Film Podcast: Generation VHS, Episode 2: Good Burger

Cory and Sean of the new podcast Generation VHS head to lunch with Ed to get a Good Burger and a Good Shake in a revisit of the Nickelodeon 90s family film Good Burger.

They discuss Kenan and Kel’s place as the generation’s Abbott and Costello, the film’s surprising sociopolitical themes and if the burger is still fresh all these years later.

Be sure to follow along with the podcast on Twitter @GenVHS and to subscribe on iTunes and other various spots above.

And, if you have any questions, comments, etc., “@” us on Twitter, and let us know!

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Film Podcast: Generation VHS, Episode 1 – Space Jam

Welcome to Generation VHS, the new 90s and 00s film podcast hosted by 615 Film’s Cory Woodroof and Sean Atkins. We’ll be aiming each and every week to break down the family films that us millennials grew up with, and determine what they meant to us then, what they mean to us now and, really, if they’re actually any good.

This week, we’ll start out with a classic: Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny.

Be sure to check back each week for new installments, and follow us on Twitter at @GenVHS.

We’ll have additional places to find the podcast and follow along with us on social media soon. Until now, fix that divot, and give the episode a listen.

Review: ‘Ant Man and the Wasp’ is a Fun, Witty Entry in the MCU

A much needed, light-hearted film following Avengers: Infinity War.

A much needed, light-hearted film following Avengers: Infinity War.

RATING: ★★1/2 (out of four stars)

The MCU has had an incredible year so far with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Both of those films were very serious and, for the most part, some of the more darker chapters in the universe. They were definitely great movie experiences, but with Ant Man and the Wasp, it’s nice to go back to laughing every five minutes for a Marvel Studios movie. Even though the events in the movie take place before Infinity War, it was smart and necessary for Marvel Studios to set Ant-Man and the Wasp pre-Infinity War.

Let’s talk about what worked in Ant Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd is perfect as Scott Lang/Ant Man. His wit, comedic timing, and charisma make his character very likable and easy to root for. He spends the first act of the movie on house arrest following the events in Captain America: Civil War. The writing uses this plot element as a great way to continue building the relationship with his daughter after the events of Ant-Man. Best of all, it explains where he was during Avengers: Infinity War.

Now if only we can get justice for Hawkeye…..BUT ANYWAY….

Evangeline Lilly makes for a good partner as Hope/The Wasp for Scott Lang/Ant-Man. She has some of the coolest fight sequences in the movie and she’s also just as cool and collective when she’s not in a superhero suit. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and is about the same as he was in Ant-Man. The biggest difference for his character this time around though is that Ant-Man and the Wasp’s story is far more personal to his character, which adds some gravitas to the story. Laurence Fishburne is now a part of the MCU and the DCEU, so that’s pretty cool if you like comic book movies. Michael Pena once again steals the show with some of the funniest moments in the movie. Seriously, get him a suit and a movie of his own now, Marvel Studios.

There are two problems in Ant Man and the Wasp. One is somewhat minor and can be overlooked by most people, and the other is pretty glaringly obvious. The small problem is the chemistry between Scott and Hope. It isn’t bad, but the issue is that they built their relationship between the two movies. So, the fact that the audience hasn’t actually seen it build makes it difficult to believe when Hope gets mad at Scott or when they have a romantic moment. They had some chemistry in the first film, but without seeing it build on-screen poses as a  small character connection problem. The main problem in Ant Man and the Wasp is a problem that’s been around for years in the MCU: the villain (or should I say villains). They missed a big opportunity to make Ghost the main villain and one that we could sympathize like Thanos and Killmonger. After Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther earlier this year, it looked like Marvel Studios finally got the antagonist side of their MCU entries right – and then Ant-Man and the Wasp shows how it’s still a glaring problem that has yet to be fixed entirely. And not only is there Ghost, but there’s also Walton Goggins’ character and group of henchmen that are connected to the FBI too. When you have this many villains, it’s hard to keep the core focus of the film. If Ghost had been the only villain, then Ant Man and the Wasp might have soared to greater heights.

As a whole, Ant Man and the Wasp is loads of fun and is laugh out loud funny. The fact that you’re either laughing or smiling from excitement makes it easier to forgive the movie for its flaws and issues. The mid-credit scene is awesome and the post-credit scene is simply okay. And yes, Ant Man and the Wasp does answer some questions from Avengers: Infinity War and ties everything together nicely.

