Film Review: “The Glass Castle”

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 127 minutes
Lionsgate

There’s an old adage that everyone has heard at some point about how we can’t pick our parents. I hate that truism. It’s rarely used in an earnest conversation and mainly glosses over a more deep-seeded conflict. In “The Glass Castle,” the conflict is multi-layered and a lot more complicated than its face value. Rex Walls (Harrelson) drags his wife and kids cross country to escape debt, police and his own parents, internalizing and allowing some of his more dark secrets to manifest into emotional manipulation and possible abuse.

Rex repeatedly attempts to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but surprisingly reveals a softer side anytime he hits the bottle. That’s not to say he has his deplorable moments with whiskey heavy on his breath. His four children and wife, Rose (Watts), are generally at his mercy as he goes from dilapidated home to dilapidated home. They live without proper plumbing, heat or even food sometimes. They finally settle down in rural West Virginia where his children, on the cusp of puberty, begin to piece together that their father isn’t the kind, gentle soul they have believed him to be.

“The Glass Castle” is told from the point of view of Rex’s second oldest child, Jeanette. Brie Larson is wasted as grown-up Jeanette, but is played much better in flashbacks by Ella Anderson. The other three kids don’t have much of a personality in the flashbacks, but considering its Jeanette’s memoir, that’s perfectly fine. The audience’s perception of Rex unravels as Jeanette gets older and sees Rex as a flawed father figure. Besides being an alcoholic, he possibly abuses their mom, imprisons the children within their own home without proper education and prioritizes booze over buying essentials for the family.

Rex is a difficult character to root for, at all. His likeability is buoyed by Harrelson’s ability to flip from a shattered, paranoid man to a charming goofball. It’s difficult to fully comprehend Jeanette’s overall attitude because when Larson is brought back, she’s used to deliver icy stares and spout declarative disgust in the film’s present day. It’s not only until the end of the movie that she begins to warm up to her father’s habitual lies. “The Glass Castle” sloppily attempts to ever convey a direct, and even indirect, message about who Rex really is.

But because it continues to play with Rex as an anti-hero, “The Glass Castle” is rarely boring and is a sometimes interesting, if not derivative, soap opera. There are predictable beats, but the film throws a few curveballs and avoids several cliché moments, settling for a more genuine dramatic effect. Some viewers may even see their own family in the Walls, which is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Of course the modern day Walls most likely wouldn’t be able to handle life without a smartphone.

“The Glass Castle” is based on Jeanette’s memoirs, which I imagine is much more lengthy and in-depth. The book is a bestseller with a massive following because of its truthful slice of impoverished Americana. Despite taking place in the 70’s, there are parallels to the broken small towns that continue to dot America, which add another level of relatability to the film. However the entirely white cast may disarm and confound anyone outside the demographic depicted on-screen.

There is a level of understanding in “The Glass Castle” about how once one or both of your parents pass, you don’t necessarily reflect on the bad times. You seem to neglect how terrible they may have been, but instead focus on and cherish the moments where they showed their parental love and care for you. The things that bugged you and the moments of turmoil are reflected on through tears and laughter, as long as those memories weren’t too tumultuous. “The Glass Castle” is a peculiar film about hindsight forgiveness, more than blind acceptance.

Film Review: “Step”

Directed By: Amanda Lipitz
Rated: PG
Running Time: 83 minutes

A 100% percent high school graduation rate isn’t unheard of. However the average graduation rate, depending on your state, hovers anywhere from 66% to 94%, according to U.S. News and World Report. In Maryland though, out of 204 schools, there isn’t a 100% graduation rate at any high school. But you have to dig a little deeper to find the one that accomplished it back in 2016, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

The predominantly African-American middle-high public charter school was an experiment created in 2009. The hope was to help transform the young women in the urban core through strong education and empowerment. “Step” catches up with the first class ever to attend that school, as they get ready to graduate and look to get into college. Specifically we watch three women on the high-school step dance team.

That’s not to take away from the most fascinating part of this film, the public education experiment, which surely isn’t the only one in the country. When the cameras go home with the girls and we see a broken home life, impoverished circumstances, and single moms. We fully grasp that this is a city, at every multi-generational level, working to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Even behind closed doors at the school, where educators are reaming students over bad grades, we see this disheartening concern in their eyes that their students may not make it and they may never make anything of themselves.

In that regard, “Step” is a wonderfully engaging documentary about perseverance against insurmountable odds. The film’s backdrop is the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore riots which were broadcast for the world to see, and inner city decay. To see these teenage girls being forced to grow up in such harsh conditions and to strive for positivity in the face of hopelessness is one of the most inspiring things an American documentary has shown in years.

There is a little bit of choppiness in the film’s narrative, mainly because the film’s speed is hit on fast forward. It buzzes through people, faces and places in a dizzying whirlwind, instead of taking a breath here and there for reflection. But it also helps prevent the film from becoming too melodramatic and repetitive when detailing the young women’s lives and circumstances.

