Beavis and Butt-Head Do The Universe Review: As Much Effort As The Characters Give

✯✯½

I own the complete DVD set of Beavis and Butt-Head. I bring that up at the start of this review to stress this is not a review coming from the perspective of a past tense fan who only remembers the show. No, I watch it frequently as an adult. I love the show’s darkly nihilistic look at people who never had a chance and who you start to think don’t deserve one. There’s a grit and sleaze to the animation. And of course the fantastic 1996 film looms large for me, a razor sharp parody.

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‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ Review: Supposed Riff on Reboots Too Self-Serious for Its Own Good

✯✯½

Amidst Disney’s own trend of live-action remakes of their most popular live action films, surely enough it took a while before they decided to go ahead and catch up with rebooting one of their own animated series. With director Akiva Schaffer taking the helm at bringing Disney’s beloved chipmunks to the screen to a completely new generation of viewers, what he brings out with Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers seems to be born out of a parody for how they’ve continuously seen their animated fare as of late – but even knowing that this is still under Disney’s own noses, they can’t fully reach the levels of lampooning that you know the material at hand would be opening themselves up to.

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‘Belfast’ Review: So Personal yet So Sterile

✯✯½

Kenneth Branagh has established himself over the years as one of the most prolific Shakespearean actors – both on the screen and working behind the scenes. With Belfast, he opts to tell a story that should bring him closer to home, to how he saw his childhood in Ireland. While it’s easy enough to see that Branagh’s heart is in the right place when telling a movie about growing up during the Troubles, perhaps there’s something missing to supposedly meaningful revisiting of one’s own childhood. Branagh certainly is a well-meaning director, but the reminiscences of the past don’t really add up to all that much in return.

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‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Review: A Revised History Lesson from Aaron Sorkin

✯✯½

The latest directorial effort from Aaron Sorkin finds itself within those same lines as Sorkin’s television work compared to his prior film Molly’s Game. It’s easy enough to admire Sorkin for his rapid-fire dialogue because it’s often very entertaining to listen to, but ever since Sorkin started directing his own films it seemed too clear that perhaps his style of writing going out completely unfiltered only hinders him even more. But even as he lets his pen direct his actors, it seems like his own politics take over the real story he wishes to tell – which shows itself all too conveniently in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

In telling the story of the protests that took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aaron Sorkin brings the viewers into a sense of that chaos that could only be felt within the days of unrest at a revolutionary point in American history. Everywhere they go, the chant “the whole world is watching!” follows the viewers, resonating all through the years later and leading into the present, as perfect a time as ever for Sorkin to have released a film of this sort. Sorkin isn’t one to waste time bringing you into the chaos that came forth within the days of unrest that have followed the protests, but there also comes a point where seeing all of this strictly through Sorkin’s eyes feels numbing.

At his best, Sorkin has been able to find a perfect place for his fast-moving dialogue so that it becomes a part of the reason you stick with the characters you see onscreen, but at worst, he doesn’t really seem to let these people onscreen speak the way we feel they would because they’re being run through how Sorkin talk sounds. Which wouldn’t be so much of a bad thing, especially when it feels too characteristic of their mannerisms in a case like The Social Network, but with The Trial of the Chicago 7 it seems to take over how these events unfolded – let alone how these people who were part of that trial had talked, creating a neutered picture of the very ideas that led into what took place then.

With a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eddie Redmayne among many, Sorkin brings out great work from most players across the board. Mark Rylance and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are always a thrill to watch in their respective roles, but the more you listen to Sorkin’s walk-and-talk writing style taking over there comes a point where it feels like the performers are reading lines in a manner that also makes them come off as calculated on every frame. This is evident in the performances of Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Frank Langella – and while it’s never boring to listen to people speak the way Sorkin writes them, he doesn’t ever let them tell this story in a way that it feels like you were ever part of that chaos.

Though I am not against the dramatization of history in order to create a picture that would be tangible for the viewers, the ways in which Aaron Sorkin seems to embrace that neutered political perspective on these events seem to lead into the film’s biggest downfall. What Sorkin shows as a triumphant moment within the climax only presents itself as a naive view of how things can get better within reality, then it all comes undone by the blocks of text afterwards. With Daniel Pemberton’s music searing at this moment, it seems like a purely Sorkin scene – in the worst ways too. It just feels disingenuous, even for the sake of creating dramatic effect, because by that point it leaves one questioning how much does Sorkin truly care about the impact that this case had on American history in the years to come since.

