Incredibles 2 (2018)

   Director: Brad Bird  With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick.  Release: Jun 15, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick. 
Release: Jun 15, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

14 years since the first film, the family of supers has returned to the cinema in a way that feels inherently natural to the first story, but may not pack the same perfect punch. Brad Bird’s “Incredibles 2” is worth a watch though, and another one after that. Pixar continuously swings hard and hits big with their films, as “Incredibles 2” scored $180 million over the weekend, not to mention the film's sheer exceptionality. It picks up where the first film left off, with the underminer merging from the undergrounds of the city to launch an attack on the bank. These heroes jump into action though, not fearing the repercussions of breaking the law for enacting themselves into the scene. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) run in head first, leaving Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) to be watched by both Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell). The two kids fight over babysitter duty while the adults attempt to stop the crazed mole of a man. He inevitably gets away though, and the mining vehicle turns into a vehicular weapon designated on destruction. 

But our heroes save the day, only to be held at gunpoint as their escorted to the police station and warned to stay out of the light. Their governmental ally, Krushauer (Phil LaMarr), attempts to do what he can before he retires, but politicians don't understand those who desire to do good. They just needed an excuse to keep these heroes dead for good it seems. Given two weeks stay at a local motel, these heroes have a brash spurt of dialogue about subjects such as governmental treatment, fair laws, and the societal effects of legislation. 

It’s all done without a beat missed though, an exceptional feat to consider from a kids movies about superheroes. The heroes are at rock bottom with Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) discussing who should take the brunt of the load this time around, seeing as Bob (Craig T. Nelson) worked at a miserable Insurance firm for twenty years. To their surprise, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) was approached by someone after the heroic events of the day, someone with a lot of money and an extreme passion for superheroes. 

Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is that man; he comes from a background that formulates him like that of a renaissance man. Aimed at bringing back the bright and bold past of heroism, Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), are two kids who took their father’s business and personal ideals to manifest a fantastic opportunity for heroes to return to saving the day. He doesn’t choose the big and robust Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to lead the way though, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is their elected leader since her calamity costs seem to be the lowest. This comes to the surprise of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), attempting to cope with someone being chosen over him, and being happy for his wife at the same time. He’s internally conflicted in that way, but he decides to be brave and become the stay at home father while mom brings home the bacon. 


This is something that Brad Bird’s screenplay exemplifies with flying colors. He examines this constant fret of manhood under attack from women being the ones responsible for making money, something that has been examined before, but continuously seems to be abnormal for our society. It’s rare to see women in the front, especially when their husband casts a long shadow that they’ve been buried underneath continuously. Bird recognized that ideal in the first film, making Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the calm and far more achievable hero of the pair, he carries that notion to new heights with the sequel. He takes her character to the point of legitimacy that examines that internal conflict that men seem to face, in which they seem to confuse the idea of leadership with an occupation. 

It takes Bob (Craig T. Nelson) a while before he makes this distinction, as well as the importance of it. He seemingly forgot how great it is to be a dad, and he faces far more extreme hardships than most fathers when he learns Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) has not one, but seventeen powers, and counting. He’s a character that seems to be more powerful than anyone and everyone as if he’s the Matt Malroy of the “Incredibles” universe. Luckily Edna Mole (Brad Bird) assists in fabricating something to make babysitting this omega level mutant-like child a bit smoother. 

This fatherhood challenge leads to some of the film’s most enchanting moments, like a conversation between Violett (Sarah Vowell) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson) in which he apologizes for his actions involving the boy she’s crushing on and admits how he wants to be a good father. With the look of a man that feels as if he’s failed at that role, his daughter reminds him of the love she has for him. It’s a heartwarming moment that evoked the most emotion from myself and the audience around me during my screening this morning. 

The emotion isn’t the only benefit of the screenplay; there is also some fantastic action and superhero fun to be had. With a villain known as Screenslaver, who hacks into anyone’s screen and hypnotizes them with a white and black circulating loop. Forcing people to forget how to fly helicopters and taking over broadcasters to get across his message, it's all so predictable though. From the get-go, you can spot out the villain behind the mask; it’s almost worth spoiling for just how obvious it seems to be. 

