Thursday, September 21, 2017

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” – It sucked, but not because it’s a sequel.

Just before the movie It released and shattered box office records, a bunch of Chicken Littles wrote a bunch of articles bemoaning the poor summer box office returns, reheating a classic groupthink explanation for those poor returns. Variety provided a great example of this intellectual emptiness, stating “Yes, all the aforementioned titles are reboots or part of a major franchise. Yes, that’s precisely what summer ticket sales indicate audiences are tired of.” Really? That must mean the highest-grossing movies of the year aren’t reboots, sequels, or franchise entries. Strange, that list isn’t mentioned or referenced in the article, so we’ll have to go somewhere else and look and, oh…

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. The Fate of the Furious
3. Despicable Me 3
4. Wolf Warriors 2
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
7. Wonder Woman
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
9. Logan
10. Transformers: The Last Knight


Huh. Not one of those movies is even remotely new material. But, surely those movies at least have lower grosses than the top films from last year. Checkiiiinnnnggg, nope, pretty much the same numbers and the top two movies this year eclipsed the top two from last year (which were also not original). Oh, wow, we still have Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Star Wars VIII, and Pitch Perfect 3 left this year?

After reading several more piles of similar drivel, I starting writing up a rant in my head to counter them, but came across a piece in The Atlantic that seemingly stole the rant right out of my brain. Without reciting the entire article, the author makes very good points about how nobody complains about television shows being recycled. I’d like to take that argument down some parallel roads. Nobody ever had a good first date, then turned down a second date because it featured the same people. Nobody ever ate a good slice of pizza and turned down a second slice because it was made with the same ingredients. Nobody ever watched a sporting event and vowed never to watch another game from the sport again because now they know what to expect. Nobody ever had sex and turned down a second romp because been there, done that. I’d bet my house that if you haven’t expressed that very same “Hollywood is just reboots and sequels” cliché, you’ve heard at least seventeen other people say it. And every single time it sounds just as vapid.

Two people nobody wanted to see in this film.

With all that in mind, wow, did Kingsman: The Golden Circle sequel suck. The first movie received well-deserved accolades and reviews and the sequel takes all of that goodwill and wipes its ass with it. Movies like this are one of the reasons why the aforementioned cliché won’t die. But it didn’t suck because it was a sequel. It sucked because it was a poorly written and lazy movie. What it did do that a lot of other crappy sequels have done is completely fail to understand what made the original so likeable. After watching the original, you almost undoubtedly reminisced about the church scene, the bar fight scene, the chick with the sword legs, or everyone’s head exploding into a shower of fireworks. It was the perfect blend of insanity, political commentary, comedy, and action. The Golden Circle is none of those things, barely even trying to be at times.

(SPOILER ALERT)

The best way to describe the components of The Golden Circle is watered down. As stupid as Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp was in the first film, he was at least a great villain in all other respects. This time, we have Poppy Adams, a bland villain phoned in by Julianne Moore with no interesting or memorable characteristics. Poppy is the head of a drug cartel that makes $250 billion per year and makes her headquarters in some Cambodian ruins partially made over to look like a 1950s era main street. Hilarious, right? Also, she is stupid. I don’t mean just the character in general, but she’s actually written to come off as really stupid. Early on, she blathers about how humans can’t be trusted and we meet her robot dogs, robot hair stylist, and…no other robots. $250 billion a year can buy a lot of robots, so why does she still have so many humans working for her? This contradiction is punctuated when she forces a henchman to feed another henchman into a meat grinder. And her evil plot? She has laced all of her drugs with a poison that gives people blue veiny rashes, causes them to dance, paralyzes them, then kills them and told the leaders of the world that she will release the antidote once they legalize all drugs. Her stated motivation is to be a legitimate businesswoman so she can move out of Cambodia. Think about that for a second. If her cartel was a country, it would have the 45th highest GDP in the world, but she decided to risk it all by stealing the Joker’s plot from Batman so people would like her. I never thought I’d miss the lisp.

We're laughing because we can't figure out how you won an Oscar.

Then there are the characters. Remember all the ones you liked from the first movie? Well, too bad, all of them are quickly and unceremoniously killed in the first half hour except Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). I’m not counting Princess Tilde (Hannah Alstrom) because I honestly do not remember her in the first movie. At all. Not even a little bit. Also, Colin Firth is brought back to life by a magic, rubber head wrap because science (he was shot through the eye and brain in the first film and was definitely dead). Or director/writer Matthew Vaughn loves soap operas. Either way, it was a poor writing decision (and I like Colin Firth). All of the dead are replaced with cardboard cutouts played by a couple of Oscar winners (Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and Elton John), Channing Tatum, and that guy who played the Red Viper in Game of Thrones (Pedro Pascal). What’s that? I made up the Elton John part? I most certainly did not. I’ll have you know he delivered the best performance of the film…and that’s really sad.

