Fist Fight (*) is a forced confrontation

fist fight

Fist Fight – 2017

Director  Richie Keen
Screenplay Van Robichaux,Evan Susser
Starring Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris

As far as I can tell, this movie exists to show everyone that Ice Cube still has an intimidating frown for people like Charlie Day. Nothing that happens at Roosevelt High School is remotely recognizable to someone who has been in an American high school. This does not matter though, because it’s only happening to finish the job of making Charlie Day’s English teacher seem balanced, relatable and normal.

The excuse that they use for an unrelenting amount of chaos and destruction is that it’s Senior Pranks day. This means porn in the hallway, horses on meth and penises drawn on the chalk board. Charlie is a nice guy, so he puts up with it. Ice Cube is, well…

“I don’t need to be liked. I need to educate.”

Educating means scowling, grimacing, grabbing cell phones and throwing them against the wall. And that is before he attacks the student’s desk with a fireman’s axe. The principal is busy firing whole departments, though, and there is no time for the teacher’s code. The resulting situation pits Cube against Day in the parking lot. After school. With fists.

So at this point, Day’s Cunningham is (finally) distracted. Everyone in the school knows that Cube’s Strickland is going to kick his butt. Then we hear the stories and see flashbacks of Cube beating people in various scenarios.

If I left out any details, it’s mainly because none of them matter. So many decent (and not so decent) actors doing nothing of consequence, it is mind numbing. Bell is there to say even more inappropriate things than she normally does. Tracy Morgan is there to make Day feel even more desperate about his circumstances while he is oblivious to kids making lewd patterns on the lawn. Hendricks is there to be a crazy violent prude. Talk about casting against type. Norris is at once cruel and helpless.

The kids are all living in a plane of existence far above the clueless teachers. They are free to do just about anything to anyone besides Cube. Everything comes up roses for them. Cunningham is desperate to keep his job because he has a wife who is expecting.

On the plus side, there is a nice advertisement for MacBook Pro in the middle of the film. We are made aware that only dumb families don’t have them.

Dumb comedies exist only to set up the next punchline. Every single aspect of the film is a weak excuse to have us see Charlie Day sweat and scream obscenities on the roof. Once in a while we see him repeat himself in class with increasing degrees of frustration. Then we get to see weak joke set ups get muted payoffs further down the line.

If you are Ice Cube, what makes you want to be in a film like this?  It’s a soft touch film with too much swearing to attract the families. He’s asked to make a one liner out of one of his signature works to no effect, and then he’s supposed to make a Charlie Day ass whoopin’ seem believable. Tough sell for a film that is marketed to the 17-22 age range.

This is a lot of words to say a movie is bad.

(* out of *****)

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The Lego Movie: Applied to our lives like so much Kragl

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The Lego Movie – 2014

 

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring (voices) Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman
Screenplay Lord and Miller

Where the heck did this film come from?  They’ve been releasing Lego movies for years straight to DVD, and for some reason, someone got the extremely bright idea to apply talent to the brand and the result is pure gold.  The message, so far as one can tell, is that you should buy all the different kinds of sets you can and mix them up.  Oh, and, believe, like the poster with the hanging cat says.

We start out with regular guy Emmett (Pratt), who is a dead ringer for my friend Young Haircut.  Emmett is happy with things as they are.  He eats at the chain restaurants, listens to the hit songs, and watches Where are my pants? television show, like everybody else.  He follows the world, and all instructions. If I were an unthinking movie watcher, I might just consider him blindly conservative.  Emmett comes across Wild Style (Banks).  She is a rebel, who is looking for the one who will fulfill the prophecy of  Vitruvius (Freeman), who said that someone he called The Special, will come along and save the world from the monotony of sameness.  Again, the well-trained drone will catch on to these ideas of Vitruvius as being liberal.  If you get this much out of the film, you will have been robbed.

The sameness being imposed on the world is the mandate of the evil Lord Business (Ferrell).  This message would be confusing if you thought of it only as business bad, creative good.  Lego is a business, and they really want you to buy their stuff.  So hang with us here.  Business gives not so subtle hints that something special is going to happen on Taco Tuesday.  If you think special means good, then you need to brush up on your cliché studies.

