Peppermint is a waste of Jennifer Garner’s time and ours. A lazy, inept, at times xenophobic, exploitation revenge saga that seems frightened of its own shadow. You know you’re in trouble when the first half of the movie consists of multiple deaths off-screen.
Riley North (Jennifer Garner) is a loving, hard working, mother. Her daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) is a precocious girl excited for her birthday. Riley’s husband Chris (Jeff Hephner), a mechanic, gets roped into helping a friend rip off the cartel. Chris backs out at the last second but by then it’s too late.
Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) discovers the attempted robbery and punishes all involved…including Riley and her family while out celebrating Carly’s birthday. The plot wheels of the genre go round and round.
Pierre Morel has taken what could have been a nice little twist to an exploitation staple and instead, we get a timid, laughably offensive, gutless, meandering slog. To give you some idea of what you’re going into, yes, the rumors are true. Riley does infiltrate a cartel and hang out where they launder money, which also doubles as a pinata factory.
Morel had the good fortune to get Jennifer Garner and promptly proceeds to waste all her talents. Garner, if you may recall, before becoming a romantic comedy staple, was an action heroine. Both on television and in the movies, Garner’s specialty when she was starting out was trained, covert killers. Sometimes the scripts and choices were better than others. Garner was the go-to actress for, at the time, the novel role of “tough girl with a gun”.
Peppermint starts out with Riley killing an unknown Latino gang member in the front seat of his car. Immediately after it flashes back in time, five years ago. But it doesn’t go back and forth. Instead we go from a promising opening scene of a badass to seeing her before as a wife and mother. Both, it should be mentioned, Garner nails perfectly because as I’ve said, she is an actress of better caliber and more worth than she is often attributed.
After Riley and her family are gunned down, a man visits Riley at her house. He enters without her inviting him in and never introduces himself. Rather he goes straight into making veiled and ambiguous threatening statements. We learn at the preliminary hearing the man is, in fact, the defense attorney for the cartel. A fact Riley apparently forgets to tell her own prosecuting attorney or the judge. Well, until the attorney begins to badger her and destroy her credibility.
Broken and weeping she tells the court about the attorney’s visit. The prosecuting attorney has—and I’m not exaggerating—zero dialogue. He’s not even in focus in the scenes he’s in. Riley bum rushes the defendants, gets tackled and tased, then sentenced to a psych eval. While on transport, she dings both the detective working on her case, Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and the EMT with an oxygen tank and runs out into the streets-and vanishes.
Five years later.
Peppermint is one of those movies where the stuff we don’t see is more interesting than the stuff we do. The men who killed Riley’s husband and daughter are among her first victims when she returns to exact her vengeance. She kills them off-screen. We see their corpses hanging from a Ferris wheel. Carmichael and his partner, Moises (John Ortiz), discuss other victims such as both the prosecuting and defense attorneys.
Enter the FBI. Agent Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) briefs Carmichael and Moises on what Riley has been doing the past five years. Youtube footage of Riley fighting in underground boxing matches plays in the background of their conversations. We hear stories of how she seems to have seemingly dropped off the grid. All of which is inherently more interesting than anything we’ve seen so far. The implied Peppermint is more dramatically compelling and action-packed than the actual Peppermint.
Chad St. John’s script has a subplot where Riley appears to be playing some grand game of three-dimensional chess. Diego, while meeting with his higher-ups, learns he is on thin ice. Shipments have gone missing and there is talk he may be skimming. Diego’s troubles are only beginning because, the now infamous pinata shootout, was actually a headquarters for money laundering. Diego had been working with the Korean mob as part of a truce.
Riley slowly gumming up the system and framing the cartel for it; ineptness and traitorous behavior is a nifty idea. So, of course, St. John’s script drops the idea almost immediately. Diego being the only surviving link to the death of Riley’s family, it becomes a cat and mouse game between the two.
Riley, bleeding from a wound, raids a medicine cabinet and uses a tampon pad to stop the bleeding. A wonderful little touch that hints at a vast graveyard of missed opportunities. I suspect this was Garner’s idea. It’s an idea that reeks of inventiveness and awareness of how women’s issues are perceived. Something that Morel and St. John have shown hilariously little knowledge of.
