Thursday, June 28, 2018

10 Summer Suggestions

You will find a lot of lists for this years movies, and a lot of lists for summer films of the past. This is a list of suggestions for summer viewing, mostly for a family audience but occasionally with a slight adult bent to it.

As the sun goes down late, around 8:00, and you have finished the chicken you grilled or the burgers that made up your summer dinner, it's time for a movie. Here are ten films that I can recommend for a breezy summer evening. Don't worry about if they are great, or story structure or performance quality. Some of them have those characteristics, but I'm searching for a mood. I want you to be relaxed and enjoy the companionship of your family, romantic partner, or just the dog sitting on the couch next to you.

For the Whole Family:

The Muppet Movie

This is a no-brainer. The first movie featuring the Muppets is a delight from the opening song with Kermit on Banjo, to the finale, with a cast of hundreds singing about the Magic Factory. 

You will not find a warmer, safer place for everyone to be.

Murder By Death

This will be the Movie of the Month next month on the Lambcast. It is a Neil Simon Comedy, that plays with old style movie murder mysteries. An all star cast shows that timing, clever dialogue and a nicely visualized setting, can make even the silliest of plot twists seem fun. Don't bother trying to figure it out, just enjoy some old pros lampooning some old pros.

I think Maggie Smith is the only surviving cast member. [James Cromwell was just in Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom,  how'd I forget that?]Tell the kids that  Professor McGonagall is in the movie.

(There is some sexual innuendo in the film, so if the kids are little be aware. It's not bad by most TV standards of today)

Seventh Son

This is a completely forgotten film from just a few years ago. Jeff Bridges is a witch hunting wizard and Julianne Moore is a dragon-witch. Yep, that's what it says. This comes off as a contemporary version of a Harryhausen film from the 1960s. It also has Alicia Vikander in it. 

Teen Friendly

Logan's Run

Teens will be amused and probably a little skeptical because the effects are so old fashioned, but the story is fun, it has a little romance and it is a different take on dystopias than they have seen before. It came out the year before the first Star Wars, and everything of course changed after that. 

Super 8

The best Spielberg film not made by Steven Spielberg. It's as if Close Encounters and E.T.  were crossed with an adolescence version of Indiana Jones. 80s kids love "The Goonies", millennials ought to treasure this one. 

The Way Way Back

This is my favorite coming of age film in the last decade. It features performances from Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and best of all, Sam Rockwell, in what should have been his first Academy Award nominated performance. Being 14 is hell, but you can get through it with the right assist. 

Adults and Teens Hardened by our Coarse Culture

Die Hard with a Vengeance

The first two "Die Hard" films were Christmas set, this one is the first of two set in the summertime. New York is sweating and Jeremy Irons looks cool in all his scenes as a villain while Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, perspire in every scene.

In a post 9/11 world, bombings in Manhattan seem like a poor choice for a movie plot, but if you can distance yourself from that tragedy, this is full of the "Die Hard" attitude that we have come to love.

The Man From Uncle

Baby Boomers like me are nostalgic for the shows of our youth. This update of the TV program features two newly minted stars, in a fashion show set in the 60s, but with a little more sex and violence.

The Deep

Michael Crichton may have had his way with techno thrillers but Peter Benchley owns the ocean. Normally, I'd recommend JAWS, but lets go different this week. This is a treasure hunting adventure with some violence, sex and Robert Shaw riffing on Quint with a different role.


The Summer of 42

This is another coming of age story, but it is set during WWII and it has a lot of humor mixed with a poignant summer crush on on older woman. If you have not seen this one, indulge yourself in a piece of very funny sadness. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lambcast: Jurassic World: Forbidden Kingdom

Dino-lovers delightfully devour devolving double take on "The World Jurassic".

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Do you go to a Jurassic Park movie for the story, characters and wonder that the idea of dinosaurs living in the modern world would evoke, or do you go to see a monster movie, you know with visually interesting creatures ripping up various human characters in a variety of ways? Your answer to this dichotomy will largely tell you whether you are going to like this movie or hate it. "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is a creature feature. It is not an adventure movie or a science debate, it is people running and screaming from monsters. Sometimes those people get away, sometimes they don't. If the characters were more well drawn, you would probably care which, but frankly, this film could not be bothered to worry about actually killing one of our somewhat sympathetic heroes, mostly it is just concerned with mayhem.

