Super Mario Bros Replay: New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros U, to date the last New Super Mario Bros game, is absolutely the best in this subseries. The first New Super Mario Bros was a delightful return to 2D for Mario after a decade away, New Super Mario Bros Wii (which I don’t currently have access to) improved on that first game and added the fun of simultaneous multiplayer and New Super Mario Bros 2 was mostly just more of the same, but it showed a greater mastery of level design than the previous two. This one brings all of that together for a game that is creative and interesting and masterfully designed all around.

Like NSMB2, this game came out during a glut of Mario games and I don’t think it was properly appreciated. It doesn’t help that it is currently, exclusive to the tragically ignored WiiU. Some people think it is the best Mario game, but many more have likely never gotten to experience it. Hopefully the rumored Switch port becomes reality, because this game deserves to be played by more people.

NSMBU does its best to ape Super Mario World in many ways and it mostly succeeds and at times it surpasses that SNES classic. It brings back the world map stuff that helped make that game so memorable, for starters, with alternate paths opening up based in taking specific exits. Finding those deviously hidden paths is delightful. Otherwise, it is mostly just a Mario game, if a particularly well made one. It is hard to specify how the level designs are great without going into specific examples, and I really don’t have those queued up, but the difficulty curve is masterful. Most players should be able to beat the first couple of worlds without trouble. The next few provide more challenge, especially if the player is insistent on getting the hidden coins in each stage. Then the last couple of worlds are truly challenging, though largely surmountable without too much frustration. It provides a game world that has something to offer players of all skill levels and is set up to teach players to be better at the game.

Possibly its truest triumph is in the presentation. It is the first outing for Mario and company in HD and it shows, in a good way. Stylistically it is the same as the previous “New” games, but it just looks and moves amazingly. Then there are the special levels. Certain levels use a special graphical style that is beyond anything else. The most notable example is the swamp stage with a background patterned off a Van Gogh painting. There are other examples making for a game with varied and interesting looks that perfectly complement the play.

There isn’t anything new in New Super Mario Bros U, but it does almost everything other Mario games do better than it has been done before. If this turns out to be the last game in the “New” line of Mario games, it is a fitting end. It is everything those games are at their peak.

On to, or back to, Super Mario Galaxy!

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Mission Impossible Fallout Review

Mission Impossible has been on a sustained run of excellence lately. I’m not a huge fan of the third movie, but Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation were both excellent. Fallout lives up to the series’ high standards. I don’t know that I like it quite as much as the previous two, but it is in the same conversation.

The movie starts with Hunt and crew trying and failing to recover some stolen plutonium. As Hunt readies to track it down again, the CIA steps in. This sets up the dynamic that runs through most of the movie. Hunt is given a CIA watchdog, Walker played by Henry Cavill. Walker is interesting; he’s all bravado and surety, but also more than a bit of a screw up. In one of the movies standout set pieces, of which there are a full handful, he HALO jumps into a thunderstorm, which results in he and Hunt nearly falling to their deaths.

I am not going to try to explain the plot, other than to say that the MI guys are after the plutonium, but someone on the good guys side is a double agent. Also, Hunt has to go undercover as the villainous buyer of the plutonium, but the price brings Rogue Nation’s villain back into the mix. Meanwhile, Ilsa Faust shows back up, but she is working toward a different goal than Hunt. It just makes the whole thing a mess of conflicted loyalties and objectives. While there isn’t much unsurety of who is on who’s side, it all works spectacularly.

Fallout brings back most of the crew that Hunt has built up over the last few movies. Ving Rhames is back as Luther and gets probably more to do than he has had for the last few movies. It is mostly talking in a radio of delivering exposition, but at least it’s something. Simon Pegg’s Benji, meanwhile, gets slightly scaled back, mostly because Cavill takes his role as Hunt’s sidekick for most of the movie. Still, he’s there and he’s great. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust, and she is just as great as she was in Rogue Nation. Renner isn’t back, but Alec Baldwin gets to do a little more than he did last time. Really, the ancillary cast this series has built up is one of its greatest strengths.

Fallout moves from one amazing action set piece to another. There is that HALO jump, which is followed by a fight in nightclub bathroom. Then there is an extended motorcycle chase through Paris that is wonderful. It all ends with a helicopter dogfight and, no joke, a fist fight on the top of (and side of) a mountain. This is something that series has done well for the longest time, and Fallout is at least equally as amazing as any of the previous movies.

