Jumanji: The Next Level

I didn’t have a lot to say about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle when it came out. It took a pretty interesting premise, of a group of teenagers jumping into the bodies of 4 video game characters and executed it well. It was fun, forgettable movie. Jumanji: The Next Level is literally just more of the same. It is still pretty well made and thoroughly enjoyable, with just enough newish wrinkles to keep things fresh, but it is largely repetitive of its predecessor.

The plot is thin. Three of the last movie’s four teens have moved on and are doing well in college. Spencer feels left behind, and wants to refind the confidence he had when he was Smolder Bravestone. So he goes back into the game Jumanji. His friends find out and go after him. The twist this time is that Spencer grandfather, played by DeVito, and his former business partner, played by Glover, are in the area and they get sucked into the game too. When they get there, Spencer is nowhere to be found, and this time his grandfather is Bravestone. So the group sets out to save Spencer and beat this new version of Jumanji.

The characters don’t have as much to work through this time. Spencer is having doubts about himself, but those aren’t actually addressed by anything other than his friends coming after him. The big emotional moments go to Glover and DeVito, two former business partners who have been estranged for fifteen years. They bicker through their guises as The Rock and Kevin Hart through much of the movie, before coming to terms with each other and acknowledging that they are nearing the end of their lives. It works better than it should, but it is pretty thin as presented here.

Jumanji: The Next Level runs it back with the same cast that made the previous movie so enjoyable. Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Dwayne Johnson are all back. All four of the kids return. Even Colin Hanks and Nick Jonas come back as the older version of the kid once trapped in the game for years and his in game avatar, respectively. There are a trio of new additions in Danny DeVito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina. As with before, in the in game characters get a lot more work than the real world ones, but their personalities are carried through well. Black is the stand out here, playing a handful of different “real” people and making each of them clear and distinct. You know who he is just from body language. Similarly, Awkawfina and Kevin Hart do a good job with their switching as well. The normally hyperactive Hart sells the subdued Glover, and Awkwafina does a great job as both the nervous Spencer and as the consistently befuddled DeVito character. The one who sells the movie, and inarguably struggles the most, is Johnson. Through a lot of the movie he does a very entertaining but not especially good DeVito impression. It is comically exaggerated, and its works because of it ridiculousness.

Fortunately, there are quite a few exciting and imaginative set pieces as well. The video game conceit allows them to throw somewhat illogical nonsense on the screen with the need to explanation. The standout is a set piece in a series of hanging bridges across a bottomless pit that keep spinning.

Jumanji: The Next Level is almost strictly just more of the same. When the first one was as much fun as it was, that really isn’t a problem, though it was starting to feel a little stale as this movie drew to its conclusion. Hopefully it inevitable next sequel finds something of a new hook or a twist to expand on this enjoyable formula.

***1/2

What I Watched November 2019

Movies

Harriet – read review here. ***1/2

Parasite – read review here. *****

Motherless Brooklyn – read review here. ****1/2

Midway – read review here. ***

Jojo Rabbit – read review here. ****1/2

Let it Snow – This is a pretty solid teen party movie that is also a Christmas movie. It has a bunch of teenagers having teenager problems while also planning to attend a Christmas Eve party. The only thing really novel or notable in it is the same sex romance subplot, which is pretty well done and an interesting development in this kind of movie. It is overall just really well done. ****

The King – I feel like I should like this less than I do. It isn’t really history, it is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad. But it doesn’t really give you what you want from a movie version of Shakespeare; it instead plays it more like real history. It ends up in this weird middle ground. I found it utterly compelling. Great performances, especially Chalamet as King Henry as he wrestles with living up to what is expected of him as king. His big struggle is how to legitimize his rule while also making his own decisions. I liked it a whole lot. ****

Holiday in the Wild – Why do I watch these Christmas movies? I don’t know. This one is pretty bad. Just like little going on of interest and little that seems Christmas-y about it. **

