Thoughts I had While Watching Brad’s Status

1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst movies I have seen this year)

1: Is Ben Stiller (the actor) okay?

Brad's Status Poster
Photo from http://www.impawards.com

While I respect Stiller for attempting to move into more dramatic territory, I have to wonder if this film isn’t some kind of meditation on the direction his career.  He specializes in endearing losers, but this character just comes off like a sad strange little man.  Even stranger, he’s married to a constantly upbeat Jenna Fischer in this universe (how she chose him I will never know), so you would think some of her positivity would have rubbed off on him eventually.

2: Why hasn’t Brad approached a psychiatrist?

Brad spends nearly the entire run time of the film going over the big “what-if’s” (what if I had gone into business for the money rather than do social media outreach for a non-profit, what if I had done this, that, yada yada yada).  He bottles these emotions up to the people in his life, only to force them upon the audience over a score that is simultaneously peculiar and depressing.  There has to be at least one decently priced psychiatrist in Sacramento (which in this universe is the worst place you could end up, apparently) that could start to help him deal with these deep-rooted feelings of personal, physical, and emotional inadequacy.

3: Why does Brad constantly fantasize about the college girls he and his son (Austin Abrams) meet?

I understand it if a guy wants to rubberneck a little, but this is full-on pedophile stuff going on here.  Again, he’s married to Pam from The Office, so why is he lusting after college girls who don’t know the difference between a 4K television and a 401K account?  He goes so far as to visit a bar where the girls are hanging out and dumps all of his emotional baggage on a poor supporting character (Shazi Raja), who thankfully tells him that he is the epitome of “First World Problems”.  Hey, that would have been a great title for this movie: First World Problems: A Study of Complete Inadequacy, Starring Ben Stiller and coming soon to a streaming platform near you.

4: What would my thoughts be in this situation?

(I’m changing my friend’s names here for their benefit and privacy): What if Jeff grows up to be a world-class surgeon?  What if Bob ends up running the National Park Service?  What if Jason is secretly the most flamboyantly gay man alive, yet never cared about me enough to come out to me, after telling Jeff and Bob?  What if Lewis solves global warming?  What if Laura is secretly a member of an ultra-conservative BDSM lesbian cult?  Though I exaggerate here, Brad spends the Entire Darn Movie contemplating these questions instead of, I don’t know, discussing his feelings of inadequacy with his perplexingly loving and supportive wife?  You say in Sickness and in Health at the altar for a reason, buddy.  Now would be a darn good time to capitalize on that.

5: When will this thing end?

Brad’s Status is 1 hour and 42 minutes long.  It feels double that length, thanks to everything I’ve mentioned above, along with slow pacing, blasé direction, and a continuously dour tone that gives the film an heir of believing in its own supposed importance.  While I can analytically understand what writer-director Mike White (known primarily for School Of Rock) would want to explore middle age, he fails to provide Brad with any sympathetic characteristics to latch on to.  Sadly, I know several people who exhibit Brad’s characteristics now, and they’re in their early 20’s.  If Mike White’s intent was to make a movie about the worst-case scenario for a millennial, then he totally succeeded.  Unfortunately, I do not view Facebook prominence as the Holy Grail from which I gain my self-esteem, so Brad, and the movie overall, came off as nothing but a painful experience of watching a grown man whining and about his failures.  Hit the “Dislike” button on Brad’s Status.

Rated R for Language

This title is available on Amazon Prime here.

 

Pacific Rim Uprising: Fun Sci-Fi Sequel Should Satisfy its Fan base

3 out of 5 stars (average)

Pacific Rim Uprising Poster
Image from https://ia.media-imdb.com

Pacific Rim Uprising is, above all else, a live-action cartoon.  Its dialogue is cheesy, the characters are basic, and most of the story that is here can be predicted by space satellites.  But who seriously goes to a movie called Pacific Rim Uprising expecting a deep narrative?  All most of us really want to see here are giant monsters (here called Kaijus) fighting giant robots (here called Jaegers), and that’s exactly what we get.  Pacific Rim Uprising is light, fun, and packed with thrilling action that more than compensates for its thin characters and Power Rangers-like plotline.  If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, then go buy that umpteenth ticket for Black Panther or wait until Ready Player One comes out next week.

