April 2018


blockersChicken Blockers? Rooster Blockers? Hen Blockers? Nope. I’ve got nothing. It’s obviously far too sophisticated for the likes of me. Kinda like those which will fill first puzzles or those memes that rely on no one remembering the order of operations. I guess I’ll have to remain in the dark.

The poster actually does the movie a disservice. I had assumed, entirely because of it, that this would be a pretty dumb, lowest common denominator experience. Maybe something that Johnny Knoxville would’ve happily put his name towards, something that someone would’ve been able to blackmail Robert De Niro into appearing in. I’m happy to put my hands up and admit that I was wrong.

Leslie Mann plays Lisa, the single mother to Julie (Kathryn Newton). Julie plans to lose her virginity to her boyfriend at the upcoming prom, which prompts her friends, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and the orientationally-confused Samantha (Gideon Adlon), to do likewise and so #SexPact2018 is born. Once the girls and their partners are all limoed up and on their way to womanhood, thanks to an open laptop, Lisa and Kayla’s over-protective dad Mitch (John Cena) and Sam’s estranged father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) get wind of the plans and so begins a night of chasing the girls down at the prom and various after parties in an attempt to block them and maintain their precious virginities.

It was something of an unexpected surprise to discover how well the premise is handled, and how the movie has such a good heart, almost as much as it is to see a teen sex comedy with female protagonists. To their credit, although the girls’ partners aren’t exactly awful people and are flawed, they’re flawed in ways that don’t make them sexual predators or utter deviants. Given the fact that there are FIVE WRITERS credited on this, it’s even more surprising that the end result is so warm and homely and works so well. Okay, so there’s plenty of effing and jeffing. There’s drug abuse. There’s a beer enema, which I didn’t realize was a thing. There’s a set of male testicles on view. There’s John Cena’s toosh. It earns its R rating, but it’s still charming. And it’s also hilarious.

And who’da thunk that The Wrestling would’ve produced two of my most dependable acting chops? It’s impossible to entirely dislike anything The Rock signs up to, and John Cena is fast becoming the same. But it’s non-wrestling Geraldine Viswanathan who steals the show as Mitch’s daugher. Her character is very clear in her wants and expectations and Viswanathan plays it perfectly and is utterly delightful in doing so.

The theme of three parents looking to usurp their daughters’ sexual awakening may on the surface seem slightly problematic. No such concerns were ever aired, for example, in Superbad. But in its favor, the movie challenges this throughout, through ancillary characters and ultimately the daughters themselves. It’s a complication I can’t imagine making it to the production script even five years ago.

Fowl Blockers? Poultry Blockers? Jings. Clue anyone?

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a quiet placeThe previews for A Quiet Place have been doing the rounds for some time, looking all the world like the distant cousin of 2016’s Don’t Breathe that had studied and went to college. We’ve all been stung before by trailers that look good and turn out to be bitterly disappointing. I feel bad for admitting this but there was a time when I thought that Sucker Punch looked kinda interesting. I’m not proud of that. I had higher hopes for this.

Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are a married couple who find themselves, their deaf daughter (a brilliant Millicent Simmonds) and two sons (Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward, both brilliant) on the wrong side of some kind of Catastrophic Event, presumably an alien invasion. The aliens are heavily armored, blind, but with an extraordinary sense of hearing. Make the slightest sound — just a cough or a sneeze — and it might just be the last thing they do. So the family walk on their bare feet, they communicate with ASL, they paint the squeak-free boards on their floors.

We join them three months after The Catastrophic Event, and already society has been mostly wiped out. Only small pockets of survivors remain, communicating their existence by way of hillside fires at night. On a recee into town to grab some meds for a fever, the youngest of the family attempts to steal a toy shuttle. Dad wisely says no, but the deaf daughter secretly gives it back to him, and then he sneakily doubles down on a pair of AAs. On a bridge out of town, the wee boy finds a switch that turns the shuttle into a klaxon and at that point, everything changes. A year later, and with Emily Blunt now heavily pregnant, the family is quietly coming to terms with those events.

The movie poses its bold questions early on. Exactly how is Emily Blunt intending to give birth without making a sound? How do they plan to keep their newborn baby quiet? How safe is the deaf daughter ever going to be when she’s unaware of any noise she or others in her vicinity may be creating? And what if any of them snore? It’s these questions that never stray too far from the viewers’ minds and it’s because of them that we know this wee family is about to be put through the mill.

For what is 95% a silent movie, the actors convey an enormous amount of emotion, mostly through expressions and body language. Not content with displaying his considerable acting chops, Krasinski directs with the precision of John Carpenter and also co-wrote the bad boy. One suspects he also rustled up a jambalaya or two in the catering truck.

The end result is an old-fashioned creature feature that genuinely does not let up the tension for the entire 95 minute running time. I say this as a good thing, but it’s actually physically exhausting to sit still throughout. Better yet, once the creature has been on screen, somehow it manages to retain its terrifying properties, which is quite an unusual achievement. And it’s all done so easily, so effortlessly. It’s difficult to come out of it and not think that all horror movies should be as good as this.

So it’s a scarier version of Don’t Breathe that, much like The Babadook, asks what it takes to protect a family and keep it together. It’s a great horror movie. Furthermore, it’s just a great movie.

A triumph!

 

isle_of_dogsIsle of Dogs. Is it named after an area in That London? You’d think so. Otherwise, it would probably be called Island of Dogs, given that the location in the movie is called Trash Island and not Trash Isle. But there doesn’t seem to be any point in that nod to the Docklands. There’s nothing Cockney in this whatsoever. So maybe it is just coincidence. Aye. These are the thoughts that go through my mind. Inconsequential. Forgettable. Almost not worth mentioning.

So. The movie, Isle of Dogs, then.

The latest offering from Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums) is set in a near-future Japan where the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi — not to be mistaken for the porcelain manufacturer in The Usual Suspects — exploits a dog flu epidemic to banish all dogs to from the city of Megasaki to Trash Island. Because he really, really, hates dogs. The first pooch to be dispatched is Spots, friend and protector of Atari Kobayashi, young ward of the Mayor. Atari is none too taken by these events and so nicks a plane and flies to Trash Island (see, told you) to get his dog back. But the island (not isle) is now residence to hundreds of dogs, all of whom are sick, most of whom are hungry, and not all of them are prepared to give Atari a warm welcome to their new (smelly) home.

The stop-motion animation has a slightly jerky feel to it, as though every second frame has been removed but, if anything, it works better because of it. While it would appear each scene has been carefully structured, and there are many scenes that are simply gorgeous, there are a number where the composition is a little weird; heads of speaking characters appearing at the very bottom of the frame, f’rinstance. I’m sure it’s deliberate. I just can’t think why, and it’s distracting. On the flip side, the fight scenes that are a mixture of clouds and limbs are an absolute delight.

It’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of voice talent. Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, and, surprisingly, Yoko Ono (playing a character credited as Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono) all make the requisite noises with their mouths and tongues to a very high standard, delivering the lines with a deadpan detachment that injects a little humor into the most mundane of situations.

Aside from an oddly slimline storyline of One Boy and His Dog, I’m not sure if I was impressed by the representation of Japanese culture, or by Wes Anderson’s best guess at representation of Japanese culture, and the character who seems most in tune with the corruption of the Kobayashi political class is, of course, American. From Ohio, to be exact.

But perhaps the biggest — and unforgivable — letdown is that this One Boy and His Dog movie never really threatens to trouble the emotions and that it fails to linger much in the mind beyond the walk back to the car. For all the crying the characters did, there was never the threat of that happening in real life.

Inconsequential. Forgettable. Almost not worth mentioning.