Despite my praise, the movie that comes to mind to compare this to is Spectre. That movie tried to suggest that the Bond series had been building to something since Craig took over and Spectre was trying to be the culmination of that. Except almost none of it worked; it was terrible. Fallout pulls a lot of the same tricks, tying together unrelated threads from three previous movies that maybe weren’t meant to be connected. Except Fallout actually makes it work. It doesn’t try to add stuff in retroactively, it builds it all forward. It actually plays out more like the latter Fast and Furious movies.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. I hope Tom Cruise has another one of these in him.

****1/2

Blindspotting

Blindspotting is powerful. It does an amazing job of balancing a high wire act of presenting a very real world but breaking from that at moments to add to the effect of the movie’s most powerful moments. It might not work for everyone, but I found it to be one of the most enthralling movies I’ve seen this year.

Blindspotting stars Daveed Diggs as Colling and Rafael Casal as Miles, two best friends living in Oakland. Collin was previously convicted of a felony and is nearing the end of his probation. He is trying to avoid any trouble. Meanwhile, Miles is a magnet for trouble, buying an unlicensed gun near the start of the movie and waving it around everywhere. They work together for a moving company. Collin’s former girlfriend works at the counter for that moving company. Miles lives with his girlfriend and their young son. With three days left on his probation, Collin witnesses a cop murder a man. The movie follows him for the next three days as he continues to try to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, despite Miles insistence on drawing as much trouble to himself as possible.

The movie deals deftly with so many issues. There are class issues, with the area where Collin and Miles grew up steadily gentrifying, with the lower class settings of their youth being replaced with more well to do facsimiles. There are now vegan burgers at the fast food place and expensive green juice at the convenience store. The two movers are always seen moving people out, never in. Often they are dealing with the remains of a family home with many affects left abandoned inside. These problems also touch on the movies racial musings. Collin fits in, visually, with the old Oakland because he is a big black guy. Miles works overtime to show that he is ‘street’ because as a white guy he is frequently mistaken for one of new hipsters in town. It is an advantage to him, since he can move in both worlds, but he considers it an insult. That also plays into how Collin ended up in jail; the idea that the world treats these two friends differently based on their race. Blindspotting plays it smart by mostly leaving the cop shooting in the background. It is always there and just like Collin the viewer is always aware of it, but he just has to go about his life regardless of what he saw. It builds, though, throughout until the movie gives viewers one of the most tense scenes I have ever seen.

Where the movie does some of its best work is in showing why the fairly mild Collin sticks with the erratic Miles. The bond between these two childhood friends is something that nearly everyone can relate to. Collin knows both that Miles is likely to get him into trouble and that despite his nonsense Miles is a good guy. Both things are true and while it seems pretty obvious that getting away from Miles is likely the best thing Collin could do, it is is easy to see why he won’t abandon a friend that never abandoned him.

Blindspotting is masterful. Wonderfully written and acted. Everyone should go see it.

*****

Monster Hunter World

I was admittedly pretty nervous about Monster Hunter World. While the trailers and previews I had seen looked excellent, they had made one thing very clear to me: Capcom was changing things up with this game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the changes seemed like they might be affecting core of the series and could change Monster Hunter into something else. While there are certainly things about the series that could use some updating, altering the series too much runs the risk of losing what made it so compelling in the first place. Luckily, Capcom managed to focus on just the changes that needed to be made, making a completely modern feeling Monster Hunter game that still plays like a Monster Hunter game. Maybe the best Monster Hunter game.

Monster Hunter World is still Monster Hunter. The game removes a lot of the seams from the game, but it still plays largely the same. Some of the smartest moves Capcom made were about the stuff that the game didn’t change. The array of weapons are the same as they have been for the last two games. There have been adjustments to how each weapon works, but they are same ones that have been there for years now. It is a familiar base to build from as other things are altered. The structure also hasn’t changed, it is still up to four players hunting a beast or two, it still has the same rhythm. You take a quest, you eat a meal and then you go out on a hunt. The combat is the weighty, measured affair that it has always been. Afterwards, you take your rewards and try to build better gear to kill bigger monsters. That repetitive, simple core of the game is what makes it so easy to lose yourself in. After every couple of quests you can make some new weapon or armor and you will be a couple of piece closer to making the next one on the list.