The narrative doesn’t rely on that action-packed story as much as it does it's emotional investigation of fatherhood though, the visuality of it all doesn’t hurt either, maintaining that sixtyish, bond-like, and Kirby comic book style that the original film excelled with. Bird designs the film to look so bracingly out of a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book, as well as a Sean Connery style Bond film, but there's no womanizing to be had. The film treats all of its characters with a sheer amount of integrity and authenticity, not only with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) but Violet (Sarah Vowell) and newcomers like Voyd (Sophia Bush) as well. 

Bird doesn’t treat the men wrongfully either; they stand in the spotlight just as much as the ladies. Working together to save the day, which is something that the “Incredibles” franchise continues to excel at. Displaying unity, bravery, and societal relevance at a cinematic rigorousness that deserves a trilogy or a tv show or whatever Pixar wants to do with it. 

"Incredibles 2" is an example of a filmmaker who patiently waited to return to his toy box, a toy box he made famous 14 years ago. His toys aren’t old or rusty; they’re just getting started it feels, exemplifying importance and fun in a coordinated attack that Bird and Pixar designed masterfully. What more can this studio achieve?
 

TAG (2018)

   Director: Jeff Tomsic  With: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, LilRel Howery, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, & Hannibal Buress. Release: Jun 15, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min.

Director: Jeff Tomsic
With: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, LilRel Howery, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, & Hannibal Buress.
Release: Jun 15, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min.

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Comedies are meant to be not only funny, but some of the best of these films have a heart to them. There like the little movies that could, they challenge these big boy films with witty humor and a little emotion to create that sense of resonance. Jeff Tomsic’s “Tag” exemplifies this notion, almost perfectly. The film follows a simple narrative, a group of adult men, who have been friends since childhood, gather around during May to play a game of “Tag.” It’s silly, but its core message isn’t something that is worth laughing at. 

Walking the line between embracing your childhood and moving on from it, “Tag” has a message that we all feel, but don’t get to wrap our head around completely. It gets lost in the transitions of this twisting narrative that takes competitivity to an outrageous extreme, especially when it comes to the one who remains tagless, Jerry (Jeremy Renner). He’s a guy who grew up to become someone of exceptional talent when it comes to this game, almost making it seem that he should have been involved with the military or something. Nonetheless, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is one of the best parts of the film, both filmatically and narratively. 

His sequences of action in which the group attempts to conquer the impossible are narrated by himself. Providing a Sherlock Holmes-like design in which he predicts every moment for the audience. Breaking down his friend's movements and the psychological weaknesses that he exploits to his benefits. Narratively speaking, the character provides an amount of heart to the film for what he stands for as if he’s the last stitch of childhood. 

One that has played the game so well, and so competitively, that he finds himself symbolizing the one who has been absent the most from these men’s lives. Helms’ character discusses this when he talks about how the game is a way for them to stay apart of each other’s lives. Keeping them together, except for the man who seems to be untaggable. 

It becomes a game worth watching though, with some extreme sequences that lack believability entirely, which is where some film viewers will draw the line. I couldn't help but find this over the top essence of it all so humorously delighting though, it becomes both action-packed, while continuously being funny. Not only with discovering just how good Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is at this game but the little banter that seems filled with hopelessness and reliant optimism from his friends. Each of them has their successes in life, like Bob (Jon Hamm) whose CEO of a fortune 500 company.

At the beginning of the film, he’s being interviewed by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. In the midst of this conversation about the integrity of his company, Hoagie (Ed Helms), whose disguised himself as a janitor by getting hired by the Bob’s (Jon Hamm) company, interrupts their discussion by obnoxiously cleaning the office. Loudly banging trash cans and erupting with noise, till finally Bob (Jon Hamm) politely asks him to leave, only to learn that his friend is “it.” The game begins from there on, and our journalist acts as our expositional vacuum in which we are fed the backstory through her. The secrets, the stories behind specific character interactions, and the constant feed of information from the shared childhoods of these men. 