(Note: All kidding aside, Sir Elton really did outperform everyone else in this movie, maybe because he was the only who realized how truly insipid the screenplay was and really had fun with it.)

The common thread is that the writing is what you’d expect from a ten-year-old second grader. Go ahead and do the math; I’ll wait. Throughout the bloated 141-minute running time, bad dialogue competes with stupid code names which fight with pointless actions that are stomped on by humorless jokes, all of which don’t look so bad next to the mind-numbing science/gadgets and soulless love story. Want some examples?
• Eggsy steps on a land mine despite having a mine detector.
• Poppy has kidnapped Elton John (playing himself) and her two robot dogs are named Benny and Jet. (Side note: COME ON!!!! Tiny and Dancer are the two obvious joke names for two killer robot dogs.)
• The Kingsmen are named after Knights of the Round Table, which is clever. The Statesmen are named after liquor, which is not clever. Plus, they are not even consistent - Halle Berry is codenamed Ginger Ale.
• Eggsy calls his girlfriend to tell her he has to sleep with a girl for his job, thus setting off the rom-com misunderstanding.
• Immediately after that call, Eggsy fingers the girl with a tracking condom on his finger (I wish I was making that up) because “it has to be in a mucous membrane.” To top it off, this scene somehow features zero nudity (the girl is in her underwear and Eggsy is fully clothed).
• In order to force a bar fight into the film (ala the last film), after a conversation in a bar between the agents, a random barfly stands up after a short silence and, with exactly zero provocation or even eye contact with the agents, yells at the “faggots to get out of the bar.” Nevermind, the wildly inappropriate and out-of-place usage of that slur (another thoughtless writing choice), you could all but see a cue card for the guy to pick that fight in order to show us that Whiskey (ugh) can CGI-twirl a rope and whip.
• The Statesmen have baseball grenades.
• Merlin makes a point of grabbing a gigantic knife before the climax, only to be killed before getting to use it.
• The traitor (of course there is a traitor) wants to prevent everyone dying from the poison from being saved because his girlfriend was killed in the crossfire of two meth addicts shooting at each other.

Want to see my whip?

It’s important to know that I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, there are very few movies I’ve hated. Hating a movie and criticizing a movie for being garbage are two different things. My friend said he was at least kind of entertained and I can respect that. I’ve been plenty entertained by terrible movies, too. Unlike during my screening of American Assassin, I took some notes (no light pen required) to capture corpse count (102, not counting the robots) and novelty deaths (shoved in a meat grinder, impaled by a ten-foot tall scissors, cut in half by Whiskey’s magic lasso) because those things tend to make purposely absurd movies more fun. I also jotted down some quotes, one of which sums up this movie nicely: “That’s the first decent shit I’ve had in three weeks.” I couldn’t agree more.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and stop saying you hate sequels. You don’t hate sequels; you just hate bad movies.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

“American Assassin” - Mmmmm. Ears.

Long live the 80’s. When the climax of American Assassin completed, I immediately knew I would be writing a review in Ruthless Review’s 80’s Action Movie format. American Assassin checks off all the boxes and even reminds us of other standard components - the training montage, bomb timers, and crazy Michael Keaton, among others. Unfortunately, I can’t do the format true justice because I wasn’t prepared for it going into the film. Specific things like post-mortem one-liners and corpse count require taking notes and I do not take notes at screenings because I don’t want to be that really annoying guy with the light-up pen. I’ll do my best, and I promise when American Assassin is released on DVD, I will revisit this review.

(Side note: I also write for RuthlessReviews.com, so using this format is both approved and encouraged.)

(SPOILER ALERT)

Tagline:
Assassins aren’t born. They’re made.

Entire Story in Fewer Words than are in this Sentence:

Revenge is a dish best-served nuked.

Homoeroticism:
Much more subtle than an 80’s action flick, but you can see it if you squint. There are two gorgeous women in the film who are given very little to do and are killed to provide motivation for the hero, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien). The first is Katrina (Charlotte Vega), Rapp’s girlfriend, who is on the screen just long enough to be seen in a bikini while accepting Rapp’s marriage proposal, then shot in the heart by terrorists. Love between a man and a woman is literally killed in this film. The second woman is Annika (Shiva Negar), whose job within special agent Stan Hurley’s (Keaton) black ops team is to be hot. To be fair, she does get to kill a couple people, but the moment she shows tenderness toward Rapp, Rapp suspects her of being a double agent and nearly drowns her in a bathtub to get a confession out of her. She’ll shoots herself in the face for no reason other than to clear a path for Rapp and Ghost to get it on. Finally, Rapp has two signature fight moves - grabbing another man’s knife blade when it’s thrust at him and wrapping his legs around his male opponent’s head. Like I said, you have to squint a bit.

