Nobody is a nice riff on the one man army revenge shtick and is not only in the tradition of John Wick, it’s also written by one half of the same creative forces behind it so it sorta has that feel, albeit of a more… suburban dad variety. Bob Odenkirk is a left field choice for the ‘invincible ex-spook’ archetype and while I had my doubts that his physicality could pull off some of the stuff I saw here, he no doubt has the grit and charisma in spades to inhabit this intense role. He’s Hutch, an unassuming family man whose wife (nice to see Connie Nielsen) and kids don’t seem to think much of him, especially after he appears to be totally ineffective at defending them from violent home invaders one night. It turns out this random blue collar family man is an ex government assassination guru and pretty soon that one encounter with burglars leads to an ongoing, cataclysmic feud with the Russian mob, spearheaded by a sociopathic (or soviet-pathic?) piece of work named Julian, played by Aleksey Serebryakov in an impressively rambunctious portrait of pure unfiltered evil, like a Slav kingpin version of the joker or something. The action here is wonderfully choreographed, relentlessly brutal and crisply filmed, especially a bone smashing close quarters fight on a public transit bus that kicks off the central conflict. The great Christopher Lloyd has a nice bit as Hutch’s dad, a veteran living in a rest home who proves he isn’t quite out for the count yet and gets some great kills in alongside his son, and we also get RZA as a former colleague who steps in for some action too. Unfortunately the film chose to include the always awesome Michael Ironside but inexplicably decided to cast him in a wholly inconsequential sideline role that has nothing to do with the plot overall and could have been played by any Joe Nobody, an ill advised casting choice that would have caused me to remove a star from the rating if I were doing that star thing. Don’t hire Michael Ironside unless it’s a memorable, badass, worthy role, it’s just common sense. Anywho, it’s a solid flick, great villain, superb action and while I may not be onboard with the hype as much as some I’ve seen, I still had a good time. I will give it extra credit for one of the most gruesome, satisfying, laugh out loud villain deaths I’ve seen in action cinema.
Incredible really is the word for Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2, a thoughtful, intelligent, hilarious and visually stupendous sequel to Disney Pixar’s first superhero adventure. It was always a curiosity how this was going to do; so many sequels that arrive a decade after their beloved predecessor can feel vague or disjointed by the gulf of time. This one jumps right back into the hot seat like it never left, feeling both new and organic as a continuing story and reminiscent of the first outing’s magic. Literally dropping us right back near the ending we remember where a little mole dude called the Underminer creates new trouble for our heroes, a gigantic bank robbery sequence sets the stage for the film to come as well as the ongoing and and now more complex issues that superheroes face in the eyes of the public and in the favour of the government. The real joy of the film comes from the family dynamic though, particularly between Bob ‘Mr. Incredible’ Parr and the kids. When an influential tycoon (a peppy Bob Odenkirk) and his techie sister (silk voiced Catherine Keener) develop a new promotional program to put supers in the positive spotlight, they recruit Susan ‘Elastagirl’ Parr (Holly Hunter) as their front runner. This pus Bob in the stay at home Dad seat, and in those sequences the film really finds a fresh voice, showcasing some hilarious and poignant sequences. The visual fireworks come full blast as Elastagirl battles a mysterious enemy called the Screenslaver and runs about the city with all kinds of gadgets including a souped up new motorbike. Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone is back too, and there’s a whole new gallery of interesting supers all brought into the fold by Odenkirk’s character. Edna Mode returns too, still hysterically voiced by director Bird himself. The magic of these films is that they’re not just flashy gloss or simply Disney fireworks, there’s actually themes to work through and things to ponder on their journey. I admire the addressing of media manipulation and collusion in how the supers are represented in the news, something that’s commonplace in the states today, as well as the raw angst of being a parent and trying to protect your young while simultaneously saving the world and rocketing around between very dangerous situations. This one is a winner, a little more dense and story heavy than the first was, but still knows how to have a great time in the action department, from chases aboard both a runaway subway train and a massive luxury ocean liner in the fast paced third act. Still feels as classy, cool and entertaining as the first, with a retro futurist vibe, striking tactile animation and a script packed with wit and innovation.
