Before bearing witness to the brilliant magic of Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh reboot, Christopher Robin, I was given goosebumps by the trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo. If you thought Disney was going to make money with its purchase of Fox’s Marvel Cinematic Universe or UFC, consider the money to made by remaking every classic Disney, cartoon movie.
Christopher Robin wasn’t just good. It was funny and heartwarming and transported me to another time and place like the tree transported Christopher Robin to the Hundred Acre Wood.
You can’t go wrong with Pooh. I’ve maintained that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and Robin retains that humor by keeping Pooh’s character, and all the characters of Hundred Acre Wood, consistently classic. All great reboots and remakes appeal to their longtime fans’ affinity for nostalgia by preserving the characters they grew up loving. I wrote about Solo doing so, and Robin is no exception.
Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger might have shed their cartoon bodies for live-action “stuff and fluff,” but they are otherwise unchanged and equally enchanting--if not more so. I actually felt as childish watching the grown-up Christopher Robin as Ewan McGregor looked playing with his friends upon his return to Hundred Acre Wood. That feeling was mutual for much of the United Kingdom’s moviegoers over the Labor Day weekend, as Robin topped BlacKkKlansman at the U.K. box office. It was sixth despite being in its fifth week in the states.
Robin has recouped its $75 million budget and has nearly made as much on top of that as of this writing. The live-action remake of The Jungle Book made almost a billion dollars on its $175-million budget back in 2016. It stands to reason that Disney could use the same template to turn its longtime, cartoon assets into revenue generators once again, and they are. Not only did I see the trailer for the live-action Dumbo remake, but the rebooted Mary Poppins Returns also made an appearance, and while the original was a live-action film, it is indicative of Disney adding some cars to the seemingly endless train of Hollywood reboots and remakes.
In May 2019, a live-action version of Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie will hit theaters, followed by John Favreau’s The Lion King in July and Milan in March of 2020. There is a score of reboots and remakes reportedly in the works at Disney, which should buoy its books well above water for a very long time. Imagine, a live-action reboot of The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under or, as I pitched to my sister during the trailers prior to Robin, a live-action remake of The Great Mouse Detective. Disney’s options are vast given the improved technology around visual effects, so it doesn’t have to rely on comic book movies to make its money in theaters.
Not only is Hollywood remaking and retelling the same fictional stories, but stories based in fact are also being retold because we keep repeating history. Exactly nothing has changed since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989 except, maybe, racial tensions becoming more tense. Black Americans are still being killed by racist cops and white supremacy groups are growing in numbers, getting mainstream support from the President of the United States and are killing way more Americans than Islamic Extremists. The Klan is back with a vengeance, and BlacKkKlansman isn't shy about sharing that fact.
BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of a black police officer in Colorado, new to the department and first of his kind, going “undercover” as a Ku Klux Klan supporter to investigate the “organization.” After cold-calling the Ku Klux Klan utilizing “white voice” not unlike black comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle, Ron Stallworth boasts to his precinct chief that he can speak both “the King’s English” and jive in order to infiltrate the local chapter of the Klan and determine the organization’s intentions and dangerousness while also getting an inside look at the college’s Black Student Union, who invited a Black Panther to speak in town.
The year is 1979 in Lee’s rendition of this true story, but the actual events occurred in 1972. Changing the date allowed Lee to reference then trendy blaxploitation movies and the KKK’s supposed support of President Richard Nixon’s re-election. It might look like 1979 on screen, but if you read just the script’s dialogue, you’d wonder whether it was 1979, 1989 or 2019.
Lee makes multiple references to current events throughout the film, making a comment on our time more so than a comment on the times in which it’s set. Stallworth is accused of naivety by a fellow officer when he says, “People would never elect a man like David Duke President.” Yet people elected Donald Trump, who called some white supremacists at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally “good people.” Good people, however, don’t discriminate as to whom they are good.
Duke, satisfyingly portrayed by Topher Grace, has a gullibility and all-around lack of awareness about him that somehow makes him not only tolerable but hilariously cartoonish. Duke was obviously concerned with how the film portrayed him, afraid that he’d come off as stupid. Lee didn’t care even though Duke told the real-life Stallworth that he “always respected Spike Lee.”
Duke also delivers a line drawing from current events in one of his many phone conversations with Stallworth, saying he wants “America to achieve its greatness again,” another obvious reference to the President's popular, campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” I suspect Duke and Trump share the same idea as to what constitutes this country’s greatest greatness, and if it’s not pre-Civil War, it’s at least a time when white people didn’t have to share anything with black people except the air they breathe.
Do the Right Thing, like BlacKkKlansman, was inspired by actual events. Black kids were indeed chased out of a pizzeria in New York City. Whether the boycott of said pizzeria actually occurred and resulted in a riot destroying the pizzeria is unknown. What is known and is made abundantly clear in BlacKkKlansman, is that the hostility and contempt underlying race relations in America have persisted if not worsened since 1989 despite BlacKkKlansman taking place 10 years prior. BlacKkKlansman transcends time in that sense, but it doesn’t attempt to transcend race despite an obvious opportunity to do so.
Stallworth is portrayed by John David Washington, who does the character justice by conveying both the gumshoe’s greenness and opportunistic, entrepreneurial spirit despite an obvious internal struggle between the black cop walking the beat and the black man longing for and working toward justice for his black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets by racist cops.
Stallworth doesn’t let anything stop him from pursuing his passion project. He is not the easily distracted Mookie of Do the Right Thing. Stallworth is as motivated as they come, and to him, the fact he’s black doesn’t mean he can’t infiltrate the local KKK chapter. There are more than enough white officers to serve as his stand-in, but it would take the right kind of white officer to infiltrate the Klan. Sure, the Colorado Springs Police Department, like most American police departments at the time, had more than its fair share of racist cops. But a racist cop could still give himself away as a cop despite the depth of his racism.
