MOVIE REVIEW: Tag

TAG (2018)

1 Hour and 40 Minutes (R)

Chris and Beef, two of the ten real life Tag Brothers (as they affectionately refer to themselves), opened my screening of the film by informing the audience of two things. First, much of what we were about to see really happened. In their 30 years of playing Tag the group frequently ran over innocent bystanders in hallways, used deception, wore costumes, and even had spouses sell them out to each other. And second, but most importantly, playing Tag wasn’t about the competition. It was about human connection and friendship.

That’s very sweet and all, but this is a comedy, and competition is funnier than brotherly love. The film spends its opening getting us right into the action. We’re introduced to the characters through, what else, efforts by one or more of them to tag another. Throughout the film these sequences are awesomely done. Often with a perfectly fitting rock or hip-hop song in the background, the action is fast, comical, and most of the time very believable. When the guys go after their nemesis Jerry (Jeremy Renner), however, the camera goes into slow motion and becomes ultra-stylized with Jerry narrating the attack is it progresses in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes putting clues together to solve a case. This heightening of senses does a great job of highlighting the fact that Jerry, who has never ever ever EVER been tagged, is truly a god among men when it comes to their game.

The cast as a whole does a great job of capturing who the guys grew up to be as adults, while also allowing for cinematic liberty to spice things up a bit. Randy (Jake Johnson) is the typical grungy stoner who can’t hold down a job or relationship and is too blunt (pun intended) for his own good. Callahan (Jon Hamm) is a successful CEO that hasn’t lost that childish aloofness and has a fake confidence behind his gorgeous face. Sable (Hannibal Buress) is the least defined as a character, but perhaps the most hilarious, dropping random philosophical thoughts and laugh-inducing observations on the regular. And the leader of the pack, the relentless and super competitive Hoagie (Ed Helms), perfectly shows us that part of our nature that refuses to lose to our friends and is driven to hold the group together at the same time. He’s the glue of the Tag Brothers clan and fittingly receives the most emotionally complete arc. The women in the film also bring some added flavor, primary among them Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher). She is super intense and as close to being part of the group as she can be, since an amendment to the game made it illegal for girls to join. She’s honestly the most memorable character of all and if she was to lead the rest of the ladies of the film in an estrogen-fueled sequel, I’d be all in for that.

If the film has a weakness, it is, for me at least, an over reliance on the potty and sexual humor commonly found in R-rated comedies these days. For sure, much of the dialogue here is probably how the guys talked, but it felt like the script pushed it overboard a few times, especially one recurring joke that involves the mother of one of the boys. Toning that back so that Tag could have been a more family-friendly affair wouldn’t have hurt the film at all. It also starts to feel a little bit long right as it begins to wrap things up. This was expected, though, as the film shines best in its tag sequences and that can only fill up so much of the space. Being able to relate to the characters was a huge plus. Scenes of them reuniting, rediscovering their childhood hangouts, making up new rules to their game on the fly, and generally expressing affection for each other silently through their competition felt very personal. Something about how these men stayed close into adulthood really connects, and I won’t be surprised at all if this film sparks games of Tag among friends all over the world, probably leading to plenty of injuries.

VERDICT

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Tag with the tight-nit group of childhood friends I grew up with, the many brothers that I made while spending a career in the U.S. Navy, or even my closest adult friends, all of whom I could imagine playing this game with me. But I did see it while seated next to the person I’ve been most competitive with in my life, and the one overpowering thought in my mind as the credits rolled was to slap her on the shoulder, leap over a row of theater seats, and sprint out of the theater as fast as I could. Honestly, I wish that I had. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “We don’t stop playing when we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.