Director J.A. Bayona appears to be a critics darling, having made three widely praised film. I've not seen "The Orphanage" but I did see "The Impossible" and  "A Monster Calls".  These are both fine films with effecting personal and emotional weight to them. I do notice however, that he is not a credited screenwriter for either of those film, nor is he credited for "Fallen Kingdom". It appears then, that the elements that make his material work best will be the way he frames and shoots the story, rather than the story itself. Those folks who respect his work may want to go back and see if what they really like is the concept or screenplay rather than the direction.  He has put together a reasonable thrill ride for us, but there is very little in any of this which would lead you to believe he is more of a visionary than a craftsman. Aside from two or three nice little moments, this is a picture that could have been assembled by anybody capable of the logistics required to move this mass of technology.

Just two scenes seem to have the visually creative touch that was present in the two of his movies I've seen. First, there is a clever moment when an expedition lands on the island that contained the former amusement park, and we see their vehicle driving down main street as we look at a tracking shot from behind the demolished vendor's booths and stores. We see some stuffed dinosaur toys back-lit against the vehicle, until one of them runs off revealing that it actually was a small dinosaur. That was effective. There is another scene late in the film where the reflection of a dinosaur if superimposed over the face of a character in the reflections from a display window in a diorama. That works well also. Otherwise, there are really no surprises. Monsters do what they are expected to do, we get a couple of false paths that turn to jokes and a few jump scares that work effectively, and that's about it.

Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard are probably worth what they were paid for the film. She is a lot more appealing in this story than in the first re-boot "Jurassic World", and he continues to bring enough humor to make the movie lively, or at least lively at times. Her conversion to animal rights activist seems a little week, but she does work well with the dinosaurs and Pratt, especially on the island sequence. Pratt gets to make most of the jokes in the film which is fine because that's what he does best. When he has to be a combination of Rambo, Bruce Lee and John McClane, it is harder to take the movie seriously. Two fine actors are wasted in the movie and another one has a felony committed in his name. Ted Levine, who is so memorable as "Buffalo Bill" from "The Silence of the Lambs", has a thankless role as a villain, who is so stupid as to demand to be paid when crazed animals have disrupted an auction, and then goes souvenir seeking in the most dangerous scenario imaginable in this plot. Geraldine Chaplain, who was in "Dr. Zhivago", also has a thankless role that sets her up as an important character in the household where the climax of the film takes place, and then she is dropped completely.

The major felony is the misuse of Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm character form the first two Jurassic Park movies. In those films, he was the voice of reason with a sardonic voice and the ability to let the air out of someone too inflated with themselves, in a sarcastic and hysterical manner. In this film, he has two brief scenes that bookend the movie. He sits behind a table and pontificates to a Congressional panel on the risks of the Dinosaurs being removed from potential danger. I don't think he has a single joke, facial moment or tone that makes his appearance here essential. Someone else in the movie makes a joke about writing fortune cookies, that's what all of Goldblum's dialogue is. His aphorisms about DNA would make Jeremy Rifkin blush with overkill.
This looks impressive on the side of a tall building in L.A.

Tomorrow on a podcast, I suspect that most of the participants will be happy to poke holes in the logic of the story. Believe you me, that's what I expect to do in order to make the conversation amusing. However, there are some good action sequences in the film. The opening mission to the park to recover some DNA was well staged and there were some clever moments in it. The sequence with Claire and tech guy/coward Franklin Web, where they are trapped in a control room at the park was perfectly fine at giving us tense jump scares and some funny moments. I also enjoyed the scene in you young girl's bedroom as she hides from a monster under her covers. Chris Pratt's hero mode is more functional there. Pratt got some good laughs in a scene where he and Howard are getting a blood donation from a T-Rex. So there is fun to be had, but you have to turn off your brain to enjoy it.

