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Context is everything. I have been extremely lax this year in keeping up with “good” movies. It has been a busy 365 days for me, but that is just an excuse. While flying to and from my honeymoon I had a combined 48 hours of air time. I tried to watch Spotlight, but turned it off after 10 minutes. I did, however, rewatch Independence Day. Since I was on Japan Airlines the choices were better than on any American carrier, but also included lots of non-classic Japanese films. Spotting this on in the row ahead of me I kept paying attention to it. I could tell it was a teenage body swap anime, and that it was drawn well. I used to love watching animes, but stopped for no good reason about 8 years ago. In fact, the only anime I remember watching since I started this blog was when I rewatched Ghost in the Shell in order to confirm its 5-Star Status.1  That is the sole anime in my 13 years of film reviewing to get 5 stars.

Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.

FOUR MONTHS LATER — So I got writers block for the first time ever. Reviewer’s block? To overcome this I am getting back to basics with (1) Ratings, (2) Quotations, & (3) Other.

(3) Other: this was a beautiful film. I cared so deeply about these characters that I was basically crying and begging an already finished film to provide me with the ending I wanted. To evoke that emotion genuinely, without resorting to musical or cultural shortcuts, is amazing. Pan’s Labyrinth does it well. This does it even better.

*****

Did I forget to say what the movie was about? That was not part of the original formula. And no pictures. Here is the phonetic Japanese of the title (Kimi no na wa).

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Taki & Mitsuha, your name.

1 The Ghost in the Shell remake starring the oh-so-white Scarlett Johansson is about to be released, and as much as I dislike whitewashing I am excited for this film. As for other animated films, the only I also gave 5 Stars was Frozen, which I now regret. This is a review of first impressions, thus barring exceptional circumstances, that score stays put forever. I have similar feelings about Supertroopers and The Departed.

Pitch Perfect 2

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***

Listen, I don’t want you guys to fight. You’re Beca and Chloe, together you’re Bhloe and everyone loves a good Bhloe.

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Rebel Wilson & Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 2, © 2012 Universal Pics.

So this movie was not bad. I went into it with very low expectations and they were exceeded. I did get sick of the fat jokes pretty quickly. And I would say that it had trouble getting out of its own way when it came to telling a tight narrative story. But the characters were solid. Anna Kendrick was excellent reprising her role as Beca, now the leader of the acapella team the Barton Bellas. Unsurprisingly Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins return to skewer our society’s sexism, racism, and ignorance through seemingly inane commentary. Surprisingly Banks directed this, which was her first feature film. What she lacked in experience she overcame with a great sense of humor. She also cast David Cross, which is always a good idea.

Pitch Perfect

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***

Wanna do something else? We could re-live my parents’ divorce. Or visit a gynecologist.

So this was Jason Moore’s first time directing a movie. That surprised me because this movie seemed really competently put together. The music was good. The acting was good. I was interested in these college students even, if none looked college aged. The story comes from a Mickey Rapkin book that probably has the same name. I want to know if the jokes in that are as bad as they were here. Reading the movie quotes got pretty painful. Moore’s second movie, Sisters, is funnier, so clearly he has a sense of humor, or at least would eventually grow into having one.

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Rebel Wilson in the original Barton Bellas uniforms, in Pitch Perfect (2012).

Anna Kendrick starred as the first year college woman who hesitates before joining her school’s team and innovating them to victory. Rebel Wilson co-starred in a role, “Fat Amy”, that was both a criticism of Mean Girls culture and a contributor thereto, by having her still go for cheap laughs as an unsexy, big girl. Still, she at times she had sex appeal in the movie, even as it sent up the idea of her being sexy at other times. The most consistently funny part of the movie came from the announcing duo of Gail and John, played as whitely as possible by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Maybe that is why she got an opportunity to direct her first movie with Pitch Perfect 2.

Hail, Caesar!

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**½

Hail, Caesar! is a collection of cute moments from talented actors. Maybe it would be best viewed as an extended episode of “Mr. Show with Bob and David”, but those always made me laugh far more than this did. Still, with a cast this stacked, there were bound to be some highlights. I thought that the kind of “in the Navy” Channing Tatum singing and dancing number was delightful. It fits into the story as a glimpse into the action on the set of Capitol Pictures with its executive and fixer Eddie Mannix—Josh Brolin. Brolin is fine as the slightly exasperated but always within control Mannix. There was also a powerful speech where George Clooney, in character, forgets the final words, which makes for a slight laugh, and skewers the idea of the validity of emotion within film, but for what? I was left with several questions when the film ended.

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Clancy Brown and George Clooney playing actors playing Romans in Hail, Caesar!

By having Clooney’s character agree with his communist abductors—yes, one problem Mannix faces is that Clooney gets drugged and abducted by non-threatening communist screenwriters—I figured that perhaps the directors were presenting them in a positive light, but they became so farcical and inept that I wondered why take this shot at communism?