Enter Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish detective who wasn’t raised Jewish. Zimmerman is aptly portrayed by Adam Driver, who is almost too cool when accused of being a Jew at gunpoint by a member of the local KKK chapter. The Klansman is so concerned over Zimmerman’s bloodlines that he demands he take a lie detector test, but Zimmerman’s partner comes to the rescue just in time. Or does he? Zimmerman later alludes to the fact that he’s never really given his Jewish heritage much thought until now, but that doesn’t mean he could pass a “Jew detector” test at gunpoint, even if he wasn’t raised Jewish.
Despite the engaging performances of Washington and Driver, Lee misses an opportunity to make BlacKkKlansman a little more enjoyable and, dare I say, feel-good, by focusing on growing relationships between characters at the expense of others, and that’s likely by design. Lee doesn’t make many feel-good films, but Do the Right Thing certainly does a better job developing the relationship between Mookie and Sal than BlacKkKlansman does for Ron and Flip. Washington and Driver give fine individual performances, but their time on screen together isn’t ample or dramatic enough for their characters’ relationship to grow throughout the film like Mookie and Sal’s relationship does in Do the Right Thing.
Besides length, there’s really no reason not to give Ron and Flip a few moments to convey the growth of their work relationship. Any good film requires a hero to overcome conflict and grow as a person. The same goes for the relationships between characters. They too need to grow and motivate the action and change of the characters, and the relationship between Ron and Flip leaves much to be desired.
Not once do I remember Flip irate despite the danger Ron’s created for him. He’s the one risking everything while the “Black Klansman” sits safely at the other end of a telephone making friends with the grand wizard of the KKK. In fact, the film should have been called BlacKkKlansmen, because Flip is one half of the Black Klansman and has more at risk than Ron.
At first, Stallworth is completely careless when it comes to his new partner’s life, and there’s never really a moment where Stallworth shares a realization of and appreciation for the white man taking all the risk while the black man remains safe on the other end of a telephone. Just because Zimmerman’s white doesn’t mean the Klan won’t kill him. This missed opportunity for Lee to display the dynamics influencing the relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman is one that could have contributed to the film’s drama and the characters’ respective growths throughout the film.
But Driver seemed emotionally unavailable and barely vulnerable throughout the film, whether he was undercover or not. He had his guard up at all times, and that could be his interpretation of the character, as an undercover detective should probably have his guard up at all times. Or his lack of emotional range could be due to a lack of chemistry with Washington, which would explain Lee's limiting their relationship's screen time. Washington doesn't give Driver much to work with in Flip's most vulnerable moment, but if the scene in question is not ad-libbed, the script doesn't give Driver much to work off of either.
Driver might be a victim of pigeon-holing on a Napoleon Dynamite scale, where regardless of Driver's role in a film, he will always be Kylo Ren to some people, which isn't fair to him, but a role like that is sometimes inescapable and can be detrimental to any other performance at no fault to Driver except for being iconic. Driver's demeanor as Flip was almost as if he was inwardly lamenting his performance knowing audiences would disconnect themselves from the viewing experience at the shock of seeing a Star Wars character in a Spike Lee Joint.
For whatever reason, and I'm leaning toward creative choice, Lee focuses our attention on the relationship between Stallworth and his love interest, Patrice Dumas, a militant, student leader he meets on his first day working undercover. Her disdain for “pigs” only grows that evening when she’s harassed by one of Stallworth’s peers while he waits for her to meet him at a bar. Stallworth doesn’t let his secret profession stop him from making a rookie mistake and getting personal.
Lee’s focus on the fragile relationship between Stallworth and Dumas instead of the underdeveloped relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman robs viewers of a relationship that could have provided them a reason for hope, which is something Lee’s films tend to struggle conveying due to subject matter and history. Black Americans’ relationships with police, or lack thereof, have been and continue to be shaped by a very warranted lack of trust. Police have been and continue to be employed to further hinder black Americans, who in 2018 still feel the financial and social effects of slavery. That doesn’t scream hope, but neither do Spike Lee Joints. Spike Lee Joints mirror reality more so than most filmmakers in history.
Lee’s choice to focus on the relationship between black man and black woman and the struggles they experience despite sharing a skin color instead of focusing on the black man and white man and the struggles they experience working together in spite of their differing skin color might indicate that Lee believes black Americans still need to unify before all Americans unify. In Do the Right Thing, Mookie and Sal’s relationship isn’t cheated like Ron and Flip’s, but Mookie still pitches for his home team regardless of who’s signing his checks.
Mookie’s boss isn’t responsible for the death of Radio Raheem, but Sal’s already short and shrinking temper in the summer and pizza oven heat, and his growing defensiveness and displeasure with race-related questions posed as if he’s on trial for being racist because of the pictures of Italian-Americans he hangs in the pizzeria, escalate the incident to violence before white cops ever get their murdering hands on Raheem.
An argument over music and its volume in Do the Right Thing and the resulting response by police sounds eerily similar to recent smartphone videos taken of police brutalizing a minority amongst a crowd of minorities pleading for the police to stop. Again, not much has changed in 30 years except the number and quality of video cameras and camera operators and an increased means to share videos. The police beatings of minorities are just in high-definition and available to view from multiple angles almost immediately upon the completion of "principle photography." Lee's shot-for-shot videography of the riot in Do the Right Thing could probably be reproduced using smartphones, invoking an even more emotional response given the lifelike intimacy provided by the participants' cameras.
