Okay, it’s July 7th and summer is officially underway. When the heat and humidity are both in the “90” range you can run to the beach, the pool, or the air-conditioned movie theater (or bowling alley!). Not being much of a beach/pool guy these days, I often opt for the movies --- there’s almost nothing I won’t see and “$7.00 Tuesdays” makes a once-a-week visit particularly enticing. This past week I had the opportunity to see Uncle Drew, Deadpool 2, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. While they varied dramatically in the quality of their acting, scripts, and direction, they did have a common theme and it was, once again, family. The June 29th Blast noted how HBO’s WestWorld related to the current border crisis created by the Trump administration and its callous separation of families. What the makers of WestWorld --- and these three movies --- could not have known, of course, is that they would be released to the public when their content would be so relevant. But here they are!
Uncle Drew is about as lightweight an “entertainment” as you can get. It grew out of a series of Pepsi-Cola commercials written and directed by the NBA superstar Kyrie Irving and features Mr. Irving, in “old man” make-up, portraying a “playground legend” basketball player (think Earl Manigault --- if you can dig up HBO’s Rebound: The Legend of Early Manigault starring Don Cheadle that will go a long way to better understanding Uncle Drew). Part of my affection for this film simply has to do with my love of basketball and watching a number of former college/NBA “legends” done up in old-person make-up (successfully, to greater & lesser degrees) enjoying the fact that they are in a position to make a movie like this, hang out together, and, yet again, get paid to do something they enjoy. The plot is one we’ve seen many times --- a down-and-out coach (played by Lil Rel Howery --- always entertaining) who was orphaned in his youth and raised without a family, recruits a team of former playground stars to play in the famous Rucker Tournament in New York City. His nemesis --- and opposing coach --- is played by Nick Kroll (in an embarrassing performance), who steals Howery’s original team, as well as his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish, who is "okay," at best, with mediocre material & clearly just picking up a paycheck). Howery manages to track down the legendary Uncle Drew and convince him to assemble his old crew to play in the Rucker and teach the “youngbloods” of 2018 how “real basketball” should be played.
At that point the movie becomes a road trip, with Howery & Mr. Irving (in full “old-man” regalia) tracking down “Preacher” (Chris Webber) and his wife Betty Lou (WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie), “Lights” (Reggie Miller as a legally blind old man), “Boots” (Nate Robinson – who is referred to as “Frederick Douglass” with a Trump “doing great things” barb included), and “Big Fella” (Shaquille O’Neal). I will not belabor the plot (which is belabored enough in its unfolding) but simply say that, by the film’s end, Howery learns that his team of old men is his “family,” providing him with the spiritual sustenance he has been looking for all his life. (Rotten Tomatoes gave Uncle Drew a 68% critic’s rating and a 62% audience score --- both a bit higher than I would have scored this)
Deadpool 2 is as---if not more---hilarious than the original. This one is “R-rated” and, despite its own “endorsement” that it is a “family-movie” during the opening sequence, its “R” is well earned (language/violence). Like the original, the film is full of biting sarcasm, political satire, self-referential Marvel commentary, and an ever-escalating body count. The plot here, as with Uncle Drew, ultimately centers on “family.” From Wade Wilson’s (Deadpool) excitement at starting a family with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) to “Cable’s” (Josh Brolin) search for revenge for the murder of his family, to the pyrokinetic X-orphan “Firefist’s” (Julian Dennison) desire to destroy the abusive orphanage he was raised in, Deadpool 2 returns to the notion of “family” (and belonging to one) as its recurring theme. The mayhem and humor abound and, without giving away any more of the movie’s details I will only say “go see it” --- and stay through the final credits (which are hilarious & related to the plot!). (Rotten Tomatoes gave Deadpool 2 an 82% critics rating and 86% audience rating, which I think is a little low, but okay).
Finally, there is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, one of the darkest, most gripping films you can catch this summer. I never saw all of the original Sicario (starring Josh Brolin, Benecio Del Toro, and Emily Blunt) but that didn’t matter as far as appreciating this sequel. Driven by Brolin & Del Toro (Blunt is not in the sequel), the film starts with a series of terrorist attacks in the US that lead to a demand for a crackdown at our southern border (creepy, right?) but, before the movie can become a Trump supporter’s fantasy film, it quickly evolves into a story that, while using a “let’s get the Mexican cartels to fight each other” quickly becomes another film that is driven by “family,” both immediate and “tribal.”
The all-business government operative Matt Graver (Brolin) is dedicated to his “team (family)" particularly Del Toro. Alejandro (Del Toro) is the “Sicario” (hit man) of the title and, we learn as the plot progresses, is driven by revenge for the murder of his family by the cartels (just like Brolin’s “Cable” in Deadpool 2!). The plot itself revolves around the kidnapping (by Brolin & Del Toro) of the daughter (Isabela Moner playing Isabel Reyes) of one cartel’s kingpin --- to incite the war with other cartels. As the story progresses, we learn about Del Toro’s family --- and his deaf daughter --- as Alejandro becomes more and more protective of Isabela. In the dark, well-paced propulsion of the plot, the body count mounts and our attachment to Alejandro and Isabel grows, with the theme of family --- and family separation --- taking center stage once again! Sicario: Day of the Soldado hasn’t gotten the greatest reviews (65% critics, 66% audience from Rotten Tomatoes) but I’ll disagree simply based on Del Toro’s brilliant and compelling performance --- the man is a gem!
Maybe I’m seeing “family” everywhere these days. Maybe the news has infected my vision. But I think there is a focus on “family” happening because we can’t escape its centrality to the events of our world and its current state. Indeed, the corrupt President may find his dedication to his own family (particularly to the short bus riding DJT, Jr.) may lead to his own downfall. While our government wrestles with immigrant families and much of Europe is dealing with similar challenges, it is hard not to see “family” as a linchpin in the world today. From bombings in Syria, to refugee ships in the Mediterranean, to the desperate asylum seekers on our southern border, it’s all about “family.” While the popularity of 23 and Me and Ancestry.com surge in our own country, it’s hard to deny just how much we are driven by “family” --- like it or not.