Jurassic Park, Meet Your New Partner Theodore Rex – Doubled Edged Double Bill Episode 7

Dr. Thomas and Dr. Mariani are welcomed to Jurassic Park to study dinosaurs. But they’ll need a partner to help them out. Fortunately, Theodore Rex was killed in the line of duty, so returning guest Sam Brutuxan is here to help breakdown two dinosaur films in anticipation of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming out. Our first feature is the infamous Theodore Rex, in which Whoopi Goldberg contractually obligates her way through a buddy cop comedy with a dinosaur puppet. Then, the original 1993 Jurassic Park that gave everyone a weird attraction to Jeff Goldblum and dinosaurs. Sit back and watch as these podcasters, uh, find a way to discuss this double feature! Listen here!

Shout out to Scott Johnson for helping pick our double bill during the intro. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR (2018): Comfort With Purpose

Mr. Rogers died on my eleventh birthday. Sorry to get a bit personal right off the bat, but it’s something I haven’t really dealt with until Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood came back into the consciousness with Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a documentary that examines the life and career of Fred Rogers. Plus, in reviewing a documentary about a figure so public, it’s hard not to tie it to some kind of personal perspective. After all, Rogers’ children’s show ran from 1968 to 2001, meaning I was part of the last generation to grow up with his soothing calm demeanor. In fact, the last really calm demeanor of any children’s show host out there. Mr. Rogers was a unique figure in terms of children’s television throughout his tenure. Back in the early days of children’s show hosts, clowns would throw pies at each other and introduce cartoons. As time went on, Rogers had to contend with shows about superheroes, transforming robots at war with each other and angry cartoon characters screaming at each other.

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I grew up with those shows as well and still have fond memories of them, but even at a young age I recognized that Mr. Rogers was unique. Director Morgan Neville examines that unique perspective in Won’t You Be My Neighbor from many varying perspectives. People who worked directly with Rogers, personal friends & family who knew of his backstage persona and people who grew up watching him. The recurring factor throughout all three groups in terms of comments about Rogers are that he truly deeply cared about what children consumed and how they were treated by media gatekeepers. While I still don’t necessarily regret any of my non-Rogers childhood media, that care clearly wasn’t present in the more violent or double entendre ladened programs I usually consumed in my youth. The fact that there isn’t such an alternative now – especially in the world we live in now – is a true tragedy. The last time I could even remember something remotely similar was the Disney Channel/Jim Henson Company production Bear in the Big Blue House, which set a calm demeanor and welcoming atmosphere as the titular Bear character brought kids into his home.

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Yet, few other kids shows also broke nearly as much ground as Fred Rogers did and in ways that I honestly was too young to remember. Won’t You Be My Neighbor explores how Rogers explained complex topics of racism, assassination, disability and many others to children without disguising it or hiding behind too convoluted a metaphor for them to parse out. Even a show as celebrated as fellow PBS program Sesame Street did such things on rare occasion. Meanwhile, Mr. Rogers is handling the cycle of pointless carnage that was the Vietnam War during his first week on the air. One can tell that his early years of being on far more traditional and stagnant kids shows like The Children’s Corner had pent up a desire to expand what the format could do and say. Neville displays this through showcasing surprisingly preserved archival footage that portray an intimate frustration coming from Rogers as well as some simple yet gorgeous animation that directly connects the puppet figure of Daniel Tiger to Rogers’ lower moments of his childhood. It says so much about Roger’s inner monologue without having the ability to interview him and with the same amount of simple effectiveness as Roger’s show.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a more traditional documentary with talking heads that you’d expect. Yet, there are peaks that feel more personal and intimate than one would expect. Every person interviewed had some kind of connection to Rogers, whether it’s his wife Joanne, his sons or his co-workers. They all reveal a portrait of Rogers that closely resembled his onscreen persona but with a few glimpses into his troubled past, occasionally bawdy sense of humor and doubts about how things should be handled. Probably the best example is François Scarborough Clemmons who played Officer Clemmons on the show. Clemmons made history as the first black recurring character on a children’s show, but there were conflicts about his homosexuality that Rogers wasn’t keen to initially because he feared that current sponsors at the time wouldn’t be for this. It’s a rare moment where Mr. Rogers wasn’t on the right side of history and the ways in which Clemmons describes how that relationship turned are some of the most heart wrenching moments so far in a film this year.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor is honestly full of so many tear jerker moments like this, but without being all that tragic a story. Fred Rogers lived the life he wanted and died happy with the work he had done, even if he wondered whether or not it had made a large difference in the world. The documentary itself shows off the countless ways that disprove his doubt, but the important thing that Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood imparted was allowing kids to embrace having feelings of doubt or regret or fear or sadness and being comfortable with the idea that we all feel that way. That we all live to have bad things happen and that confronting that unpleasantness of life and find something to positive to work out of it. Thinking back on my eleventh birthday and hearing that news, I remember not feeling sad. I wondered if it was because of a sense of ambivalence. Then thinking back on Won’t You Be My Neighbor, it dawned on me; I wasn’t sad because I knew Mr. Rogers had taught me about how death was a natural progression of life. Which is why his message will outlive many of the shows that were around him… or at least, it hopefully will.

