Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation *** / *****
Directed by: David F. Sandberg.
Written by: Gary Dauberman.
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins), Talitha Bateman (Janice), Stephanie Sigman (Sister Charlotte), Miranda Otto (Esther Mullins), Lulu Wilson (Linda), Grace Fulton (Carol), Philippa Coulthard (Nancy), Tayler Buck (Kate), Lou Safran (Tierney), Samara Lee (Bee Mullins), Mark Bramhall (Father Massey). 
 
It’s become a standard trick in genre films over the years – when you run out of ideas of sequels, go back and tell the origin story that no one needed or asked for. That way, you can at least keep the lucrative franchise churning, for at least one more film. That’s kind of what happened here in Annabelle: Creation – the film is a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, which itself was a spinoff/prequel to James Wan’s The Conjuring – one of the best mainstream American horror films of the decade. The original Annabelle was a middle of the road horror film – not great like The Conjuring was, but not horrible either. And best of all for the studio – it made money. But, there was a problem – that story took the title character – a creepy, inanimate doll – right up to the point where the protagonists of The Conjuring, Ed and Lorraine Warren, have the doll under lock and key – preventing it from having further evil adventures. So even if it kind of, sort of looked like they explained the origins of the evil in the doll in the original Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation reveals that wasn’t quite the case, and tells the origin story of that doll, and how that lead into Annabelle. By all reasons of logic, this movie therefore shouldn’t work at all – and yet, it does. It is magnificently creepy and atmospheric, and fits in well with the themes of the entire series up to this point. It is better than the original Annabelle – even if it doesn’t reach the level of either Conjuring film. It is, basically, as good as this movie could reasonably be expected to be.
 
The film takes place in the 1950s – and opens with what seems like a wholesome, mid-Western family – the Mullins. The father (Anthony LaPaglia) makes dolls – and we see him making Annabelle in the opening scene – and along with his wife (Miranda Otto) and daughter, Bee (Samara Lee) – they seem to be the personification of the ideal 1950s nuclear family. And then Bee gets hit by a car and dies. 12 years later (I’m just realizing now, that in order for the time line to fit with what we know, the main action of the film happens in 1955, which means that opening must have been 1943 – odd that everyone seems so enamored with the Mr. Mullins doll during WWII – but no matter), the Mullins welcome a nun – Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of six orphan girls – ranging in age from about 10-16 – into their large home. Mr. Mullins barely speaks, and Mrs. Mullins is even more mysterious – she stays in her room day and night, and rings a bell when she needs anything. The film quickly focuses in on Janice (Talitha Bateman) – a young girl stricken with polio, and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). Mr. Mullins tells Janice not to go into his daughters old room – which he keeps locked at all times. But at night, the door becomes unlocked for some reason – and Janice cannot resist. You can tell where things will go from here – Annabelle the doll makes a return appearance, and soon everyone’s soul is on the line.
 
The film was directed by David F. Sandberg – which shouldn’t be too surprising, since his debut horror film (last year’s creepy and effective Lights Out) was produced by The Conjuring’s James Wan. Like he did with Lights Out, Sandberg clearly shows skill at slowly building atmosphere and tension, getting on the audience edge, so just a little push has them scared (it worked like a charm in the nearly full theater I saw the film in). The film is so well made by Sandberg in fact that it helps the film overcome many of its problems – the chief among them is the film internal logic consistency, which it doesn’t have it all. It almost feels like the screenwriters were making up this logic as the film progressed – which is a no-no in horror films, which thrive best when they stick to the rules they set out for themselves. Had Sandberg also found a way to make the film a little shorter (it runs nearly 2 hours, but doesn’t have nearly that much plot, so it does grow repetitive) the film would have been even better.
 
Annabelle: Creation should have been terrible, so the fact that it’s a good horror film is a pleasant surprise. It confirms the talent that was apparent in Lights Out – that Sandberg is a classicist horror director, and I want to see him make something even better. Something like, say, The Conjuring.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie Review: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature * ½ / *****
Directed by: Cal Brunker.   
Written by: Bob Barlen & Cal Brunker & Scott Bindley & Peter Lepeniotis & Daniel Woo based on characters created by Peter Lepeniotis.
Starring: Will Arnett (Surly), Katherine Heigl (Andie), Maya Rudolph (Precious), Jackie Chan (Mr. Feng), Isabela Moner (Heather), Peter Stormare (Gunther), Bobby Cannavale (Frankie), Bobby Moynihan (The Mayor), Jeff Dunham (Mole), Gabriel Iglesias (Jimmy), Sebastian Maniscalco (Johnny), Tom Kenny (Buddy), Kari Wahlgren (Jamie), Rob Tinkler (Redline), Julie Lemieux (Lil' Chip).
It sometimes surprises me what movies get sequels. The original Nut Job – from 2014 – was a forgettable animated film, about cute, talking animals that I don’t think has entered my mind since I wrote my review of it then. It wasn’t exactly a huge hit at the time (although when I checked Box Office Mojo, it is the highest grossing film released by Open Road Films – ever – sadly, beating out the Liam Neeson and the wolves film The Grey) so that probably explains it. The fact that it made less than half what the first film did in its opening weekend is a sign no one was really clamoring for this film. And yet, here it is, and it’s my daughter’s 6th birthday, and she wanted to go (as did her 3 year old sister – who I must be raising right, as this was her first 3-D movie and she complained that the “glasses make the movie dark”, which has been my complaint for years) and so we went. Like the first film, it is a fast paced, cheaply animated, lazily written film that produces a chuckle or two because of its talented voice cast, and then ends without ever really doing much of anything. It’s not a painful sit – it’s nowhere close to as bad as The Emoji Movie for instance – but there’s not much reason for it to exist either.
The film is the further adventures of Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his posse of forest animals, who when we last saw them were living large in the nut shop, where they no longer had to work for food. In the opening of this film though, the nut shop explodes – and these pampered animals have to head back to the park, and scrounge for food. That would be bad enough, but even worse is that the corrupt mayor (who, I’m sorry, reminded me of Donald Trump) is angry at the park, because it’s the one part of town that produces no profit, and he needs to keeping skimming off the top – he has a private Golf Club to maintain, etc. So the mayor wants to make the park into a cheap amusement park to milk money out of suckers. And it’s up to the animals to stop him.
The Nut Job 2, like the first movie, makes the mistake of thinking that all you need to do to please kids have cute talking animals, some lame jokes, and quickly paced action sequences and they’ll be happy. My two kids were quiet during the movie, but I didn’t sense they were all that engaged. They had fun – because they always have fun at the movies (like I mentioned before, they enjoyed The Emoji Movie – so perhaps I should take back that comment about how I must be raising them right). Basically, I cannot help but think that a movie like this is little more than a babysitter – something to throw on TV on rainy Sunday afternoon, when your kids are bored of all the better animated film out there. In that way, it’s very much like the first film. I doubt I’ll think of it again after I finish this sentence.

