Friday, June 15

Incredibles 2 Review

Incredibles 2

Dir: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, and Samuel L. Jackson

In the age of superhero overload it’s interesting to remember that 14 years ago one of the best superhero films was the animated Disney Pixar film “The Incredibles”. Before Marvel’s venture into the comic book franchise, the superfamily lead by husband and wife partners Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl was the best version of The Fantastic Four cinema had seen, in fact they still are.

Director Brad Bird, who made his foray into Pixar’s animation fold with “The Incredibles”, returns to continue the saga with the sequel. Picking up almost immediately following the events in the first film, Mr. Bird easily loops the 14 year gap between the films with beautiful designs and fantastic action in the first few minutes. It’s clear that “Incredibles 2” wants to be entertaining but also follow the flow of the contemporary action designs audiences are more than accustomed with.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are in hot destructive pursuit of one of the many bad guys in the fantasy 1960’s city they live in. Once the smoke settles, the team is interrogated by the police because of the destruction; the age of superhero is made illegal by the government, forcing the crime fighting family into hiding. It doesn't take long for a nostalgia driven businessman to make room on his roster for the husband and wife team to put their masks and tights back on to promote a changing of the tide for the supers. However, only one is needed and Elastigirl is given the spotlight while Mr. Incredible is forced to stay home and take care of the family.

14 years of time hasn’t stopped the advancement of technology, which is evident from the first frame of this film. The design is impeccable; the shiny suits, the close-up textures of characters faces, and the action set pieces are amazing to look at. You’d almost want the movie to move a little slower just so that your eyes can draw in the rich details.

Director and writer Brad Bird fashions “Incredibles 2” in the vein of other superhero films with a balance of the necessary amount of exposition and amusing action sequences that break everything up. The revisit to these characters is still quite interesting to watch; Mr. Incredible is begrudgingly tasked with being the family man while Elastigirl is provided room to shine as the lead superhero, and the kids continue to encounter the growth that comes with adolescence. Young Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) steals the show as a growing infant who displays numerous humorous abilities, Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell) are each going through the growing pains as well. The chemistry of the kids is very fun.

Still, the narrative suffers a little bit from wanting to introduce too much into the details. At 2 hours long, the film moves swiftly in some ways but stalls to a crawl in other ways. When details about feminism, family, and empowerment make an appearance, the film glows with character but when issues concerning the government’s involvement and the spousal miscommunications that happen between the couple, the film loses traction. While it’s all good stuff to discuss, some of the topics become lost in the mix of it all, overshadowed by stronger emotions and the continuous push for action.

“Incredibles 2”, after being gone for some time, feels a little late to the superhero party in some ways. Still, the action and characters are top tier, making it fun to go on the adventure. And even amidst some minor hiccups, the film has lots of heart and displays a great message about the superhero strength found within the family dynamic.

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Monday, June 11

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor 

Dir: Morgan Neville

Contrary to popular belief Fred Rogers, the sweater wearing voice of positivity behind the beloved public broadcasting system show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, was not an Army sniper or drill instructor who hid tattoos under his long sleeve cardigans. Mr. Rogers was instead an ordained minister and strong advocate for media as a vessel for learning and understanding for young children. It was job suited for a specific individual, someone who could find the sun on a cloudy day. Fred Rogers was exactly that and so much more.

Director Morgan Neville takes an in-depth look at the man, the myth, and ultimately the legend known as Fred Rogers in the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. The filmmaker talks to nearly everyone still alive that knew Mr. Rogers; whether cast members who share insight into the process behind the children’s television show, the crew who discuss the few occasions Rogers was cranky on set, and his family who tell stories of a man who cared deeply about children and the influence society had on their development. It brings about the melancholy but also some truly touching moments of humanity at its very best. 

It’s difficult trying to portray a man who, no matter how much extensive digging the director provides, functions with all the best intentions and rarely engages in actions that would be detrimental to his character. It’s a fantastic character analysis that displays how and why Rogers was so passionate about building a television show for children. Even more intriguing are the behind the scenes moments when we see Mr. Rogers struggle with the changing social climate in America, whether the issue of race relationships, violence against public officials that impacted the U.S. significantly, or the general negativity that exists with the passage of time. In one of the many affecting scenes in the film Rogers discusses assassination through one of the puppet characters from the show. It’s a heartwarming scene that handles a difficult and tragic issue with innocence and empathy. 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” does a great job of providing the viewer with an analysis of a man who simply cared deeply about media education for children. Fred Rogers was deliberate in his process, slowing the often fast paced nature of television aimed at children to recognize the power of silence, self reflection, and the ability to process information without stringent time restraints. It’s quite beautiful watching the many moments over the course of Mr. Rogers’ life on screen take place, regardless of what was going on in the world the goal was always to provide an educational program for kids. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” did just that. For those that grew up with Fred Rogers helping make sense of the world, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” will be your new feel good movie.