In the Shadow of the Moon – An interesting, unconventional time travel movie. Boyd Holbrook is a cop who is chasing a criminal that appears every nine years, who discovers that the criminal is actually a time traveller who stops every nine years sent back in time on some kind of mission. It is more interesting than good, I think. Still, it is worth a look. ***

Sextuplets – This is honestly better than I thought it would be. The concept is that a man who grew up an orphan finds out he not only has living relatives, but that he is one of a set of sextuplets put up for adoption by his mother. So he sets off to meet his family. Parts of it work well and are genuinely funny. Sometimes it is just stupid without reason, as the broad sterotypes of his siblings lead to not especially funny hijinks. It isn’t as bad as some comedies I’ve seen, there is real effort here and some good jokes, but in the end more doesn’t work than does. **

Klaus – WOW! This movie is gorgeous. This is some of the best looking animation I’ve seen in a long time, like a modern day 2D animated movie out of the Disney renaissance. The story is fine. Good, even. If it connected with me just a little more, I would say great. This deserves to become a modern Christmas classic, it is just a lot of fun from start to finish. One of the best Netflix has put out. I highly recommend everyone watch it. ****1/2

The Knight Before Christmas – I wondered why I watch these movies up at Holiday in the Wild, and this movie is the answer. A medieval knight gets transported to the modern day and a lovelorn school teacher tries to help him. He wants help to finish his quest and return home, she thinks he needs his head examined. Also, it’s Christmas. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is enjoyably weird. **1/2

Otherhood – This movie is interesting for its protagonists, a comedy starring older women, women whose children are grown having the kind of mid-life crisis movie that men get occasionally. That said, I didn’t find a lot else to like in this movie. There are some funny bits and some heartwarming parts, but it mostly just felt a little flat. **

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator – A documentary about a celebrity yogi who was shown to be systematically sexually assaulting young women who came to learn yoga from him. It also shows how the whole mythology he made up about himself, stuff like getting a Green Card from Nixon, was a big pack of lies. Interesting, and kind of dispiriting as he pretty much gets away with it. ***1/2

The Great Hack – This is a solid documentary about Cambridge Analytica and essentially how social media is being used as a tool to destroy society. It is infuriating, especially because nothing will change. It is a pretty good movie. ***

21 Bridges – read review here. ***1/2

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – read review here. ***1/2

Ford v. Ferrari – read review here. ****

Charlie’s Angels – read review here. ***½

Hot Rod – This is a modern classic that I feel the need to watch every now and then. It is great. *****

The Pink Panther – This is the remake starring Steve Martin. It isn’t great. Martin has pretty great comic timing and sells the pratfalls, I’m just not sure the movie ever gets past the character of Clouseau. It’s funny enough, but never quite as funny as you want it to be. **1/2

TV

Jack Ryan S2 – I like John Krasinski. I think he does a good job on this show. True to the books, and their author, this show is a right wing fever dream. It is good enough action stuff, but it has some repugnant undertones that make it hard to really recommend and make me not want to spend much more time thinking about it.

She-Ra S4 – This show continues to get stronger as it goes, as it digs deeper into its characters rather than just going bigger. It really feels like the show is moving into some kind of end game here, though. Just a really good cartoon. The murder mystery episode might be my favorite of the series.

Tarzan & Jane S2 – I know this is a show for kids, but this can be done well. See above. This is just sort of silly and flat. Bringing Pellucidar into it near the end was a neat idea, setting up a ER Burroughs connected universe, but I don’t really want to watch that show.

The Devil Next Door – I don’t want to spoil any of this; it is a wild story. Still, a pretty solid kind of true crime documentary that is a little chilling and a little bewildering.