While the step dance team is certainly the least interesting part of this film, it does play an integral role of playing by subliminally layering in sports movie tropes about self-esteem and tenacity. It makes many of the film’s moments, like one girl getting a full ride scholarship to college and another girl making a last minute to even be considered for acceptance, that much more impactful. “Step” is an encouraging dose of reality that America’s future will be in capable hands.

Film Review: “Atomic Blonde”

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and John Goodman
Directed By: David Leitch
Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Focus Features

David Leitch’s first solo directed movie comes after the success of his work on the “John Wick” franchise. While a lot of the “Wick” DNA is on display in many of its action sequences, “Atomic Blonde” suffers from a choppy narrative and lack of character intrigue outside of its two leads.

MI6 agent Lorraine (Theron) is first seen, covered in bruises and burning the memories of a former ally. She walks into a soundproof room to give her recorded recollection of her undercover week leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She recounts her tale of infiltrating East Berlin, in search of an allusive watch containing information on every agent deployed during the Cold War. Failing to retrieve that token, may result in another 40 years of nuclear arms muscle flex by the U.S. and Soviet Union.

The premise is alluring as Theron’s character radiates macho gusto and calm precision. She speaks in short, biting simplistic sentences and delivers angered quips under her breath. She’s matched by a Berlin ally, David (McAvoy), who’s underground smuggling and cocky smirk covers his secretive intentions. The two, while relatively friendly, aren’t about to become buddies as they spy and record each other. “Atomic Blonde” should be an interesting blend of spy-thriller and action-survival, but is bogged down by its jumbly plot.

There’s plenty of exposition to munch on, but nothing clear or meaningful. There are dozens of characters brought in and out of the woodwork to offer their allegiances and services, but none bring a unique personality or influence to the script. The exquisite opening for “Atomic Blonde” quickly sinks into uninvolving plot progression that feels like an assigned household chore before the film’s real goodies, the action sequences.

Hand-to-hand combat is filmed tightly, but fully in frame to put the viewer right in the middle of fists, kicks, groans and gunshots. They’re some of the film’s most inspired moments, but they’re shoehorned in towards the end and sparse. The sagging middle cuts between uninteresting character interactions and posturing that only pays off in the final 10 minutes of the movie. It makes the entire storyline a lot clearer; however the bad taste of wasted talent meandering aimlessly doesn’t leave your mouth.

This graphic novel adaptation displays an attractive visual flair along with an 80’s best-of soundtrack that keeps your eyes from wandering to far from the screen although there’s no substance beneath its neon portrait. Despite her best efforts, Theron (who also helped produce the movie) can only carry the film so far. Her mix of femme fatale and impenetrable action star is humbled by a late emotional reveal towards the end, that’s more impactful than it should be. Her recent run of action films, like “Mad Max” and “Fate of the Furious” are commendable. But “Atomic Blonde” is more bark than bite.

MediaMikes attends San Diego Comic-Con for the First Time

It’s a difficult experience to summarize, but upon arrival back home in Kansas City, I’ve told people that it felt like a nerdy rite of passage. MediaMikes has had the pleasure of attending New York and Kansas City’s Comic-Con’s, but for the first time, we can now add the honor of attending San Diego Comic-Con to that list.

There are inevitable growing pains for those who have never attended the San Diego Comic-Con, no matter how much research beforehand is done. And if word on social media was correct, there are continuous growing pains for regular attendees. The first hurdle was the agonizing wait time to see if we would be one of the lucky few to get into Comic-Con and then came the mad dash for available hotel and AirBnB space. Following that whirlwind is the announcement of events, panels, and celebrities. Some of them announce a few weeks out while others pop-up announce their intentions the day of.

However, that overwhelming spectacle aspect is put on the backburner for opening night on Wednesday. For a handful of hours, the massive vendor and exhibit hall was opened for the tens of thousands already in scenic San Diego. For those thousands, some had waited outside all day, while others, like me, walked in after the initial stampede. A sensory explosion of lights, sounds and excitement filled the halls as the talk on the floor was of SDCC specific goodies already being sold out. I spotted folks who already had multiple bags of merchandise in tow while others waited in lines for exhibits like “The Walking Dead” and “Star Wars.”

Despite the giddy joy within the SDCC halls, the 79 degrees and sunny skies made it hard not to enjoy the various outdoor exhibits around the convention center. They may as well be more popular than the convention center itself because you don’t need a pass and it’s free. Netflix, “The Walking Dead,” “Westworld,” SyFy, Adult Swim and others were on point with their outside exhibits. Not only did they offer up swag, ranging from shirts and bandanas, but some offered legitimate exclusive items along with fresh food and a refreshing bottle of water.

