If you’re looking for high art, this is not the post. (I hear Moonlight is superb. Go see that.) This is the post about dumb shit you watch when you’re also sweeping or cooking or working on your budget. Or maybe you’re on a plane, as I find myself more often than I should. Or maybe you’re sick and just looking for something mindless. Yes, that is the bar for these sorts of movies. And you know what? Sometimes they do the trick better than any fancypants film. Just treat them like any other junk you put into your body, and don’t consume too many of them at once.
Star Trek Beyond
I have two good friends whose opinions are thoughtful, and while I don’t always agree with them, I can see that they’ve carefully considered their argument. In the case of these new Star Trek movies, they believe that the first one was excellent and the subsequent two were utter shit. For my part, I would say they’re all fine, with the caveat that they are not at all in the spirit of what I used to love about the Star Trek series (plural). This third entry, despite a new director, is another mediocre way to spend two hours. Kirk and Spock have some existential crises, an alien-ish bad guy intervenes in a way that speaks directly to those crises, and then the standard three-act structure unfolds.
If you’ve seen any action movie in the last ten years, you know exactly what you’re getting: din, structures blowing up, and strangely unnecessary hand-to-hand combat. That said, the ensemble cast in these films is exceptional, in particular Karl Urban as Bones, the ship’s doctor. My friends found that Jaylah, the alien who helps out the crew, was underused in the last third of the movie, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. But to do more with Jaylah, to make her the hero that she deserved to be, would have been a surprise to me; while this story gives many of its great moments to its supporting cast, Jaylah included, Kirk and Spock always hog the spotlight. Star Trek Beyond gets extra points from me because it was willing to make its silliness apparent, via a prolonged music-action gag. If you’re trying to take these movies seriously, this one will almost assuredly turn you off, but then again why are you taking these seriously? These movies are all dumb. At least you’re getting a bunch of charming actors and some fun moments that aren’t bigoted or nationalistic or hyper-militarized.
Speaking of hyper-militarized. It seems mind-boggling to me that in the same year, somebody made a movie about rescuing a beloved pet named Keanu from organized crime, and somebody else made a movie about Keanu avenging a beloved pet by taking out organized crime. If you liked Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando but thought it didn’t have enough gun violence, then you’re going to love John Wick. Mr. Reeves plays the title character, a retired hitman who gets back in the game… to settle the score for his dog.
There’s a reason why Commando didn’t try to justify the psychopathic behaviour of its protagonist, and that’s because there’s no satisfying way to rationalize one man killing hundreds of people. It’s a shame John Wick didn’t get the memo, because we lose precious minutes of our lives watching Keanu try to emote. Just let the man shoot at things with semi-proficiency! And in fact he does: this movie takes delight in counting bullets, in reloading guns after a realistic number of shells are spent, of proper posture for unloading a handgun into someone’s face. To his credit, it’s fun to watch Reeves take part in the action, and his desire to be legit makes John Wick (the character) seem somehow less supernaturally untouchable and more talented.
Still, this movie was a disappointment, even by my low standards for it. So much of it was either unnecessary (backstory) or unlikeable (the mob boss and his awkward swearing). Not even a decent supporting cast, including half of The Wire, could save it. Next time, just let Keanu shoot at a bunch of foreheads and leave it at that. Until then, you’re better off watching this instead, and lamenting the fact that there has never been another great soundtrack of steel drums.
The Secret Life of Pets
And from a bodycount in the hundreds, we move on to this delightful kids’ movie about how we all leave our pets alone for way, way too long each day, until they’re desperate and sad. Bodycount: 2. Louis CK does an admirable job giving voice to dogs everywhere, the equal parts unconditional love and neuroticism and surely wrong conclusions dogs must make from the available evidence. In echoes to Toy Story (and many other kids movies, I’m sure), The Secret Life of Pets centres around Louis’s owner bringing home another dog, which leads to the two dogs getting lost in the urban jungle of New York.
My friend and I go running together a few times a week, and he has an app on his phone that plays a motivational Kevin Hart clip every time we finish a run. This is more or less the extent of my knowledge of Kevin Hart: fitness comedian. In Pets, he plays the main villain, a fluffy rabbit that has escaped the shackles of domesticity and wants to eradicate humans for their enslavement of animals. You know, rabbit, I kind of get where you’re coming from. Fitness comedian Kevin Hart gives the funniest performance and gets some of the best gags.
All in all, I thought it was an above-par kids’ movie, with some genuinely funny moments. I saw it while travelling and thought it would be a good movie to share with my very young son one day. All the weird philosophical implications (e.g. we shouldn’t treat animals as objects) were much more tolerable than the weird gender reinforcement or guns-are-cool moments of other recent kids’ fare. But then, I’m not an expert on kids’ movies yet. My son and I only rarely watch screens together, and only for five minutes at a time. So far we’re about thirty minutes through Inside Out. That same friend with the Kevin Hart motivational app? He claims that Zootopia is way better than Pets. At this pace, I suppose I’ll watch it sometime late next year.