The riot really begins when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of his employer’s storefront near the end of Do the Right Thing. But he does it because it’s the right thing to do—not because he's taking the side of his people over that of his provider—but because he gives his people and his provider exactly what they need: closure.
Mookie dispersing the crowd with a sentimental soliloquy apologizing for his employer and fellow employees works better on stage than on screen and wouldn’t likely work at all in reality. Would heartfelt words of a pizza delivery boy be enough to soothe you and disperse a riot after your community lost a friend, brother, son and neighbor because the pizza delivery boy’s employer couldn’t stand his “jungle” music? I thought not.
Mookie gave his community exactly what it needed to get over its collective grief in a healthy manner. While looting and destruction of property are crimes, both are a lot healthier than murder or assault of those perceived to be responsible for the tragic death of Radio Raheem. Mookie might have actually saved Sal’s life, but that, like the reasoning behind Mookie’s throwing of the trash can, is not immediately evident to viewers given the emotion-evoking destruction of the pizzeria.
Like BlacKkKlansman, there was an obvious need for the end of Do the Right Thing to offer viewers a semblance of hope. Mookie coming back to Sal’s destroyed pizzeria the next day to collect his $250 salary and the two of them negotiating a settlement isn’t hope enough apparently. So Lee drops lines from both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to reinforce the dangerousness of duality—the idea that contrasting concepts cannot both be correct simultaneously. But two different concepts can be true at the same time. Nonviolence is a good approach until someone attacks you, which is the message Lee sent at the end of Do the Right Thing.
Lee has often echoed the words of Malcolm X and King, Jr. in his work, and BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Stallworth represents the teachings of King, Jr., and Dumas practices the teachings of X, putting them at odds as to which path is most likely to award “all the power to all the people.” In the end, of course, they realize the same things viewers of Do the Right Thing did: two contrasting concepts can be true at the same time, and if there’s to be hope for black Americans to ever overcome the persisting socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery, it’s going to require both nonviolent and violent acts by a unified, black people.
The black community's dismissal of the Asian grocer across the street from Sal's pleading with them that he too is "black" like them so the rioters don't loot and destroy his shop is a great example of the message Lee sends in both Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman. Black Americans can't climb out of the socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery as a group inside another larger group of minorities. No other American minority started with the disadvantage black Americans did, so Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. can't relate and, therefore, can't help black Americans overcome their socioeconomic disadvantage. And judging from Lee's apparent choices in BlacKkKlansman, Lee doesn't think white Americans can help either. It's something that has to be done solely by black Americans solely for black Americans.
So almost 30 years after people first saw a race riot explode on the big screen in a Spike Lee Joint, another Spike Lee Joint now shows people exactly how little has changed when it comes to race relations in America. If there’s one obvious changes between Lee’s films spanning almost 30 years, it’s that Do the Right Thing has a more hopeful ending than BlacKkKlansman, which tells me Spike thinks the future is more bleak for black Americans than it was in 1989. If you're looking for a hopeful, uplifting movie this week, see the relatively inconsequential Crazy Rich Asians. I haven't seen it, but I can tell you it will be an almost complete disconnect from reality that won't require your brain to enjoy. Romantic comedies are, by design, an escape.
Spike Lee Joints, however, mirror reality and are meant to make you uncomfortable with their unrivaled realness and borderline neorealism, making you aware of things previously foreign and challenging your beliefs of what you thought it was like to be black in America, because if you're not black, you only know what you see, hear and read. And no one provides as accurate and unabridged imagery of black lives in America as Spike Lee. If you're looking for a thought-provoking, uncomfortable, cultural commentary of American race relations then and now, this Spike Lee Joint is educational and entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission.
On Wednesday, Academy President John Bailey and C.E.O. Dawn Hudson announced three “key changes” - a shorter show with a three hour hard limit, an earlier date for the ceremony and a new “Popular Film” category.
Um. Okay. Well, key changes is usually code for, “We’ve noticed our ratings dropping and we’re panicking - quick, let’s make some key changes!”
Let’s break down their panic!
Three Hour Limit
The Academy Awards is a long show. It usually runs three to four hours. Everyone knows this. It doesn’t stop people from watching. And it’s been that way for multiple decades. Sure, some folks have mild grumbles about that fact but ultimately - the exact same people will have the exact same complaint no matter how many hours the show runs. Cutting the show from 3.5 hours to 3 hours is fairly meaningless. Those same people will complain if it’s two hours or ninty minutes.
And the Academy ideas for how to cut the show is this - some “lesser” awards will happen during the commercial break and viewers will be updated in shortly edited clips during the broadcast.
Sheesh. Some of these folks are random crew members who will never be nominated and / or win another Oscar again. Just let them have their bloody five minutes on TV, for Pete’s sake!
“Change” conclusion: Unnecessary. And certainly not a “key” change.
Earlier Telecast Time
They want the show to broadcast 2-3 weeks earlier than its usual “last week in February” timeslot. I guess they think that the Oscars two weeks earlier will increase ratings. Or something. The next Oscar, the 90th Ceremony is moving to early March to avoid competing against the Winter Olympics. Which seems fair to move the telecast for that one year. But, in general - moving the ceremony two weeks earlier doesn’t seem as it if it will increase viewers. I just don’t know what they are thinking here.
Let’s test this. Ask a friend. Go to someone you know who doesn’t watch the Oscars at all.
Say to them, “Hi friend! Are you going to watch the Oscars this year?”
They will respond, “No, of course not. I hate that show. I’ll never watch it.”
Catch them with, “But what if it was broadcast two weeks earlier than usual?”
Watch their cold eye roll of indifference burn into your soul!
“Change” conclusion: Ridiculous and unnecessary. And totally not a “key change.