Monster Hunter World takes the bones of the series and then takes advantage of the greater power available to them with the current consoles. That means that the graphics are significantly improved. Which is to be expected; the last few games were on the 3DS and the last console one was originally made for the Wii (it did get a WiiU upres, but it was still working off of Wii base graphics). It also allows for the maps to be more intricate and layered. Instead of just a dozen screens to run around in, the areas in this game are dense, dynamic environments. The game has removed the loading screens between areas, meaning that each map is now one big playground, albeit a playground with a lot of interesting little areas to explore. Aside from looking better, the monsters have more fluid arrays of behavior, especially when there are more than one of them about. Monsters seem to truly interact with each other, getting in fights and acting according to certain characteristics. The big alpha monsters of each area scare off the smaller game, roughly equally powerful monsters fight it out. Before, the only monster that really acted anything like that was Deviljho (someone will correct me with monsters I forgot). The game just feels more alive than previous games in the series have.

The other thing that Monster Hunter Word added was to the hunting part of the formula. Before the hunter part consisted of a lot of tedious, mostly fairly simple systems. Bring a spit to cook meat on, Paintballs to hit a monster and mark it on the map. Just a lot of little systems that don’t add a whole lot, but also weren’t all that much of a hassle. Now, the game adds some track checking and some fireflies that after you find a monster’s trail help lead you to it. Of course, those fireflies do more than lead the player to monsters, they also lead players to any sort of item that you need to forage out in the wild. They are a really elegant edition.

The biggest problem I have with Monster Hunter World is that there really aren’t as many monsters as previous games. That is to be expected with the jump to new hardware, but it is still a little disappointing. The new monsters are mostly really cool, but I really miss some of my old favorites, like Brachydios and Zinogre. Hopefully, Capcom will add some of those back in later editions, that I am sure are coming, or sequels. As it stands, Monster Hunter World is excellent.

Suikoden V Past Ties

Suikoden V is a game with one very clear goal: to be as much like Suikoden II as possible. That is evident in every fiber of the game. It is a pretty big change from the previous PS2 Suikoden games. Suikoden III came out in the wake of Final Fantasy X and is an ambitious game that bites off a little more than it can chew and is just a little out of sync with the times. Still, it feels like game trying to push the genre forward in a way that the 16-bit throwback PS1 games didn’t. Suikoden IV feels like a game trying to keep up with the big boys of the genre, but manages to sand off a lot of what made the series unique. (I used to hate Suikoden IV, but while I still consider it the weakest mainline entry in the series, I’ve softened on it lately) Suikoden V, despite its charms, feels a bit like the series giving up and grasping at ties to the series most popular entry in an attempt to recapture its fans.

I don’t know if Suikoden V was truly low budget or if it only feels that way. I assume it didn’t have close to Final Fantasy money tossed around during development. It is riddled with bugs and inconveniences. But it also feels cheap because its odd camera angle. Suikoden V’s camera is static and position as close as they could get it to the 2D games. While the character models are fine, the how zoomed out everything is makes it feel really small. You can zoom the camera in, but it doesn’t change the angle, so it mostly just cuts off the player’s view. Everything about the game’s presentation screams reminders of Suikoden II. As a fan of that game, it is comforting, but it does little to account for the difference between 2D and 3D games. It just feels very low budget. The game also goes back to the six person party, but eschew’s the pairs system from Suikoden III, and most of that game’s skill system.