If anything, this movie isn’t interested in sexual innuendo at all, but does have all kinds of daddy issues. Stan Hurley is the surrogate father to a bunch of CIA, special operations soldiers that he personally tortures/trains at his secluded cabin in the woods. The rogue agent/villain’s, Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), entire plan is a revenge plot for Hurley abandoning Ghost on a previous mission. Even the deputy CIA director, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), can’t have a conversation with Stan without mentioning her dead father. Annika is working for her uncle, Kennedy is trying to impress her much older, male boss, and Rapp is trying to prove to Hurley and Kennedy he can get the job done. There’s really no time for homoeroticism when everyone is trying to make a father figure proud.

So pretty. So dead.

Corpse Count:
Dozens of tourists are murdered on a beach right at the start of the film, punctuated by Katrina’s death. Counting deaths in that scene would be difficult, as would the scene shortly following that in which a bunch of terrorists, including Rapp’s revenge target, are killed by special ops while Rapp is tied up in a chair. We know how many are in the room, but not how many are in the facility. The rest of the movie is filled with on-screen deaths that are somewhat sporadic and easily counted. I estimate Rapp’s body count at 8-12 and Ghost’s the same. In the spirit of J.J.’s NFL gambling pieces, let’s set the over/under for confirmable deaths in the film at 45 and remind Kevin that light is not needed to make tick marks on paper in the dark.

Novelty Deaths:
Rapp remembers one of Hurley’s training lessons and pushes a knife through that little soft spot in a bad guy’s throat. The terrorist Rapp is obsessed with killing experiences a death that’s more surprising than novel, but definitely memorable. But I’m going with Annika putting a knife through a guy’s foot, slamming her hand back onto that knife after taking a couple punches, and ending the dude. It’s not all that novel, but she owns it.

Was There a Stupid Chief?
Kennedy has a hunch that Rapp is “the one,” refusing to listen to Hurley on multiple occasions that Rapp isn’t ready. But when has that ever stopped the stupid chief? “I want him on this mission,” she barks at Hurley and Rapp almost immediately vindicates Hurley’s warning, disobeying orders. Kennedy is all bark and no bite, hurling F-bombs when she wants to be taken seriously, and reminding Hurley “that’s an order.” Hurley is running the show and getting things done, but everyone has a stupid chief they answer to.

Hey chief.

Post-Mortem One-Liners:
Does screaming at a guy, as Annika does, count? You’re right - no. There aren’t any post-mortem one liners and, if there are, they weren’t worth repeating. However, Hurley does grace us with a good line right after biting Ghost’s ear off, “Three - never get too close.” This is preceded by Keaton reminding us how well he does crazy. Think about every scene where someone bites a chunk off someone else and immediately spits it out. Bruce McClane biting part of Colonel Stewart’s cheek off in Die Hard 2 comes to mind. Conversely, Hurley stares with the look of a lunatic in his eyes at a wounded Ghost while happily continuing to chomp on Ghost’s severed cartilage. “You want to get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!”

More Quotes and One-Liners:
Hurley had a few, including some tips for Ghost as Ghost is torturing him. But I’ll be damned if I can remember them well enough to quote. How about we call this one TBD and move on after I give you the one (really dumb) quote I remember.
• “If the bomb had exploded above the surface, I don’t think we would have made it.” – Commander of the Sixth Fleet.

I don't have more quotes, so here's a picture of two gorgeous spies trying to fit in.

Stupid Political Content:
In case you were in a coma during the last two years, one of the 80’s most loathsome, yet popular, people is now the President of the United States. Right now, the United States is its own 80’s action film, complete with a madman threatening nuclear war. Among other things, he and his party desperately want you to believe the Iran nuclear deal is the worst decision since Captain Smith lit the last two boilers. American Assassin posits the idea that the nuclear deal forced Iranian hardliners to pursue secret nuclear weapons, sprinkling in that they obtained weapons grade material from the Russians. As is standard procedure for the modern Republican party, facts are for hippie, socialist liberals and stories concocted from thin air by plutocrats are for “real” Americans. Ignore the fact that the Iranians have kept their word and U.N. weapons inspectors have verified that fact. Those non-Christian, non-white fuckers want you dead and only a reality TV host and secret agents with PTSD, serious daddy issues, and an unlimited budget can save you.

Was There an Atomic Blast at the End?
Somewhere off the coast of Italy, a lot of marine life has been extinguished or irradiated. Ghost wants to detonate a homemade nuclear weapon in the middle of the U.S. Sixth Naval Fleet, but can’t beat Rapp with only one good ear. Luckily, Ghost set a timer that doesn’t have a blue or a red wire, so the next best option is for Rapp to get it as far as possible from the fleet before it detonates. Rapp hurls the bomb into the ocean with two minutes left on the clock and we are treated to an underwater nuclear explosion. A giant water sinkhole appears, followed by a wet mushroom cloud, blast wave, and tsunami. Clearly, a lot of time was spent on rendering this scene and explains why no time was devoted to novelty deaths.

Hey dad.