New Category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film
And the “We don’t think your film is good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award but because it made a lot of $$$, we’ll throw you a bone” Oscar, goes to …
This is the “key change” drawing the most negative press. Celebrity reactions have been mixed with (usually) the old folks saying, “I hate change” and the young folks saying, “I love change.”
Well, I’m all for change. As many have pointed out the Oscars have not added a new category since “Animated Feature” in 2002 so it’s certainly time for some change. I am happy to hear that a new category is in the works. For the last two decades I have oft said there is glaring missing category from the Oscars, the “Outstanding Achievement is Stunt Coordination.” Once I say that outloud aren’t you like, “Oh, yeah. They totally need that category.”
The fine folks over at Vox.com thought the same thing with their: Forget Best Popular Film. Here are 6 new categories the Oscars actually need. (Although, I disagree with their “Best Casting” idea).
Alas, no. It is not any of those fine ideas. The Oscars will now give an Award to the film that made a ton of money but wasn’t quite good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Of course, we already have those exact awards coming from both the Golden Globes and on a more comedic level - the MTV Movie awards. The Oscars is supposed to be the Award show with gravitas. It shouldn’t be handing out awards to movies because they are popular.
On the other hand - the Oscars originally, had two “best movie” categories. That’s right! The very first Academy Awards gave out two “best film” winners in two separate categories: Wings won “Outstanding Picture” and Sunrise won “Unique and Artistic Picture.”
Of course that was Academy Awards 1. By Academy Awards 2 the “Unique and Artistic Picture” category was gone - never to return. Because, “fuck those unique and artistic pictures!” #amiright
I kid. But seriously, in 2009 the Academy tried to address the “popular films not being nominated” problem by increasing the number of nominated “Best Films” from five to ten. Probably because The Dark Knight, a movie that was critically acclaimed and widely popular didn’t receive a “Best Film” nomination much to the chagrin of fans.
BUT THEN - just two years later the Academy was like, “Um, it’s really hard to find ten films we want to nominate for Best Film - every single year!” and changed the ruling from “ten films will be nominated” to “a number no less than five and no more than ten films” will be nominated for Best Film.
So, change happens fast because folks don’t seem to think things through enough. And then change happens again to fix the changes that were hastily made. I suspect something along those lines is what’s in store for this “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” idea.
I mean, if it’s an “outstanding achievement” - just nominate it for Best Film! Why wouldn’t you do that? The movie is an outstanding achievement!
It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me, folks.
Update September 7th: Due to overwhelming negative press and insider backlash the Academy has nixed the "Popular Film" category. Well, at least for now. Ratings were down 20% from the previous year so I'm sure they'll come up with an equally stupid ideas as Popular Film in a desperate bid to up ratings.
Transcript of the Academy’s full press release:
* * *
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson
The Academy later issued an addendum:
While the details for a popular film category are still being finalized, a single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture. The new category will be introduced this coming year, at the 91st Oscars. In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films.
Four of the five top grossing films in the United States thus far in 2018 are sequels, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom already grossing $222 million to take the fifth spot on that list.
It should be no surprise that the dinosaur-driven, action-thriller saga would manage a good enough opening week to more than cover its $170 million budget. But I see Fallen Kingdom falling in the box office like the dinosaurs suddenly fell from existence.
I have long been a fan of the Jurassic franchise. It’s responsible for some of the best special effects and puppeteering in cinema history. The idea of resurrecting the dinosaurs to live amongst humans intrigues the hell out of me, and the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios is also one of my favorite all-time rides.
Fallen Kingdom just isn’t a very good film. The setting nor the story allow the filmmakers to take advantage of its stars – and I’m not talking about Chris Pratt and Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m talking about the dinosaurs, who have always been the stars of the Jurassic franchise, and there’s evidence other people are aware of Fallen Kingdom’s failures.
Fallen Kingdom’s weekly domestic gross fell 71 percent from last Friday to this Friday. Only Hotel Artemis and Chappaquiddick experienced larger drops in revenue over the same time. With films like Sicario 2 and Uncle Drew expecting $18- and $16-million openings, respectively, Fallen Kingdom’s brief reign atop the box office will be briefer than the length of time Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were open to the public. A July 4 opening of The First Purge in 3,000 theaters won’t help, and Ant-man and the Wasp opening in 4,100 theaters on July 6 will precipitate Fallen Kingdom’s fall in domestic box office revenue.
Meanwhile, Tag had the fourth-best percentage change in revenue over the last week, losing just 30 percent in revenue during that time, and it’s still being shown in over 3,000 theaters, so there’s plenty of time for people to see something original and unique to wash the bad taste Fallen Kingdom left in their mouths. It’s really hard for an action movie to overcome poor reviews (51 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and 59 percent audience score), but moviegoers are more willing to give comedies the benefit of the doubt because of people’s unique senses of humor. An action movie must be carried by characters, conflict or effects, but a comedy always has comedy on which to fall back, which might be why Tag’s box office revenue dissipated 55 percent to Fallen Kingdom’s 71 percent in their respective first week’s Friday-to-Friday revenues.
In an age when an original idea is hard to come by at the movie theater, I appreciate a film like Tag that attempts to tell a story never before told, except for in The Wall Street Journal. A group of friends spending the month of May playing tag for 30 consecutive years is a damn fine premise for a movie. It’s not a story entirely, but it gives you the time and place to serve as a setting and interesting characters that can hold an audience’s attention long enough to tell your story.
Tag’s unique premise makes for the perfect bromance comedy about making friendships span the tests of time and space. Not only is Tag hilarious; it’s a bonafide action movie worthy of the big screen. The action sequences are shot superbly, slow-motioned to Matrix-level speed and accompanied by wickedly funny play-by-play commentary.