It’s a wild story that is based on one from reality, broken down in an article by the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The exposition is on the nose, and the film takes it sequences to an illogical extreme, but that's what comedy is right? It’s making something relatively mundane feel extreme in a way that is clever and authentic, which is where “Tag” strides. The authenticity of a group of lifelong friends interacting with one another in a way that is believable. The performances assist in this no doubt, but Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen’s screenplay manifests that naturalistic dialogue. It's not on par with something of a James Ivory, but it has a sense of earnestly that reminds me of his style. 

I wish I could discuss the style of the director, but comedies seem to be lacking in that department continuously. Few continuously stand out with their visual treatments or cinematic language, but every genre has inherent burdens to bear, I guess comedies is dull cinematography. If it wasn’t for the brash screenplay and unapologetic ridiculousness of it all, “Tag” may not have been at the receiving end of high praise from myself, but it all works. It’s funny, bold, and unexpectedly brilliant at times, it's a good comedy movie, something that seems to be in short supply these days. 
 

Ocean's 8 (2018)

   Director: Gary Ross  With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden.  Release: Jun 8, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

Director: Gary Ross
With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden. 
Release: Jun 8, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

 

In the midst of Gary Ross’s, not Steven Soderbergh's (though he was a producer), “Ocean’s 8” there is a scene in which our family made crook, Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock), is browsing through possible additions to the crew with her confidant Lou (Cate Blanchett). Lou (Cate Blanchett) pulls up a headshot of a rather handsome fella, and Debby (Sandra Bullock) turns him down stating “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.” This scene is where I began to catch on to the con being fronted by “Ocean’s 8,” and it's one worth watching. 

The film sets itself as a sequel, instead of a reboot. Taking place years after the heyday of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who has passed away, at least we assume he has, and his younger sister has seemed to have learned all of his best moves and made them even better. Opening with a scene that harkens back to “Ocean’s 11,” quite literally, in which our feminine lead crook is attempting to earn parole. She says she wants the simple life, that her days as a thief are done, she even gets choked up discussing how her brother’s legacy has not inspired her, but we all know that’s a crock a shit. She, in fact, is playing a con, something that seems to be as natural to her as breathing air. 

Why is she playing a con? To get out of prison right? I mean, obviously, but it's not that simple. Nothing is ever that simple with these movies though, as expected she’s been planning something big. A job that involves robbing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not the museum itself, but rather a particular item that is persuaded its way around the neck of the beautiful Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Known as the Toussaint, an infamous necklace painted with a French history that is fabricated with six pounds of diamonds and is valued at $150 million. With a crew of eight, that splits the prize at about $16.5 million each, a substantial enticement for anyone who needs anymore persuading beyond the challenge that lies ahead of them in this big, grand, con of the century. 

The money is great, but that doesn’t seem to be the only incentive because these women all seem to share that same appetite for thievery that Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her family seem to have inherited almost organically. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is an old friend who's been with Debby (Sandra Bullock) since the start; she also shares some of the same connections she does to the old Soderbergh crew of swindlers. Amita (Mindy Kaling) is someone who can fake the jewelry but also lives with her mother whose constant harassment can be quite an enticement to try and steal your way to something better. 

Constance (Awkwafina) and Nine Ball (Rihanna) are the two utility and necessary tools, one is that sleight of hand smuggler, and the other is the hacker. How they learned their trade or who they are beyond that is not very important to “Ocean’s 8,” as Rose Well (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tammy (Sarah Paulson) or any of the other members of the crew that aren’t Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) seem to be overlooked and treated as unimportant. It’s a glaring flaw in the middle of “Ocean’s 8” that showcases the lack of style or nuance presented by Gary Ross, who also assisted Olivia Milch in writing the screenplay. The cast feels consistently mishandled, which for a film that is meant to use the sly socio-political messages of feminism to be the little jabs underlying this brash but familiar story, this misuse of the cast seems to be something that directly refutes the notions presented. 

