30 for 30: Seau

Release: Friday, September 21, 2018 (ESPN)

→ESPN

Directed by: Kirby Bradley

When ESPN Films announced they would be making a documentary about Junior Seau, the megastar linebacker who played for over a decade for the San Diego Chargers and who tragically took his own life in 2012, I figured pretty much right then and there it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to watch. Boy I hate being right sometimes.

I have no particular allegiance to west coast football. Maybe the Seattle Seahawks, but then that was when it was the Legion of Boom, when Pete Carroll, that wily old dog, still had in his bag of tricks Richard Sherman, Cam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and one or two other defensive monsters. I don’t subscribe to the 49ers and I’m certainly no diehard Raiders supporter. I am even less knowledgeable about the San Diego Chargers and, embarrassingly, Seau’s time there — what he meant to his teammates, the organization. He was a citywide icon whose brutal style of play betrayed his warm personality. Yet I had only ever affiliated him with the New England Patriots. That image of him facedown on the turf in agonizing playoff defeat is the most vivid one I have of him as a player.

Seau is a moving tribute to the man that gave me a better idea of his character, both on and off the gridiron. It addresses the challenges he faced in his personal life, coming from a large Samoan family whose lofty expectations, especially those of his father, and financial strife instilled in him a sense of responsibility from a very young age. The fifth child born to Tiaina Sr, a rubber factory worker and custodian, and Luisa Maugu Seau, who worked at a commissary in SoCal as well as a laundromat, Junior, naturally gifted as he was, worked relentlessly to develop himself into a pro-caliber player, ultimately going fifth overall in the 1990 Draft. Blending together blistering highlight reels with emotionally charged interviews with family (his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, along with his sons who have the VERY difficult task of reading to camera a few select entries from their father’s diary, which grows increasingly disturbing as time goes on), along with friends and former teammates, director Kirby Bradley delicately constructs a celebration of a life that must necessarily also look at the darker side of the beloved defensive linesman, attempting to make sense out of what happened to him in his post-playing days.

Only in the aftermath was it revealed one of the most indomitable spirits the NFL had seen in years had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which, once-upon-a-time, went by the somewhat less threatening name Punch Drunk Syndrome. The same disease riddling the domes of other former football greats who had either taken their own lives or had passed from other causes only for it to be discovered in them as well. At the time it was really only associated with boxers, but of course CTE doesn’t discriminate, for the cruelly sluggish, subtle incipience of the symptoms (forgetfulness at first, drastic personality/behavioral changes later) is incurred by repeated blows to the head, something that may be pronounced in football and boxing but is absolutely not limited to those arenas. In 2016 BMX bike rider Dave Mirra took his own life, without warning, after a lengthy career in which he sustained countless concussions. As of this writing he is the first known action sports star to have developed CTE.

What Seau isn’t — and somewhat surprisingly given its unique position what with the subject being both alarmingly young (he was only 43) and one of, if not the highest profile player thus far to have died as a result of CTE — is a savage condemnation of the league and in particular Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose lack of response to the mounting statistics linking football with brain damage surpasses naivety to the point of bordering on inhumanity. Perhaps positivity outweighing negativity is apropos for its subject, an upbeat teammate, devoted husband and energetic father who had time for everyone and then some.

The slow slide towards the inevitable is what makes this 30 for 30 a particularly disturbing account. It isn’t simply that we know the ending already; it’s all the little gory details of a life coming undone at the seams that is just horrifying to watch. News reports of domestic violence and of an inexplicable vehicular incident are brought back up, and for what seems like an eternity Seau feels punishing in its own inability to explain. To Bradley’s credit he intentionally does this, wisely sidestepping controversy brought on by forcing theories or summarily dismissing all behavior as a direct result of vicious football hits. This is a complicated story with a number of dynamics at play, both personal and circumstantial — new and unfamiliar stresses bearing weight on his later years, as well as the loneliness of his struggle, his inability to reconcile not just being a famous football player and deep down knowing he needed help, but specifically being Junior Seau — someone who could not say no to helping someone else in need.

In the end though, for as rough as the going gets, Seau educated me and the sheer volume of praise he receives from both his contemporaries and his former teammates (then-Chargers QB Drew Brees and retired defensive linesman Marcellus Wiley) proves that his sickness never stood a chance of actually being the thing that would come to define him. There is a beautiful scene at the end where scores of fans take to the cerulean waters of the San Diego coast, where Seau often went to surf and to be at peace, and the prevailing sentiment here is undeniably one of profound love. That goes a long way in off-setting the waves of misery we must endure along the way.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

“Buddyyyyyyyy!”

