Just a Quick Thought: A Birthday Movie 18 Years in the Making

What a pairing.

Figured I would take up a little space here and share the exciting news of having family in town for the holiday season. This is me with my Uncle Paul, sharing our first beer together — ever. The last time I saw my extended family was 18 years ago. My dad’s second-youngest brother has made his first trip to the States. He has come along with my grandmother, who turns 90 this year. She’s actually made her third trip over in the last five or so years — logging some 15,000 air miles in the process. 

Tonight at 9, to celebrate my birthday, Paul and I are going to re-enter the Matrix. I can’t tell you how cool this is to have this company. While the vast majority of the time I take in movies on my own, company always makes a movie better, especially an event film like this. The last time a Matrix movie was released (oddly enough, for as big a fan as I am I don’t remember the fact that Reloaded and Revolutions came out in the same year, in 2003) was only a few months after my last visit to England. So there’s this weird meta thing going on, what with the passage of time and not seeing familiar faces in so long. 

With that said, I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable holiday season and that you get the time to see some good movies! 

Free Guy

Release: Friday, August 13, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Matt Lieberman; Zak Penn

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Taika Waititi; Joe Keery; Jodi Comer; Lil Rel Howery

 

 

 

***/*****

Following more the logic of the heart than the brain, Free Guy is a whacky but entertaining circus of big visual effects, videogame Easter eggs, and shameless (more like proud) product placement for parent company Disney, which now owns the world. It’s also the perfect environment for Ryan Reynolds to flourish, one in which cutting loose and just doing you is the whole point. Or was supposed to be!

The movie’s big draw is of course Ryan Reynolds doing his typical Ryan Reynolds thing, but this is also literally a love letter to gamers and coders. Being knowledgeable about technical stuff will surely elevate the experience though by no means is it a requisite. Free Guy takes a surprisingly high concept approach to a basic template. This is all about a guy (lowercase ‘g’) pursuing his dream girl, a pretty classic convention often obfuscated by all the chaos. Very little here is designed to be stored in the long-term memory. Instead director Shawn Levy and his writing team work overtime to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain as often as possible, injecting silliness, cartoonish violence and a surprising amount of heart into one hyperactive summer blockbuster.

In an open-world game called Free City, Guy (Reynolds) wakes up each morning in a Groundhog Day loop of obliviousness to what this place really is and his role in it. His best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery — Get Out; Bird Box), the cheerful security guard at the bank where Guy works as a teller. Neither has a clue that their lives are a programmed simulation. One day on his way to work he passes a woman humming a Mariah Carey tune and is smitten. He pursues her but unfortunately that train goes off the rails. However something profound has changed within him.

Molotov Girl’s the name and “Leveling Up” is the game he must play if he is to impress her. So of course the eternally upbeat and decreasingly naive Blue Shirt Guy plays along, but he won’t gain experience by doing what most players do — holding NPCs (non-player characters) hostage, blowing things up, generally being lawless savages. No, he’s going to do good deeds, a strategy that earns him Molotov Girl’s respect and a cult following. In fact he fast becomes a “player” of interest for many throughout the world plugged into Free City, represented in a series of stilted cameos by real YouTube celebrities and gamers.

His increasing autonomy also attracts the attention of game developer Antwan (Taika Waititi), for whom the brilliant code writers Keys (Stranger Things‘ Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer — Killing Eve; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) work as dogs for their master. I mentioned before how very little is going to be remembered for long, and if you’re a fan of the Kiwi comedian that’s definitely a good thing. He’s actually pretty awful as the movie’s one-note villain whose whole deal is stealing other people’s work and being as insufferable as possible. In fairness, the character isn’t written to be anything more but his acting is of a quality where you suspect the director didn’t have the cohones to edit his Oscar-winner.