Sister-hood is supposed to be something of pride, and it's something that is never heavily focused upon. If you're reading closely though, you may have noticed that the film is called “Ocean’s 8,” and I have only named seven members of the crew. Well, the eighth member is a bit of a surprise, that’s all I’ll say for now, but it's one of the many surprises that is fantastic. It’s one of the great things that Gary Ross borrows from the past four films in that the wonders that the heist includes, or the hidden cameos and twists of the narrative can be predictable, yet still feel invigoratingly enjoyable.

 It’s almost like a mainstream horror movie in that way, in the sense that the film has twists that are predictable due to the expectational assumptions that are brought to a movie about stealing stuff. You know what’s coming next, but you still want to be a part of the ride, despite the predictability of it's best parts. It’s one of the aspects of “Ocean’s 8” that I was already signed up for, so, to no surprise, it was one of the many things that made me grin during my screening. 

The other things that made me grin were the powerhouse of performances brought to the table by this ridiculously talented ensemble of women. Anne Hathaway plays this ditzy girl in hiding, whose obvious sex appeal, and pretty but dumb persona lends to her performance being one that is multi-faceted. Both in the way she is directly trolling her critics and in how she keeps you guessing as to what her importance is to the screenplay. Is she just the butt of the joke, or is she apart of the fun? 

Sandra Bullock is magnificently charming and cunning. She has the dose of calmness and sternness that makes her seem as if she’s sleeping through her performance, but that’s the whole point of her character. This con isn’t her first, nor is it her last. She’s not going to have those rookie jitters; she’s a veteran and one of the best at what she does. Cate Blanchett shares remarkable chemistry with that facade of her character, continually dispensing her charisma all over the screen in a way that makes her feel like she’s giving far more to the role than the role is giving back to her. Rihanna and Awkwafina are the two comic reliefs of the group, something they excel at, and Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter are given roles that allow them to feel necessary, but never unique. 

Someone who feels completely underused is Mindy Kaling, she’s such a talented actress, and one that deserves some more opportunities because she leaves a lot of her fingerprints on this film, unlike Gary Ross. Not only is his screenplay rather dull in that of the meat of what makes this story tick, but the visual language presented is something of mundane quality as well. He’s continuously showcasing these wide shots of New York City as if we forgot where this film was taking place, and his edits feel more like he’s mimicking Soderbergh, instead of making this franchise his own. 

He plays second fiddle, not to these exceptional women, but to the man that made these films famous. At least the woman look incredible though, thanks to some impeccable costume design from Sarah Edwards who works alongside top designers such as Valentino and Naeem Khan, to name a few. She allows these women to embrace that feminine side of glitz and glamour, something that alongside the constant jabs of feminist pride, can become quite special to watch. 

It’s a long con, pulled off by both the cast and the filmmaker behind them. “Ocean’s 8” is presenting itself as a female-led reboot of a film, one that has no unique attachments, but in all reality, it's just that. It’s a female-led film that has a unique touch because of its womanhood, something that doesn’t get brought to light enough by the “man” behind the camera. If only this film had a director with a woman’s touch, I might not be describing this film as almost great. I guess that might be the great con of it all, a movie about women, with no woman behind the camera, such a shame. 

Hereditary (2018)

   Director: Ari Aster  With: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, & Milly Shapiro. Release: Jun 8, 2018 R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

Director: Ari Aster
With: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, & Milly Shapiro.
Release: Jun 8, 2018
R. 2 hr. 7 min. 

 

Curled up in my seat, grasping my arms, breathing heavily, and struggling to not look around me at all times. These are the traits of an experience that a great horror film can manifest from its viewer, traits that I exhibited tonight at my screening for Ari Aster’s feature film debut, “Hereditary.” It’s a horror film designed to produce something different from the guessable and unimpactful mainstream horror that audiences are accustomed too, in fact, it's hard not to say that this film isn’t original. From it’s story to its use of the camera, “Hereditary” maintains this sense of unique and nuanced storytelling. 