Recommendation: Seau is an emotional ride that will most immediately attract the attention of the Chargers faithful and passionate football fans on a broader scale, but I think this film also does a great job of telling the tragedy of Junior Seau from a fundamentally human perspective.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 90 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.espn.com

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Release: Friday, May 17, 2019

→ Theater

Written by: Derek Kolstad; Shay Hatten; Chris Collins; Marc Abrams

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Actions have consequences, as we are quite explicitly shown (and told, too!) in the ultra-violent third installment of the brawn-over-brains John Wick franchise. Literally footsteps removed from the mayhem of 2017’s Chapter 2, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum beats the audience silly down a two-hour gauntlet of unrelenting, bloody comeuppance that sees an entire city of potential assassins descending upon the one they call Baba Yaga. It’s open season on John Wick, part-time killer, full-time puppy lover.

Rules. Order. Something called ‘fealty.’ These are boundaries and amusingly old-school — almost Feudal — principles John Wick (Keanu Reeves) ignored when he murdered a man on the consecrated grounds of the Continental Hotel (as seen in Chapter 2). Exceptions aren’t made for acts of self-defense; John acted against the established order set by the vaguely defined society known as the High Table, and now as a consequence he’s been excommunicated by hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane), leaving him without the friendly services of the Hotel and with a $14 million bounty on his head.

Director/former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski returns with a palpable confidence, albeit he’s still sticking to the rules he himself established with 2014’s surprise hit John Wick. His latest expands the jurisdiction of the High Table to an international stage, so if you’re thinking this was just a New York problem, think again. Rest assured though, he triples down on the things you’ve come here for: exquisitely choreographed, close-quarter combat with all kinds of brutal weaponry and creative kills — you’ll never look at hardcover books the same way again — a ridiculous body count, Laurence Fishburne as The King of the Homeless People, and Keanu “Monosyllabic” Reeves dressed to the frikkin’ nines. Like previous outings it does this all while sparing you of the hassle and inconvenience of sitting through talky scenes.

John Wick has always been a one-note franchise, but I now come full circle to admit awkwardly that it’s not a dumb one. I have increasingly enjoyed each successive installment, increasingly embraced the in-joke that the guy can’t really be killed (it’s the most obvious signpost ever, there can’t be a franchise bigger cash cow without John Wick). Now, getting shot point-blank, off a rooftop, smacking two staircases and a dumpster on your way to the ground 40 feet below and not dying is just plain silly, but John Wick on the whole is at least smart enough to recognize that the killing of a grieving man’s puppy is kind of the ultimate in earning audience sympathy in a timely manner. Clearly this is about more than just a dog now, but vengeance has been the driving force behind it all. This time the writing team raises the stakes notably by not only increasing the number tenfold, but also empowering Wick’s opposition with that same passion. In reinforcing its themes of consequence and retribution Chapter 3 installs some new key pieces like Asia Kate Dillon’s Adjudicator, sent by the High Table as a reckoning for all who have aided Wick along the way, and her own loyal minions in sushi chef-by-day, butcher-of-men-by-night Zero (a memorable Mark Decascos) and his knife-wielding buddies.

Indeed Wick is a man with an increasingly large cult “following” and a shrinking list of trusted sources, much less anything in the way of friends. He turns to his last few bargaining chips in other series newcomers like The Director (Anjelica Huston), who runs a school that John attended as a boy (really, it’s a front for something darker, natch), and Sofia (Halle Berry), a former ally and a ruthless killer in her own right who now runs the Moroccan branch of the Continental, along with her equally capable and fiercely loyal dogs. I swear, more crotches get mauled in this Casablanca-set scene than have been in the entire history of film up to this point. It’s a stunning, visceral and damn savage sequence that puts the hurt on everyone, even you in the cheap seats. (Ditto that to the movie as a whole, actually. Death by horse hoof, ouch.)

If the intense crowd interaction in the Thursday night screening I attended is any indication, Chapter 3 is poised to become the standard against which all future 2019 action reels are to be judged. The film dethroned Avengers: Endgame at the box office (after three weeks of domination). It’s being described as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far; John Wick is presented in his most ruthless, most capable form yet — where is the threat, exactly? Given his immunity to death I suppose I should just settle like everyone else, being entertained up to my eyeballs with all the different ways the hapless attempt to be the one to take out the Boogeyman. Still, that leaves me with the question that if those efforts require this degree of violence, what happens next? Will we be treading water in the forthcoming Chapter 4 (slated for a 2021 release)? Probably not. It’ll be more like treading blood. Call it a consequence of modern audience expectation.