Maybe the director didn’t feel like meddling because he has so much on his plate. Free Guy is arguably over-ambitious, particularly considering a sequel has already been green-lit. What’s going to be left to tell? Yet for all that it is burdened with, the story moves pretty fluidly as it hops in and out of the game, an anarchic environment inspired by the likes of GTA, Fortnite and The Sims, with spirited input from the young Keery and Comer keeping us invested in the affairs of the real world. Concurrent to the Guy plot is a heist involving precious data which could incriminate Antwan and potentially save Free City from his future nefarious plans. To get there, Millie and Keys need to access a secret location called The Stash, and they could really use some help.

Combining the playground aesthetic of Ready Player One, the voyeurism of The Truman Show and The Matrix‘s march toward salvation, Free Guy is a Frankenstein of elements and homages that somehow ends up morphing into its own ridiculous thing. I mean, where else are you going to see Reynolds as an evil David Hasselhoff avatar whose coding is disturbingly incomplete and whose face is super-imposed on an actual bodybuilder? Okay, so I lied. That’s one thing you’re never going to forget from this movie.

Lucky Guy

Moral of the Story: Huge entertainment value trumps logical storytelling and one seriously annoying villain. Because I am a big fan of Ryan Reynolds’ comedic act Free Guy is probably my favorite blockbuster of the year. It’s far from perfect but it is really fun and super easy to get along with, even for non-gamers such as myself. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Is this what recreational drugs feel like?”

Check out the pretty sweet new music video for Mariah Carey’s Fantasy here! 

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

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; 20th Century Studios 

Assassin’s Creed

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Release: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Michael Lesslie; Adam Cooper; Bill Collage

Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Assassin’s Creed is simply not interesting enough for those who never played the game. You might fairly ask me why I would choose to sit through a movie based on a video game I never played. Um, I was expecting the acting pedigree behind the film’s trio of stars to carry more weight. Or for acting to matter at all in the film. I was hoping I could use what I learned here as a springboard for me getting into the games later. Here’s the best advice I can offer to those in a similar position: don’t do that.

I DON’T HAVE A CREED, SORRY

Everything is going to be okay, despite what Rotten Tomatoes says (yikes). I wonder how seriously game enthusiasts take film critics when they review game adaptations. Like recent releases inspired by gaming phenomena — Warcraft, Resident EvilMortal Kombat — the film has a substantial enough built-in fan base that will ensure a sequel or three will get the green light. So if you actually use the tomatometer as a measuring stick for what you want to watch, you might take a close look at how audiences are responding instead of reading my list of grievances against a pretty dull film.

The film doesn’t completely alienate the outsider, but it hardly gives you a warm fuzzy. Director Justin Kurzel’s reverence for the game’s well-established, sophisticated lore is apparent. We are effortlessly transported to a quasi-romantic/dystopian universe, one split between 15th-Century Spain and an hyper-stylized approximation of the present day. The film’s gorgeous in its steely griminess, a wardrobe tailored to the actors’ shape while remaining faithful to the ornate designs of the source material’s costumes. Assassin’s Creed clings to this façade with desperation, a large portion of the footage dedicated to overemphasizing said wardrobe. And an onslaught of skywards shots of our heroes parkouring the hell out of a city is presumably intended to invoke the sensation of being involved in this mission.

The narrative draws upon the mythos established in the original game, now a decade old, but instead of retracing familiar steps for those who have long been in control of Desmond Miles’ destiny, it opts for an origins story involving a completely new avatar. And while much of the film succumbs to the same issue that plagues many a video game adaptation — a confused or uninteresting point of view that just leaves viewers cold — at least the action scenes, particularly the furious hand-to-hand combat sequences, make an attempt to include the  average paying customer (the APC*).

Assassin’s Creed introduces everyone to Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a career criminal who at the start of the film is preparing to be executed. Then he “wakes up” in what seems to be . . . um, Heaven’s waiting room? No, that can’t be right; capital murderers don’t get a pass. So this is Hell’s foyer, then? Wrong again. This is actually a sterile room within a remote Abstergo Industries facility, a modern manifestation of an ancient underground society known as the Templar Order. Callum is first greeted by a scientist named Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of visionary Abstergo CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who proceeds to inundate Callum with a few orientation materials. Like letting him know that he no longer exists in the world. That he is about to be repurposed.

