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Films I Neglected To Review: Elephants And Snipes And Bears--Oh My!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Armed Response," "Brigsby Bear," "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" and "Pop Aye."

It was perhaps inevitable that any film resulting from a partnership between the WWE and Gene Simmons would turn out to be terrible but you would think that it would at least have the dignity to be crazy-go-nuts terrible instead of just being excruciatingly boring. Alas, that is the central problem with ''Armed Response,'' a film that tries to combine elements of science fiction, horror and siege drama genres and fails miserably at each. According to the premise, the government has developed a computer-based interrogation system known as ''Temple'' that is so good at shaking down potential terrorist suspects that they can actually read the minds of those being questioned. When the group of soldiers at a seemingly abandoned prison repurposed into a Temple installation mysteriously vanish, a crack commando unit led by Isaac (Wesley Snipes, in his first lead role since 2013) and including Gabe (Dave Annable), the tormented civilian AI expert who devised Temple, arrive to investigate. Before too long, they are all locked in with no way of contacting the outside world and it becomes apparent that something is in there with them and has brought them for a very specific purpose.

That ''Armed Response'' is a load of utterly generic crap will probably not come as a surprise to too many people. What is odd is just how dull and chintzy-looking the entire enterprise is. Virtually all of the first half consists of people slinking down darkened hallways and sticking their heads into various rooms to make sure they are empty--this kind of padding used to be common once upon a time from filmmakers trying to get the projects up to a proper length but it is deeply embarrassing to watch now. Then when the action such as it is, finally does kick in, it is of the cheesiest variety imaginable and when all is revealed about the real reason why the squad has been brought in, the failed attempt to blend together the various types of genre hokum just gets embarrassing after a while. At least that is how Snipes must have felt--despite his star billing, his character is shunted to the sidelines for long periods of time with the other characters (including one played by Anne Heche) being forced to pick up the slack. A bad movie that never quite makes it to the so-bad-its-good category, ''Armed Response'' is a film so lacking in originality, spirit or basic entertainment value that its uber-banal title is just about the most unique thing about it.

I will give the makers of ''Brigsby Bear'' this--they certainly know how to find the exact tone with which to tell their story and manage to maintain it throughout. Too bad that the tone is so arch and so antithetical to the basic tents of comedy (for it is a comedy) that not only did I find myself not laughing once during its seemingly endless running time, I began questioning the mental state and lucidity of those people that I know who have found it amusing. In it, ''SNL'' vet Kyle Mooney plays James Pope, a 25-year-old man who lives with his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) and obsessively watches VHS tapes of ''Brigsby Bear,'' a children’s TV show that specializes in imparting some occasionally peculiar life lessons. Alas, James' world comes crashing down when the police arrive one day to arrest his parents--who actually kidnapped him as an infant and raised him ever since--and return him to his real family. Oddly, this doesn't faze James that much but when he discovers that his favorite TV show was produced only for him by his kidnappers and that it doesn’t exist in the real world, he does freak out at first. However, he decides to bring some closure to the lonely life that he has known by producing a big-screen Brigsby movie with the aid of his actual family and some friends that he picks up along the way,

If you have seen Mooney on ''SNL,'' where he is best known for a series of short films in which he acts like an awkward and largely clueless goofball, then nothing about ''Brigsby Bear'' will strike you as especially surprising. However, the difference between a contrived and not-especially-funny five-minute short and a contrived and not-especially-funny 90-minute movie is vast indeed--and not because you have the inducement of seeing Lorde's second song to keep you in your seat--and after not that long of a while, the combination of Mooney's obnoxious anti-comic persona and the film's unwillingness to actually deal with any of the serious-minded issues that it has chosen to raise or the fact that our hero, even after factoring in the peculiarities of his situation, is kind of creepy and unpleasant throughout (he makes Rupert Pupkin seem cuddly by comparison) and makes the whole thing kind of unendurable. Put it this way--when the film trucks in a meanie shrink (Claire Danes) who insists that James is deeply disturbed and in need of real therapy in order to get over his extraordinary trauma, I found myself agreeing with her completely. At the same time, I know quite a few people who have found this film to be amusing and who knows, maybe it will be right up your comedic alley as well. Weird and unpleasant and even a tad sexist to boot (when James finally decides to confront his kidnappers about why they did that to him, ''Dad'' throws ''Mom'' under the bus by blaming it all on her before bonding again with his fake son--''Mom,'' for her part, doesn’t get a chance to show up and state her case), ''Brigsby Bear'' is a monumentally unpleasant work that ultimately gave me the creeps in ways that most horror movies of late could only dream of approaching.

