-Reviews of Incredibles 2, Tag, and American Animals
Director: Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, Ratatouille)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, and Samuel L. Jackson
with: Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, and Jonathan Banks
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
For many now in their late teens and early twenties, Pixar’s The Incredibles is one of the defining animated films of the collective childhood of that era. It captured the budding superhero craze while remaining family friendly and fun for everyone. It may not be one of Pixar’s most profound films, not necessarily standing up to Toy Story, Wall-E, Up, or even Finding Nemo, but it has a following rivaling all of those. It was only a matter of time until we got a sequel in the vain of a Monsters University or Finding Dory. I’m happy to report that this is a step up from those.
The movie literally picks up from immediately after the previous film ended. Sure, our heroes battle the initial villain, but a question that became a huge fan complaint following a film like Man of Steel ends up being a prescient issue here. Are superheroes worth the collateral damage they cause?
The initial answer the screenplay takes is ‘no,’ and connects our heroes with a secretive realm of few-remaining supporters, led by a wealthy sibling duo voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener. The idea is that these supporters will roll out a plan in stages of having the public opinion swayed back to the positive. There’s a new digital terrorist (the Screen Slaver) on the loose, and rather than send out a whole team, they prefer to rely primarily on Elastigirl, as she promotes gender equality and causes much less destruction. Mr. Incredible gets to stay home with the kids.
The Pixar formula of “there’s this character that obviously will turn bad” is present again here, and Incredibles 2 does not reinvent the wheel of family film-making. This is a very safe, easy follow-up to the original that embraces the modern times, still capitalizes on the superhero craze, and takes a few digs at more mature themes. The Screen Slaver is an interesting idea, a character which can hypnotize and root a viewer to the spot from a remote location, and it’s as if the movie takes the lack of leading women in hero films seriously enough to make Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl the true lead herein. This stuff all works. The baby Jack-Jack having a new superpower every few minutes also leads to the movie’s best scenes.
Overall, this was plenty enjoyable. I thought it was a bit too long, and didn’t have the kind of fun that I expected from such acclaim, but maybe this is what we can expect from Pixar in its later stages, a safe crowd-pleaser that will sell plenty of outside memorabilia and merchandise. It’s better than Cars and it’s better than a few of the other sequels we’ve gotten, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for another Wall-E or Up.
Director: Jeff Tomsic (X)
Starring: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, and Jeremy Renner
with: Annabelle Wallis, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%
The term ‘based on a true story’ is given maybe its most surprising usage yet, this time relating to a movie which actually documents the true-life experience of a group of friends who have played the game of tag for twenty years. After the credits, we see some actual video footage of the friends, and some of the visual gags used in this movie actually stem from the wacky choices of the real people.
A sentimental doctor (Helms), a self-absorbed business owner (Hamm), a divorcee stoner (Johnson), and a paranoid recluse (Buress) are four friends who play an intense game of tag every year as part of a friend-group ritual. Their fifth member, a personal trainer (Renner), has never been tagged and getting married during the game-month. So, the four friends set off to the wedding, accompanied by a reporter (Wallis) and the doctor’s wife (Fisher) in order to finally place the tag on Renner’s Jerry, no matter the cost.
This is the type of modern comedy which casts a group of likable and funny actors and lets them improvise through a concept which will carry the movie almost to the finish line. There’s enough to mine from the subject matter and the actors where it will be a passable enough comedy. But, with every comedy which relies on mostly improvisation, we have the eventual running out of steam when the plot actually has to kick in. This movie is no different, and is very funny for about 45 minutes, and then drops off.
Ed Helms does what Ed Helms does, Jon Hamm works the charming staple, Hannibal Buress has his moments of awkward bliss, and Jake Johnson is the charming guy down on his luck. We’ve seen all of these actors do exactly this role before, and it’s up to the supporting pieces to help bring it home. I’ve become a huge fan of Jeremy Renner in recent years, but he doesn’t really fit in to this style of movie, and I think he’s mostly misused as the personal trainer with John Wick reflexes. The movie does this thing where he has an inner-monologue like a Sherlock moment whenever one of his friends tries to tag him and it’s totally cringe-worthy. He, and Leslie Bibb as his wife-to-be, really don’t work.
However, Isla Fisher does, and she makes this movie a lot better with explosive energy, a dirty mouth, and a relentless attempt to keep the movie fun. She gets a chance to redeem herself in comedy after the dud that was Keeping Up with the Joneses. Annabelle Wallis, conversely, doesn’t get enough to do and seems like an add-on just to have the screenshot at the end where this becomes an actual news story.
In the end, I laughed a few times, and then stopped laughing when this tried to be serious. It’s a movie with a good premise and good moments that needs a refinement through a true script. The reason a movie like Game Night works better than this is because of the attention to detail in the style and the screen-writing. Comedies still need good screenplays, and while likable actors can get the train moving, it takes actual well-written jokes to keep on the rails.
Director: Bart Layton (X)
Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, and Ann Dowd
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
This is the true story of a group of young college kids who try to steal famous original prints, including a Darwin. You’d expect it to almost be a documentary in the way it’s filmed, constantly flashing back to the real guys who attempted this and reflecting on their choices. They each get a young actor portraying their likeness, acting out the planning and attempt of this ludicrous heist at Transylvania University in Kentucky.
The idea is that they can distract or stun the librarian on duty, and get into the restricted section of the library where these valuable books are stored. They could be worth millions, some of them focused and bound collections of artwork and others being scientific masterpieces. It starts with two, Evan Peters from ‘American Horror Story’ and Barry Keoghan from The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and then they slowly add two more members, Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some and Jared Abrahamson from some minor roles you may recognize. The planning and execution are split with interviews with the four real guys, who discuss their excitement about the plan, and the obvious regret, bewilderment, and horrible consequences when it inevitably fails. We know that the Origin of Species wasn’t successfully stolen, the movie’s style has to convey something in the execution of an ending which we all know is coming.
The style is refreshing, and I think mostly works from first-time director Bart Layton. The performances are all good, and this may be the best I’ve ever seen Evan Peters. I initially saw this movie in back to back nights with Ocean’s 8, and was pleasantly surprised with how both of these film-makers made a heist film seem so different and so unique even though the concept is essentially the same; a group of people get together and try to steal some valuable stuff.
A word of advice for the current movie-goer; space out your blockbuster intake. It’s important to still stop and go to your local indie theater and take in one of these minor releases in a summer packed with large releases. The last two weeks gave us Ocean’s 8, a packed ensemble heist film that’s the fourth of a franchise, Incredibles 2, a monstrous Pixar sequel, Tag, an ensemble slap-stick comedy, and now Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a fifth film of a huge franchise. Movies like this, and especially ones like First Reformed and Hereditary are great alternatives to famous actors and computer effects.