While talking with others exploring the sprawling nerdified cityscape outside, I began to understand the behemoth known as Hall H. For those who don’t know, Hall H is where Marvel, FOX, DC, and others unveil previews and have panels focused on the hottest shows and movies for nerdy pop-culture. When you crunch the numbers, around 5% of attendees are only able to squeeze into Hall H for a panel. Some were lucky enough to step inside, including our very own Lauren Damon. But for those on the outside looking in, waiting in a line to wait in a future line seems like pure insanity when there are other panels at smaller venues.

Because Comic-Con has grown so big, it’s hosting panels in a nearby library, while also packing over 15,000 people into the home of the San Diego Padres, PetCo Park. Multiple panels were even jammed into the nearby hotel meeting rooms, while the nightly festivities spilled into the nearby Gaslamp Quarter. My and Lauren’s experiences have their merits, going balls out for Hall H or enjoying nearly every display and participating into those off the beaten path panels. If you were to ask me or Lauren about our experiences, they’d both be positive for widely different, but solid reasons.

With hundreds of thousands in town, there’s an argument over whether or not SDCC is worth the “Hunger Games” dash for tickets and lodging, the long waits, and the sore feet after four days of walking and standing. We at MediaMikes say it is. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that transcends all ages and turns out to be an unforgettable weekend for all in attendance. There may be times of frustration, but the moments of pure nerdy ecstasy, like watching the latest “Thor: Ragnarok” trailer in a crowd of thousands of screaming people or geeking out over Matt Groening revealing that “The Simpsons” writers have been asked to tone down their criticism of Fox News, make SDCC a lifetime memory.

For those who’ve attended before, you’ve made up your mind about where you stand on attending the world’s largest comic-con. Once may be enough, but from what I gathered from talking with complete strangers on the hall floor, on the street and at the bars, it’s a yearly pilgrimage once you’ve had a taste. But for those who have been on the fence for years about whether or not to attend, just do it. Keep in mind that you have to choose your time wisely because those five days (or fewer) go by quickly. Here at MediaMikes, we’ve gotten our feet wet and can’t wait to dive head first next time.

Film Review: “The Big Sick”

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and Holly Hunter
Directed By: Michael Showalter
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Lionsgate

“X-Files” fans, like me, will have surely listened to Kumail Nanjiani’s podcast, “The X-Files Files” at some point (and if you haven’t go listen to it). While most of the time, it’s dissecting the series, episode-by-episode, there are very introspective moments, letting viewers take a glimpse into Kumail’s home life. A few of those moments spoiled “The Big Sick” for me, but despite that, the movie is a refreshing and unique relationship romantic comedy that never relies on the genre’s established tropes.

Kumail, playing himself, comes from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family. He hasn’t yet told his parents that he no longer is practicing, but he’s somewhat upfront about his dreams to be a stand-up comedian. The other thing he’s neglected to tell them, is that he’s not game for an arranged marriage. That’s because the last person in the family to ignore the arranged marriage tradition was exiled from the family. That doesn’t stop him from dating who he wants in secret.

After a night of stand-up, Kumail meets Emily (Kazan), an aspiring therapist that immediately takes to Kumail’s awkward advances, meeting them with charms, smiles and tongue-in-cheek humor. The two quickly connect and begin a relationship, that’s secret for Kumail, but open for Emily. While Emily’s parents know of and can’t wait to meet him, Kumail’s parents bring a carousel of wife prospects over for family dinners to make uncomfortable conversations in Kumail’s various passions and hobbies.

Kumail, who’s known for his recurring role on “Silicon Valley” and various deadpan cameos in comedy films, plays himself sincerely as a 30-something who’s unsure in life and allows for that uncertainty to deteriorate his relationship into an inevitable break-up. But he’s brought back into Emily’s life when she’s taken to the hospital, suffering from a mysterious disease, and induced into a coma. This is when “The Big Sick” has cultures collide.

Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, are like the parents Kumail might wish he had. He learns that they’ve accepted their daughter’s individual quirks, dreams and goals, while his parents continue to force a wife on him. But it’s through those interactions that Kumail learns to be sincere about whom he is, along with being honest. “The Big Sick” spends a lot of time with Kumail during Emily’s coma, with him soul searching. It doesn’t take away from the overall relationship between the two and the power of forgiveness.

The argument could be made that Emily’s character is sidelined, before we truly get to know her, however her parents shed some necessary light about her character. “The Big Sick” modernizes the rom-com genre while blending coming-of-age elements and cultural clashes. Despite knowing how it all plays out, “The Big Sick” kept my interest as it plays with its various themes, respectfully and wholeheartedly. It’s layered messages on love and life are good for the soul and good for the heart.

Film Review: “The Beguiled”

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Focus Features

“The Beguiled” should be a haunting historical drama that finds malice, that isn’t war or slavery, during the Civil War but it doesn’t. It feels too safe to be a retelling of a 1971 movie and too by-the-books to be a modernization of a 1966 Southern Gothic novel. As far as I’m aware of there isn’t anything drastically altered or changed that makes the 2017 version of “The Beguiled” stand out from its predecessor other than a new cast and new eye for detail.