Gallagher’s Carmichael is so underwritten that even an actor of his caliber seems adrift and unsure what to do. He’s meant to be tortured or at least we’re meant to think that but it never comes across. It might be a case of Gallagher playing a character with his own motives close to his chest but it comes off as if he’s sleepwalking.
Towards the end, as Riley closes in on Garcia, the action begins to pick up. Peppermint started out as the movie that was afraid to kill and gradually becomes the movie that kills indiscriminately in the dark and at a distance. Much of the back half of the film is shot in dark underlit rooms at night.
It’s a tactic used by directors when they are not confident in their action setups or as shortcuts to hide lazy shot compositions. Either way, it transforms Peppermint from an infuriating lazy film into one that is hard to make out at times. Riley uses a phone to take a video of herself in a live streaming broadcast with the local news station. Suddenly she is well lit. Score one for Android users.
Peppermint is the very definition of “offensively lazy”. Yes, Riley kills characters that are not Latino, and the movie makes great strides to differentiate between Latinos and the cartel. But the majority of body count we do see is brown. Contrast that with the body count off-screen, which is white. Riley also, through the course of the movie, becomes a local folk hero. She lives in a van parked at skid row. A mural of Riley, portraying her as a literal angel, with wings topped of with guns at end of each feather, is on a wall near her van. Literally and figuratively she is a white savior.
Exploitation films can be tricky. The genre is rife with problematic elements that can either be explored, unpacked, or interrogated. Or, it could revel in its own sleaziness greedily embracing every stereotype and trope. Peppermint is a middling convoluted excuse of an attempt. Morel and St. John seem ignorant, or worse, inattentive, to the story, they are accidentally telling.
Peppermint never rises to the lowest rung of even the most basic action movie. Garner deserves better. For that matter, so do we.
Image courtesy of STX films
Disney Unveils First Look at ‘Toy Story 4’
It’s the franchise that started it all for Pixar, and now with a fourth installment set to drop in theatres next summer, Disney has treated Toy Story enthusiasts to a small look at what some of our favorite characters are up to.
Up to meaning dancing hand in hand in a circle formation to Judy Collins’ seminal hit “Both Sides” now. They look happy, considering the song is far more introspective than most of the scene showcasing the toy family shows. Granted, there’s always a catch, and that comes in the form of a kid-crafted spork utensil turned into a toy, and having a serious case of the wiggins about its identity and hysterically screaming it’s not a toy before running away and causing a circular collision of all the other toys. I’d say there’s an opportunity there for some identity symbolism to be explored in the movie, but that’s probably expecting a tad too much.
Still, it’s nice to see the friends many of us have literally grown up with for over two decades. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both back as Woody and Buzz, and they’re joined by regulars like Joan Cusack and Jeff Garlin. Bonnie Hunt, Laurie Metcalf, Annie Potts, and Patricia Arquette also lend their voices to the film.
Toy Story 4 premieres in theatres on June 21, 2019.
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
‘The Grinch’ Doesn’t Skimp on Charm
The Grinch is a harmless, but charming, remake of the beloved television classic. The third attempt to tell a story that no one really thought needed to be retold. The original 1966 television special is so perfectly preserved in popular memory as being near perfection it bothers the brain as to why a remake is even necessary.
Thankfully, the latest version of The Grinch understands a very profound and delicate thing: how to tell a story for kids. Dr. Seuss stories succeed because they play with the boundless wonder of a child’s imagination, while also trusting in the simple but potent faith each child possess. In other words, The Grinch doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel so much as add some spokes.
The story is still the same as we remember it. The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives atop the mountain overlooking Whoville. A giant green oval shaped creature with an expressive face he is as his name implies, not a happy being. Every year, around Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville begin their annual celebration of Christmas and it drives the Grinch mad because he was born with a heart two sizes too small. So he steals Christmas.
Like all characters, he eventually realizes the error of his ways; his heart grows three sizes, some say. Look, the original animated special was some twenty-six minutes with credits included. The Grinch is a scant eighty-six minutes, with credits. I mention this only to say, yes they added filling, but not necessarily padding. The directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney show a great faith in the Seuss original.
For instance, Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) has a story all her own. As some of you may know, Cindy Lou Who is the little girl who catches the Grinch in the act of stealing her Christmas tree. In this, her story is simple and in fact, adds to Cindy Lou Who’s character and her relationship with the Grinch.
