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Killing Them Softly

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What’s he gonna do, fold under questioning? If he does, they’ll kill him. If he doesn’t, they’ll figure he’s lying like last time and they’ll kill him. Either way, Markie’s dead. So why put the poor bastard through a beating? It’s a waste of time – not to mention a really unpleasant experience for Markie. Just put him out of his misery, poor bastard.

Ten years ago this is the kind of movie I would have adored. It has a great look to it. The actors in it are fantastic and each play distinctive people from the underworld. The story shows a bleak outlook for those types and includes a super cool assassin. Make Wong Kar Wei the director and this is an easy ****.

So this has Richard Jenkins as a guest star. My family’s movie club just discussed his classic The Visitor. Other than him there is vulgar screw up assassin James Gandolfini who is hunting the two screw up leads, the amazing Ben Mendelsohn—Director Krennic, Rogue One—and Scoot McNairy—always delightfully pathetic in Best Picture winners like Argo and 12 Years a Slave.

But Brad Pitt gets first billing because of course he does. With Andrew Dominik as the writer/director he strove for the amazing lyricism of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He did not completely get it. Still, sometimes it is better to go for something different and not totally pull it off, than to make the same old crap. ****

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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.

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.

The Hobbit

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***

Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies because you helped bring them about? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You’re a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I’m very fond of you, but you’re only quite a little fellow in a wide world, after all.

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Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins in Bag Bend, Hobbiton, The Shire, in the 1977 movie The Hobbit.

I never watched this as a kid. Had I seen this I would have had to contend with my nostalgia. Instead, what I am dealing with is having listened to the audiobook recently. I probably noticed every bit the 77 minute animated movie skipped or changed. I love the book, so any changes needed to come from a logical place for me to forgive, or appreciate them. Whether you like the Peter Jackson Hobbits or not, they certainly had far more time dedicated to…well, everything and everyone.

The change that bothered me the most—even more than the exclusion of Beorn—was the body count Gandalf reports to Bilbo after the Battle of the Five Armies. Instead of three sad, dead dwarves, we have seven. The group was called the company of Thorin and his quest lead him to become King under the mountain, so his death, right upon reaching his apex, seems tragic. Kili and Fili are the two youngest dwarves, so their deaths show how war and death can take people too soon. More than doubling that body count, off-screen, lessens the impact of those deaths.

Still, Rankin and Bass deserve credit for this first adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Certainly fan art existed, but they really had the duty and privilege of taking the first crack at all these races. Bilbo looks great. And unlike a dwarf, or elf, or goblin, a hobbit is unique to Middle Earth and thus had no mold. Certain establishing shots made it feel like a camera was capturing the action, instead of just seeing drawn recap. Bilbo’s story is a good one, so even a hurried, fluffier version is enjoyable. Gollum’s menace and how distracted Bilbo would have been by Gollum was captured wonderfully. Also, this had talking birds, which I am glad they kept in. Lastly, they show living things dying, which has an important message for children, and created tension in the story.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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In order to win the girl of his dreams, nay, just simply to survive, Scott Pilgrim must defeat The League of Evil Exes! In said League there are seven evil exes. In honor of that, here are my seven favorite things in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, AKA Evil Ex #2. Part of me wants to believe that his cheesy action hero character helped him land the role of Captain America. This or him as Johnny Storm did it. Hey, they’re both comic book movies! To show the level of detail that went into this film, here is an article about the fake movie posters from Lucas Lee’s career. The glimpses we get are amazing, with lines like, “Now you listen up, bucko. The next click you hear is me hanging up. The one after that…is me pulling the trigger.”

How Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin are already talking on the phone about what Scott has said before Scott finishes telling either of them whatever it is that he is saying. It is punchy and funny and Anna Kendrick’s bubbly character, as Scott’s sister, just fits. Sub-thing I like, how Kim Pine would cut off the lead singer of Sex Bob-omb to yell, “We are Sex Bob-Omb!! 1-2-3-4” and just start playing the drums.