The story picks up 10 years after the closing of the Kaiju Breach (the portal where the monsters came from), following Jake Pentecost (John Boyega regaining my sympathy after his pitiful turn in The Circle), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie.  Rather than follow in Dad’s footsteps, Jake left the military for undisclosed reasons and instead spends his days selling Jaeger parts on the black market.

Of course, Jake is roped back into the military after he and 15-year-old genius Amara (Cailee Spaeney) are summoned to a Jaeger training camp so he can lead new pilots and she can become a recruit.  This means we get the generic rivalry between Jake and “uptight” officer Lambert (Scott Eastwood), as well as some ho-hum teen drama between Amara and the ethnically diverse recruits.  However, all must put their differences aside when a new kaiju threat appears, with the fate of the world once again at stake.

Like the original, this is a love-it-or-hate-it movie.  Having laid the groundwork for this universe last time, the filmmakers let loose and embrace their inner 12 year-olds as they bombard us with flashy, thrilling action sequences.  While I would ordinarily criticize a movie for emphasizing action over plot and character, Pacific Rim Uprising is aware of its own outlandishness and doesn’t ask us to take it seriously.  The characters are constantly joking around, the tone is light as a feather, and the story expands upon the original mythos without contradicting it.  Though this certainly won’t enter the pantheon of classic modern sci-fi sequels like Blade Runner 2049, it is still a worthy follow-up with a few surprises along the way.

If you want well-developed characters or thought-provoking commentary, then you can go watch Black MirrorAction sequences rule the day in Pacific Rim Uprising, and they are thankfully well-handled.  Most of the fights are shot in the daytime, meaning I can actually distinguish one giant robot and monster from another one, a large smile spread across my face as I watch the pure unadulterated destruction that I was promised.  Each fight is thrilling, unique, and fun, easily topping the set pieces in the Transformers, Godzilla, and Power Rangers franchises without breaking a sweat.

On a final (and surprising) note, Charlie Day’s character experiences the most progression from the previous film, and is all the better for it.  I groaned upon his entrance, but was quickly put at ease when I saw that someone actually directed him instead of letting him act like an over-caffeinated intern again.  Rinko Kikuchi also returns as Mako, along with Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman).  Without getting into spoilers, there is a sequel-bait at the end that made me excited to revisit this world, if only so I can see more giant robots fighting giant monsters.  Come on, what more could I ask for?

Pacific Rim Uprising gleefully embraces its inner child, providing rousing action, corny dialogue, and surprisingly improving on its predecessor in certain aspects.  While the original film had better world-building and characters, I prefer this one because it isn’t afraid to just have fun, an element lacking in most modern blockbusters.  If you liked the original, B-movies, or want to feel like a kid again, then See Pacific Rim Uprising.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action, And For Some Language

A Wrinkle In Time: Disney Fantasy Has Diversity, Strong Messages

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on March 23rd, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time Poster
Image from http://cdn.collider.com

Live-action Disney movies are a mixed bag.  For every film that goes above and beyond expectations (Pete’s Dragon), there is one with irritatingly underused potential (Cinderella).  Their newest film, A Wrinkle in Time, thankfully sits in the former category, with a mostly solid cast, colorful visuals, and, best of all, a truly empowering message for young children.

The film follows Meg (Storm Reid), a 13-year-old girl whose scientist father (Chris Pine) disappeared 4 years ago to prove his scientific theory of space/time travel.  However, everyone in town thinks he just abandoned Meg, her adopted genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and his wife (Gugu-Mbatha-Raw), leaving Meg with abandonment issues.  I applaud the movie for being subtle here instead of spelling it out to us.  Nothing irritates me more than a film treating me like a simpleton.