Rating 4.5 out of 5 Gorgeously Simple Songs

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INCREDIBLES 2 (2018): Incredibly Doesn’t Mess Things Up

The Incredibles came out fourteen years ago. I know. Let it sink it. Accept the passage of time. However, it’s important to remember that time and place. Superhero cinema of the time had reached its first true peak with Spider-Man 2 that summer. Pixar was a still an independent company. Disney had yet to buy both Marvel and Star Wars as properties. Basically, times are different from when we last saw the Parr family come together and embrace their powers in what many – including myself – would argue is the best Pixar film. Where superhero submerging due to government interference breaths an antsy desire to go back in the field challenged by a grounding in domesticity. In a world of Marvel Cinematic Universes, one wonders how Incredibles 2 can live up to that legacy while getting with the times. Especially when it takes place immediately where the first film left off.

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Well, it’s safe to report that Incredibles 2 accomplishes the bare minimum; it earns an argument for its own existence. Other Pixar sequels like Finding Dory or the Cars films rarely give us any kind of reason to get behind them aside from “you recognize the first movie? Well here’s MORE of it!” While Incredibles 2 harkens back to moments in the first film, rarely does it feel we’re treading old ground without exploring new avenues. This is writer/director Brad Bird‘s first sequel and his return to animation after the disastrous live action Disney flop Tomorrowland that showed even the man behind The Iron Giant and Ratatouille could be fallible. Bird’s humbling didn’t hobble his usual talent for character based animation or heartfelt storytelling. If anything, there seems to be an underlining apology from Brad Bird for embracing his traits that some have accused his work of being objectivist with TomorrowlandIncredibles 2 directly takes on the idea of misrepresenting these characters as pillars of greatness to never be questioned. There’s so much subversion and human strength in the entire family, which Bird and the Pixar team display through so many delicate quiet moments and zany bits of character animation.

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Admittedly, there’s more of the latter than the former than the average prior Bird film, which goes to say that this is in the latter half of his filmography. Maybe his time away from animation has given him more of an instinct to go full hog with the creative fast pace zaniness he couldn’t quite achieve in Tomorrowland or Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Of course, this isn’t a consistently bad thing for Incredibles 2. Jack Jack Parr is easily the most creatively designed and executed character animation in any recent Pixar film because it takes advantage of the medium by allowing for his revelation of having an endless amount of superpowers pop up. He’ll multiply or turn into a monster or disappear into another dimension at the drop of the hat. Yet, Bird manages to reign this in by giving this infant actual character and motivation in every step. Jack Jack’s face indicates a being with a small yet developing brain being curious and excited about each new power or even having a motivation to use them. The scene involved Jack Jack attacking a raccoon he perceives as a threat is a classic example.

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In fact, much of the actions focuses around Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr (Craig T. Nelson) getting used to the idea of being the caregiver of the children of the home manages to work surprisingly well. Bob – so used to his brute strength as a way of getting around his problems – now has to contend with being a caregiver. This is making Incredibles 2 sound like an animated remake of Mr. Mom, but it’s more of a perspective change for Bob that develops him as a character. While his wife Helen (Holly Hunter) is off being the superhero he secretly got to be in the first film, Bob has to stay behind and be a hero through the small deeds that have fulfilled Helen’s daily life while he’s been off at a day job. It’s less of “isn’t a man doing a woman’s job hilarious” scenario and more of a parent growing closer to his kids during their most crucial moments in their lives. Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) bounce off of this pretty well as Bob tries to desperately keep things together and progressively looks more haggard. Their family dynamic faces conflict in ways more traditional than super powered fights, leading to awkward family confrontation that faintly reminds those watching of Brad Bird’s early animation work helping to develop the look and feel of The Simpsons during its initial three seasons. Dysfunction isn’t just based in the none-supered.