The Return of Star Ratings

A couple of years ago, I stopped issuing star ratings on my movie reviews – essentially because I think they are kind of silly, and often I get bored of questions of why this film got 3 stars, and that one got 3 ½ stars – or that, over the course of days, weeks or months, I change my mind, and people seem to want absolute consistency, which I cannot guarantee. So I stopped. And yet, on Letterboxd, I continue to assign star ratings, so after a lot of though, I’ve decided to bring it back – and this time, I’ll use the LEtterboxd 5 star system, instead of the Roger Ebert/Leonard Maltin 4 star system I used for years. I think five stars give a little more nuance than 4. I will note this – don’t expect too many five star reviews (probably 2-3 per year (for instance, last year, I gave 5 stars to OJ: Made in America, Manchester by the Sea and Toni Erdmann – the year before, to Inside Out, Carol and Anomalisa – and nothing so far in 2017). This extra nuance allows me to reserve 5 stars for the best of the best. I’m going to go back and put star ratings on the 2017 films I have reviewed – but I won’t go back and further, and for the time being on the “classic movie reviews” I won’t be doing that either. I’ll see how it goes.
 
Basically the star ratings work like this
5 Stars - Masterpiece
4.5 Stars – Great Film
4 Stars – Very Good Film
3.5 Stars – Good Film
3 Stars – Mediocre
2.5 Stars and Down – Various degrees of Bad
 
Basically, I’d recommend anything 3.5 stars and up, and wouldn’t recommend 2.5 stars and down – and if it’s a three, it’s a tossup.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Dinner

The Dinner * ½ / *****
Directed by: Oren Moverman.
Written by: Oren Moverman based on the novel by Herman Koch.
Starring: Richard Gere (Stan Lohman),  Laura Linney (Claire Lohman),  Steve Coogan (Paul Lohman), Rebecca Hall (Katelyn Lohman),  Chloë Sevigny (Barbara Lohman),  Michael Chernus (Dylan Heinz), Charlie Plummer (Michael Lohman),  Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Rick Lohman),  Miles J. Harvey (Beau Lohman), Laura Hajek (Anna),  Adepero Oduye (Nina).
 
Herman Koch’s The Dinner is a pitch black, cynical satire about awful people who do awful things. It is about affluence, and how that breeds apathy. It is told from the unreliable point-of-view of its main character, who can see how horrible other people are, but cannot see it in himself – even if the reader can. It is a novel about two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant to discuss something abhorrent their children did together, but spend most of the time doing everything except discussing it. The film version – it’s actually the third, as one was made in Koch’s native Netherlands, and another made in Italy (both unseen by me) – was written and directed by Oren Moverman, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out if Moverman didn’t understand the source material (which I find hard to believe – it isn’t overly complicated) – or else he got so wrapped up in trying to overcome the inherent staginess in the premise as well as straining to add some sort of historical resonance to the situation – that he lost sight of what the film was actually about. In short, I know what Koch’s novel was about – but I have no idea what Moverman’s film is about.
 
The film is about Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney), who are going out to meet his brother, Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). Paul and Claire’s son, Michael (Charlie Plummer) alongside Stan’s son from a previous marriage, Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) did something terrible to a homeless woman sleeping in an ATM vestibule – and a video of them doing it has been posted online. No one knows that it was the boys who did it – yet – but this is not a secret it seems this family can keep (there is already blackmail going on, and other things, inside this family). If and when the truth is discovered, it could, of course, end with their children going to jail – and could cost Stan his rising political career as well. The film cuts back and forth in time – in deliberately jarring fashion – not just to their kids and that night, but also mainly to Paul’s past, which is marked by mental illness, and a few instances of violence of his own.
 
I’m not quite sure where it was along the way that Moverman lost sight of what the movie was about – but it was clearly somewhere in the writing process. The film has been transplanted from the Netherlands to America, which necessitated some changes to be sure – but the changes Moverman makes are odd to say the least. Paul was once a history teacher – and was working on a book about Gettysburg – and we get a long (long) flashback to him and Stan visiting the Gettysburg site as Paul was trying to recover from one of his breakdowns. Whatever Moverman is trying to say here, about America’s violent past, and its effect on the action in the present of this movie is lost on me (there is no real correlation between Gettysburg and affluenza, which is what the movie is about, that I can see). Moverman also makes the rather odd choice to make Hall’s Katelyn Stan’s second wife – we see his first, Barbara (Chloe Sevigny) in all the flashbacks – a detail that wasn’t in Koch’s book. I’m not sure what this accomplishes, rather than just adding another character to the narratives – and since it pretty much takes the film nearly 100 minutes of its 120 minute runtime to give Hall anything of interest to do or say, it really doesn’t work.
 
At the very least, The Dinner should work as an actors showcase if nothing else – but unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well either. Coogan is miscast as Paul – it is a very heavy role, and while Coogan is a talented actor, he doesn’t do well here. His American accent doesn’t sound convincing, and the narrative requires so many personality changes for his character, that its rather jarring (this is an instance of things working better in the novel than the movie – because in the novel, it’s his point-of-view, and we can tell that the way he sees himself, isn’t the way he really is – in the movie, it all looks the same, so he comes across as wildly inconsistent). Gere fares a little better as Stan – but I’m not quite sure that either he or the movie realize how awful a character he really is – he almost comes across as the good guy in the narrative – or at least the only one trying to do the right thing, but doesn’t make it clear how selfish his motivations actually are. The movie also skimps on the details of their children – Michael just coming across as a whiny brat, and Rick not getting almost any screen time (and the film, which follows the book’s example, and has Stan have another son – an adopted one, who is black, does nothing with that character, and fails to show the racism of everyone else in the movie. Yes, in the book, that adopted son is also a prop – Koch’s novel was hardly perfect – but the character at least had a purpose.
 