A brilliantly written story that builds from something slow and dramatic that lingers with an atmosphere that chills you to the bone, to something off the rails with unexpected twists and shadowed silhouettes that are sure to haunt my dreams when I lay my head down later tonight. However, it’s also a story that is easy to spoil and ruin for someone unaware of the brilliance that they're about to witness. Ari Aster structures this story in a way that makes it that way, continually blending expected reality with that of horrific fiction making sure that if you give away the surprise, the party's ruined. 

You're never sure if the events your witnessing are occurring or just another figment of a nightmare though, like that of Annie’s (Toni Collette) sleepwalking, a habit of hers that once led her to drown her children and herself in paint thinner one night. Waking herself out of the numbified trance with the sound of a match being lit. It’s a story that explains this disruption in the family, well one of them that is. It all takes place after the death of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother, a woman whose dominating personality estranged them away from each other. We learn her family has a lineage littered with tragedy, a father whose depression drove him to death from starvation, and a brother whose schizophrenia drove him to suicide by hanging. Leaving behind a suicide note that blamed his mother for letting them inside him. 

Annie (Toni Collette) doesn’t become stricken with grief, but somewhat guilt. Fearing her mother’s behavior would somehow become her own, tearing apart the family she loves. To deal with this fear, she articulates small figurines. Building a little three-dimensional portrait of her life, from the birth of her children to the recent loss of her mother. She crafts a small glance into the shell of her life, one that begins to haunt her when her family begins to struggle with inexplicable things. 

Her youngest daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), ticks with creepiness and behavioral perplexions, like her deadly allergy to nuts. Yet it seems she’s chosen to eat them before, as we see her eating a chocolate bar during the funeral of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother. Her father asks if it has nuts in it as if she willingly ate them before, well aware of her allergic liability. 

Her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is someone attempting to understand his mother. Unable to forget her sleepwalking occurrence, he’s hard on her and always butting heads. They exchange a passive-aggressive tone of dialogue in a scene in which Peter (Alex Wolff) is asking to borrow the car to attend a friend’s party, a conversation that haunts our story later on. 

The husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), is a man of rationality and one that seems to be the backbone of the family, constantly reeling his wife back in. 

All of this is as much of the story that I am willing to give you in, why the fear starts or how it starts is something you’ll have to discover on your own. These are merely foregrounds for the characters, to allow you to understand the inherent emotion found in the horror that develops a sense of naturalistic realism. Realism that is maintained even when the story jumps from lingering articulative atmospheric fear to in your face and strangely believable events that are handled with a level of mastery from Aster. 

Aster in his first feature film has earned that definitive description of mastery because he continuously berates the story with nuance and sense of organized erratic behavior. Unable to predict what’s coming next, and feeling uneasy while you try to be two steps ahead of both Aster's visuals and his screenwriting. They work hand in hand, barely placing pressure on the strain of the audience until they suddenly reveal an image in which you see something lurking in the shadows. Something is remaining entirely still, staring back at you. The camera lingers, staying wide, steady, and calmly placed. Your eyes darting across the screen, and your hands gripping the theater chair, expecting to see something sporadically move, but Aster is not that simple. 

Aster keeps you on your toes in that way, always peeking around every corner of the story with this unsure sense of confidence, unable to predict the outcome. It’s unlike horror to do such a thing; we’re supposed to go in a be able to say “wait for it, here it comes,” as a loud screeching noise jolts through the surround sound, convulsing your friend out of their seat. Aster doesn’t do that though; he begins the film with slow, lingering, and depthful camera movements. They methodically meander throughout the frame, never in a rush to get to a scare or the next scene. He manifests an atmosphere; one the exemplifies something worth experiencing in a theatre. 

It’s worth that ten dollar ticket, if not to see the magnificent fright that awaits you, then to see Toni Collette throw her name out in front of the pack for the best female performance of 2018. Her facial expressions, her movement, her subtle smiles and twitches, and her constant evocation of emotional outrage is something worth a lot more than ten dollars. She grasps every drop of attention from the audience, pouring out her emotions on to the screen. Never shying away from going all-in, and knowing when to hold back. 