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Now, with Helen’s subplot in Incredibles 2, the conflict that’s most authentic isn’t so much with the characters as much as it is an audience’s inner turmoil. On the one hand, it’s wonderful seeing Helen as Elastigirl in the field on her own. As Bob learns how she kept things together, she’s getting back into the swing of things with heroics. She’s tough, confident yet always trying to improve herself as she just misses her target and tries to plot out their next move. All of this showcases a woman giddy at her opportunity, but not wanting to rest on laurels. She’s a positive dimensional role model, which translates perfectly as even more superheroes are introduced into the universe after Elastigirl opens the door for more of them to come out of hiding like the nervous portal creating Voyd (Sophia Bush). It’s one of the more nuanced female roles in Pixar’s history and allows for the always reliable Holly Hunter to balance the fret of her motherhood responsibilities with the thrill of being the spotlight hero for once.

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Yet… so much of the stuff around her introduces the major underdeveloped elements of Incredibles 2. Namely, the plot catalyst of the Deavor siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener). The two of them are the business and tech brains behind the company that’s trying to resurrect superheroes respectively. It’s an intriguing conduit for Incredibles antics considering the rather quick resolve of the Superhero Relocation Program of Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks). Yet, their exposition and dialogue comes off the most contrived and quickly put together. Winston’s nostalgic love of superheroes introduces some layer of potential parallel given the subversion of traditional family roles that the Parrs are going through… but that never takes shape. Same with Evelyn’s more independent knack for creating inventions that just sort of seems put upon, without ever taking full advantage of the “sisters doing it for themselves while under the thumb of the man” dynamic she and Helen go through all that well. This is especially eye glaring as our new villain Screenslaver (Bill Wise) comes to play and increasingly shows that his generic look is about all he – and any other possible constituents – could have. All of this jumbles much of the plot during the second half and never quite coalesces nearly as well as the inner personal conflicts of the titular family.

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Without going too much further into potential spoilers, this whole subplot manages to waste all the new superheroes as personalities for our leads to interact with after a certain point. Even Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) has more screen time than in the original yet rarely has any kind of impact on what’s going on. The same for Voyd and all the other funny eye catching heroes that come into the fray before being hoisted for convenience’s sake. Still, Bird manages to take advantage of all the super beings during any of the elaborate action set pieces of Incredibles 2. Right from the opening fight between the family and The Underminer (John Ratzenberger), the flights of fancy in the fight choreography and gadgetry on hand to fight our superheroes is consistently wonderful, managing to have a rule of thumb that doesn’t break any uncanny valley like many CG assisted superhero fights of recent years. Each of the family has an internal consistency of some sort with how they are portrayed using their powers, even Jack Jack. Which makes any of the big action set pieces feel grounded in a sense of character around them. I only wish some of the other supers got the same treatment.

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Yet, Incredibles 2 doesn’t feel like it wants to build a cohesive Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as it wants to progress our titular characters while sneaking us a peek at the larger purview of this universe. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The first film worked because it was a domestic chemistry story first and an action superhero romp second. Bird knows this but also that the world needs to be opened up to allow our family to permeate and diverge in ways the original film didn’t. Still, if we ever get another entry in this franchise, it’s clear that we’d need to have some kind of time jump. We’ve exhausted most of what we can do with an infant superhero and mid-life crisis parents. Progression from here is the only thing that can effectively widen the scope while keeping the stakes rooted in the family interaction. For now though, Incredibles 2 complements the and expands upon original while keeping a toe in the slightly safer side of familiarity.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Jack Jack Powers

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Wizards Rock… A Doodle – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 6

This week, Adam and Thomas are getting pretty animated. Well, they’re watching some cartoons anyway. Joining them for this animated adventure is Scott Johnson, beer enthusiast and animation nut. The first film for this episode’s double feature for the evening is Wizards, the 1977 Ralph Bakshi film that stretches the limits of what one would consider a traditional family film. Then, our trio tries to process Don Bluth’s 1991 flop Rock A-Doodle. One is a celebrated piece of animation made during the Golden Era of Hollywood. The other is Rock-A Doodle. It’s a fun time full of assassin robots, Elvis roosters and intrusive narration! Listen here!

