John Wick: Chapter 2

Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves are helping to usher in a new era of action movies with the incredible sequel to “John Wick”

john-wick-2-posterJohn Wick has a new dog, and he’s going to murder everyone. What more could you want?

That could honestly be the premise for many action movies, but “John Wick: Chapter 2” sets the pace for a generation of action movies to come. It’s slick, stylized and profound, embracing more thoughtful and polished gun-fu excitement than just raw adrenaline or machismo. Chad Stahelski has doubled down on the sheer surprise and success of the original “John Wick” that seemed to revive Keanu Reeves from the action hero graveyard. Both films will likely live on as action movie classics.

When we last left John Wick (Reeves), he had murdered everyone. Some thugs broke into his home, stole his car and killed his dog. Not smart. The sequel opens with a more conventional Bond movie spree, with Wick tying up the loose ends of the original film. Now he’s back in his home with a new dog, thinking he’s finally retired and out of the game. But news of his return leads an old partner, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to claim payment on a marker John once gave him. John is to kill Santino’s crime lord sister, and when he does, John seeks to prevent Santino from rising to power. Continue reading “John Wick: Chapter 2”

The Lego Batman Movie

Will Arnett as Lego Batman is as fun as ever, but it’s only fun for about 30 minutes.

Lego Batman Poster“The Lego Batman Movie” went from “Everything is Awesome” to “Aren’t I Awesome?” The idea that “if you can’t be yourself, be Batman” works great in a meme, but it only sustains about 30 minutes of inanity in this film. The movie’s one punch line is, “I’m Batman.” Now watch me try on a mariachi themed bat suit, or admire my Bat Kayak and Shark Repellent.

A premise like that isn’t hard to love. “The Lego Batman” movie has all the irreverent, screwball humor of the original “Lego Movie” and the same remarkable attention to detail. The animation is breathtaking, the pop culture references span generations, and the product placement is charmingly, aggressively in your face.

Director Chris McKay’s film opens with a madcap action sequence in which The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is plotting to destroy Gotham, igniting a bomb that will destroy the table their world is built on and send everything into the unknown below (yes, this film isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall either). But then who arrives on the scene but Batman (Will Arnett)? Yay! He was disguised as the mayor the whole time! He takes care of his abs and always pays his taxes! Watch out for those laser guns (pew pew)! Batman foils Joker’s plan, but he won’t admit that the Joker is his greatest villain, or that he needs him in his life. Aww, poor Joker. Let’s put a smile on that face! Continue reading “The Lego Batman Movie”

The Founder

John Lee Hancock’s story of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc lacks the flavor and commentary of what “The Social Network” was to Facebook.

The Founder PosterI can imagine a sleazy, slick talking huckster pitching the idea for “The Founder” now: Let’s make a movie about a capitalizing asshole who stole an idea from two entrepreneurial brothers, but let’s wrap it in a sunny package and sell it as a story for the whole family! We’ll remind people how hard work and financial loopholes can help you build an empire on the backs of somebody’s namesake, and we’ll call it a crowd-pleaser. Do you want fries with that too?

“The Founder” is to McDonalds what “The Social Network” was to Facebook, except director John Lee Hancock lacks the irony and social commentary that someone like David Fincher could bring to this material. He’s all wrong for it, and “The Founder” needs more spice and flavor if it wants to be anything but bland. Continue reading “The Founder”

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Melanie Lynskey stars in this tongue-in-cheek vigilante movie and Netflix original about taking charge of your life and standing up to jerks.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore Poster“I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” is reading my mind. Not quite a year back my apartment was robbed. Someone walked into my living room while I was asleep one room over and grabbed my phone, wallet and guitar, then walked out. The cops were quick to point out that there was no sign of forced entry, so I must have left my door unlocked that evening. And I also didn’t have renters insurance. Tough luck, be more careful.

Some time later, I even got a notification from Find My iPhone that my phone had been located. It was just a few blocks away! I can see it!

Macon Blair’s film imagines what would happen if, unlike me, you didn’t just pass along the information to the cops and did nothing, but instead took matters into your own hands. It’s a tongue-in-cheek vigilante movie from a guy who played an equally hapless vigilante in Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin.” “I Don’t Feel At Home” takes its character through cathartic growth, but it also comments on the frustration people feel when the world seems to be imploding around them. Continue reading “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

Get Out

Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy hybrid “Get Out” is thrilling entertainment but also a great explainer of racial micro-aggressions.

Get Out PosterThe ending of Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy-hybrid “Get Out” seems almost designed to terrify white people. It looks like something out of a Tarantino movie, not to mention a prejudiced housewife’s worst nightmare. You wonder how they got away with it.

Yet leading up to that ending, everything has been designed to terrify black people. Within this well-crafted, unsettling and disturbingly funny movie, Peele has examined the micro-aggressions of racism and horrors that black people in America experience every day. It’s thrilling entertainment but ironically a great explainer of racial insensitivity. Continue reading “Get Out”

Graduation

Cristian Mungiu’s tightly wound procedural rivals the tension of “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”

Graduation PosterThere have been plenty of movies that involve the premise, “How far will you go to protect your family/daughter/son/children, etc?” Many of them may even be provocative stories of fatherhood or motherhood. But in some cases, the child in question vanishes from the picture; they’re used only as a plot device to advance the motivations of the character.

Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation” keeps this particular father’s daughter a continual source of emotion, conflict and intrigue. The Romanian director Mungiu gets back to the form of his seminal thriller “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” with a tightly wound procedural drama set in Transylvania. It raises questions of community, morality and how the place you’re raised shapes the person you become.

17-year-old Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is just days away from taking her end-of-year finals before following a scholarship out of the country for university. But one morning before classes, she’s sexually assaulted, which leaves her mentally scarred and causes her to do poorly on her exams. Continue reading “Graduation”

The Edge of Seventeen

Kelly Fremon Craig’s teen comedy is perfectly at home in its millennial generation and is destined to be a classic

edge_of_seventeen_posterHere’s how I know “The Edge of Seventeen” is destined to be a teenage classic: director Kelly Fremon Craig isn’t trying to be John Hughes or Wes Anderson. She isn’t trying to shove what it’s like to be a millennial today down our throats. Her film is hardly nostalgic for some golden age of culture. No one in her movie is a caricature or a stereotype. And her main character isn’t obscenely quirky and trying to be “Juno.”

“The Edge of Seventeen” may not be the best teen coming of age story in recent memory, or the funniest, but by not trying to be a callback to anything else, it’s perfectly at home in its generation.

When Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) storms into her teacher’s empty classroom during his lunch, she collapses into one of the desks exasperated and spurts out what sounds like a prepared diatribe about how she’s going to kill herself. Her teacher takes a long pause and a deep breath before answering her. But because her teacher is actually Woody Harrelson, he slowly works into what sounds like a profound speech and life lesson before teasing her by suggesting, hey, maybe he’ll kill himself too. “It sounds relaxing.” Continue reading “The Edge of Seventeen”

Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s garish and gritty movie within a movie pushes and pulls between high and low art

Nocturnal Animals PosterPerhaps no one other than fashion designer Tom Ford (“A Single Man”) could’ve nailed the beautiful, perverse, bizarre blend of high and low art he attains in “Nocturnal Animals.” Equal parts alluring and sickening, sexy and bleak, lush and trashy, Ford’s film within a film is deliciously silly pulp, but also stylishly deep and smart in its examination of psychology and privilege.

The disturbing dichotomy between each of those polar opposites starts as soon as the movie does, when Ford stages a perplexing, bordering on exploitative opening credits sequence. Morbidly obese women dance fully nude except for some Stars and Stripes hats and streamers. They’re dancing in front of a bold, deep red backdrop and writhe and gyrate endlessly in slow motion. Ford sees them as grotesque and trashy, but also as sensuous, hypnotic, beautiful and human.

The dancing turns out to all be part of Amy Adams’s art gallery, where she glides detached and unaware through the garishness on display. Her life is perfect and extravagant. Her home is luxurious and empty. Her husband (Armie Hammer) is a perfect specimen, but also lifeless and barely hiding an affair. She’s delivered a manuscript written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) called “Nocturnal Animals,” a pet name he used to describe her ambition. Continue reading “Nocturnal Animals”

The Red Turtle

Studio Ghibli’s spiritual, silent fable is an early favorite for Best Movie of 2017.

The Red Turtle PosterIn just 80 minutes and with absolutely no dialogue at all, the incredibly beautiful animated fable “The Red Turtle” runs the gamut of the life experience and evokes the presence of God watching over our existence. It’s breathtaking.

The Dutch director and animator Michael Dudok de Wit brought his hand drawn work to Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese studio that spawned Hayao Miyazaki and his spiritual, life affirming films like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro.” What de Wit provides in meditative, thoughtful and dreamy filmmaking on par with Ingmar Bergman, Studio Ghibli gives “The Red Turtle” a deep connection to nature, a hint of whimsy and curiosity. Continue reading “The Red Turtle”

Hidden Figures

Ted Melfi’s crowd-pleaser needs to do more to enact real change in race opportunity

It’s hard to be cynical about a movie as crowd pleasing as Ted Melfi’s “Hidden Figures.” This is an underserved story about the African American women who made a major, untold contribution to the space race, and it’s finding an audience.

But here’s the scene that threw me for a whirl: Katherine Johnson has earned a spot in the main room calculating rocket trajectory, but everyday she runs off to the bathroom back in the “colored” section of the NASA campus. “I have no idea where your bathroom is,” a preoccupied and disinterested secretary says to her with just a pinch of salt. Her boss, played by Kevin Costner, chews her out wondering where she disappears to each day. And in a moment of desperation, she pleads that she’s working extra tirelessly to do her job and overcome these absurd segregation barriers. After hearing that, Costner agrees. He takes a sledgehammer to the “coloreds only” bathroom sign and declares free bathrooms for all. Continue reading “Hidden Figures”