SOME PHILOSOPHICAL SHIT

In 2007 Ubisoft engineered a stealth adventure for the thinking gamer. I can appreciate their popularity as these games have been able to separate themselves by blending heady science fiction with historical settings and events. Unfortunately the complexities pose a problem from a cinematic storytelling perspective. The task falls upon Cotillard to shoulder an encyclopedia’s worth of exposition because, let’s face it: there’s just too much world-building to be done beyond the physical, and no one is going to sit through a three-hour long movie based on a video game. Cotillard does what she can, but there’s only so much a great actor can do with such clunky, uninspired writing.

Through one of Sophia’s many monotonous monologues he learns he has assassin’s blood in his veins, and that one of his ancestors was Aguilar de Nerha, a noted assassin during the Spanish Inquisition who had for years been in pursuit of the Apple of Eden. This apple is not so much a fruit as it is a piece of technology that contains man’s original sin. It also possesses the very fabric of free will itself. (The more I write the stupider it all sounds, which is the very phenomenon that occurs the more these people talk.) Across centuries these assassins have had to contend with the Templars who don’t share their views on the future of mankind. While the Templars believe global peace is achievable, albeit only through control, assassins hold that man’s free will is a gift that cannot be touched or tampered with. On paper, all of this sounds like some pretty fascinating, philosophical shit, doesn’t it?

On screen, however, very little of said philosophical shit translates enthusiastically. Or creatively. The film looks great but the whole thing concludes in the same numbing state in which it began. If you’ve made the mistake of coming to the picture for the acting, prepare yourself for Fassbender’s first on-screen performance following the lobotomy none of us knew he had. Yes the action scenes are good, but everything else is so disappointing it seems almost farcical.

Assassin’s Creed stunningly wastes an opportunity to present an intellectually stimulating, challenging cinematic excursion. There’s a fixation on the god complex that is just begging to be explored in greater depth. The assassins we see early in the film prove their unwavering test of devotion via blood sacrifice. Callum’s body being manipulated by The Animus — a giant mechanical contraption that has undergone some physical alterations so the film, supposedly, avoids comparisons to The Matrix‘s own psychosomatic technology — often finds the character in Christ-like poses as he soars into the air and flails around. The script also tends to harp on the phrase “man’s first disobedience.” And Rikkin’s ambitions of uniting mankind under his thumb, well. That’s pretty obvious.

For all of the obsession with sinning and human imperfection the irony of how Kurzel and company have themselves ended up committing one of filmmaking’s greatest sins by producing one of the year’s most disappointing and boring movies becomes painful. I don’t know. Maybe I just need some secret codes or something.

* Synonyms include (but are not limited to) ‘loser,’ ‘heathen’ and ‘deplorable.’ 

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2-5Recommendation: Disappointing video game adaptation squanders the massive talents of its leading trio in Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons. Of course, this film could have gotten by with some average performances if the story were presented more compellingly. The longer the film went on, the sillier it all seemed. Damn it, this should have been really good. I am so bummed out and I haven’t ever played the games. I still might, though. These universes are just too cool to ignore. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “We work in the dark to serve the light. We are assassins.”

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

TBT: The Matrix (1999)

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This entry is probably going to throw some people off, as I am indeed including it during my search for the love affairs that have impacted me most in my very limited movie-watching career. I’ll admit this one isn’t a very obvious choice. Sure, it’s a technologically-driven action/fantasy epic but to overlook the far more fundamental driving force is to essentially ignore that which makes the Wachowski’s best film(s) a truly complete legacy. I absolutely cannot get enough of this, or its sequels. (Yes, I am a supporter to the bitter end!)

Today’s food for thought: The Matrix.