The. Bass. Guitar. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim plays the bass in Sex Bob-Omb—a totally sweet looking Rickenbacker. And it is great. But my favorite bass comes from Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram, AKA Evil Ex #4(?)

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Michael Cera and Brie Larson as Scott Pilgrim and the way cooler Envy Adams, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, © Universal 2010.

Brie Larson as Envy Adams. Sure she would make a terrible girlfriend but she has an amazing voice, beautiful look and fascinating manner. I felt legitimately bad for her when her boyfriend exploded. On a side note, I hope The Clash At Demonhead re-forms in real life and starts touring.

The end non-fight fight scene. “No. This is something I have to do for myself.” Such a classic cheeseball line! Usually the reasoning behind such a decision is rather poor and is used to even the odds, so to speak, after the hero has overcome a more difficult challenge. Then jumping to the outside where the two women who care for Scott are outside waiting to see if he has lived or died perfectly sets up the nonchalant, wound free exit Scott and Nega-Scott have.

That Edgar Wright directed this masterpiece. I have seen his Hot Fuzz about ten times and I love it very much, but this film—not The World’s End—harnessed every skill Wright had as a director, and screenwriter, and pulled off this unlikely adaptation of an English language manga.1 Going back to Lucas Lee, Wright even shot a clip from the movie within a movie that I quoted above and it was amazing and in a totally different style. Or maybe Brad Allan shot it with the second unit, who knows. The result is the same—the best film of 2010.2 

*****

1 A manga is a Japanese comic book, or a comic book done in the Japanese style, often printed in a small paperback format.
2 2010 was a good year for movies too. It also was apparently forever ago because Winter’s Bone came out that year starring a teenage Jennifer Lawrence in her first starring role. If you ever question her abilities, just go back and (re)watch that movie.

Captain America: Civil War

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Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Our people’s blood is spilled on foreign soil. Not only because of the actions of criminals, but the indifference of those who pledged to step them. Victory at the expense of an innocent, is no victory at all.

Call it what you want. Captain America 3, Avengers 2.5, Civil War, this movie kicked ass. This has everything that people loved about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and so much more. This has the elements of espionage that people liked in 2, but has action that rivals The Avengers. I use that as the gold standard, but is it? A discussion for a different time. In the moment I thought, “these are the greatest action sequences I have ever seen”. They were well spaced out. All looked perfect. Each action scene served a function and hit its marks. The internal logic of the action was pretty much consistent, which is pretty damn rare. For instance, Captain America is amazing with his shield. He is Minnesota Fats with it.1  But one character2 says to him, “That thing doesn’t obey the laws of Physics at all!”  I like having a cinematic world conscious of this quirk, which allows me to have the pleasure without the guilt.

The best way to describe this film in two words is “ethical dilemmas.” The premise is the world is grateful to the Avengers, but also afraid of them and the collateral damage they cause. They operate without any sovereign authority and thus the Sokovia Accords are created and shall be ratified by the United Nations [UN]. The Avengers would come under the auspices of the UN, which would have the sole authority to dispatch them. Iron Man feels guilty because Ultron was his fault and (Stark) wants to be controlled. Captain America was a pawn for the American government and after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Hydra within it, he does not trust any governments. As Cap says, it comes down to this, “What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us?” This is similar to the question posed by Batman v Superman earlier this year.

This was a much, much better movie than Batman v Superman, however, that does not mean that this movie presented a more interesting question. Because this causes the Avengers to schism there can be no Hulk and no Thor, because their power levels are too high. I guess. I bought that line initially but Scarlet Witch and Vision are 6/7 on the powers scale.3 Batman v Superman has an unpowered, less armored Iron Man facing an amalgam of Thor + Hulk + Vision. Both films did a great job of creating reasons for heroes to fight each other. Batman v. Superman asked, with unlimited power, great collateral damage, and no authority, should there not be some sort of restraint? Batman followed up by posing an even tougher question, “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is [humanity’s] enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.” The same could be said of the Avengers. However instead of posing this as a question in the film, the villain, Zemo—Rush‘s Daniel Brühl—tries to destroy the Avengers for personal vengeance.