Really, the only ones who escape unscathed in the film are Laura Linney as Claire, and Michael Chernus as the waiter, who is remarkable at keeping things flowing through the awkward dinner. Linney is, of course, one of the best actresses working today, and she always finds a way to show that – which she does here as well, even if her character is not that unsimilar to her one in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (in that film, she only gets the one scene to show her true colors – which are more prevalent here).
 
The movie pulls its punches right to the end – it’s an abrupt ending, that doesn’t really offer anything resembling resolution, but also cuts out some of the worse things the adult character do in Koch’s novel. When the author saw the film at this year’s Berlin film festival, he didn’t go to the after party, because he hated the movie – and saw it as overly “moralizing”. I think Koch was being generous – in reality, the film is just a mess. It doesn’t know what its saying or what it’s about – and wastes a talented cast. Moverman is good filmmaker – this is his fourth film, and his other three are all excellent – but here, he clearly missed the mark.

Movie Review: the bomb

the bomb ****/*****
Directed by: Kevin Ford & Smriti Keshari & Eric Schlosser.
 
There are times in which, by pure happenstance, the timing of something works out just about perfectly – and releasing the montage documentary the bomb on Netflix for everyone to see on August 1 – and having the leaders of North Korea and Donald Trump trade threats of nuclear annulation the following week is one of them. The film was originally made has essentially a 360 degree art installation, in which viewers were to be surrounded by screens, showing the same images, and listening to the hypnotic score by The Acid, and seeing the history of nuclear weapons play out in front of their eyes, with no words, until close to the end. The makers of the film said one of the reasons why they made it is because no one talks about nuclear weapons anymore – even if there are more than enough to kill us all many times over. Well, they’re talking now – and a film like the bomb, even in the much diminished form of watching it on Netflix instead of how it was made to be watched is still hypnotic and frightening.
 
The film runs just under an hour, and is basically a long montage of images about the how the bomb was created, tested, and used – the images start out almost triumphant, and the music echoes this – as of course, this is a magnificent scientific achievement, even if it’s a horrifying one as well. The makers get there as well, showing us clips of old educational films about the bomb, and how to protect your family and what to do in the event of a nuclear strike – which, of course, was pretty much all lies. We get images of the tests as they happen, as they blow apart houses and other structures. We get images of the two times these bombs were actually used in war – in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and the tremendous cost of those. Through it all, we hear no words, just the music by The Acid, which finds the right notes as it moves along.
 
The film, which seems to be one of mounting hopelessness and despair, doesn’t actually end as bleak as you may it expect it will. The only time the filmmakers allow words to come into the film, they pick a few snippets of speeches by two US Presidents – Reagan and Obama – both of whom hoping for a nuclear weapon free future. It was a TV film – The Day After – which helped Reagan reach this conclusion, so who the hell knows if the bomb could help anyone else do the same – but it cannot hurt.
 
The film is a stunning achievement in editing and music – a ride that is both terrifying, and, oddly enjoyable. There isn’t a ton to say about the film, and I really do wish I had been able to experience like those at film festivals in 2016 were able to. Yet, even playing on Netflix, the film is stunning and unforgettable.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Classic Movie Review: The Devil, Probably (1977)

The Devil, Probably (1977)
Directed by: Robert Bresson.
Written by: Robert Bresson.
Starring: Antoine Monnier (Charles), Tina Irissari (Alberte), Henri de Maublanc (Michel), Laetitia Carcano (Edwige), Nicolas Deguy (Valentin), Régis Hanrion (Dr. Mime, Psychanalyste), Geoffroy Gaussen (Libraire), Roger Honorat (Commissaire).
 
In the film of Robert Bresson, suffering is often only alleviated by death. His is not a happy filmography, as his title characters – in Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) or Mouchette (1967) have lives of suffering and pain, that is only relieved by death – for Balthazar, when he is finally allowed to stop working and being tormented so he can lie in a field and die, and for Mouchette, finally stopping the abuse through suicide. By the time he made his penultimate film, The Devil Probably, in 1977, he had to have known people were onto his tricks, and I think he’s poking fun at them in the film. His final film – L’Argent (1983) messes with you more because of what you know about Bresson’s previous films – which makes where that one ends up even more devastating. But between all these masterpieces, there is this film which I found to be insufferable. Perhaps I was supposed to though – we cannot possibly be meant to like or sympathize with Charles, the main character in this film are we? Next time someone tells you millennials are spoiled and entitled brats, and it’s different in this generation than in previous ones, show them this film. Charles has them all beat by a mile.
 
Charles, played by Antoine Monnier, you see is a pure soul. He’s brilliant, but depressed. He sees through all the phoniness around him see – the emptiness of political engagement, of philosophy, or psychology, etc. He’s not crazy, he tells a psychologist near the end of the film – he just sees things too clearly. Throughout much of the film, I wondered just how seriously we were supposed to take Charles – does he actually believe the idiocy that comes out of his mouth, or is it all just a line (if it was a line, it was working – he has two beautiful young women fighting over who gets to save him through sex). But no, it appears, it is no line – Charles believes it. The question is, does Bresson?
 
I don’t think he does – while Bresson recognizes how Charles believes his own bullshit, and how those around him mistake that for depth, he also mocks them for it. There earnest readings as the show footage of environmental destruction, and people clubbing baby seals is certainly meant as mockery, isn’t it?
 