With the negative portrayals of sniveling screenwriters, condescending directors, cowardly or dimwitted actors, was this an indictment of the film industry? I do not see the self-criticism herein, which makes me wonder if I missed something.

One part of the Hollywood film industry that never seems to make it into movies are the investors. Well in this one Eddie Mannix calls New York every day to give them updates. We, the audience, never get to actually hear “the money” speak. Does this represent the disconnect between financing art and creating it? Without hundreds of millions of dollars our film industry would be nothing like how it is now, nor how it was in the 1950’s. But they get no credit in creating the art, does their perceived financial desire totally remove their connection to the art created? The art that legally they have a greater claim to ownership over than the cast or crew.

But the most important question of them all is why choose Eddie Mannix as the hero, of all people?! Eddie Mannix was a real person who was portrayed as a villain in Hollywoodland. Therein the late Bob Hoskins portrayed him with a tender menace. For those who have not seen this gem, it is a biopic of George Reeves (Superman). Who tries to make a cuddly flic like this about a guy whom many believe is a murderer?

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Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney and co singing that “No Dames” number.

Unfortunately when taken as a whole, this day in the life of Eddie Mannix just does not satisfyingly fit together. Oddly it felt more like a lesser Wes Anderson film than a Coen Brothers movie. I leave you you all with the highlight of the film, the words to that Navy song:

We are heading out to sea and however it will be, it ain’t gonna be the same. cause no matter what we see, when we’re out there on the sea, we ain’t gonna see a dame. we’ll be searching high and low on the deck and down below but it’s a crying shame. Oh, we’ll see a lot of fish but we’ll never clock a dish. We ain’t gonna see a dame. No dames! we might see some octopuses No dames! or a half a dozen clams No dames! we might even see a mermaid But mermaids got no gams! No gams! Have I got a girl for you! out there on the sea! Here’s how it will be i’m gonna dance with you, pal you’re gonna dance with me! When we’re out there on the sea we’ll be happy as can be Or so the Captain claims! But we have to disagree. Cause the only guarantee Is I’ll see a lot of you And you’ll see a lot of me! And it’s absolutely certain That we’ll see a lot of sea. But we ain’t gonna see no dames. No dames! We’re going to sea! No dames! We’re going to sea! No dames! We’re going to sea! We ain’t gonna see no Dames!

Suicide Squad

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***

Ames, If this man shoots me, I want you to kill him and I want you to go clear my browser history.

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Ike Barinholtz as Griggs in the Louisiana super prison in DC’s Suicide Squad.

It is no secret that the critical response to Suicide Squad was just as poor as the one to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While I disagreed with many of the conclusions regarding Man of Steel 2’s criticism, Suicide Squad does have almost everything wrong that you have heard. It looks like a movie that was edited by someone other than the writer/director—David Ayer, Training Day. The Joker/Harley Quinn relationship casts Harley as a sexualized tool of the Joker. There appears to have been an entire Harley/Joker movie filmed that got edited way down upon the realization that this could not be a four hour movie. The movie wastes a ton of time with Viola Davis’s bland Agent Amanda Waller, who boringly narrates the clips of the Suicide Squad she has assembled.

Sorry about that, I started to doze off remembering Davis talking. So how can I give this giant shopping cart rolling down a street surrounded by explosions the same *** I gave Man of Steel 2? Well here are my top 5 things I liked about Suicide Squad that totally redeemed this up to being an okay movie:

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Suicide Squad’s Cara Delevingne in June Moone mode.

      1. I like Ike. Ike Barinholtz has this quality that makes you feel like you have not only seen him in something before, but listened to him talk for hours too. This was crucial to the film since he is the first actor we see. He portrays gambling addict superhero prison guard Griggs. His affable nature lets him come across as extra cruel, while still being funny. It sets the tone that the rest of the film wished it could have lived up to.
      2. Do I like Cara Delevingne? Unlike Ike, Cara seemed totally unrecognizable to me (until I watched part of Paper Towns, which looks like a really good movie). Apparently I have seen her before because she is/was a very successful model. Perhaps I did not recognize her because her dual performances as archeologist1 June Moone and the smoky Enchantress were very convincing and distinct. I would have pegged her as a seasoned actress.Scud.jpg
      3. The movie’s logo (especially the Q) reminds me of Scud the Disposable Assassin.2 
      4. Ben Affleck was in this at Batman! I did not realize they got him for this and assumed that it would be some stunt double, but no, I got more Batfleck! Even though he got little to do, he made the most of it.
      5. Lastly, and most importantly, Will Smith and Margot Robbie totally crushed their roles. Everyone has heard about how Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn were amazing. So I want to highlight Deadshot, who, despite being played by the biggest movie star of my lifetime, Will Smith, got less press. I suppose that Deadshot does wear a mask—think of a laconic, unscarred Deadpool who never misses a shot—and does not look like Margot Robbie, especially not when she is dressed like they had her dress for this movie, but this is Will F’n Smith! They were so good it made me consider watching their previous movie together, Focus, but somehow that one seemed like too much of a waste of time to watch. This one, on the other hand, is only a waste of time compared to better movies.