The Man in the High Castle S2-4 – I’ve got a longer post planned, but this is a show that seems to have an identity crisis after every season. Possibly due to changing showrunner every season. It can’t or won’t keep its characters on the same trajectory, so the only one that comes out seeming like a person is John Smith, the American who has risen to the top of the Nazi party. I think it almost finds a satisfactory story in the last season, but overall it was a mess.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – I want to like this much more than I do. It is a triumph of craftsmanship. The puppetry is astounding. I’ve never seen anything that looks as good as this show. I just wish the story connected with me as strongly. It feels oddly paced and obviously structured. It is a pretty standard fantasy story in a lot of ways. There are great moments and some good characters, but for large parts of its runtime it feels a little like running in circles. I hope there is more to come.

The Toys that Made Us S3 – I think they are running out of toy lines worth making this show about. They are already scraping the bottom of the barrel with the wrestling toys. There is also this corporate bootlicking tone throughout. The Ninja Turtles episode is a good example, where it frames being bought by Nickelodeon was not only the best possible outcome, but an altogether good thing. The show is fine and does a pretty good job with its stated goals of showing how popular toys came to be.

The Good Place – I’ll save saying much about The Good Place until it finishes early next year. It continues to be one of the best shows on television.

Bob’s Burgers S10 – Bob’s Burgers is still solidly good. What do I say about a handful of episodes of a very episodic show? There is a baseline level of quality that Bob’s Burgers never falls below. Here was a handful of pretty good episodes.

DC Shows – All of the DC CW shows are building toward Crisis on Infinite Earths. They are all fairly strong this season. Arrow is moving towards its end and I am three seasons out of date, but it is mostly working. The Flash is going great, except when it gets overly dour in its Crisis build-up. Supergirl is building around the Kara/Lena relationship, which is one of the shows strongest. Batwoman is still establishing its world. It feels a little stifled, stuck on Alice. Alice has been great, but so far Kate has become Batwoman solely to get to her corrupted sister. Black Lightning, as ever, is the show out on its own island. I don’t know that Black Lightning can bring home the ambitious story it is telling, but I am enjoying it for now. I’ll have my review of the last couple of episodes of Titans up soon.

Dark Waters

I have been on a run of really depressing movies. From Queen & Slim to The Report on Amazon Prime to The Irishman on Netflix, I’ve been stuck on some real downers. Dark Waters is not bucking that trend. It shares a lot of similarities with The Report, the biggest one being that despite attempts to frame its conclusion as a triumph, there is a palpable feeling that the situation is irrevocably messed up and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Dark Waters follows Robert Bilott, a corporate defense attorney, who takes a small case for a family friend, a poor West Virginia farmer whose cattle appear to have been killed by chemicals leaked by the DuPont corporation. As he digs into, it becomes clear that the DuPont’s misdeeds go far beyond inadvertently killing some cows. Soon, the case has consumed Robert’s life and the scope keeps growing. He is one man against one of the most powerful corporations in existence. But he won’t stop.

The cast is impeccable. Mark Ruffalo stars as Bilott, seeming to shrink into his suits. He does not look like a man of great fortitude. Anne Hathaway plays is long suffering wife, supremely overqualified for a largely thankless role. Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Paxton play other lawyers who drift in and out of the movie. Tim Robbins has the biggest role as a senior partner at Bilott’s law firm, who largely backs him despite the damage it does to the firm’s reputation.

Dark Waters is largely a movie about exhausting, draining, tedious process of legal work. At first, Bilott is just looking into hazardous chemical stored in the landfill next to his clients farm. Then he realizes that the harm is not caused by a classified hazardous chemical. Then he discovers that the harm is not limited to cattle, but also affects people.Then he learns that DuPont knew how harmful the chemical was. He started with a very small case, but he keeps learning worse and worse information and has to keep digging to get justice for his client. The more he finds, the greater the resistance from DuPont grows. The greater the mountain of paperwork he has to sift through to find the answer. And DuPont plays dirty, reneging on deals, stealing evidence and obfuscating issues.

