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Thursday
Aug252016

Der Bunker (2015)

"Stranger" Danger

Stranger Things isn't strange enough to be interesting, and it's not cohesive enough to be good. After a month of watching friends and colleagues fawn over Netflix's latest "original" show, I'm relieved to cite an example of what people think they're watching when they watch Stranger Things.

Two examples, actually. The first is some rather unsettling video of zombie parasites evacuating a dying praying mantis. We'll come back to this in a bit.

The second is Nikias Chryssos' black sci-fi comedy of manners, Der Bunker. Recent films like Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane played on the claustrophobia and the deleterious effects of captives held underground, sometimes for years. Der Bunker asks us to consider how fast we'd run for the open door if the only thing standing in our way was...well, us. At what point do politeness and the fear of giving offense hamper our instincts for self-preservation--socially, physically, and/or spiritually?

Pit Bukowski stars as a young, introverted German student (referred to only as "Student") who rents a room for the winter, in a house that's been dug into the deepest part of the woods. His Higgs particle research requires absolute quiet and concentration, and landlords Father (David Scheller) and Mother (Oona von Maydell) just happen to have a windowless concrete bunker that they're eager to let out. Father--a lanky, jovial, and needy man--also fancies himself a scholar, and offers to collaborate with Student, should he ever need the help of a fellow quantum mechanic.

At dinner the first night, Student meets the house's third full-time occupant. Eight-year-old Klaus (Daniel Fripan) stumbles out of his room and part way into the kitchen, complaining that he can't sleep. Student has his back to the boy, who only appears as a diminutive shadow in the doorway. Whatever impulse might have compelled Student to turn around is cut short by Klaus' voice: the words are sufficiently juvenlie, but he sounds like a thirty-year-old man. Mother helps Klaus back to bed. Student resumes munching on Mother's dumplings. Father quietly counts the number of dumplings Student has eaten.*

Through manipulations subtle and not, Father and Mother convince Student to divide his time between scientific research and tutoring their son. Mother is dissatisfied with Father's home-schooling efforts, and is determined to give Klaus the one-on-one quality training he'll need in order to one day become President of the United States. It's destiny, you see, so says the alien overlord who lives in a bubbling pustule on Mother's leg.

You're right, I should stop before this gets weird.

I should also clarify that Der Bunker is not what the layperson might call an artsy-fartsy German film that's different for the sake of being different. The set decoration is unsettling, the costumes are bizarre, and the story piles layer upon layer of mystery. Yet Chryssos explains everything that needs explaining, leaves some elements in question, and made me believe that he had a plan for everything--even if he had no intention of revealing certain parts of that plan to me. Does it matter whether or not Klaus is actually a child? Not really. Does it matter that we understand (and support) Student's decision to stay on as Klaus' teacher, long after it has been made clear just how mad this madhouse is? Absolutely, and Chryssos makes quite a case.

I didn't buy all of what the writer/director was selling: he could have dropped the Barker-esque detail about Student and Mother's eventual affair--especially since the alien (whose name is Heinrich) offered Student far greater enticements than drafting-table nooky. And Student's fate is, sadly, Twilight Zone-predictable.

Those quibbles aside, I really took to the odd dynamic between Student and Klaus. Klaus is, perhaps, an irredeemably dim bulb, but Student plows through their mutual awkwardness and fear of the parents to discover a pure soul trapped in a creepy body. This bond was even more impressive to me since I'd only ever seen Bukowski play the titular silent killer in Der Samurai.

With its video cover image of Klaus bent comically over Father's knee, about to receive a savage sjambokking, Der Bunker is being marketed as a sort of edgy, mod-cult curiosity. This was also, arguably, the draw of Stranger Things, a show whose title promises stranger things than other shows of its ilk. It delivers instead a technically perfect and imaginatively bankrupt montage of everything genre junkies have seen before. From the font and score of the series' opening title sequence to the scene-by-scene swipes of nearly every beloved (or at least heavily referenced) sci-fi movie of the last forty-plus years, the note-perfect recreations of old properties cannot be dismissed.

But series creators The Duffer Brothers don't do the truly daunting and important work of connecting Firestarter references to visual motifs from Under the Skin to themes in Stephen King's It--work that would have made Stranger Things a memorable and unpredictable slice of science fiction, rather than geek** catnip and a charismatic Cliff's Notes for millennials who would never deign to watch the "old movies" from which the Duffers so liberally and unabashadly cribbed. Stranger Things uses layers-thick nostalgia to wrap an empty mystery box.

