Hearts Beat Loud

Hearts Beat Loud is a low key, charming little movie about a father and daughter. It doesn’t really do anything new or unexpected, but it is good hearted and enjoyable that it is easy to like anyway.

Hearts Beat Loud is a movie about the inevitability of change. Change isn’t innately good or bad, it merely is. Sam (Kiersey Clemmons) is graduating from high school and heading to college across the country. Her father Frank (Nick Offerman) is having a hard time dealing with it. Added on to this is that Frank’s record store is going out of business. The two of them are a musical family and after an evening of playing together, Frank becomes determined that the two of them will start a band. This is an enticing prospect for Frank, who used to be in a band with Sam’s mother before their daughter was born.

There is sadness is Frank’s obviously futile quest. The viewer knows that the worst possible outcome here is that Sam puts off her medical school dreams to start a band with her Dad, but as the movie seems determined to strip everything he has away from him you can’t help but sympathize with Frank a little bit. A big part of their relationship is obviously their musical connection and him wanting to keep them together with it is understandable, but also kind of selfish. Even Frank appears to know that it is a bad idea, although it is one that lets him keep his daughter around.

Sam appears to know this and for the most part shows little interest in giving up school to be in a band. But she also writes songs, because she is a musician. She also has to deal with moving across the country and giving up a burgeoning romance. There are tons of reasons for her to stay, but it is obvious that staying would be a limiting move for her.

In a parallel to losing his relationship with his daughter, Frank’s record shop is also going out of business. Like with the band business, Frank is given an opportunity to keep the record shop going, only it will mean changing it from what he knew. He has to decide if it is worth keeping what he had at the risk of changing it utterly, or just letting it go and grow to be something else.

A movie can’t put the emphasis that Hearts Beat Loud does on music and not make the music worth listening to. Fortunately, Hearts Beat Loud has some really great tunes and the significant time it spends letting its characters just play music is not wasted space.

Hearts Beat Loud is undeniably slight. It is a simple and low key affair buoyed largely by its charming cast, which in addition to Clemmons and Offerman includes Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson and Sasha Lane, and its engaging sincerity. A fun, touching trifle.

****

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Sicario Day of the Soldado

The first Sicario was a look at the drug war that put the viewer in the shoes of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Macer as she was exposed to the moral rot that it involved. It invited the viewer to join in her alienation as the tactics of the good guys became essentially indistinguishable from the bad guys. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, still wants to have that moral complexity, but other than a few echoes of the original it manages none of it. The fact that it works as well as it does rests entirely on the shoulders of Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, who is having quite a year.

Sicario Day of the Soldado starts with some histrionics about imagined border security fears, with Muslim suicide bombers sneaking through the Mexican border to attack American grocery stores. It is a disgusting bum note that the movie never quite manages to recover from. It does give an unneeded in to introduce Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a CIA operative who is busy torturing someone suspected of facilitating the suicide bombers. The US government has decided to treat the Mexican Cartels like terrorist organizations and wants Graver to bring his expertise to disrupting the cartels. He starts a plan to kidnap the daughter of the head of a cartel and frame another cartel for it. He brings along with him Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro), a mexican hitman he worked with in the past. Things go awry, as these things do, and Alejandro and Matt end up on opposite sides of the border and the conflict. Weaved inelegantly through the thriller is a plot line about a kid who gets caught up with the gangs starting by helping people cross the border for some cash.

Without Blunt’s character, the movie has no heart. The first half shows only the moral emptiness, with nothing to compare it against and making no real comment about it; it merely shows the blackness. About midway through, it turns into something of a straight up Western, and the two amoral operative suddenly develop at least the inklings of a conscious. It works for Del Toro’s Gillick, because it fits with his motivation. For Graver, it comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. The plot with the kid is as bleak as it could possibly be, but the movie doesn’t let the viewer inside of his thoughts to any degree at all, making it hard to tell if this is a drifting or just how he always was.