‘Jurassic World,’ is a Blockbuster for our Dumb, Greedy Times

Cory lays out his defense of the decision-making in the ‘Jurassic World’ films.

The ‘Jurassic World’ films aren’t stupid; they’re about greedy stupidity.

Note: This article contains spoilers from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Read at your discretion. 

 

In the Fallen Kingdom, man creates dinosaur, man abuses dinosaur, dinosaur breaks loose, dinosaur eats man, man kind of has it coming.

Welcome to Jurassic World.

The fifth film in the series about the precarious relationship between man and his dino creations – some natural, others, uh, not so natural – has been fielding criticisms left and right. Though it’s a movie this writer found great merit and enjoyment in (ah, shucks, I loved it – right up my alley), most criticisms are always fair for any film. That’s how this gig works, and rarely is anyone categorically wrong with how a movie makes them feel, or how they perceive it.

But, there’s a criticism to this series that just doesn’t seem to click, at least with the fingers typing this column.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not a dumb movie. It’s a terrifying movie about dumb, greedy people who do dumb, greedy things and are made to suffer for their misdeeds and stupidity.

From the time Dr. John Hammond opened the big stone doors to the gaggle of scientists (and that poor lawyer), stupidity reigned free. Jurassic Park (the actual park, not the movie) was a terrible, if earnestly misguided, idea for Hammond. To bring literal dinosaurs back from extinction, his actions, though coming from a good place, got people killed.

About 20 years later, Jurassic World took a lot of heat for, well, its existence. Most of the criticisms lobbied at the film came with the idea that mankind would be stupid enough to reopen the same park that literally killed people in the 90s, a park that, at its recreation, found success, and ran pretty shipshape until, duh, more stupid people did more stupid things with dinosaurs and spoiled the pot. That film wasn’t quite as cautionary as its successor about how dumb people with money and blind ambition in their eyes tend to ruin everything, but in the Fallen Kingdom, the message gets louder.

The Jurassic Park/World films thrive in the mysticism and awe that these creatures give us when we see them. What was so great about World’s perspective of this was the idea that we’d get bored by seeing a literal T-Rex in its natural habitat, so we’d need to genetically create a super killer dinosaur with classified DNA roots to get people back on board, complete with a sponsorship from Verizon.

Of course, that’s a stupid idea, but again, stupidity is kind of the point here.

For the grief that he gets about that film, Colin Trevorrow wanted to say something quite pertinent with these films not many have quite picked up on. When you call what these characters are doing “stupid,” you can almost picture Trevorrow waving his hands in the back of the room, as if to say “Yes! That’s the point! These people are idiots! This is a cautionary tale!”

His installment in 2015 in the series tried to flash the Aurora Borealis of nostalgia for the original film, and then hack it right out of your hands with the Indominous Rex. It’s all at once a lark and a lesson. Sure, it’s roughly the same lesson from the first film: playing God can have the lightening bolt fire right back in your face, but there’s another lesson in there, too. We are dumb enough to make the same mistakes as the people that come before us; stop being those kinds of people. The main takeaway from Jurassic World is that Jurassic World was a terrible idea that was eventually going to fail because the folks that ran it were always going to press the red button. People decried that film’s existence, which is what the film was trying to do to its own creation. It’s a bizarre case where the artist and the critic agreed on all the wrong reasons. But, then again, it also still polled positive on Rotten Tomatoes and set box office records, so, y’know, that film did just fine. It’s still immensely fun on a return viewing.

By first film’s end, nostalgia saves the day at the expense of something more gruesome, hackneyed, lifeless, which makes that film a spirited defense of sometimes returning to things we love in the face of things we create to try and enhance the existing model to satiate ever-ending demands for something new. If it ain’t broke, don’t genetically alter it. But, it’s also a film showing how sometimes, nature will hold on to our butts for us when we fly too close to the sun.

Fallen Kingdom does the exact opposite. This time, nature doesn’t throw us a rope. It chomps us up when we climb up the ladder, running from the disaster of our own making. Trevorrow and company brought in a master of horror to show us the other side of the coin.