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

Friday, June 8

Streamathon - Seeking Refuge

Streamathon - Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuge (June 2018)

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark…” – Warsan Shire
Humans have been roaming this planet for the last 200,000 years or so. With some minor exceptions, that is when mankind pretty much stopped evolving genetically and began evolving culturally. The practice of migration in search of a better life has been the largest contributor to that cultural evolution. And our ability to learn from the experiences and knowledge of others, fueling our own progress has always hinged on these migrations. This ability is what propelled us and has kept us at the top of the food chain.
Borders on the other hand, looked at in the proper context are a very radical and new idea. The first city-states didn’t even show up in our history until around 6,000 years ago. The Greeks and the Italians followed suit in the coming centuries but migration was not only still free back then, it was widely encouraged. People were seen as assets to the regions.
These city-states wouldn’t start forming into countries for hundreds of years. Borders of these early countries were typically geographical landmarks like rivers, oceans and mountain ranges. They were vague at best and more or less protected by the terrain itself. It wasn’t until around the end of the Middle Ages (16th-17th Century A.D.) that sovereign nations started to form as a way for land-grabbing monarchs to assume power. Even so, these borders were not used to restrict immigration of people but rather, to more clearly identify governmental jurisdictions.
In fact, the very concept of immigration law is quite new. Most European nations had no laws restricting immigration until the 20th Century. The U.S. was a country with defined (and redefined) borders for over 100 years before they introduced the first legislation restricting immigration (Chinese Immigration Act of 1882). So if my math is correct, our species has been restricting the migration of people in search for a better life for about 0.1% of its entire existence.
I’m writing this because I think it’s important to frame it in these terms. This is what I think about when I hear politicians and pundits try to convince me that “A nation without borders is not a nation at all” or when they support legislation designed to significantly reduce and restrict immigration like the RAISE ACT. These are radical new and dangerous ideas. They are fueled by nationalism, xenophobia and other various forms of bigoted fear. They are restricting our ability to further our own cultural evolution and they have led to the biggest humanitarian crisis we have seen since the Dark Ages.
As a quote by 2nd Century B.C. Roman playwright, Terence reads:
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." (I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.)
This maybe was better spoken by a more modern poet, Pogues front man Shane MacGowan (still alive surprisingly):
“People are talking about immigration, emigration and the rest of the fucking thing. It's all fucking crap. We're all human beings, we're all mammals, we're all rocks, plants, rivers. Fucking borders are just such a pain in the fucking arse.”
There are currently 65.5 million people seeking refuge.

The Stream

Directed by Don Bluth – Streaming on Netflix

Fievel  Mousekewitz is pretty much the quintessential child immigrant; so much so that in 2000, he became the official “spokemouse” for UNICEF. He and his family fled the violent cats of Russia in the late 1800’s to start a new life in America. Unfortunately shortly after they arrive, a storm separates Fievel from the rest of his family (nowadays, the Federal government takes care of that for you). Also unfortunately, the Mousekewitz family seems to have somehow miscalculated the actual amount of cats in America. 

This was one of those movies I had on VHS when I was young and probably watched it no less than 50 times. I just rewatched it for the first time in over 25 years... It turns out that I still know all the words to the songs.  

BLIND SUN (2015)
Directed by Joyce A. Nashawati – Streaming on Shudder

This is a psychological slow-thrill about an immigrant house-sitting for a wealthy family in Greece. His isolation couples with constant reminders that he is at best, less than welcome in this country. This anxiety is exasperated by the blistering Greek sun. Anxiety escalates to paranoia, a paranoia that shows itself to be more and more justified as the story progresses. This film never really blooms into a full blown horror flick. I feel like it might have wanted to, but its overall message would have been lost. 

DHEEPAN (2015)
Directed by Jacques Audiard – Streaming on Netflix

Dheepan is a former soldier in the Sri Lankan civil war seeking refuge in France under an assumed name. His new identity also came with a fake wife and daughter. Sadly, they quickly find out that things are tough all over as his new neighborhood turns out to be just a different type of war zone. This is a gripping and tense drama that builds towards a third act that is absolutely shocking. 

LE HAVRE (2011)
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki  – Streaming on FilmStruck

This is a semi-sequel to Kaurismäki’s Marcel Marx story that began in 1992 with LA VIE DE BOHÉME. He’s quit writing and relocated to Le Havre, Normandy to shine shoes and live quietly with his wife, Arletty. In his travels, he comes across Idrissa, a young African boy that is hiding from immigration. When Arletty takes ill and doesn’t seem to want his help, his new relationship provides him with the usefulness he seems to live for. Kaurismäki’s films are always quaint, even when the subject matter deserves more weight. This one is no exception. It also gets bonus points for a cameo from the French master of quirk, Pierre Etaix.

Directed by Ai Weiwei – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Ai Weiwei documents the chains of migration across 23 different countries with multiple film crews. Among them, he visits France, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico and Greece. His cameras sweep through the masses of immigrants, giving the viewers only a glimpse of perspective available to percolate from a 140 minute runtime. Those perspectives range from overhead drone shots to personal interviews filled with gut-wrenching anecdotes. I think this film is a little more important than it is good. It’s a bit of a chore to watch but it probably does better than the rest to highlight the current refugee crisis our world faces. 

EL NORTE (1983)
Directed by Gregory Nava – Streaming on FilmStruck

As a personal story, this is heartfelt, warm and very melancholy. But watching this with the full realization of how this story is actually typical is downright depressing. This is a unique film. I like how the story is a small and personal tale but the cinematography and score give this film the weight of a hero’s journey. There are precious few beloved eighties arthouse classics and this will always be one of them.

Directed by Annemarie Jacir – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

In 1967, after the 6 Day War the Israeli/Palestinian border lines were once again redrawn, displacing a few hundred thousand Palestinians. This film tells one small personal story of a mother and her 11 year old son forced into a camp in Jordan. Anxious and distraught, her son takes off for the desert to find his father and ends up taking up with a group of Marxist guerillas. Among its themes, I think this film does a really good job at illustrating what generational displacement can do you young people. Faced with no prospects of a better life and no representation from the governments that control the region they are forced to, violence may end up the most attractive option.