Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp **1/2 (2018)

The post vanishing Avengers outing Ant-Man and Wasp is here to lighten the mood after the epic defeat that played out in Infinity War. The first AntMan was pleasant enough thanks to Paul Rudd's going against the grain of the traditional Marvel hero, basically a kid friendly Deadpool. The second outing obviously takes place before the events of Infinity War, pitting Ant-Man against some low level villains who are after the technology of his benefactor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Joining him is Wasp (Evangeline Lily) in a series of heists and chases. There's much to like here, the actors have excellent chemistry and they appear to be having a good time. Michael Pena gets the best laughs as Scott Lang's best friend Luis. There's some pleasant humor, especially in the first half, but the characters start to wear thin (everything wears thin) as the movie unwinds to a predictable conclusion. The packed theater ate it up, but I will credit Marvel with the occasional subversive reference-The Naked Lunch

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Skyscraper *1/2 (2018)

I don't have much to say about Skyscraper except that it offers cliche overload and predictable plotting. Dwayne Johnson stars as a safety consultant for the world's most advanced building in Hong Kong, referred to as heaven on earth, who gets more then he bargained for. All the elements are present: a past trauma, kids in peril, European Crime Syndicates???, and one liners (not very good ones at that). Johnson can be an affable screen presence when he interacts with others, but there's hardly any dialogue in Skyscraper, most of it never goes beyond one sentence. Skyscraper combines Die Hard with The Towering Inferno minus the intelligence and drama. The only point of interest is the setting of Hong Kong, suggesting the real innovations of the future, the new visionaries, will be Asian, evidenced by America's current schizophrenic relationship with the continent. Chin Han plays the building's architect, a fascinating character with great potential who gets pushed aside in favor of The Rock's banal heroics. Asians are generally relegated to being bystanders or villains, in one scene Neve Campbell (heroic wife of Johnson in the film) outsmarts other Chinese characters because she knows the language, drawing an applause from the audience at the showing I attended, a crowd nervous about press one for English I would conclude. Skyscraper is a routine exercise in 21st Century cheese, forgettable and humorless. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? **** (2018)

Won't You Be My Neighbor tells the story of Fred Rogers. His long running TV show on PBS Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was a place where children could feel safe from the trials and tribulations of their young lives. Rogers was an ordained minister for the Presbyterian Church who believed television could create a community. In 1969, he testified before the Senate and won funding for PBS as the Nixon administration about to slash their budget. Despite the coarsening of pop culture in the decades that followed, the documentary illuminates the gaping hole left in pop culture since Rogers left the scene.

Mr. Rogers passed away in 2003, but his legacy lives on. Family and co-workers share their moving and sometimes hilarious stories of Rogers, a man aware of his square image, yet kept a sense of humor about it. His show took on the hard questions of his time and helped children make sense of them. Episodes deal with divorce, political violence, intolerance, disabilities, death, but most importantly, celebrating life.

Countless recollections in the documentary, confirm Mr. Rogers was the real deal - he practiced what he preached. Much is revealed about ways he helped people, stories best left to experience while watching the movie. 

Won't You Be My Neighbor does not avoid the sad irony it's a film celebrating a voice of compassion in the current era of fear and uncertainty. In 2001, Rogers was called back to PBS to make some short films to reassure children after 9/11, a task he found overwhelming. The deterioration of discourse over the past few decades is especially tragic. Fox News ran stories that blamed Rogers for brainwashing children with notions they are "special" beings and hate groups picketed his funeral. 

In addition, Won't You Be Neighbor is a trip down memory lane with stunning archival footage of Rogers at work. The message and life of Rogers was indeed radical - in the best sense of the word.