The set up isn’t exactly a recipe for tension or drama, but Dark Waters maintains plenty of both as it goes. There is an overall oppressive feeling to the movie, as though the rug could be pulled out from under our hero at any moment, and from any part of his life. The case puts stress on his family, on his work relationships, on his health, on his very safety. At any time any of those could collapse. Or he could just lose the case. He navigates it all, keeping the pressure on DuPont but just being indomitable and unflappable.

In the end, Bilott triumphs, though the consequences faced by DuPont for knowingly poisoning thousands of people is shockingly light. That is where the downer part of the ending comes in. Through extraordinary effort and more than a little bit of luck, Bilott was able to get at least justice from DuPont, but this is just one case and the deck is stacked against the people in favor of companies like DuPont. Even when the good guys win, the win does not seem to be enough to stop those like DuPont from just doing it again. That is no fault of Dark Waters, which is a well executed legal drama.

****

Queen & Slim Review

Queen & Slim is a gorgeously shot and well acted romantic drama that ultimately feels more strongly weighted toward style rather than substance. It is a movie that deliberately provokes with how it portrays the police and how they interact with African Americans, but I am not sure it actually has much coherent to say about the issue. I do welcome alternate views on that, though.

The two protagonists, who are not named until near the end of the film. Daniel Kaluuya’s “Slim” and Jodie Turner-Smith’s “Queen” meet for a Tinder date. Queen, a lawyer, had a bad day at work and wants some company. Their date is uncomfortable; the two have little chemistry. They get pulled over on the drive home by a cop who, despite Slim’s completely cooperation, keeps escalating the stop. He just keeps pushing Slim and Slim keeps taking it. Queen, however, pushes back a little. Maybe he doesn’t need to conduct a completely unnecessary search of Slim’s drunk in the freezing cold. When he pulls his gun for absolutely no reason, she gets out of the car. After he fires on her, Slim fights back and the cop ends up dead. With little time to think, the two take off on the run.

The rest of the movie follows them as they run from the police. They don’t really have a plan or a destination, just no other choice with trigger happy cops on their trail. They become unwitting cultural symbols as they continue to evade the cops. As they go, they draw closer together. Forced together by chance, they end up forming something that feels like a real relationship, even as every element of their story is coated in tragedy.

The movie looks amazing. It is a road movie, with the two of them driving all over the eastern United States. Sunrises and sunsets look great, as do the two stars as they watch the countryside pass or each other. There is a lot internal going on, as you can see the characters journeys in their faces as the movie goes. The terror, the elation, the exhaustion. Kaluuya is amazing at this; Turner-Smith is fine. Bokeem Woodbine shows up for a while and is as entertaining as ever.

The movie doesn’t quite come together as more than a disconnected series of stops, other than in the building relationship between Queen and Slim. All of the provocative imagery about police and protests feels like window dressing. This is a movie created with that as the backdrop, that acknowledges those problems, but it is not a movie that helps sort through those tough issues.

Queen & Slim might have hit harder if there hadn’t been movies in the last year or so that explored similar topics with greater focus and skill. For example, last year’s Blindspotting covered some of the same ground, but that movie was more thoughtful and considered while it was no less confrontational. Queen & Slim’s point seems to be that no point can be taken from tragedies like this. Which, fair, but I walked away with a greater memory of some truly wonderful shots rather than anything from the story.

***

Now Playing November 2019

Beaten

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse –

I bought this game a few years ago, but never really got around to until recently. It is a pretty typical Kirby game in a lot of ways. It colorful and pleasant and not particularly challenging. It plays much like the DS game Canvas Curse, with the player using the touchscreen to draw paths for Kirby to follow through the stage. Knowing how to draw lines to both direct Kirby and to deflect obstacles is intuitive. I don’t know that it is quite as satisfying as a normal platformer, but it still works really well. There is a multiplayer component, but I didn’t have the chance to play it, so I don’t know how well that works. The most striking element of the game is the graphics. Nintendo has long been the master of aesthetics, and Rainbow Curse is another high mark. There was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which Nintendo took to the next level with Yoshi’s Woolly World. There was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, with its impressionist looking backgrounds that resolved into solid shapes when you got close. Rainbow Curse turns everything to clay. It looks amazing; Kirby rolls and squishes. Everything really looks like someone shaped them and get realistically deformed by various kinds of contact. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is like a lot of the Kirby series; somehow forgetably excellent.