Ultimately, I do think that Bresson is trying to have it both ways in The Devil, Probably – trying to show just how seriously Charles –and the other youths in the movie – take themselves, and especially how Charles takes his “suffering”, while at the same time, mocks them for not really understanding the world around them. As he showed in Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette and L’Argent, the world can be a brutal, unfeeling, cold, cruel world. But the protagonists of those movies had much more to complain about that Charles, who sadly will never grow old to realize what an idiot he was as a teenager like the rest of us have to. I find much of Bresson’s work to be profound and moving – but not this one, which is more annoying than anything else.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Detroit

Detroit *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow.
Written by: Mark Boal.                             
Starring: John Boyega (Dismukes), Will Poulter (Krauss), Algee Smith (Larry), Jacob Latimore (Fred), Jason Mitchell (Carl), Hannah Murray (Julie), Jack Reynor (Demens), Kaitlyn Dever (Karen), Ben O'Toole (Flynn), John Krasinski (Attorney Auerbach), Anthony Mackie (Greene), Nathan Davis Jr. (Aubrey), Peyton 'Alex' Smith (Lee), Malcolm David Kelley (Michael), Joseph David-Jones (Morris), Laz Alonso (Conyers), Ephraim Sykes (Jimmy), Leon Thomas III (Darryl), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Aubrey Pollard Sr.), Miguel Pimentel (Malcolm).
 
T
he centerpiece section of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is both the reason to see the film, and the reason why some viewers won’t want to. It probably lasts for about half the film’s 2 hour and 25 minute runtime, after a section that sets up what led there, and before a section about the aftermath, and is the type of filmmaking Bigelow does best – tense, edge of your seat filmmaking, that puts the audience there, right alongside its characters and makes them sit in their discomfort. It’s a sequence that viewers will want to stop – it’s hard to sit through, hard to shake, and yet we are powerless to stop. This, of course, is the point of this sequence – as many of the characters in this sequence are either powerless to stop it themselves, or at least think they are, because they don’t. I completely and totally understand the reaction of some critics – many of whom are black – who think Bigelow is just exploiting black pain for her movie and really do not want to sit through more scenes of black people being tormented by police officers. They have argued that the film isn’t for them – and they may well be right. Maybe the film is for white people – the kind of white people we see in Jordan Peele’s brilliant Get Out, who think one think and get comforted with the reality. Perhaps that’s why in so much of the movie outside this tense middle section of the film, so much of the dialogue is awkward and stilted, and feels like screenwriter Mark Boal and Bigelow are trying – way too hard – to draw direct parallels to the racial tension in America today, and how little really has changed in the 50 years since the events depicted in Detroit took place.
 
That centerpiece sequence takes place at the Algiers Motel in Detroit, in the summer of 1967, in the middle of Detroit Riots or Detroit Rebellion (depending on the language you choose to use). This was far from the first racially motivate riots that broke out in America in the 1960s. The films opens with what kicked off the unrest – basically the straw that broke the camel’s back – when cops raided an unlicensed after hours drinking club in the black part of town. Those not arrested, got pissed, and tensions boiled over – and riots broke out. A few days into those riots, the National Guard has been called in. A group at the Algiers motel – mostly black, but with two white girls – are hanging out in the Annex of the motel – and one of them thinks it will be funny to fire off his starts pistol in the direction of the amassing National Guard and police officers. They come to the motel, and want answers – and are willing to do anything to get them. It has already been established that their leader – Krauss (Will Poulter) is a violent, racist – we see him shoot an unarmed black man in the back for stealing groceries, and then having the audacity of running away (he’s basically given a warning, and sent back to work). He kills one of the men right away – and lines the rest up against the wall. Through the hours and hours that follow, he and his cohorts will “play a game” with the rest of them to get answers. One by one, they take the rest of them into another room, and “pretend” to shoot them, to get the rest to talk. Until one of them doesn’t pretend anymore. Killing one of them – as they were running away – may be okay, but two? By the end of the night, another black man will be dead as well.
 
This centerpiece section is brilliantly directed by Bigelow, and does a great job of establishing the various characters through their actions. Krauss is the leader – the man who can bully the rest of the cops to go along with him, speaking in “coded” language about “them” and about how they are likely are guilty of “something”. His two fellow officers Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) – are not as overtly racist or sadistic as Krauss – but they go right along with everything. There’s also a National Guardsman there, who plays along up to a point, and then leaves. And there is also Dismukes (John Boyega) – a black security guard who tags along, in the hopes of keeping things under control, although he is clearly unable to do so. The black men tortured by the cops include a Vietnam war vet (Anthony Mackie) who is smart and disciplined enough to realize fighting back will get him nowhere, two members of a musical group – Larry and Fred (Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore) who were just trying to lay low until the heat died down of the riots, and got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s also Carl (Jason Mitchell) – who earlier breaks down the fear black people experience that white people do not understand. The two white girls who are there (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) – set off the cops as much as the black men do, simply for being with them. The cops immediately assume they must be prostitutes, and want to know why they sleep with blacks, but not “nice” white guys like them. The sequence is brutally intense and unrelenting. You sit and watch, and want to step in, want it to end, and it just keeps going. Like her previous two films – The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty (also written by Boal) – Bigelow wants her audience on edge the whole time, constantly on the brink of going over.
 
Everything that surrounds this brilliantly, brutally effective sequence is not nearly as effective. Part of that is just the inevitable boring parts of having to set everything up – this is a big movie, with a lot of cast members, and movie parts, and requires a certain degree of exposition to place it in context (the opening, with intertitles over paintings is more effective than the other earlier scenes). But much of it seems to Boal and Bigelow trying to draw parallels to then and today – using language that would sound awkward now, but even stranger in the context of 1967 – the movie almost goes out of its way to make sure you know that not all cops are racist, but tries (less successfully) to paint them as part of a larger system of institutional racism, that allows and excuses their behavior.
 
A film like Detroit is clearly meant to make its audience uneasy – which it does, and at times brilliantly so. At other times though, it makes them uneasy in another way – because it is trying so hard to draw connections to today, and trying so hard to be both fair to everyone, and yet not excuse any of them either. This has been Bigelow and Boal’s approach in their last three films – and honestly, it worked better in The Hurt Locker and (especially) Zero Dark Thirty than it does in Detroit. I think they are trying to sidestep the traps in films like this – films that document historical traumas that allow audiences to feel comfortable, because as horrible as they are, they can be relegated to the past. Bigelow and Boal try very hard to make sure you do not forget that these cannot be so easily relegated. They aren’t entirely successful – but I admire the effort.

Movie Review: Message from the King

Message from the King ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Fabrice du Welz.
Written by: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jacob King), Teresa Palmer (Kelly), Luke Evans (Wentworth), Alfred Molina (Preston), Tom Felton (Frankie), Jake Weary (Bill), Natalie Martinez (Trish), Dale Dickey (Mrs. Lazlo), Chris Mulkey (Leary), Ava Kolker (Boot), James Jordan (Scott), Amin El Gamal (Martine), Arthur Darbinyan (Duc), Diego Josef (Armand), Lucan Melkonian (Zico). 
 