Wild Style immediately recognizes Emmett for the special when she sees him with the Piece of Resistance.  As they escape, she begins to hope that her original assessment is wrong. Emmett, meanwhile, just goes along for the ride, mainly because he is a nice guy, but also because he likes Wild Style.  Problem is, our heroine has a special thing for her boyfriend Batman, and Batman is as cool a boyfriend as anyone calling herself Wild Style could want.  Two guesses as to how that turns out.  Don’t guess too early though.

Anyone who thinks the movie can be relegated to pat messages about being special, being creative and not coloring within the lines would be wrong.  This is to say, the plot is all over the place, but in the best way possible.  It is a unforgivable cinematic sin if all the movie did was pass off a straight up message of business is evil.  That was what happened with The Lorax, and we’re all dumber for having experienced it.  Instead the movie pushes us to a sweet direction that completely makes sense once one shares the moment with the characters.  More than being smart, the story is emotionally honest, and that is the biggest, best surprise of all.

If you haven’t seen this film, give it a chance.  It takes the concepts in some of the best Pixar films and pushes them forward.  Lord and Miller have shown exceptional film-making prowess outside of their first film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Then again, what they’ve done since has been so good, it makes one ponder if something was missed the first time around.  One thing is sure, though.  This film is an institution.

(***** out of *****)

Monsters University: Didn’t know we needed this

Monsters University – 2013

Director Dan Scanlon
Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Joel Murray, Dave Foley, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathon Fillon, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger
Screenplay Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

It took 29 films for Disney to come up with its first sequel (Rescuers Down Under).  It wasn’t until Return of Jafar in 1994 that one was considered unworthy of being released in theaters.  For Pixar, the first sequel was only 3 movies in (Toy Story 2).  Cars 2 should have been its first direct to video, given the weakness of its material.  In Monsters University, there is a first Disney and Pixar prequel.  Thank goodness it’s not as poor and uninspired as its premise seemed to be.  

Do you like Mike Wazowski (Crystal)?  Do you love Sulley (Goodman)?  Did you have a wish to see Randall (Buscemi) again?  Yes, yes, and not all that much for me.  Monsters, Inc. is my wife’s favorite Pixar film, and she wasn’t busting down doors to see it.  My mother has a stuffed Sully doll in her bed and she fell asleep when she took my nephew to see it.  Indeed, only my youngest, Elyse seems to love this movie.  She sat down for almost the entire film, twice.  She never does that.  

Why did they make this film a prequel?  The first attempt at developing a sequel was tantamount to a threat from Disney to Pixar when they were squabbling over the next contract.  The stupidly titled Monsters, Inc. 2: Lost in Scaradise, it was going to be a rehash of the second half of the film, but in the human world.  Thank goodness a contact was signed before they put it in motion.  

Instead we get the prequel no one was asking for.  It would have been something if there had been some sort of scare war referenced in the original.  We hear that Scully’s family name has some prestige, and Waternoose got to be CEO for some reason.  But really, who cares?  Somebody did at Pixar, and somehow they pulled it off.  Monsters University manages to expound on the characters of the two protagonists, even making Randall seem somewhat decent.  They even throw in a few lessons that actually resonate with kids, while not being cheap, in the “very special Blossom” kind of way.  

The story centers around Mike and his desire for a career in Scaring.  Anyone who’s seen or even heard Mike knows that will be a challenge.  In a relevant reference to the original, we also find that Mike has all of the initiative.  Scully  has the skill, but no desire to work.  Add to this all of the traditional trappings of your typical college movie, subtract the gratuitous sex, and you have the premise.  

Crystal does a good job ramping down from his usual histrionic self.  Incredibly, Goodman’s Scully is the boorish one for much of the film.  It works within the framework of the story, especially once the two find themselves in a fraternity of oddballs, eloquently played by Murray, Foley and Hayes, among others.  The gentleness with which the script exhibits the outcasts is stirring.  In a start contrast, Helen Mirren is the picture of wicked grace in her presentation of Dean Hardscrabble, who has seen it all and is not afraid to prejudge without impunity.  

 The best treatment of character is the one least expected.  Buscemi’s Randall is reset as Randy, a rather shy and somewhat similar student to Mike.  The first half of the film is a readjustment to expectations.  Even if he is not used as much in the second half, his progression is amusing and believable.