Someone’s overdue . . . for an ass-whooping.

Recommendation: So here we are with a third installment that is most interested in just how much John Wick can physically withstand. It’s essentially a videogame replete even with a “Boss Level” showdown, and it’s unequivocally the most violent episode yet. And yet we take it because the devastating dance between Wick and his hungry would-be killers is the gift that just keeps on giving — at least for fans who are as loyal to the character as his pups have been.

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “After this, we are less than even.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Release: Friday, May 10, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Dan Hernandez; Benji Samit; Derek Connolly; Rob Letterman

Directed by: Rob Letterman

Sure, there’s Pokémon GO! now, but to me the colorful collection of “pocket monsters” will always be a trading card craze, and, weirdly, one of the only defining memories I have of the 18 months I spent in suburban New York. The summer of ’99 disappeared in a frenzied quest to “catch ’em all.” But apparently the 150 original creations courtesy of Satoshi Tajiri weren’t enough for the kids of Wellington Drive. So we began making our own. We got so into it we manufactured an entire world and economy out of paper and crayon, assigning value to scraps of — let’s be honest — glorified confetti. Getting feelings hurt over whose cards were in demand and whose weren’t.

Yes, those were things that really happened. Pokémon brought an entire cul-de-sac together before our own knock-off brand(s) and the over-saturated marketplace that resulted threatened to tear it apart. Memories of the competitiveness of those middle school years came flooding back with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the first big-screen adventure for The Pokémon Company, the popular multimedia consortium that began its life in the mid-90s as a pair of Game Boy games — Red & Green in Japan, Red & Blue elsewhere. It’s a nostalgic trip that ensconces the viewer in the imaginative biodiversity of the Pokémon universe. I may have evolved out of the trading card phase long ago but it still somewhat pains me to report that that’s about the only thing this decidedly novice detective movie does expertly.

The movie takes place in a world where Pokémon are by and large captured by humans to be trained for battle in gladiatorial arenas. However some are perfectly content to seek these creatures out for companionship. Detective Pikachu of course isn’t devoid of the former — watch out for an angry Charizard! — but it takes much more interest in the latter, in the relationships between the species, depicting the bond very much like the one formed centuries ago between man and dog. Our main character Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) was one such teenager but his world was shattered when his mother passed away and his father buried himself in detective work in the faraway Ryme City, a utopia where humans and Pokémon peacefully coexist and where battles have been outlawed. Setting aside childish notions of keeping a Pokémon of his very own, Tim turned to the insurance racket and has hardened himself into an Adult. At the ripe age of 21. (This really is a children’s movie, isn’t it?)

But then news of his father allegedly being killed while investigating a case reaches Tim. He travels to the City to collect his father’s belongings, to reminisce, and where he will encounter the amnesiac, caffeine-addicted Pikachu (voiced by Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds). Tim also briefly crosses paths with his father’s friend and colleague, a Detective Hideo Yoshida (an underused Ken Watanabe) and his gruff-looking but apparently lovable sidekick Snubbull, and around what feels like literally the next corner stumbles into a feisty young reporter looking to make a big break, one Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton). Lucy, accompanied by her own Pokémon — a weird-looking, web-footed fella called Psyduck whose whole thing is developing nasty headaches — is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the detective’s demise, and plans to investigate. Everyone’s got skin in this game, so she’ll get an assist from a perky Pikachu and Tim the Jaded Insurance Sales Rep. Along the way they’ll encounter Pokémon both wild and tamed, some good folk and a few bad eggs (Bill Nighy and Chris Geere team up as a billionaire father-son duo who are as slimy as they are thinly written), and a heinous purple gas that invokes rage and unpredictable behavior in anything and everything it touches. (Hint-hint for the big finale.)

In spirit Detective Pikachu plays out a lot like the Cantina Scene from Star Wars — an observant camera in constant surveillance of the fantastical landscape, encouraging the viewer to interrogate every nook and cranny of the screen for their favorite character(s), popular or obscure. Rob Letterman (Monsters Vs. Aliens; Goosebumps) directs with fan service at the top of the priority list (evidenced by the inclusion of Ikue Ōtani, who does Pikachu’s “pika pika” call) and while it is hard to fault him for taking that approach, the final product proves there is a vast chasm between parading out All Major Characters and giving the audience actual characterization to latch on to. Detective Pikachu is a fun escape but unfortunately the storytelling lacks the same level of imagination and dedication that has gone into bringing these colorful critters to life on the silver screen. In fairness, that’s one big ask. CGI has come such a long way in recent years, and the Pokémon movie, of all things, just may have set the standard going forward.