A dino says hello

J.A. Bayona (and by extension, Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, the returning scripters) anchors this new installment in the idea that mankind is still going to make the same, dumb mistakes whether we like it or not, sometimes in new dumb, greedy ways. Here, Isla Nublar is about to become toast thanks to an erupting volcano, and part of the citizenry wants the U.S. government to save the dinos before they return to the extinction list. A testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum with a quick hello to the role that spawned a thousand memes) cements it – we need to let nature run its course on the dinosaurs before we invite nature to run its course on us. The government listens, and says it’s going to let the dinosaur’s owners take care of the matter.

Claire Dearing has transitioned from being Jurassic World’s overseer to overseeing a campaign to save the dinosaurs from extinction through government intervention. We’re never given an exact idea what, uh, will happen with man-eating beasts from before the dawn of time when saved, but there’s an ethical responsibility driving the cause. We created these things; we’re responsible for them. It’s well-intentioned, if a bit naïve for how to fully resolve the conundrum. They get a solution from Eli Mills, the estate manager for Sir Benjamin Lockwood (Hammond’s old partner-in-crime), who offers to put the dinosaurs on a nice, little oasis to ensure they both survive the volcano and live in peace, away from persnickety humans.

Of course it’s all garbage. Even the nicest, most well-meaning people lunge for the carrot every now and again. That stick always strikes hard.

We learn rather quickly Mills has ulterior motives, motives to sell the animals on the black market and harness more DNA for genetically-engineered dinosaurs who attack on command, which can also be sold. What a dumb idea. Of course this was going to backfire. How could you be so silly? Again, that’s kind of the point. Is this really that foreign an idea?

We live in a world now where rich billionaires pump toxic materials into rivers, blast smokestacks into the ozone layer and torture animals to test the latest form of lipstick. America elected a president that has a list of horrid grievances that run as long as a line to ride the new attraction at Jurassic World. Fake news and media literacy have come into full focus. The world feels stupider. It’s time movies start, y’know, addressing that, and showing us, on the biggest scale possible, what happens when dumb, greedy people do dumb, greedy things. We’ve made our villains far too smart over the years. It’s time to dumb them down a little, so they’re more relatable, and more affecting.

In one scene, the new Indoraptor (this film’s hyper-intelligent killing machine, and a prototype who still has kinks) goes to town on an unsuspecting elevator of rich pricks who are privy to the black-market dealings that Mills runs at Lockwood’s estate. The scene is played for a laugh, and for horror in looking at Toby Jones’ frigid reaction to becoming the side item to an elevator supreme. But, it’s hard to be too sympathetic. They kind of have it coming. After all, these violent delights have violent ends. That monstersaurus is doing exactly what mankind designed it to. It’s a pawn in a grander game, run by dumb, greedy people, who make dumb, greedy decisions.

The Jurassic World films are not dumb, despite what you might hear. They’re about dumb people with dollar sign dallies. Every strange decision and seeming frustration with people never learning their lesson works both ways. We’re supposed to feel like this toward these morons, just like we’re supposed to feel this way to the morons we see in everyday life who are pulling us closer to midnight on the doomsday clock.

In this new film, nature is a bad, greedy mistake, taking its toll on those who wrought it into existence. It’s evening out the balance. Trevorrow isn’t making mistakes in writing his characters; he’s writing characters that make awful mistakes and do awful things. We’re not supposed to find most of these people appealing, or relatable. They remind us of the worst parts of our species – the parts that flood our Twitter feeds on a daily basis, ripping children from parents at the border, making crude noises at the plight of children with Down’s syndrome, running white supremacy rallies, destroying the Earth for a quick buck, driving us further and further to the mountain of madness.

In the Fallen Kingdom, audiences feel the weight of that cruelty in a moment where a lone brontosaurus is left to succumb to the lava. It’s a moment that shows nature’s inherent vice, but also, one that shows man’s decided vice. We brought that thing back; it didn’t want or expect to be here. Nature’s just doing what nature always does. Perhaps it’s taking grim retribution against what man did by bringing the dinosaur back in the first place. It’s still man’s fault that it’s happening, and in this moment, man’s left to rectify with its mistakes.