Cindy’s mother, Donna Lou Who (voiced by Rashida Jones) is a single working mother of three. Cindy wants to get in touch with Santa so she can wish for some happiness for her Mother. Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow have hammered the script into such a shape that we understand Donna isn’t unhappy. But Cindy sees her Mom struggling one morning and is sad she can’t do anything to help. Swerdlow and LeSieur lay the groundwork in a clever roundabout way.
As Cindy is trying to deliver a letter to Santa she runs into the Grinch, who is in town shopping for food. Being the Grinch he yells at her and comes dangerously close to doing something one of the most unforgivable things one could imagine: tell Cindy that Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t tell her, but he does imply. So when Grinch is disguised as Santa and he meets little Cindy once more, well let’s just say the Grinch was not the only person whose heart grew three times that day.
Mosier, Cheney, LeSieur, and Swerdlow allow The Grinch story as a whole to be visually expressive. From the Grinch’s sparse, cold, and granite home to the warm embracing circular geography of Whoville, the universe of the Grinch looks and makes sense. Well, sense enough. Blessed be the script never tries to overreach and explain logistical fallacies or complex municipal services. They simply allow Whoville and the Grinch to exist.
The animation by Illumination Studios is, far and away some of the best they’ve done. The studio’s movies such as Sing, Despicable Me, and Smallfoot have all been nice to look at but The Grinch has texture and depth that the other movies were lacking. It’s one thing to look good, but it’s another to understand camera placement and cleverly figuring out comedic gags that don’t feel forced.
Cumberbatch Grinch is impressive for its lack of vanity. You could argue that Cumberbatch has been working towards his role his entire career considering all his characters tend to be akin to either the Grinch or Oscar the Grouch. His voice work is so complete I had to remind myself who was doing the voice. Notice the timber of his voice as he realizes Fred, the reindeer, who he’s captured to help pull his sleigh, has a family.
Keean Thompson has a small role as the jolliest Who in Whoville, Mr. Bricklebaum. Thompson walks a fine line between playing him as naive without mocking him or making him a fool. Thompson’s Bricklebaum is a man so in love with life and Christmas that he can’t understand how anybody could be so happy. His faith in people is such that he somehow believes the Grinch and he are the bestest of friends. A fact that the Grinch is as baffled by as we are.
Pharrell Williams takes place of Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. His laid back smooth voice anchors The Grinch. He handles the Seussian rhyming scheme with aplomb and even gives his own remix of the classic You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. A perfect fit, Williams narrates without treading on the words. Being a musician he treats the words as Seuss intended; music to the ears.
There’s not a lot to say about The Grinch. It’s a simple straightforward and charming children’s movie which never panders. For being the third attempt at telling this story, it is remarkably free of any cynicism. The humor is both sly and broad and the emotions are genuine. After sitting through the cynical tripe of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Grinch feels like a soothing balm. It’s not Christmas yet, but at least with The Grinch, I didn’t mind celebrating a little early.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Vince Gilligan to Make Breaking Bad Movie
Five years after “Felina” ended the landmark, all-time great show, Breaking Bad is set to return in film form. Details are scarce, with the plot mostly unknown and no confirmation yet whether the movie will release in theaters or on television. Obviously, it’s also unclear whether this will take place before or after the series’ timeline.
Does this matter at all to me? Nope. I’m the kind of hesitantly excited that’s bordering on speeding past hesitancy.
What little we do know is that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan will write, produce, and possibly direct. Better Call Saul producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein will also be involved. The rumored plot right is said to “follow the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom.” This has everyone (obviously) thinking the movie will feature Jesse Pinkman post-series as he escapes his kidnapping by the white supremacists Walt kills in the finale.
This sounds like a very, very good idea, even if I’m worried to see Jesse suffer more. Can this movie be about him changing his name, moving to LA, ending up on the couch of a former sitcom star, and going on a series of wacky adventures?
Whatever my natural worry, about taking Breaking Bad to the big screen, Vince Gilligan’s heavy involvement deserves optimism. After five fantastic seasons of Breaking Bad, he and Peter Gould have gone on to create another brilliant show in Better Call Saul. Gilligan clearly knows this universe. If he says he has a story to tell, then I want to hear it.
The Breaking Bad movie will be the first project of a three-year overall deal Gilligan signed with Sony TV this past July.