Ranking the Jurassic Park films seems to be one of the things that people are doing as they talk about this film. I have some opinions on that as well, but I will save those for the Lambcast. Otherwise I suggest you see the film, load up on popcorn, candy and soda, because that is where all the nutritional value of your visit to the theater will be.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lambpardy!!! mackerel, I'm hosting this episode of Lambpardy. Listen to me struggle with math in front of people. Oh, and other people play a game.

Podcast Hosting - Upload Audio -

Sunday, June 17, 2018


In hosting the Lambpardy episode this week, two of the guests mentioned this as a rave for the week. Now I had planned on seeing it later on, but when a window opened up, we dove through based largely on the positive word of mouth. I will say that the movie is entertaining and there are some good laughs to be had here. I don't want to oversell it however because while it is worthy, it is not something that requires an immediate watch.

The trailer introduces the concept pretty well, but like a lot of trailers, it also gives away a couple of the better gas or "tag" lines from the movie. When you see the phrase "based on a true story" in the sales material for a movie, you should always be cautious about believing too much of what you see. The article that this film is based on was in the Wall Street Journal back in 2013. I suspect that the emotional depth that this film goes for toward the end was better covered by the Journal, because you can clearly see what some of the embellishments in this story are .

Five adult friends have continued a game of Tag that they have played in the month of May for 30 years. That is the premise of the article, and that there were sometime elaborate tricks played to tag the next person, some of which do get used in the movie. What is certainly been added is the notion that one player has never been tagged and that the group members will resort to physical aggression in pursuit of the game. Basically, the whole of Jeremy Renner's character. "Jerry" is the master of the game and he also happens to be a fitness guru who knows six different types of martial arts and participates in "free style running" as a hobby. This is the material that clearly marks this as a movie entertainment rather than an essay on friendship and the factors that sustain it.

I think Renner is an excellent actor, and he makes some very interesting choices when choosing his movies. Having been tapped to be in the Avenger's films [except Infinity War] he has done serious work, like his awards worthy performance in last year's "Wind River",  but he has also made films that are clearly just commercial projects with some schlock thrown in, "The House" or "Hansel and Gretel :Witch Hunters". "Tag" falls somewhere in the middle. There is a theme here that has some depth to it, this mostly comes out in the last twenty minutes of the movie, but there is a lot of movie wise guy cleverness that also takes up a bunch of screen time. For example, Renner internal monologues his responses to the various attempts to tag him. He sounds like Robert Downey Jr. in his Sherlock Holmes mode. It is completely unrealistic but that doesn't mean it's not fun.

Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm and Hannibal Buress play the pursuers, each with quirks and motivations that add something amusing to the story. Johnson portrays the future of those states with legal pot businesses, a customer who has lost motivation to do anything else. Hamm is the successful executive who can't let his failure to tag his friend go. Buress is an emotional cripple who gets the least about of backstory but who does get several nice lines during the game. Helms however is the main protagonist and he has played this part in "The Hangover", "We're the Millers" and others for a decade now. He is a pro at these parts, you know exactly what to expect from him. Isla Fisher gets a chance to recapture the mania of her performance in "Wedding Crashers" as the wife of Helm's character and an even more competitive person than her husband. Leslie Bibb lampoons a dozen characters she has played on television or in movies with her needy version of Renner's bride to be.

There is not really one of those mid credit sequences or post credit coda's that dominate the comic book movies these days, but if you leave when the credits start, you will miss two big laughs. Renner and the rest of the men do a version of the Crash Test Dummies song from the 80s. Renner can actually sing but it is still funny. There is one final touch at the end of the song that will bring a smile to your face as well. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Incredibles 2

It has taken 14 long years to get here! Snap comment: It was worth every minute of waiting..

"The Incredibles" is my favorite Pixar film. It was the perfect combination of comic book story, action, humor and best of all, it played like a James Bond film. There were secret identities and an impenetrable fortress to penetrate, and the movie had a score that any 007 adventure would be proud to claim as it's own. The movie was family friendly and it played with the notions of family, middle age, and a sense of nostalgia for the whole time it ran. It was a two hour movie that crammed in all the best stuff you cab imagine and it had a shiny retro style to it that any kid of the 1960s would recognize as part of their personal heritage. The conclusion of the movie promised that we would be seeing further adventures, even if it lacked the "James Bond will Return" sign off that has finished the Bond films for 50 years. So that begs the question, why did it take so long to get a sequel out?

