This Is a Movie Review: Incredibles 2

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©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

This post was originally published on News Cult in June 2018.

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini, John Ratzenberger, Bill Wise

Director: Brad Bird

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG for Action Sequences Involving Dangerously Heavy Structures

Release Date: June 15, 2018

The Incredibles films stick out among Pixar’s oeuvre for how much more adult they are than the rest of the animation brand’s features. That is not to say that everything else is merely kids’ stuff. Indeed, there is plenty for audiences of all ages to appreciate in the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, etc. The difference is that the typical Pixar offering features childlike wonder presented with unusually mature storytelling sophistication, whereas The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 are primarily concerned with the struggles of being a grown person: how to raise a family, how to earn a living, how to reconcile the way you live with the self-identity you perceive on the inside. With this focus along with its period trappings, Incredibles 2 continues asking its franchise’s fundamental question of whether or not we have shaped society as it ought to be.

Incredibles 2, like the original, is vague about its time period, but based on the outfits, manner of speaking, and predominant technology, it is easy to peg it as 1960s America. With that in mind, if The Incredibles were to exist as a TV series, it is not too hard to imagine it as the first animated example of AMC’s stable of period dramas. (The presence of two of the stars of Better Call Saul among the voice cast certainly bolsters this perception.) Incredibles 2 features more stable (though no less harried) domesticity than Mad Men, but the concerns of Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) are not terribly different from those of Don Draper, while Helen Parr’s (Holly Hunter) career-minded focus in the face of skepticism is absolutely of a piece with that of Peggy Olson. Writer/director Brad Bird’s grounded approach to the existence of supers allows all viewers to consider that no matter what their own unique abilities are, they ought to make the best of them, for the world’s sake.

The reflectiveness and contextualization inherent to a period setting are key to getting the point across. This outing, in which Helen/Elastigirl is recruited for a PR campaign to make superpowers legal again while fighting a mysterious villain who uses screens to carry out mind control schemes, touches upon issues of media manipulation, trust (or lack thereof) in institutions, and the power and limits of basing a campaign around a single figurehead. Anyone paying attention to the political scene in 2018 will recognize similar disturbances in Incredibles 2. It is important to be reminded that these crises are not new and to know a big part of being an adult is responding to these challenges.

Bottom line: if you loved the kinetic action and family dynamics of the first Incredibles, you will probably love them all over again in Incredibles 2. If the prospect of a baby growing into his impressively wide-ranging superpowers has you excited, just wait until you see what Jack-Jack is up to. And rest assured, Edna Mode’s (Bird) scenes do not disappoint. This entry is not as mold-breaking as the original, but it is reliably entertaining and has plenty to say.

Incredibles 2 is Recommended If You Like: The Incredibles, AMC period dramas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Eye Lasers

This Is a Movie Review: The Commuter

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CREDIT: Jay Maidment/Lionsgate

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Florence Pugh, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, Andy Nyman, Rolland Møller, Colin McFarlane, Adam Nagaitis

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for All the Ways That Liam Neeson Can Improvise on a Train to Dispatch His Opponents

Release Date: January 12, 2018

Much of Liam Neeson’s post-Taken filmography has been readily reduced to “Taken on a [blank]” or “Taken, but this time they steal his [blank].” This is especially true in his collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. 2011’s Unknown checked in as “Taken, but this time they steal his identity,” while 2014’s Non-Stop was essentially “Taken on a plane.” Their latest teamup, The Commuter, may at first glance be their “Taken on a train,” but a more accurate pitch would be: “take the government and law enforcement corruption elements of something like Chinatown, compress them into the hijacked train scene of The French Connection, and stretch out to feature length.”

Insurance salesman and former cop Michael McCauley (Neeson) has just been laid off, only a few years before retirement, when a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) offers him a proposition during his ride home along the Hudson on the Metro-North train: would he be willing to do one little thing that would affect someone he doesn’t know and receive a significant reward in return? This is presented as a hypothetical, but it soon becomes very real when he discovers a hidden bag filled with tens of thousands of dollars in cash. This is an effectively simple premise insofar as it immediately kicks the narrative into high gear, but it is simultaneously confounding with how many details it leaves under wraps.

Ultimately, that it is to the audience’s benefit, as we are strung along with just enough info to want to sniff out what is going on. All Michael has to go on is the stop that this person is getting off and the fact that he or she does not normally ride this train. Collet-Serra specializes in populating his cast with a full crew of conceivably suspicious characters. Could it be this mystery person be the tattooed girl with a bag full of fake IDs? That certainly raises alarms. But for all we and Michael know, the nurse stuck in an emotional texting session is just as much of a suspect.

The Commuter sort of fits in the vein of the “decent man fights back against a rigged system” genre, but really, that is only the narrative that has been forced upon Michael. Yes, he has been unfairly fired. True, he did lose all his savings thanks to the recent market crash (and he makes sure to flip off the vain Goldman Sachs broker on the train). But the reward dangled in front of him appeals to his selfish motives and does not actually give him an opportunity to stick up for the little guy. Besides, he is driven more by the threats against his wife and son and his own law enforcement instincts for uncovering the truth. It is implied that this criminal enterprise is so insidious and far-reaching it they could set up any patsies they want and frame them for any motivation

As the vast conspiracy begins to be revealed, we are left to confront the question of plausibility. But in a thriller like this, verisimilitude matters less than following the own theoretical rules of this extreme situation. That is to say, The Commuter needs to be at least as relentlessly entertaining as it is ridiculous. And on that score, given the director, star, and location, it is unsurprisingly adroit. The film’s logical internal consistency, though, may be worth investigating a little more deeply, as the passengers at the mercy of Michael’s mission may come to trust him –  a man who has been getting into fights and throwing people out windows – more quickly than is conceivable. A late-stage Spartacus homage is quite amusing, though indicative of that questionable trust. But in a profoundly puzzling situation with life-or-death stakes like this one, it only makes sense to go along for the ride.

The Commuter is Recommended If You Like: Non-Stop, Face/Off, The French Connection

Grade: 4 out of 5 Train Defenestrations

 

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”