Category Archives: 2019

Caught in a Ham (2019, Miguel Jiron)

I think I went into Caught in a Ham with unduly high hopes (I’ve been a Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham since 1983) and apparently I’m enough of a purist to be a little upset Spider-Ham loses out on half his four minute cartoon so it can tie into Into the Spider-Verse. There’s also the issue of him getting the shaft on the runtime. If you’re going to ape an old Looney Tunes cartoon, give it at least seven minutes. Four just isn’t enough. Especially not when half of it is bridging material, which is the nature of the made-for-home-video-supplement beast but whatever. Have some respect for the brand.

Anyway.

The cartoon opens fine. Spider-Ham swinging through the city, making jokes about the hot dog he’s about to eat (I don’t remember cannibalism from the old comics but I was in grade school) and he gets into trouble with a painfully uncool villain, Doctor Crawdaddy. Oh, right. John Mulaney voices Spider-Ham, Aaron LaPlante voices Doctor Crawdaddy. They’re both fine. There’s not much for them to do. LaPlante’s the butt of Mulaney’s jokes and gags, which are lifted—most obviously—from Bugs and Elmer and then something else with slamming doors and hallways. I can’t remember if it’s Tom and Jerry but it’s something. I feel like there’s a cat in it.

Caught in a Ham, considering how “meta” it gets, would do just as well if not better to give citations on screen with the nods because they’re not meant to be discreet and citations would—do something.

Because once LaPlante’s Doctor Crawdaddy disappears and the cartoon gets very meta about Spider-Ham being a digitally animated creation being digitally animated, it becomes obvious it’s not adding up to anything. And it doesn’t. It just sends Spider-Ham, presumably, off into the Spider-Verse, where—hopefully—he gets more to do than in his own truncated cartoon.

Maybe it plays better after Spider-Verse but it certainly shouldn’t.

The animation’s good. Wish there was more of it and less perfunctorily animated meta-nonsense.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Miguel Jiron; screenplay by Jiron, based on the character created by Tom DeFalco and Mark Armstrong; animated by Daran Sudric; produced by David Schulenburg; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring John Mulaney (Spider-Ham) and Aaron LaPlante (Doctor Crawdaddy).


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Hail Satan? (2019, Penny Lane)

Hail Satan? starts with a joke and ends with Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves having to wear a kevlar vest to a rally because so many Pro-Life, Born Again Christians are making legitimate assassination threats. The opening joke is one of the first Satanic Temple rallies, when they’re goofing on Rick Scott. In the span of five years, the Temple (TST) went from being a prank to getting a theatrically released documentary. TST has gone on to become a tax exempt religion (so head to their website if you want to join and get your kid out of corporal punishment, because Satanists aren’t about any of that shit).

The documentary does a mediocre job tracking the organization’s growth. In the first “act,” as the founders recount its early history, all the interviewees are obscured because death threats from Christians. By the end, when the film’s interviewing regional chapter leaders and so on, those folks are on screen unobscured. Hopefully they’re not getting death threats from Christians.

But the film doesn’t get into the death threats. Someone mentions it before they suit up Greaves with the kevlar for what turns out to be the perfunctory finish of the film. Director Lane directs the documentary’s sporadic narrative without any structure, so it’s not like a “let’s talk about death threats” aside would fit but not talking about them also stays in line with how Lane avoids talking about opposition to the Satanic Temple.

Given the TST members define Satan as the “adversary” not the horned beast or whatnot… Hail Satan? not mentioning how the opponents to the Temple are 1) Christian, 2) dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. Constitution, 3) hypocrites, 4) bad people, 5) whatever else. There’s one montage sequence where Lane shows Christians complaining to a city council about the TST giving the daily prayer but not much else. Sure, the film shows Arkansas senator Jason Rapert as an evil fuckwit, but the guy’s objectively an evil fuckwit. Those citizens ignorantly ranting against Satanism? Lane and editors Amy Foote and Aaron Wickenden made the choice of how to present them. Including using a woman who’s apparently an ESL speaker as a joke.