During a trot through the rich Southern landscape, with the sounds of war in the background, Amy (Oona Laurence) comes across an injured Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Farrell). Taking pity on the injured man, she helps him back to her home, a Virginia girl’s school. Miss Martha (Kidman) expresses concern about taking in the enemy, as well as some of the more impressionable young girls, but Edwina (Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) are more welcoming.

While not directly dividing the group, it’s the beginning of trouble for the young women and Miss Martha. There are plenty of moments of sexual frustration, passing giggles, and casual flirting through innuendo, which displays the feelings of each woman to McBurney. However, McBurney plays the field, finding ways to manipulate each of the women here and there to get one or two things he needs. The only one privy to his moves is Miss Martha, who struggles with her own temptations.

Despite the dry dialogue, watching McBurney creepily infect and use the women are some of the strongest moments in “The Beguiled,” but even at a brisk 93 minutes there’s a lot of monotony. The immense talent in front of the camera is left to retread plot points or gather together for group talk which devolves into allowing McBurney more freedom to wander the premises. It makes for a frustrating wait time before the exciting climax. But even the ending wastes it’s build-up of tension on predictability.

I’m usually one to defend the necessity of a remake, for bringing classic stories to modern audience, but “The Beguiled” isn’t one of them. I hate sounding like an old fogey, but I have to wonder what fresh take Coppola brought other than HD clarity and her knack for visual presenation. It’s framed wonderfully, explaining more in its establishing and framing shots than it does through any dialogue. While Coppola continues to demonstrate a unique vision behind the camera lense, her writing skills still need a little polishing.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premier of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Media Mikes has teamed up with our friends at Sony Pictures to give 15 lucky readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see one of the most anticipated films of the summer, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

All you have to do is click here and follow the directions to receive your passes. This is a first come/first served contest. After we have received 15 entries the giveaway is over. Good luck!

SCREENING INFORMATION

Date: Wednesday, June 28th
Time: 7:30 p.m.

AMC Town Center 20
11701 Nall Avenue
Leawood, Kansas

Film Review: “Baby Driver”

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James and Kevin Spacey
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Rated: R
Running Time: 113 minutes
TriStar Pictures

Disney may be kicking themselves in the head over letting Edgar Wright leave “Ant Man” back in 2014. The English director has demonstrated a unique, original vision for all of his projects, from “Shaun of the Dead” to “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” His latest film, “Baby Driver” demonstrates that same unflinching ability to seamlessly blend various genres and styles into a cohesive marvel that dances, shoots and speeds to its own infectious beat.

Baby (Elgort) is the centerpiece of Doc’s (Spacey) bank heist team. While he never has the same crew work twice, Baby is always the getaway driver. With earbuds always in, and a different Ipod on play for different moods and days, Baby maps out an escape route while flawlessly bolting from fleets of cops, improving a multitude of techniques. While the getaways are short, they’re some of the best filmed car chases in recent memory. Baby is handcuffed to Doc because of an incident years prior. Baby was stealing Doc’s car, with plenty of valuables in the trunk, and as Doc puts it, “I didn’t stop him because I couldn’t believe the balls on the kid.” So while getting the tiniest of cuts from the haul, Baby is slowing paying Doc back for his crimes.

Other heist crew members are weary of the silent Baby, with one even asking if he’s slow. But as Doc points out, he gets the job done and is tapped into every heist that Doc plots out despite being tuned out and thumping his foot to music. But the reason Baby is always listening to music, is to drown out permanent tinnitus. He was back seat, at a young age, to a fatal wreck that took the life of his mom and her abusive spouse. It not only elicits sympathy from the audience, but gives viewers an excuse to bask in one of the best movie soundtracks of the year.

Clocking in at nearly two hours, “Baby Driver” is never dull and rarely lets its foot off the gas, bringing audiences along for a thrilling experience that combines Grindhouse car chases and a stylistic genre mish mash. The selective soundtrack orchestrates the action, the passion and the emotions throughout, almost like a wall of sound that matches its relentless visuals. The “Fast and Furious” franchise could only wish to attain such high-octane action bliss.

“Baby Driver” almost risks becoming more style than substance, if it isn’t for Baby’s relatability and his heartthrob, Debora (James), a diner waitress looking for the right person to take her down the road trip called life. Her introduction also creates some third act stakes that more or less work when a heist goes awry and the established morals of our title character take control of the wheel. Even amongst the smashing and shooting, “Baby Driver” finds fleeting moments of youthful wanderlust and succinct punch lines and jokes.

“Baby Driver” is a must-see summer movie with its iPod shuffle on NOS and metal crunching adrenaline. It’d be hard to find a person who doesn’t want to sit in the driver’s seat of this movie and enjoy its exceptionable ride. Here’s to hoping Wright has a few more ideas in that head of his that are just as memorable and rewatchable as “Baby Driver.” He’s certainly solidified himself in the mainstream as a visionary director. Sorry Disney, I don’t think you can have him back.