Jeremy Renner’s character, Jerry, has never been “it,” and this is the year his friends finally get him, because they know where he’s going to be and when. But Jerry’s not the Neo of tag for nothing. He’s got mad skills, making his friends look ridiculous in some of the best action sequences doubling as physical comedy that you’ll see in theaters this year or any other. The same cannot be said for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, whose predecessor also excelled because of an action-comedy combination.
So if you’re looking to scratch your action movie itch, consider seeing Tag instead of Fallen Kingdom. You’ll not only be entertained by the frequency and presentation of Tag’s action sequences, but you’ll laugh during and between those action sequences and enjoy seeing an original idea projected on the big screen.
The setting for Johnny Knoxville’s Action Point is based on an actual place called Action Park — a New Jersey amusement park opened in May of 1978. While it was operated by drunk, stoned teenagers, that wasn’t the reason for the park earning the nickname “Accident Park.” It was their boss who demanded the park test the bounds of physics and personal injury laws.
Action Park’s attractions were dangerous by design, famous to area youth and infamous to their parents for having no brakes and no speed limits. Seat belts weren’t just optional; they were mostly nonexistent. Action Park was a testing ground for amusement park attractions. Its employees were innovators, but employees and visitors alike often became victims of Action Park’s attractions. But all did so willingly, whether they paid or were paid to be there.
Action Park CEO Gene Mulvihill reportedly offered employees $100 to test rides, and he opened them despite those tests resulting in injuries. It wasn’t that Mulvihill didn’t care about his employees and patrons. He just didn’t think he or his employees should be solely responsible for the experiences patrons could have at Action Park. “You make your own fun” Knoxville says at one point in the movie, channeling Mulvihill, whose “philosophy was that amusement park visitors should be in control of their experience, envisioning a park where patrons managed the rides—including how fast and how high they went,” according to a piece by Brynn Holland for The History Channel. It should be no surprise that Mulvihill’s mind for mayhem attracted the eye of Knoxville — an eye he nearly lost in the making of Action Point.
Mulvihill basically believed amusement parks to be like ski resorts. Regardless of proper maintenance and supervision of attractions, they, like a ice- and snow-covered mountain, are inherently dangerous, and upon paying the price of admission, the patron, not the park, should be solely responsible for any injuries sustained as a result of the patron’s actions. While Mulvihill’s argument that any ride has the potential to cause injury is sound, that’s not how judges saw it when a handful of personal injury lawsuits forced Mulvihill to close Action Park in September of 1996.
The practice of Mulvihill’s philosophy by employees and patrons had predictable results. The wave pool was called “The Grave Pool” because lifeguards frequently rescued up to 30 swimmers on busy days. Women also frequently sustained yeast infections from the water. Six people died at Action Park, which was obviously not advertised in the movie. But the almost 20 years Action Park was open for business is a testament to its patrons’ acceptance and practice of personal responsibility, a quality which Knoxville’s character, D.C., assumes is foreign to his granddaughter, who I thought was a grandson for half the film.
Action Park is no doubt the perfect setting for Knoxville’s jackassian stunts, but it should have been the subject as well as the setting. The place didn’t just have character; it was a character. Instead, Action Point tries to be a story about a part-time father learning how to be a good father figure when it should tell the story of the most dangerous amusement park that’s ever existed and the men and women responsible for that existence.
I’ve long been a fan of Knoxville’s Jackass shenanigans. I was even a jackass myself back in high school. Some of the first films I made were of my friends and me doing stunts like riding office chairs down really steep streets, bicycle jousting, and being towed on a snowboard behind a GMC Jimmy. The Jackass movies are responsible for some of the loudest, longest laughs I’ve enjoyed in theaters besides maybe Your Highness. Even Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa had its moments (mostly the end, which wasn’t because of Knoxville) despite attempting to tell a story. But Bad Grandpa wasn’t much of a stunt movie. Action Point is, and John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky’s attempt at storytelling sinks Knoxville’s latest and quite possibly last attempt at making us laugh at the expense of his and his friends’ bodies.
Knoxville sustained four concussions, broke his hand, lost a five-inch piece of skin from his scalp, lost two teeth, one of which was shoved into his skull, and sneezed his eyeball out of his head while shooting the stunts for Action Point. He said in an interview on “The Dan LeBatard Show with Stu Gotz” that he had to put his sessions with his therapist on hold to get into character. In his first session, Knoxville thought his therapist was a genius for saying “think before you act,” because he had never seriously considered it an option. Stuntmen aren’t unlike athletes in that acting instinctively tends to be safer and more effective than thinking. Thinking leads to over-analyzation and fear.
But Knoxville should have thought about how to make Action Point before agreeing to make it. He should have demanded that this “based on a true story” story should simply tell the true story. Knoxville isn’t a good enough actor to give a convincing, dramatic performance, upon which the film’s story depends. A bear gave a better performance than Knoxville did in Action Point, and no amount of cannabis could make the stuntless segments of the film enjoyable, which is most of the film.
Had Knoxville simply done a mockumentary about Action Park, portraying a daredevil amusement park owner whose only family are his misfit employees and regular patrons, and whose challenge is to keep the park open despite a new competitor and threats of legal action, Action Point would have done Action Park justice. Instead, Action Point tells an all too familiar story so badly it makes the stunts less enjoyable. Action Point should have been another Jackass, not another Bad Grandpa with flashbacks.
Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to fine reviews but performed well below expectations at the box office, even for a non-episodic Star Wars Story. But that shouldn’t deter you from seeing it, and it shouldn’t deter Disney from making another.
