Quiet Regrets (The Irishman, 2019)

The_Irishman_PosterMartin Scorsese has given us countless cinematic classics. It stunned the world of film when it was announced his next film, the Irishman, would be a Netflix original.

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran, a mid level mafia type who…well, when all is said and done, loses the important things in his dedication to the empty life being offered by the family.

Like Goodfellas or Casino, we see lives of toxic masculine bravado and the damage it does to families. But this time, Scorsese opts for a more quiet and lamenting approach. Less focused on the brutality, this film is about a man who tries hard to not acknowledge his faults. It ruins his relationship with his daughters, yet he is unwilling to truly take the steps to fix the situation. He has regrets, but not the will to become a truly responsible man.

With a three and half hour runtime, I suspect that it may not be as effective for casual viewers.  This is a good film, though not Scorsese’s best.  It boasts strong performances, with this being one of Joe Pesci’s finest moments of his career.

The film makes big use of de-aging technology.  When characters are sitting around? It is really good. Screen shots look fine. But when there is action and a lot of movement required…well, it may *look* like 35 year old De Niro…but he moves like 76 year old De Niro and that is hard to ignore.

As I said, this is good, but not a great Scorsese film.  I am glad he made it, I liked it.  But outside of Scorsese die hards, I am not sure this film will garner near the appreciation.

Big Little (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018)

Ant_Man_Wasp_PosterWe last saw Ant-Man in prison with the other heroes who sided with Cap in Civil War. People noticed that he was absent from all the Infinity War promotions, and while Infinity War gave a quick explanation of where he and Hawkeye were, Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us the “full story”. With days to go on his house arrest, Scott Lang has been out of contact with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne for months, having parted on less than good terms as he stole the costume for his role in Civil War.

Hank and Hope have renewed hope that Janet Van Dyne (believed lost in the Quantum realm) may be alive.  They are working in secret to locate her. When one of their experiments coincides with a crazy dream of Scotts, the three are brought back together to try and rescue her. But it is not as simple as they hope, as they are in competition with underground arms dealer Sonny Burch and a mysterious villain called Ghost. Ghost is trying to get the Pym lab because she has phasing powers, but cannot control them. Add to this being hunted by the FBI, rescuing Janet may not be as easy as they hoped.

The film is more focused on Hank and Hope, with Scott brought along somewhat unwillingly, but I found this worked okay. The first film had a running joke about how Hope was far more competent a super-hero, but never got to wear the suit. This film gives us a lot of Wasp action, and it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Scott gets some solid action of course as well, and he even gets a few opportunities to really show his cleverness (a FBI breakout sequence calls back to a scene in the first film, but flips the roles).

Rudd is as goofily charming as in the first film…and Michael Peña is hilarious (even though they only give us one of his elaborate stories). The return of Judy Greer and Bobby Cannaval is welcome.  I really like that the relationship between Cannaval’s Paxton and Scott is not some sort of rivalry over their shared family. Instead, Paxton seems to want the best for Scott and genuinely like him.

The film has some genuinely touching moments with Scott and his daughter Cassie. A wise kid who looks up to her dad and wants to be his sidekick.

The story works very organically, the things that bring the first film’s cast together makes sense (Scott, Luis and their team of ex-cons now have a security business to help businesses avoid being hit by folks like…well, themselves).

The first Ant-Man was a surprising film and a welcome relief to the trend of telling bigger and bigger stories in the solo Marvel films. Ant-Man and the Wasp carries the fun over, building on it’s small scale mythology (the post credit scene ties it to Infinity War).  Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty worthy sequel and a lot of fun to watch.

 

Skating By (I, Tonya, 2017)

i_tonya_posterI will be honest…all I really remember about the Nancy Kerrigan story is that the talented skater and Olympic Hopeful was brutally assaulted, leaving her with a broken knee. What followed was pretty insane.  It became apparent that her attack was coordinated by people related to her competition…Tonya Harding. Harding, her husband, her bodyguard and two other individuals apparently colluded to commit the crime.

I, Tonya tells the story in a darkly comic fashion. Showing Hardings tough childhood, the film frames Tonya as a victim who struggles to break free.  The early film is actually quite heartbreaking as young Tonya, a talented skater at age four, manages to get the attention of a reluctant trainer. Her mother is cruel and absolutely horrific in her push for her daughter to succeed. The is a gut wrenching moment as her father drives away and Tonya is tearfully begging him to take her with him (McKenna Grace is wonderfully touching in her performance. You cannot help but feel broken for her).

She meets Jeff Galooley at age fifteen and begins a whirlwind remance that eventually becomes abusive.  But Jeff is absolutely certain that he needs to be with her, no matter how often she walks out.

Nancy Kerrigan plays only a small role, as the film is mainly focused on Harding’s life and the controversy on her end.

The film is based heavily on interviews with Harding, Jeff, there body guard Shawn and LaVona (Tonya’s mother).  The film has the framing device of on camera interviews with the primary players.  This allows for a unique narration.  We see Jeff hitting Tonya (the portrayal of the domestic violence is suitably unnerving) and Jeff interjects his denial of the events. Tonya pauses the film to quickly state that Kerrigan was no angel.

The performances here are top notch.  Both Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan have a good chemistry that convinces the audience both of their initial connection and the dissolution of the relationship.  And Allison Janney as LaVona is inspired.  You cannot help but despise her.

The makeup and costuming here is impressive.  Janney is almost unrecognizable (only her voice made me recognize her). For much of the movie, both Robbie and Stan look positively average. Considering these are two very attractive people, the makeup people deserve kudos.