Film Review: “Rough Night”

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoe Kravitz
Directed By: Lucia Aniello
Rated: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Columbia Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

I’m reminded of “Bad Moms” as I reflect on “Rough Night” because it appears the raunchy comedy playing field is beginning to even out. For every Seth Rogen vehicle there appears to be a female ensemble dropping four letter words and talking about their menstrual cycle like men talk about their farts and ejaculations. While it’s good to see things equalizing, I can’t help, but also think about “Bridesmaids” or “Trainwreck” and wonder why they all can’t be on that same level.

The set-up is simple; Alice (Jillian Bell) is setting up the bachelorette party for her best friend Jess (Johansson). Joining them on this girl’s only weekend is their other friends from college, Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Kravitz), and Jess’ new friend, Pippa (McKinnon). After a night of pot smoking, drug experimentation, and over-priced Miami bar drinks, they retreat to the safety of their getaway pad. That’s where they order a stripper and in an accidental heated moment, kill him. I swear the premise is slightly funnier than fortuitous murder.

The main gags come from their misguided attempts at concealing the crime scene, disposing of the body, and the brief cuts to the bachelor party that Jess’ fiance, Peter (Paul W. Downs), is attending. The brief glimpses of the bachelor party, and its ensuing insanity, are the first of many instances where “Rough Night” pokes fun at role reversals. While Jess and her gang do bumps of cocaine while talking about scoring tail, Peter and his crew sample fine wines and talk about their emotions. These moments of subtlety are actually some of the film’s best moments.

Other times the movie falls into a predictable coma, finding it relying on ill-fitting and unfunny jokes and double entendres worthy of a bad Adam Sandler film. However, “Rough Night” moves at such a frenetic pace, there’s very little time to ponder those moments. It also helps that up-and-comers, Glazer, McKinnon and Bell, feast on the scenery while Johansson and Kravitz do fine trying their hand at comedy.

“Rough Night” is more or less the female version of movies like “The Hangover,” which isn’t a bad thing, but it lacks creative originality. Glazer and director Lucia Aniello work on the TV show “Broad City,” combining absurdist comedy and life in New York City. While there is flirtation with genuine human emotion and female camaraderie, it doesn’t package it as neatly as a 22-minute TV show. Hopefully “Rough Night” is a stepping stone to bigger and better movies.

Film Review: “It Comes at Night”

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott and Carmen Ejogo
Directed By: Trey Edward Shults
Rated: R
Running Time: 97 minutes
A24

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are a few things that always seem to get lost in the shuffle when an apocalyptic end of the world movie is created; paranoia, hopelessness and brutally honest human emotion. Most of the time in this genre, we’re meant to jump in our seats, watch a subtle reflection of the current political climate or enjoy watching Earth devolve into a sadist’s playground. “It Comes at Night” appears to start out with one of those intentions, but as it unwinds; the movie captures the very essence of humanity’s last gasp and struggling with death.

Paul (Edgerton) keeps his at his side, having them abide by a strict set of rules. The home, deeply entrenched in the woods, is boarded up and only has one entrance/exit, two locked doors, which Paul has the only key to. Paul struggles in silence to understand his son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison), who has just witnessed his grandfather succumb to the disease that is infesting the world around them. It takes effect within 24 hours, causing the body to develop talon like boils, its host to puke ink-like blood and turn eyeballs into tar pits.

“It Comes at Night” actually begins with the arduous task of putting grandpa out of his misery. Paul has Travis come along, despite his mom questioning whether or not Travis would be ready to watch the tragic deed. As Paul takes grandpa out into the woods, digs a shallow grave, and shoots him, Travis watches in confused silence. Certainly, going through puberty is compounded by watching a loved one slowly morph into some zombie movie monster.

They don’t have long to sulk because a strange man breaks into the home, scrounging for food and water. After an extensive interrogation process by Paul, the family learns that the man, Will (Abbott), is in desperate need of assistance. His wife and child are in a different home, waiting for him to return with any signs of hope. Paul agrees to help and welcomes the family into the home, and while things may be peaceful at first, things slowly unravel.

There isn’t a lot of small-talk or meaningful conversation between characters in “It Comes at Night.” On one hand, it makes sense because there’s no reason that the people in this scenario would be regurgitating the tragic details of what they already know. So very little is learned about the actual happenings outside the world and what kind of pandemic is eating away at the Earth. On the other hand, we don’t get a sense of what characters are truly thinking since they appear to be more obsessed about what the other is plotting or contemplating. The only inner workings we get a glimpse of our Travis’ adolescent mind.

It’s clear through many of Travis’ nightmares, that the death of his grandpa, sexual frustration brought on by puberty and paranoia are creating a lethal mental cocktail. Anytime a problem arises with Will and his clan, Travis is reminded by his parents about how family comes before everyone else. Since the movie spends so much time with Travis, it creates disconnect from nearly everyone else, which can be frustrating at first, but sets up for an intense final act.

