Best 2020 Super Bowl Commercials

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Reeses/YouTube Screenshot

The major trend of Super Bowl LIV’s ads appeared to be Collaboration. Multiple spots promoted multiple products, what with Charlie Day asking everyone what to do about his stain and Sofia Vergara teaming up with the Old Spice guy and the Charmin bear with the clean heinie to take care of a chili spill. As for my own particular personal reactions, it felt so good to laugh again!

Before I get to the rankings, I would like to note that at the viewing party I attended, it was hard to hear the ads during the first half, but thankfully by the third quarter the acoustics were much more favorable. If any early spots looked like they deserved reconsideration, I made sure to re-watch them on YouTube.

5. Minions: The Rise of Gru, “Get Ready” – Usually I don’t include movie or TV trailers in these rankings, but this is Minions (set to “Sabotage”), so obviously I had to make an exception.

More

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Isle of Dogs’ is an Adorable Allegorical Adventure About the Dangers of Fascism

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Dog-on-Dog Violence and Dictatorial Tendencies

Release Date: March 23, 2018 (Limited)

“Whatever happened to man’s best friend?” Nothing, right? We human beings still love dogs, and that cannot possibly ever change! But what if something so terrible happened that it could make us turn on them? One of the functions of fiction is training ourselves to handle horrible hypotheticals. Thus, with the stop-motion animated Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson has delivered an invaluable how-to guide for if the world should ever turn so severely on our furry companions.

Twenty years in the future, Japan has banished its entire canine population to the bluntly literally named Trash Island, due to a widespread outbreak of snout fever and dog flu. The two conditions appear to be connected as how HIV can lead to AIDS. In this dystopia, the fear from those in charge that the disease could spread to humans is enough to override any bounty of puppy love, despite promising progress for a cure. So intrepid folks must step up on their own to save the dogs, like the young boy Atari (Koyu Rankin), an orphaned ward of the state adopted by his distant uncle, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). Atari ventures to Trash Island to save his canine protector Spots (Liev Schreiber), who also happens to be the outbreak’s Dog Zero. Joining up with him in his quest are a group of other cast-off dogs with variations on the same sort of name – Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – as well as Chief (Bryan Cranston), the fiercely independent stray who has always lived on his own.

An island entirely populated by dogs might sound like the pinnacle of Wes Anderson giving into his most indulgent instincts, but the darkness of the premise is enough to assuage any of those concerns. Plus, the animation does not hold back from the more aesthetically displeasing elements. These pups are mangy, with fur falling off and distorted pupils. They are also fairly irritable; one early standoff results in an ear getting bit off. Isle of Dogs works as an adventure film as well as it does because it does not back away from the danger, while still bringing plenty of fun to that peril. Fight scenes are portrayed in cartoon chaos clouds, while an accidental trip through a trash incinerator is met with droll acceptance. The set pieces are whimsical, but the stakes are life-or-death.

Isle of Dogs could easily be appreciated just for its surface level sensations, but like so many talking animal flicks, there is an allegory lurking not too far below. And considering current worldwide political trends, Wes Anderson’s anti-fascist storytelling is profoundly welcome. Quarantining a contagious population is an understandable disease control tactic, but what happens to these dogs is more banishment than quarantine. And when a solution appears to be possible, Mayor Kobayashi hides that development for the sake of retaining power, trotting out clearly fraudulent election results in the process. BoJack Horseman-style anthropomorphic dogspeak (“my brother from another litter”) helps it go down easy, but these are heavy ideas that deserve and are granted careful consideration.

A few more items worth noting: even though the setting is Japan, the dogs just about exclusively speak English, even when communicating with humans speaking Japanese. In fact, there is a good deal of American and Japanese cultural mixing. All the political machinations are translated by an interpreter (Frances McDormand), apparently for American and other English-speaking audiences, and an American exchange student (Greta Gerwig) leads a revolt against Kobayashi. The bilingual setup feels woven together mostly seamlessly, though I do wonder if Asian audiences might have a different take on the matter than I do. And I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention Alexandre Desplat’s excellent score, pounded along by unrelenting taiko drums, keeping the tension both constantly uneasy and delicious.

Isle of Dogs is Recommended If You Like: Wes Anderson Symmetry, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Animal Farm, Zootopia, The Goonies, BoJack Horseman

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Puppy Snaps

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Last Flag Flying’ Hashes Out the Personal Effects of War with Endless Conversations

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Dropping Some Profanity with Your Buds

Release Date: November 3, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide November 17, 2017

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, but you wouldn’t know that from any of the promotional materials, which make no mention of the earlier flick. You also wouldn’t know it from looking at the character names, which are not consistent between the two films. I have not seen The Last Detail, but as far as I can gather, Bryan Cranston is playing a version of a character played by Jack Nicholson, Laurence Fishburne is doing a spin on Otis Young, and Steve Carell is updating a role by (of all people) Randy Quaid. Anyway, as for the actual narrative of Last Flag Flying, all this background info is basically just as a curiosity, as this unofficial sequel stands perfectly well enough on its own.