Battlefield 1 – read about it here.

Persona Q2 – post coming soon.

Streets of Rage 2 – At Thanksgiving, me and my brother powered through this classic beat-em-up. I don’t have a lot to say about it; Streets of Rage 2 is really good. I had the first back in the day, and my brothers and I would beat it repeatedly. The sequel has some more complexity and gets pretty tough as it goes, but it delivers some classic brawler fun. There is just something mindlessly enjoyable about moving to the right and punching out hundreds of dudes. The brawler has always been my preferred arcade style game. This deserves its reputation as one of the best.

Ongoing

Judgment – Progress is slow, but I am liking this game. Despite its similarities with the Yakuza series, I can feel the developers attempting to give this game a different flavor. A lot of the detective specific stuff works. Examining a crime scene is fun. But some stuff feels like a step back. Like the modal running/walking switch. Instead of holding a button to run, and smoothly transitioning in and out of different speeds, you push a button to run and keep running until you stop. It is a small change, but just slightly more awkward than it was before. Still, this is really good. I hope with some time I can really dig into it.

Sega Genesis Mini – While I beat Streets of Rage 2 with my brother, we sampled almost all of the multiplayer games. When I am around my brothers, I will probably give them some more time. Some Golden Axe or Gunstar Heroes. I also played through about half of World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck with my three year old nephew. He’s not quite old enough to grasp the game past the opening stage, but we had fun. When I’m playing solo, I really want to get to some time with the more complex games; like Shining Force, Beyond Oasis and Phantasy Star IV. I am really liking the Genesis Mini.

Sonic Mania – I played two more stages. I think I might be done with this for now. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, I’m just not feeling it right now and I don’t want to force myself to play a game I’m not enjoying.

Upcoming

Life is Strange – There was a PSN sale, I picked up a few things. Like Battlefield 1. And this, as well as Cosmic Star Heroine and Dragon Age Inquisition. I am going to play this next, and with a month between semesters I should have time to finish it.

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I got some game for my 3DS during the Black Friday sale. This is the first one I am looking to get started with. I kind of forgot this game came out. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and SteamWorld Heist.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards – I’ve never actually finished any of the extra campaigns for Shovel Knight. I played about half of Plague of Shadows and a couple stages of Spectre of Torment. I really want to correct that oversight, and the release of the fourth campaign feels like the ideal time to do that.

Knives Out

This is likely the best movie I’ve seen this year. A mystery like this is almost perfectly calibrated to for me to like, even if the execution is merely competent. (See 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express.) Luckily, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is more than just competent: it is outstanding. Knives Out isn’t quite the classic “whodunit,” as the killer is revealed pretty early, but it is a wonderful, twisting mystery that fully satisfies.

Harlan Thrombley, a wealthy mystery novelist, dies after his 85th birthday party. His entire family was there, as was his nurse. The evidence suggests a suicide, but when a pair of cops show up after the funeral to ask a few questions, they have famous private investigator Benoit Blanc with them, and he suspects foul play. Blanc and the officers proceed to question all the family members present.

That family is a classic array of mystery suspects. The first is Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s daughter Linda. She is a proud and haughty real estate mogul, who seems to get along with her dad. Then they question her husband, Richard, played by Don Johnson, who had argued with Harlan before the party. There is Michael Shannon’s Walt Thrombley, Harlan’s youngest son who runs Harlan’s publishing company. He also argued with Harlan that night. There is Joni, played by Toni Collette, the widow of Harlan’s other son who is reliant on Harlan for financial support. Then there is the next generation of Thrombleys, alt-right dweeby teenager Jacob, performatively liberal college student Meg and family black sheep Ransom, played by Chris Evans. Ransom is not present, but the others have bits to contribute to the case. Finally, there is Harlan’s young nurse, Marta, played by Ana de Armas. She was the last person to see Harlan alive, as they played Go in his attic office before leaving for the night. She also has the unfortunate personal tic of vomiting when she lies. Taking everyone’s self-serving testimony, Blanc has to put together what happened that night and find out who is responsible for Harlan’s death.