Message from the King is the kind of film that keeps you entertained from beginning to end, but never really gets you involved in it. You never really get invested in the story, because somehow the film just doesn’t quite connect on the level it should. This is a straight up revenge thriller – a neo-noir set in L.A. where a man from South Africa, Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) shows up to find his sister he hasn’t heard from lately, and gets involved in the seedy underworld that took her down – before following that chain up to bigger, richer fish. The film is directed by Fabrice du Welz, and the thing looks fantastic, and has a great cast – and yet, du Welz seems a little too in love with the films style to keep the damn thing moving at a pace something like this needs to be great, The film kind of feels like it wants to be a twist on Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) – but without doing the heavy lifting that films does to establish everything. The whole thing is a bit of a mess – although an entertaining one.
 
If there is a reason to see the film, it’s to see Chadwick Boseman is a terrific performance as King. He is a commanding screen presence, and he pretty much carries the opening scenes, where not a lot is happening, on his back by doing very little. He will eventually spring into action – using a bike chain to take down a group of Eastern European baddies at a car wash of all things – and when he does, it is glorious, although by that point, it almost feels like it’s part of a different movie (one where his character could convincing say the title of the film, and mean it).
 
The films plot is basically King seemingly coming to the end of the underworld that destroyed his sister, and then discovering another level, higher up, but more depraved. It’s how he meets a high priced dentist (Luke Evans) and a movie producer (Alfred Molina) with peculiar tastes. It’s also how he learns just how far his sister had sunk during her time in L.A. – while she is clearly a victim, you could hardly call her innocent.
 
The film looks great to be sure, and I loved Boseman in the lead role. There are narrative strands that make little sense – no matter how much I like her, I don’t think the film needs Teresa Palmer as King’s neighbor/single mother/sometime prostitute/object to be saved in the film at all (let alone her daughter). I did, sort of, admire the films willingness to not tie everything up in a neat package, or pretend that given the level of depravity involved, that everyone will get a happy ending. And the film held my interest from beginning to end. But the film just never quite finds its level – stuck somewhere between trashy exploitation thriller and its higher impulses, it doesn’t quite manage to do either all that well.

Movie Review: Icarus

Icarus *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Bryan Fogel.
Written by: Bryan Fogel & Jon Bertain & Mark Monroe & Timothy Rode.
 
Icarus, a documentary directed by Bryan Fogel, is not the film that Fogel set out to make when he started. Fortunately for him, it’s much better, deeper and more complex than the film Fogel thought he was making when he started filming himself. In the film’s first half hour (which should have been even shorter) we see the film Fogel wanted to make – as the director, a very good amateur bike racer, decides that what he wants to do is prove how easy it is to beat the sports anti-doping tests. In order to do that, he’s going to enter the Haute Route – the biggest, most difficult amateur bike race in the world, one that he did, cleanly, and came in 14th, but this time after months of taking steroids and other PEDs – to improve his performance, and beat the results. This doesn’t seem like a good idea for many (many) reasons – the biggest one may be practical – since the race is for amateurs, they don’t really test the racers, so who exactly is he trying to beat. Fortunately for Fogel though, in order to do this as safely as possible, he needs medical help – and when his original doctor (an American) backs out, he gets in contact with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who agrees to help him. Rodchenkov is a Russian doctor, and the head of that country’s anti-doping lab – the guy who is supposed to catch cheaters using the PEDs he’s now going to help Fogel hide. A few months into filming though – after he has become friends with Fogel – all hell breaks loose. A documentary on German TV accuses pretty much all Russian Olympic athletes of doping, and that brings down pressure of all levels of Russia’s sport – including Rodchenkov – who will eventually turn against his former bosses, and admit to everything they did to dope their athletes, and get away with it. And through it all, Fogel has a front row seat.
 
The documentary Fogel wanted to make isn’t really all that interesting – it’s essentially a version of Morgan Spurlock’s Super-Size Me, but for steroids, but I’m not sure what it would have proved even if it did work. After all, we all know what these PEDs do – they help the athletes – and we all know that athletes have been getting away with them for years, because they’re always one (or more) steps ahead of those trying to catch them (which is why when we hear of someone testing positive now, it’s often for years ago, as advances in testing have caught up with what athletes were doing). Doing it to himself is the hook, but not a particularly good one – especially since Fogel didn’t actually do any better (he did worse) on drugs as off of them.
 
But the documentary he did make, about Rodchenkov, is fascinating and tense. This is a documentarian’s dream – to have a better film than the one you want to make fall into your lap. Rodchenkov trusts Fogel, in part because who else does he know in America? When the investigation starts getting closer to him, their conversations over Skype grow tenser and short – and Rodchenkov will eventually flee Russia in order to try and keep himself safe. Others he knew, and we involved in the same scandal, mysteriously wind up dead (that happens a lot in Russia to people the government doesn’t like), and he fears for his life. Eventually, he will reveal the elaborate methods Russia went through not to be caught – especially at their home Olympics in Sochi, where Russian did way better than at the previous Winter Games. The movie morphs almost into a spy thriller – or at the very least, something more like Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour or Risk, than how things started.
 
There are certainly complains you could make about Icarus – it does run too long (at just over two hours), and Fogel does seem too eager to be at the center of the film, even as it becomes clear he should step aside and let Rodchenkov have center stage all to himself. In particular, that first section of the film – the film that Fogel wanted this to be – is way too long for what we get out of it. And, truth be told, all this information is already out there, so if you followed along, I’m not sure how much new information there actually is here. But overall, Icarus is a fascinating film – another chapter in the seemingly ever expanding series about doping in sports – a scandal that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Classic Movie Review: A Night in Casablanca (1946)

A Night in Casablanca (1946)
Directed by: Archie Mayo.
Written by: Joseph Fields and Roland Kibbee.
Starring: Groucho Marx (Kornblow), Harpo Marx (Rusty), Chico Marx (Corbaccio), Charles Drake (Pierre), Lois Collier (Annette), Sig Ruman (Pfferman), Lisette Verea (Bea), Lewis L. Russell (Governor), Dan Seymour (Prefect of Police), Frederick Giermann (Kurt), Harro Mellor (Emile).
 
