the-first-purge-pg4_advance1sheet_rgb_2_rgb-720x1140I haven’t kept up with The Purge movies. I saw the first one and didn’t really care for it. It took what on the surface was a great idea and then inexplicably turned it into a fairly dull home invasion movie with some social commentary thrown in. Why narrow the focus so much? It didn’t make sense. The two sequels passed me by. They have, however, made a ton of cash. So what do I know?

The First Purge isn’t so much a prequel to the Purge series as it is a sequel to Get Out. There are bits of The Raid in here. There are bits of Attack the Block. The end is basically Die Hard. Written by James DeMonaco, who has written and directed all previous installments, and directed by Gerard McMurray, this is the movie that the first Purge probably should’ve been.To push crime rates below 1% and restore the economy, the New Founding Fathers of America have declared an experiment that’ll Make America Great Again. Honestly, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. It never has.

In Staten Island, for 12 hours, no crime will be punishable up to an including murder, and participants will be rewarded with $5,000. This largely black and latino community, while concerned about the implications, are more interested in throwing street parties for the event than they are killing each other, which forces the NFFA to take matters into their own hands.

We see the story through the eyes of local drug king-pin D’mitri (Insecure’s Y’lan Noel), his ex-girlfriend Nya (Lex Scott Davis), and her brother Isaiah (Jovian Wade) and the main urban villain of the piece Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who is quite happy to kill as many people as he possibly can with syringes attached to his hand a la Freddie Krueger.

The action is beautifully choreographed and shot and the violence is visceral and brutal at times, but seldom has brutality been staged so perfectly. I’m honestly struggling to think of an American movie that presented its violence in a more artistically satisfying manner. I guess my main problem was I just didn’t care too much if the drug baron lived or died.

It doesn’t take much to see the satire and social commentary of life in the US in 2018. There are allusions to Dylann Roof’s Charleston massacre. There are things that are eerily similar to the events in Charlottesville. You’ll no doubt see things that remind you of the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s even a pussy that is in very real danger of being grabbed. There’s a red cap version of the poster. The movie does nothing to shy away from these comparisons, rather it shoves it right in your face and perhaps it does it a little too forcefully.

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tagThe first thing you see when Tag starts is a bold note insisting that what you are about to watch is based on true events. Knowing the rough idea of the movie from the trailer, I assumed that I was going to think quite uncharitably of these men-children who have spent the last thirty years refusing to grow up.

For those unfamiliar with the trailer, or the WSJ article behind it, the story is about a group of five grown men who have been playing the same game of Tag for the last thirty years, since they were children. The logistics of this are pretty impractical so the rules are simplified so that the game only runs for the month of May with whoever is It at midnight on June 1 is, oh I dunno, whoever that is has the jobby touch for a year.

Ed Helms plays Hoagie and when we first see him, he’s applying for a janitorial job in a fancy insurance company despite being hugely over-qualified. He gets the job and then we next see him in disguise outside the office of CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) who is being interviewed by WSJ journalist Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis). I think we’re supposed to think Hoagie is going to assassinate Bob but nope, he Tags him and now Bob is It.

As ridiculous as this is, writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen up the ante and have Hoagie explain to Bob that Jerry is retiring from the game and has never been tagged. Ever. So Hoagie is rounding up the gang to head back to Jerry’s hometown for his wedding and finally lay a hand on the scoundrel. With Bob and an intrigued Rebecca in tow, we soon pick up stoner Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) and we see the unbelievable lengths these people will go to avoid being Tagged. Fire extinguisher to the chest, f’rinstance. Multiple punches to ass cheeks.

In his directorial debut, Jeff Tomsic does a pretty great job of moving things along with a script that restricts the characters within their particular quirks, but distributes quirky lines through them all to keep them all interesting, particularly Sable. Plus, Isla Fisher as Hoagie’s borderline psychotic wife, is an incredible if somewhat furious package. There’s a side-story with a hottie from school who is a potential love interest for a couple of members in the gang that doesn’t go anywhere — certainly nowhere interesting — but other than that, the story is pretty lean.

Is it funny, then? Well, I chuckled a few times. I was laughing silently on the inside on a few more occasions. It was fun. I found the 100 minute running time passed smoothly enough, but it was a movie that for long spells I felt I was more consciously observing from a position of curiosity rather than out and out enjoyment. For example, I spent a lot of time wondering about the fun of Jerry never being tagged, as it meant as a consequence he also had never been the tagger, missing out on a half of the game. He had never been It.