Later in Fallen Kingdom, nature, via the Indoraptor and other dangerous dino compatriots, take plenty of grim retribution against the dapper ne’er-de-dandies who come to bid on abused animals and use them for war profiteering. No innocents get taken out in this film at the Jurassic claw; only the rotten apples. Sure, the final scene indicates that an innocuous camp in the California Redwoods or your friendly pooch chilling in the backyard might be in for a rude awakening, but still, it’s dumb, greedy people who do us all in.

The Jurassic World films challenge us to be better than what we’re watching – their characters keep making mistakes so that we learn from them. Man keeps going back to the dinosaur because the dinosaur is representative of every bad decision man returns to every day. Put a “Make America Great Again” hat on the T-Rex if that helps these movies make more sense. It’s a larger-than-life example, but that should make it drive home all the more.

Fallen Kingdom ends on a darker note than most blockbusters do. No, Thanos doesn’t snap half the world out of existence, but a young girl changes the course of history in a well-meaning, if monstrously-dangerous move. It’s not a great move, to be honest, but you at least get why she does it. It feels predestined. Though, to be fair, that girl is not of us. She’s cut from the same cloth as the dinos she sets free. She’s representative of nature, in a way, who will act as nature sees fit.

Sometimes, you can’t put the dinosaur back in the cage. Sometimes, it breaks free, and we’re left to deal with the actions of dumb, greedy people, and the dumb, greedy thing they did.

It’s not dinosaurs for us, though (…so far). It might be the sea levels raising. It might be nuclear war. It might be a Twitter spat that sparks a deadly policy change. It might be this or that. You can imagine what it might be. We spend agonizing time imaging what it might be.

Critique the decisions with the dinos themselves if you wish; heck, I don’t exactly know what would happen if you came face-to-face with a dinosaur every waking second, I’d imagine if you raised one, and were friendly with it, it might be friendly with you back if it recognized you. Harp on why protagonist A did B to accomplish C. How the filmmakers choose to resolve their plot is subjective.

But, instead of chalking this film up to being inherently stupid, try to find the other avenue here. It’s not an inherently stupid film, not by a long shot. It takes fantastical ideas and weaves a dark parable out of them about the dangers of stupidity itself, and of money-chasing.

If we don’t push against the dumb, greedy people who do dumb, greedy things, one of these days, we’re going to find a T-Rex in our own backyard.

And he’ll be hungry.

Review: The ‘Jurassic’ Franchise Roars Its Way Back to Life with ‘Fallen Kingdom’

Life finds it’s way back into a tired franchise.

Life finds it’s way back into a tired franchise.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

Jurassic Park is a monument of a film. It’s special effects work propelled the use of CGI and other practical effects into the stratosphere. This was another film of Spielberg’s that made blockbuster movies a staple of every summer.  Not only was the film entertaining as hell but it immediately cemented itself as a classic.  Every subsequent film in the franchise has faltered when trying to recapture the magic of the first one.  When the series was rebooted with 2015s Jurassic World, a movie where a fully functioning theme park was built and operational on dinosaur island.  While the movie failed to recreate the spectacle of the original, it did provide enough dino-violence to make it a financial success.  Now a few years later, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom manages to fix some of the problems with it’s predecessor by giving audiences a fun blockbuster with some freshness on the beloved dino franchise.

Set three years after the tragic events of Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom starts with a montage of news reports saying a volcano as become active on Isla Nublar.  Many people support going in to save the dinos, while other say let nature run its course. A wealthy man representing the Lockwood estate (former parter of the original park’s founder john hammond) approaches   Claire Dearing about transporting the dinosaurs to a nature reserve. Wanting to save the beloved dinosaurs from re-extinction, she recruits Owen to return to island once more.

There is a lot going on in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Much like Jurassic World retread much of the original Jurassic Park, the first act feels like The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  The first act takes place on the island in a race for time to find Blue, the beloved raptor from World before the volcano erupts.  There is a new level of tension in this part of the film that hasn’t been present in a Jurassic film before.  The rumbling of the volcano is ever present to add tension to these quiet moments.  Once the eruption starts, the movie turns into full blown chaos as dinosaurs stampede past our heroes to escape certain destruction.  This sequence is one of the most fresh and most fun that has been in Jurassic movie in sometime.

