THE LCJ POD-A-THON FOR MAKE-A-WISH
Ryan Crego is the Executive Producer of "Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh", DreamWorks Animation's latest series, which is debuting now on Netflix. In this LCJ Q&A, Crego tells me about working on the spinoff show, incorporating elements from DWA's 2015 movie, casting "X-Factor" contestant Rachel Crow and his thoughts on the theatrical return of a certain green ogre.
In a recent interview, “Jason Bourne” co-writer and director Paul Greengrass revealed that Matt Damon’s title character only has about 25 lines of dialogue in the entire film. After seeing this fifth “Bourne” installment - he wasn’t exaggerating! Damon delivers short, declarative sentences on just about 25 occasions. So, in honor of this achievement, the following review is made-up of 25 (mostly) short, declarative sentences:
“Jason Bourne” is a two-hour cat-and-mouse game. And that’s ALL it is. Nine years after “Ultimatum”, Bourne is back on the grid. He’s angry, seeking revenge and looking for answers. Bourne wants to know why he became a CIA assassin in the first place. If he has to kill a few more people in order to get what he wants - than that’s exactly what he’ll do.
CIA director Dewey (played by Tommy Lee Jones) and his young internet prodigy (played by Alicia Vikander) are out to find him. The outlaw Bourne reunites with old friend Nicky (Julia Stiles). Meantime, a Silicon Valley tech giant is launching a new surveillance service. All isn’t what it seems. The creator (played by “Nightcrawler”’s Riz Ahmed) is in over his head. Not original.
The story is ultra-basic instead of ultra-modern. The screenplay is so mindlessly thin it screams “Franchise Revival Money Grab”. For a film with a main character who’s constantly on the run, “Jason Bourne” feels so stable, stagnant and stale. It lacks energy and the willingness to go deeper to provide the audience with some substance, instead relying, almost solely, on chase scenes.
I had a lot of problems with 2012’s “The Bourne Legacy”, with Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross. Like “Jason Bourne”, it was really, REALLY talky. But at least “Legacy” had other elements (including a romance between Renner and Rachel Weisz) that kept your interest.
Greengrass’s trademark close-ups brought me back to watching “Captain Phillips”. Once again I felt a little seasick. Filming locations include Athens, Berlin, D.C. and London. The climactic Las Vegas strip car chase sequence is fantastic. Otherwise, “Jason Bourne” is a bore.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Jason Bourne” gets a D.
The issue of Free Speech, internet shaming and the right to be "offended" is a hot topic in society these days (and one I'm not totally unfamiliar with). They're also at the center of an informative and fascinating new documentary "Can We Take a Joke?" At only 75 minutes, director Ted Balaker (who previously tackled this topic in his 2013 short "Don't Cage My Speech! A Student Schools His College") uses comedians - past, present and future - as his messengers, and they provide enough thought-provoking material on how we, and others, react to what we say to generate lively debates long after the credits roll.
Celebrity comics, including Gilbert Gottfried, Adam Corolla, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, Heather McDonald, along with comic/magician Penn Jillette each bring their perspective to the problems that not only performers, but everyone in our society faces today when it comes to voicing an opinion or trying to be funny in a politically correct world.
This doc also provides a fascinating history lesson on legendary comedien Lenny Bruce, who's credited with paving the way for all comediens who followed to be able to use profanity in their act and not worry about being thrown in jail. Bruce worked back in the 50s and 60s with police officers just off stage, ready to take him away if/when he uttered a "dirty" word, which was often. He was eventually sentenced to prison for using expletives and sexual references in his act and not long after died of a drug overdose. In 2003, nearly 40 years after his death, Bruce was pardoned by then NY Governor George Pataki. The Bruce narrative, and how the he provided the freedom for all the controversial comics who have followed him, is one of the strongest elements of the film.
But if the First Amendment provides performers the freedom from legal prosecution, "Can We Take a Joke?" makes it clear that NO ONE - comics, students or regular citizens -are free from societal prosecution. It only takes one person to claim they're "offended" by a joke, comment or tweet, and within minutes all Hell can break lose. In the film we see the results of this phenomenon in a montage of "apologies" from celebrities who were accused of crossing the line. The filmmaker and his subjects constantly point out that comedy, at its heart, is about crossing the line, but that's much easier said than done in the current climate in which we live.
"Can We Take a Joke?" has a very clear point of view: Free Speech trumps all, firmly believing that saying things that may be deemed as offensive betters our society as a whole because it creates a dialogue. And the alternative - censorship - is unacceptable. However, while the negative side of the issue is explored in detail (Gottfried getting fired by Aflac for online jokes following the 2011 Japan Tsunami is just one example), the film's perspective is a bit one-sided. The "offended" are simply shown as hecklers and fanatics. What it feels like to be one of the offended, and WHY they feel offended, is not examined. If people have a right to say anything that's on their minds, they have just as much of a right to be upset with anything they hear. A little balance on this issue would have been welcome.
Are people, as a whole, a little uptight when it comes to how we treat certain material? Yes. In a news clip during the opening montage, Jimmy Kimmel tells a protestor, "I can't apologize every night." Comedians and talk show hosts aren't going to please everyone, and the film does a nice job of explaining that the U.S. has the best policies when it comes to performers (and all citizens) being able to express themselves freely.
"Can We Take a Joke?" does feel a bit scattered in its storytelling structure, bouncing back and forth from comics to colleges to Bruce and back again. And I would've liked to have gotten perspectives from two other iconic "attack" comics: Kathy Griffin (who's the first female that comes to mind in this category) and Don Rickles, who pioneered the craft of insult comedy 70-years ago (and does have a Twitter account).