This is my labored and very round-about way of saying that if you think Stranger Things is truly strange, you may want to take a pass on Der Bunker. If watching someone spit a slug into their bathroom sink is the height of "Don't Even Go There" for you, Nikias Chryssos is definitely not your guy. If, however, you can A) watch organisms tear themselves away from a host body that is somehow less than half their collective size, and not be creeped out (and, in fact, want to know more about the truly bizarre possibilities our harsh and inexplicable universe has to offer);*** and B) believe that an eighty-minute art film featuring a bronze vagina lamp can offer more tenderness, suspense, and insight than eight hours of gooey, Spielberg fanfic--by all means, venture down into Der Bunker.

Tell Heinrich I said "Hi."

*Two. He's also on his third napkin.

**If this isn't yet a thing, allow me to introduce the Geek Properties Paradox: On one hand, pop-culture obsessives have, to a large extent, embraced Stranger Things as a show that perfectly captures (i.e. replicates) everything they loved about the movies of their youth. Yet these same nerds (a term used here with self-identifying affection) are the first to decry Hollywood's calculated reliance on remakes and sequels to successful "brands" from decades past. How can one angrily pound the keyboard with cries of, "How DARE they remake Poltergeist?! Are they THAT out of ideas??!!!" and then sing The Duffer Brothers' praises from the virtual mountaintops ("OMG!!! I loooove this show! It's just like Poltergeist!")?

***This happens in the praying mantis video referenced at the head of this piece, not in Der Bunker.

Friday
Aug192016

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Style Over Sustenance

Imagine a boutique cereal company that has cooked up a litigation-proof version of Cap'n Crunch. Not another off-brand, bottom-shelf knock-off, mind you: these high-fructose nuggets are identical to the famous breakfast brand's in every way, down to the sharp surface grooves that practically beg consumers not to eat more than a handful at a time.

Sales are good right out of the gate, thanks in large part to the CEO's well-rehearsed media blast in which she describes the painstaking process for crafting each nugget, a method so absurdly "traditional" as to be archaically inefficient.

"Every day," says the proprietor of Nautic'l Nuggets Sea-real, Inc., "three-hundred-and-fifty-three Le Cordon Bleu Paris-trained culinary artisans clock in at our eighty-thousand-square-foot Modesto facility. They hand-roll tons of grain; refine our secret blend of sugars and (actual) natural flavors; stir and bake each batch with Djrfürk Mighty Oak cooking spoons, and pass trays of freshly-baked product between them, down a multi-tiered production line (no conveyor belts here). The journey climaxes at our nine-hundred-foot-long cooling station, a replica country farmhouse window sill in the Swedish style that's so exacting, we've erected a rolling pasture with grass-fed cows for our li'l golden guys to look out on as they await packaging.

"Speaking of which," the exec continues, "we place each nugget, one at a time, into hand-pressed (of course) boxes made exclusively from materials grown in the pasture and surrounding planned woods. It used to take seven hundred man-hours to make one box of Nautic'l Nuggets, but we'll be down to six-twelve by year's end. I'm sure of it."

Kubo and the Two Strings (and the output of independent animation studio, Laika, in general) is like Nautic'l Nuggets: a sugary, well-promoted, and labor-intensive mediocrity. Yes, it looks gorgeous. Yes, the filmmakers snagged brand-name Oscar winners as headliner voice talent. Yes, the artisans who made the puppets emote and the set pieces sparkle deserve all the accolades they're getting. But just as Jared Leto's highly reported on-set antics didn't make Suicide Squad one goddamned iota more interesting, the fact that hundreds of passionate craftspeople spent years arranging objects and snapping pictures doesn't change the fact that they did so in service of an embarrassingly nonsensical script.

Think of it this way: Michael Bay is currently in production on his fifth Transformers movie. Behind him are an army of digital artists--from character designers to riggers to animators--who will have also spent years bringing a singular vision to life. They wield styluses and mice instead of X-Acto blades, and the singular vision in question happens to be based on a decades-old toy line, but their commitment is no less real. Yet no serious film critic would ever go out of their way to suggest that considerable efforts from multiple, globe-spanning departments warrants giving these particularly ill-conceived movies any kind of pass.*

Believe it or not, my harsh opinion of Kubo and the Two Strings has softened in the two days since I saw it, thanks in large part to a great conversation I had with Keeping It Reel's David Fowlie. He gave himself over to Travis Knight's take on ancient Japanese legends in a way that I simply couldn't. David's enjoyment echoes that of many Laika fans, critic and civilian alike, who commit to the ride without getting caught up, necessarily, in the mechanics. I'm in the minority opinion (no surprise there), and to convey the reasons for that disconnect, we must strap on our sandals and venture into spoiler territory.

Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who lives with his mother (Charlize Theron) in a cave overlooking a medieval village. Every day, Kubo plays his magical shamisen in the village, strumming delightful melodies that bring stacks of brightly colored paper to life as comedic, origami street theater. He can never stay out past sunset, though, because, as mom warns him, the evil spirits of his twin aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) and grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), will find him and pluck out his other eye.

Of course, he loses track of the time one evening, and encounters his villainous extended family. During the ensuing confrontation, Kubo's mother shows up and uses the last of her already weakened abilities to give Kubo magical wings and temporarily thwart her demonic sisters. Kubo awakens in the company of a talking monkey (also Theron), who tells him that he must embark on an epic quest to retrieve a magical sword, helmet, and chest plate in order to defeat the Moon King once and for all. Along the way, Kubo and Monkey pick up an origami samurai and a dimwitted former-samurai-turned-mutant-beetle-man (Matthew McConaughey).

If this sounds like a bit much for a ninety-five-minute kids' movie, I've only described half the plot. The downside of not being able to slip away on a tide of animated fantasia is actually having to be aware of all the "business" Knight throws into his run-time. My mind wandered to places my soul couldn't, and in that dark, dark valley, questions bloomed like poisonous roses whose thorns choked the joy out of my moviegoing experience; questions such as:

1. How many times can characters sacrifice themselves for one another before the act becomes meaningless?**

2. Why do the makers of the live-action Ghost in the Shell remake take heat for "whitewashing" their film by casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, when Laiks's Asian-themed family film is hailed for the voice work of two of Hollywood's biggest, whitest actors? Is it because we don't see voice actors? If so, does that make the situation more or less offensive?

3. At what point is it safe to officially call Kubo a mash-up of Kill Bill and Harry Potter? Vengeful father figure sends assassins to kill the man his daughter-figure has fallen in love with. After suffering severe head trauma, she goes into hiding with her child and is also eventually killed. The orphaned child trains in the ways of the Hanzo sword (plus magic) and confronts an evil snake-wizard, voiced by Ralph Fiennes. Bad-ass eye-patch iconography also figures heavily into the film.

I'm all for complicated plots, but Marc Haimes and Chris Butler's screenplay is downright convoluted, and lacking in the connective tissue that the animated-feature titans at Pixar specialize in. I would have loved to have been invested in the heroes' fight against a skeleton-giant with swords jammed in its skull, or thrilled to the sight of Kubo navigating an underwater spawning ground for hungry eyeball creatures. Instead, I wondered why Kubo didn't just build a planet-sized papier-mâché fist out of his enchanted sticky notes and clobber his pesky kin. Is glowing armor really that much more effective? And what does God need with a starship?

Sorry, I'm wandering off course.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a terrific advertisement for its own "Art of" book and the inevitable t-shirts and Funko Pop figurines that will be the hit of Anime conventions and comic-cons for years to come, I'm sure. But it doesn't earn the dramatic moments or grander themes it goes out of its way to assure us are resonant. Inside Out has more insight about family, loss, and sacrifice in its background gags than Kubo does in any three of its Capital-"H"-Heavy scenes. It is as much a marvel of storytelling and psychology as it is a visual sensation.

I'm rooting for Laika to come up with something that fires on all cylinders, maybe a project that takes full advantage of their penchant for truly horrific nightmare imagery. But I have this sinking feeling that they'll be content to rail against their perceived soulless corporate rivals, churning out indie animations that make just enough profit to keep the staff up to their eyeballs in armatures and clay. If this indeed their mentality, and their trajectory, I fear they may never penetrate the pop consciousness in any significant way. They'll just be one of the nameless rabble working exceedingly hard at not being Cap'n Crunch.

*Joke's on me. Turns out I recommended Transformers: Age of Extinction as one of 2014's better popcorn flicks. More accurately, I recommended the handful of visually engaging parts and some of the character moments. Like Kubo, though, I didn't think it held together as a coherent film.