All that said, I came out feeling more positive about the participants than I did going in. Particularly in the final act, the movie develops a bit of a heart and the closing sequence with footage of the actual men who participated in this in real life, got me in the feels a wee bit, and almost coaxed a wee tear to this jaded eye.

 

Do you watch the UK soap opera, Coronation Street? Do you have any interest in the cultural and linguistic differences between the UK and US?

Even if the answer to both of these questions is no, you may be interested to know that my wife, Helen, and I are producing a couple of podcasts related to the above.

The Talk of the Street is a weekly catch-up review of the recent happenings on the famous cobbles. We walk-through the episodes of that week, go over the main talking points, and cover the errors we’ve made in previous episodes.

Common Language questions the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the US and the UK are two nations separated by a common language. Recent episodes have investigated soccer vs football, interstate vs motorway, and immigration processes.

Please check them out and if you feel so inclined, a cheeky wee like and subscribe would be very much appreciated.

deadpool2I made a pact with myself some time ago that I was done with Marvel movies. So far, I’ve been good to my promise and since Thor: Ragnarok, I haven’t crossed the threshold of another stupid offering in the MCU. This presented me with a dilemma, though, because I actually quite liked the first Deadpool. It was clever. It was meta. And despite Ryan Reynolds being Ryan Reynolds, I thought it was pretty cute. Thanks, then, for Stepson #1 for informing me that, technically, this isn’t a Marvel movie. It’s a Fox movie based on a Marvel character. Well, that makes all the difference in the world. (I have no idea if this is true. If it isn’t, keep it to yourself)

We pick up events shortly after the end of the first movie. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is all over the world killing bad guys in increasingly painful manners. Then he comes home, decides to start a family with Vanessa, and then thanks to a mis-thrown cheese knife, Vanessa dies. Look, this is all before the opening credits have run so … shut up.

Deadpool is in a spiral of misery after this and tries to kill himself, which of course, he can’t do. Colossus shows up, makes Deadpool a trainee X-Person and on their first mission, he meets the 15 year old Firefist (Julian Dennison), an angry and abused young man who wants revenge on the headmaster of the orphan school he attends (played by Eddie Marsan, one of my absolute fave actors). Deadpool fights his case, kills a couple of the abusing teachers and then they both end up in the Ice Box — a prison for mutants — where they have neck bracelets that suppress their powers. For Deadpool, this means cancer and death. Then some heavily-armored robot / guy hybrid from the future appears, determined to kill Firefist. Oh dear.

In all honesty, the first half is a bit of a slog. All that meta stuff from the first movie gets a bit dull after a while and throughout, Ryan Reynolds is operating at 120% Ryan Reynolds; at least 50% more Ryan Reynolds than I can typically stand. I struggled.

But despite the time travel element more or less telegraphing how the movie is destined to end, I finally became invested in the second half and enjoyed myself quite a bit. There’s a sequence where Deadpool’s team jump out of a plane and the consequences of not paying attention to warnings of wind speed have some disastrous outcomes. It woke me up. It started to connect with me.

Stand out for me is a member of that parachuting team. Domino (Zazie Beetz) is a hero blessed with good luck. Deadpool is hesitant to call this a power, but within the same sequence mentioned above, the practical result is played out and is hugely entertaining. What a great character. Perhaps a little light to demand a standalone movie, but if there’s a Deadpool 3 I would hope that she plays a key role.

So, not as good as the first outing, overplays the meta stuff by a degree or two, Ryan Reynolds, but for a sequel where we’re working with secondary ideas, it stands on its own two feet pretty well. And there’s some interesting stuff in the credits that will have fangirls and fanboys cooing all the way to the foyer.

Now if someone can give me an out so I can see the new Antman and Wasp, I’d appreciate it greatly.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 7.10.37 PMHard as it is to believe, it’s been 14 years since the Incredibles hit  movies theaters around the world. I didn’t actually get round to seeing it until a good few years later and even though I loved it, I’ve only watched it once. It’s pretty much a perfect movie, confirmed by it being the first animated movie to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It represents a period where Pixar could do no wrong. So we walk into Incredibles 2 with some trepidation, but assured at least that this wasn’t a rush job. No one was on a cash grab here. Maybe they were waiting on the right story.