Two major points resonate in the script.  First of all, we find that even if individuals might not have what it takes, there is no “one way” to do things and teamwork has a better chance to prevail.  Secondly and more importantly, my youngest held onto the lesson about cheating, and admitting when you are wrong.  

The result is very good, even if it’s not necessary.  It certainly is not the embarrassment that the Cars franchise has become.  Extra points for the development of characters, the responsible messages portrayed eloquently and the fact that it was smart enough to appeal to kids that normally have a hard time sitting.  They hit this one almost directly on the nail, even if it’s on an extension of the house we did not realize we needed.  

(****1/2 out of *****)

Pacific Rim: Where do you want to die?

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Pacific Rim – 2013

Director Guillermo Del Toro
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman
Screenplay Del Toro and Travis Beacham

Once Guillermo Del Toro decided to forego The Hobbit series of movies, the concept kind of lost steam for me.  After I saw the first film, it was apparent why.  Jackson was creative in a way that represented his view of someone else’s vision for so long, it was no longer apparent that he had a vision of his own.  The scene that best exemplified this was the bumbling escapade through the cave of the Great Goblin.  There was no attempt at perspective.  Running through the cave through some invented rickety pathways and then falling for what seemed like miles, only to bounce up even after the fat goblin landed on them.  Everything was designed as a cheap attempt at humor and it completely took away any sense of drama that the Riddles in the Dark chapter had gained.  Any feeling of wonder that we had clung to in the first series of films is now compromised.

How did those planes get on there with that corpse?  Who cares?
How did those planes get on there with that corpse? Who cares?

Del Toro takes on multiple fantasy and sci-fi sacred cows with Pacific Rim.   Everything they are doing has been done too many times before.  Godzilla, inter-dimensional invasions, cloning, human-mechna bonding, mind-melding and even Rock ‘Em Sockem Robots.  This movie should be an absolute mess.  Thanks to the ambitious vision of Del Toro, what we have is a glorious masterpiece.  For something as loud and potentially obnoxious as this could be, it’s a remarkably subtle work, right down to the lone golden shoe.  Del Toro notices everything, because he loves about everything that is going on here, and everything that it derives from.

Explaining the plot is simple.  A bunch of monsters named Kaiju started to attack cities on the Pacific Rim one at a time.   Conventional means took down the first few.  The attacks increased in frequency as civilization developed mechna weapons operated by humans called Jaegers to fight them.  The catch for the humans is that the mechna fighters need two bonded humans to run them.  Those who have operated the machines solo have developed bloody noses, which is short hand for irreparable brain damage.  Hunman as Releigh Becket, is one of the few to survive this phenomenon for reasons that will remain for the viewer to discover.

It's a geek fantasy.  Might as well be a video game.
It’s a geek fantasy. Might as well be a video game.

The mechna bots start to whittle down as the Kaiju continue to learn how to defeat them.  In a last-ditch effort, two operations take place.  First there is an attempt to build walls along the coasts of the Pacific.  The other is a an effort to combine the last of the Jaegers in Hong Kong for one last shot at closing the portal that serves as the monsters entry point to Earth.

Hunman has the bulk of Vin Diesel, the voice of Keanu Reeves and more enthusiasm than both of them.  It serves him well in the role of hero, when combined with the able supporting cast.  His chemistry with Kikuchi (Becket’s partner Mori)  is a geek’s fantasy.  She plays the role of winsome and dangerous quite elegantly.  Alba is finally able to use something close to his real accent as Pentecost, the leader of the Jaeger program.  Day and Gorman play your typical mad doctors, trying to out-theory each other ad-naseum.  Day’s quirk filled delivery  and isolated story line with Perlman helps keep the combination from seeming like something directly out of an Emmerich / Devlin pile.  On the other hand, it may be Gorman that brings the thing down.  They should lose him for the sequel.  Perlman is exactly what you’d expect.  No matter what he’s in, he’s completely at ease on the screen.

Epic battles.  Things get wrecked.
Epic battles. Things get wrecked.

