different times, but then you are going to lose out on a lot of great cinema. Spielberg does not resort to cheap tricks (abandoned dogs or silently crying children) he just uses the skill he has honed through mastering his craft.

One person I saw this with just hated it, and I could not see why. Maybe it was the masculine gaze of the film, but that was not what she identified. For better or for worse, I cannot see how the film managed to elicit as strong of a reaction as hate, when it was made so well, but without any true greatness inside of it. For as anti-establishment as this film really is, I would say it is safe to watch with the whole family.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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***

As a child, my father would have Gamora and me battle one another in training. Every time my sister prevailed… my father would replace a piece of me with machinery, claiming he wanted me to be her equal. But she won… again and again, and again, never once refraining. So after I murder my sister, I will buy a warship with every conceivable instrument of death. I will hunt my father like a dog, and I will tear him apart slowly… piece by piece, until he knows some semblance of the profound and unceasing pain I knew every single day.

If you loved this movie and want to continue loving it, feel free to stop reading this review. This movie, in many ways, is the theatrical release of The Two Towers. That is to say that almost everything great about this movie was cashing in on the investment fans made through the quality of the first film. There are a couple of high points though, so I think I will Good, Bad, Ugly this.

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The Good
Yondu’s character gets a chance to grow and to explain his prior actions. His story arc was good and moving.
Chris Pratt and co. are all as charming and amusing as ever and Kurt Russell was mostly a good addition.
Nebula–Karen Gillan–is in this movie and her relationship with Gamora–Zoe Saldana–is interesting, important to the plot of Avengers 3, and gets this film to pass the Bechdel Test.
Some of the CGI was really good and the Sovereign have a cool look.
Good music again.

The Bad
Sylvester Stallone’s hamfisted hamminess.
Some of the comedy feels tonally discordant with the action/drama on screen.
Baby Groot is more often annoying than cute.
Taserface’s savage turn with the Ravagers.
Some of the CGI, especially the Ego recaps.
The opening scene goes for funny and comes close, which made me worry that this was Age of Ultron again.

The Ugly
The child abuse scene where Baby Groot is tortured with water and has his cage shaken. It’s supposed to be showing that he is kind of brave and angry, but it is a prolonged and wholly unnecessary scene of child abuse. Oh the Ravagers are evil? Maybe when they senselessly and cruelly murdered half of their comrades while laughing sent that message already.
Mantis goes from being a fully fledged comic book character who can fight and speak in non-pathetic ways, to being a one dimensional tool of the story who seems vaguely racist against Asians and definitely sexist. She is meant to be the dumb yin to Drax’s dumb yang, but that does not work for her character because Drax has such a huge ego, while hers has no confidence and is extremely accommodating. They even took away her parents and made her just a thing created by Ego (the Celestial-planet, not the other kind). And how Drax, played for the audience’s laughter, just crushes her by calling her ugly over and over again.

Going through this has reminded me that there really was a lot about this film that I liked and that it was very well produced. But the better the rest of the film is, the more upsetting these two major offenses get. This is the James Bond slapping a woman on the butt after saying “Dink, say goodbye to Felix. Uhh, man talk.” Or this is James Bond undercover as a Japanese man. Or the casual use of Black slurs in Live and Let Die.  I am making light of the situation to get over the discomfort of what I said in the ugly portion. I still enjoy Goldfinger, but I have to acknowledge its flaws and view it through the right prism. This was 2017 and James Gunn should know better. To quote Treebeard in The Two Towers, “A wizard should know better.” I gave Guardians 1 ****. My instinct was to give this the same grade, but in hindsight maybe 1 deserves higher and this deserves lower. What do you deduct for two things that stuck with me far longer than the technically sound execution of a primarily amusing film? I gave the theatrical Two Towers **, so I averaged that with Guardians 1 to get the rating listed above.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

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***½

Let me give you some advice. Assume everyone will betray you. And you will never be disappointed.