It is a star studded cast. I haven’t even mentioned that Daniel Craig play Blanc, employing a delightfully overdone southern accent as he drops tortured bits of wisdom. Or Lakeith Stanfield as the lead cop on the case. Ana de Armas is the star of the movie though. She impressed in Blade Runner 2049, but she is even better here. Her Marta is pressed into service as something of a Watson to Blanc’s Sherlock Holmes. Her unavoidable honesty, and the fact that she has nothing to gain by Harlan’s death, makes her the person he can rely on while investigating.

To the shock of nobody, not everything is as it seems. Everybody is hiding something, even Blanc himself. The movie is light on its feet and wonderful to look at. It keeps flipping the viewer’s understanding and expectations. The one thing that is constant is that the Thrombleys are terrible. They are not equally terrible, or terrible in the same way, but they are all terrible. From Joni’s apparently good hearted but still thoughtless – she gets one of the early big laughs by noting that she knows Blanc from reading a tweet about a New Yorker article about him – actions to Richard’s overt, presumptive and unearned sense of superiority they all suck. When Ransom shows up, you really want to believe he is not as bad as you’ve been led to believe. Sure, he’s the black sheep, but the family sucks and Chris Evans is charming. But in the end he is another Thrombley.

The movie is just purely entertaining from start to finish. I loved every second of it. Rian Johnson has quickly become one of my favorite directors. From this to The Brothers Bloom to The Last Jedi, every movie I’ve seen of his has been both thoughtful and entertaining. With him being signed on for a trilogy of Star Wars movies, I hope he has time for diversions like this in the years to come.

*****

What I Read November 2019

I only finished one book in November. Too much school, I guess. I will at least double that total in December. Maybe quadruple. Next year, I will likely be able to manage even less than I did this year. Yes, I will finish law school in April, but after that I will have to study for the bar and then, knock on wood, I will be starting a new job somewhere. One or two books is my new reality, I guess.

Murder on the Links

Agatha Christie

The only book I finished in November was a Poirot mystery. It was a good one, but I am no better at writing about mysteries without spoiling them. I guess I shouldn’t be worried about spoiling a nearly 100 year old book, but with a mystery, the plot is its biggest draw. The Murder on the Links isn’t quite Christie’s most memorable story, still there is a lot interesting going on.

A big part of the investigation has Poirot in competition with a haughty French rival. The French investigator needles Poirot, who does not seem as on ball as his counterpart. Even Poirot’s sometime sidekick, Captain Hastings, seems to respect the other detective. This is the second full length Poirot novel, and Christie already seems to be tiring of the Holmes and Watson dynamic. It is not surprising that Hasting disappears a few years later. Here, Hasting has fallen in love with a woman who appears to be a suspect.

The crime is actually very simple, but all the stuff around it is very complex. There are multiple crimes, and suspects that seem to alternate between intentionally drawing suspicion and proclaiming their innocence. There is a twin reveal, but it manages not to feel cheap, and in fact by the time it happens I was sure it was coming, because there really was no other explanation. Like most Christies, it was a fun read. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of her absolute best, but it is still really good.

21 Bridges Review

I’m of two minds about 21 Bridges. On the one hand, it is a well executed crime thriller; on the other it embodies some downright gross policies. Just as a pure exercise in genre, it is a lot of fun. However, the movie’s take on killer cops is troubling, at best.