To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility! Also, check out Thomas’ appearance on fellow Podbean show The Horror Returns discussing Hereditary!

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Our new logo courtesy of Emily Skarda

HEREDITARY (2018): What The Family?!

Family can be pretty tough to deal with. Not just on holidays where the extended uncles and aunts arrive to annoy, but even within the immediate group of people who we live with it can become a rather horrific situation. In the case of Hereditary, things go from the most depressing lows a family can go through to the most horrific heights of unimaginable terror possible. In other words, it’s the feel good family film of the summer! But in all seriousness, Hereditary isn’t a fun horror movie to catch over the weekend. It’s a heavy, meditative look into the darkness that comes from kin baggage. From the small bitter looks from across the living room to the brutal parts we don’t want to discuss at the dinner table but may end up bursting forth to break the silent awkward tension.

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The main person who does this with a variety of set backs and baggage is the matriarch Annie Graham (Toni Collette), who desires control in her life she can never get. Collette is a master at playing the exhausted mother, having done similar portrayals in films like The Sixth Sense and About a Boy. There’s just so much regret and worry on her face that simmers with the passion of a woman who’s had a rough go at existence. In the case of Hereditary, Collette is from a line of women full of secrets and domineering senses of control, which has driven many of the men in her life to madness and tragedy. The inner horror for her is that she wants to be different from them yet still have control that she was missing. She wants her children Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff) to have a good life, but under her terms. She even spends her days creating diorama models that mirror her own desire to take moments from her life and frame them from her own perspective for those to see on display at a gallery. Which gives us the perfect motivation to understand her for when things go horrific.

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Admittedly, Hereditary thrives just as much on the family around Collette as it does her. Gabriel Byrne as Steve the embittered husband for example is one of the more underrated players in most things and here he’s so confined in his own fashion. He like Toni seeks control, but he’s far more loose and contemplative about it. He wants the control to come through mutual peace, but he realizes slowly that this clan he’s helped continue the sewing of isn’t bound for clear waters. He’s designated himself the captain of a sinking ship and can’t help but mean mug the bow on his way down. There’s a few more quiet and disaffected faces who wander through the family, but they’re even more crucial, as Alex Wolff brings youthful bravado that creates his outward person as he barely struggles to hide the broken young man inside. One who was earnestly raised, but senses a brewing horror underneath that he can’t dare face, or risk facing his own terrifying weaknesses.

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Charlie is the most fascinating of this kindred unit. Shapiro gives off a true air of tragedy and lonely angst as a young girl without much of a social life who is clearly a victim of this family’s simultaneous coddling and cold indifference. Every scene showing her being distant from those around her and engaging in anti-social behavior shows a true understanding of being a loner at such a young age, but also gives us even more insight into her flesh and blood’s twisted self interests and underlying sinister motivations as the plot thickens. Her presence is felt throughout Hereditary, even when she’s not in the room as this family resigns themselves to guilt over treating her more like a burden or too much like an infant. It’s this fascinating blend that shows the undying presence of both Shapiro and Annie’s mother in images & the diorama models. Both are intertwined in what Shapiro feels was an understanding during the latter’s life, but reveals to be a terrifying manipulation as things unravel.