How Bad Was it Really?
I was into this movie for the majority of the film. Keaton is fantastic, the fight scenes are good, the story flows really well until close to the end, and Rapp and Hurley are good characters. The film lost me when Annika was revealed to be an Iranian agent planted on Hurley’s team, then revealed to be working toward the same goal of thwarting the hardliners. If she had the same mission as Hurley’s team, why not just work together openly from the start? Oh, right - see Stupid Political Content above. The effects of the nuclear explosion on the ships of the fleet were pretty bad too, defying physics in more than one way.

Special Ruthless Ratings –or- What I Learned From American Assassin:
• The blast wave from a nuclear weapon can rip the conning tower off a destroyer, but not the fighter jets tied to the deck of an air craft carrier.
• Grabbing combat knives by the blade does not cut your hands.
• Michael Keaton can get nuts with the best of them.
• The best way to secure a prisoner is to clamp one arm in a vice and hoist him up by the other arm.
• Water blocks the EMP blast of a nuclear detonation.
• Always protect your ears.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back and remember to bring a pen and paper, just in case.

Friday, September 8, 2017

“It” – Less is more.

In one of the weirder quirks of movie scheduling, two Stephen King adaptations released within a month of each other. The first - The Dark Tower - was a bit of a disappointment financially and a major flop among critics. Personally, I thought it was acceptable. Now comes a new take on It, one of King’s most famous books. If you are like me, you remember the 1990 miniseries version of It as being really good. It also helps that I was roughly the same age as the kids in the movie the first time I saw it, not to mention it scared the shit out of me, even after multiple viewings. So far, most critics have given the remake the thumbs up and, in a vacuum, so do I. It’s a solid horror movie with some legitimately scary scenes and good acting on the kids’ parts. But, this isn’t a vacuum and if you ask me which version is better, I’m going with the original. Maybe it’s just kid nostalgia, but this new version didn’t hit the same mark for me.

My first thought about this remake was how they could possibly do justice to the source material with a two-hour movie. To be fair, the original miniseries is only a hair over three hours, but it is amazing what good (or bad) filmmakers can do with forty-five extra minutes (the new version is two hours and fifteen minutes). Unlike the miniseries and the book, the remake doesn’t attempt to mesh the adult and child versions of the characters, choosing to focus solely on the events during their childhood. Don’t worry - a post-credits title card confirms that the adults will return to fight It, probably in 2019. The problem with cutting the adults is that much of the character development relies on the many transitions between the adults and the kids throughout the story. Watching John Ritter cower in fear at the mere mention of Pennywise returning is more powerful character-building than anything in this remake.

We're not ready to have the who did it best discussion yet (Tim Curry).

The character development is arguably the weakest part of this movie. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is mostly the character we remember. He’s the unofficial leader of the Loser’s Club (a name that is somewhat forced in this remake), has a stutter, is torn up after the death of his little brother, Georgie, and has a crush on Beverly (Sophia Lillis). However, he’s not the same powerful force that Jonathan Brandis depicted. New Bill is scrawny and never believable as any kind of match for the school bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), let alone Pennywise. His singular obsession with finding Georgie’s body consumes his character and the actions of the group. Gone is the deep sorrow and recovery he found in the bonds formed with the group in the original, which was much more relatable and sympathetic than this new Bill.

Beverly is probably the most fleshed-out character and this movie may have worked better had she been made the leader instead of Bill (a divergence from the source material that could have worked out really well). Everything about her is kept intact, with the exception of being sexualized quite a bit and given a bit of a bad-girl reputation (smoking, stealing, generally not giving a shit). This choice works well, especially when coupled with her sexually abusive and really creepy father. She is the one character who noticeably gets stronger after joining the group and does so naturally.

Unfortunately, the rest of the group aren’t nearly as well-defined as they should have been. One review I read wrote that several of them blend together. I realized how true that was thinking back about how long it took me to distinguish new Eddie (Jack Glazer) from new Richie (Finn Wolfhard). We just know Eddie as the little kid with the fat, overprotective mom and Richie as the kid that won’t shut up. We recognize Stan (Wyatt Oleff) due solely to his Jewish background – completely missing the straight-laced, fact-oriented personality whose denial of Pennywise nearly ends them all. Ben (Jeremy Taylor) doesn’t blend in to the others only because we know him as the fat, new kid. Shallowest of them all is Mike (Chosen Jacobs), whose sole purpose is be the grandson of a sheep rancher so he can provide a sheep-killing gun instead of a slingshot. But he’s still black, which is important because it pisses off Henry.

At least we know who those two are.

Speaking of Henry, talk about doing a menacing and scary character wrong. Original Henry was a slow burn, starting out as a typical, if not slightly more dangerous, bully and escalating to every kid’s true nightmare by the end of the childhood events. New Henry is already at 9.5-out-of-10 on the rage scale when we first meet him. The scene is still the same, with Henry (and his goons) grabbing Ben and threatening to carve his name into Ben’s stomach. In the original, the threat was terrifying enough, but this time Henry makes it as far as carving a full letter H, somehow making it less terrifying. Like with getting a shot at the doctor, the idea is far scarier than the actual occurrence and this movie forgot that. That 9.5 never goes lower, as Henry screams most of his dialogue and always looks like Al Pacino in Scarface (you know the scene).