The difference between good Marx brothers and mediocre Marx brothers (I’m not sure there’s such a thing as bad Marx brothers) is how little the plot gets in the way of the brothers and their antics, and how quickly they keep the gags coming. The less time spent on plot, the less time spent on characters who aren’t played by Groucho, Harp or Chico, the better. Their 1946 film, A Night in Casablanca, was their first film after a five year “retirement” – and the second last, the three brothers would make together. It is not one of their best films to be sure, but it’s also far from bad. Even mediocre Marx brothers is still pretty damn funny.
 
The plot of the film is a little too busy. After three managers of the Hotel Casablanca are murdered, Groucho’s Kornblow, who managed a hotel in the middle of nowhere, is hired for the job. What he doesn’t know is that a former Nazi, disguising himself as a Frenchman named Pfferman (Sig Ruman) is killing the managers, because in the hotel there is hidden Nazi treasure, he and his cohorts – want to get. Harpo plays Rusty, who is an assistant to Pfferman, but basically shows up wherever the movie needs his silent comedy stylings, and Chico is Corbaccio, who runs a camel taxi service – and eventually is dragged into things as well. There are other characters as well (too many) – including a French pilot (Charles Drake) who knows the treasure is in Casablanca, but doesn’t know where – and no one believes him, his fiancé (Lois Collier), who works at the hotel, and Bea (Listette Verea), who is posing as Pfferman’s fiancé, and tries to lure Kornblow – again and again – to his death by seducing him.
 
The plot is too complicated for a Marx brother film – not because it is difficult to follow in anyway, but because it takes so much time to unravel, and requires so much time in the company of Pfferman and his cohorts explaining their plans, that the Marx brothers are off-screen. The movie works best, of course, when it jettisons the plot and goes from comedic set pieces. The film has two wonderful musical set-pieces as well – one featuring Chico on the piano, another featuring Harpo on the harp, which have nothing to do with the plot, and really stop the movie dead in its tracks for minutes on end, and are still among the best things in the movie. An extended comedic set piece having the three movies trying to stop Pfferman from packing his stuff to make his escape – hiding in his room, and unpacking and basically sabotaging him, with him knowing, which brings some of the old Marx brother magic back.
 
Some of the other set-pieces – including the extended climax aboard a plane – are a mixed bag, and have good moments, but also drag a little. Groucho’s series of one-liners feel a little tired more often than not this time around – as if he may be trying just a little too hard to be funny (although, his uttering “The master race” at a key moment is hilarious – and there are plenty of good moments – visual gags, etc. throughout the film.
 
If A Night in Casablanca disappoints somewhat, it’s because after five years away from the screen together, you’d think the trio would have something more up their sleeve then they do. It’s not that the brothers didn’t make some mediocre films even during their 1930s heyday – they certainly did – but when you’re making a film a year, that’s to be expected. A Night in Casablanca is far from a bad film – it’s only 85 minutes long, and still has a fairly good joke-to-laugh ratio. Then again, these brothers are responsible for some of the best comedies of all time, and this isn’t one of those either – so I guess the question is on what curve do you want to grade the film.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie Review: A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story **** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Lowery.
Written by: David Lowery.
Starring: Casey Affleck (C), Rooney Mara (M), Will Oldham (Prognosticator), Sonia Acevedo (Maria), Carlos Bermudez (Carlos), Yasmina Gutierrez (Yasmina).  
 
A Ghost Story is a movie that has been stripped to the barest of essentials. The plot is minimal, the dialogue even
more so – the main character spends the majority of the movie under a sheet, with a couple of eye holes cut into it – quite literally looking like a child’s idea of a ghost. It is a film made up of long, unbroken shots – lasting a minute or two, or even more, that will test the patience of a lot of viewers. At the end of the screening I attended, there was laughter – and it wasn’t kind – towards the movie, from viewers who clearly expected, and wanted something, else. They won’t be the only ones with that reaction – yet I do think, that you write this film off as too precious, too sentimental, to pretentious at your peril. The most profound movies are often the simplest.
 
In the film, C (Casey Affleck) is a musician who lives in a house with his wife, M (Rooney Mara), somewhere in what appears to be rural Texas. He wants to stay, she wants to move – they argue – but then he dies in a car accident. In a truly haunting moment, she identifies the body, and then a sheet is pulled up over his head. The camera holds on that still tableau, second after second ticking by, until he sits bolt upright, and walks away. This is a ghost story after all. He returns to the home, and he watches as his wife grieves him – in a moment that has already become famous, she sits on the floor and eats a whole pie. She listens to a song he wrote her – and the film cuts back and forth between when she first heard it, and was angry, to her listening to it now, as she’s sad. Eventually, M will move out – and C stays behind. Other tenants arrive, and C doesn’t much care for them. There is first a young family, and later a group of hipsters throwing a party, at which – in the films single longest dialogue scene, Will Oldham delivers a long monologue about the mankind’s fruitless efforts to leave anything behind, because eventually, everything will be destroyed. You may think, since this scene goes on so long, that it is the films thesis, stated directly at the audience – but I don’t think so.
 
The movie plays games with time, as we watch similar scenes play out, one after another, again and again – C watching M leave for work in the morning for instance, and also contains huge leaps in time, done with jump cuts, not the more traditional fade out, fade in. C clearly wants something at the house. As time passes, the house changes – he’s stuck in a future world he doesn’t much understand – that is until he plunges back to the past.
 
This is the type of movie a director gets to make when he’s basically willing to fund it himself, and get his friends on board. David Lowery shot the film after completing Pete’s Dragon for Disney, and he got Affleck and Mara – who starred in his previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – to star. For Mara, this adds another fascinating performance to her resume – that this year already contains great work in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song. Like Malick – a clear influence on Lowery – this film uses her for her physical presence – she says little, but conveys a lot. For Affleck, it must have taken trust on his end to do the role – apparently, it really is him under that sheet most of the time – and the risk of him looking foolish was great. Both performances are good – in their way – but both are clearly archetypes more than anything else. Lowery purposes leaves these characters blank – likely to make it easier for the audience to project themselves onto the characters.
 