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It’s hard to talk extensively about some of these aspects of Hereditary without spoiling things, but one fascinating thing about how this is all unveiled is merely in the structure of the film. Hereditary spends the initial half of the film providing an intricate almost Who’s Afraid of Virgin Woolf style drama of unsaid tension and dread coming undone between all of our family members. Director/writer Ari Aster shows so much patience with detailing our characters and who they are despite this being his directorial debut. Some may find the slow burn drama of the first half a bit odd if they’re expecting a wall-to-wall horror film, but it’s really not a fair expectation to have. This is a deliberate way of immersing the audience in how these people interact and show off a subtle unflinching dread in their day to day lives. A wind up to the horrific factors that follow and delve into the more surreal and brutal imagery that takes place during the second half. Even when you think it’s going to go into more traditional almost Paranormal Activity style scares, Aster pulls the rug out from under you and drags your expectations on the ground like a caveman dragging his hunt on the ground to finish the kill. The nightmarish imagery that follows is truly surreal and unimaginable yet incredibly thematically appropriate and constantly terrifying on a more subconscious level that’ll leave people as flummoxed as they are entertained

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Every scare in Hereditary fits into the titular phrase. The darkness of the Grahams runs deep in their veins and will continue to until gore pours out of said veins. It’s a brutal and hard to watch experience at times, but one that can’t help but be captivating as every unnerving second unwinds. It’s the type of family story that speaks more volumes about the anxieties of  the familial than any number of throw away dramedies that come about every year. Family is just as much about the underlying bitterness as it is the affection. The Grahams – despite how miserable their lives sound – do at least show some grounded sense of affection for each other during the first act of Hereditary that tragically comes undone as we proceed into the more harrowing imagery to follow. This is what makes the horror truly stand out. Even in the most loving of families, there’s often an anxiety and regret that flares up especially as horrible things are done by individual members. Your family may not have this much baggage, but you may recognize a few more pieces of luggage than you’d care to. And that’s how it really burrows under your skin, resonating as only one of the best films of the year so far can, horror or otherwise.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Family Pictures In a Scarp Book

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In The Heat of the Mortdecai – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 5

Two films. Two stacked casts. Only one of them is good. It’s the biggest job they’ve ever faced. Yet, Thomas Mariani and Adam Thomas are here to pull off another episode of Double Edged Double Bill. In honor of Ocean’s 8 coming out, the duo is covering heist films as the subject. First up is the dullest end of the blade Mortdecai, the Johnny Depp vehicle that’s less a heist film and more of a series of mustache jokes. Get it? Because he’s got a mustache! Then, our heroes sit in a diner to watch the Michael Mann classic heist film Heat. It’s one of Adam’s favorite films… and it’s the first time Thomas has seen it! Crack the safe and listen right here!

To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! Plus, after far too long a delay, we’re finally on iTunes! Subscribe, rate and review us to give the show more visibility!

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UPGRADE (2018): Terms and Conditions Unchecked

When constructing a modern film about the progression of technology, there’s a true danger of coming off as preachy. The concept of making a techno thriller often veers into condemning the mechanisms for its own progression and limiting the hubris of man to a mere spark for danger, rather than a consistent motivator it should be. Just watch something like Untraceable about a decade ago for the type of thriller that gets fear of advancement incredibly wrong. This is something Upgrade dangerously comes close to doing and then subverts in a wonderful genre mash up fashion. Writer/director Leigh Whannell got his start writing for horror films for James Wan like Saw and Insidious, which shows with some of the more brutal moments on display. Yet, Upgrade is decidedly more of a sci-fi/actioner at its heart and a far more intelligent film than what one would expect on its face.

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The basic story would make one think this is a much more simplistic action film. You’ve got Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), a young man with old school values in the not-too-distant-future who prefers to keep his distance from advance technology like automated cars or  implants as he fixes antique cars for a living. Despite this, he’s in a rather loving relationship with his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) who embraces technological advancement and even playfully taunts him for his technophobic ways. Their love story is cut short one evening when their automatic car crashes and a group of thugs attack them, leaving Grey paralyzed and murdering Asha. The quadriplegic Grey is secretly offered by a former client and tech innovator Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) to have an extremely advanced computer chip inserted into his spine that will allow him to walk again, which Grey uses to track down the men who murdered his wife, even if it’s against the wishes of Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel).

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Now, the mistake from this point that most films would make is to make Grey seem completely in the right for his pursuit of revenge. After all, the film has already spent a fair amount of time seeing how much he and Asha were in love with each other & with how bitter and angry he’s become in his paralyzed state. The audience would naturally be behind him and his pursuit to avenge his wife’s death. Yet, Upgrade manages to take that inherent support the audience would have and turns Grey’s desires for justice into his downfall. It resembles more of what the original Death Wish story was aiming for before Charles Bronson’s own films turned it into a gun based power fantasy. Grey has all this power and he’s horrified by what’s going on. Yet, he willingly consents to the personification of the computer chip in his neck – known as STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) – to take over his body and do what he wants. 