We pick up events pretty much where we left off, with the Parr family — Bob (voiced by Craig T Nelson), Helen (Helen Hunt), Violet (Sarah Vowell) , Dash (Huck Milner), and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), aided by Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone — tackling the Underminer’s attempts to rob the city’s bank. There’s something rather lovely about this; that after a 14 year wait essentially no time has passed between movies.

Ultimately, the Parrs are unsuccessful and the authorities are miffed to say the least about the significant amount of damage that’s been brought upon the city. Superheroes are banned. Uh-oh. Soon, the family is contacted by Winston Deavor, a superhero fan, telecommunications tycoon, and owner of DEVTECH, played in true Saul Goodman style by Bob Odenkirk. Winston is the mouth of the company and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), is the creative genius behind DEVTECH tech. They propose a publicity stunt to get the public’s opinion of Superheroes back onside. As Helen is the least destructive of the family, given her ability is her elasticity, she’s the one chosen and so leaves Bob to look after the kids.

And so the movie continues very much with the females leading events. Helen is doing great work tracking down a new superbaddie called Screenslaver who uses hypnosis transmitted electronically to control their victims. Later, when the kids have to rally to save the day, it’s Violet who’s in control of matters.

It’s enormous fun throughout. Writer and director, Brad Bird, has developed a story that is part superhero espionage, part media manipulation commentary, and part kitchen sink drama as Bob struggles with Jack-Jack and his relationship with his daughter, who following a mind wipe of a boy who saw her sans mask, has lost her love interest as well as her desire to be an Incredible. The laughs, more often or not, come from Jack-Jack and the discovery that he is, in fact, in possession of 17 super powers but is without the ability to control any of them.

Visually, it’s absolutely sumptuous. I don’t know if there’s been a quantum leap in computer animation since I saw Lego Ninjago but this looks beautiful, particularly the water scenes and the hair. It used to be that the weight was missing from characters. That wouldn’t appear to be the case anymore.

The highest accolade I offer movies here is to refer to them as a triumph. So is this a triumph? Well, not quite. It’s close. The threads of the movie sometimes overwhelm the overall arc of the movie and the revelation of the baddie’s true identity is telegraphed quite heavily from early on. Through no fault of the film, I will shamefully admit that I dozed off for five minutes near the start, and I still managed to guess about a half-hour ahead of time.

The wait has been worth it. But let’s not keep it so long next time, eh?

PS — The short is wonderful, too.

OceansEightPosterI’m a bit pissed off.

I’m going to say some uncharitable things about Ocean’s 8 and I don’t want anyone to think that it’s driven by the fact that it’s a female sequel to the Ocean’s trilogy. Let me be clear. The cast and the acting (ignoring James Corden, which I wish was as easy to do in practice as it is in theory) is first rate. Absolutely brilliant. Rhianna is a revelation here. Sandra Bullock does her best to be Clooney and her best is pretty good. And who’da thunk Anne Hathaway could be so self-deprecating? Honestly, the problem here isn’t the women.

The problem is the man who co-wrote the script and directed this garbage. Step forward, Gary Ross. Big was a long time ago, wasn’t it, Gary? Hunger Games wasn’t last year.

Danny Ocean is supposed to be dead, although no one seems to be quite sure. His sister, Debbie (Bullock), manages to convince a parole board to let her out of prison on the promise that she’ll be on the straight and narrow from now on and stay away from ne’er-do-wells. This promise is broken before she actually tastes fresh air. Seems our Deb has been hatching a plan for the last five years; a plan to pull off a mammoth heist that will earn her and her six accomplices a multi-million dollar pay day and maybe — just maybe — see her get some revenge on the guy who put her behind bars.

But wait a minute. 6 + 1 = 7. Not 8. Who could the eighth member of the gang be? The movie might as well break the fourth wall and ask this of the audience. Don’t worry, though. This is the least of the issues.

Deb starts bringing her band together. Soon we have Lou, Cate Blanchett, signed up. Lou has been watering down vodka for a living, the minx. Debbie reveals her plan to steal the Cartier Toussaint, a $150m necklace that’s been down a vault for the last fifty years and she plans to do it during a party at the Met Gala. It’s a leap from watery vodka to six pounds of Cartier diamonds, but Lou seems up to it. They’re gonna need some help, though.