One of the strangest ways that Suikoden V echoes Suikoden II is that it has alternate Stars of Destiny. Among its 108 Stars, Suikoden II had a couple that were mutually exclusive. At one point the player has the option of picking one of two returning characters from the first game to be the representative of the Toran Republic, country where first game took place, the one you don’t choose never joins your army. There are also a trio of monsters to recruit, though only two of them get to be stars of destiny. As far as I recall, none of the other games do this. Except Suikoden V; it has a pair of mutually exclusive stars. Except having them be so doesn’t really make any sense. The two mutually exclusive stars are Eresh, a tiny mysterious wizard with ties to series mainstay Jeane and whole extra dungeon (extra section of dungeon) to flesh out her (?) story and Euram Barows, a secondary antagonist who plays a big role in the story from the start. Eresh is a side character with marginally more to do than the bulk of the lesser stars. Her and her connection to Jeane are some of the more interesting incidental parts of the game. Her dungeon, the big hole, is left completely unexplained if you do not recruit Eresh. Having her be an optional recruit, when there are so many lesser characters, is an odd choice. Making Euram an optional character does make sense, though his being optional kind of leave his arc potentially unresolved. Euram is a worthless little shit throughout the game, starting as an ineffectual ally before switching to an ineffectual nemesis. He starts the game in a position of power and loses everything, mostly through his own incompetence, but unless you make him the last recruit to your army, his story line just kind of disappears. His plots to discredit the protagonist have all failed, his father has been killed and his sister has disowned their family. Him joining up brings it all full circle, he has learned from his experiences and is ready to help fix things, if he doesn’t join he is just gone. I like that the game gives the player the choice whether to let Euram have his redemption or not, but the fact that adding his useless behind to the army means going without Eresh makes it a lopsided choice. It is a choice I believe the game would be better off without.

While the game doesn’t pick up on any of the big mysteries left simmering after the first three games, mostly dealing with the Harmonia and Pesmerga and Yuber, it does bring in some characters mostly because they were included in II. The big one is Georg Prime, who in both games is a serious badass. Basically the whole story of this game springs out of one detective investigation of Georg from II, which alludes to his history in Falena, which is one of the few mentions of the country before this game. V also returns Killey and Lorelai, a pair interested in the Sindar ruins. This is Lorelai’s third appearance in the series, but Killey had previously only appeared in II. The two of them are investigating the Sindar, a mysterious ancient race that is connected to the True Runes that end up important in most games in the series. While V offers no more answers than any game in the series, it at least gives a few clues.

At the point I am at in the game right now—I just saved the ravaged town of Lordlake and finally my army has a castle for its headquarters—it is clear that the pacing of events also echoes Suikoden II very closely. This is harder to define, but the rhythm of new area to story sequence to dungeon to army battle feels very familiar. This is where the game shines, I might like the protracted opening even if no one else does, but once the game gets past that and kicks into high gear it is one of the most enjoyable games on the PS2.

I still have a lot I want to write about with Suikoden V. The character Sialeeds, the story in general, some of my favorite minor characters. I feel like as soon as I publish this I am going to remember a lot of the stuff that connects this game specifically to Suikoden II and curse myself for not including it, but I’ll find a place to put it in.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

When this game came out the first time, way back in 2011, I thought it was one of the best original rpgs to hit the DS. I found that it drew elements from a lot of games that I loved, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy Tactics to Final Fantasy X, to make a game that felt simultaneously classic and original. This enhanced port, while fixing some of the game’s flaws, also manages to draw more attention to some of the structural problems the game has.

Perfect Chronology makes few big changes to the core of the game. It adds some new character art that is largely not an improvement. That is to be expected. Mostly what it adds are a lot of balance tweaks. The original game was not exactly smooth when it came to a lot of things. There were weird humps in the level curve and in enemy strengths and equipment costs. This remake does a lot to fix those mostly very slight problems. In my limited experience, the changes do a lot to just make the game simply play better. Most of what I said originally still stands.

My ability to accurately describe the changes to the game in detail is limited because I played it on Friendly mode. The difficulty levels are another new addition to this version and I choose the easiest one. Mostly because I had already played the game in its original form, this time I just wanted to take a tour of the game and be reminded of why I initially liked it so much. Which is what Friendly difficulty provides. It basically turns the battle system into just boss and scripted battles, which are easier than they normally are. If you just want to get the experience and story, it works just fine. If you really want to see what the game has to offer, I would not recommend it.