1 Read: “Indiana Jones”.
2 I do not remember why I liked that comic book, but it was cute and different. Kind of like Cara Delevingne! Okay, she needs to get cast in something again soon. I see she is going to be in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets but Luc Besson or not that sounds just awful. And it stars Dane DeHaan, whose Amazing Spider-man 2 is the only movie of his I have managed to finish watching.

Now You See Me 2

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**½

Have I ever told you about the guy who screwed me over everything? This is my twin brother Chase.

The returning Jack Wilder and J. Daniel Atlas (Dave Franco and Jesse Eisenberg) are joined by Lula (the always charming Lizzy Caplan) and are trying to sneak past Allen Scott-Frank (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) in Now You See Me 2, © 2016 Lionsgate.

The returning Jack Wilder and J. Daniel Atlas (Dave Franco and Jesse Eisenberg) are joined by Lula (the always charming Lizzy Caplan) and are trying to sneak past Allen Scott-Frank (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) in Now You See Me 2, © 2016 Lionsgate.

As the credits rolled on this I decided that this sequel, which returned six of the main characters from the original was surprisingly more engaging than the original.1 The story had me wondering how it would all wrap up and it pretty much pays off, except that the ending retroactively wasted Daniel Radcliffe’s good performance. I blame the director, Jon M. Chu, as sequel specialist, for that. In fact, much like in the first film, this one has lots of arbitrary choices that are presented as ingenious later. When done correctly, this gives us Hercule Poirot with David Suchet, when incorrectly presented you get…well, what is a crappy version of Poirot? “Elementary”? Well this was more in the second camp, but it was a fun ride and I wanted to find out how it all would fit together, so it was still an enjoyable movie.

1 By more engaging I mean that I was more engrossed in the movie. So, while The Empire Strikes Back is a better movie than A New Hope, I am not sure it caught my attention like the original. X-Men 2 hooked me more though, but that was also a better movie. The Bourne Ultimatum (#3) is a good example.

Mamma Mia!

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***

Typical isn’t it? You wait 20 years for a dad and then three come along at once.

For those like me who were unfamiliar with the play on which this movie is based, it is about a wedding where the bride invites her three potential fathers without telling her mother. Also, they sing songs by the 1970s Swedish pop group Abba. I will admit that this is a deeply flawed movie, which if one wanted to tear apart, one certainly could. It is silly and the acting is a mixture between melodrama and light slapstick.

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Dominic Cooper and Amanda Seyfried, as Sky and Sophie, singing Abba’s “Lay All Your Love on Me”, which was the surprising high point of the movie, Mamma Mia © 2008 Universal Pics.

Yet for all of the movie’s flaws I cared about the characters. Amanda Seyfried—Cosette, Les Misérables—strikes just the right balance of ingenuity and naivete to lead the story, while in the hands of a lesser actress her plan would have driven me mad. Fortunately, she is the one who interacts with all the other characters. Through her I became invested in the story and wanted to find out the payoff of the premise. Who is her father? Will the potential dads talk to her mom–Meryl Streep? Will one of them wind up with the mom in the end?

But by far the biggest question that this movie left me with was, does Abba exist in this universe? I mean, let’s examine the facts. All the main characters break into songs from Abba’s catalog. It is not just one, or one group, it is all of them. These songs are sung in the first person and they apply to the circumstances these characters face. At no point in the movie are the voices of the band Abba heard. I see this as leaving two possible circumstances. The first is that Abba exists, as a band from the 1970s, and people know their music to a greater or lesser extent. These people, by their own volition, use the most appropriate Abba song for their situation every so often. The second is that there never was an Abba in this universe, but their music and lyrics are so potent that they manifest themselves through this certain collection of people at this point in time. Perhaps it goes farther than that and this phenomenon occurs around the world, much like how the alien ships in Independence Day communicated synchronously. Let’s take my favorite song in the movie, “Lay All Your Love on Me1, that song begins with Sky looking for his missing fiancée, Sophie, and as she runs to him he starts to sing that song. They sing to each other, which can be explained in either Abbaverse. Then a squad of men swim ashore and carry Sky off, so that they can synchronized dance to the song before hopping into the water, which abruptly leads to Sky departing on a mystery jetski. This is absurd in a world with Abba songs, and a little less odd in that second world where Abba songs erupt from people. But the song continues on with Sophie finishing the song that night. The song never stops, so, did time pass? Does she know that time has passed? Is she supposedly singing this same song for a second time? If so, did someone else sing the male vocals? For every conclusion I make I have three more questions! Movies are supposed to make us think, and that is especially true in excellent art and unintentional comedies.

1 I hope this YouTube link works forever. I do not even know how to download videos from YouTube, plus, what is the payoff for me to do? It would generally be illegal anyways.

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