Meg is surprised by the arrivals of Mrs. Whatsit (an enjoyably swarmy Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (A miscast Oprah), three mystical beings who claim to know where her father is.   Despite her reservations, Meg, Charles Wallace, and school friend Calvin (Levi Miller) join the Mrs.’s on a journey through space to try and find their father, with a malevolent force not far behind.

Director Ava DuVernay has not taken the film’s bad press well, tweeting to Vulture editor Kyle Buchanan: “You were the only Caucasian journalist of any gender to see it, understand it, and ask me about it”.  I applaud Buchanan for recognizing the themes, but believe it was a bad decision for DuVernay to bring race into the mix.  Her calling out white people makes it appear as though DuVernay ignored or is unaware of the bad reviews from women and men of other races.  However, the critics are at fault for claiming the film has a thin story without emotional impact.  This was not made with adults in mind, but with children, especially young girls.  I as a Caucasian male completely understood DuVernay’s intent and believe she achieved it.  I admire her for exploring themes that very few childrens’ films attack with such honesty.  This isn’t a cartoon; it’s a deep, dense narrative with subtle character arcs and thought-provoking ideas that should inspire children and the young at heart everywhere regardless of race.

That success comes first and foremost because of its characters. The kids are likable and ground the movie’s more absurd elements.  I’m not currently, nor have I ever been, a 14-year-old girl, but I felt for Meg’s quest and rooted for her every step of the way.  I’m sure her feelings of abandonment and lack of self-worth will ring true with young girls everywhere, regardless of their race or ethnicity.  Young boys will also see strong role models in Charles Wallace and Calvin and learn to respect women as strong leaders (a lesson which, given the current climate in Hollywood, couldn’t have come at a better time).

The child actors do surprisingly well and don’t overplay their emotions.  Meg easily could have been distant, but Storm Reid convincingly sells her low self-esteem with subtle facial expressions rather than constantly whining about her dad being gone.  Deric McCabe exudes childlike innocence without being annoying, and Levi Miller displays unexpected depth.  However, the Mrs. W’s are a mixed bag.  Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling provide humor and personality, but Oprah comes off like a pompous deity.  Pine and Raw hit their emotional beats, and Zach Galifinakis has an amusing cameo.

If fantasy movies aren’t your cup of tea, then this certainly won’t do it for you.  While I am not the world’s biggest fantasy fan, I was able to go along for the ride and enjoy the characters, visuals, and resonant themes without nitpicking the science of it.  DuVernay has created worlds that, while not entirely original, are visually memorable and fun to spend time in.  The computer graphics are effective without overstaying their welcome.  My favorite sequence sees the children flying across a bright landscape that made me feel the thrill of flying as if for the first time.  The climax also has some creepy visuals and produces good tension.  Literary purists should know that much has been cut from the book.  It works on its own, but fans should know they aren’t going to get a direct translation.

The films’ flaws are an inconsistent soundtrack, occasionally awkward camera placements, and The Big O.  The songs aren’t bad, but the lyrics are distracting in certain scenes when the sweeping score would have done better.  The camera also gets too close for my comfort to the character’s faces on some occasions, but it’s not enough to break the film.  Lastly, Oprah fails to disappear into her character and delivers several forced inspirational speeches to Meg that had me waiting for her to turn the camera and say that “Everyone in the audience has a free bible under their seat!”  I would have cast Octavia Spencer instead, as she has a more benevolent presence.  DuVernay is a young director who hasn’t handled a big budget film before, so I’m willing to overlook these problems.

A Wrinkle in Time has relatable characters, a necessary message for young children, and a complex yet engrossing story.  Sans Oprah, the performances are solid, the visuals are breathtaking and reminded me of The Sound of Music, and the score works magic.  I hope to see more films that empower young girls without making men into morons.  If you like fantasies, then I say See It.

Rated PG for Thematic Elements And Some Peril

 

Pacific Rim: Uneven Monster Flick has Passable Action, Forgettable Characters

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Pacific Rim Poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com

B-movies are not normally my cup of tea.  While I enjoyed the some of the Godzilla films for their outright campiness, as well as the 1933 and 2005 King Kong films, a majority of movies in this genre simply do not entertain me.  I see and admire the effort put into them, but that’s normally where my praises end.