The new story stuff largely based about new character Nemissa, who possesses a new tome that controls alternate histories. Mostly these work as little side-stories of scenes you know from playing, and replaying, them in the main game. Eventually, completing them leads the way to alternate endings for a lot of the characters in the main game. That is where the new stuff really falters. Most of Radiant Historia’s cast is not exactly nuanced. There are some complex and thoughtful characters, but those aren’t the ones who get new stuff in this game. And the games doesn’t really flesh them out, it just adds discordant codas to what was already there. Take, for instance, the vain, incompetent Queen Protea. She is an out and out monster, ordering her own capitol city burned to root out members of the resistance. After a brief adventure in an alternate history where Protea is not a tyrannical puppet queen, but a major player in the resistance, the party gets a way to remind her of who she once was and her ending now has leaving the throne for a life of quiet repentance. That is probably the least objectionable new outcome for the villains, who get redemption without earning it. So the new story content is not great.

Radiant Historia was initially released in the fading days of the Nintendo DS. The 3DS was on the horizon and piracy had pretty well hollowed out the systems support. A great game disappeared pretty quickly after it was dropped into an ecosystem that would have been completely dead if not for the fact that Nintendo insisted on propping it up with some late Pokemon games. Now it gets a chance for release on a system … in much the same situation. I think the 3DS is a little healthier at this point in its life than the DS was when Radiant Historia released, if only because there is no successor on the horizon, but it isn’t enough the make a big difference.

What I Watched July 2018

Movies

Hearts Beat Loud – read review here. ****

Uncle Drew – read review here. ***

Sicario Day of the Soldado read review here. **1/2

Won’t You Be My Neighbor – review coming soon. ****

The Brothers Bloom – This showed up on Netflix and as I am a fan of nearly everyone involved (Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rian Johnson) I gave it a watch. It is really, really good. It is a fun little magical realist con man movie, a little like the Wes Anderson version of an Ocean’s movie. Two brothers scam a rich, bored woman, or maybe they scam each other. It is a delight. *****

Get Smart – It is a shame that this Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway movie never got a sequel; it is really damn entertaining. Carell is the perfect person to assume the Smart role, he mostly echoes Don Adams while adding a bit of his own touch and Anne Hathaway can do no wrong. When it is the two of them out on a mission the movie really shines. ****

Love & Friendship – I’ve reviewed it before, this movie is great. *****

Ant-Man and the Wasp – read review here. ****

Death of Stalin – The funniest, and maybe best, movie of the year about a very not funny subject. This movie details the plotting and machinations in attempting to succeed Stalin in the USSR. It plays it all as a farce, where people are likely to end up dead. I loved it. *****

Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter – It has Danny McBride and Josh Brolin, who make a TV show about Brolin’s hunting exploits. For the movie, he takes his teenage son with him, who he has lost touch with after a divorce, with Brolin often gone hunting. It kind of meanders through funny and not funny bits, before reaching something of a conclusion. Its fine. ***

Happy Anniversary – a decent little romantic drama about two people unsure if they are breaking up or taking the next step. It mostly works. ***1/2

Sorry to Bother You – read review here. *****

To Each, Her Own – a french comedy(?) about a bisexual woman who proposes to her longtime girlfriend and then cheats on her with a guy. The woman is Jewish, the guy, or at least his family, is anti-semitic. There are no laughs to be had. The ending is preposterous. *1/2

Anon – This is part Minority Report, part reflection on the surveillance state, and mostly a lot of explaining the rules to its near future setting. There is a good movie here somewhere, but it doesn’t really come through this turgid mystery. **

Murder on the Orient Express – I reviewed this last year, I still really like it. ****

Father of the Year – The latest Happy Madison production for Netflix is a weird movie. Because it is mostly a movie about kids who just finished college returning home for a few weeks before moving to New York to start new jobs, but their struggles are kind of sidelined by one’s father, a drunken lout played by David Spade, and his struggles against everything, including the father of another of the friends, played by Nat Faxon. It is never really funny, though the stuff with the kids had potential if it was allowed to go anywhere. *1/2

Godzilla City on the Edge of Battle – God, I hated this. I think the animation is ugly, just like the first movie. This isn’t really a movie about Godzilla, this is a movie about MechaGodzilla that is actually nanomachines. It is blandly uninteresting, and not paid off with interesting Godzilla fights. *

Kodachrome – A father and son reconnect on a road trip where the father wants to develop some film and the son is trying to sign a band for a record label. Good actors, Jason Sudekis, Elizabeth Olson, and Ed Harris, and a decent heart make it work. ***1/2

White Fang – A solid little animated adaptation of the Jack London novel. It has a sort of painterly quality to the animation that looks good despite its sort of blockiness. It also has a solid voice cast. The movie is fine, but it really isn’t anything more. ***