Once the ash starts to settle the movie plays out in a way that highlight director J.A. Bayona’s reserved directing style. The camera effortless swops through quiet scenes with the characters to establish the space and slowly wring out the tension.  One sequence with Owen and Claire in the cage with a sedated T-Rex showcases this style of filmmaking.  The first act of the film is explosive with its action, while the last two thirds are more reserved for some thrilling sequences that closely resemble the horror elements of the original film.

One of the main plot points of this film’s predecessor is that audiences don’t care about the original dinosaurs anymore, so new ones must be manufactured.  This idea is carried out further with the Indoraptor, a hybrid of velociraptors and the Indominus Rex.  For fans of the ludicrous idea of a Jurassic film about dinos with guns, this is as close as its going to get in a practical sense.  The Indoraptor is much better than the Indominus Rex and provides for some genuine thrills.

The best thing about Jurassic World was how seemingly self aware the film was for a blockbuster.  It poked fun at cooperate sponsorships while being a cheesy action blockbuster itself.  This films carries that spirit with Chris Pratt’s charismatic deliver of the hokiest lines.  The movie is a by the books blockbuster through and through, but it never takes itself too seriously so the film feels fresh while it retreads familiar ground.

The best quality of Fallen Kingdom is how the ending setups future films.  the biggest problem with any Jurassic Park sequel is how the movies have been confined to the dinosaurs on island.  The events in the film, both on and off the island, allows any subsequent films to explore new territory that hasn’t been in a Jurassic film thus far.  The idea of genetics is on that is integral to the Jurassic franchise, but hasn’t been expanded upon outside of the dinosaurs.  What this film does with that shows the franchise has room to grow.

The film isn’t perfect, but every entry in the franchise after Jurassic Park has a lot to live up to.  This is the first film to boldly step into new territory and successfully pull it off.  It’s not a perfect movie, but really what blockbuster is.  Its fun through and through like a Jurassic film should be, and opens up the franchise to new ground that it desperately needs.  Any fan of the franchise needs to see this film, as it is essential viewing and entertaining as hell.

The Prism: ‘Incredibles 2,’ ‘Tag,’ ‘Gotti’

The latest Prism looks at all different sorts of families.

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.

Tag

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.

Gotti 2

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.

‘Gotti’ Deserves its 0% Score on Rotten Tomatoes

“He showed the world who’s boss.”* *But not in this John Travolta-led disaster.

“He showed the world who’s boss.”* *But not in this John Travolta-led disaster.

As of the time of this post, Gotti has the rare 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. After 23 reviews submitted to the film review aggregation site, you’d think someone would give it a positive review. Since the score was still sitting at 0% as of yesterday, and since I have MoviePass I would be risking very little, I figured I’d go see Gotti this weekend and see if it was actually that bad.

Every now and then you come across a movie so bad, you can’t help but laugh out loud and throw up your hands at numerous points during the movie because you don’t understand what went into the scenes you’re watching in said movie. In this case, that movie is Gotti, which is the worst movie I’ve seen in over a year and certainly deserves its 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Gotti follows the rise of the infamous crime boss, John Gotti, as he heads up the Gambino Crime Family in New York City over the span of three decades.

Directed by a cast member of HBO’s Entourage, this crime film feels like a stitched-together version of Goodfellas made for Crackle (Cracklefellas, anyone?). The scenes highlighting the mob boss’s rise are baseless and filled with ludicrous dialogue and felt as if they were written by a high schooler forced to take a script-writing course in order to have enough credits to graduate. John Travolta plays the titular character and mob boss, but he certainly deserved better than this (however, a look at his recent track record of films may say otherwise). On top of that, the film is accompanied by an unbearable score composed by rap star Pitbull, who includes four of his own songs that stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the number of producers listed in the opening credits is the clearest indication that this film never should have left the writer’s room. However, it did and if it weren’t for my MoviePass (which, by the way, helped distribute Gotti rather than sending it straight to Video on Demand), I would have been really upset to have paid $17 to see this awful movie.

Recently, critics have spoken out against Rotten Tomatoes as the base for moviegoers to decide whether or not they want to see a movie in the theater. And while there is a strong argument to be made for each side, in the case of Gotti, it earned the score of 0% given how bad it is. Moviegoers (especially those that don’t use MoviePass) should be warned by the 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, which will undoubtedly cause it to draw some support for the Razzies next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cleanse myself of this horrible movie and see something good, like Paddington 2.