The end is where the movie really falls apart. It has no themes to tie together and no interest in delivering some kind of exciting final act, so it just sort of peters out with unsatisfying conclusions to its various plots. Some of them barely explained. Were I feeling generous, I might say the movie is leaving the viewer unfulfilled so they can chew on the movie’s meaning, but the movie doesn’t manage to have much of meaning, leaving the viewer simply underwhelmed.

Ignoring the movie’s either disgusting or muddled politics, as an action thriller it is fairly well staged. Its few actions scenes are tense and exciting. Brolin and Del Toro both deliver very good performances that make it easy to forget how unnecessary this sequel is.

**

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

While the original Jurassic World, which I have cooled on quite a bit since writing a fairly positive review of when it came out, was content to mostly just do the Jurassic Park again, but bigger and “better,” Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom tries to do more. In many ways, the Jurassic World movies echo the Disney Star Wars movies. The first does everything in its power to remind you of why you liked the series in the first place, the second does a little of mashing up other sequels in an attempt to propel the series forward after the back looking entry. But like how Jurassic World kind of fumbled the call back to the original formula, Fallen Kingdom pushes the series forward while giving the viewer no reason to believe that it has any clue where it is coming from.

A few years after the disaster at the park in Jurassic World, the volcano on isla nubar, where the dinosaurs are, becomes active and is going to erupt. Claire, Bryce Dallas Howard, is part of a group that is trying to do something to save the dinosaurs. She gets help from Benjamin Lockwood, the previously unknown partner of John Hammond who wants to save a few species of dinos and take them to another island. The need Claire to get into Jurassic World’s systems, and they need her to recruit Owen Grady, Chris Pratt, to help them get the velociraptor Blue. Once they arrive at the island, it becomes clear that they are not there to save the dinosaurs for any humanitarian purposes, but to capture the dinos for reasons unknown. Eventually it becomes clear that the genetic experiments that created the Indominus Rex are still happening.

Like the original Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom splits time between the islands and the mainland and brings some dinosaurs to the mainland. It has the main characters there on an altruistic mission and the villains there for profit. While the series always was scifi, Fallen Kingdom pushes it further in that direction. The cloning procedures that brought the return of the dinos is now so much more than it started as.

There are times when I find Fallen Kingdom almost admirable, but it ends up feeling like a collection of ideas for further Jurassic adventures. There isn’t a lot to tie the various strands together. The island stuff is almost fully disconnected from the mainland stuff. Someone just had the idea of dinosaurs and a volcano. Just like someone had the idea of a raptor sneaking around a big old mansion. The movie just kind of throws all these things out there and hopes the viewer can make something of them. Characters get lost along the way, held together only by Chris Pratt’s and Bryce Dallas Howard’s charm.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. Despite how jumbled it seems, there is a certain amount of fun to be had with dinosaurs in these various scenarios. The way the movie just goes for even its most outlandish ideas has a charm all of its own. But I can’t imagine looking back fondly on this movie even a year or two from now.

**1/2

What I Watched June 2018

Movies
Ready Player One – read review here. ***

Ocean’s 8 – read review here. ****

Roxanne – I was not aware of this Steve Martin update of Cyrano de Bergerac. It is charming, a little sappy and a little saccharine, but everything is so well done that it is hard to hold it against the movie. I loved it. ****1/2

Gamer – This movie is crazy, but I’m not sure it quite gets where it’s going. It is over the top and loud and gross, but its attempts at social commentary are kind of half hearted. I credit its attempts, but it doesn’t quite work. **1/2

Executive Decision – A Kurt Russell starring thriller from the 90’s. Russell is an analyst who goes along on the flight to a dangerous mission, boarding a hijacked flight mid air to stop some terrorists, only to end up as part of the mission. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than Kurt Russell is great. ***1/2

Hannie Caulder – A trio of villains kill Hannie Caulder’s husband and rape her, so with the help of a sharpshooting bounty hunter, she sets out to get revenge. It is pretty entertaining, and it is easy to see the inspiration for stuff like Django Unchained in here, but it kind of left me a little lukewarm. ***

Heat – I should have more to say about this, but I don’t. It is really good. *****