Lane is more than comfortable to present the Satanic Temple as a necessary good but doesn’t get into why it’s necessary; the documentary does at least silver medal gymnastics to avoid talking about how awful American Christians treat everyone who doesn’t think like them. Lane frequently just uses a one-liner from Greaves to comment on something, which “works” because Greaves has got a great onscreen presence as an interviewee (the film relies on following him so much it ought to just follow him), but it’s a major dodge. Lane’s more than comfortable to use Megyn Kelly as a sight gag but not to actually address why Kelly is able to be used as a sight gag. Because she’s an evil white American Christian.

Of course, Lane avoids a lot of other things too. Frequent interviewee Jex Blackmore ends up excommunicated from TST (for promoting the idea of assassinating the forty-fifth president) and Lane covers it, but then seems to use pre-excommunicated interview material from Blackmore again, which doesn’t seem… right. It’s “fine” in a documentary-sense, like Blackmore signed the releases or whatever, but has her perspective changed since the excommunicating. If it hasn’t, it at least ought to be addressed. Pretty much everything Lane avoids ought to be addressed.

Because Hail Satan? only runs ninety-some minutes but the lack of structure makes it feel like two and a half hours. The middle section is just waiting for something to happen. It rarely does. When TST wins one case then loses another, Lane barely addresses the loss. She doesn’t ask her interviewees about it, she just has some quick newsreel footage.

The use of footage is another thing. It’s where Lane’s most comfortable taking jabs at American Christians, usually letting someone else do it, not the film. And Lane doesn’t have to be making a pro-TST documentary—it doesn’t start out as one (when it covers the Temple’s early shenanigans)—but it definitely ends up making one. Some of that positive light is going to be inevitable with the Satanic Temple. Their seven pillars, after all, are just about being good to one’s fellow humans. They aren’t the hateful shit stains. The hateful shit stains are the Christians, who Lane isn’t willing to address, which is the missing half of Hail Satan?

Because the movie just makes the Satanists out to be regular folk (and now a literal oppressed minority), maybe twenty-first century punk slash retro grunge is a little overrepresented but they’re basically just anti-ignorant humanists. Their opposition? Their adversary? The pro-ignorance Christians.

Who Lane takes a swipe at in the editing room with someone else’s footage, someone else’s words.

As is, Hail Satan? is two or three short documentaries lumped into a feature but about half of what it needs to be. It tries to have the Satanic Temple without its adversary and you always need to show the evil. Rapert’s a loathsome, dangerous buffoon, sure, but he’s a poor stand-in for Christianity. Hail Satan? doesn’t flesh out its villains enough; so Christian privilege even permeates a movie about how Satanists are actually the good guys.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Lane; cinematography by Naiti Gámez; edited by Amy Foote and Aaron Wickenden; music by Brian McOmber; produced by Gabriel Sedgwick; released by Magnolia Pictures.


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Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Avengers: Endgame had the ending I was hoping for, but maybe not necessarily the right ending for the movie. And it’s only got one. If Endgame has any singular successes, it might be in its lack of false endings. It does a lot of establishing work, sometimes new to the film, sometimes refreshing it from previous Marvel movies. Endgame is the twenty-second “Marvel Cinematic Universe” movie; you probably can get away with watching thirteen of them and getting the story. And maybe not all the ones you’d expect. And not always for the best narrative reasons, not given where it takes some of its characters.