A lot of things go into a film’s box office performance besides the quality of the film. I can assure you, Solo is just fine, and while fine might not be good enough for some, it’s a whole lot better than the atrocities that are Episodes I, II and III, and those performed very well at the box office.
Before seeing the film, I was excited for Solo to finally introduce Chewbacca as a main character and develop his relationship with Han, portrayed as well as could be expected by Alden Ehrenreich (although I think those casting the film could have sacrificed looks for performance potential). I wanted Solo to be a bromantic comedy of sorts, and it is, in a less-funny, Dude-Walter Sobchak kind of way.
When Chewie first sits in the Millennium Falcon’s copilot seat, I got goosebumps, and while nostalgia was the source of most of the joy I derived from the film, and most of the its best parts are in the trailer, the movie was worth seeing in theaters. You’ll want to see and hear Solo’s action-packed moments in a movie theater. There are some deep blacks displayed during moments of action that your television at home might not display very well. Despite Solo paling in comparison to Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, it’s a solid movie that’s probably a tish too long and falls short of its unfair expectations. I don’t even know if I liked it as much as Tomb Raider, but I’ll probably see it in theaters again regardless.
Solo released two weeks after a Deadpool sequel that except for the first 15 minutes, might be better than the original. And young Han still has Avengers: Infinity War with which to contend. Oh, and box office returns were at record lows last summer and are only getting worse, with U.S. theater attendance the lowest it’s been in 23 years and home entertainment spending up 11 percent. It’s a very competitive movie market and one that’s most friendly to a select few blockbusters -- generally the ones with the biggest budgets.
Jon Cazares wrote about how Solo was a sinking ship from the start. The two original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, had reportedly shot 80 percent of the film and were fired for allegedly over-spending. Then the hiring of Ron Howard, who reshot much of the movie despite saying much of what Miller and Lord had shot was usable, probably doubled the budget. While Solo ended up a big-budget blockbuster, it wasn’t meant to. In fact, had Solo stayed on budget, it would have been the cheapest Star Wars film produced by Disney and cheaper than all but the original trilogy at $125 million, making its $104-million opening weekend look a whole lot better.
So while Solo is already considered a flop by the entertainment media, don’t let that be the reason you don’t see it in theaters. Think for yourself. Don’t let the mass media dictate your consumption. And if you’re looking to give your air conditioner a break for a few hours, hit a matinee and enjoy a Star Wars film that challenges the norm more so than any before it.
The first 14 minutes and 25 seconds of Deadpool might be the best beginning to a movie I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. It has everything every blockbuster film should have to draw you in and put you on the edge of your seat. It introduces you to an interesting character, it entices you with either drama or comedy, and culminates in a climactic scene that sets the scene for the hero’s journey through the movie’s plot.
Deadpool 2’s first 15 minutes aren’t as good as Deadpool’s, which is to be expected. While the opening credits of Deadpool 2 are just as hilarious as those for Deadpool, the first 15 minutes of Deadpool 2 just can’t measure up to its predecessor. You can only introduce the Deadpool character once, and Deadpool does it as well as any film has, including Batman, the opening to which serves as source for a joke in Deadpool 2. Thankfully, Deadpool 2 doesn’t attempt to outdo the first 15 minutes of Deadpool, opting instead to use drama to set the stage for the sequel.
The first 15 minutes aside, the rest of Deadpool 2 is not only more entertaining than Avengers: Infinity War, but it’s better than Deadpool, too.
Back when Super Troopers 2 was released, I wrote about how a select few sequels achieve the critical acclaim of their predecessors. Much of that is due to the precedent set by the original film, as is the case with the first 15 minutes of Deadpool. Despite the wild success of The Godfather, ask any Italian or most film professors which is the better film, The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II, and Part II, will come out ahead. Ask any Star Wars fan which Star Wars is best, and most will tell you The Empire Strikes Back is better than its predecessor, A New Hope. Empire’s Rotten Tomatoes rating is even higher than A New Hope’s. The same is true of Deadpool 2’s Rotten Tomatoes rating. It’s rating is one percentage point higher than Deadpool’s as of this writing.
If you liked that Deadpool brought attention to the fact you’re watching a movie and used it as comic relief, you’ll love Deadpool 2. The sequel ups the ante in this regard, blending reality and fiction in a sort of Gonzo journalistic attempt at filmmaking. The “whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie” moments are many more and even funnier than the original’s. Instead of suspending reality for audiences, Deadpool and Deadpool 2 use reality as the butt of many of the films’ jokes, and it works wonderfully, even providing laughs through its casting of characters. (Hint: stay seated after the sneak-peak trailer following the end credits for outtakes during filming of Deadpool 2.)
If you liked the relationships formed between Deadpool and Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, you’ll love how those relationships grow and the new relationships Deadpool forms with Josh Brolin’s Cable (who is just as good in this as he was in Avengers: Infinity War), Zazie Beetz’s Domino, who is equally fantastic in her role, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend, Yukio.
Finally, if you thought you laughed a lot when you saw Deadpool, you’ll laugh even more often and harder and longer when you see Deadpool 2. It is without doubt the funniest comic book movie ever made, overtaking its predecessor, of course. I laughed more during Deadpool 2 than I did during Super Troopers 2 and think you will, too.
Josh Brolin, who portrays Thanos, the villain in Avengers: Infinity War and the character with the most screentime, is listed 27th in the credits for the film -- just ahead of Chris Pratt, the star of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. In all, the stars and co-stars of seven film franchises are represented in Avengers: Infinity War.
The result of so many superstars sharing one screen is a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie and a billion-dollar budget for Marvel Studios, 80 percent of which has already been recouped. Regardless of the film’s box office success, we know The Avengers franchise can’t last forever and are reminded of that throughout Infinity War.