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Daniel Brühl (the German guy in the beginning of the Bourne Ultimatum whom Jason Bourne tells that he, meaning Bourne, killed in the middle of the last movie) as (not Baron) Zemo, in Captain America & the Winter Soldier 2: Civil War 1, © 2016 Marvel.

The largest criticism of this generally well received film was the villain’s plot. Some people care about the feasibility and logic of plans. People like that reject The Dark Knight because the Joker’s plan was ridiculous on almost every level and every stage. Then there are the majority of people who loved The Dark Knight and only demand enough logic so as to not end the enchantment we call the willing suspension of disbelief. Lastly there are people who like Transformers—a/k/a people who seek a wholly visual and subconscious movie experience. The good news is that this film should please all of those people. Zemo’s elaborate plan was achievable and relies on Bourne levels of espionage. When Martin Freeman with an American accent asks, “So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort, and to see it fail so spectacularly?” Zemo retorts, “Did it?” I get chills just typing that out and that is what makes this film great. Even after all the action, his hypothesis might prove to not only be correct, but to have succeeded where gods have failed.

An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That’s dead… forever.

This might be a record for quotations in one of my reviews, especially since none are super badass. The film is just so well written, so well acted, so well cast, and so well executed. So kudos to the screenwriters—Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—and to the directors—the Russos. For me, this felt like how Captain America 2 felt to most people.

****½

Mini-review of the Mid-Credits Scene: Well, it serves a purpose to explain why that character will not be back in the future, and gives Chadwick Boseman—Jackie Robinson—another opportunity to sound awesome as T’Challa–the Black Panther.

Mini-review of the End-Credits Scene: Not worth the wait. It is the guy who talks about physics and the shield looking at a ceiling because his watch now has his superhero logo.

1 First, I initially wrote Fats Domino. Second, Minnesota Fats is a real life billiards hall of famer, made more famous by his fictionalized version appearing in the The Hustler. Obviously, he shows an amazing ability to bank shots, just as Captain America can, but with a pool ball, instead of a vibranium shield. Know what vibranium is? It comes up a lot in this film.
2 Trying to avoid a spoiler here, but the last preview gave him away, here’s a hint, in one universe he went by Ben Reilly.
3 According to Marvel’s wiki Thor has the maximum in strength and speed, Hulk has the maximum in strength and endurance, whereas Vision has 6/7 for durability and energy with a 5/7 for strength, and Wanda Maximoff only has 6/7 for energy. But Scarlet Witch did depower almost the entire world’s mutant and created a false reality for the entire world…that is almost limitless power.

Best of 2015

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This is just getting ridiculous. My annual lists are getting to become like reverse car releases—more and more disconnected from year attached to the item. So get excited for the Best Films of 2016, coming to you in early June 2017!

  1. Liza, the Fox Fairy – Liza, a rókatündér in the original Hungarian
  2. Spy – Melissa McCarthy + James Bond = better than actual James Bond
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – It felt like Star Wars in a way that no movie has since Return of the Jedi
  4. A Second Chance – I would like a second chance to watch this movie…*rimshot* Just kidding, it is horribly depressing!
  5. The Big Short – Our economy and version of capitalism are horribly depressing!
  6. I’ll See You in My Dreams – Great to see a film starring an excellent older actress. Not as depressing as it could have been considering just the plot.
  7. Dope – An original take on a traditional story—like Hustle and Flow
  8. Tangerine – I still do not know why it is called Tangerine
  9. The Wolfpack – A great new documentary from a new documentarian. In some ways her novelty really helped, and in other ways it made for an unsatisfying ending.
  10. A Few Cubic Meters of Love – The single most depressing film of the year, which is saying a lot, considering the competition.

Best Short Film: Kung Fury.

Worst Film: When Animals Dream. The tone of the film was excellent. Nothing else about it was.

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