Each week, 615 Film’s resident overthinker Cory Woodroof will attempt to reflect the week’s releases against each other, new or repertory, showing how they intersect and blend to bring forth ideas about themselves in part and as a whole. Maybe it’ll form a rainbow when we’re done – who’s to say; science has a mind of its own. Welcome back to The Prism.
Incredibles 2 starts out in bombastic fashion. We’re whisked right back into the action, as Mr. Incredible, Elasta-Girl, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack all ward off the Underminder (yes, the mole-thief with the gigantic bulldozing contraption from the end of the first film), and nearly see the city’s town hall destroyed by a wayward drill. The Underminer slips away (fingers crossed for a third appearance), and so does the Incredibles’ short leash with the government.
That’s the magnificent mirror that Brad Bird lays out with his Pixar sequel – every punch, every force-shield, every explosion and bang, boom, pow comes with a reverse idea. Few filmmakers can make their films all at once spectacle and worth speculating over, but few filmmakers are Bird. Even if his newest super-family tale isn’t quite as novel and refreshing as the first, Incredibles 2 is still a showing of strength for what Bird does best, and a teeny-tiny reminder of what he’ll always need to be mindful of.
This time, a super-telecommunications company, led by a doting fanboy who knows all of the super-theme songs to our main heroes, has the power to change the public reception of what superheroes are to the public. Winston Deavor has puppy dog confidence, his inventive sister Evelyn the cool of a cat. Both want to reframe the lens on supers. After losing their government support, the Incredibles and Frozone can’t turn the offer down.
But, Elastigirl gets the main duties this time as the Deavors feel that she’s the most able to corral in public admiration (hint: she’s more careful and breaks less things). So, in a clever twist of fortune, it’s Helen who gets to solve the day’s mystery, and Bob who stays home to take care of his three kids. Helen digs deep into why a mind-controlling baddie named the Screenslaver is trying to disrupt the city’s media frequencies and rain down havoc; Bob has to solve Dash’s new math book, tend to Violet after boy drama and help solve baby Jack-Jack’s myriad of emerging powers. It’s as relevant to gender roles in 2018 as it is a showy “this is how it’s done” to all of 2018’s summer blockbusters.
The film brings over the original’s penchant for splashy, smart action sequences, all tinged with Bird’s imaginative flair (one fight between Jack-Jack and a feral raccoon works as vaudevillian slapstick as it does blistering creativity). Michael Giacchino keeps the heartbeat pounding and dancing with a rousing homage and interesting extension to his previous work on the series. And, of course, Bird’s ear for voice casting remains undefeated, with Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Isabella Rossellini and Sophia Bush all inspired choices to breathe life into their animated counterparts.
Though, this is a Brad Bird film, and of course we’re going to have some ideas, and, yup, some monologuing. The Syndrome/monologuing gag in the first Incredibles is such piercing meta-commentary, with Bird well-aware of his desire to say lots of things with his movies. Most of the time, his messaging is seamless (see three of the greatest animated films of all times, this film’s predecessor, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant). Those films can’t be touched; they are perfect blends of filmmaking and posturizing and are unmatched for what they do.
Bird’s other films, sans his Mission: Impossible installment, in which he takes a break from theory and just has fun with his skillset, verve a little too close into homily. Tomorrowland whizzes and sparks with ingenuity and heart until Preacher Bird gets up to deliver the message; it’s not that it’s not good sentiment, it’s just that it kind of slows the film down. Bird is in his zone when things are going at one hundred miles an hour – even his intimate dialogue scenes move fast because they’re so well-written and relatable.
In Incredibles 2, the director says plenty of pertinent things about gender roles in the family, about how societies can view things that awe and scare them, about how tough parenting really can be. But, it also wants to provide commentary on our addiction to screens, on our morality when it comes to how we view, uh, morality, on doing the right thing and the wrong thing, on media’s impact on our society. And, I guess on raccoons being awful, which should never reach the ears of our new friend in St. Paul.