Easily the most depressingly necessary sequel of the season, ''An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power'' finds former Vice-President Al Gore continuing his crusade to save the environment from the very real perils of climate change by convincing governmental leaders at home and abroad to invest in renewable energy systems while bearing witness to the destruction that has been wrought as a result of ignoring the problem in the decade since the release of ''An Inconvenient Truth'' a decade earlier--large chunks of the ice shelves in the polar regions are melting away, the beachfronts of Miami are threatened by rising waters and Hurricane Sandy winds up flooding the Ground Zero site. All seems well when the Paris Accords are signed in 2015 but, at the risk of spoiling things for less aware viewers, let me just say that the ending of the film had to be changed between its premiere at Sundance this past January and its current release.

Watching ''An Inconvenient Sequel,” I found myself having more or less the same reaction to it that I did with its predecessor. As before, I came away from it feeling a mixture of anger at the things being shown and the intransigence of some people and groups who are more concerned with lining their pockets than in helping to take care of the planet in even the smallest of ways and admiration for Gore's dogged attempts to right those wrongs in whatever way he and thousands of others can before it is too late. At the same time, however, there is the unmistakable sense that the film is preaching to the choir instead of trying to attract new people to the cause. This isn't necessarily a flaw, I suppose, and it is still probably worth a look for those with an interest in the subject (assuming that a lack of visual flash is not a deal breaker for you) but as a means of potentially converting new people to the cause, it does come up a little short.

If you ever found yourself wondering what a mash-up of David Lynch's undeservedly underseen film ''The Straight Story'' and Bill Murray's deservedly underseen ''Larger Than Life'' might look like if someone were crazy enough to pursue such a thing, then the Thai import ''Pop Aye'' is going to be right up your alley. An aging architect (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) facing a personal and professional crossroads--he is being edged out at his job by his much younger co-workers and his wife is far more interested in her personal sex toy than in anything having to do with him--is walking down the street in Bangkok when he astoundingly comes across what he believe is the same elephant that he befriended and helped raise in the remote village where he grew up with his uncle. Possibly as a way of reconnecting with both a beloved friend and a time when life held so much promise, he impulsively purchases the elephant and sets off on a journey across the entire country in order to return his friend to his uncle’s farm. Along the way, he has the requisite number of misadventures and run-ins with colorful people that are interspersed with flashback to this idyllic childhood days.

It sounds charming enough, I suppose, but ''Pop Aye'' (and yes, the title is explained) is one of those films that sounds appealing enough in theory but never quite comes together in practice. For one thing, once you get past the undeniably unusual premise, writer-director Kirsten Tan never quite figures out what to do with it--there are the requisite number of weird developments, kooky characters and life lessons to be learned but they are of the kind that have been seen in most movies involving road trips and trying to regain the past with nothing new thrown into the mix aside from a few decidedly adult-oriented moments seemingly thrown in to keep it from being written off as merely a children's movie. The other problem is that the main character--okay, the main biped character--is really not very interesting and it becomes increasingly difficult to care as he goes through his literal and metaphorical paces on his way to being a better person. On the other hand, the elephant is a real scene-stealer who genuinely does capture ones attention, both by his sheer size and by his hilariously implacable reactions to the various misadventures he and his friend encounter along the way. He is great to watch but as a whole, ''Pop Aye'' is so inconsequential that even he will no doubt find himself forgetting about the whole thing before too long.

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originally posted: 08/05/17 00:40:39
last updated: 08/05/17 05:50:17
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