There’s no traditional resolution to “It Comes at Night,” which is both a blessing and a curse. It gives the viewer a lot to ponder and discuss, but it also leaves you with no profound message to chew on. It’s unique in its pragmatic presentation of what happens when human beings are left to their own isolationism and the overwhelming distrust that will certainly envelop society during end times. But the biggest takeaway is that we’re all afraid of dying and losing those closest to us. There’s no political or social commentary away to take from that, it’s just a universal truth.

Film Review: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Starring the Voices Of: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch and Ed Helms
Directed By: David Soren
Rated: PG
Running Time: 89 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

In 2013, 2012, 2005, 2004 and 2002, the “Captain Underpants” books made the American Library Association’s top 10 challenged books. This is a list usually reserved for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Chocolate War,” “Of Mice and Men” and other well-known books. Ironically, “Captain Underpants” place on the list isn’t for its potty humor, but for its insensitivity and because it supposedly encourages children to disobey authority. For fans of the book, or those who don’t see that as a bad thing, you’ll be happy to know the movie keeps that spirit intact.

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” begins with an introduction to George Beard (Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Middleditch). The two fourth graders love to pull pranks and share a creative disregard for their school principal, Benjamin Krupp (Helms). They’ve rebranded him in their comic book, “Captain Underpants,” as made him the title character. He faces off against foes who are also modeled off of other people at the school like annoying teachers, humorless dorks and evil toilets. But the comic hero comes to life when George uses a 3D hypno ring from a cereal box to escape Krupp’s ire. At the snap of their fingers, the stuffy principal dons the iconic white briefs that stretch above the belly button.

There’s an underlying charm to George and Harold’s antics because of how their friendship is birthed through a mutual love for the arts and immature humor. It’s hard not to root for a duo that pulls pranks after being oppressed for expressing themselves in imaginative and comedic ways. Sure it’s humor that makes a man-child giggle and an elementary school classroom roar with laughter, but it’s counterbalanced by witty subtlety. However, even the most juvenile minds might roll their eyes at some of the low hanging fruit “Captain Underpants” happily plucks.

There is some clever wordplay and sight gags for astute viewers. But the majority of fun is from the student and teacher caricatures populating Jerome Horowitz Elementary. Jordan Peele provides the unsavory voice of a teacher’s pet, Kristen Schaal adds a nasal flair to her trademark high pitch when voicing a bashful lunch lady and Nick Kroll uses a stereotypical German accent to voice the film’s ludicrous villain Professor Poopypants. There’s actually a decent reason why his name is so puerile.

Director David Soren plays with different visual styles and animation throughout to keep the eyes drawn to the screen. While the majority of animation is on par with other animated films, moments with sock puppets and sequences that feel like children’s crayon drawings coming to life add to George and Harold’s unique vision. Soren, however, isn’t able to do much with fight and action sequences in the final act that make it memorable.

For a movie about toilet humor, “Captain Underpants” never resorts to grossing out the audience for a cheap laugh and finds a surprising amount of emotional depth in its characters, even the ones that are the butt of the joke. “Captain Underpants” does spend a little bit too much time indulging in its own sophomoric humor when it could have been fine tuning its style a little bit more or focusing on parodying the superhero genre. But if “Captain Underpants” does want to play with the big boys of DC and Marvel, it certainly has the groundwork laid out.

Film Review: “Everything, Everything”

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson and Anika Noni Rose
Directed By: Stella Meghie
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

“Everything, Everything” is going to draw a lot of on the surface comparisons to John Travolta’s “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” and Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Bubble Boy.” It’s fair and unfair at the same time to make that comparison. It’s true that all three movies are about an individual, who’s basically allergic to life, overcoming the odds. But “Everything, Everything” is a lot more heartfelt and genuine, instead of cheapening its main character’s journey with low-brow humor or made-for-TV melodrama.

Maddy (Stenberg) suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Instead of a stereotypical bubble, her life is confinement inside her mother’s airtight home. Pauline (Rose) is a doctor that keeps constant watch and care over her daughter. Maddy seems defeated with the possibility that she’ll ever be able to explore the outside world. She limits her exploration to books she reads, online group chats with other kids who suffer from SCID and busying herself with architecture designs for an online course. Maddy’s wanderlust is sparked by a new neighbor, a loner, and uncharacteristically handsome boy, Olly (Robinson).

“Everything, Everything” is smart for recognizing that teen conversations no longer come in the form of passed notes, lengthy late night phone calls or basic interpersonal dialogue. The two connect over text and Internet, but “Everything, Everything” packages these heart-to-hearts cleverly. The movie plays out the conversation like they’re talking face-to-face, but in the realm of Maddy’s mind and in the playground of one of her architecture models. When the two finally do meet, they awkwardly communicate for the first time using words from their mouths and not with their thumbs.

The film’s sweetness is never overbearing and the cute relationship that developments is wholesome, while still maintaining a foot in reality. Maddy begins to yearn for life outside her sterile home while Olly is discovering there is hope in his miserable life. We subtly learn that his father is abusive, and that his mom, sister and he are emotional prisoners. Maddy and Olly find solace in each other. But alas, there’s a problem with the movie. It lacks courage.