Three Identical Strangers – read review here. ****1/2

Skyscraper – read review here. **1/2

Tau – I think I am close to kicking this Netflix movie habit. This is a decent idea, of a woman trapped by a madman with only an AI for company, but mostly it played out like Ex Machina’s stupid cousin. *1/2

TV

GLOW S2 – GLOW Season 2 took just a little bit to get me back. It felt like this season started by unwinding character development from where last season ended. But it quickly got very good. This show has pretty quickly and efficiently established a lot of great characters, with its stars doing especially great work. It is about the perfect dramedy. It is easily one of Netlfix’s best shows.

Columbo S1 – It is shocking how good this series is right away. Basically, as soon as it is past the pilot it is everything it should be. Like the series below on this list, Columbo is just a mystery series. I never serializes the storytelling or makes character growth a thing. It is all on Peter Falk playing a particular character and solving a mystery against a completely new cast every time out. The interplay between Peter Falk and the guest star is the reason to watch this show. I intend to write more fully about this show later, but this might be the best TV show.

Midsomer Murders S1-4 – Not a lot to say here. This is a simple show with simple pleasures. It is fine. I am already reaching for things to say about it. It executes the mystery formula nearly perfectly, but does nothing more. I might watch all 20 series.

Fargo S3 – I don’t know how much of a write-up on this show I did when it first aired, but I watched with my brother the other weekend and was absolutely entranced. The first two season of this show are masterpieces, this season is a slight step down. The world it creates, with its malleable truth, is so perfect for the times we live in. It is frustrating, but real. The primary villain, Varga, is so gross and creepy, but for some reason the supposedly good people, like Emmett Stussy and Sy Feltz, are too busy with petty crap to even bother to look through his obvious facade. So instead, the criminals get to reign. I know when I first watched the show, I was convinced it ended one way, a somewhat optimistic ending, but this time I don’t have the faith for that. I know that Varga gets away.

Sorry to Bother You Review

Sorry to Bother You is one of the best movies of the year. It is an incisive and funny satire that never let’s the viewer get comfortable in its world. That world is close enough to the real world to be recognizable, but far enough away to be disorienting, creating something that feels like a mix of Jonathan Swift and Robocop. Sorry to Bother You is an insightful social commentary that keeps its message front and center while not getting in the way of its humor.

LaKeith Stanfield stars as Cassius “Cash” Green, a down on his luck man who wants to make a difference in the world. He shares his troubles with his performance artist girlfriend Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson. Cash starts his journey to greatness when he gets a job at RegalView, a telemarketing company. While he initially struggles, after a coworker, played by Danny Glover, teaches him to use his “white voice” Cash excels. He also joins a group of coworkers who are organizing a union. Soon, his newfound success at work creates a conflict with his friends and Cash is forced to choose between his ideals and his newfound success.

That is the surface level story of the movie, but there is more going on. So much more and it gets so much weirder. From the fake TV show “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me” to the advertised corporate slavery of WorryFree living, the movie starts in a weird place and just keeps amping up the weirdness from there until it takes a turn into out and out scifi in the last third of the movie.

The satire of Sorry to Bother You is that of a hammer; it is blunt rather than subtle. This is not a mistake, subtlety can be misinterpreted and Sorry to Bother You does not leave itself open to misinterpretation. The system that Cash must join into to survive is built to keep keep people like him in their place.  From how he succeeds to what his success actually gets him, the movie makes it clear that Cash can’t truly win in this system.

The material is helped by almost uniformly excellent performances from the cast. Stanfield is great in the movie, being something of an everyman than never really feels comfortable in his role. Thompson is as good as she always is. Danny Glover and Terry Crews each show up for a couple of memorable scenes, especially Glover. Armie Hammer is perfect as Steve Lift, the “visionary” CEO of WorryFree. One of the more interesting choices the movie makes is dubbing over the voices of its black actors when they speak in “white voice,” with Stanfield done over by David Cross. It is strange, but like in most aspects of this movie the strangeness works for it.

Writing this review has been difficult because I am reluctant to spoil any part of the experience. Sorry to Bother You is a movie that deserves to be experienced with fresh eyes. The ride is so much more exciting when you don’t know where it is going. But it is a ride that you should definitely take.