A Ghost Story is an odd movie to be sure – you can call it haunting, and you’d be right, because it really it. But the film isn’t a horror movie, or even trying to be – it contains no real scares, no real intensity. It’s something deeper than that. If I’m being honest, most audiences are likely to be frustrated by the film. They’ll be looking for something that this film isn’t trying to deliver. That’s there loss though, because this is a fascinating, quietly profound film – one that sneaks up on you as you watch it, then doesn’t leave you alone for days after.

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde *** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Leitch.
Written by: Kurt Johnstad based on the graphic novel series by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart.
Starring: Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton), James McAvoy (David Percival), Eddie Marsan (Spyglass), John Goodman (Emmett Kurzfeld), Toby Jones (Eric Gray), James Faulkner (Chief 'C'), Roland Møller (Aleksander Bremovych), Sofia Boutella (Delphine Lasalle), Bill Skarsgård (Merkel), Sam Hargrave (James Gasciogne), Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Yuri Bakhtin), Til Schweiger (Watchmaker). 
 
I don’t think the plot of Atomic Blonde makes a whole lot of sense. It takes place in 1989, in Berlin, right before the wall came down, and centers on a stolen list of secret agents. The person who stole the list is a Stasi officer, stationed on the Communist side, and all sides want the list – the Brits, the Russians, the Americans and even the French – because it would expose all the secret agents working in Berlin. But who did the Stasi officer steal the list from? If he stole it from the Russians, then they’d want it because it would expose their guys – but they seem to want it, because having it would expose the British and American officers. But the Brits and Americans want it, because it would expose a double agent working for them and the Russians. Everyone wants to the list because they want the information on it – which raises the question, where the hell did this list come from? This bothered me – a little – the whole movie, and perhaps there is a simple explanation to this, an once it’s explained to me, I’ll feel like an idiot for not realizing it in the first place. It also didn’t for a second hinder my enjoyment of Atomic Blonde which is a spy thriller and action film from director David Leitch – the uncredited co-director of the original John Wick, which is obvious early on. But more importantly, it’s because of star Charlize Theron, who you cannot take your eyes off of. The list is a McGuffin, and the plot is pretty much nonsensical – and yet, there is never a moment where you doubt that she knows exactly what she’s doing.
 
Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a British agent who shows up in Berlin when another agent – who she had a personal relationship with – is murdered, and has the list stolen from him by a Russian agent – who then goes rogue. Her job is to team up with the Brits senior man there – David Percival (James McAvoy) – who himself has gone kind of rogue – and find the list. She’s compromised the moment she sets foot in Berlin, but stays anyway. Eventually, she’ll not only have to get the list, but also have to try and smuggle the man who stole it in the first place (Eddie Marsan) across the border. And because she looks like Charlize Theron, everyone she meets – man and woman – tries to seduce her.
 
It is in the action sequences where Atomic Blonde is both at its best, and when it’s closest to John Wick. Those movies have the advantage of simplicity on their side – in the first man, thugs kill a retired hitman’s dog, so he goes on a killing spree, the sequel has him forced back into life, and going on another killing spree. There you go, that’s the entire plot of two John Wick movies. I could spend the rest of the day trying to explain what happens in Atomic Blonde, and still not be able to do it. But it kind of doesn’t matter – the action sequences have the same visceral thrill to them that John Wick’s do – the same bloody mess. I do think that Leitch relies too much on shaky camera work at times, but mainly, he knows when to hold the shot – there is a hallway fight sequence, where Theron protects her man, and kicks a lot of ass, all done in seemingly one shot, that is already legendary for the type of scene it is. All of the action sequences are similarly well handled and exciting.
 
And when Theron isn’t kicking ass, she’s still the center of nearly every scene. She plays Lorraine as a cold as ice killer – allowing herself only a few, mostly private moments of either pleasure or pain – and she does it better than I’ve seen her do it before (she wasn’t really that good in the latest Fast & Furious movie as the villain – and she has mixed results in other blockbusters playing cold roles). Here, she gets on the movies wavelength from the start, and her performance is a riot. The rest of the cast gamely tries to keep up – McAvoy is essentially repeating his role in Filth again, but he’s fun. Everyone else kind of fades into the background as Theron takes over.
 
I don’t think Atomic Blonde is quite the film that either John Wick film is – but that’s because the plot more than anything, not because of Theron – who I want to see in this type of movie again, and soon. She’s great – the film is pretty good – but she’s what makes it worth seeing. 

Move Review: The Lovers

The Lovers ****/*****
Directed by: Azazel Jacobs. 
Written by: Azazel Jacobs.
Starring: Debra Winger (Mary), Tracy Letts (Michael), Aidan Gillen (Robert), Melora Walters (Lucy), Tyler Ross (Joel), Jessica Sula (Erin). 
 
The Lovers starts out with notes of familiarity. We first see Michael (Tracy Letts) with Lucy (Melora Walters) – a rather clingy woman, quite a few years younger than he is, telling him he needs to tell his wife about them, and him agreeing, but also coming up with reasons not to do so right now. We first see Mary (Debra Winger) have a very similar conversation with her younger lover, Robert (Aidan Gillen) – who is clingy in another way. And then, finally, we see Michael and Mary together – they are the married couple at the center of the film, and we quickly realize why both of them have taken lovers in the first place. They don’t much like each other – or really anything else about their lives. Their lives are dull – dull house, dull jobs, dull marriage. While we, in the audience, may find their lovers annoying in their whining – perhaps the fact that they add some drama in their lives is what Michael and Mary want in the first place, because they aren’t getting it anywhere else. They both agree with their lovers that they will tell their spouse that they are leaving them – but only after their college age son, Joel (Tyler Ross) and his new girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) come for the weekend. Michael wants to do it after the weekend, to avoid drama, and Mary wants to do it during the weekend – so she can tell Joel to his face what is happening.
 
Perhaps it is that knowledge – that their marriage now has an expiration date – that sets Michael and Mary off. They go to bed one night, each clinging to their side of the bed, and wake up facing each other. It’s awkward for a second, and then, they’re fucking like teenagers again. And they don’t stop – there’s a long montage of them having sex in various places, in various ways. Soon, they’re lying to their new partners to find more time to spend together. They are, essentially, having an affair with each other – even though they are married.
 