The final act of this movie nearly sinks all the film’s good intention. For obvious reasons, I can’t talk about the ending, but I admit to being ignorant to the twist because I was expecting a unique ending, specific to the movie I was watching unfold. While the ending may have worked for the book this movie is based on, it doesn’t work in the movie. There was a decent shot at making “Everything, Everything” another “Fault in Our Stars” story, but the writers, of both the book and movie, lack the grit to deliver upon their character’s initial moxie.

Despite its flawed, cop-out ending, “Everything, Everything” finds it’s sensibilities in the relationship that develops between the leads. It’s faithful to their emotions, as well as their flawed humanity, although it’s a bit peculiar watching teenagers talking and acting so sincere without an underlying sense of dishonesty. Sometimes logic be damned when two teens are in love, or in this case, when the script calls for it.

Film Review: “Alien: Covenant”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

For the first time in well over a decade, there’s a decent amount of hype and high level of expectation surrounding an “Alien” film. There’s genuine public interest and hope that “Alien: Covenant” would add another rich layer of backstory to the close-quarters terror that audiences experienced back in 1979. But at the expense of bridging the gap between “Prometheus” and “Alien,” Ridley Scott has answered a question nobody asked and poorly answered a question that’s been left lingering since 2012.

The crew of the intergalactic colony ship, Covenant, is awoken mid-cryogenic sleep after a deep space electric charge frazzles their vessel. In the ensuing chaos, the crew’s captain (for some reason played by James Franco) is killed, the ship suffers extensive damage and the crew is alerted to a distress signal. What makes the distress signal curious is that it comes from a planet that’s more livable than the one they’re currently taking 2,000 colonists and thousands of human embryos to.

Acting Captain, Christopher (Crudup), wants to show strength by making a command decision to halt their current path and investigate the planet’s habitability as well as the distress signal. Christopher shrugs off logical concerns by crew members, like why an extensive search of the universe by precise computer programs would have missed this unheard of planet. While he lends an ear to Daniels’ (Waterston) unease, Christopher barrels towards the unknown. I’m sure you know this won’t end well.

The beginning of “Covenant” is ripe with tension, as we breathlessly wait for the best laid plans to fall apart. But once we’ve settled into the mysterious planet and we catch our first glimpse of some prototype xenomorphs, the pressure alleviates and is never reapplied. “Covenant” is covered in thick foreshadowing, that gives away its final act, even to someone who might be new to the “Alien” franchise.

However, fans of the franchise will be wondering what Ridley Scott has done. He’s stripped the dread and action, leaving behind something new, yet unpleasant. “Covenant” is a visually Gothic movie that’s more fixated with body horror than actual scares. It’s more fascinated with Frankenstein rather than the monster. While it is a slightly refreshing change of pace, the human element is nonexistent and the character’s intelligence is subpar.

Fassbender has double duty as the androids, Walter and David. David, if you remember, is the android from “Prometheus” who rides off into the proverbial sunset with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) to find humanity’s creators. While most “Alien” franchise purists didn’t like “Prometheus,” I enjoyed it on the merits of a standalone film that plays a lot like a futuristic “Chariots of the Gods.” The thesis that all life is created by another living entity, and not a God, isn’t lost in “Covenant.”

Scott flirts a lot with man’s infatuation with creating life, discovering meaning, and tapping into what it metaphorically means to be immortal. It’s interesting to ponder, but it never evolves into anything meaningful and it’s buried under a lot of heavy exposition, robotic dialogue, and horror movie tropes. The most obnoxious of clichés is painting these astronauts and scientists like incompetent, horny teenagers stuck at Camp Crystal Lake.

I really wanted to like “Covenant,” especially since Fassbender’s performance was captivating and haunting at times, but I found myself worn out by its formulaic plot and how its human characters lacked human qualities. “Covenant” adds nothing new to the “Alien” franchise. It’s a bloated connector between two of Scott’s most ambitious films. But it’s interesting to note one scene in particular; it’s a narrated flashback that feels like Ridley Scott taking an eraser to “Prometheus.” Maybe he’ll eventually do that with “Covenant.”

Film Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Jude Law
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

For those who’ve read, studied, or are even fans of Arthurian legend, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn’t for you. In fact, if you’re well versed in the British folklore, your confusion will quickly turn into anger a couple of minutes into the movie. While I’m not concerned about the mythology-to-book legitimacy of Guy Ritchie’s film, I’m more concerned about the emotional disconnect between its characters and the film’s unrepentant amount of murder.

Arthur (Hunnam), is born into royalty in Camelot, but not raised by his parents. His power hungry uncle, Vortigern (Law), murders his mom and dad, leaving Arthur orphaned and stranded in a boat. He’s picked up by some ladies of the night in Londinium, raised to become a compassionate and strong warrior. Arthur lives life ignorant to his royal and legendary bloodline, but he’s quickly thrust back into the bizarre world that he was born in. A sword in a stone has appeared and there are rumblings amongst the peasants about the return of England’s true king.