Bird’s always right, even if it’s not quite as succinct as we’d hope. But all the great directors have their weak spots. Bird’s is trying to chew on too many ideas at once. But, make no mistake: Bird is one of our great directors, as important as anyone who’s come before him. If Tomorrowland winds up being his misstep, what a heck of a misstep to make.
Incredibles 2 isn’t The Incredibles; there’s no way it could be. It’s a bit more translucent with Bird’s vices, but it’s also a striking testament to his virtues. It’s a master at work with the family that put him on the map. Of course it’s a great movie. Don’t trust me? Take on one of Bird’s many mottoes, and see for yourself.
In Tag, a group of middle-aged men use a child’s game to keep their childhood alive. Does that even function as a metaphor if it’s not even thinly concealed?
The first film for director Jeff Tomsic, Tag earns points for being so exhausting, y’know, like a game of…you guess it – TAG! At least it’s honest marketing.
If it weren’t for Hannibal Burress, who slides into his glorious corner and pops out cheeky one-liners throughout to keep us all sane, this film would be a comedic wasteland. It’s manic concept – a rose-colored filter thrown over a game of professional tag where lifelong chums subvert any and all laws (American, human, comedy) to finally make Jeremy Renner it – the sitting king of this game of tag, who is never, well, it. But, remember, this is also a metaphor for not wanting to let childhood die. As nice a sentiment that is in theory, you almost want this movie to just move out of its parent’s basement and get a job already.
The Tag team (have mercy) is all game (woof) for the film – almost too much at times. Rick James did tell us cocaine is a hell of a drug, but in this movie, so is tag. Here, tag is a heroine-like highway to the danger zone that nearly destroys the lives of all involved. They leave their kids for it; spend uproarious amounts of money on it, threaten physical and psychological harm on others to get tag, relish that sweet, sweet tag once they finally aren’t it. In one moment, they nearly waterboard someone in the name of tag. All at once, tag is used as an excuse for crashing an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and in faking a miscarriage. At any moment when tag thinks about growing up, tag doesn’t, because tag freaking rules, and you’re a nerd. I NEED TAG, BABY! SPRING BREAK!
But, remember, loudly, that *tag is a metaphor for keeping your childhood alive.*
There’s a reason we all grow up, you know.
By the film’s end, we’re forced to encounter an emotional development that can’t help but touch you (ah, hell, we’re the ones who are it, screw you, Tag). See, tag can also have heart. And, y’know, it does suck when you grow apart from your friends. You’re angry that you have to sympathize with such a universal truth, because everything that comes before it is a pretty flagrant counterpoint – you believe it is all at once necessary and dire to leave child-like things behind and be a responsible adult. This film advocates boring.
Judd Apatow already paved the ground out for cinematic man-children who need to grow up; they were films for a bygone era when we could all afford immature white men to have a wide canvass work out their feels, and learn that adults are things, too. Apatow found the humanity in that crude, messy awakening; Tag wants to only force itself to accept the social norms by film’s end. But, y’know, it’s sweet when it does, in an “Ooh La La” by The Faces and nostalgia sort of way. Manipulation can work in movies.
The families we make never really leave us, though time and distance will try to convince us otherwise, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep childhood bonds alive. But, when you’re willing to abandon any sense of maturity and responsibility to keep it going, you miss the joys of adulthood. Tag’s a movie that doesn’t want to grow up.
In Gotti, La Cosa Nostra is at the heart of everything mob boss John Gotti and his associates do. It’s said many times – at formal meetings, in darkened hush-hush summits in old cars, in fits of rage when someone tries to put the “NO” in La Cosa NOstra. The Gottis love family, whether it be by blood, or by pricked blood in a coronation to join the infamous New York-based Gambino crime family.
There’s a lot of love in this movie. Maybe a little too much.