Milly Shapiro isn’t far behind though, in her first performance she inhabits a character that dispatches shivers. Manifesting a sound that is sure to be mimicked and replicated for years to come, one that merely involves you clicking your tongue. It becomes a dreaded noise in the film, one that when it occurs, it automatically riddles your body with goosebumps in anticipation for what could be lurking in the shadows. 

Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne are the backboned performances that could make or break this film. They remain tethered to reality, being the two representatives of those afraid of the events they witness. Not curious, not inspired by, just merely scared. Their performances hold the film together when it needs it most, being those utility tools that every filmmaker needs to craft something of this magnitude because they are essential to “Hereditary” becoming what it has been dubbed as, a masterpiece. 

It’s not this generation's “Exorcist,” nor is it the twenty-first century’s “Psycho.” “Hereditary” is something of its own, and it's insulting to call it something otherwise. It’s original; it’s the most prolific attribute that is worthy of the most praise. Ari Aster is a genius and one that has a bright future ahead of him. His direction of the actors, of the cinematographer, of the production team, and his pure manipulation of the audience is something exceptional from any director, let alone a first timer. Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography, Colin Stetson's music, and the array of impeccable performances can’t go unmentioned, and now, neither can “Hereditary” when discussing the best of the horror genre. 

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

   Director: Morgan Neville With: Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Joe Negrim, Fred Rogers, & Tom Snyder. Release: Jun 8, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 34 min. 

Director: Morgan Neville
With: Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Joe Negrim, Fred Rogers, & Tom Snyder.
Release: Jun 8, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 34 min. 

 

Documentaries are perhaps my least favorite genre that filmmaking can offer. Not because I don’t enjoy being informed, but because the vacated gap of cinematic value that is never as prevalent as it needs to be to keep me intrigued. It’s one of the reasons I never provided a written review for Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s “RBG,” which is a fine film, but one that never pushed me far enough to deliver a few paragraphs of my thoughts. Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is not one of those documentaries for myself. 

Providing an intimate glimpse into the life and significance of a poorly produced television show and it's unlikely star. Always admitting that the inherent production value to be found within Mr. Roger’s show was nothing to be wowed by, but the intrinsic value and organic connection found is what leads to a show that talked tough to children, with earnest generosity for the limitless mind of a child. The structure of the documentary is what stole me away from the get-go, the film doesn’t begin with the expected opening of “when Fred was a child.” No, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” jumps into the thick of things and provides a strong opening that introduces those of whom are unfamiliar with the “second coming of Christ” as one of Fred’s sons so cleverly described. 

We run down the beginnings of the TV show shortly after that, learning that troubles of fabricating television shows from the ground up when the film was not so prevalent as it is now. Being forced to use old film, the show would cut out in the midst of live airing. This lead to Fred getting the idea for puppets such as Daniel the Tiger which would jokingly provide the time during these breaks in the airwaves. 

From there, we learn the significance of a man speaking to children with maturity, but never pridefully shouting down to them. The fellow leaders in his cause, and the ability he had to connect with children without ever needing a funny hat or a funny gimmick. Fred was a man that directly came down to there level; he tells a story in which one of his first interactions with a large group of children took place at an elementary school. A kid asked him a peculiar question that pondered as to why a toy loses its ear, Rogers describes the room coming to an anticipated silence as if the kids said: “this is your test, do you still have an imagination? Are you still one of us?” Fred responded with the same childlike curiosity and then carried on to list all of the other things that can get lost, each limbering description widening the child’s eyes. 

Each child felt this way, but “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” doesn’t stick with the effect that Rogers had on children. We get a glimpse of the risks he took by discussing themes such as assassination, death, and divorce. His importance as a figure that was able to provide the only hopeful light on a subject of such grief and tragedy like the Challenger explosion in 1986 that was answered by Rogers. As well as the dumbing down of children, the treatment of children’s future selves while simultaneously ignoring the present imaginative child, and using the core essence of his faith to inject the world with a little bit more kindness. 