Part of me wonders if I’ll ever see that same sense of excitement from a new Aaron Sorkin project coming by, but I’m finding that as he starts to go unfiltered behind the camera as the director, his worst tendencies as a writer start to show themselves more and it feels less like listening to his characters as people. It makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 play out like a history lesson that was filtered in such a way that a white liberal audience would tell it, supposedly afraid to take on a stance that might be too “radical” for them now. At worst, you have another Sorkin project that’ll be the talk of awards season, but with him supposedly playing by ways of a Spielberg drama, you know exactly what he’s going for.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Netflix.


Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Running Time: 130 minutes

‘Onward’ Review: Pixar’s Latest Isn’t Exactly a Step Forward

✯✯½

This is the second feature film directed by Dan Scanlon for Pixar Animation Studios following Monsters University, and it also strikes one as being a more personal passion project compared to the aforementioned prequel. At least on paper, the idea of a film that heavily involves fantastical creatures having lost their touch with magic could result in something more thoughtful – but oddly enough, there’s so little of that to be felt here. Onward isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the word, but when you stack it against Pixar at their best, it just falls very flat.

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Kursk Has Trouble Staying Afloat: TIFF Review

✯✯½

Thomas Vinterberg’s Kursk marks the director’s fourth film in the English language, and knowing already of the attachment of Vinterberg’s name it should promise greatness but the case with Kursk gives something that doesn’t fit so well under there. This drama, telling the story of the Kursk submarine disaster that claimed the lives of 118 men, without doubt has an admirable intent behind it yet it seems to have trouble even staying afloat – almost like the submarine whose story the film is telling you about. Admittedly, having walked into Kursk I had only known about as much as it being a true story – yet the moment I finished, I couldn’t help myself but think that this was a story that deserved so much better than what it received. Thomas Vinterberg has never been a particularly consistent filmmaker, even if his skill is so obviously clear – yet so much of it feels lacking in the case of Kursk. This barely feels like the Vinterberg that I’ve already come to love over the years, but someone else wearing Vinterberg’s name as a moniker – someone that just feels indistinguishable at that.

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Skyscraper Review: Emotionally-charged Die Hard Riff Botches the Dismount

✯✯½

As the age of the movie star gives way to the age of the brand, one man stands as stoic as his name implies: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The massive, charismatic heel wrestler turned heroic actor mostly succeeds as a movie star for reasons that aren’t too complicated when you look closely: a.) He’s a living special effect, and b.) his public persona is a carefully managed brand in and of itself.

It sounds cynical; it probably is. I don’t necessarily mean that as a slam, though. Pro wrestling taught him well: There’s a power to simplicity and relatability that can overcome absurdity, and it speaks to an audience of people who enjoy simple pleasures in their action movies or action-packed stage shows. Johnson’s villains are amoral, selfish pricks who coast to success on their looks, strength, and charisma (Get SmartDoom). His heroes tend to have blue-collar roots; maybe they’re doing the work of unsung heroes like rescue workers (San AndreasBaywatch), or they’re dealing with deep internal conflicts that can’t be punched through (Pain & Gain, Central Intelligence), or it could even be a little of both (Gridiron Gang). Even in his big franchise role in the Fast & Furious movies, the anger that runs through Hobbs is implied to be as much of a character flaw as it is a point of attraction. One of the subtle takeaways of his work is that physical strength and talent is not the be-all, end-all; it’s how you use that talent, and it’s often what’s inside your head that gets you.

Given Johnson’s struggles with depression, which he’s been up-front about recently, it’s not hard to see the genuine place where this all comes from. That’s part of why the so-called “brand” works for him; unlike many action heroes, there doesn’t appear to be much to see through. He knows what he looks like, he knows people like seeing him beat ass or get his ass beat, and he does his level best to use the platform he has to put something positive into the world. Beyond that, he’s a damn good actor when he needs to be, he puts in the work on set (by all accounts), and while it’s been a minute since he’s taken something like Southland Tales, he’s open to experimentation under the right circumstances.

Skyscraper is not an experiment, at least not for him. It’s a mashup of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno that marks writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s attempt to do a serious action movie after making his bones in comedy with Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, We’re the Millers, and Central Intelligence. (He’s tried drama once before with an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, but I haven’t seen it and I don’t know anyone who has.) It’s a good example of how Johnson’s brand works: with almost any other actor in the lead, this would probably sound boring, but Johnson’s name carries the expectation of something that at the very least comes right from the heart, or as close as it can when this much money is in play. It does, and God bless Thurber and Johnson, it almost works.