Well first you have to figure out what happens with "The Underminer", the character who appears at the end of the original. Once you wrap that up, there is the question of what status the "Supers" are going to have, since the original limitations that forced them underground in the first place are still on the books. Also, to keep things fresh and not simply repeat the same story line, you will need new characters,both villains and supers. Don't forget that you also have "Jack Jack" to take care of. We know he has a variety of surprises in store for his family, if you took a year to develop each of the potential powers that Jack Jack has to fruition, and write them into the story with at least one gag for each, well that would take a decade at least.

As usual, I will not be summarizing the whole story for you, that's not how I roll on this blog. I will say that there is a little domestic problem that is similar to the storyline in Mr, Mom, but that the movie uses this to drive characters rather than to simply generate jokes. Mr. Incredible has to be worn down in some ways to make him vulnerable, and nothing like three uncooperative children will do that faster. Elastigirl has the main plot line to follow and it is she who must initially confront the new threats.

Frozone gets a slightly bigger opportunity to participate in this adventure, and even though it is a PG film, and Samuel Jackson is voicing the character, we get by without all the usual Jacksonisms. When the final confrontation is taking place, Lucius, Helen and Bob, patiently wait their turns on stage. It is the kids who get to drive the action in the last third of the story and boy do they get to do some fun stuff. Violet takes charge and needs to be both quick and smart about the decisions she makes. Dash is impetuous which leads to trouble but also a great deal of fun, especially concerning the Incredimobile. After having so many superheros in The Marvel and D.C. universes end up having battles, the confrontations in this film have to be unique and for the most part they are. There are several new supers who have a role to play in the story and they muct both be overcome and included in the final wrap up.

Let's face it, Edna Mode is everyone's favorite character from the first film. She steals the scenes she is in, and we are all waiting on pins and needles for her inclusion in this story. While remaining true to the character, Edna seems to harbor a little warmth beneath those bangs and the vocal delivery of  director Brad Bird again steals every moment the character is near the screen. If there is ever a spin-off story planned for extending this franchise, this is the character that needs to be exploited. She is so arch and clever and brilliant, I'm sure we could follow a story with her much more effectively than we could with any Minions.
The most successful humor in the story comes from Jack Jack, and it may be the scene that everybody remembers years from now. The Super Baby confrontation with a lowly but determined racoon is worth the price of admission in itself. It is not just a series of gags, which it does have, the story manages to make these two non speaking characters more interesting than the villain/super conflicts in the rest of the story. 
The look of the design in this film can still be attributed to googie architecture and retro cartoons from the 1960s. Helen has a motorcycle to die for but the car is the thing I will remember. The other supers are welcome echos of comic books past. When Elistigirl confronts the "Screenslaver" the animation is adjusted to highlight all the angles and color contrasts and it makes an amazing sequence which looks very different from the rest of the film but fits in perfectly. 

Bob Odenkirk sounds just smarmy enough to raise suspicions while in the end turning out to be just as smart as we thought another character was. Catherine Keener may get stereotyped as a mesmerizing character if she plays one more part like this. They are welcome additions to the film and they add personality to characters that could easily just be tropes in the vocal cords of someone else. As far as I'm concerned, Michael Giacchino, should have his name inscribed on the Oscar that he was not even nominated for fourteen years ago. His music work here uses some of the same themes but it plays so organically with the new story and the returning characters, that it all feels fresh.   

I really am looking forward to going back and seeing this movie again. Pixar has had a couple of weak enties in the last few years but along with "Coco" from last year, they seem to be on a new winning streak. Let's hope it lasts long enough to get us to "The Incredibles 3". 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ocean's 8

It's been more than a decade since this franchise had an entry. The purpose of a re-boot like this is of course money, but that does not mean that there can't be something worth watching as a result. The Three Soderbergh films were sort of a mixed bag. The first was delightful, the second one strained and lacking the light touch of the first and then the third one coming close to the first in deftness. He is an Executive Producer on this film but this is really the baby of writer/director Gary Ross. Mr. Ross has been hit or miss for me as well, penning and directing the great "Seabuscuit" and "Pleasantville", but also writing "The Tale of Desperaux" which I wanted to love but did not. With this outing however, we are on solid ground.