I spy a silly plot hole.

Recommendation: Since I can’t really frame this review as a condemnation of another failed videogame adaptation since I never played the games, what I can say for sure is that Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a geektastic trip down memory lane, a movie made by fans, for the fans. Delight in the colorful world-building and the amusing personification of otherwise inanimate objects — see how many obscure characters you can spot. It’s a veritable treasure hunt for followers of Pokémon in whatever form that may be. It’s sadly not the second coming of Sherlock Holmes, though.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Oh, that’s a twist. That is very twisty.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019 (limited)

→ Redbox

Written by: Robert D. Krzykowski

Directed by: Robert D. Krzykowski

With a title as extravagant as The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot it’s hard not to build up some extravagant expectations. Maybe you’d assume this is an adaptation of an obscure graphic novel you’ve never heard of, something akin to V for Vendetta, or a righteously vicious midnight movie where the last one left standing is the audience in ovation.

Well, hate to say it but if you’re in bloodlust right now this movie just won’t do. Robert Krzykowski’s directorial début is more of a melancholic character piece than a slicked in dudesweat thrill ride to the edge of sanity. The good news is that it’s well worth seeking out, you just may need to be in the mood for something more quirky than straight-up crazy. This is a movie that unabashedly marches to the beat of its own idiosyncratic drum, and in so doing it largely and surprisingly steers clear of the expected, i.e. bloody machismo.

The story tells of the eventful life of a mysterious man named Calvin Barr and focuses on him in two different eras. The flashback-heavy first half gives us a glimpse of who he was, a young American spy/assassin sent on a highly classified and dangerous mission into the heart of Nazi Germany to take out the Führer. He’s played here by Aidan Turner who offers a convincing younger visage. By way of a small supporting turn from Caitlin Fitzgerald it also teases the life he might have led had he never shipped out.

All of this is filtered through the memories of Sam Elliott‘s world-weary, retired veteran in the present day. It is this version of the character we first meet, nursing a whisky at a bar. As he stares the drink down like it owes him money he disappears into his thoughts, taking us with him. After the war Calvin returned with some pretty big secrets and so retreated to a small town somewhere near the Canadian border where he’s spent most of his time minding his own business, contending with the occasional carjacking punk and the pebble that just won’t get out of his boot. His golden retriever has remained his most trusted confidante. If self-exile looks lonely, the feeling is certainly no reward for someone who ostensibly saved western civilization (and who will end up doing it twice).

At least it’s peaceful. But then all that gets trampled on by the Feds (Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji) suddenly appearing on his doorstep. They’re seeking the legendary Nazi-slayer for his help in bringing down the one they call Bigfoot, whose (yes, actual) existence would be nothing more than a pretty cool photo op for any passerby were it not for the deadly virus the creature is lumbering around with. Calvin, finding himself once more exploited by Uncle Sam, must confront his painful past and the unsavory prospect of doing things he swore he’d never do again. What more of himself is he willing to sacrifice to someone, something that never says thanks?

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot is preoccupied with grand concepts of heroism, legends and myths and how a lot of mountains are made out of mole hills when it comes to the way we preserve and pass down stories through the generations. Krzykowski doesn’t wax too philosophical on any of those ideas but they’re perceptible enough. What I found much more intriguing (and more pronounced) is the story’s attitude towards violence, what it does to the perpetrator, morally and emotionally. The journey is almost a shying away from violence rather than an enthusiastic march toward it. Yet an air of inevitability seeps into every scene. The Great Mustachioed One may not dominate the screen in movie minutes but he’s clearly the one in charge here, his down-home style of acting the ideal fit for the tone Krzykowski is uh, gunning for. Elliott has more gravitas than the rest of the cast combined — and yes that does include The Abominable Snowman, whose sickly appearance is both grotesque and just the teensiest bit sad.

Oh. Deer.

Recommendation: A far more mellow movie in action than its title suggests, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot works best as a meditation on aging, regret and the ravages of time. Features a very sturdy, introspective Sam Elliott performance at its core, which goes a long way in helping us stay connected. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 98 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cinema.pfpca.org