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The humanist hook that Johnson makes his bones on is there in the trailer; he’s playing Will Sawyer, a small-time security consultant with a solid action movie name who happens to be short one leg. One might presume he did something heroic and paid the price, but even with his clear conscience, he doesn’t quite feel whole, making his emotional journey all about pulling his sense of self back together in order to save his family from the terrorists who have infiltrated the state-of-the-art high rise he’s working on and set it on fire for reasons we don’t know.

Turns out it’s a lot more complicated than that. We’re introduced to Will in a flashback to ten years prior, as a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team called to assist local PD after a man has taken his family hostage. Will and the team breach and find the man holding his young son, seemingly unarmed. Will talks the perp down, the perp puts down his son, then promptly detonates the bomb vest he’s apparently been wearing this whole time.

Now, we can get into issues of tactical plausibility: I doubt HRT would breach without at least a quick background check, and given the suburban setting and the desperate, strung-out characterization of the father, such a check would likely suggest that explosives could somehow be in play. Add in the officer down on the scene, and it gets pretty hard to believe that HRT wouldn’t light the guy up on sight, son in his arms or no. Forgiving that, however, it’s a dark, brutal start for a Dwayne Johnson movie; he doesn’t just fail, he fails miserably. Women and children are dead, teammates are scarred. The empty space below his knee isn’t just Will’s incompletion, it’s an eternal reminder of just how badly he messed up.

Even his family is a circumstantial reminder; his eventual wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) is the surgeon who saved his life, literally and figuratively. She’s introduced looking tenderly upon Will, her head framed by the halo of a surgery light. It’s not subtle, but this movie isn’t too interested in subtlety; it runs a crisp 102 minutes and Thurber doesn’t have the time or the steady hand required to paint in fine strokes. Fortunately, such a hand isn’t missed here; Thurber’s smart enough to give Sarah stuff to do besides be a trophy for the hero, making her cool under pressure, observant, and more than able to hold her own in a crisis like this one. Given such a character, Campbell steps up, reminding me why she was such a great leading lady for the Scream series. Beyond that, she’s got excellent chemistry with Johnson; consider that the film, striving for brevity, goes right from Will and Sarah’s first meeting to the present day, where they have two kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cotrell) grown enough to have their own fairly mature personalities. It’d be hard to swallow without a strong bond between Johnson and Campbell, and the connection they portray not only implies that they fell head over heels for each other, but that there’s a whole other movie to be had about their courtship.

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Of course, that movie isn’t an action movie and is therefore not relevant to our interests, but between the speed at which Will’s family came together and some obvious yet not inappropriate monologuing, we get enough of a sense of that journey and where it’s left Will emotionally. He’s not somebody who misses the “action” of HRT; he lives only for his family now, done with death, perhaps more done with the risk of causing death. Again, if you can put aside the questionable nature of the hostage situation that went bad and started Will on this path, it’s honestly a solid first act for an action movie. There’s some clunky exposition that holds it back—clunky in the sense of how obvious it is that the information we’re being fed will come back into play later on—but it’s got a strong main character in Will Sawyer, and he’s set up for a powerful catharsis.

“Serviceable” is a backhanded word to describe the second act, but vanilla tends to be the hardest flavor to get right, and Thurber’s got some tricks up his sleeve to keep things interesting. He’s good at giving random mooks little personalities and quirks that make them seem bigger than they actually are, making it all the more surprising when they’re randomly bumped off. It’s a slight edge that he gives himself in his script, but it kept me on my toes, wondering where this was going. Furthermore, there’s Johnson carrying the whole thing. He can turn on the charisma and make lines hackneyed blue-collar wisdom (“If you can’t solve a problem with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape”) feel almost like John McClane one-liners, but he can also project a vulnerability and fear in the moments where it counts. As discussed, Campbell backs him up well, as do the young actors playing their kids, but there are also solid turns from Pablo Schreiber, Chin Han, and Byron Mann found here.

More pressingly, however, Thurber’s set pieces are a blast; Will’s desperate entry into the titular skyscraper, “The Pearl,” is a highlight. Generally, Thurber’s experience in comedy serves him well here as he structures his scenes like gags: Start with a wild premise that sets up a problem for the hero to solve, have him come up with a crazy but plausible solution to that problem, then throw in a hitch or two that forces the hero to improvise even crazier solutions on the fly. Comedy taught Thurber how to pace those scenes and time those hitches, and while I’m not ready to hail the arrival of a new action talent just yet, I’m more than happy to see if he can build on this.

