Movie Review ~ Jackass Forever

The Facts:

Synopsis: Celebrate the joy of being back together with your best friends and a perfectly executed shot to the dingdong, the original jackass crew return for another round of hilarious, wildly absurd, and often dangerous displays of comedy with a little help from some exciting new cast.

Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Jason Acuña, Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacy, Zach Holmes, Sean McInerney, Jasper Dolphin, Rachel Wolfson

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  It may surprise people just how short of a run the original Jackass television series had when it aired on MTV. Over fourteen months between October 2000 and February 2002, star Johnny Knoxville and an assorted crew of friends and guests would perform outlandish pranks and often dangerous stunts, all captured by camera crews and whittled down to three seasons worth of episodes. Rough going from the start, both with censors and MTV executives, Knoxville wound up packing it in earlier than expected, but fans wanted more. With added creative control (=more money) and a larger platform to deliver their brand of bizarrely juvenile yet impulsively watchable content, a total of three feature films were released between 2002 and 2010 to massive box office success. A somewhat related film, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, doesn’t quite fit, so I’m leaving that out…but don’t forget that one snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Make-up Effects.

In the ten years since the final official Jackass film came out (in 3D, if that tells you where moviemaking was at the time), much has happened with the cast and crew. One seminal member of the gang, Ryan Dunn, sadly passed away in a car accident while another was fired during the filming of the newly released Jackass Forever, for a variety of reasons you can read about here. Also, the young men already showing signs of wear and tear back in 2010 have lived another decade, now bearing the battle scars of that time. You can’t keep a good Jackass down, though. Filmed primarily during the COVID-19 pandemic and shuffled around the release schedule for nearly half a year, Jackass Forever is being unleashed into theaters hoping to cash in with the same nostalgic viewers that recently turned out for the Scream reboot.

As critic-proof a movie as they come, there’s only one scene I honestly couldn’t look at the screen for fear of gagging but other than that, Jackass Forever has the same wince-inducing stunts & more naked shenanigans than ever before. Indeed, the movie hasn’t made it through 10% of the credits before the viewer comes face to, uh, face with one of the pranksters’ oft-seen dong. It’s a funny visual, and projected on the big screen you see each nook, fold, and cranny. In fact, by the time the film has concluded, there are few Jackass-sians of which you haven’t seen every inch. I could have blocked it out, but this chapter seems particularly schlong heavy, with groins a specific focus point of stunts and pranks. These range from testicles standing in for a punching bag used by a tiny set of boxing gloves to Danger Ehren testing out a nut cup by having various sports figures do their worst to punch, pitch, and shoot into the resilient protective wear. Watch out for that pogo stick, though. 

There’s a formula to these films, and director Jeff Tremaine doesn’t try to fix which so far is the only thing involved with the franchise that hasn’t been broken. For all its episodic, easily distractible editing style, I honestly appreciated that Jackass Forever remained a cohesive look at a group dynamic working overtime to entertain while still striving to stay young and wanting an audience to feel the same. Yes, you can see the film as a bunch of overgrown kids doing stupid stunts and often paying the price with bruised skin, bloody wounds, and various broken/dislocated bones. Still, at this point, it feels like that’s missing the bigger picture of what they get out of this bonding experience. We’ve all grown up, so have they…but in their minds and eyes (concussed or crossed they may be), there’s a lot of livin’ left. Why not just enjoy being a Jackass Forever with Knoxville for an easy watch that flies by with new cast members meshing well with the old.

Movie Review ~ Moonfall

The Facts:

Synopsis: A mysterious force knocks the moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it.

Stars: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Just this past New Year’s Eve, while much of the globe was out celebrating kicking 2021 to the curb, my partner and I decided to ring in 2022 the correct way: with pizza delivery and a viewing of the 1972 peril-at-sea classic, The Poseidon Adventure.  Why?  I’m a sucker for a disaster film and the Oscar-nominated blockbuster, conveniently set on December 31 and chock full of memorable scenes and performances, fit the bill perfectly.  I can’t quite help myself when presented with a gargantuan film that is hell-bent on pulverizing boats, small towns, big cities, planets, and the like with giant tidal waves, volcanoes, asteroids, earthquakes, or a Geostorm.  Though I almost leaned into the Sharknado craze, I realized I had to draw the line somewhere.