Anyone whose familiar with the works of authors like Geoffery of Monmouth and T.H. White, is surely wondering what the hell is going on with their beloved story. Guy Ritchie has pieced together one of the most disjointed and confounding action movies of the year. It’s really difficult to pinpoint blame on this one, but when he’s in the director’s chair and credited as one of the writers, the blame should fall at his feet.

Hunnam, is charming enough, but much of his allure feels forced. Maybe it’s because he’s much better suited as a tragic hero, which he played for six years on “Sons of Anarchy.” Law can’t suit up and play a compelling villain, and his character is inept and underdeveloped. Vortigern spends most of his time making empty threats and talking to an unnamed octopus woman in the dungeon of Camelot. By the way, the live-action Ursula gone-wrong, is just one of many unnamed and unexplained things, places, and people populating Ritchie’s vision.

Recognizable names, like Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad, are on short supply as most run-of-the-mill fans will be struggling to remember or relate with characters like Back Lack or Mischief John. Merlin is mentioned, but the only mage Arthur ever comes into contact with is played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey. She’s never named in the movie, in the credits, or on the movie’s IMDB, yet she’s the only person of magic to interact with Arthur and help him tame his sword. You’d think an integral component of your plot would at least have a nickname.

There are inspired moments of “King Arthur,” but that’s only because of Ritchie’s visual flair and when his signature style is deployed, the use of narration over action sequences to condense exposition in an entertaining manner. The action is mostly digital; including a finale that feels like it was created with the video game engine from “Dark Souls.” It must be noted that this movie is excessively violent as we watch anonymous and unnamed civilians, usually helpless women, slaughtered. It makes the specific Arthur subplot that he lacks motivation to become king and save the day especially confounding.

If you were to take away the legend of King Arthur, as the film’s backdrop, it’s not an especially unique action film. It’s a mish mash of multi-national war dramas, “Lord of the Rings” and slow-motion CGI battles. While there’s rarely a dull moment, that void is filled with plenty of stupid moments. It may find an audience amongst connoisseurs and lovers of bad cinema; much like “Gods of Egypt” did last year.

“King Arthur” is certainly an attempt to kick start a franchise for Warner Bros., who’s still unwilling to admit their regret for hiring Zack Snyder to put together the DC universe. There was potential for “King Arthur” because Ritchie was in the pilot’s seat, but his talents are  overwhelmed by a messy script, bland characters, dimly lit settings, and an over indulgence in summer blockbuster movie tropes. If there’s a sequel, I’ll hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Planet Comicon remains the best in the Midwest

Rough weather in the Midwest didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from packing into Bartle Hall in Kansas City over the weekend for Planet Comicon. For three days, folks braved monsoon-like rains to meet their favorite stars, socialize and geek out. Nearly every inch of the convention center was brimming with fans, excited to see, meet and hear from celebrities, creators and cosplayers.

Like previous years, the 2017 edition of Planet Comicon featured all-stars across the entertainment spectrum. Everyone from Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy” and “Hellboy) and Felicia Day (“The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) to Jason Aaron (Writer for “Doctor Strange and “Thor”) and Kevin Eastman (Co-creator of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) brightened the otherwise gloomy days. Our very own Mike Smith even hosted an informative panel on “Jaws 2” and Hollywood sequels. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was disappointed by this year’s line-up and activities.

Saturday, one of the busiest days of the three-day extravaganza, could have been disastrous if it wasn’t for the quick work and social media tools at the disposal of Planet Comicon organizers. A backdrop collapse during John Barrowman, early on in the day, could have thrown a wrench in the organizer’s plans. But a quick reshuffling, along with constant updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Planet Comicon’s new phone app, notified fans about the up-to-the-minute changes. It’s just one of many signs that Planet Comicon is always evolving to become bigger and better. It’s truly a leader of cons in the Midwest and shows the perseverance to become one of the best cons in the U.S.

MediaMikes would be remiss if we didn’t thank Planet Comicon organizers for not only their hard work, but for the opportunity for some of our readers to win three-day passes to the event. We’re already planning to attend and cover next year’s Planet Comicon.

Photo by Dan Lybarger

“Hellboy” himself, Ron Perlman Pikachu on the dance floor at an after party Felicia Day with balloon versions of the “MST3K” robots No-Face from “Spirited Away”

 

Emma Caulfield and Clare Kramer reflect on their roles on “Buffy” Batman’s true weakness Jason Isaacs talks Harry Potter and DC A near-perfect Bob and Linda Belcher The one-man show, John Barrowman No shortage of creativity Tara Reid talks about how she wound up in the “Sharknado” series Ariel delighting children Shannon Elizabeth has been busy since “American Pie” An unlikely duo, the Mad Hatter and Jack Frost