And that’s really the crux of why this movie didn’t quite do it for me. More is not always better. Doubling down on singular traits is what shallow shit like Fast and Furious does, which brings me to Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Original Pennywise is the traditional trickster character, appearing as a clown because kids like clowns (despite modern pop-culture) and that is how Pennywise ensnares them. At times, he looks like a regular clown and is charming until Tim Curry kicks it into his evil gear. New Pennywise only has the one, evil gear and is so evil-looking he might as well be wearing a sign reading “keep back at least 200 feet.” Skarsgard spends the entire film staring out from underneath furrowed brows and mumble-hissing his lines. Yes, this is much more obviously scary Pennywise, but all of the nuance is gone. It works for this movie because that is likely what the director envisioned, but it only scares on a surface level.

I've got your nuance right here.

On the note of less-is-more, there are a couple of elements that stand out as poor creative decisions. The first is Pennywise’s “scary” teeth, which, thanks to CGI, appear to have been ripped out of a Langolier. The second are the decisions to show us things that the original only implied. The stomach carving, Pennywise biting off Georgie’s arm, and Pennywise clamping down on Stan’s face (which Stan miraculously survives) are just some of the examples. The third, and most glaring, is the rock fight scene. It’s put to rock music and incorporates slow motion shots and dumb slapstick humor. This was a pivotal scene in the original film and this new version treats it like drunk karaoke. There are also the standard horror movie clichés like the kids wandering off in a haunted house and Pennywise inexplicably not killing the children despite having at least three of them dead to rights (again, he literally has his teeth clamped down over Stan’s face at one point). They even shoe-horn in the line “beep-beep Richie,” which will make zero sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the original or read the book because, in this film, Pennywise says it to Richie while chasing him and it’s the only time the line is used in the entire film. It literally makes no sense in this context, even as a line from a clown.

I realize I’m being harsh on a movie that I said is a pretty solid horror flick and you might think it’s all because of how I feel about the original and the book, but you’d be wrong. This movie’s issues are its own and would still be there if the original and source material never existed. They just look worse in comparison. On the flipside, they kept the story intact and the story is great. Between that and the good scary scenes (notably, the garage-projector scene, the synagogue scene, and the clown-room scene), I can honestly say it’s a solid movie that’s not without some issues. And, yes, I do miss Tim Curry. Like I said, nostalgia.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back and hope they do Pennywise right in Chapter 2.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

“The Only Living Boy in New York” – Pretentious is as pretentious does.

It is not a good sign for a movie when one of the first things the audience hears is how New York just isn’t New York any more. I’m not sure if New Yorkers know this, but the vast majority of people in this country don’t live in New York City. Weird, right? In fact, most of that majority have never even been there, so the statement is completely meaningless to most people other than to reinforce how full of themselves are New Yorkers. To quote Siobhan Fallon Hogan from Fools Rush In, “Why does every guy from New York think there’s nothing west of the Hudson?” Exactly. Not only is The Only Living Boy in New York full of itself, but it’s also complaining about modern New York City as if 1970’s New York City was some quaint little town. If that’s not enough to immediately turn you off to this movie, wait until you meet the loathsome and vapid characters that dwell in this film.

Sure. That's culture.

(SPOILER ALERT because this movie deserves it.)

Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is an early twenty-something pining for his friend, Mimi Pastori (Kiersey Clemons). Mimi is your classic hot girl stringing along her kind-of-dorky friend because she’s that shallow. But, they had a “magical” night together and Thomas is hooked. After learning that she is going off to Croatia to study, Thomas goes home to his apartment and meets W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), a new tenant. We also know W.F. is the narrator waxing nostalgic at the opening of the film because nobody else sounds like Jeff Bridges. W.F. immediately starts nosing into Thomas’ business and the first guess you have is that he is a psychologist. Oh, if only.

Soon thereafter, we meet Thomas’ parents, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) and Judith (Cynthia Nixon) at a dinner party where the entire table is reiterating Gerald’s opening narration about the loss of New York’s “good” culture. It took incredible restraint for me to not shout “fuck you!” at the screen. A short while later, Mimi and Thomas are at dinner when Thomas spots his father kissing the neck of Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), who is definitely not Cynthia Nixon. Thomas becomes obsessed and starts stalking Johanna, but is found out almost immediately. Not only does she know he’s following her, but she knows Thomas is Ethan’s son. After a couple more run-ins, they start having sex. At this point in the movie, you should just leave because this movie only gets more disappointing. If not, it’s also incredibly predictable. Seriously, leave the theater.

She's just not that into you. Take the hint.