That should give you an idea of why I didn’t sweat some of the early bad buzz I heard about legendarily schlocky director Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall.  Despite directing the uncharacteristically strong Midway in 2019, Emmerich is back in his safety zone for this big-screen megaton world decimator presenting audiences with a so-bad-it’s-good-for-you cheesy meal that’s light on science but heavy on conspiracy theories and underbaked performances.  Throw in special effects that alternate between the polished with the barely finished, and you have yourself a new release that’s ready to divide audiences into two camps.  The first will turn their nose up at a project that never sets its sights higher than what it was created to be, which is precisely the kind of movie the second group will gobble up with glee.

Ten years ago, a disaster in space left astronaut Brian Harper (a bland name to match Patrick Wilson’s typically bland performance) cast out from NASA for claiming the catastrophe, which cost a colleague their life, was the result of an attack by a non-human life form.  Of course, the only other person up there that could back him up is Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (now there’s a name for you, and Halle Berry makes it count), but she was knocked unconscious when things went haywire.  A decade later, Fowler is part of the top brass at NASA while Harper’s life has gone further downhill after a divorce and being ostracized from his troubled child, Sonny (Charlie Plummer, All the Money in the World), who has just been tossed in the slammer for leading police on a high-speed highway chase.

When discredited pseudo-scientist (read: conspiracy theorist) and president of The Megastructurist Club K.C. Houseman (John Bradley, Anna Karenina) begins to confirm his long-held theory the Earth is headed for disaster courtesy of the alien-built Moon, he manages to convince the boozy Harper who in turn teams up with Fowler for a Hail Mary mission to save the planet.  While the race is on up in the stars, down on terra firma Emmerich and screenwriters Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser (who also co-composed the score) can’t help but insert completely unnecessary family drama with Sonny speeding Fowler’s child and nanny to the safety of a Colorado bunker while pieces of the Moon and “gravity waves” are wreaking havoc around them. 

Anyone going into Moonfall and expecting a high-stakes sci-fi stunner is going to feel let down long before Wilson and Berry achieve liftoff in a decommissioned space shuttle amidst a humungous wall of water threatening to consume the tiny-in-comparison craft.  Emmerich always walked a fine line between overselling spectacle and underserving storyline, even at his peak output, and that’s no different here.  We can only be thankful that with the pandemic still plaguing the country, the studio heads at Lionsgate likely saw fit to request this come in at a (for Emmerich) trim 130 minutes and not a bloated running time that would keep audiences in the theater any longer than necessary.  Of course, that comes at the expense of character development and often tying one complete thought to another. Still, the majority of Moonfall moves at the kind of breakneck speed that almost wills you not to overthink its lack of logic.

Another bit of advantage working in Moonfall’s favor is Wilson’s (Insidious) workmanlike performance as a disgraced astronaut brought back into service at an unlikely juncture.  I’ve seen Wilson onstage, and he’s a magnetic performer, but I’ve never found that presence translated to screen in the same way, and that’s certainly true here.  Still, that complete lack of personality winds up being a benefit because audiences can divest themselves from getting too attached to anyone…not that Emmerich or his co-screenwriters have put much of anything there to move us to care either way.  I lament that Berry (Bruised) continues to be underserved in these types of roles, stuck as the strong female playing second fiddle to males that yield power to her only when they chicken out and can’t take the heat.  She’s got a dull ex (Eme Ikwuakor, Concussion, spending the entire film wincing like he has a rock in one of his shoes) and a kid that says, “I love you, mommy,” and doesn’t really seem to mean it. 

While researching the movie before writing the review, I had to chuckle that so many searches for Hardy and Moonfall brought up Josh Gad.  Hardy’s part feels like a role written with Gad in mind, only to have the actor wind up declining or not be available at the last minute.  While he’s far more tolerable than Gad, even his mild engagement can’t create an entirely root-able character for Hardy.  Poor Michael Peña (End of Watch) gets the shortest stick of them all, as the new husband of Harper’s ex, a nice guy whose biggest fault seems to be having too much money and resources.  Guess what happens to him?  The less said about Donald Sutherland’s (Backdraft) pee and you missed it cameo as a shadowy government figure bound to a wheelchair who gives Berry’s character just enough cryptic info before rolling off into the darkness, the better.

I expect a modest amount of success for Emmerich’s terribly silly but mostly harmless outer space jaunt, if only for lack of similar content currently or recently in theaters.  If it doesn’t deal with a virus sweeping through the country, audiences tend to go for these types of global world-enders, and for a good reason.  They’re escapist in-flight entertainment where you can check your brain at the door and pick it up on your way back to your car.  Moonfall absolutely requires this and, like all those in charge of upholding regulations on commercial airlines, please don’t hate it for doing its job.