Chadwick Boseman plays Andre Davis, whose father was a cop who was killed while working and is now a cop himself. A cop with a reputation for shooting suspects. He claims they were all in self-defense and the movie does nothing to question that. At the start of the movie, two small time crooks attempt to steal a small amount of cocaine they have been told was being held at a restaurant. Once there they find ten times the amount of cocaine they expected. In the midst of the heist, they also find nearly a dozen cops descending on the restaurant. The crooks, Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch) shoot their way out, killing more than a half dozen cops. In the aftermath, Andre is called in. Realizing how close they are on the trail of the crooks, he requests to have all 21 bridges connecting Manhattan to the mainland to be shut down so they can find them before they escape. Andre is joined by narcotics officer Burns (Sienna Miller) as they attempt to track down the unknown killers. Andre is pressured to shoot first and ask questions later, but he seems uncomfortable with that.

The movie is surprisingly sympathetic to the crooks. Maybe it was just me, but I found myself rooting for them as the movie went on. For all they are murders, it paints them fairly sympathetically. They are both ex-soldiers; just poor guys who are putting the skills they have to good use. Ray is more than willing to shoot his way out of any situation, but Michael is more thoughtful. He is the first to twig that something isn’t quite right with what is going on. When he is finally cornered by Andre about halfway through the movie, he tries to convince him something more is going on. Andre is already on the same page at that point, noticing how his fellow officers are shooting first, asking questions never and acting without his approval even though he is supposedly in charge of the investigation.

The movie really works in some tense shoot out scenes. The opening slaughter shows the cold efficiency of Ray, who quickly realizes they will not make it out without shooting. That continues to a shootout in a fortified penthouse, and another in a mostly abandoned butcher shop. There is also a solid on foot chase scene. I feel like I say this a lot, but it’s not John Wick but it is still pretty well done.

My biggest problem with this movie is how it just tacitly accepts that the police need to kill people. It sets up a dichotomy between good killer cops and bad killer cops, with the cops in this movie killing suspects as a matter of course. The movie posits these extra-judicial killings as an unfortunate necessity, even as nearly every cop in the movie is revealed to be at least somewhat dirty. The fact that the circumstances here do not represent anything like real-life are kind of moot. When J.K. Simmons’s Captain McKenna tells Andre to kill the shooters because he doesn’t want to put the families through the “trauma” of a trial, the movie treats this as an at least somewhat reasonable request. It is a disgusting request.

My problems with politics it espouses aside, 21 Bridges is a solid action thriller. If it felt more mindless it would be better, instead it manages to feign thoughtfulness, as though it means what is says, which is pretty gross. Boseman, however, remains an excellent presence to center a movie on.

***

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood attempts a delicate balancing act and mostly manages to follow through on it. While the trailer focused on Mr. Rogers, this really isn’t a Mr. Rogers movie; it is a movie about a cynical journalist whose interviews with Fred Rogers helps him to reevaluate his life. The movie is about the fictional Lloyd Vogel and his relationships with his father, his wife and his newborn child. Mr. Rogers is the catalyst for his change, but he is not the central character of the movie.

That point is an important one, because the most wholly successful part of the movie is Tom Hank’s portrayal of Fred Rogers. He nails the slow, deliberate cadence of how he talked, his complete empathy. The movie puts him to good use when he is on screen. Vogel is tasked with interviewing Rogers for a magazine feature on heroes. The cynical Vogel goes in trying to find the cracks in the apparently saintly Mr. Rogers. However, Mr. Rogers honest, if not entirely open, replies to his questions cause the reported to stumble. This eventually leads to a Vogel

The central emotional thread is how Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, relates to his father and how he is going to relate to his newborn son. Vogel’s father, played by Chris Cooper, left the family while his mother was sick with cancer. He shows up to Vogel’s sister’s wedding in an attempt to mend things, but Vogel is not interesting in hearing from his dad. As he meets with Mr. Rogers begins to realize that his anger at his father will continue to affect his life, and his family’s lives, as long as he holds on to it. So with Mr. Rogers as the catalyst, Vogel begins to reconnect with his father.