*****

Skyscraper Review

Skyscraper could and should be much better than it is. All of the elements for a fun summer action movie are here, but they just are combined haphazardly to make for something shockingly unenjoyable. There is a modicum of fun to be had with Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson remains the best action star on the planet and there are some well done scenes, but this movie is eminently skippable.

Skyscraper looks like straight up Die Hard rip off, but that is only part of what it is. It combines Die Hard with plenty of Jurassic Park. The basic idea is Die Hard, with terrorists in a skyscraper and one man having to work his way through them to save his family. But in Skyscraper, the building is a technological marvel. Viewers are supposed to awed by it like they were when they first saw dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The building owner is happy to show off his creation, which is brought low by sabotage and then disaster. So not only is The Rock working against the bad guys in the tower, he is also working against the building itself. It isn’t a bad idea, but it mostly just makes the movie feel super busy.

That plays into the movie’s biggest problem; all of its characters are just voids. It has only been a few days, but I can’t remember anyone’s name. Other than loving his family, The Rock’s character is a nonentity. His kids have personalities like “has asthma” and “is girl.” His wife is … also there. The villains get no more development, nor do the cops or the building owner. They all have maybe one trait or more likely just a goal, but there is nothing there to grasp onto.

The Rock does have a handicap, which is an interesting choice. He lost a leg in an explosion, so he wears a prosthetic. It adds a layer of vulnerability to the normally indestructible persona he exudes. In the end, the prosthetic is used as more of an asset than a handicap.

There are some solid action scenes, mostly dealing with The Rock hanging off the side of this very tall building. The less effective scenes happen in the building. Early on the movie sets up a completely unrelated to the building technological marvel whose use in the finale is so blatantly obvious that it is insulting. The building is topped by what is essentially a Star Trek holodeck. It feels like someone took the climax out of a different screenplay because there wasn’t a satisfying conclusion to this one.

Skyscraper is just not good. I can’t fault any of the actors, they are giving it their best. The Rock never appears to be giving less than 110 percent in any movie. But the material here is somehow both too thin and overstuffed. A lot happens in the movie, but since it doesn’t happen to characters someone could care about it feels completely pointless.

**1/2

Three Identical Strangers & Won’t You Be My Neighbor

While Moviepass continues to sputter and struggle in what I genuinely hope are not its death throws, I am feeling like celebrating the summer I have spent with the service. I signed up for MoviePass in March, and finally got my account active in May. Since then, I have seen nearly 20 movies using the service. Some are movies I would have seen regardless, like Ant-Man and Solo, but many other are movie that I would likely not have taken a chance on in theaters were it not for the fact that my ticket was already paid for. Chief among those movies are a pair of documentaries I saw and that I don’t feel like I could write full reviews for. So here are a pair of mini reviews for two excellent documentaries I saw this summer with MoviePass.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor tells the story of Fred Rogers, the man behind the children’s show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I don’t have a lot to say about it; the movie is inspiring and uplifting, but it is hard to explain without just recounting the movie completely. Won’t You Be My Neighbor details Rogers life and while it doesn’t shy away from struggles and missteps he made, it paints the portrait of a man who was as genuine and kind as he appeared on his TV show. Fred Rogers believed that he could use television as a force for good and to help educate children. He proved this with his popular and long running show that touched the lives of millions. This is just a wonderful story told in a very good movie.

****½

Three Identical Strangers

This documentary tells the true story of identical triplets separated at birth who found each other at college. The story of the brothers themselves is engrossing and somewhat tragic, the mystery behind their separation is equally intriguing and a little less satisfying. Also, some the stuff the movie somewhat posits about nature v nurture is questionable. The movie starts with one of the brothers going to college, only to be recognized by people he’s never met. Eventually, it is discovered that he looks just like another student. So he meets up with this other student and discovers that they share a birthday and were both adopted out of the adoption service. When the story appears in the paper, a third brother emerges. They then look into how the brothers got separated, which is itself quite a story, though one that the movie learns really hard on for no more of an answer than they found. The movie also looks at how the upbringing of the brothers may have affected their adult lives, and uncomfortably points fingers to explain some things. That is a dark mark on what is otherwise a fascinating movie.

****½