The film opens catching up with Jeremy Renner. Even before the company logo. He missed the last outing because of something in another one of the movies. Not one of the Avengers movies either. Anyway. Renner, despite being really effective in the first scene, is a red herring. He’s there immediately for texture and structurally for when he comes back later on. Because first things first, after all. Given the way the previous movie (Infinity War) ends, there’s some anticipation. There’s some big action in the prologue too, some big team-ups, some nice moments. But it’s really an epilogue to the previous film. In fact, there’s even a cliffhanger moment they could’ve used to split them. Only no, because then the movie jumps ahead an arbitrary amount of time. Arbitrary in how it effects the narrative, but so specific you’ve got to think there’s some reason. Maybe for the twenty-third Marvel movie. Or the thirty-third.

The movie uses the jump ahead to allow for a new ground situation. Sometimes it’s drastic, sometimes it’s not. Even when it’s a theoretically big change, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change how the character functions in the film. Maybe it gives them some angst or whatever, but everyone’s got angst after the last movie. It only affects behaviors in a few. The rest… well, they’re a little thin. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an amazing job writing good scenes for the actors, but not good subplots for most of them. There are some disconnects between script and direction here, particularly with Chris Hemsworth. Markus and McFeely’s script gives him a lot of possibility and directors Russo have zero interest in pursuing it. Shame thing goes for Mark Ruffalo. He gets more to do than ever before, but never any good scenes to himself. Renner and Scarlett Johansson end up somewhere in between. They’ve got material, they get time for it… it still comes off a little too perfunctory.

In theory, Endgame’s two leads are Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Downey gets the most to do in the film and it’s a fantastic performance. It’s his movie, as much as it can be any actor’s movie. Meanwhile, the script doesn’t give Evans quite enough to do, even though it frequently has him around things to do. Markus and McFeely actually don’t give Evans an arc for the film. Him, first tier guest stars Brie Larson and Don Cheadle, Ruffalo, no actual character arcs. It’d be disappointing if it weren’t a movie about a bunch of superheroes time traveling to save the world.

The time travel goes back into the other movies, but doesn’t get too nostalgic about them. It’s nice Endgame can get traction out of the three locations, as they’re locations because of narrative detail not dramatic potential. There are a couple good action sequences in one of them, some wasted material for Hemsworth, some wasteful material Downey makes into gold, some old footage reused then CGI’ed to get another “name” guest star in the end credits, a major plot development for third act repercussion, and a too flat melodramatic moment. And a bunch of good acting, good directing, excellent CGI, and whatever else.

Endgame couldn’t get better, technically speaking. Everything directors Russo need to do, every shot, it all works. There’s a lot to keep moving. It gets kind of monotonous after a while, as the film’s ambitions are all about getting its story told, getting all its connections made, all its references echoed, all its characters in the right place for when the actors’ contracts run out. There’s no time to make wide filmmaking swings, but directors Russo don’t even seem interested in trying. They’re more than happy to leverage an old movie beat to get the job done.

Especially if it’s at Hemsworth’s expense. Especially Hemsworth’s.

There aren’t any bad performances. Downey’s the ace. Then Evans or Paul Rudd. Rudd’s better than anyone but Downey when he’s getting introduced; he’s momentarily the lead then he’s background. He ends up with even less to do than Renner. But Evans is in the whole movie. Ruffalo’s fine. There’s nothing for him to do. Hemsworth seems more than capable so it’s weird how little he gets to do. He’s fine. Johansson’d be better if she didn’t end up losing her arc once Renner’s back. There’s a moment where it seems like she’s going to give a really good performance. Instead, she’s fine. Good in comparison to others, when adjusting for all the film’s factors. Cheadle’s good with his stuff, which is mostly background noise. Karen Gillan gets a big arc, at least in terms of narrative importance, but loses it. She’s okay.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back for a bit. She’s good. It’s not a lot. But she and Downey get their magic going as needed.

Bradley Cooper’s great as the CGI raccoon’s voice.

As for Josh Brolin, whose villain was the whole show in the previous Infinity War? The CGI, motion-captured mean blue giant thing still works and Brolin’s fine, but… he’s got a thin part this time out. Technically lots to do, all of it really thin.