I, Tonya – Sort of a biopic, in that kind of Wolf of Wall Street mode, it tells mostly Tonya Harding’s version of the Tonya Harding story. It is heightened and sensationalized, with an amazing performance by Margot Robbie at the center of it. Definitely worth seeing. ****

Hot Fuzz – still one of my absolute favorites. *****

Tag – read review here. ***

Hotel Artemis – read review here. ****

Set it Up – A straightforward romantic comedy. The two protagonists have horrible bosses, they plot to get their bosses to date each other to get them off their backs. Their plan works and the protagonists grow closer. It does exactly what it is supposed to with reasonable amounts of success. ***1/2

King Kong – I love this movie. I know people have complaints, with its length, with its effects, with its some of its performances, but I don’t care. Everything about this movie just works for me. I especially love Jack Black as Carl Denham. It is just sort of perfect. *****

The Bodyguard – a martial arts movie, kind of, about an old man with dementia who forms a relationship with a young girl whose father gets in trouble with some bad people. While the protagonist frequently forgets things, he is also a martial arts master. As he tries to protect this little girl he tears up the local underworld. It is kind of sad and touching, as well as having some pretty solid action, directed by and starring Sammo Hung as the old man and Andy Lau making a brief appearance as the girls dad. ***

The Incredibles 2 – read review here. ****1/2

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom – read review here. **1/2

TV

The Toys the Made Us – another four episodes looking into the history of well known toylines. The show is pretty well made. If the subject matter interests you, the show is well worth checking out.

Kimmy Schmidt – This show is still great. Party Monster: Scratching the Surface is one of the great all-time TV episodes. It was only half a season, which didn’t really give the show much time to do a lot. So it feels like Kimmy has merely taken a few steps toward this seasons story, with the most outstanding one being the mockumentary episode mentioned above. I am sad to hear that this show is ending, but I am glad to have had it for the time we have.

Dear White People S2 – This biting and incisive comedy came back for an excellent second season. This is not a show to give easy wins to its characters, though there are clear bad guys it is not making overt judgements on how each of the characters deal with things. And by giving each character their own episodes to shine while building a bigger story, this show is plotted perfectly. This might be Netflix’s best show.

Bosch S4 – There are some weird structural things with this season that I hope are going to addressed going forward (I am speaking of a shocking death that occurs midway through but ultimately seems to be subplot), but for the most part this was a well done mystery/thriller. This show is well worth watching, though the pacing isn’t always perfect.

Howard’s End – An adaptation of the classic novel, this period piece drama remains as relevant today as it ever was. There isn’t much to say here, there are great performances and the show is very well made. It is definitely worth the time to watch this miniseries.

Voltron – This really feels like this show is moving into its endgame. I know that Netflix has committed to more episodes past this season. This show is about perfect as far as updates of old cartoons goes. It is as good as people remember their childhood favorites being. This is a packed half dozen episodes.

Goliath S1– Amazon Prime won’t stop advertising the new season of their legal drama, so I broke down and watched the first season. It is pretty good. Billy Bob Thornton is always worth watching, and the rest of the cast is solid as well. The show kind of sprawls, as though it doesn’t know which characters it wants to follow or wants its viewers to root for. It isn’t really complex characterization, it is mostly that sometimes characters do inexplicable things, sometimes just purely for the evil of it, other times they are just people on opposite sides of a lawsuit. Still, it is a good show.

The Incredibles 2 Review

I have long felt that The Incredibles is Pixar’s best movie. It was also the Pixar movie most calling for a sequel. It didn’t need a sequel, no Pixar movie has needed a sequel, but The Incredibles seemed like the one that was tailor made for there to be continuing adventures. Now, more than a dozen years after the original’s release, a sequel is here. While Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite match the original, it is a more than worthy follow up.

Although more than a decade has passed since it was released, Incredibles 2 picks up right after the The Incredibles ends, with the Underminer attacking the city and only the Parrs there to stop him. After a somewhat botched fight with the Underminer, the movie moves on to its main point. Winston Deaver wants to bring supers back, and his plan involves getting some of the most popular ones, like Mr. Incredible, Frozone and Elastigirl, to go on something of a charm offensive. Primarily, he wants Elastigirl, since she tends to be the least destructive in her crime fighting. That leaves Mr. Incredible to take care of the kids on his own.