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This is where Upgrade steers into the insidiously genius satire of our time. STEM acts as a representation of our daily ambivalence to the implications of an agreement with technology. How many times do we agree to terms and conditions we don’t bother to read through? So many different apps ask for our consent and we give it without much of a thought. Sure, the first time Grey does this it’s in a dire situation where he has no other choice. Yet, the actions that occur off of it end up horrifying him… and he still allows STEM to use his body as an instrument because he has tunnel vision about his quest for vengeance. The violence in Upgrade is incredibly gory, but never in ways that appeal to the main characters or are meant to make audiences to cheer. It’s meant to elicit winces and terror at the capabilities of STEM and other cold computerized calculations. Much credit to Logan Marshall-Green for his ability to make his actions below the neck feel authentically out of his control, whether in his paralyzed state or under the influence of STEM. He delivers pathos in his compromised state just as well as he does being controlled by an outside force, channelling Bruce Campbell’s knack for similar cartoonish physics with his own body.

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It helps that Upgrade also manages to build a future from that shows the dependence on this technology. The advancements are all only there on a macro level as the grimy and underdeveloped elements on a micro level simmer underneath. We get the implication that this world has regressed in every other fashion, allowing for tech to serve as a crutch to lean on rather than a tool to progress with. This gives Grey’s dependence on STEM even more weight and shows the type of world building that Black Mirror often does at its best. Whannell even lights the entire film in a neon display that reflects a Blade Runner level dystopia of cold yet dazzling sort of fashion. The implications of this world also help to give more weight to other characters who hover around Grey’s story. Cortez for one doesn’t trust the drones that survey as much as she does her own intuition, mirroring Grey while also trying to hunt him down. There’s also the array of thugs with implants who have a higher esteem about themselves above humanity, particularly the effortlessly skeevy Benedict Hardie as the lead thug Fisk. Even STEM develops as a character over the course of Upgrade through Grey’s temptation of letting this soothing voice take over. It’s a temptation that even seeps into the audience thanks to Simon Maiden’s calm neutral voice.

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To go much further would potentially spoil the fun surprises of Upgrade, which would be a downright shame. Upgrade is honestly the closest we’ve had to a Robocop level modern satire that also blended various genre elements in theaters in quite a while, blowing lesser satiric attempts like Ready Player One out of the water. It’s surface level fun enough to work for the average filmgoer. Yet, there’s an insidious element of apathy toward allowing our innovations to take us over that sits at the cold heart of Upgrade. It’s the type of passive evil that really rings bitterly true in 2018, where the evil isn’t the tech itself as much as it is our complete trust & lack of question about it. The machines shown here could be used for good in the capable hands of someone who doesn’t forfeit their ability to question when the tools present a quick and graphic way to get what they want. When we don’t consider the larger implications of such trust, we allow the possibility of sneaking take over from our computerized overlords and an inability to see it until it sneaks right up and stabs us in the hand.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Computer Chips in the Spine

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Amityville Belushi: Based on a True Story – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 4

Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani. Two men fighting against all odds to record a podcast. This is their story. For this episode, our hosts cover films allegedly based on true stories in honor of this week’s release Action Point. Yes, that is based on a true story, but you wouldn’t believe it would ya? Well, the same goes for The Amityville Horror, based on the alleged true hauntings of the Lutz family. On the bad side, the boys look at the extremely obscure John Belushi biopic Wired starring Michael Chiklis. You probably haven’t seen it. We recommend you don’t. Special shout out to Sam Brutuxan who makes a brief cameo to pull the trigger on our two choices! Listen here!

To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! The podcast will be on iTunes soon!