They sign up fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), necklace designer Amita (Mindy Kaling), pick-pocket Constance (Awkwafina), hacker-genius Nine Ball (Rhianna), and the fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson). Seemingly, they can contrive matters so that Rose can end up being the dresser for dumb mule Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) who is scheduled to host the Gala and convince Cartier to let the necklace out of the vault.

I bored myself typing all that out. How Gary Ross managed to stay alert enough with Olivia Milch to peck out a 110 minute script is anyone’s guess. Maybe they took shifts prodding each other awake. I hope to God the two of them weren’t driving while discussing it.

Here’s the problem. The heist is dull. It’s the fourth-best heist idea they’ve got. There’s nothing to smile at. The movie lacks the invention, the fun, the complexity, and the swagger of the predecessors, particularly Eleven. Any issue is quickly resolved, regardless of the plot hole that emerges in its place. There were a couple of chuckles to be had but they were few and far between. It’s just so pedestrian and lazy. The direction feels almost non-existent. Absolutely nothing stands out to me four hours after leaving the movie theater.

When the best thing you can say about a movie is that at least it didn’t do what it was obviously warning you that it might, you know it’s going to be a slog.

What a waste.

large_hereditary_ver2It’s been a couple of hours since I left the cinema and I’m still not sure what I just watched and I’m barely able to think about how I feel about it all. I’m a bit in shock. Under those circumstances, what better to do than write a blog post about it.

The trailer has been on heavy rotation for months now, which has done a marvelous job at raising intrigue without giving too much away; giving anything away really. I went in aware but totally unprepared.

Toni Collette plays Annie who’s mum, Ellen, has passed away before the movie started. We learn that it was a long illness and based on Annie’s eulogy, it would seem that the relationship between the mother and daughter was fraught to say the least. Ellen was a secretive woman to the extent that Annie is surprised at the number of people at the funeral.

Annie is mother to teenaged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and tween daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and we get the impression that the relationship between these three isn’t much better. Peter is distant and Charlie is simply awkward and kinda misshapen and it appears that Ellen was highly protective of her. In the background is Gabriel Byrne who more or less is an observer to everything else that happens but sounds far more Irish on the phone than he does in the flesh. From the opening seconds, the music — the sound design is astonishingly good — lets us know that nothing in this wee universe is well.

Annie works on making miniature models of houses and scenes that reflect her life and the lives of those around her, so we see interpretations of Ellen’s last days and her relationship with Charlie. It’s not long before Annie starts to think she’s seeing her mother lingering in the shadows of her workshop. Then, at a bereavement group, she meets Joan who instantly feels too touchy-feely and claims to have had a rough old time of it herself. Then a bird flies into Charlie’s classroom window and she spies a big pair of scissors on the teacher’s desk.

First-time director Ari Aster does a remarkably good job at building tension and generating an almost threatening sense of unease. He also manages to coax the performance of her life out of Toni Collette. She is utterly spell-binding throughout. You never doubt for a second any emotion she’s portraying. Byrne isn’t really asked to stretch himself too much, but the two kids, particularly Milly Shapiro (in her first role, no less) never come close to letting the side down.

For the first ninety minutes or so, I was completely invested. Unsurprisingly, there’s a history of mental illness and suicide in Annie’s family and she reveals fairly early that she has been known to sleep-walk, so we find ourself constantly questioning what is real, what is fantasy, and what is dream. We are, I think, supposed to know that something’s not right, but we don’t know what; something is haunted, but we don’t know what or who.

In the final thirty minutes, we get a denouement that would even put mother! to shame and we kinda get answers to these questions. The movie goes off in a direction I found ill-judged and while there are other movies it reminded me of, I won’t share here in case it spoils it for anyone. I almost walked out. Not because it was bad. It isn’t bad. It’s just wrong. And I didn’t want to watch how wrong it was going to get.

But here’s the thing. Like mother!, it’s lingering with me. There are images I saw today that I can’t unsee and, for the first time since I don’t know when, I’ve got an empty tonight. The lights will be remaining on. Maybe this should’ve been a review of Ocean’s 8.

It remains a good movie but for an hour and a half, it was a brilliant movie. For an hour-and-a-half it was movie-of-the-year material.