Modern Problems (Sorry to Bother You, 2018)

Sorry_To_Bother_You_PosterCassious (Cash to his friends) Green is just hoping to get a job, though he fears his life will never amount to anything at all. He wants his life to mean something. He rises up to be a top telemarketer and then is faced with the choice of staying with his co-workers as they fight for better pay and benefits…or accepting a promotion that will solve all his financial problems.

Sorry to Bother you explores Cash and his temptations in a ever so slightly heightened reality. There is a top program called “I Got the S#!t Kicked out of Me” where people go on to be beat up and humiliated (this bit actually reminded me of the film Idiocracy where a hit show in the future was “Ouch! My Balls!”). A new trend in the country is a company called WorryFree which signs people to work contracts and provides for their living expenses. Which sounds great until you realize people are sharing a room full of bunk beds as their home and are forced to do menial task work.

The film skewers working and upper class dynamics as well as race and culture with precision. Writer and director Boots Riley infuses the film with terrific over the top visuals, such as when ever Cash is calling a customer, his desk drops into their house. As his life improves, his old furniture and appliances break open as newer things unfold.

The film has a gag about the black cast using “white voices” and in a stroke of hilarity, Riley has employed white comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt who are then dubbed over the voices of stars Lakeith Stanfield, Omari Hardwick and Tessa Thompson.

The cast is terrific. Stanfield was memorable in Get Out, but he carries the moves on his shoulders and does so memorably. Tessa Thompson is just golden as she disappears into the role of Detroit, Cash’s artist and activist fiancee. They are supported by a great cast including Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant and Steve Yeun to name but a few.

Boots Riley and his cast and crew have made a terrific film that is socially tough and biting, hilarious and downright unpredictable. Nothing really had me prepared for the film, and it was rewarding to watch.

 

Live Fast (Baby Driver, 2017)

Baby_Driver_PosterDirector Edgar Wright is known for his playing with genres, usually via comedy.  He has tackled action films through Hot Fuzz, horror through Shaun of the Dead and Sci-Fi with The World’s End.  He was long attached to Marvel’s Ant Man (going back before anything called the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed) and instead adapted the indie comic Scott Pilgrim Vs the World.

Here Wright has made a noir heist film.  Unlike previous efforts, he plays this film straight. Baby is a skilled getaway driver.  He is working off a debt to the enigmatic Doc. Doc is hired to put together teams for heists.  Baby has met a beautiful young waitress named Deborah.  Baby’s plan is to do a final job and be done with his debt.

Baby is quiet, rarely speaking, and usually just listening to music through his headphones.  According to Doc, he suffered an injury to his ears and the music helps him focus on his purpose as a driver.

Baby finds himself forced to do another job for Doc, which ends up going bad.  Baby then must find a way  to save Deborah and himself and get out from under Doc’s thumb.

Keeping it simple, Wright builds everything around impressive car chases and catchy rock and soul music.  The characterization is light, especially in the case of the women. Deborah is the virginal love interest, while Darling is the sexy femme fatale.  John Hamm’s Buddy is the character with the most depth, but that is only because he appears to have a bit of diversity to his personality.

Though the characters are not really deep, this serves the the narrative.  We don’t need complex characters or motivations, and they would really bog the film down. Instead, Baby Driver is a fun thrill ride with cool driving stunts and a killer soundtrack.

Culture Wrath (Wrath of the Titans, 2012)

Wrath_of_the_Titans_PosterWrath of the Titans tries to rectify the one thing missing from Clash of the Titans.  Titans.  In the original Clash, the Kraken was a Titan, but in the 2010 film, this was a bit clear.  Wrath opens with the story of how Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades defeated their father Kronos and imprisoned him in the underworld.  It also reminds us that Zeus and Poseidon had conned Hades by binding him to the Underworld.

Perseus and Io were living the quiet life in a fishermans’ village.  Io bore them a son, Helius and then died before the movie started. Gemma Arterton was unable to return to the film and so she was killed off.  This would seem at least understandable until you find that they recast Andromeda with the blonde Rosamund Pike. But anyways, Helius desires to be a warrior, a life which Perseus is aggressively trying to keep him from.

Zeus reveals that he visits Helius in the boy’s dreams, but wishes Perseus would be more open to accepting their status as demigods.  Meanwhile, Hades and Ares are conspiring against the other gods, tempted by Kronos.  They get the jump on Poseidon and Zeus, stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt.  Poseidon is mortally wounded, but escapes and passes his trident to Perseus. He tells Perseus to find his son, the demigod Agenor. He finds Andromeda, who is now a warrior Queen leading her army.  They are aware things are afoot, as monsters have started to burst forth from the ground.  They also have Agenor (who is basically the Greek god equivalent of Russell Brand) as a prisoner.

The three take some warriors with them to go on a mission to rescue Zeus and stop Hades from freeing Kronos. To do this, they travel to find Hephaestus for a way into the underworld. After a fight with Hades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Agenor escape into the ever-shifting labyrinth that will lead to the Underworld.

This film muddles it’s the previous stand against the gods, with Perseus having appeared to soften his feelings towards them. The film is full of nods to Greek myths, such as the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, chimera and so on.  It also has easter eggs like the mechanical owl Bubo in a cameo (which occurred in the 2010 film as well) who is quickly laughed off. But everything feels so randomly chosen and leaves out some great character concepts from the original myths. And if the gods were largely missing in the original film, this one makes it all the worse by having the majority of the gods killed off-screen.

In fact, the film seems dedicated to destroying any further franchise potential by basically erasing the gods from existence. I would say this film is not a worthy successor to the 2010 Clash of the Titans, but then, that film was not impressive either.

The truth is, I wanted both of these films to be great, but they are so largely cynical of their source material, they lack the joy a good fantasy film can contain.  They are all about the big effects, leaving little room for actual character.  Sure, they try for heft in the notion of Hades and Zeus mending their relationship.  And then there is Perseus finding love with Andromeda.  Yet, these plotlines feel forced and a bit hollow.

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