Endgame succeeds in being a well-acted, well-made, and well-written (enough) conclusion to the “world-building” done by the previous twenty-one movies. It just might have been nice if it tried to do anything else. Anything at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), and Josh Brolin (Thanos).


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Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges (2019, Luke Pedder)

I make this statement with absolute sincerity: a Michael vs. Jason fan movie is a good idea. It doesn’t need actual acting, because neither of the slasher villains are going to be speaking or emoting. Their shapes and the filmmaking are going to do the work. You could do it on zero budget, you just need the masks.

And the Harry Manfredini Friday the 13th music.

Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges has some Friday the 13th music, carefully remixed just enough not to be infringing (I assume). They don’t use the Carpenter Halloween music at all because you figure they’d get sued. Good enough for Luc Besson, good enough for some Australian family who really wanted to make a Michael vs. Jason slugfest.

And it is, for a time, a glorious slugfest.

I wasn’t actually expecting one. Not like director Luke Pedder delivers, but for a while, it works really, really well. Stars Joshua Pedder and John Pedder give their all; it’s a wrestling match with some ultra violence. Not gore ultra violence because there’s no money for it, so instead just ultra violent sound effects and editing emphases. It’s cool. It’s kind of dumb, but it’s cool.

Then some Australian hicks show up and threaten the slasher movie villains with guns and bats. It’s all way too predictable and way too unimaginative. Because director Pedder doesn’t seem to get where the film’s strong, where he’s strong—the two villains duking it out.

See, Michael vs. Jason doesn’t just not have a sick mix of Manfredini and Carpenter’s music themes to go over the action, it doesn’t have a single night shot. It all takes place during the day. In this very distinct forest. In Australia. Or in New Jersey, but a New Jersey where the Australians have invaded and run things like a bunch of fascists. They’re killing Michael (John Pedder) without a trial or anything. Jason (Joshua Pedder) has already woken up because his mom told him to get out of bed and kill people.

Michael vs. Jason doesn’t open well. The mom voice is bad, the Jason mask is bad (not the hockey mask, but the full latex mask Joshua Pedder wears so no one could possibly recognize him in the other parts he plays in the short), then comes the Michael stuff and it’s all cribbed from H40, including the too big mask.

The seemingly unintentional charm of it—the actors all covered in one mask or another so they can Fake Shemp, the bad and wordy dialogue, the Australian accents—get it through until Michael inevitably breaks free of his captors. There’s an extended sequence where Michael’s chasing this kid in reflective sunglasses—he’s the boss, probably played by Christopher Goldup, who does the fan movie shot in a woods with no budget equivalent of scenery chewing—and it’s kind of… good. Pedder intuits how to use the reflective sunglasses for effect, even if they’re silly. The whole thing’s silly.

Then Jason shows up and the wrasslin’ starts and Michael vs. Jason coasts to the end. It never gets better than that first fight, where there’s a combination of good choreography, all-in performances from John and Joshua, and some nice cuts from director Luke. The finale has a fake thunderstorm and CGI gunshots. The thunderstorm filter isn’t impressive, but the CGI gunshots are cool until you notice they don’t leave any damage.

I can’t believe I’m getting 600 words out of this one.

Anyway. Michael vs. Jason has a good fight scene, some fine cuts, and the Australian charm factor to get it through its way too long thirty minute runtime. It’s not really a proof of concept, except one to show how director Pedder’s got one heck of a can-do attitude. You’d have to be mildly interested in the concept or potential to be engaged, but Michael vs. Jason is far from a failure. It’s just very hard to recommend. Especially at the thirty minute runtime.

It’d probably work better as just the slasher rumble.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Luke Pedder; screenplay by Pedder, based on characters created by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Victor Miller; released on YouTube.

Starring John Pedder (Michael Myers) and Joshua Pedder (Jason Voorhees); fake shemps: Christopher Goldup, Michael Holmes, Jaxon Green.


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