Enter Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s big budget B-movie about guys in giant robot suits fighting monsters from another dimension.  Despite not gaining huge success at the box office upon release, the film has gone on to develop a cult following, so much so that a sequel (Subtitled Uprising) is releasing this Friday.  As such, I felt it necessary to go back and see where it all began, hoping that I too might enjoy this film the way that so many others do.  While it works as a simple monster basher, Pacific Rim is confused about whether or not it aspires to more than that, resulting in a frustratingly uneven film whose first half is almost all plot, and its second half all action.  I don’t know why I expected more, but alas, I was left unfulfilled.

The film has a crackerjack premise: In the near future of 2013, a portal opened up to Earth and with it a ton of decently-designed creatures (called Kaiju) that started destroying our cities.  In response, the military created giant robot suits (called Jaegers) that two human pilots could control and use to defeat the Kaiju.  We follow Raleigh (a bland Charlie Hunnam), a man who lost his brother in a Kaiju battle and wants nothing more to do with the war.  But, as the plot requires him, Raleigh is forced back into the fight by General Pentecost (Idris Elba giving the best performance here), as their funding is about to be cut and they are losing soldiers faster than short shorts in Erie weather.  He meets the feisty Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and starts to trust others so he may pilot a Jaeger again.

Meanwhile, Pentecost is consulting with scientist and Kaiju fanboy Dr. Newton Geizler (an irritating Charlie Day), who believes that good can come from getting inside the Kaiju’s brain to learn what makes it tick.  Other than that, it’s good old-fashioned monster fights that would make my inner child squeal with glee if I could see what was happening.

This movie definitely has an audience.  Some of my best friends are huge B-movie fans and would probably eat this up.  I was engaged watching the origins of the Yaeger-Kaiju battle and ready for cool monster action.  However, the film then decides to focus heavily on its plot and characters, none of which were strong enough to maintain my interest.

The action is passable enough.  Unfortunately, most of the battles are shot at night and in close-up, constantly cutting buck to the people inside the suits that take me out of the action.  Guillermo Del Toro is a solid director (look at the first Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and most recently The Shape of Water) for proof.  However, he falls into Hellboy II territory: Having underdeveloped characters in exchange for whiz-bang action scenes.  I like the creature designs when I can see them, but most of the fighting is so dark that I can’t tell the good guys and bad guys apart to save my life.

Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in and delivers his dialogue with Shakespearean dedication, out-acting everyone around him.  Ron Pearlman has a fun supporting role (as in all Guillermo movies), but Hunnam and Kikuchi lack both chemistry and screen presence, a real handicap when they’re supposed to be the main leads.  Lastly, Charlie Day feels extremely out of place here, yelling all of his lines like he’s filming an episode of Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  That show is hilarious, but Day is supremely miscast here, making his character come off more like an over-caffeinated intern than a legitimate scientist.  I don’t know who I would have replaced him with, but he seriously dragged the film down.

Pacific Rim has some passable fight sequences and a handful of decent acting, but its story is rote, its leads uninteresting, and its balance of plot and action skewered.  I know a lot of people like this movie, but I simply am not one of them.  Here’s hoping the sequel will choose whether it wants to be action-driven or plot-driven early, and then stick with that.  All in all, Pacific Rim should satisfy monster mash fans, but leave everyone else checking their watches.  See it if you like this stuff, skip it if not.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action Violence Throughout, and Brief Language

This title is available to rent on Amazon here

A Bad Mom’s Christmas: Holiday Sequel Has Twice the Moms, Half the Laughs

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Bad Moms Christmas Poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com

Watching Bad Mom’s Christmas is like reuniting with old college friends after a few years apart and realizing that you were better off moving on from them.  The original Bad Moms was a solid mixture of wild raunch and unexpectedly effective sentiment that made me appreciate all the pain my mom must have gone through raising me.  The sequel ups the heart of its predecessor but makes the fatal mistake of turning down the party elements (despite those elements comprising much of the film’s marketing materials), leaving the feel of a Hallmark Channel movie if it was written by a college freshman.  While some of Bad Mom’s Christmas is quite funny, those funny bits are drowned out by forced mama drama and undercooked holiday messages.  This movie should make me want to go out and party, not contemplate the stability of my relationship with my parents.