Morgan Neville (Oscar Winning “20 Feet from Stardom”) is someone who applies a unique touch to this film. He never introduces topics that are not easily google-able, you can simply research Fred’s importance and risk-taking and stumble upon an article to read in a matter of minutes. It’s the essence he attaches to the documentary, allowing Rogers to speak almost directly to the audience with that genuine poignancy he’s famous for, but it's also the structuring as I stated already. 

The technical aspects of the filmmaking can’t go unmentioned either, whether it's Jonathan Kirkscey’s music or Graham Willoughby’s cinematography, both of which stand out more than you’d expect. Willoughby has a framing in which the camera feels as if it's been placed inside of a television, lensing the child that is viewing this sweater wearing pastor. Providing a visual representation of the intimate connection shared between the man on the screen and the child on the other side whose one on one experience feels special. 

Neville builds upon that specialty with the story of a man whose faith inspired to him change the world, but the world continued to battle against his benevolence. Continuing to rage against his machine of generosity with racial tensions, division, and massive acts of violence. 

At one point, he was asked to provide a PSA after 9/11. He asked a friend what the end of all this was? The world seems to be getting worse. It’s a heart-wrenching thing to watch a man with boundless joy, whose own optimism and hope become internally questioned due to the continuing destruction of reality. His constant reminders of love continued to push him on, such as the idea of 143. A weight that Rogers stayed at for an extended period of his life that numerically alphabetized the phrase “I Love You,” in which each number stands for the number of letters to be found in each word. 

It’s not his love that struck me though, but his continuing devotion to the idea of liking someone precisely the way they are, something that few members of the church believe. Rogers was opposite, his dear friend Francois Clemmons was someone that Fred allowed to be a statement for racial tensions. He later learned that the man he used to represent colored minorities, was apart of another minority in that of the gay community. Fred was against the idea of Clemmons coming out because it would put the show in danger of cancellation, sacrificing something for the greater good. It took Clemmons two years to learn that Fred may not have welcomed that part of him on the show initially, but he already told him that he still loved him just the way he was. 

Which is what Rogers best feature was, he was someone that embraced anyone and everyone. Even though he never welcomed himself, sharing a duet at one point in which he sings lyrics that described himself through the symbolic representation of Daniel the Tiger as a mistake as if his kindness and compassion did not belong in the world that he was born into.  The idea is especially haunting when discovering his funeral was protested with such hatred due to his rumored homosexuality. 

Something that remained just a rumor, but when met with hatred something that Rogers taught that every interviewee took part in near the end of Neville’s exceptionally poignant documentary was the idea of taking one minute to think about someone who has helped you most along your journey of life. Allowing one of our greatest gifts, silence, to remind us of someone's love that pushed us towards something better. I’ll tip my hat to this great man once more, and take part in this experience myself.

Placing the keyboard down and allowing silence to remind me of someone’s love that assisted me to this moment with you, the reader. I hope you indulge me and join in because we all should take time to remember those who have cared about us this whole time, and loved us just the way we are, welcoming us into their neighborhood of love. Something that Mr. Rogers did better than anyone I can remember. 

Upgrade (2018)

   Director: Leigh Whannell  With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell.  Release: Jun 1, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Leigh Whannell
With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell. 
Release: Jun 1, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

2.5_4 stars.png
 

Indie filmmakers have a particular talent for extending a clever logline to its absolute limit. Leigh Whannell shares that same talent; he takes a familiar and almost bad-shit crazy idea like that of a man being given a chance at revenge by being given a small computer chip implant called STEM (Simon Maiden) to its absolute limit, and then he strides past that barrier. A technological innovation that allows this violently made quadriplegic and technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) to gain access to his limbs once again, STEM (Simon Maiden) does that for him, as well as becoming a new friend that only he can hear. One that speaks into the drums of his ears and provides a vaster sense of knowledge and ability to himself, but also an inherent danger. 