If it’s not gross enough that Johanna is knowingly sleeping with father and son, she also seems to be in on the secret that gets revealed at the end of the movie. But, since this movie is telegraphing every move, you should guess it the moment we find out W.F. is a writer and whose new book is about Thomas. She is truly an awful person and when she professes to be in love with both of them, you’ll want to puke in your popcorn bucket. That’s why the bucket is so big, by the way. And Thomas isn’t any better. He can’t take the hint with Mimi, decided screwing his dad’s mistress was a good idea despite insisting how much his dad’s affair would devastate his mother, and doesn’t even seem to have a job while complaining about Ethan trying to help get him a job. If you’re keeping score, that’s one incestuous mistress, one douche-nozzle son, one incredibly nosy neighbor, one cheating father, and one crappy friend. Kind of hard to care about a city’s past when this is the cross sample of people who talk about it.

Thankfully, this movie is less than ninety minutes, so I walked out of it with little more than a shrug. Further contemplation made me realize how far it had its own head stuck up its ass, but that’s not what makes it a subpar movie. That honor goes to the uninspired script, including a lot of telling us things when it should be showing us things, and a cast of characters that are about as undeveloped as you can get. Generally, a movie should want us to sympathize or relate with its characters, and I’m guessing there are very few people out there sleeping with their dad’s mistress. Throw on the predicted reveal and the explanation of how it happened and you will wonder what you did in life to deserve watching this movie. Unless you are the person complaining about all the things that are gone now - you deserve it.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and don’t forget to root against the Yankees.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

“Wind River” – The Great White Hunter

The last shot of the movie Wind River has a title card stating that no data is kept tracking the number of missing Native American girls. This is a strange way to end a movie that isn’t about missing girls, but is about solving the murder of a Native American girl. It also seems to be trying to say something about whom to blame for the sorry state of reservations, but it’s really not clear who. The movie throws shade at both the local Natives and the white man, then quietly drops the conversation. For an otherwise great movie, its ability to convey a strong social message is fairly lacking.

(Early SPOILER ALERT.)

I don’t want to get political with this movie, but considering the attention being paid lately to Hollywood whitewashing, it’s worth a mention. This isn’t the typical whitewashing in that no white people were cast in roles that would be better served by actors of a different ethnicity. In this case, it’s the literal and figurative depiction of the great white hunter saving the day for the Native Americans. Not only is the protagonist a white guy (Jeremy Renner) hired to hunt predatory animals, but he’s literally dressed in all white for much of the film and ends up hunting the murderer. Top that off with a tribal police force consisting of half a dozen cops who come off as idiots, led by a wise-cracking, wizened old police chief (Graham Greene) who long ago forgot what police procedure consists of, and of course the white man must be the savior. It’s 2017, but we’re still getting movies with this kind of messaging. Ok, let’s move on now.

Literally.

While out hunting a mountain lion, Cory Lambert (Renner) comes across the body of a young woman in the snow in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation. He alerts the tribal police and they call the FBI, since a murder on a reservation is FBI jurisdiction. Wait, it is? Googling…Googling…yep, that’s true. In response, the FBI sends agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who might be the worst agent in the FBI. Or maybe she’s just really new. Except, she doesn’t know that it’s cold in Wyoming in the spring, which is the kind of thing an FBI agent should know prior to the academy. She claims to have been sent from the closest office – Las Vegas, Nevada. Googling…um, no. There are field offices in Denver and Salt Lake City, even three satellite offices in Wyoming, so I’m going to call bullshit on that one. To be fair, this was done to add more to the idea that she was out of her depth on this case (and that the white man couldn’t be bothered to send more than a token of help), but really this was just an excuse for showing Olsen in a thong (which I’m not complaining about, by the way). But again, 2017.

Through much of the film, the writer (Taylor Sheridan, also directing) goes out of his way to make sure we never forget that murder cases can’t be solved by police or FBI agents trained in investigative techniques, but only with the help of Salt-of-the-Earth guy. Corey is an expert tracker, so every clue in the investigation is found by Corey pointing at the snow and repeating to us that “the clues are all out there.” Basically, this consists of him pointing at very obvious snowmobile tracks that escape the sight of law enforcement and eventually lead to the climactic reveal. Kudos to Sheridan for religiously sticking to the tracker/hunter theme. Okay, I guess this movie is your typical murder mystery, but I promise it’s better than many others.

The one competent tribal cop.