The movie proceeds along those two paths, Helen/Elastigirl’s adventures at her new job trying to make supers look good and Bob/Mr. Incredible having to be a stay at home dad. Helen’s adventures have her dealing with the mysterious new villain the Screenslaver and mostly put other superhero movie action scene to shame. Her on her motorcycle chasing down a runaway train is one of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen. Bob’s scenes are likewise a lot of fun, with Bob having to help Dash with his homework, to try to fix a breach he caused between Violet and her beau and to deal with the fact that Jack-Jack has started exhibiting superpowers.

Mostly, Incredibles 2 is a fun expansion of the world of the first movie. It introduces a half dozen new heroes with inventive powers. It works on solving the problem that drove all the heroes underground in the first movie. Where it falters, slightly, is how it doesn’t really move the characters along that much. It flips the relative roles of Bob and Helen from the first movie, but doesn’t do anything all that new with them. The kids, other than Jack-Jack, don’t really have much to do. They are the same characters they were the first time around and we don’t really learn anything more about them or see them grow. The movie does have a lot of fun with the baby and those scenes delightful.

There isn’t much about the movie that doesn’t work, but it lacks a little of the original spark of the first movie. Maybe it is just that the landscape for superhero movies is quite different now than it was in 2004. The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it had not even started yet; its contemporaries were X2, Daredevil and Spider-Man 2. Now, instead of one or two superhero movies a year and maybe one of them is good, we see five or six, plus all the TV shows. It makes it harder for Incredibles 2 to stand out. Nothing, however, hides its excellent construction and marvelous adventure.

*****

Ocean’s 8 Review

Ocean’s 8 is the perfect summer movie; a spritely and buoyant delight that is fun throughout. It almost exactly, and certainly deliberately, follows in the footsteps of Ocean’s 11 and while at times it feels something like a pale imitation, it largely manages to carve out its own identity next to its classic sibling. While it doesn’t really break any new ground, it executes a fun formula well and lets a lot of fun performers show off.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean, who has just gotten out of prison and has an idea for a heist, as the Oceans tend to do, and maybe for revenge on the man who set her up and sent her to jail. She meets up with the partner, in crime at the very least, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and goes about assembling her team to steal the Tousssiant, a diamond necklace worth 150 million dollars.

It mostly goes along the usual heist formula. It introduces all the players in their elaborate plot, giving each a chance to show off her skills. The plot mostly involves getting a celebrity to borrow the necklace to wear it to the Met Gala, where they can steal it. The biggest part of the plan involves recruiting fashion designer Rose Weil, who gets hired to design the dress for Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger. Kluger is not in on the heist and her unwitting participation is one of the most delightful elements of the movie.

The other members are fun, if somewhat underutilized. Wanting to see more of Rihanna, Awkwafina, and Mindy Kaling makes the idea that this might be the start of a series a promising prospect. The most underused member of the cast is almost certainly Sarah Paulson as a fence who is also a suburban housewife with a shocking awway of skills. This crew deserves to push the series back up to 11.

Then there is the heist, which goes off without much of hitch, though it is still tense and delightful watching it all play out. As these things do, the movie keeps certain elements of the plot from the viewers until they happen, letting it be a surprise as it all comes together. Sometimes these late coming twists can sour the experience, but here each works perfectly. I don’t want to spoil the best ones.

It isn’t quite as good as last year’s Logan Lucky, but it still completely fun and enjoyable. It has a great cast and a glitzy look and keeps the action moving. It is a little derivative and familiar, but Ocean’s 8 is also so much fun.

****1/2

Tag Review

Tag is a movie with a lot of people I want to see in good movies in a movie just competent enough to get by. Tag isn’t bad and actually tries to do some things that are at least partially interesting or original, but it can’t quite manage to break higher than forgettable summer comedy.