**The answer, I'm sure, lies somewhere between this film and Star Trek Beyond.

Friday
Aug052016

Humpback Whales (2015)

The Voyage Home

Greg MacGillivray’s Humpback Whales may be the breeziest forty minutes I’ve ever spent watching a movie. This cosmic commercial for the delights of being a gargantuan sea creature is light on substance and heavy on message. It’s also utterly hypnotic, thanks, in large part, to Brad Ohlund’s beautiful cinematography and a soundtrack that melds whale song with tropical variations on the American Authors hit, “Best Day of My Life.”

I don’t mean “light on substance and heavy on message” to be as harsh a knock as it sounds. The global humpback population is roughly thirty percent of what it was before mankind invented whaling—so I can’t blame MacGillivray and writer Stephen Judson for peppering their lush, in-the-wild footage with fervent pleas for the viewer to do their part in conserving the planet. They’re also very mysterious animals, and I don’t know how much more information the filmmakers could have injected into the movie. Ironically, Humpback Whales is the “driest” of the IMAX films I’ve watched recently; without the narrative hook of Flight of the Butterflies or the dark historical drama of Rocky Mountain Express, or the mind-blowing mix of history and scientific speculation of Journey to Space, MacGillivray’s documentary serves as, more or less, a straightforward whale-watching show.

The contrast between the film’s lively music and Ewan McGregor’s mellow narration put me in a kind of trance. Or maybe it was all that deep blue ocean photography and the whales’ incongruously massive forms and graceful movements that set my mind to thinking about other things. While McGregor described the abnormally complex social system that a pair of whales in the Antarctic developed—one created by two humpbacks nicknamed “Melancholy” and “Vulture” to more efficiently catch food—I thought of Jaws, and Quint’s horrific account of sharks picking off the crew of the USS Indianapolis.

Later, researchers talk about an elaborate mating ritual, in which a female humpback courts as many as twenty male suitors. Gradually, the showboating dudes fall away, until one is left standing (er…floating), and the two lovers disappear for some apparently hot and heavy mating. The fact that scientists have never actually observed whales doing the deed makes this scenario seem even more like an episode of The Bachelorette, with life taking a quick sponsor break just as the Fantasy Suite door coyly closes.

And I’d be remiss in leaving out the most obvious reference, which the filmmakers practically speak aloud for me. Humpback Whales opens with a shot of the stars, and draws parallels with the ancient and elusive creatures’ otherworldly language and habits. What if the writers of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were onto something, and not just on something?

I realize that we will likely not have the same experience with this film, mostly because I'm a demonstrably imbalanced human being. But I highly recommend Humpback Whales as the HD equivalent of a sensory deprivation tank, a primal and relaxing escape to a place where life’s greatest challenge is avoiding boats while swimming across the world. I can’t believe how quickly it all went by, and how great the pull is to dive back in.

Wednesday
Aug032016

Suicide Squad (2016)

Committed

"Now I feel like killing myself, but luckily I'm too depressed to bother."

--Hard Harry, Pump up the Volume

There's been a lot of talk on the Internet this week about fan outrage, the role of film critics, and the world's most famous review-aggregator. It's all very exhausting and very stupid, and I have neither the energy to fight the tide nor to write about the film that inspired this latest flare-up. Presented here, largely without comment and completely without editorial meddling, is an email from "J0e K3rr", which darkened my Inbox this morning.

Enjoy.

Ian. Havent read your stuff in awhile cause I've been super swapmed w/work and family and other stuff (I'm sure you know how it goes) but I finally cuaght uop with Batman versus Superman the other day in anticipation of Suicicde Squad, and then I read both your reviews and I gotta say...I'm really disappointed in you. YOu re the reason I'm giving up on ready online film criticsim and I want you to know why and I hope you're proud of yourself.

You see, i was able to catch a sneak preview of suicid Squad the other night (we mightve evne been at the same screening? I wasn't sure if it was you but I htink i know what you look like. i was gonna maybe say someting to you afterwords bout it looked like youwere recording a pocast withsome guy out in the lobby).

Anyways, i haven't seen a review of it yet from you, so I assume your either not gonna write about it oyour just haven't gotten around to it, or as usual you're probaly just insecure becuase other critics got their reviews out earlier (and better( then you---but I won't read it anyways cause based on bwyat you said about bVS I already know what you're going to say. Youre just gonna hop on the Rotten Tomatoes bandwagon wtih all the other paid-of-by Marvel, fun-hating critis and say its terrible because its a comic-book movie.