Henry Selick’s wacktastic, surreal Monkeybone is off its head, and while it never quite coalesces into something wholly memorable, the images and impressions on parade are not something easily shaken. To start with, the visual production design is so detailed and thoroughly deranged it deserves it’s own art gallery after the fact. Selick, the other half of the creative team behind Nightmare Before Christmas, create’s here what is maybe one of the most unsettling, eye popping mood boards in any film of the century. It’s just just in keeping us awake with the storytelling that he falters somewhat, not enough to sink the ship, but enough that not a lot of people remember or revere this film these days, which is a shame because it’s quite an achievement in areas. Brendan Fraser, who seems to actively seek out oddball scripts, plays cartoonist Stu Smiley, who goes into a coma, gets sent to a place called Downtown where the veggies go until they either croak or wake up, and is put in jeopardy once someone has the idea to pull the plug on him. His loving girlfriend (Bridget Fonda, who I wish was still in the acting game) waits for him, while his newest creation, a little plush horn-ball named Monkeybone, gets a little too sentient and tries to steal his body, which has a certain organ he wasn’t endowed with on the drawing board. The story is too weird and raunchy for kids, and falls into the Roger Rabbit/Cool World arena of adult oriented fare that still has a childlike sensibility. Downtown is essentially a haunted DisneyLand astral plane, a reject realm where ghosts, ghouls and monsters with disturbing anatomy roam free and feed on nightmares, siphoned from the psyched of those upstairs stuck in comas. Weird enough for you? You don’t know the half of it. The nightmare scenes are shot in stark black and white and have a genuinely subconscious, tuned in vibe to them that actually feels like one does in dreams, not an easy aura to pin down onscreen. Fraser does a wicked job, especially when the monkey hijacks his body upstairs and starts prancing around like a mental patient, it’s an inspired bit of physical comedy from the man who brought us George Of The Jungle. Monkeybone is apparently played by none other than John Turturro, but his voice is so tripped out on helium effects it’s fairly unrecognizable. The film gets downright hilarious when Stu follows the scamp back up in the avatar of a corpse with a broken neck (bravo to Chris Kattan), a dementedly genius sequence. There’s cameos and vaudeville supporting turns galore, including Rose McGowan as a sexy cat/human hybrid, Bob Odenkirk, Thomas Haden Church, Giancarlo Esposito, Lisa Zane, and Whoopi Goldberg as Death, a sly meta rework on her Ghost character. The film is at it’s best when it focuses on Downtown, which really is a vibrant atmosphere to hang around in, always an odd mutant creature to look at or a morbid one liner for chuckles. The stuff back on earth can be fun too but really doesn’t pick up until Kattan comes roaring in and steals the climax with his bobble-head gymnastic fanfare. If only this had been a little more in terms of story and character, it could have matched it’s truly impressive visual scope. As it is, it’s worth it just to see how weird and surreal mainstream movies can get when they want to.
What do you get when you combine acid tongued social satire, unnerving physical comedy, borderline horror/stalker elements, endless pop culture references and an abrasive yet pitiful protagonist from your worst nightmare? Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy, that’s what you get. And yes, before the hands go up, I do consider Jim Carrey’s lonely, disturbed TV repairman Chip to be the protagonist of the film, mainly because he’s eternally more interesting than Matthew Broderick’s bland, lifeless performance as the poor average joe who becomes victim to his ‘friendly’ courtship. Chip is one part neglected child, two parts borderline psychotic with a dash of manic obsessiveness and a pinch of terrifying delusional behaviour. Doesn’t quite sound like a comedy, does it? It almost isn’t. Stiller’s vision is so pitch black that it takes a few well timed sympathetic beats from Carrey, infused with his googly charm, to make it work. It’s mostly a walk on the scary side though. Broderick has the misfortune of having Chip show up to look at the television, and the guy takes an immediate, unsettling shine to him, going to great and terrible lengths to solidify an unrequited bromance that is a complete one sided fabrication. Stalking, interfering, framing him for god knows what, roughing up a smarmy gent (Owen Wilson is hilarious) who horns in on his girl (Leslie Mann) are but a few of the life shattering misdeeds that Chip carries out, all under the pretense of the buddy system. He’s essentially Frankenstein’s monster that has grown up from a child left to his own devices, fuelled by a lonliness which has long since pickled into something sad and destructive, both to himself and others around him. Carrey plays him like a champ, never cheaping out or holding back, always willing to go there and show us the extreme degrees on the temperature of the human personality. Damn, I make it sound so dark, don’t I? It is, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a comedy starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ben Stiller, so there’s still the inherent comedic vibe that both of them bring, just drenched in tar this time around. Call it character study, stalker drama, a lifetime movie gone horribly awry or anything in between, whatever it is, it’s some stroke of demented genius and holds up well today. Watch for Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, Joel Murray, David Cross, Kathy Griffin, Charles Napier, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Gass and a pisser of a cameo from Eric Roberts as himself in a facepalming television melodrama.
Rogue’s Gallery, given the slightly lamer title of Operation: Endgame, is a very odd little amalgamation of extreme violence, comedic banter and wannabe spy intrigue. It concerns a group of government agents holed up in some remote bunker, basically taking each other out one by one after someone among them murders their boss, Emporer (Bob Odenkirk). The cast is made up of two types of actors: sleek, distinct genre bad asses and quirky, less aesthetically streamlined comedians who stand out in this type of material very strangely. Fool (Joe Anderson) is the rookie, being shown the ropes of his first day by Chariot (a hilarious Rob Cordry). That’s where the plot starts, and that is also where it lost me. The rest of the film is just al of them bickering until it gets way beyond words, and then murdering each other in shamelessly gratuitous ways. Ellen Barkin stands out as Empress, a bitchy old tart who has it in for Devil (Jeffrey Tambor) another senior operative. Emilie De Ravin steps wayyyy outside her comfort zone as Hierophant, a psychotic little doll faced southern Belle who gives hulking Juggernaut (Ving Rhames) a run for his money. There’s also work from Odette Yustman, Maggie Q, Adam Scott, Brandon T. Jackson, and Zach Galifianakis as a weird character that I still can’t figure out, perhaps because he does not much of anything at all except mope around wearing a hazmat suit and looking very hungover. It’s cool to see these actors give each other shit and fight like two raccoons in a burlap sack (the violence in this is really vicious, especially when Ravin is involved), if not much else. Very odd stuff.