The film again follows our 3 heroines, Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) during the Christmas season, “the Super bowl for moms”.  Each is at the top of their respective worlds, with Amy enjoying a good relationship with her boyfriend (Jay Hernandez), Kiki finally getting her husband to contribute around the house, and Carla having a successful Brazilian wax emporium.  With lives this good, it’s only a matter of time before those lives shatter into supposed hilarity.

And that happens when their three cartoonishly exaggerated moms appear out of the blue: Amy’s judgmental matriarch Ruth (Christine Baranski), Kiki’s uncomfortably clingy mom Sandy (Cheryl Hines), and Carla’s absentee party mom Isis (Susan Sarandon getting the most laughs).  The three ladies attempt to have the best Christmas possible despite their moms’ presence, something that proves much harder than anticipated.

I did not have high hopes for this movie.  A majority of comedy sequels attempt to rehash the formula of their predecessor, which I honestly wouldn’t have minded here.  The film’s ambitions far outreach its grasp, wanting to combine raunchy jokes and emotional drama despite having advertised a turn-your-brain-off party film.  Much of the comedy on display is predictable sex humor, a routine which gets old quickly.  While the original was certainly raunchy, it also had a decent amount of witty writing and effective shock value to balance it out.  Ironically, these raunchy sequences are much more preferable than those in which the film attempts to make us cry.  This is Bad Mom’s Christmas, not Marley & Me.  Give me crazy booze and madcap antics, not fully-grown adults breaking down over issues that should have been resolved years ago.

A Bad Mom’s Christmas has good intentions and a few solid laughs, but can’t get the perfect balance of hilarity and heart amassed by its predecessor.  Its attempt to expand on the characters drowns out the fun vibe that made the first one stand out, replacing it with forced “emotion” that perplexed me to no end.  While it’s certainly not the worst sequel I’ve ever seen, this is one Christmas you’re better off skipping.

Rated R for Crude Sexual Content And Language Throughout, And Some Drug Use

PS: There is a sequel-beg with their mothers at the end: I can only imagine the awkwardness that might be Bad Grandmas.b

PSS: To my horror, there actually IS a movie called Bad Grandmas that isn’t even related to this series.

This title is available to rent on Amazon here

Bad Moms is available to rent on Amazon here

Marley & Me is available to rent on Amazon here

Bad Grandmas (yes, this actually exists) is available to rent on Amazon here

 

Blink: Indie Drama Explores Domestic Violence With Brutal Realism

5 out of 5 stars (One of the best movies I’ve ever seen)

Blink poster
Image from https://www.eventbrite.com

It’s funny how we as a culture place emphasis on certain films, books, video games, etc.  The Harry Potter book series was claimed “important” because it increased national reading averages; Black Panther has been deemed “important” for bringing up race issues in a mainstream film, and so on.  While I certainly appreciate both of those properties for what they did, there is a new film that truly is important and necessary.  It’s not from a big Hollywood studio, doesn’t have huge stars, and its director is a rising talent with only 2 short films to his name.  That film is Blink, an intense, unflinching examination of domestic violence that should take the nation by storm.  It doesn’t have superheroes, fantasy creatures, or even that large of a budget; it’s a grounded, wholly realistic portrayal of domestic abuse that purposefully makes you uncomfortable.  As the tagline says, “You are me, or you know me”.