Now to the part of the film that might be troubling for many.  Some take issue with the notion of “reforming a monster”.  Tonya was part of a despicable crime. And the notion of the film rehabilitating her image did not sit well with people.

And, in a way, this is not entirely inaccurate. If the film is truthful? Harding was not in on the crime. She was only loosely associated.  Mainly, she appears to maybe have only found out about her husband and bodyguards involvement after the fact. The film also portrays Jeff as having tried to put a stop to the plan. He had hoped to send letters with threats to Kerrigan…psychological warfare. In the film, when he finds out what Shawn had done, he is enraged that they went so far.

Does it rehabilitate Harding’s image? Does it make her seem a victim of cruel circumstances that shaped her into a tough person who got a raw deal? Yeah, I guess it does.  But if the information in the film is accurate at all? Maybe she deserves it.

 

It’s Still A Jungle Out There (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 2017)

Jumanji_WTTJ_PosterEvery so often, someone decides it is time to start up a franchise. Rather than a reboot or a remake, when they announced Jumanji (starring that Robin Willims-esque Dwayne the Rock Johnson) it was decided that they would make a sequel. The film clearly establishes itself as set in the same universe as the Robin Williams movie late in the film.

The film opens with a jogger finding the board game on a beach.  He gives it to his teenage son Alex.  The young man sets it aside.  That night he is awoken by beating drums.  He opens up the box to find, instead of a board-game, a video game cartridge. He puts it in and disappears.  The film picks up 22 years later.  Alex is the town legend, his father and house the stuff of scary stories.

Spencer is a nerd who gets in trouble for doing football player classmate Fridge’s homework.  Their teacher recognizes that Spencer has plagiarized themselves.  At the same time, popular and pretty Bethany is in trouble for talking on her cell phone during a test and Martha is in trouble for talking back to her gym teacher.  The four get assigned to detention, which will involve them cleaning up a mess in the school basement.

The kids stumble upon an old video game system and decide to give the game Jumanji a try. They find themselves transported into the game, which they then find out that they must play to the end if they want to get out. This is a reversal of the first film, where the game broke out into the real world. Here not only are they in the video game world, they are video game avatars.  Spencer finds himself as the muscular and heroic Smolder Bravestone.  Fridge is the diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar.  Martha is shocked to find herself looking a bit like Laura Croft fighter Ruby Roundhouse.   And Bethany gets the huge shock of being the middle aged Dr. Shelly Oberon (which she assumed a woman, only to find she is a man).

The film has a lot of fun with the new video game approach.  Everybody has three bars on their arms representing lives, resulting in some amusing moments when they end up regenerating. There is also the sendups of video game tropes.  Most notably, one people have somehow been missing because they have been reacting to single still photos and ignoring the context.  Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse is a sendup of the hot female fighter video game characters.  She questions very quickly what is up with such a ridiculous outfit.  Admittedly, they could have had her change, as at least one scene shows her putting a shirt on to cover herself. But the film is on the side of the folks who jumped on how she is dressed.

The plot is thin…they literally are just trying to get a jewel to a statue to lift the curse of Jumanji.  Which puts the focus squarely on the characters.  And thankfully, Johnson, Gillan, Black and Hart are all entertaining in their roles. Fridge is frustrated by the reversal to a character who is not very athletic and has the weakness of cake.

Bethany, of course, is pained both by her appearance and lack of access to a phone.  All four have lessons to learn, but it is mostly the spectacle of events and jokes that makes this film fun.

I admit, I was not expecting a lot out of this one, but I really had a good time. This is a bit more aimed at older audiences with some juvenile humor.  But it still works pretty well to be amusing and exciting.

Food and Family (Chef, 2014)

chef-posterJon Favreau’s directorial career has managed a fair number of big budget hits.  He set the tome for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first two Iron Man films, and earlier this year wowed viewers with the Jungle Book.  After the failure of Cowboy’s and Aliens, Favreau directed a string of episodes of high concept TV shows before returning to the screen with Chef.

Favreau plays Carl Casper.  Carl is a gifted Chef who was a rising star.  But he finds himself feeling trapped, unable to truly work his creative juices.  His boss does not share his culinary aspirations.  He wants Carl to stick the script they have had for years.

Karl is struggling personally, trying to be a dedicated father, who is also not really over his Ex-Wife.  They have a friendly relationship, and she is actually very supportive of him.  But she also wants him so be better at being in their son’s life.

When they find out that a renowned food critic is coming to town Carl and his boss have an argument over what to serve…and the meal Carl is forced to make is panned by the critic.  Carl has a meltdown that goes viral.  Karl’s son introduces him to Twitter…which turns out to be a bad idea in that time.  Carl lacks the emotional strength to not lash out at every insult.

Karl finds himself so humbled that he finally caves in to the suggestion of his wife to buy a food cart from her ex-husband (the guy who came after Carl).  What follows is an emotional journey for Carl and his son. With the help of his chef friend Martin, they revamp the food truck and travel back home serving Cuban sandwiches.  Carl shares his favorite foods along the way with his son as they bond.

Chef is a delightful film that touches the heart (and stomach, I was totally hungry by the end of the film).  Favreau’s both frustrating and yet likeable.  You want him to figure it all out, to get out of his rut.  To reconnect with his son.  Repair the damage done to his relationships.  Emjay Anthony is terrific as son Percy.  He and Favreau connect wonderfully.  This is a really terrific little film, I genuinely loved and recommend Chef.

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