Well I'm here to tell you you're rwong and why you're wrong. I know ou're not gonna have the balls to post this or even probly read this so whatever but i gonnat get This out. SUicide SQUAD is one of the best films of the year. Not movies, films. Yah, iI know you're rolling you're eyse, but let me finish. David Ayers has brogut us the PERFECt SUPER HERO MOVIE presicisely because it's not about heroes its about villains which is what. defines. heroes.

YOu complained that in BatmanSuperman and Man of Steel that therewas no plot and the charadcters sdisn't make since and it was too long and darka nd not what he comic books were about or the charactgers, but a) you were wrong and b) if you wnat to say the same thing about suicdie CSquad than like the jOker would say Ha Ha Ha Ha" the jokes on you.--don'ty you get it? This is the movie where it's about insance people --insane criminals so it's DC and wrraner Brothrs basicalya nswering the critics by giving them am ovei that's SUPPOSED to be crazy and not make sense.

They even tricked you in to thinking it was gonna bie this really fun, nutty actuion adventure movie with and not the somber, dark tone of the other DC movies. Here! Look! Explostions and 

crazy characters! Ha! No the movie is actually really long and kind of boring (actually really boring in parts) but that's what tursn it all on it's head: when you expect a thrill ride and get a rip off of Escape FROM NEW YOURK and the climactic of GHOSTBUSTERS (the real one, not that pussy-ass SJW shit I saw you liked--didn't read the rveview cause i didn't want to lose more respect for you at that time and I was busy like I said before); but anyways its like Ayers and the writer knew that people were expecting a big twist on hero movies so they boy sure gave it to them by not having much of a mission for this roges' gallery of batman villains and basically having them walk around an empty city for two hours shooting aliens and hunting witches and weird cyber monsters and bickering but we all know they're sofies really, even though thery're supposed to be legity hardcore killers.

So the one thing we probly agree on is that the bigbad villain was really fucin dumb. I mean she's a witch with all the most crazy powers more powerful than any person in the DC U or like thy say she is, but for some reasn she has to build a MACHINE to wipe out humanity? And shes DATING the main army guy who looks after the suicide suqad? this movie is basically a chick flick like what they did with MY man Joker--making him basically be just in "LOVE" with harley quinne and basically popping up just to laugh and look like a guy who watched the old Batman movies and love the joker and wanted to be a hip hop rapper. Jared Letto wast wasted here, but at least Ayers gave us plenty to look at with Harley's sweet little @$$ in those shorts.  Imean yah, ther's not much more to her thans in the trailers, but at least its eye candy.

OTjer then that I loved that we dint' get to know anyof the characters beyond the cliche stuff we see in all these movies. I mean they tried with that mexican guy and the Witch before she became stupid but I think Ayers and the writers thought "Nah, too much deep story lets get back to Will smith doing his trademark singe tear and wisecracks thing." Or "its been five minutes without explosins well leave the character stuff for the sequel."By giving us what we've sseen a billion times before but mixed with other stuff we've seen a thousand times before and by buicling up the hype machine surrounding it you get something that defies expectations by being exactly what you expected. Its kind of like that netflix show STRANGER THINgs (which i also love cause like they say A LOT "hey do you rembember Stephen kinG an dits like of course because it's ALL Stephen king!")

So the point is, you'll probably hat this movie because its unoriginal, relaly drags in a lot of places, there's no way any of these half thought out sedonc rate bad guys would even last two seconds against Batfleck, and lots of other easons that have not thing to to with being a fun turn your brain off kind of movie and i'm tired of reading your tired shit about how peopel deserve to be engaged or whatever when they spend theyre hard earned- money on movie s that are sold to thenm like its something new an d interesting and worh their time.Well theres no resaon to see this movie and its gonna maeke a lot of money this weeekend and you'll still be the sad little day-job having wanna be film critic crying on his keyboard because no one will listen to you crying about quality. I won't be reading eithers, I'll be too busy telling all my friends to go see it twice so it'll make a ton of money so we can get more movies that piss off people like you who demand more from movies even thogu its lie demanding McDONALDS be real food just cuase it says it is on the commersials. so I guess there's no point to that eithier. Guess that makes me dumb according to you.

Monday
Aug012016

Gibby (2016)

Glass Monkey

Remember when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted to tepid critical and commercial response, and everyone freaked out because the Justice League movie was barely under way? Something similar is happening right now. Or maybe it's about to happen. Maybe it has happened, and I missed my window. Regardless, I've got to warn people.