It’s a “Blade Runner” meets “RoboCop” kind of tale, a man turning to technology to return to life but also to hunt down the men that took that life away from him as well. It takes place in a world that feels apart of that noirish world of “Blade Runner,” almost feeling mimicked even. The grungy technologically advanced future that feels far more disconnected, despite the lack of available connectivity, which is not a nuance theme by any means. Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a technophobe with a wife who works for a tech company. He’s a grease monkey that fixes manually driven cars, while she rides in a car that drives itself home. 

After dropping off one of his renovated projects to a wealthy technological innovator, Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who introduces him to his newest prototype known as STEM (Simon Maiden), this self-driving car goes haywire. Driving off the road and an accelerated speed before crashing and flipping upside down. The droned recording devices for the Police arrive promptly to watch a group of men come and kill Grey’s (Logan Marshall-Green) wife and paralyze him completely. These droned footage finders are unable to assist in finding these murders though, seeing as they removed some kind of chip that allows them to remain escapable from the reach of the law because criminals always find a way, don’t they?

Drenched in grief and unable to overcome his lack of physical ability, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself unable to desire to live. Being offered a reset on his life by Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), he states “I’m not looking for the reset button kid, I’m looking for the off switch.” He gives in though, reminiscing on the idea of what his wife would want for him. The procedure goes all-too-well, and he soon finds himself with a technological “Upgrade” that pushes him towards vengeance in a sequence made famous by the trailer in which he gives STEM (Simon Maiden) permission to take over his bodily functions. Making for some exceptional acting from Logan Marshall-Green in which he delivers facial expressions of surprise and third-person perspectives because his body is now a separate entity from his mind. 

It makes for Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde kind of character, but a character that was never brought to light enough to evoke resonance from me. He hates technology and something terrible happened to him is about all we learn about the man controlled by a machine, but the action and surprisingly hefty themes attached to his character’s journey provide that extra boost that the film needed which harkens back to an indie filmmaker stretching an idea as far as possible. 

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (“Saw” & “Insidious”), “Upgrade” is an expected action flick with no heart and no ambition, but becomes an action film hidden inside of a sci-fi drama discussing the dangers of technology and our desire for self-happiness over human prosperity. Whannell stretches this story way farther than expected, writing something that continuously maintains a constant state of investment in this world, despite his characters never making me fret for their well being. 

There is some insane ingenuity that makes for sheer cinematic momentum like that of a gun for an arm or sneezing razor-wired germs. This is a world that weaponizes the limitless potentials of technology, and one that remains to feel both original and reprinted from fellow sci-fi masters. It’s not just the world-building, or the ingenuitive writing that becomes too big for its own good, Leigh Whannell also visualizes this story exceptionally. 

The camera movement is especially interesting because it's both frustratingly cutting while maintaining childlike excitement. The camera snips and snaps in some fight scenes, but in others, it moves with our hero, like that of something out of a video game or a comic book. It pushes the limits of camera maneuverability while allowing the flaws of the quick cutting of the action genre to remain prevalent. It’s as if Leigh Whannell got lazy on some days, and was caffeine filled excited on others. 

Someone that remains consistent is Logan Marshall-Green, who is the only actor worth mentioning because everyone else plays the stereotypical bad guy or necessary girlfriend. He provides a performance that gives his character far more emotion that it deserves, he delivers one of his best performances yet, but his character noticeably limits his reach at times. 

Unlike that character though, Leigh Whannell surpasses the limits of this fun-filled logline of a screenplay. He goes further and more profound than expected, but that third act finale is a bit too much. He slams on the gas pedal towards something ambiguous and thought-provoking when he should have steadily applied pressure towards the finish line. 

He’s expanding “Upgrade” past my expectations, and he helms it remarkably, but like every other compliment I can give him, there is a fair critique to be stated. Constantly pushing the film too far, and not far enough. He extends it to the point that is sheerly remarkable that it all makes sense that we went from a man on a path of vengeance to a philosophical glimpse on our desire for happiness. Our mind has limits, and this film does too, I just hope Leigh Whannell didn’t pull anything while stretching “Upgrade” to it’s stumping finale.