Overall, I can say that not since "Blackfish" three years ago has an issue documentary inspired me to think this deeply about the pros and cons of its subject matter.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Can We Take a Joke?" gets a B.
"Nerve" is based on a 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan. And that makes perfect sense. There's a heroine at the center of a Hunger Games-esque, high-tech reality game called Nerve, which is, essentially, an extreme version of Truth or Dare, with teen and 20-year-old contestants tackling various challenges in hopes of winning cash, gaining followers and becoming internet celebrities. However, Nerve is also the ultimate game of "Press Your Luck", with the Whammy being Death. As the dollar amounts increase, the dares get more and more dangerous.
The concept is intriguing, but as the movie unfolds, it’s impossible not to think how illogical it all is. No one is allowed to tell the Police about Nerve or else they're considered a snitch, which has its own set of consequences. Nerve has supposedly gone on for years, with tens of thousands of "Watchers" and "Players" across the country, and during that time, no one in authority OF ANY KIND has found-out about the game? That’s simply ridiculous.
Plus, practically every high school and college student (along with some adults bored at work) watches Nerve on their device of choice - basically doing NOTHING ELSE with their lives - and yet no one on any of the OTHER Social Media Platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat are talking about it? We all know - in the real world - there are no secrets online.
Those are big flaws when it comes to the Nerve game. And there are just as many problems with "Nerve" the movie. Emma Roberts plays Vee, a high school senior who’s looking to go to college at CalArts, though her mom (played by Juliette Lewis) wants her to stay home. Vee's best friend, the "ambitious" Sydney, is really into Nerve, hoping to earn a lot of money and become “insta-famous”.
Accused of being boring, Vee decides to try Nerve, and she’s quickly teamed-up with motorcycle-riding fellow player Ian (Dave Franco). They take to the streets of New York City, executing the “dares” they’re presented with, which start innocent and quickly become life-threatening. "Nerve" does give equal time to exploring the three side effects of the game: the impact on the players, the bystanders who proudly record the action on their phones, and those who think they're all absolutely insane. With the lengthiest PG-13 MPAA rating explanation of any movie this year, the title should've been "Nerve - or Kids: Don't Try This At Home".
Roberts and Franco do make a cute couple. And there are some minor elements that work. During a scene in which Vee is recording herself trying on a flashy, $4,000 green dress in a department store changing room, comments from Watchers appear on the side of the screen. Some complement or criticize the dress, others do the same about Vee's body in offensive and improper ways. The scene sums-up today's Social Media behavior to a tee. And the growing tension between Vee and Sydney doesn't feel forced.
But, while "Nerve" is the most "Modern" movie of 2016 (filled with tech, pop music, and flashy graphics), it isn't suspenseful enough to be exciting nor groundbreaking enough to be thought-provoking. The lessons the film is supposed to teach us, presented blatantly in a few climactic speeches, are obvious and pretty corny.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Nerve" gets a C.
If ever there was an animated franchise that's been milked for all it's worth, it's "Ice Age" (though I'm not sure if you could actually milk Mooly Mammoths). What began as a noble and heartfelt, Oscar-nominated original back in 2002 (the first feature from Blue Sky Studios) is now four sequels, three shorts and two TV specials deep. "The Meltdown" ('06) and "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" ('09) were satisfying follow-ups, but 2012's "Continental Drift" proved the series had lost its edge. Now, "Collision Course" leaves no doubt that "Ice Age" is worthy of cinematic extinction.
The most, or rather, only, amusing element in "Collision Course" are the Scrat vignettes. This time, our acorn-loving saber-tooth squirrel has gotten himself "lost in space", and, as we learn from narration by scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has caused an asteroid to head straight towards Earth. The decision by the writers to bring back Buck, a great character from "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (voiced by Simon Pegg), was smart, but he, and practically everything in the movie, is too much to handle this time.
As for the plot - it's Buck who informs all the others (Manny, Sid, Diego, etc., etc., etc.) that the asteroid will end life as they know it unless they find a way to stop it. And there's a theme about dealing with change, as Manny and and Ellie's daughter Peaches is getting married and moving out. It's all as basic as that.
Of course, Mammoths, Ground Sloths and Saber-Tooth Tigers (et al) no longer exist. But, even though "Collision Course" is promoted as "The Defining Chapter" of this saga, unfortunately FOX doesn't stick to history, though I wish they had. Frankly, it's the only humane thing to do at this point in the series.
While "IA5" is expected to underperform in the US, it's already a monster overseas, just like its predecessors. That's the reason Blue Sky keeps investing time and energy into churning-out new chapters of the franchise. It's a bit of a surprise that the focus hasn't shifted to turning this into a TV series. The "Collision Course" script is worthy of a 22-minute cable/web treatment and the show would likely be very popular.
In a "nutshell": "Collision Course" is colorful and cheery, with rambunctious, non-stop, off-the-wall energy for 90 minutes. The dialogue is dull and there are fifteen-minute stretches without a single chuckle. New additions to the voice cast: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jessie J, Adam DeVine, Nick Offerman, and even Kelly Ripa's TV ex, Michael Strahan don't raise the entertainment level an inch.
A five year-old girl sitting in the row behind me loved all the action and hijinks. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, older than her will find themselves rooting for the asteroid.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Ice Age: Collision Course" gets a D+.