Director Kevin Connolly (yes, “E” from Entourage) makes his take on the Gotti legacy a naval gaze at a ne’er-do-well, almost the cinematic equivalent of that neighborhood kid who always wants to follow around the cool gangsters, only to get a tussle of the hair and a “get a load of this kid,” before he’s sent off while the adults go do adult things.
That kid typically grows up to be a cold, hardened mob boss himself; Gotti knows no such maturity.
It’s a film that’s straining to be everything you’ve seen before in the genre, but with all the admiration and zeal toward the life that those films were wise enough to avoid. It’s clumsy with the way it tells its story – often trying to utilize three different perspectives at once, none of which ever make sense for the other, ending up in a “grandpappy tells five different stories at once” twist of logic. Too often, you’re twelve scenes away from the last time you fully understood what was going on. It’s like if The Godfather told its sprawling epic narrative with splices of the day of the Don’s daughter’s wedding throughout the movie, but also with running, fourth-wall breaking narration from Marlon Brando.
John Travolta can’t be knocked for giving the leading Gotti role everything he’s got. It’s a big ham sandwich of a performance, though it’s absolutely committed, and entertaining. He plays Gotti as a mini-god, with Old Testament anger and New Testament water-to-wine cajole, but also with the gusto of the Italian Chef on The Simpsons if one of his dishes were on fire. The rest of the cast fills in like Spingfield’s Fat Tony, and his gaggle of “Bada Bing” bad guys, or like people who won fan contests to be in the movie at a Godfather convention. Only Stacy Keach, who has been ordained to be intimidating, really stands out, well, besides Travolta, who’s hard to miss.
It’s not that Connolly’s film is downright trash; he’s got a good eye for sequencing when he’s able to settle on a sequence, and it’s not his direct fault that Pit “Mr. Worldwide” Bull’s lazy synth score and obvious musical cues often clash with the moments that he frames well. Too many scenes fizzle right before your very eyes when you imagine Pitbull in the corner, plucking away at a synthesizer and jamming out like he’s at Coachella. I suppose it’s not Gotti’s fault that’s what came to my mind at times, but I suppose it’s also not-not the film’s fault, either.
Mafia movies will always be a delicate walk, just because you don’t want to be too adoring of people who literally shoot bullets through people’s brains and distribute cocaine throughout communities as often as they toast to La Cosa Nostra and celebrate weddings (it feels like every good mafia movie has a wedding in it). These films don’t have to be sanitized; we all get curious about how these things worked historically. We crowd around the little window that looks into the basement where the mafia magic happens, where bosses are crowed and downed in equal fasion. Mob movies can make for great cinema. But, curiosity isn’t by itself worthy of art, which makes Gotti more informational than good.
Gotti is a movie you become curious about, but that’s only if you don’t know a ton about the Godfather of New York. It’s, at times, comic-tragedy in all the wrong ways, at other times, Goodfellas cosplay. It will only engage people who just are naturally inclined to think these people are more than cool in just a cinematic sense.
Connolly has a future as a documentarian; he peppers this film with fascinating clips of New Yorkers who mourn Gotti’s passing as they would any folk hero in their midst, suggesting it’s the government who is crooked, and that Gotti is their Robin Hood of the Five Boroughs. There’s a deeper exploration here to be had about how something like the Gambino crime family anchored itself into a community, and how the public, and the media, paint these infamous crime legends in their heyday and in the rearview.
And, there’s further analysis to be given to the treatment of Gotti’s son, who while guilty of crime, the film argues was used as a whipping post for the government to get its last lashes in to his family name. Is that exactly true? Who’s to say, but it’s an idea that would have been better explored outside of a pre-credit black screen text typed in what can only be described as Microsoft Word’s “Fuggedaboutit.”
Connolly would be an excellent steward for this introspection in documentary format, and Travolta a great narrator. That film might win an Oscar. Not Gotti, no. You can forget about that.
Perhaps this lackluster effort could produce something much better, like many changing of the guards in mafia movies. This story needs to stay in the family, but you’ve got to rearrange the furniture.
Right now, they’re in all the wrong places.