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Following the white rabbit since: March 31, 1999

[DVD]

When Trinity finally admitted her true feelings for Neo and went in for the kiss just as the Sentinels were tearing apart the Nebuchadnezzar, the hairs on my arms stood straight up. Not really, but they might as well have. It was a moment of great peace and calm, one of an elite few that confessed the true depth of the Wachowski’s vision of a future where our world would be overtaken by artificial intelligence, thereby laying waste to the vast majority of human life. This wasn’t just a kiss.

Everyone remembers The Matrix for the bullet-dodging and the gothic dress code. Perhaps as the saga sprawled out into Reloaded and concluded with a bang in Revolutions there were fewer iconic scenes to latch on to, and more common were ones of convoluted theory and the development of additional, arguably less interesting characters and subplots. I can’t sit here and say that my love for the trilogy was (or is) equally distributed; the original finds security in my top ten favorite films of all time — a potent concoction of visionary direction, commitment from a cast that will never be this cool again, and incredible martial arts/fight sequences that countless films since have gone to great lengths to try and duplicate. (Oh, hi John Wick.)

What’s less talked about, and this I can’t help but blame on the film’s tremendous visual appeal and high-brow concept, is the powerful love story anchoring Neo to a world he once was dangerously oblivious to. But in The Matrix you won’t find another case of meet-cute; it’s more like meet. . .badass. In an underground dance club bathed in only the purest of dystopian light a jet-black-haired woman named Trinity informed him of his importance. Despite appearances the introduction was anything but secretive, for there existed another world entirely — the last human city on Earth — whose fate hinged upon whether or not Thomas Anderson would trust this mysterious woman.

Worlds collided. The computer hacker’s forced to confront a reality (well, I guess he could have taken the blue pill) that would make the hardiest of men sick to their stomach. Humankind being harvested as an energy source for the continuation of Machinekind. The Matrix, of course, had little time for sappy romance; that stuff was saved for Reloaded in a spectacularly choreographed celebratory scene in the aforementioned subterranean city of Zion.

Neo and Trinity form a bond late in the first film, a unity of lips that would quite possibly seal the fate for both man and machine alike. Part of the adrenaline rush of The Matrix is watching Neo gain his powers, slowly coming into an acceptance that he is The One, a title that has since been parodied over and again. (Keanu, take those as compliments.) But if The One can stop bullets under his own strength, what could he accomplish with Trinity at his back? Hers was not the same kind of belief Morpheus stubbornly clung to for most of the film before having it temporarily, if not convincingly, wrenched from his soul. With Trinity there was never any doubt, though Carrie Anne Moss’ enviable performance brilliantly subverted a passion that would much later become quite apparent.

One of the greatest things about this romance is that the word itself doesn’t aptly describe the emotions that propel both Neo and Trinity. They are an indisputable romantic couple, again in reference to The Matrix: Reloaded and in the final devastating chapter — the most romantic thing Neo probably ever did for Trinity was remove a bullet from her abdomen with his bare hand — but the love angle is downplayed to fit the desperate times and the enormously high stakes surrounding the discovery of The One. If you are looking at The Matrix and The Matrix alone, this is tough love. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to illustrate this than when Trinity pulls rank after Neo says it’s not a good idea for her to follow him back into the matrix to save a captured Morpheus. She’s every bit Neo’s intellectual and physical equal, even if she couldn’t quite bring it upon herself to take on Agent Smith even at the most opportune of times.

“What is he doing?” “He’s beginning to believe.” The moment was anything but an epiphany. The kiss was anything but a simple act.

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5-0Recommendation: We’ve all seen this one by now, so recommending this one seems, again, unnecessary. The Matrix represents one of the most uncompromising and unique visions of the future we have ever been handed on a silver screen. Hard to believe this film debuted 16 years ago this March. There are too many interesting things going on in this film to count, but of the many things I could talk about, I find the relationship between Neo and Trinity one of the most fascinating and also one of the most rewarding. Fans of the film(s), would you agree?

Rated: R

Running Time: 136 mins.