The battles are epic.  Everything that has happened since Terminator 2 has lacked the immediacy of that classic battle of machine versus machine.  No one else has really come closer to those landmark battles than Del Toro.  His battles actually feel like they are weighted by attention to time, space and gravity.  It helps to feel like sequences have actually been story boarded.  The scene featuring Newton’s Cradle is a wonderful example of a scene that many other directors could do horribly.  In the hands of Del Toro, it’s as intricate as touching a sleeping baby on the chin and not waking him or her.  On the complete other end of the spectrum, there is the completely needless pounding of fists by the mechnas.  Watching this, one might be tempted to wonder how much the act would damage one large mechanical hand or the other.  Instead, the viewer gets pumped in the most gloriously dumb way.  Yeah.  I’m in for that.  All in.  Just like Del Toro.

Let’s be honest.  Pacific Rim is big, dumb fun.  It could have been dumber, but it could not have been much more effectively big.  It’s a story that is as shallow as a video game.  I will watch this movie several times in my life, and find new ways to enjoy it.  It’s just the way Del Toro is able to collaborate with people, making the other people’s vision his own.  It never feels calculated.  It always feels laden with exuberant joy.  He makes all the battles we imagined as children come alive, in a way that feels as true as anything we’ve ever felt.

(**** out of *****)

Horrible Bosses is not nearly as bad as it’s title

Horrible Bosses – 2011

Directed by Seth Gordon

Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland

Written by Michael Markowitz, John Frances Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

In the ever perfectly fitting placement of poor Hollywood screenwriting, three high school friends find themselves stuck between a rock and a bad economy.  Horrible Bosses plays like 9 to 5 meets Strangers on a Train circa Judd Apatow.  The resulting film is an unorthodox collection of sketches, some that work, some that don’t, which doesn’t amount to much, but is funny nonetheless.

Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day) and Kurt (Sudekeis) have all found themselves in an untenable situation at their places of work.  Nick works for Dave (Spacey), who is insanely jealous of his wife and generally enjoys the misery he puts his employees into.  Dale, a dental assistant, is being accosted continually by his sex-starved dentist boss, Dr. Julia (Aniston) and it looks to get in the way of his pending marriage to his longtime girlfriend.  Bobby (Farrell) is the louse, drug addled son of Kurt’s boss, who passes away soon after credits roll, but not too soon to hear that he was in line to get the job.  He doesn’t, of course.  Bobby steps in.

This set up is about the worst aspect of the film.  The exposition goes out of its way to show that the friends have ostensibly no way out, as if to make what comes next more excusable.  It would have been easier to say the economy sucked and leave it at that.  That part of the film infirmly established, we move on to the next phase of the plot: how to get rid of their problems.  Enter “M.F.” Jones (Foxx), a hit man who misleads the guys into giving him $5000 for becoming their murder consultant.  His advice, each of the friends should kill the other’s “problems,” but before they start, they should do surveillance to help, of course, make them all look like accidents.

At this, the film takes off like a jalopy, clanking and puking out filth throughout the journey, but getting somewhere in the process.

“It’s like we stepped inside the mind of an asshole.”

Kurt spouts the line as they break into the house of his boss, Bobby.  It’s a simple phrase, but it’s enjoyable and apt.  The script from here on is dotted with these types of lines.  Some of them my wife liked, some I did.  Either way, one can safely expect to get a chuckle or three about every half hour.  There is a pleasant aspect to the randomness of the humor throughout Horrible Bosses.  It fits together well at times, other times it clanks, and at other times goes absolutely nowhere.  Editing may have helped, especially when one watches the end credit scenes and sees some that would have improved the overall story and are funnier than most of what was left in.

As for acting, Sedeikis, Day and Bateman have a certain amount of chemistry.  Each of them have their great lines and none of them are overly sympathetic, either.  This could be a breakthrough for Day, who until now has acquired the reputation he has on the cable show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  As for the bosses, Aniston and Farrell made the biggest change from their normal routine as Spacey did the guy he’s worked to a tee by now.  Again, their effectiveness is dependent on the writing and editing.

Obviously, more works on this film than doesn’t work.  It is the kind of film that could get better or worse with repeated viewings.  If it sounds like I haven’t made up my mind…I am pretty sure the fact I think I will be watching it again should say enough.

(*** out of *****)