The film is basically a drawn-out police procedural, but with much better acting and pacing. The pacing is especially good, never moving us too fast or too slow through the investigation and always breaking up the slow discovery scenes with bits of action. Strong camera work also helps put the audience into the hunt with the characters, though there is one scene that ruins the emotional beats with the always-obnoxious shaky-cam. There are also great emotional beats throughout the film that are placed perfectly. Olsen and Renner nail their roles, but the supporting cast, especially Greene and Gil Birmingham (the dead girl’s father), are just as noteworthy. Birmingham is in just two scenes, but he owns them. All of this leads into a great climax scene that comes in two parts. The first part is the revealing of the events leading to the girl’s death and the second part is the wrapping up of the investigation. These two parts are what make this movie and I promise they are worth the wait (and putting up with the political angle I mentioned earlier). Googling...googling…yep, most reviewers agree with me.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back and donate it to whatever charity is trying to help out reservation police. Apparently, they really need it (because they’re legitimately under-resourced).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

“The Dark Tower” – Adapt at your own risk.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. If you are a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, at the very least, you are probably going to be disappointed in the movie The Dark Tower. At the very most, you’re going to be pissed off for days, cursing Sony (the production company) and willing The Man in Black to pay visits to the director (Nikolaj Arcel) and writers (Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Arcel). And I would not blame you for hating this movie. When compared to the books, it’s a travesty, especially since you (and I) have been waiting for a film adaptation for decades. To say this movie is loosely based on the books is to abuse the word loosely. I’m sure, at this very moment, my writing colleague is tearing this movie a new ass hole in his review. But I’m not going to do that because I expected this would happen.

The Dark Tower literary series is a massive, sprawling epic covering eight whole books and tying into dozens more books. There is no chance in hell a 95-minute movie (I still can’t believe that length) could do any kind of justice to even a portion of a single Dark Tower novel, let alone the entire series. The first clue was in the title of this movie. The first novel is titled The Gunslinger, which means Sony had no intention of this film being anything more than a placation of clamoring fans. They figured they’d grab the iconic characters from the first book, include a bunch of things from throughout the series, toss in a bunch of additional Easter eggs for Stephen King fans, and call it a day. The strange thing is it turned out to be enough to placate me.

Just one of many placations.

(SPOILER ALERT. For the movie, not the books.)

Supposedly, production on a TV series is slated to begin in 2018, and if true, is the only good way to handle adapting the series. Like with Game of Thrones and Outlander, the only way to do the books justice is in super-long form television. That allows the show-runners to focus on all aspects of the writing rather than forcing them to cram things into what amounts to a two-part episode. Knowing that, it’s hard to get worked up over the latest example of Hollywood failing at adapting a beloved book. From a purely cinematic standpoint, The Dark Tower is an adequate movie.

Maybe I’m cutting the movie too much slack, but there isn’t anything in the film that is bad. In all honesty, they captured the plot of the entire series fairly well. All of the universes are protected and held together by a Dark Tower. Walter, a.k.a. The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), wants to destroy the Dark Tower so that the Crimson King can rule all. Roland Deschain, a.k.a. The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), wants to avenge the death of his father by killing Walter. Eventually, Roland accepts that the Dark Tower is more important than his vengeance. That’s all captured in this movie and, all things considered, is…well…adequate.

That's Roland alright.

I did mention the film features all of the major characters from The Gunslinger and that includes young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). Jake has psychic powers and Walter is hunting and capturing kids with those powers in order to assault the Dark Tower. This being a standard Hollywood action flick, Jake’s power is far beyond any other kid’s and Walter believes Jake is the key to finally bringing down the Tower. In another creative decision sure to piss off fans, Jake is this movie’s protagonist. That’s right, get all your cursing out now, I’ll wait. After some really quick character development, Jake ends up crossing through a portal into Roland’s world and the two of them journey together to stop Walter. It’s really that straight-forward of a movie, complete with the by-the-numbers hero’s journey. Again, adequate.

The slack I’m cutting is mainly for three reasons. One - the casting was very good. Idris Elba nails Roland and Tom Taylor is Jake to a tee. The two of them carry this movie and, despite the short running time, create decently fleshed-out characters. McConaughey is also good, but he didn’t quite make it all the way to menacing. Oh, he looks the part and comes close, but his Walter comes off a little flat. Making up for it, the folks playing Walter’s henchmen (the Low Men) really look the part, especially Abbey Lee Kershaw and Jackie Earle Haley, both playing Walter’s lieutenants.

They definitely look the parts.

Two - the way Roland interacts with his guns really sells how skilled he is. There are several different ways in which he can reload his revolvers and his marksmanship skills are second to none. Granted, the movie goes fairly stupid in also giving Roland super-powers (fast healing, enhanced strength, impervious to falling from tall heights). This feels like studio meddling, but Akiva Goldsman’s writing and producing credits indicates he might just be that bad a writer.

Third, and definitely the nerdiest, are those Easter eggs I mentioned earlier. I realize how manipulative those moves are in tricking fans into a more favorable view of the movie, but I’m owning it. The number 19, a low-rider Cadillac toy, a shout out to Pennywise, the Shine, a spider, 1408, roses, and probably others that I missed all had me grinning like an idiot.

The way I felt at the end of this film reminds me of how I felt after watching Ender’s Game. It’s missing a whole lot of what made the book such an incredible read, but at least they didn’t completely fuck it up. Yes, the big emotional moment from the book with Jake was missing from the film, but I saw the previews and I knew this movie was really only a token gesture at bringing King’s opus magnus to screen. It’s enough for me that Roland was written and portrayed well, that Walter was at least a formidable foe for Roland (despite the silly action movie ending), and that a bunch of fan nuggets were thrown in. I know I’m being much kinder to this movie than for many other movies, but, like I said, I’m owning my placation.

