Tag

In hosting the Lambpardy episode this week, two of the guests mentioned this as a rave for the week. Now I had planned on seeing it later on, but when a window opened up, we dove through based largely on the positive word of mouth. I will say that the movie is entertaining and there are some good laughs to be had here. I don’t want to oversell it however because while it is worthy, it is not something that requires an immediate watch.

The trailer introduces the concept pretty well, but like a lot of trailers, it also gives away a couple of the better gas or “tag” lines from the movie. When you see the phrase “based on a true story” in the sales material for a movie, you should always be cautious about believing too much of what you see. The article that this film is based on was in the Wall Street Journal back in 2013. I suspect that the emotional depth that this film goes for toward the end was better covered by the Journal, because you can clearly see what some of the embellishments in this story are .

Five adult friends have continued a game of Tag that they have played in the month of May for 30 years. That is the premise of the article, and that there were sometime elaborate tricks played to tag the next person, some of which do get used in the movie. What is certainly been added is the notion that one player has never been tagged and that the group members will resort to physical aggression in pursuit of the game. Basically, the whole of Jeremy Renner’s character. “Jerry” is the master of the game and he also happens to be a fitness guru who knows six different types of martial arts and participates in “free style running” as a hobby. This is the material that clearly marks this as a movie entertainment rather than an essay on friendship and the factors that sustain it.

I think Renner is an excellent actor, and he makes some very interesting choices when choosing his movies. Having been tapped to be in the Avenger’s films [except Infinity War] he has done serious work, like his awards worthy performance in last year’s “Wind River“,  but he has also made films that are clearly just commercial projects with some schlock thrown in, “The House” or “Hansel and Gretel :Witch Hunters“. “Tag” falls somewhere in the middle. There is a theme here that has some depth to it, this mostly comes out in the last twenty minutes of the movie, but there is a lot of movie wise guy cleverness that also takes up a bunch of screen time. For example, Renner internal monologues his responses to the various attempts to tag him. He sounds like Robert Downey Jr. in his Sherlock Holmes mode. It is completely unrealistic but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm and Hannibal Buress play the pursuers, each with quirks and motivations that add something amusing to the story. Johnson portrays the future of those states with legal pot businesses, a customer who has lost motivation to do anything else. Hamm is the successful executive who can’t let his failure to tag his friend go. Buress is an emotional cripple who gets the least about of backstory but who does get several nice lines during the game. Helms however is the main protagonist and he has played this part in “The Hangover”, “We’re the Millers” and others for a decade now. He is a pro at these parts, you know exactly what to expect from him. Isla Fisher gets a chance to recapture the mania of her performance in “Wedding Crashers” as the wife of Helm’s character and an even more competitive person than her husband. Leslie Bibb lampoons a dozen characters she has played on television or in movies with her needy version of Renner’s bride to be.

There is not really one of those mid credit sequences or post credit coda’s that dominate the comic book movies these days, but if you leave when the credits start, you will miss two big laughs. Renner and the rest of the men do a version of the Crash Test Dummies song from the 80s. Renner can actually sing but it is still funny. There is one final touch at the end of the song that will bring a smile to your face as well.

Chappaquiddick

Over the weekend, I saw two films. One made me clench my arms and legs, bite my lip and hold onto my seat. The second made me sick to my stomach. This is a paraphrase of what my daughter said after seeing Chappaquiddick. This straightforward retelling of the tragedy from 1969, should enrage, depress and gut punch you in a way that is a lot less enjoyable than a horror film. This episode from the life of a lionized political figure should cause some serious reassessment of his place in the pantheon of Kennedy family heroes. Ted Kennedy may have grown from this time to represent something more in political fields, but the social reputation he had towards the end of his life  suggests that he had the same aura of entitlement that lead to the disgraceful events depicted in this movie.

The film does not really depict anything that was not known about the events leading up to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. There was a party, he drove her to meet the ferry, he was flustered on the road and seen driving erratically by a local police officer, then drove down an unpaved road and off the side of a bridge that had no guardrail. Ted Kennedy got out of the car, she did not. Some officials believe she had suffocated rather than drowned. It is possible had they been called earlier, she could have been rescued or maybe she was already dead. There was no autopsy. Ted Kennedy did not report the accident for nine hours, by that time it had already been discovered by others. Kennedy denied drinking or driving under the influence, but ten hours after the accident, BAC tests were not likely to discover much. Before he contacted authorities, Kennedy contacted his group of political advisers, his friends and his family. There was some talk of saying that she was driving, but the Senator did not make that claim to the police.

The visualization of all the events in the film seems to be as objective as possible. This movie is not a hit piece, no suggestion of a sexual encounter is made, and most of the aftermath is public record. Some phone calls and conversations between Kennedy and his Father are dramatized. If there is a sense of the melodramatic it is in those moments, which are of course the most speculative. Everything else demonstrates how political necessity trumped justice in this case. Within a week Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and got a two month suspended sentence. One thing the film definitely gets right is that much of the news impact of this event was washed away in the other news story of the day, man first stepping on the moon. The media did address the accident, but it was mostly willing to let the explanations of public officials who had connections to the Kennedy family, go by without much follow up.

Actor Jason Clarke, who coincidentally was born the day before the events depicted in this film, portrays Ted Kennedy and does a solid job. While not a perfect physical match, he seems to have the same sort of expressive face as Kennedy and his accent and vocals match the Senators without being mimicking. The screenplay highlights the self centered attitude and actions taken by the Senator. The suggestion is that he did not like being managed, but that he was not capable of managing himself. The ridiculous neck brace that he wore in public to the funeral of Miss Kopechne is emblematic of how important it was to listen to advisers with better political instincts. Clarke almost makes Kennedy a figure of more than self-pity, even though as is pointed out by his friend, cousin and political retainer, “you are NOT the victim.” Kennedy was surrounded by friends who gave him good advice, and they were lawyers including a U.S. Attorney. He ignored their pleas and made things worse. Clarke uses his narrow eyes and gaping mouth to convey Kennedy’s befuddlement over his own stupidity.

If there is a moral conscience to the film it is Ed Helms as cousin Joe Gargan. Helms conveys the loyalty of a friend with the pragmatics of the circumstances. Every time he thinks the Senator is getting it right, he will end up being disappointed.  You can see his growing disdain for the choices that are being made and when he ultimately ends up holding the cue cards for the supposedly “from the heart” moment of Kennedy’s television address, the visual loss of respect on his face shows that Helms is in fact a good actor, capable of much more than the comedies he is known for. Clancy Brown makes an imposing Robert McNamara, the second portrayal of this figure on screen in the last two months. Bruce Dern is suitably old, and quiet as Joseph Kennedy Sr., who is presented as having little respect for his youngest son.  The politics of personal destruction, which is the current game plan of most politicians these days, may not have started here, but this is where it grew up. Spin management requires an active and immediate response. Too bad for Mary Jo Kopechne that Senator Kennedy did not learn those lessons before he drove off the bridge.