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018): One Scruffy Looking Nerf Herder

Prequels and Star Wars have a tension filled relationship. Which is understandable, considering the reception of the prequel trilogy. Still, say what you want about Episodes I, II & III – and plenty of people have – but they at least followed a story that had some potential. To see the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader sounds like an intriguing idea. There’s a clear structure one can see for how this would go down, though the execution of it has lead to plenty of enraged debate for nearly two decades. By contrast, Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t really have much of a progression it can take hold of for its titular character Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). Knowing the progression he goes on during the original trilogy, Han Solo needs to stay a selfish smuggler in order for the later journey to make any narrative sense. He can’t learn to be a selfless individual here only to learn the same thing as he surprises the audience by helping Luke destroy the Death Star. Sorry for spoiling a 41 year old film, but the point still stands; a young Han Solo movie has no real right to exist. So, does Solo: A Star Wars Story end up beating this inherent critical stumbling block in concept or not?

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Quite frankly… no. Writers LawrenceJonathan Kasdan along with director Ron Howard – well, final director Ron Howard – constantly struggle to walk the line between keeping Han a rogue and the hero the film ultimately needs, but never quite settle on how to do so. Solo: A Star Wars Story gives us so much of his back story, a child slave on the planet Corellia who ended up joining the Empire’s military as a young lad and teaming up with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to become a smuggler. All very early in the film. Yet, none of it really earns much of a right to exist or add on what we already knew beyond filling unnecessary gaps. “Oh, that’s why Chewie owes Han a life debt!” “Oh that’s how he got that last name!” “Oh that’s how he became so good with using a blaster!” Great… but did any of this make Han Solo a more complete version of what he already was; a scoundrel with charm? No. It’s just there to give us context for what we didn’t need.

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If anything, it deflates what used to be a mysterious background one could project for themselves based on Harrison Ford’s actions and George Lucas/several other people’s words. It all turns Han into a misunderstood loner hero rather than a plucky and selfish charmer we met at the Cantina on Tatooine. We’re front loaded with answering questions and tying up loose ends really early into Solo to the point where when we finally get the halfway decent heist film that lifts up the second half, it’s too late. We’ve been inundated with a barrage of underwhelming revelations that seem to take a face value sensibility to moments that feel like they should be charming nods and winks. If Solo was far more self contained an adventure that didn’t aim to expose Han’s past, it would probably be a far more engaging character. The onset snafus that occurred with original directors/current executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller shouldn’t have much weight on the film overall, but one can tell during any of the larger comedic set pieces fall flat and awkward in that first half. Not really helped by the way cinematographer Bradford Young puts an a grey filter to disguise the shiny surfaces in order to vaguely remind people of the rich grime aesthetic of the original trilogy.

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None of this is really the fault of Alden Ehrenreich. A talented young actor who is capable of delivering his own infectious charms in films like Hail Caesar, Ehrenreich is really trying hard to avoid doing a flat out Ford impression while still sprinkling in some of the delivery that made Han one of the more iconic cinematic characters of the 20th century. It’s an impossible task to be asked to replicate an iconic persona at his absolute prime as an actor in a prequel film and Alden handles it about as well as he can. Yet, that leash still looms high with how much the script for Solo desires to make us remember the Han we knew and loved even if Alden wants to make his own. A constant tug and pull that damns an earnest if doomed task from the start. There are effective moments for Han here and there. As unnecessary as it is, the meet up with Chewie made watchable thanks to a physical chemistry that Ehrenreich and Suotamo have as the space duo. Yet, Chewie’s own struggles with trying to get his people out of slavery and earn a score bring to light the major downturn of Solo. One flaw so crucially fatal that it turns the lead into an albatross around the film’s neck; Han is the sun this universe revolves around, yet the planets and asteroids that sweep into its path are far more interesting than he ever can be.

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One of these characters is Han’s mentor of sorts Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a thief who has seen plenty of action. You can see why he would be curious to the initial spark of spunk in Han’s eyes, but with the history clearly shown through his actions in the world of smuggling and some pretty big moments with his significant other Val (Thandie Newton), one slowly starts to lose the actual thread of connection between him and Han as things roll along, especially when a heist film of sorts like this hinges on ambiguity rather than a lack of believability in either trust or distrust rather than what feels like ambivalence between the two. Same goes for Han’s Corellian gal Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Clarke is given the task of attempting to be a galactic femme fatale for Han to seek back after an escape gone awry, who later has gone through some changes and being under the thumb of a generic space gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) that makes one pine for the authentic weirdness of Jabba the Hutt as he acts like far more of a modern hot trigger gangster than anything authentically of the Star Wars galaxy. Qi’ra could have been far more of a damsel love interest and even has worrying shades of this early on. Yet, when her loyalties become more murky and her ability prowess as a femme fatale come to play, there are shades of a far more interesting character. One who’s journey could have made for a great Star Wars story all its own. Yet, we mostly see her as an accomplice and source of will-they-won’t-they tension to tease for more Solo films as Han sashays into a room.

