Monday, June 18, 2018

Movie Reaction: The Incredibles 2

As far as I'm concerned, Brad Bird has never made a misstep. The Iron Giant is among the best non-Disney animated features of the last two decades (and is still up there if you include Disney). The Incredibles and Rataouille are two of the more surprising Pixar hits. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is as good a feature debut for a tentpole action movie director as I can remember. Tomorrowland is polarizing, but I'm among the people who love it and think it was massively mismarketed and misunderstood. So, going into The Incredibles 2, my only question was how much I'd love it. I've only seen The Incredibles once (circa 2006). I loved it, although a 12 year gap before seeing the sequel leaves a lot of time to erase flaws from my memory.

Thankfully, The Incredibles 2 was everything I could hope it would be.

While the film comes out 14 years after the original was released, through the magic of animation, the sequel begins shortly after the events of the last movie. The Incredibles, working as a family, end up wrecking the city trying to stop a villain from robbing a bank. The press coverage about the destruction is awful and Supers using their powers is more illegal than ever. It looks like one of the Incredible parents will need to get a real job again, much to their dismay. Then steps in billionaire entrepreneur Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech savvy sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener). Winston has the idea of sponsoring Supers, only with full transparency (i.e. cameras), so people see the heroism, not just the possible destruction left afterward. He decides to do a slow rollout, meaning only Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) is working at first. That leaves Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson) to take care of the house and kids. Before you start bemoaning the dated "OMG, fathers taking care of their own kids?!" premise, consider the added wrinkle that that Bob discovers baby Jack-Jack's powers, which is too much for any one person to handle. He's doing this in addition to helping Dash (Huck Milner) stay on top of his school work and dealing with Violet's (Sarah Vowell) love life troubles. And Elasticgirl has her hands full trying to stop the latest menace to the city. Don't worry. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is back too. And Edna (voiced by Brad Bird).

The broad strokes of the story are all familiar. I've seen plenty of films about the difficulty of parenting, what happens when one part of the team starts getting more of the glory, and fear of the other. As always with Pixar, the success of the movie comes from the execution and the details. The different narratives are balanced very well. The story never drags. I didn't keep a tally, but there are approximately infinity jokes that can be made out of Jack-Jack learning to use his different powers. Decades of superhero iconography has given Brad Bird and company a deep well of ideas for other jokes as well. As with the best Pixar movies, the screen is packed with ideas and details. It's a fully inhabited world. The movie expands the universe without overreaching.

Bird is also a master at building set pieces. His movies always seem to know how to juggle all the moving parts in a sequence. It doesn't feel like he's moving around all the different pieces just to keeps things moving. It all has a purpose. There are a number a good sequences in this. I particularly loved a scene involving Elastigirl and a runaway train. Even something a simple as Jack-Jack getting in a fight with a local pest is shot in an exciting manner.

The only negative thing I have to say is that I didn't care for how little the whole family was together. Helen is away from Bob and the kids for a lot of the movie. I know that's the point, but I still felt deprived.

There is no reason I can think of to not like The Incredibles 2. I get not adoring it. I don't adore it. Its strength is in its balance. There's nothing singularly exceptional about it (i.e. everything is 9/10 rather than having a mix of 10/10s and 7/10s). I really can't think of a reason to hate the movie. For those of you who though Tomorrowland was a disappointment, this is a return to form for Brad Bird, moving back to animation. For those who loved Tomorrowland, it's just yet another great Brad Bird movie; the best non-Toy Story sequel Pixar has made.

Verdict (?): Strongly Recommend

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Delayed Reaction: The Kid

The Pitch: If Charlie Chaplin wants to date children so much, maybe he should adopt one too.

The tramp raises an abandoned child.

This is by far the most I've enjoyed a Charlie Chaplin movie. Sure, The Great Dictator is his most relevant movie. Modern Times is probably his most visually impressive film. The Gold Rush has many of his most iconic scenes. The Kid has by far the most heart though.

This is a very simple story. I got a chuckle from a number of sequences, like the tramp's attempts to sneak the baby into the woman's stroller or the fight against the brute. The dreamland sequence was charming, albeit unneeded. The policeman reuniting the tramp and the child at the end is sweet. It's interesting that they didn't try to force in a love story with the boy's mother. I assume the actress probably dated Chaplin at some point, so working that into the movie would've made sense for him. It's better without it though. The movie is so short that it's hard to find much more to say. It's my favorite Chaplin movie and the last I'll see for a while.

Verdict (?): Weakly Recommend

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Delayed Reaction: The Birth of a Nation

The Pitch: The train coming at the screen was great, but it's time we make a big movie. And what better topic is there than the noble KKK?

The story of America from slavery to the Civil War to the KKK.

The Birth of a Nation is a vile, significant, hateful, revolutionary movie. There's no easy way to talk about it. Compared to what came before it, it's as important a movie as you will find in the evolution of filmmaking. In terms of content, it's repugnant. I'm trying be a better student of film history, so The Birth of a Nation was required at some point, sadly. The staging of a number of sequences is pretty impressive, and it blows my mind to think that I'm watching something that's over 100 years old. That was a punishing three hours though. I lost count of the number of times when I thought "they can't say that" or "they can't do that" while watching it. I'm not one to feel guilty for things that my ancestors did, but I sure was embarrassed to see that  this existed. The only reassuring thing was I found out when I was reading up on it later that it was heavily protested even when it was first released.

Thankfully, my verdict doesn't leave room for historic significance, so I can be emphatic about my opinion. The movie is too long and is punishingly racist. I can't recommend it at all for entertainment value.

Verdict (?): Strongly Don't Recommend