Maybe it is a high concept twist to put together an all female crew to mimic the skills and character points of the male version, but for the most part it works. The plot set up is a little clunky in tying the cast to the other films, but in the long run, marketing is what got this film greenlit in the first place so it is essential from that perspective. From a story point of view, not so much. Nothing that happened in the previous films is relevant to anything that happens here. They only serve as a model for the twists and diversions a heist picture must make to create some suspense and make the film entertaining. For the most part, Ross and his team follow the template well.

There is an extended opening section where we meet the main character, Debbie Ocean, Danny's sister. We see her being released from prison after making a persuasive plea for parole. The guards aren't taken in because they know from first hand experience that she is still a hustler. There are several moments where we get to see her strut her stuff and establish that she is a clever thief and capable of pulling off the confidence games that are going to be part of the heist that serves as the center of the film. Sandra Bullock can play these moments effectively, and there are a couple of times when she needs to be a bit cold-hearted, she does that well too. The rest of the opening section involves recruiting the team and setting up the crime. Like the other films, we are only given enough information to keep us going in the right direction, while still being able to be surprised along the way.

The one weakness that I see in the film that is fairly obvious, is that the other members of the team are drawn in a sketchy manner. Wheras character development was a big part of the men's version of this plot, the women end up simply reflecting some stereotypes from crime films. There is a cool counterpart played by Cate Blanchett, a mysterious hacker played by Rihanna, and a meticulous fence in Sarah Paulson.  Mindy Kaling gets the nerdy counterfeiter part and there is a street smart pick pocket. The only member of the team that really develops some character is Helena Bonham Carter, a clothing designer that gets drawn into the plot. Her part was better fleshed out than any of the other cast except Bullock.

You have to make a few allowances for heist films. Nothing ever follows the plan, that's part of the fun, but things can't fall into place with the degree of certainty that happens in most films of this ilk. If you can let those moments go and just sit back for the ride, you will enjoy the little treats along the way, and the song score helps as well. This is a refreshing crowd pleaser that lacks the angst of some of the bigger films out there, but it will go down well with a cold beverage on a summer night. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lambcast: The Shawshank Redemption

I told you that there would be more Lambcasts coming down the pike. So here is this Months MOTM at the Lambcast. Lots of love but a little shade gets thrown in as well. Have a listen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


Whenever something comes to you with a great deal of advance hype, it is my advice to ignore it as much as possible. Inevitably one of two things will happen. First, the movie can live up to the hype which is great, but the experience of surprise is diminished and you feel less like the discoverer of something special, and more like another passenger on the hype train. The second outcome is even less satisfying.You find the film a disappointment and you struggle to reconcile the hype with your dissonant reaction to it. A24 Studio has released some films that I really enjoyed, including my favorite film of 2015. "It Comes At Night" was a horror based film from last year that I really liked. Another film that I saw streaming, that was referenced as a endorsement for this film was "The Witch". I was conflicted, because I hated that film. So where does "Hereditary" come down?

In spite of some excellent visuals and disturbing ideas that are very intriguing, as a movie, "Hereditary " ends up in the disappointment column. I was looking forward to this, it is promoted as being truly frightening, and Toni Collette is being given awards, six months before awards season begins. The performance by our lead actress will deserve some attention for sure, but the rest of the movie is a miss. It is bifurcated into a family drama/trauma story and a supernatural possession film. It works pretty well in the former capacity while having great visuals wasted in the later. Maybe I am being influenced by some recent film experiences too much because this movie reminded me of the incoherence of another movie experience I wrote and talked about a couple of weeks ago. An old horror film from 1971 begins incoherently, but as the film moves along, the ideas become a bit clearer so that you can see a plot thread while watching it. "Hereditary" has the same disjointed style but never coalesces into something tangible. I don't think a movie needs to spell everything out for you along the way, but if you want us to care about characters and dread the coming horror, an audience usually needs to figure out where they stand in regards to the events they are watching. I never could make such an inference.