If you were to go into Last Flag Flying completely unaware of The Last Detail (and presumably many people will), you would possibly find yourself thinking, “Hey! There’s plenty of room to craft a prequel out of this story.” Vietnam War veterans Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell), Sal Nealon (Cranston), and Richard Mueller (Fishburne) are psychologically torn asunder but forever bound by an incident at the end of their time in the same Marine unit. Doc committed a petty crime, Sal and Mueller helped discipline him, and he spent a couple years in a military prison. There is no ill will between the three of them, but they have gone decades without seeing each other. Now they are reuniting in a way that reunions so often unfortunately happen. Doc’s son has followed his father into the Marines, enlisting for the Iraq War, where he has died in an ambush. With few close family or friends, Doc turns to his old service buddies to help escort his son’s body to the funeral.

What follows is a trip from Virginia to New Hampshire. Instead of wide open shots of the open road we get cramped moments along the heavily trafficked Mid-Atlantic and northeast United States. Also, talking. Lots and lots of talking. Doc, Sal, and Mueller shoot the shit, air out grievances, ask pressing philosophical questions about their country and life and death, and generally strengthen an eternal bond of friendship.

While it may not necessarily be their most well-known trademark, all three stars are notable for their oratory. Just consider Cranston’s deadly commands as Walter White, Carell’s wild verbal dexterity in the likes of The Daily Show and Bruce Almighty, or Fishburne’s spellbinding declarations in The Matrix. For the most part, Last Flag plays its conversations in a much more mild key than those examples, but the effects are still quite pressing. There are questions about the point of even venturing into Iraq. It’s still 2003, thus before the falsification of evidence that led to this war has fully been revealed, so these worries are not about especially particular objections, but they are no less pressing. Running through the bloodstream of this film is a very human desire for simple respect, to be told straight what is actually going on. Last Flag Flying is for anyone who values forthrightness, and for anyone who can share in the joy of three middle-aged guys buying their very first cell phones in the middle of Manhattan.

Last Flag Flying is Recommended If You Like: The Big Chill, My Dinner with Andre, Catching up with old friends.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Black Men Named Richard

This Is a Movie Review: Why Him?

Leave a comment

why-him-bryan-cranston-james-franco

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally

Director: John Hamburg

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for Getting a Little Loose with the Language

Release Date: December 23, 2016

When I first saw the trailer for Why Him?, I thought, “Well, if there’s anyone who can wring something worthwhile out of this stale premise, it might just be Bryan Cranston and James Franco.” It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the 21st century: instead of a black man marrying a white woman, it’s James Franco. This particular version of Franco is Laird Mayhew, a vulgar and oversharing but very sweet billionaire video game mogul. He butts heads with father of his girlfriend Ned Fleming (Cranston), the high-strung head of a struggling Detroit printing company. A big deal is made about how alike Ned and Laird are, which is a bit of an exaggeration, though they are both honest to a fault. It is also striking how similar these characters are to their stars’ past roles. Ned is a harried dad that is a variation of the same vein as Walter White or Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal. And Franco is as irrepressible as always.

So, the leads are all set to bite into the gags, and they are not timid about exploring the explicit shenanigans the script leads them into. But the marks of assembly-line modern film comedy (i.e., unimaginative editing and cinematography that favors simple coverage of all angles) cramp their style. That lack of directorial personality is a shame, because the film has some fascinating and relatively unique ideas at its core. For example, Laird was raised by a single mother who never let him outside the house much, which renders Why Him? an interesting examination of someone who never had the experience to learn social skills.

Why Him? also aims to go thematically deeper, as Ned’s predicament touches upon the disappearance of traditional Midwest manufacturing jobs – a sort of Office meets Brexit, as it were. This does not play as a huge concern, but it is a hard topic to avoid in 2016. More pressing, and more timeless, are the women-friendly bona fides at play. This may be no fiery treatise, but the underlying message is undeniably feminist. The film is positively aware that the girlfriend/daughter (Zoey Deutch) is no mere MacGuffin, but a legitimate person in her own right.

Why Him? is Recommended If You LikeDaddy’s Home But Wish It Had Been a Good Movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner But Wish That James Franco Had Played Sidney Poitier, Breaking Bad But Wish That James Franco Had Played the Methamphetamine

Grade: 3.5 out 5 Bidet-Style Toilets

SNL Recap October 2, 2010: Bryan Cranston/Kanye West

Leave a comment

Live from New York, it’s 93-year old sex machine Ernest Borgnine!

Cold Opening – Rahm Emanuel Hands the Chief of Staff Reins to Peter Rouse
Andy’s Rahm Emanuel impression is fun enough, but this was o better than your standard crazy/scary person act. Bobby had little to as Peter Rouse. B-

Bryan Cranston’s Monologue
The premise of the back-up singers getting Cranston’s name wrong was a good idea, but they didn’t stick with it long enough.  That is a premise that can take you far, but for some inexplicable reason, they got his name right by the end of it. B

More