TBTrivia: The filming of the helicopter scene where they rescue Morpheus nearly caused the film to be shutdown because they flew the helicopter through restricted Sydney airspace. Laws in the state of New South Wales in Australia were changed to allow the film to proceed.

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

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

The Best Man Holiday

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Release: Friday, November 15, 2013

[Theater]

Reunited — and it feels so good!!!

For a film that’s been released nearly forty days removed from it’s wintery afflatus, The Best Man Holiday sure knows how to ring in the holiday spirit in very appropriate, and surprisingly emotional doses. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother) gathers up another impressive ensemble cast in. . . whew, here we go:

Morris Chestnut, Taye Briggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau Jr., Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Melissa DeSousa, John Michael Higgins, Eddie Cibrian, and Monica Calhoun — for a sequel that is now 14 years in the making.

As a follow-up to Lee’s hit The Best Man, it might be difficult to think of this film as anything more than a shameless cash-grab. However, one would be wrong to dismiss it thusly; there is some reward in seeing all the guys back together for Christmas, gathering at Lance (Chestnut) and Mia (Calhoun)’s gorgeous mansion for a celebration of life, love and Michael Jackson impressions. It’s certainly not free of every cliche, every convenience and every seasonal trope you can think of, but that doesn’t necessarily doom this flick.

Coming into any sequel blindly can make that experience tough to sit through without getting too confused or losing interest; fortunately because this is a feel-good movie and the ensemble cast has strong chemistry — it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if half the time Terrence Howard isn’t even in character while cameras are rolling — the story actually moves along at a comfortable pace, enough to make certain loose ends easy to ignore (again, if you’re coming in without seeing the original).

Years removed from a bitter rivalry that sent Lance and Harper (Diggs) on their separate ways, Harper finds himself growing desperate to reclaim his status as a successful, published author having struggled for years to do so. His latest idea is to track down his former best friend Lance for a biography since he’s retiring from a career playing for the New York Giants. With encouragement from family and friends Harper and his wife accept the Sullivan’s invitation to join them for a Christmas celebration, but Harper needs to find a way to put his and his buddy’s differences aside for the sake of him getting. . .well, paid.

Because, you know. . . nothing says brotherhood more than exploiting your friends for financial gain, especially during the time of Jesus’ birth. Call it a Christmas un-miracle.

Over the course of a weekend (?) friends will bump heads and bump uglies. . . and one soon-to-be-mommy’s bump gets bigger. Indeed, you do have the whole stocking of good feelings (and some bad) in this two-hour-long comedy. Most of the scene-stealing moments come from Terrence Howard’s  Quentin, who is always there to lighten the mood whenever things become too dramatic. But others have their moments as well, including a surprisingly enjoyable Melissa De Sousa as a Real Housewife of Somewhere whose job it is is to be the drama queen. Reading that may cause eyes to roll, but she’s actually quite funny.

Yet, for all of its conviviality, The Best Man Holiday also offers up a more somber subplot that may not have managed to hit so close to home in The Best Man. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say Lee’s follow-up to his successful first ensemble film ends up sending us home with a little bit to think about. In one particular scene Lance is heartbreaking to watch. Fortunately friends like Quentin will always have their boys’ backs, and no moment might be better than when Howard steps forward and cuts the silliness, if just for a second.

The Best Man Holiday is ultimately not anything too special, but it managed to exceed the low expectations I had of it coming in, especially having no previous knowledge of the movie that came before it. I may have broken a personal rule of mine regarding seeing sequels, but no harm, no foul in this case.

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3-0Recommendation: It may feature an all-black cast, but this is certainly not a race-related flick, which really affords more credit to director Malcolm D. Lee. See The Best Man Holiday to get you into the Christmas cheer that much sooner, and also for a very light night out at the theater. It’s a solidly-acted and comfortably-paced two hours filled with some chuckles, a bit of tension and the usual drama amongst life-long friends.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 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.imdb.com