Toni Collette is Annie, an artist who has recently lost her mother, a woman that she had a unsettled relationship with. Annie specializes in making miniatures of homes, museums, theaters etc. She recreates in detail, scenes from everyday like. She is working on multiple projects, one for a museum that she has done work for before, but also a few personal stories are being shrunk down to scale size often with sad detail. The opening of the film draws us into this story by taking us into a miniature of the house she lives in, only the perspective shifts and it is suddenly the real house and her family that we are seeing.  So from the outset, we have no clear idea if what we are watching is supposed to be real, or if it is a visualization of an idea that bounces between reality and one of the art pieces. At any moment, the story feels as if we are in a dream sequence or an extended vision. At one point Annie reveals that she sleep walks and has visions of events that are not real. There are a couple of dream, within a dream moments,and that is also creating uncertainty in perspective. What is nightmare vs. what is real, this is the basis for almost everything that happens in the story. As a result, the vision we get are like the dioramas she is creating, moments in time that may be part of something bigger or simple visions of something unpleasant. Without the ability to trust anything you are seeing, you will likely become a dispassionate observer rather than an empathetic companion to the characters.

My daughter and I discussed this and the analogy that we both felt reflected the story problem was to an essay being written for a college class. Each paragraph has unique points to it, some of which are frightening or disturbing. Another paragraph comes along with a different scenario, and often a different emotional element. The second paragraph has something to recommend it as well but it feels completely disconnected from the preceding material. As the following paragraphs repeat the process, the narrative feels disjointed. In the last paragraph the student tries to pull it all together so that we can see how everything is connected. Maybe in a paper you can get away with that, but when the whole plot of your movie has to be explained in the last two minutes of the film, that simply seems like bad storytelling. Let me illustrate with two episodes from the film. In one scene, there is a character who panics like a normal person would when an emergency occurs. A sudden unexpected development follows, and the traumatized  character is in shock, so much so that the extent of a horrifying accident is only passed on to others by their accidental discovery of it. That scene plays out beautifully, in a horrifying manner that is in fact disturbing. The follow up on it however feels so unreal as to be scripted from a completely different story line.  A second scene results in our main character revealing a personality quirk with another very disturbing story attached to it. It shows us that the character has a tenuous hold on reality. That hold is supposed to be the point of the story, at least that seems where it was headed, but again, we don't get a firm perspective until the end of the movie. Maybe if the film was structured like "Memento", it would work more, but it is put together like a haunting film, but the supernatural elements seem to show up out of left field after the traumatic sequence takes place. That supernatural element feels about a half hour too late.

Every time we start to build some suspense, the moment is undermined by the uncertainty of the character's reality. There are some images that should frighten us, but they have less impact because it could all be a dream again. When Annie creates a diorama of the tragic event from an objectivity point of view, it is a horrifying moment. When she is given a method to reach out to a loved one in the after life, it feels contrived. The other family members are only perceived from her viewpoint for most of the story. When the viewpoint shifts to the other characters, it seems like the film has suddenly changed. The tone is different and unsatisfying. Without a clearer backstory on the family relationships, it is hard to tell if the dynamics are new, problematic or simply typical. In a film like "The Exorcist" the audience participates and empathizes with as well as anticipating events in the characters lives. With "hereditary", I found myself saying "why?", even as I was looking at something that should be a horrifying moment to bring us into the story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lambcast: Modern Animation Draft

It is Official Now, I am Co-Host of the Lambcast. Jay Cluitt doesn't want to be burned out by the time he is 33, so he has asked me, a guy twice his age to spell him on a regular basis. I'll be co-hosting or hosting on my own several times this Summer. You will be seeing more posts like this, linking to the Lambcast Podcast. Please take advantage and listen. We usually have a great time talking movies.

This week however it is a Draft Show and all bets are off. It's a competition, so listen to the show and then go vote for the slate [mine] that you think is the best.

Click below to go vote.