Tag, as the title implies, is about the game of tag, or at least a game of Tag. A group of friends, played by Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner and Ed Helms, have been playing the same game of tag since they were children. Every year during the month of May they go to great lengths to sneak up on and tag each other. The movie starts with Ed Helms getting a job at Jon Hamm’s company just to ambush him with a tag. This leads to a journalist, played by Annabelle Wallis, deciding to write a story about this group.

Mostly the cast plays into their expected comic personas. Jake Johnson plays a stoner, Hannibal Buress is wry and kind of above it all, Jon Hamm is all arrogant self-assurance. Ed Helms is the kind of dweeby everyman. Jeremy Renner’s character, though, is some sort of tag savant, having never in the course of their game been tagged. When the other four find out that he has not invited them to his wedding, they team up to tag him before he gets married and quits the game forever.

While the movie expressly doesn’t let the women play the game, it also doesn’t do that thing where they are all nags. Ilsa Fisher plays Helms’ wife and gets so into things that keeping her out of the game seems to have been done for everyone’s safety, including her own. And Wallis’s reporter is mostly kind of an amused outsider, observing with interest even as lines are broken, though luckily they don’t quite get to torture. Finally, Leslie Bibb at first appears to be the wet blanket, but she merely wants to keep the game out of the wedding and is actually a master at helping her husband to be avoid a tag.

As these things go, initially only outrageous attempts to tag their friends, from the secret job to hiding in the closet of a therapist, soon spiral out of control, with breaking and entering and kidnapping and absurd lies about medical problems eventually being the methods employed to get a tag. That being said, the outrageous antics never really add up to comedy gold. Its attempts at a heartfelt look at friendship hit closer to the mark, though its central message of “you don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing,” is not quite as profound as they seem to want it to be.

All told, Tag is a moderately entertaining movie, especially if you happen to be a fan of one or more of the actors involved.

***

Now Playing June 2018

Beaten

Pokemon Crystal – I did beat it. I really don’t like Gen 2 Pokemon, as I said last month. The level curve is all over the place. The last few gyms are all really close together, with little difference in the levels needed to beat them, before the Elite 4 makes a big jump. The available Pokemon, especially early, are underwhelming. I admit that complaint is mostly about personal preference. In Gen 1 you can find something interesting to complement your starter pretty early, like a Mankey or Nidoran. Here, I was stuck using useless cruft for about four towns. THat has something to do with the games day night cycle, an excellent idea that doesn’t work when the only chance you have to play is for 30 minutes before going to bed.

Despite all of my complaints, there is still something magical about the end of this game, of getting to what appears to be the end, only to have the map of the first game open up to the player and a whole new set of gyms to conquer. No Pokemon game since has managed that, and I can’t quite figure out why not. Pokemon Crystal is a worthy piece of the series history that I am glad I played and am glad to no longer be playing.

Ongoing

Pokemon Ultra Sun – Beating a somewhat unsatisfying Pokemon game convinced me, for some reason, to buy a different Pokemon game. I forgot how chatty these latest Pokemon games are, but in every other way it is just such an improvement over what has come before. There have been so many quality of life improvement since Gen 2, like reusable TMs of getting rid of HMs. I do kind of miss the usual gym structure and I think I may have made the smart choice skipping this after having played Moon when it was released, but this is a good game.

Suikoden V – I haven’t really pushed much further than the opening, but I am still really enjoying the time I get to spend with this game. It is an underrated classic. I really miss this sort of mid grade JRPG.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros U – If I ever have time, I am going to get back to my replay of the series.

SNES Classic – I also hope to get some time to play with Christmas gift at some point.

Hotel Artemis Review

Hotel Artemis had all the makings of being a cult hit like John Wick, but in the end it just doesn’t quite come together. The movie is filled with so many interesting characters and ideas that it really hurts when the whole turns out to be less than the sum of the parts. Still, the movie is entertaining throughout and while it leaves you wondering about what might have been, there isn’t a whole lot about what it is to dislike.