This was a good enjoyable film. I was concerned about not feeling that this Han Solo was going to feel like Han Solo and I was also concerned about the music. But the limited use of Star Wars music actually made its inclusions more meaningful. And for much of the film my mind told me that Alden Ehrenreich was Han Solo.

It would be easy to say that Woody Harrelson playing a grizzled grifter was the high point of the film, or that Donald Glover’s Lando was the best part, but for me I think that credit has to go to Emilia Clarke (Daenerys on “Game of Thrones”) as Qi’ra. I had to look that spelling up because it was Kyra in my head, which is patently insane. Why would my mind not go to Kira as in Major Kira Nerys from “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”? Her facial expressions and subtle body language really underscored whatever it was that we did not get to explicitly learn about her character and her path.

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Here you can see just how much like a young Harrison Ford he really looks.

Parting thought — what the hell was with that ending? I can’t believe that character came back from the dead. And I didn’t know if he was who I thought he was, or if he was another Zabrak (I looked up his species). It is him. I don’t see why he is back or how they will pay off his existence. Marvel scenes all tease a greater narrative but we have that narrative already in the original Star Wars trilogy. Still, the twists in the movie before that moment made the twisty nature worthwhile.

Justice League

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***½

But it doesn’t need you.

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This gets an extra half-point for not giving away what happens in the trailers. The thing that Zack Snyder does as well as, if not better than, any other comic book director is  shooting epic battles. The end battle has an odd color scheme to it, but it’s the high point of the film. Or perhaps the first time the Justice League work together is. But both scenes kick ass.

Something that I found very interesting was that the story was based on the same source material that the animated Justice League: War had. But this is without Green Lantern or Captain Marvel. I love Green Lantern and I wish he were not just a punching bag for jokes now. Also, Hal Jordan was not my favorite Green Lantern. I would like to add that this movie was well cast. Also, I thought DC would jump straight to Darkseid, as a screw you to Marvel. He is like their Thanos, but Jack Kirby created him instead of Jim Starlin. And Jack Kirby is like the Stan Lee of comic books. Instead we got Steppenwolf, voiced by the wonderful Ciarán Hinds.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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***

My weakness is strength. How can strength be a weakness?

I went to this movie with my family during the holidays. There was a power outage 80% through the movie when, at least in my head, a puma was midair trying to kill Kevin Hart and snakes were all around Dwayne Johnson. Luckily the movie sucks you in to the drama when it wants to, and showcases comedy to lighten the mood at other times. So I still enjoyed the ending and came out of the theater thinking that everyone involved was a better actor, except for Bobby Cannavale.

Also, I learned that I could not recognize Nick Jonas and that I do not think that he is a very good actor. Maybe he can fall back on his career as super-rich singer if this acting thing does not work out. Still, his casting makes some sense since Hart and Johnson did not get their starts in acting, and Black had his first real success with a music-comedy-tv hybrid. The last major actor I have not mentioned, and the main female body in the movie is the wonderful Karen Gillan. You may recognize her as Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy (1 & 2) and Avengers: Infinity War. Haha get it? Nebula is the blue cyborg! Even her voice is altered from her normal American accent (she’s Scottish). And she addresses one of my two main reservations about this movie:

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  1. Is this movie very sexist? Going against it is how she is dressed compared to the rest of the characters and that teenage girl Bethany is played by Jack Black instead of, say, a female actor. In its defense Gillan addresses her costume, Why am I wearing this outfit in a jungle? Tiny, little shorts and a leather halter top. I mean, what is this? This is because Jumanji is a 1990s video game with stereotypical 1990s character types. As for Jack Black’s Bethany, he really convinced me that he was portraying a teenage girl trapped in the video game body of a chubby middle aged scientist.
  2. Is this movie dreck? Dreck is a great word. It means rubbish or trash and is usually employed regarding art. I thought the movie was fun and cute. The charisma between Hart and Johnson carry the film, so I think this movie is fine, especially for watching with your family. So for me it was not dreck.

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