This is the basic setup of The Lovers, which is an odd comedy in many ways – not least of which because the movie doesn’t judge these characters, and also doesn’t end up in the place we expect it to. Neither character knows the other one is cheating on them, yet through the course of the movie they each have a scene where they find out – and not from their partner. How each responds to that knowledge is strange – they seem genuinely hurt by this knowledge, even though they’ve been doing the same thing – and yet, they don’t let on either. The performances by Letts and Winger are crucial to the movie to work, because while there is a lot of dialogue – many of the most telling moments are silent. It’s Winger best work in years, and adds yet another great performance to Letts’ resume – who after years as a playwright and stage actor, is finally getting great movie roles.
 
The movie doesn’t really judge its two leads – their son certainly does, but people in college, particularly when they are in love (perhaps for the first time) are idiots, and don’t understand the ups and downs of a long marriage. They’ll learn. The movie also doesn’t fool itself, or try to fool its audience, into thinking that whatever the hell is now happening between Michael and Mary can fix their long standing problems – whatever lead them to this point, and their marriage to crumble in this way either. What the movie gets precisely right is that shorthand that exists in a marriage. There is a musical moment late in the film, which is perfectly utilized, and means more to Michael and Mary than it could to anyone else – it’s like everything else melts away.
 
The film was written and directed by Azazel Jacobs – whose last film, Terri, was 6 years ago – which was a story about an overweight teenager, and his teacher – which like The Lovers sounds clichéd, but wasn’t, because of the why Jacobs takes his time, and tells his story in his terms. The Lovers is smart, and funny and sexy – and one-of-a-kind. An odd little film that keeps growing in my mind after seeing it.

Movie Review: The Emoji Movie

The Emoji Movie ½ / *****
Directed by: Tony Leondis. 
Written by: Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel and Mike White.

Starring: T.J. Miller (Gene), James Corden (Hi-5), Anna Faris (Jailbreak), Maya Rudolph (Smiler), Steven Wright (Mel Meh), Jennifer Coolidge (Mary Meh), Patrick Stewart (Poop), Christina Aguilera (Akiko Glitter), Sofía Vergara (Flamenca), Rachael Ray (Spam), Sean Hayes ('Devil' Steven), Jake T. Austin (Alex), Tati Gabrielle (Addie), Jude Kouyate (Poop Jr. 'PJ'), Jeffrey Ross (Internet Troll).
 
It has always seemed rather silly – or at least pointless – to complain that a movie exists only to make money – all movies are made hoping that it will make money – or to help extend a brand – Disney for instance has always clearly valued their brand, and they’ve made some of the best animated films of all time, while extending their brand (Pixar has pretty much done the same). However much we want to believe in the sanctity of movie making, it has always been the art form of the masses, and has always had to try and find a way to balance art and commerce. But, dear reader, let me say this – The Emoji Movie shook me. On the surface, it may not seem any crasser to make a movie about emojis than it is to make them about the Angry Birds or Troll dolls – all three take a product that exists, and is popular, in one form, and tries to cash in one a movie version. The Angry Birds movie wasn’t really that good – but it wasn’t godawful either – basically, it was another forgettable animated film aimed at kids. I can see why one could hate the movie Trolls – it is so bright and noisy, it could give you a headache, but underneath it all, it was really rather sweet – and my two daughters absolutely adored it (I thought I was going to get out of seeing that one, because my daughter was invited to a birthday party to see it – but she came home from that party and said “Daddy, you have to see Trolls, it’s sooooooo good”, and I caved and took her a few weeks later). Yet, as much as I know that both of those movies are cynical ploys to milk money out of saps with kids like me – on the movie, and then on the merchandise – they are both paradigms of virtue compared to The Emoji Movie – which is without a doubt, the worst movie I’ve ever brought my kids to see in their short lives.
 
There is not an original moment in The Emoji Movie, who shamelessly steals everything in it from other, better movies – certainly Inside Out, but there are others. The basic premise of the film doesn’t even seem to be thought through – as confusing as the world of Cars and its sequel is, this one is 10 times worse. The basic premise is that inside all of our smart phones, there is a thriving city called Textopolois, where all the emojis live, just waiting to be called in for action by their user – in this case, a young teenage boy named Alex. The hero of the movie is Gene (voiced by TJ Miller) – who is supposed to be a “Meh” emoji, but is so complicated because he feels more than one emotion (maybe he’s Divergent!). Anyway, when he’s called into action the first time, he panics, makes the wrong face – drawing the ire of all the other emojis. Smiler (Maya Rudolph, the only good thing in the film) wants to delete him forever. Gene escapes – along with Hi-5 (James Corden) (and by the way, who spells it Hi-5?) and goes looking for the hacker known as Jailbreak (Anna Faris), hiding in the Piracy ap (do they have a Piracy ap?) who can apparently reprogram him.
 
I honestly don’t know quite where to begin with my utter disdain for the film. Is it the shameless and near constant product placement for everything from Candy Crush to Spotify to Crackle (Crackle? Who the hell uses Crackle?) to Dropbox and everything in between. Is it in the not thought out world of the film, that doesn’t make even the barest of logical sense? How about the constant poop jokes – where the poop emoji is voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.
 
To be fair, I am struggling to figure out how one could go about making a movie about and starring Emojis and NOT make it terrible, but I’m also struggling to figure out how they could have made this one much worse. I understand, I suppose, why a movie about emojis wouldn’t really want to criticize emojis – wouldn’t, say, make the case that we are raising a generation of kids who express themselves through tiny pictures, instead of words (then again, something like The Lego Movie, another obvious inspiration) managed to do something similar itself.
 
But that would have taken thought and less than the total cynicism this movie possesses. I will be honest and say that my daughters – 6 and 3 – seemed to enjoy the movie. No, they didn’t love it like they did with Trolls or Moana or The Lego Batman Movie – but they had fun. Then again, they have fun watching Caillou, so they’re not overly discerning. In a few years, I may sit them both down, and make them watch The Emoji Movie again – and then we can talk about it – talk about why the movie is incompetent and cynical and depressing – maybe as part of a double bill with Inside Out, so they can see the difference, back to back.