Spoiler alert: Infinity War writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely abandoned the Hollywood ending for this one, probably at the request of Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who hinted that Infinity Wars would bring the first 22-movie arc to a “finality.” While that doesn’t mean there won’t be more Avengers movies after next year’s, different characters could be wearing the costumes.
Spoiler alert: Many of the Avengers “die” in Infinity War. I put that in quotes because now that The Avengers has borrowed a tactic from X-Men: First Class that originated in Superman, no one is ever really dead. Knowing the Avengers can now turn back time, the deaths, at least at the end of the film (wink), didn’t invoke much of an emotion in me. But the ending was shocking nonetheless.
Spoiler alert: I for one appreciate a film that ends with the villain winning, like The Joker did in The Dark Knight. Thanos beats the Avengers like The Joker did Batman, which will result in Avengers 4, the untitled sequel to Infinity War set to release next year, likely making more money than Infinity War. That was the case when a similarly solemn ending in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers resulted in an even better box office return for Return of the King.
Since all the Avengers actors and actresses have signed contracts for two Avengers films, this one and the next one, there’s no way of telling who actually died in Infinity War. That’s the point of those vague contracts, but we do know a few Marvel heroes will survive to make more sequels.
Pratt and his fellow Guardians are the only Marvel characters with a movie on Marvel’s schedule after the next Avengers film, set to release in 2019. Chris Hemsworth, of the Thor franchise, is expected to return given both the box office success and critical praise of Thor: Ragnarok. Plus, he hasn’t exactly taken Hollywood by storm with his roles outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Benedict Cumberbatch will likely get his own sequel thanks to the $670 million Doctor Strange made worldwide.
Spoiler alert: “It was the only way” are Strange’s “last” words to Tony Stark after giving Thanos the Time Infinity Stone to spare Stark’s life. That tells me Thanos winning the first battle and Stark surviving that battle are both necessary for the Avengers to eventually overcome Thanos. I’m also certain the Avengers will go back in time to resurrect the “dead” Avengers with the help of Captain Marvel, according to the short preview revealed at the end of Infinity War’s credits.
If Captain Marvel, set to release March 9, 2019, is even close to as good and successful as DC’s Wonder Woman, it will help Marvel fans get over the inevitable end of the Avengers as we know them. Rumors are that Chris Evans of the Captain America franchise will play the character for the final time in the next Avengers film. Robert Downey Jr. is also under contract for just one more film and has to be getting prohibitively expensive. He made $50 million for Infinity War. Scarlett Johansson was the next-best paid Avenger at $10 million and is expected to get her own Black Widow spinoff. And we know Ant-man and the Wasp is on the way.
Growing old in roles isn’t often allowed in Hollywood, unless you’re Sylvester Stallone, who has done it with Rocky and Rambo. Women are almost never allowed to grow old in roles, with Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones not much of an exception since the character was supposed to be “old” from the start. Sigourney Weaver’s run in the Alien franchise might be the longest Hollywood’s allowed a woman to grow old in a role, and Weaver aged so gracefully there wasn’t much reason to take her off the screen.
The point is Infinity War serves as a warning to those who thought Downey Jr. would play Iron Man long after his famous facial hair turned gray. The film’s ending encapsulates how it feels when things end -- film franchises and life alike. It’s depressing, but you’ll find reason for hope if you just sit patiently through the credits, consisting of mostly digital artists’ names printed so small and moving so fast you can’t read them. The same goes for life -- patience is rewarded, and no matter how bad it gets, there is always hope.
It has to be hard to be Broken Lizard. Like the Farrelly Brothers starting their careers with the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber (1994), Broken Lizard started their careers with a comedy classic of their own in Super Troopers (2001). But unlike the Farrelly Brothers, the members of Broken Lizard also act in their films, which has made it more difficult for them to find continued success as a film cooperative. Not only does the production company have to deal with being pigeonholed as a low-brow, comedy specialist, but its members also have to deal with their own case of Jon Heder syndrome. Heder’s the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite and hasn’t been able to escape it since.
That’s why Broken Lizard’s follow-up to Super Troopers was so hard to watch. Before I knew Club Dread (2004) wasn’t any good, I had a hard time accepting the members of Broken Lizard in their new roles. By the time Beerfest (2006) came around, though, I had accepted the fact there might never be a Super Troopers 2 and could understand why. That’d be like asking F. Scott Fitzgerald to write a sequel to The Great Gatsby, or more on topic, asking the Farrelly Brothers to do a sequel to Dumb and Dumber immediately after its release.
It took 20 years for the Farrelly Brothers to commit to Dumb and Dumber To, so we should all be thankful it only took Broken Lizard 17 years to give us Super Troopers 2. Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske are back where they belong, portraying Vermont Highway Patrolmen in a cop comedy that pokes fun at the state of the United States and Canadian culture.
The first rule of reviewing a sequel is not comparing it to its predecessor. Very few sequels are as good as the original, and Super Troopers 2 is no exception. Holding it to the impossible standard only realized by The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back is unfair.
We can, however, compare Super Troopers 2 to similar films within the genre and subgenre. In the subgenre of buddy-cop comedies, Super Troopers 2 is no Hot Fuzz (2007), but it’s more enjoyable than The Heat (2013) and CHIPS (2017) and way better than Ride Along (2014) and Cop Out (2010). Super Troopers 2 probably falls behind The Other Guys (2010) but before Let’s Be Cops (2014).