Movie Review ~ Drive My Car


When one has no real life, one lives by mirages. It’s still better than nothing.

― Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya

The Facts:

Synopsis: A stage actor and director still unable to cope with the loss of his beloved wife, accepts an offer to direct Uncle Vanya at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There he meets Misaki, an introverted young woman, appointed to be his driver. In between rides, secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions are unveiled.

Stars: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Masaki Okada, Park Yu-rim, Jin Dae-yeon, Sonia Yuan

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rated: R

Running Length: 179 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  I remember first hearing about Drive My Car when it was making a splash at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. More than the rave reviews, the trivia that the Japanese drama was clocking in at nearly three hours seemed to be a real bit of news for people to report, and it amuses me to no end that running length is still a determining factor in the eyes of so many. Especially someone like a critic or festivalgoer, seeing a film so early in its release when the experience of watching a brand new never before seen feature should be the exciting thing. Yet it was all I heard about, so much so that by the time it was my turn to get behind the proverbial driver’s seat for Ryusuke Hamaguchi lauded first feature, I have to admit that advance notice of a three-hour ticking clock loomed large in my mind.

It turns out that you could have told me the film was half the length and I would have honestly believed it’s how long I spent on this beautiful film. Now seeing a healthy groundswell of support as it makes its way through a limited release here in the U.S., you should believe all the tremendous buzz you’ve heard about Japan’s official entry for Best International Feature.  Poised to be significant competition at the Oscars for more commercially targeted films from established studios, Drive My Car is being favorably compared to Parasite. Still, the two movies couldn’t be more different in tone and timbre. Where Parasite was ultimately a dark tale that exposed an ugly side of a hierarchical society through force, Drive My Car is more interested in a person’s humanity, humanity that can only be discovered by sitting back and giving yourself over entirely open and available to another person.

Established stage actor Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) uses the time spent in his car to and from the theater to go over his lines, establishing a rhythm and firming up a systematic approach by which he can remain consistent. He’s married to Oto (Reika Kirishima), a successful screenwriter with an unusual way of devising the plots for her scripts. The couple still mourns the death of their young daughter but has found a path forward through their work, which both mutually help to be more fruitful. Their marriage is strong but far from perfect with its unspoken conveniences. 

Two years after Oto unexpectedly dies, Yûsuke has agreed to direct a production of Uncle Vanya, a play he was starring in when his wife tragically passed away. Traveling to Hiroshima for the residency position, he’s assigned stalwart driver Misaki (Tôko Miura) to ferry him between the theater and his lodging, all the while listening to the tapes his wife made for him reading the lines of the other characters in Uncle Vanya. As the production auditions actors from other regions of the country that speak different languages and rehearsals begin, the cast and director have interactions in and outside of the space that speaks to their barriers and their bonds. 

Based on a short story in Haruki Murakami’s collection Men Without Women, the Cannes award-winning screenplay from director Hamaguchi and co-screenwriter Takamasa Oe is gorgeous in the way it takes its time to develop and let situations reveal themselves along the way. Oto’s dreams which become her screenplays come out in specific situations which could have been handled in an awkward, more rudimentary way, but they’re related to the viewer in words and visuals with a skilled hand that focuses less on what is occurring and more on the meaning behind it all. As with some of the best screenplays (that aren’t out to trick us from the beginning), much of what we see and think we know at the outset in Drive My Car isn’t true. It takes understanding body language and rapt attention to put these delicate flower petal pieces together.   

As the grieving husband crumpled up on the inside but stoically facing each day as it comes on the outside, Nishijima’s performance is one of the best to come out of 2021 and easily rises above several of the proposed Oscar hopefuls as we head into the nominations next Tuesday. Playing this sort of reserved grief is difficult without coming off as cold or aloof, but the eyes have it and Nishijima is giving us a great show. Sharing much of his time with Miura, he needs that strong co-star, and he has it in the actress tasked with several challenging peaks to reach without letting the floodgates of feeling flow too strong for her character that is so purposely cut off from her surroundings. I grew to like Masaki Okada’s hotshot young star, a glimmer from Yûsuke’s past now present in his future that has come to Hiroshima for the acting job but brings with him his own set of baggage that threatens to weigh them all down. 

Persistent in the way it engages you and fascinating in how in tune with the basics of human emotions it can be while seeming to want to push them aside altogether at times, Drive My Car is well-deserving of the praise it received on its road to theaters. Worth the time spent seeking it out and the mileage you may rack up finding a theater playing it near you, this one comes highly recommended for the dedicated moviegoer.