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Such sashays are irrelevant once Han meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a fellow smuggler who exudes far more charisma and has enough intriguing characteristics that ooze out of corners during his scenes to make everyone in the theater internally scream “Why wasn’t this a Lando film?!” The real difference between Lando and Solo is simply that while we do know the ultimate big turn of Lando, he’s far more of a blank slate to add things onto. This includes fun details like a closet full of elaborate capes or his sly attempts to cheat at cards with smooth nonchalance. Glover gives the unbridled confidence needed for Lando without feeling too much like an overt impression as much as a general sly mood from which anyone would be mulled over by. Similar credit deserves to go to Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3, a droid with fierce aims at spreading independence for her kind. She’s feisty, intuitive and spunky in ways no other droid character has ever been in this series. The two have far more of a believable rapport than anyone else in the film that makes us quiver even further in demand for a Lando spin off movie involving these two. But don’t worry. Han is there to… be Han. So you don’t have to worry about all that pesky “potential” off to the sides being squandered.

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It may seem like I hate Solo, but the frustration really lies with the fact that there are wonderful bursts of energy and creativity on occasion. Most of these characters do get moments to spotlight their potential. Mainly in a scene involving a rather famous moment from Han’s past that surprisingly packs a lot of character beats, elaborate fight choreography and more than a few bits of heist staging into a chaotic but highly entertaining sequence of events. It’s the one time where all the people in this ensemble truly bounce off each other incredibly well and give the illusion that this will continue to the remaining runtime. Yet, by the time that sequence ends, the spectacle of Solo A Star Wars Story really begins to wear thin. There’s some shenanigans in the third act that elicits minor thrills, but nothing even really culminates that well. Set pieces like the big train heist are fine on their own, but the lack any kind of weight not just because we know where the characters will ultimately go, but because we’re centered around a character who constantly meanders between referencing what we know and teasing a progression that can’t take place given who the character is makes this a rather forgettable effort. Something even a few Rebellion teases and a curious surprise cameo couldn’t fix.

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It’s a tough spot to be in. Almost as if Disney and Lucasfilm shouldn’t have put themselves in that place to begin with. Solo A Star Wars Story obviously wants to be a romp through the galactic underworld of the Star Wars galaxy. One that is teased with some rather impressive creature effects and a few hints to other potential spin offs. Yet, even for being something more light, there’s isn’t too much new going on. There’s a bit of an upgrade in terms of the tech of the original trilogy, but not much of an expansion on details about the criminal underworld or some of these new characters to make itself stand out. These are similar problems that effected the previous Star Wars spin off feature Rogue One. Then again, Rogue One actually dared to focus on new characters who weren’t what we traditionally saw in this galaxy far far away. Some are better than others, but at least it tried to build more focus on people we weren’t familiar with. Which is a far more noble effort than Solo, a film that has the potential to explore new avenues and fun side tracks in this universe yet leans on the familiarity of its titular character revealing more about his past like Tiny Tim on a crutch. Keep in mind that I’m not against referencing moments from the original trilogy or exposing more about the people we knew and loved from this series. However, if those references don’t do much to shed intriguing new light on that subject, what’s the point in going back? Why are we peeling back a layer of Han’s past? It turns out… for very little.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Dice Rear View Mirror Hangers

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Other Works:

Star Wars A Jedi Holiday Story – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 3

Double Edged Double Bill is all Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars! To celebrate the release of Solo A Star Wars Story, Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani have brought in their first guest Sam Brutuxan! The trio’s first feature is Return of the Jedi, the third entry in the original trilogy that’s celebrating it’s 35th anniversary. Yes there’s Ewoks, bored Harrison Ford and puppets galore! Then, the team takes on the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special and lives to tell the tale. But not without a trinity of Harvey Kormans, Wookie porn and a performance by Jefferson Starship! Take your first step into a larger world and listen now here!

To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! The podcast will be on iTunes shortly!

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Other Works