As far as contemporary comedies go, since the release of Super Troopers in 2001, I’ve only seen a few that made me laugh out loud as much as Super Troopers 2. They are, in no particular order: The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder (2008), Jackass: The Movie (2002) (which shouldn't even count but has spawned Jackass Number Two (2006), Jackass 3D (2010), Bad Grandpa (2013), and now, Action Point, which will release June 1, and actually has a story), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Anchorman (2004), Step Brothers (2008), Old School (2003), Pineapple Express (2008), This is the End (2012), Office Xmas Party (2016), Grandma’s Boy (2006), Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Team America: World Police (2004), Your Highness (2011) and Beerfest (2006). That’s pretty good company for a list that you’ll notice includes just one sequel (unless you include the Jackass franchise).
You should definitely see Super Troopers 2. You’ll laugh enough to forget that you’re basically watching the same plot as the original except to the music of Eagles of Death Metal instead of .38 Special, which is a treat. You’ll get some laughs out of Rob Lowe playing a former, minor league hockey player turned mayor, and you’ll no doubt enjoy the pranks pulled by and on the Canadian mounties competing with the Super Troopers to keep their jobs. The story is far-fetched at best, but the situations created by the story are worth taking the leap.
Spielberg's new film, Ready Player One, is based on the once loved, now often ridiculed or outright disliked novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The novel is unread by me but I understand the premise. And I’ve seen the movie now which probably means all the good parts of the book have been spoiled for me.
The novel, from what I understand, is a nostalgic, geek lore Easter egg hunt oft criticized for being fun but not exactly a writing masterpiece, but whatever. The reader was bombarded with nostalgic, nerdy, geek references from the 80’s. And that nostalgic weight carried RPO on to the NYT best seller list for a long time.
And now Steven Spielberg, the man directly responsible for much of our actual 80’s pop culture and nostalgic geeky moments has his new movie! So what is it about?
“In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-known as the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.”
Okay. Fair enough. Dystopian world - bad. Super cool VR world - good! That premise seems Spielberg enough. And, for the most part the movie is charming, nostalgic, good fun. With only a single swear word (one delightfully placed F bomb) the movie is standard Spielbergian Hollywood family entertainment and kids of all ages will probably dig it. RPO has at least two beautiful action sequences and one perfectly recreated set piece from a beloved horror film (which I suspect will go down as the one truly great scene of the film).
Anyway. I like RPO. To get that out of the way. I was hoping to love it, I was worried I was going to hate it but - no, I like it. That being said, despite all its stunning technical charm, the movie is a little shallow and the characters are poorly drawn and one dimensional.
Right now let’s focus on the good in RPO. Remember the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King where Legolas kills the Oliphant? Well, the technology was there to … well … make it look like a CGI Legolas awkwardly bouncing around on a giant moving elephant and finally sliding down its trunk. Despite my dislike of the scene, the CGI isn’t quite capable of pulling that off perfectly. Things don’t look entirely real. It kind of gets the job done. I guess. We get what was going on. The oliphant looks good but the motion of Legolas is just - bizarre and not based in real world physics.
Well, those days are gone! The CGI is now there and the work in RPO is stunning. Movement and motion of all CGI (and / or motion captured) characters are flawless. RPO effortlessly blends realistic looking monsters and creatures with virtual looking avatar figures and their realistic looking weapons, vehicle and gear.
The scavenger hunt / investigation portions of the film are as entertaining as the action. Nothing slows the pace of the film. The moments of humor all work and we easily understand the motivations off the lead protagonists, (Ty Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) and the story’s main antagonist (Ben Mendelsohn). If you are looking for beautiful looking family friendly action - RPO is your movie.
But it’s not exactly a sophisticated think piece - and it doesn’t have to be! But RPO is a bit hollow at its core for me to love it. Casting is a slight issue. Ty Sheridan plays lead Wade / Parzival. Sheridan was a fairly accomplished child actor and has turned into a totally adequate teen actor. He will not fuck your scene up. Nor will he take a poorly drawn character and breath true life into it. And Wade, as a character is … you know. Fine. Except for that one thing (which I’ll get to later).
Which is the polar opposite of wunderkind Olivia Cooke who wowed me a couple of weeks ago in Thoroughbreds. Watching that film I kept thinking, “Who the F is this incredible actress and where did she come from?” From many things it turns out, but most famously from Bates Motel. Cooke is great and watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder how fantastic a lead she would have been if they switched the genders of Wade / Samantha. (Imagine the nerd rage). Sadly, Cooke’s character, Samantha / Art3mis is a little underdrawn and mainly acts as a prize for Wade to win.
Of the additional three supporting cast - Aech gets the most virtual time with Daito and Sho rounding out the High Five (as they call themselves). But once we meet them in the real world they just kind of stand around. One of them drives a van. Not exactly the stuff of supporting cast legends.
But if you were to say, “But the story is about Wade! He is the only one that has to be a fully realized character!”
Fair enough. But do we really need yet another tent pole Hollywood blockbuster featuring a white male lead who is backed up by his super hot white trophy prize girl friend with a couple of people of color in the background who don’t get to do much other than stand around and be people of color? Steven Spielberg virtually has the clout to do anything he wants in regards to his film. Perhaps he could have pushed a little on this point.
The other main issue I have is the lack of real world empathy our lead, Wade, seems to have. There is a brutal tragic event in the film (which I will not spoil) that should leave Wade, at the very least - affected!
But no. Not so much. The very next scene Wade is ready to Game On!
It seems to me that there is a great movie somewhere in RPO or maybe it’s all there on the cutting room floor. But instead of delivering that, Spielberg delivered the safest movie possible.
And it’s a very fine safe movie. There are things I like. I honestly believe that most folks who see it will enjoy it. The visual spectacle is such an eye feast that I might actually see it again. Perhaps I will warm up to the supporting cast a bit more. Perhaps not.
Ready Player One is fun, energetic and totally Spielberg. I just wish it had been a little more, I don’t know - wiser.