Unfortunately, the film’s problems start to present themselves in the second act. As much as I wondered where the film was going when characters I thought would be important started dropping like flies, the characters that rose up in their places promised that it wasn’t going anywhere worthwhile. Kores Bortha (Roland Møller, Atomic BlondeThe Commuter) is appropriately intimidating and vicious as the lead villain, but he’s about as interesting as toast. His lead henchwoman Xia (Hannah Quinlivan) at least has a look, but neither one of them has a strong relationship or parallel to our heroes, nor do I get any sense of a unique, original thought going through their heads. Bortha’s just an asshole, and Xia just likes hurting people; it’s not that it can’t work, but if they’re not going to enhance the emotional conflict that the beginning of the movie sets up, they should at least be fun to watch.

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That all feeds the astonishing disappointment of the third act. To his credit, it’s here where Thurber pays off a metaphor so brazen that I almost wanted to throw him a wad of cash like the one Jimmy Conway threw to Spider in Goodfellas. Besides that, you’ve got the reveal of what Bortha was trying to do—it involves nullifying a failsafe that, as soon as this plan was set in motion, most reasonable people would probably activate—and you’ve got the final shootout, which takes place in what I can only describe as a high-tech house of mirrors; it’s something that sounds cool on paper, but in practice it’s just confusing and leads to a bunch of “You think I’m over there but actually I’m over here” gags that leave you with no concept of the scene’s geography. Chad Stahelski barely pulled this off in John Wick 2. Rawson Marshall Thurber is not Chad Stahelski. This unsatisfying action scene leads to an unsatisfying climax that opts to win the day with a cute trick over an emotional reckoning, that leads to Thurber overplaying his hand to deliver an overwrought, unearned catharsis.

It’s Johnson’s brand that justifies this film’s existence, and it’s Johnson’s talent—alongside Campbell’s—that makes it easy and even fun to sit through despite its boring antagonists and blown landing. It’s likely that Johnson’s brand will run out of power one day, not necessarily for any reason within his control. Movies like Skyscraper might not damage his brand, but it’s not going to be among the ones he’s remembered for. And that’s a pity; derivative as it is, it’s still well-intentioned, and for about 45 minutes there, it was on track to be something special.


Watch the trailer here:

All images via Universal Studios.


Written & Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Produced by Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Hiram Garcia, and Mary Parent
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Pablo Schreiber
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 102 minutes

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an Unnecessary Sequel That Leaves a Bitter Taste in the Mouth

✯✯½

I still stand by Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario being one of the best films to have come out in recent years but the idea of a sequel being made was always something that left me highly skeptical. While the involvement of Taylor Sheridan was one thing that held me onto the idea of making a sequel, I was also left wondering where else would they have to go in making a sequel. Part of that was answered when I saw Sicario: Day of the Soldado yet another chunk of that question was only left unfulfilled because it only leaves a bitter taste in the mouth afterwards. Gone is the nuance that made Sicario wonderful, and instead you have enough violence to build what could easily have been a great 80’s action movie if the movie never took itself nearly as seriously as it did. But because the film takes itself so seriously, it never rises above the machismo that is on full display here, thus lacking the same impact that Villeneuve had employed in order to make Sicario work so beautifully.

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Deadpool 2 is What You’d Expect It To Be: A Review

✯✯½

The first Deadpool film was fun when I saw it in theaters but upon further thought I’d only come to dislike it because the most it really presented itself to be was merely a typical superhero origin story posing as different through its meta humour only giving it a feeling of smugness that only became irritating as it went on. Having this mixed together with David Leitch, who had come fresh off John Wick and Atomic Blonde made me feel unsure because I also disliked the latter film so the idea of Leitch directing this only pushed me away from Deadpool 2. To say the least, my expectations already had given myself an idea of the audiences that I knew a Deadpool movie would have found itself appealing to but to my own surprise it didn’t get on my nerves nearly as much as the first film did and felt more like a nice step up. Despite qualms that echo what bothered me about the first Deadpool, it felt nice to see that not much of the cynicism that struck me from said film had lingered terribly in this one.

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Loveless Review: A Most Fitting Title

✯✯½

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is every bit as miserable as the title would already imply that it is, as a matter of fact because of that misery it also makes for a watch that just feels so unpleasant all throughout. While it’s also undeniably a very beautiful film to look at, it also reminded me far too much of the films of Alejandro G. Iñárritu, because of his own habit to dwell within misery as a means of eliciting a certain mood from the viewer. And quite like the films of Iñárritu, this wasn’t a feeling of misery that I had ever felt myself growing attached to, it was just a feeling of misery that only kept me waiting for the film to end because it only dwells so much in that very bleakness without ever having a touch of humanity present – which felt so unlike the other two films I had seen of Zvyagintsev’s.

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