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.

 

Loveless Fascination (Annihilation, 2018)

annihilation_posterLena is a professor who has been trying to come to terms with her husband Kane’s disappearance a year back.  He went on a mission for the Army and seemed to disappear completely.  As she tries to move on, one evening he just walks into the room. Kane is tight lipped, even absent minded.  Suddenly, he starts to vomit blood.  On the way to the hospital, the ambulance is accosted by government agents.

Lena learns where her husband has been, a strange part of an American swamp that is encircled by a strange barrier.  To try and get answers as to what is wrong with Kane, Lena volunteers to join four other scientists into what they call “The Shimmer”. They realize it may be one way, as other than Kane, no other group has returned.

What they find within the shimmer is evolution on overdrive.  Biological life is being melded into new lifeforms. The four scientists begin to question their sanity and even their physical forms.

Annihilation is a patient and quiet film.  It plays out and reveals itself in a deliberately calm fashion.  This is not a sci-fi spectacle.  Instead it is a world of frightening beauty. The film is full of haunted, eerie visuals.  At one point, they discover shrubbery that has grown to look like people. It is both creep and remarkably beautiful.

Much of the film rests on Natalie Portman’s shoulders, and luckily, she is in sync with the film’s tone. She has a quiet intensity throughout the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh offers us an uncertain leader.  Dr. Ventriss appears to have ulterior motives, but the audience gets no more real access than Lena.

Tessa Thompson plays scientist Josie in a role so uncommon for Thompson so far, that it took me awhile to realize it was Tessa Thompson.  Josie is quiet and mousey, but has a tremendous intellect. This allows her to start to understand the Shimmer in a way the other women cannot.  Gina Rodriguez is the well meaning conflict for the women within the film. Oscar Isaac’s role is small, but his performance as Kane is unnerving.

The film is visually stunning, every frame of the Shimmer full of horrific beauty. Alex Garland (director of Ex Machina) is proving himself a force to be reckoned with in thoughtful science fiction film.

And Starring Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_PosterThor has been a fun character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is cheerful, boisterous and powerful.  He is also boastful and over confident. This drove his first film, while the second film seemed a bit aimless.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor had a vision of the end of Asgard.  He left to get answers and was missing for Civil War.  After Thor and Loki locate Odin, they are warned of the coming of Hela…their sister and the goddess of death Almost immediately Hela arrives and destroys Thor’s hammer. In their fight, Thor and Loki are separated and tossed into space.  While Hela conquers Asgard, Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar. Captured by the Grandmaster Thor must fight in the Contest of Champions..and the champion he must defeat? His pal Hulk.

Marvel has done pretty well in tapping directors with limited experience in big budget films and having it work out in their favor.  Here they brought on New Zealander Taika Waititi, who is known for his unique comedies.  Check out the films Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in Shadows and while laughing, you will likely not think “a Super Hero movie is next!”. But it pays off.

Thor is full of great action and humor.  Unlike the previous two films, which were very earth centric, Earth has a brief cameo in the beginning.  Otherwise the film is heavily focused on Asgard.  To be frank, the previous films really failed to let Jane Foster shine and the relationship never had the strength of either Tony and Pepper or Steve and Peggy.  So, the film quickly addresses that “they broke up”.

The film works to give most of the leads “something to come back from”. Thor must figure out who he is without his hammer, Hulk must get back to Banner, Valkyrie must reclaim her glorious standing as an Asgardian Warrior.  There is not a lot to these arcs, of course, but the performances and interplay of the characters make it almost easy to miss.

The cast really makes the film.  Hemsworth and Hiddleston have a solid chemistry together, where you buy right into their weird sibling relationship in which Loki will betray Thor over and over and Thor is still going to give him a chance.  Tessa Thompson gives a real spark to Valkyrie, who could have been a pretty one note character.  Cate Blanchett’s Hela is actually not any deeper than previous Marvel Cinematic villains, but Blanchett seems to have had a lot of fun in the role and the result is that I enjoyed her as a villain. It was great to see Mark Ruffalo back as Bruce Banner.  The character is a bit shell shocked, which makes sense, as he has been “hulked out” for about two years, ever since the rampage in Age of Ultron.

And of course, there is Jeff Goldblum.  The actor you hire when you want a Jeff Goldblum-esque performance. But seriously, Goldblum always delivers, and his Grandmaster is the Jeff Goldblumiest thing you will see all year.  Unless Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum in another film before December 31st, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok is a real blast of a film.  It is light hearted, exciting and quite funny.

The Next Generation (Creed, 2015)

creed-movie-posterAwhile back, when I first heard about Creed, I thought I was hearing a desperate idea of continuing a franchise that had run it’s course and closed out nicely with 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

And yet, it turns out that it was the smartest move they could have made.  Creed opts to focus on the son of the late Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan).  Born of an affair, Adonis is taken in by Creed’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).  He desires to be a boxer, but is blocked from every direction.  His only outlet is underground Mexican boxing matches.

Ultimately, he moves to Philadelphia and seeks help from a reluctant Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

The film is a reflection of the original Rocky, and driven heavily by the characters.  The chemistry between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is genuine.  Jordan and Stallone forge a bond that is at times heartbreaking and others exhilarating.

This is a strong and terrific film.  It draws you in and keeps your attention.  Creed is an excellent film, worth the watch.

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