The Hotel Artemis is a near future hospital for criminals. It has strict rules about admittance and membership. When a bank robbery goes wrong, a pair of brothers show up at the hospital, taking on the names of their rooms, Waikiki and Honolulu. The Hotel is run by Nurse and her assistant Everest, who rigorously enforce the rules, as show by Everest kicking out one of the brothers’ accomplices who is not a member. Also at the Artemis is a nasty little man called Acapulco and and Waikiki’s former lover Nice, an assassin. As they enter, riots break out in the streets, which leads to Nurse breaking her own rules to take in a cop that was a friend of her son, only to find that the Artemis’s benefactor, The Wolf King, is coming to have some injuries tended.

The plot keeps building and the view is stuck waiting for a explosion that never really comes. It helps that the cast is amazing. Jodie Foster plays Nurse and instills in her a marvelous combination of vulnerability and competence. Dave Bautista is Everest and doesn’t really press his range in being large and intimidating, but does it so well. The same is true for Charlie Day as Acapulco, who is at his snide, insufferable best. Sterling Brown as Waikiki is the solid center for all the rest of this to build around and Sofia Boutella is great as the mysterious Nice. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum shows up near the end to play the amiable, but dangerous Wolf King.

For most of its runtime, Hotel Artemis keeps adding wrinkles to its plot. There are the riots; there are stolen diamonds; there is a planned assassination; there is Nurse’s past; there Honolulu’s drug problems; and there is the Wolf King’s angry son. You can feel the tension ratcheting higher and higher as everyone starts to break the rules and become compromised. Then it ends. It feels like there should be another act, or at least another scene, but instead it builds to something of an anticlimax.

Until the end, I would say that I loved Hotel Artemis. It is creative and wild and interesting. But it feels like it didn’t know what to once it had introduced everything. So it just sort of let each of its little plots come to their own little resolution without any of it coming together in a meaningful way. It leaves you not so much wanting more, but wishing it had been more.

****

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, Ready Player One, is visually amazing and narratively empty. It mostly works on its own terms, even if it barely holds up to even the barest scrutiny. Mostly, it is an excuse for over the top action scenes and references to video games, comics and other movies.

The movie stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, a young man who is trying to win a contest to gain control of the OASIS, a virtual reality game that everyone plays. Its creator, James Halliday, left it to whoever could solve his riddles when he died. He is opposed by the IOI corporation and their CEO Noah Sorrento. What starts as a game quickly escalates to become deadly, while Wade gets closer to fellow player Art3mis. The contest consists of finding 3 keys hidden in various locations, with puzzles based on Halliday’s favorite bits of pop culture and his own personal history.

The plot is mostly a vehicle to deliver references, which are all over the place. Some are just recognizable characters in the background. Look, is Harley Quinn! Over there is Chun Li! They don’t add much to the movie, but they don’t detract anything either. Then there are the more in depth ones, like the second challenge taking place within a virtual version of the movie The Shining or the last challenge having to do mostly with the Atari game Adventure. Only The Shining one really engages with its subject, the others are all mostly just surface. Adventure is a fitting final challenge, but how they get there is pretty clumsy.

Clumsy is how I’d describe the movie overall. The more prominent references get problematic. Like the Iron Giant. I loved seeing that in the movie, but not when it was used in some fighting. The Iron Giant is a movie about how that robot refuses to be a weapon, it gives me no joy to seem him being a weapon. Some of the other surprise characters work a lot better, but just as often the references are as clumsily inserted as Iron Giant. It doesn’t make Ready Player One unentertaining, Spielberg still knows his business even when he is working with lesser material. It is clear, though, that he is working with lesser material here.

Ready Player One almost feels like everyone made a hellish dystopia without realizing it until the last minute. It is a movie about a terrible future, where everyone would rather play a virtual reality game instead of working to fix society’s problems. The movie is about who gets to control that game, mostly by playing the game. No one seems to care that world is shit. It could work, it’s not like Blade Runner is about how terrible that world is, it mostly a noir mystery. But Ready Player One doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the state of the world, it is an unimportant detail. That is kind of my biggest problem with the movie; it is almost always focusing on the wrong things. It is a movie about the power of imagination that almost seems to have none.

***