Rating: Unless you are in the outraged group of fans, ask for two dollars back.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

“Atomic Blonde” – Confusion and breasts.

It’s not often that I’m completely confused by my feelings for a movie, but Atomic Blonde is one of those instances. My immediate reaction at the end of the movie was “I think I liked it? Maybe?” It definitely had elements I liked and there weren’t any obvious (at least to me) plot holes, but I wasn’t satisfied by what I had seen. Very recently, I watched Get Out and my reaction to every reveal in the film was “Oooooohhhh…Whoa!...Oh man!” Etcetera. My reactions to the reveals in Atomic Blonde were much more “uuuhhhh...Wait, huh?...But then why...?” Etcetera. Of course, Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller, so maybe the confusion was intentional. Or, my brain is still on strike after being forced to sit through Valerian and the Way Too Long Title last week.

(SPOILER ALERT and do heed this warning. REVIEW SPOILER ALERT - I think this movie is worth a watch, so look away while you still can.)

I think my first problem with Atomic Blonde is completely subjective. Like with Baby Driver, it is impossible not to notice the music, but unlike with Baby Driver, the music is not woven into the story or relevant to the scenes. Atomic Blonde takes place in Berlin in 1989 (a few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall), so most of the music is garbage 80’s pop music (sometimes with German lyrics) that everyone waxes nostalgic about, but secretly hates. I on the other hand, openly hate that music and it’s basically what I grew up with in my early childhood (I’m currently 38 years old - you do the math). I did not care for the color palette of the film – which leaned heavily on neons and washed-out blues – nor the spray-painted stencil fonts of the title cards. If that’s your thing, great, but more importantly, what’s wrong with you?

There is literally no reason for her to pull her collar over her face.

My second problem is I think I need to see this movie again. The movie takes the saying “oh what a tangled web we weave...” to the extreme. Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI6 agent tasked with recovering a list of all agents before the Russians get their hands on it. Plus, there’s a mole/double-agent in the agency. It’s literally the plot of Mission: Impossible, but with boobs and a much shittier theme song. You read that right and there’s a scene I won’t spoil for you featuring Charlize Theron doing things you would never think an A-List actress would need to do at this point in her career. But I will tell you that scene is one of the scenes that never makes sense by the end of the film.

Broughton is supposed to meet up with Berlin Station Chief David Percival (James McAvoy), who was supposed to get the list from his inside man, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), but which was stolen from the spy Spyglass gave it to who was supposed to give it to Percival. Got that? See, I told you. And that’s the easy part. Broughton and Percival sorta-kinda work together, but it’s obvious from the start that Percival has his own agenda. In addition to them, a Russian KGB agent named Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Miller) is also trying to get the list and a French spy named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) is there because, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one. It’s not clear if Delphine is working on her own or with Percival, but we’re told multiple times that she is a rookie and in over her head so she shows us her boobs to distract us (and presumably Broughton, but also, maybe not). The film is basically the spy version of Duck, Duck, Goose where everyone is both a duck and a goose and Broughton gets the shit kicked out her. Except when she’s the goose, that is, and kills every duck that tapped her head. Still with me after that terrible analogy?

Dude, what happened to your face?

What’s confusing by the end of the film is that many of the character interactions don’t make much sense after all is revealed. Adding to the confusion (or subterfuge, if you buy what this film is selling), is that nearly everything we see happened in the past. Broughton is telling the entire story to her boss, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) while Gray’s boss, C (James Faulkner), looks on. Director David Leitch pulled this same technique in his only other directing stint (the terribly written, but decently choreographed John Wick), but this time you at least don’t know if Broughton completed her mission (whereas John Wick is a revenge story, so his being alive takes every ounce of suspense out of the film). So, you are left to wonder who the mole of Atomic Blonde is, if it’s someone in the debriefing room or someone in the story. But if there’s one thing Leitch is good at, it’s distracting the audience with very good action/fight scenes and naked people.

I’m tempted to lump this film in with Baby Driver as a movie that fails the substance-to-style ratio. The cynical side of me points to John Wick and wants to dump all over Atomic Blonde, but the optimistic side of me has tied that cynic to a chair and gagged him. Atomic Blonde’s characters have depth and intrigue and the movie sucks you into their world, even as the music threatens to wrench you right back out of it. Theron and McAvoy nail their roles and are very convincing in their fight scenes. I especially like how real the fights seem and how damaged the people are at the end of them. The makeup people deserve an award for making the beautiful Theron look like an extra from The Walking Dead by the time she ends her story. The moral of this story is that I’m willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt; that there might be things I missed that explain character connections that don’t appear to add up. I just don’t know if I can take the music again.

Rating: Ask for half your money back since you’ll have to see it twice.