There is something strange about this movie. The objectively very corny Mr. Rogers stuff worked for me completely. From movie’s framing device as an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, to spontaneous Mr. Rogers reactions like the crowd on the subway breaking out into his theme song or him asking for a moment of silence during a meal and having the whole restaurant, and the movie, go silent for a minute. That stuff is corny, but it absolutely worked on me. A lot of that has to do with the completely irony free Mr. Rogers, in real life and as portrayed by Hanks. What was more spotty was the somewhat boilerplate familiar reconciliation plotline that takes up most of the movie. It isn’t because Cooper or Rhys aren’t good actors or doing good work; the story is just has so little interesting going on that it never really does anything.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is well worth watching. It does given a look into what made Mr. Rogers so amazing, so powerful and so unique. But the movie doesn’t really focus on him. If you want a movie about Mr. Rogers, watch last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This is a middling to solid drama with a strong Tom Hanks performance as Mr. Rogers that makes the whole thing work.

***1/2

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s reputation as a director is already strongly established. He has made one of the absolute best comedies of the last decade in What We Do in the Shadows. He made one of the best MCU movies in Thor: Ragnarok. He also made the underrated, or maybe just underseen, Hunter for the Wilderpeople. His latest movie, Jojo Rabbit, is referred to as an anti-hate satire. It is set in Nazi Germany, with Waititi playing the role of Hitler. Or at least a little boy’s imagined version of Hitler. It is quite a swing, but is any one has earned the right to take a swing, it is Waititi. Luckily, it mostly works out.

Jojo Rabbit star Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo, a ten year old boy living in Nazi Germany. He is an avowed and enthusiastic Nazi. He also doesn’t seem to have too many friends; his best friend is his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. At the start of the movie, he attends a Nazi Youth Camp, where he is taunted about his absent, possibly deserter father. In an attempt to prove his courage, Jojo is involved in an accident that leaves him partially crippled. Stuck at home and with doing menial tasks for the local Nazi party, Jojo is lonely.

Soon, he learns that his mother has hidden a young Jewish girl in the walls of their home. This revelation starts Jojo on a path of examining the lies and hatred that he has bought into so thoroughly in an attempt to find a place to belong.

While billed as a satire, Jojo Rabbit is more of a farce. It portrays the Nazis cartoonishly, both in their evil and in their stupidity. There are a lot of strong comic performances portraying these Nazis, from Waititi’s petulant, forgetful, imaginary Hitler, to Rebel Wilson as the comical extreme of “for the fatherland and femininity.” Stephen Merchant shows up as an unctuously smiling SS officer who is both comical and scary. The biggest presence is Sam Rockwell as the one-eye, frustrated and flamboyant officer in charge of town. He looks after Jojo while Jojo’s mother works and seems increasingly disillusioned with the Nazi regime.

Jojo’s interactions with the Nazis is played as humorous, his home life is more of a drama. He lives alone with his mother, played by Scarlet Johansson. She is clearly hurting at her son’s full throated adoption of Nazi thought. Something she doesn’t share, as she hides a young Jewish girl in their house. Still, she tries to gently lead Jojo away from the destructive ideology he has bought into. Jojo soon meets the girl, Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie. At first he is indignant, then scared. Soon, he starts to build a relationship with her. As he interrogates her, attempting to get information about Jews for the Nazis, he comes to really care for her. He starts to drift away from the Nazis. Waititi’s Hitler starts to recede from the movie.

Jojo Rabbit attempts a delicate balancing act, dealing with some serious thoughtful issues while also telling jokes. It isn’t the first movie to do that with this same issue, To Be or Not To Be starring Mel Brooks comes to mind. Jojo Rabbit mostly manages successfully. It doesn’t quite pack the dramatic punch it could and depending on how funny you find kids shouting heil Hitler, it doesn’t quite knock the humor out of the park either. Still, it is charming and heartwarming movie that entertains for its entire runtime.

****1/2