According to IMDb, the sequel to Gibby is in pre-production. At present, the only person officially attached to Gibby Cheers is screenwriter Greg Lyon (though there's already poster art featuring three members of the first film's cast--including the titular monkey, played by Crystal the Monkey). That first film, which is the main topic of today’s review, is about Katie (Shelby Lyon), a depressed teen gymnast whose unexpected friendship with a pint-sized primate gives her the strength to re-engage her dreams, following the death of her mother. It’s also such a disjointed mess that any plans to move forward with a second installment need to be re-evaluated at a narrative (i.e. cellular) level.

Before you accuse me of applying hoity-toity critical standards to a kids' movie, understand this: I think Gibby could have amounted to something, even if that “something” is harmless, disposable family entertainment. The main problem is structural, and I don't know how much of the blame rests on director Phil Gorn’s shoulders, versus problems at the script and/or editing stages. Whatever the case, this film plays like it’s been chopped to hell, sequenced out of order, and uploaded to YouTube.

In the first twelve minutes, we meet a suburban teen who steers a drone through his sleepy suburban neighborhood; a high school teacher who must decide what to do with her pet monkey while traveling abroad; a teen girl who’s lost her mother; and her two best friends, whose feud with a clique of mean-girl gymnasts threatens to upend, like, everything. I also left out the cute-guy subplot and…something else, probably.

Some movies have twelve endings; Gibby has a half-dozen beginnings, none of which stick. Watching the film, I could just imagine Lyon at a typewriter (yes, a typewriter), balling up sheet after sheet of non-starter ideas, mumbling, "Okay, okay...a movie about drone voyeurism. No, no. How's about a teacher and her adorable pet monkey? No good. No good. Um...competitive teen gymnastics? Maybe. Dead parent stories? Those are fun..."

The movie's half over before Katie actually brings Gibby home, and seven-eighths done before the whole gymnastics thing gets a second glance. In between, we’re treated to an out-of-the-blue dance sequence; a kitchen-vandalism gag that goes on forever; and two scenes in which characters allegedly spend hours sweating over daunting chores--yet emerge fresh-faced, perfectly coifed, and without a speck of grime between them.

To cap it all off, Gibby feels terribly nineties in its sensibilities. I appreciate that the filmmakers' target audience is children (and possibly pre-teens), but the characters surpass whole-milk wholesomeness to become condescendingly unrealistic. Best I can tell, Gorn and Lyon's story takes place in an alternate universe where Little House on the Prairie became the template for Bayside High, which led to a new-millennium fantasia of teen altruism in which high school students are so eager to spend the summer babysitting a monkey indoors that they create a waiting list for the library's only book on primates. Yes, if only someone had invented a world-wide web of information that these kids could tap into; available, perhaps, at the touch of a button on their ever-present cellular telephones...

It's not all bad news in Gibby-land. Crystal the Monkey is unbelievably cute, and I would have gladly spent ninety minutes watching her perfect a steady rings technique in the gym. I also loved every second of Sean Patrick Flanery's performance as Katie’s dad, Frank. After seeing him play Young Indiana Jones, Powder, a Boondock Saint, and the lead in the last Saw film, his turn as a beleaguered suburban father achieves full-on Lynchian bizarreness. He mixes Jack Wagner's look and Christian Bale's gravel-whisper with hand gestures that seem like a one-man tribute to both Nic Cage and Cher's Oscar reels for Moonstruck. There should be a part for him in every movie, doing exactly this.

I believe all the performances in Gibby are sincere, but the young actors don’t pop off the screen. It's probably fairer (and definitely more optimistic) to say that the material under-serves their budding talents, a similar critique I had for the attractive-but-utterly-unremarkable leads in Independence Day: Resurgence.*

So, yes, back to Gibby Cheers. If everything falls into place, Gibby and Katie will return next summer as cheerleaders. I don’t know what this has to do with competitive gymnastics, but continuity isn’t a prerequisite for everything.** What should be mandatory is a coherent structure and a narrative whose simplicity is concomitant with its audience’s expectations. The Big Short had two hours and ten minutes with which to explore ambition and loss via cross-cutting narratives and a large ensemble cast. No one expects (nor likely wants) the costumed-monkey movie to reach for the same stars, especially with nearly an hour-and-a-quarter less run-time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m rooting for that monkey. It’s the people behind her that give me pause.

*A film that, incidentally, gave even less screen time to Vivica A. Fox than this one does (so, advantage Gibby, I guess).

**God help us all if Lyon is secretly building the Gibby Cinematic Universe.