The film follows Nailah Belle (Bianca Siplin), a schoolteacher married to Chris (Will Scott).  On the outside, their marriage is idyllic: they both have successful careers and live in a nice house in a middle-class neighborhood.  But in reality, their relationship is an abusive one, with Chris physically, mentally, and emotionally beating her.  Nailah feels helpless, wooed by Chris’s promises of love, but terrified of his anger.  Even the arrival of Chris’s brother Derreck (Courtney Glaude), and a new student teacher counselor (Pamela Jarmon-Wade) offer little help, as Nailah knows that everything can change in just one blink.

Blink should be seen by everyone, as it fearlessly explores its topic with honesty, grit, and realism.  This dedication to reality is nearly unprecedented in modern film making, and should ensure Glaude has a very long career ahead of him.  Velma Trayham,  CEO of Thinkzilla PR & Consulting Group said,  “It’s a serious subject matter addressed with tact, but in a manner that gets your attention.  Courtney JaPaul Glaude does an amazing job with the writing of what sadly is reality for many women.”

The lead performances are nothing short of brilliant.  Siplin has a very tough role to play here, having to convincingly sell the physical, emotional, and psychological pain of an abuse victim while also hiding that behind a bright smile for the world to see.  I’ve seen several films and TV shows attempt to cover domestic abuse that bomb because of their failure to make me understand why the woman wouldn’t leave her husband or call the police.  Blink succeeds  by outlining the numerous complicated reasons why she would stay while always keeping her sympathetic, and Siplin’s performance is the most emotionally powerful I have ever seen.

The same goes for Scott, who can switch from charismatic to monstrous at the tip of a hat.  I spoke with Scott on the red carpet about getting into the mindset of playing this character, and he said, “Forget who I am.  Everything good in me I had to push it out.  After I went back home, I had to tell myself.. I am a good guy, I’m not an abuser.”  He also hopes that the abusers “will see themselves and know that they need help”.   That positive demeanor evaporates in the film; Scott sells us as the audience that he can put on a “mask” of confidence at work so no one suspects anything, and he succeeds flawlessly.

Glaude’s writing and direction are mostly superb. A majority of the dialogue is mundane and natural, and the cinematography gives it the feel of our world without resorting to shakeycam.  For the first time in years, I felt like I was actually watching real people have real conversations about real things, not watching a film.  I also have to commend the musical score and palpable tension Glaude creates whenever the couple is together.   Like Nailah, you don’t know what will set Chris off, hoping that he won’t beat her, but knowing deep down that it will come.  That’s a powerful talent that most directors  would only dream of having, and Glaude accomplished it with his first feature film (he previously directed and wrote 2 shorts that won big at short film festivals).

This is ordinarily where I would highlight the film’s flaws.  While there are some minor issues on the technical side, they are expected of a first-time director and do not hurt the overall message in any way.  I am of the belief that no movie is perfect, but imperfections can occasionally be looked over if the film’s overall impact is strong enough to warrant it.  I know I recently got onto critics for looking over Black Panther’s flaws, but that was a $200 million movie with Hollywood backing, and this is an independent film with an uncompromised vision that says something that everyone needs to hear.

To those people who may look at this and attempt to label it a “black movie” because of its director and cast, let me assure you: This has crossover appeal.  Race and cultural background do not matter: We all either have experienced personally or know someone who has experienced domestic violence.  I am truly sad that this wasn’t released during the Oscar poll season, because I believe it would get the kind of attention awarded to big budget affairs.  While I normally have no interest in the indie film circuit (given that most of the directors on it are more focused on artsy camerawork than investing me in their story or characters), Blink is absolutely an exception to the rule.

Blink is emotionally heartbreaking, with flawless lead performances and notable writing.  Courtney Glaude places you in the real world, following real human beings, and forces you to face a side of that world that you’d rather ignore, and has that most gut-punching ending I’ve seen in many moons.  Its small technical flaws do nothing to detract from its overall message and blunt impact, something that my readers know I’m not usually forgiving of.  Blink is a masterpiece that should be seen worldwide so that we can start to have a legitimate conversation about domestic violence rather than act like it doesn’t exist.  In a time when several hot-button issues are being brought to the forefront of our cultural consciousness, Blink should not be ignored.

 

See my review of Black Panther here