Saturday, October 21, 2017

“The Snowman” – The Iceman Cometh.

Oh man, am I proud of that tagline. I always try to avoid using clunky puns in my taglines, and this movie just begs for something hacky like “This movie leaves everything out in the cold” or “You just got snowed in” or “’Snow joke this movie is bad.” For the record, those last two came from my wife and they are brilliantly awful. Basically, anything where the author is forcing a pun into a random sentence should be auto-deleted by whatever method they are using to write. That includes pens, by the way. On a related note, Val Kilmer is in this movie and now you know why that tagline is awesome. I wasn’t even sure he was still alive, especially after he was tricked into doing MacGruber. If you asked me to name a movie he was in after Red Planet in 2000, I would have blankly stared at you until you wondered if I had fallen asleep with my eyes open. That includes me completely forgetting he was in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2006), and I liked that movie. The point I’m trying to make is great job, KJ. Why, thank you, KJ.

But seriously, what the hell happened to Kilmer’s career? His IMDB page claims he hasn’t stopped acting, but reads like a bad recommendation list on Craig’s List. Kilmer was one of my favorite actors, and I guess I assumed he just retired. Imagine my surprise to see his name in the opening credits of The Snowman. I thought “Oh hey! Cool. Val Kilmer. I’ll be your huckleberry.” Now, imagine my surprise when something that can only be described as the physical-embodiment-of-a-witch’s-curse-on-Val-Kilmer appeared on the screen. And to add insult to injury, the role was just barely above glorified cameo. As I sat through one of the worst films of 2017, I was devastated to see what The Iceman had been relegated to, and I wondered what he did that caused his career to swan dive into a wood chipper.

Symbolism.

So, yeah, The Snowman is the kind of shitty movie that one would expect to see a former A-lister in because he crapped in some studio head’s cereal, so I’m hoping Val will clear up my confusion (call me!). However, that doesn’t explain Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, James D’Arcy or Toby Jones headlining a film where the lead character’s name is Harry Hole. No, I did not make that up and, no, this movie is not a porno. To be fair, the series of novels the film is based on (particularly a novel with the same title) features that same character with that same name, plus are Norwegian (the author is Jo Nesbo), but come on. There is a zero percent chance that less than five fake vaginas or butts were left in Fassbender’s trailer.

I have to believe that the book is orders-of-magnitude better than this film, but I don’t speak or read Norwegian, and if there’s an English translation of the book, I wouldn’t know about it. Call it a hunch. I did read the wiki page for the novel and, based on the plot synopsis, it’s a safe assumption the screenwriters didn’t read the novel either. Hell, the marketing people didn’t even bother reading the screenplay because the movie poster says “Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues,” even though nothing even remotely similar to that happens in the movie. Speaking of which…

You know what is never in this movie? This.

(SPOILER ALERT, but please keep reading in order to save ten dollars or more).

I thought this movie was going to be another Silence of the Lambs or Se7en type of movie, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, there’s a serial killer and a cop investigating the murders, but any similarity ends there, including a sympathetic protagonist. Hole (Fassbender) is an alcoholic detective who is only still employed because of his legendary past. Two of the first times we see him, he is passed out in a public place, lucky that nobody lights a match near him to keep him from freezing to death (the film takes place in Oslo). Want to know anything about Harry’s past cases that are so famous they are literally studied at the police/detective academy? Too bad. Wondering why supercop is a fall-down drunk? Synd (that’s Norwegian for “too bad”). Want to know if all houses in Norway include an interior window into the master bedroom? Too ba…wait, what? Really? Were those windows in the books and that’s actually a thing in Norway? No wonder the kid in the beginning of the film became a serial killer with mommy issues. It’s a better explanation than because his mom tried to kill them both by parking her car on a frozen lake (in the slowest ice break you will ever see).

(Note: seriously, those windows are in the movie. One of them is in the wall between the master bedroom and little girl’s bedroom. Either parents use that window to scare their kids away from ever having sex or figure it’s easier just to show them the birds and the bees talk.)

I’d like to tell you that any of the other characters are more interesting, but then I’d also like to tell you that wasn’t really Val Kilmer in the movie, but Jame Gumb wearing Kilmer’s skin as a suit. Ferguson plays Katrine Bratt, a detective assigned to the department investigating a 9-year-old cold case from Bergen, Germany. When a woman is reported missing, she connects the old case (in which a woman was murdered and partially dismembered) with the missing woman based on - I swear to you I’m not making this up - the old murder and the new disappearance happening during a snow storm. This connection is so stupid, Harry even calls her out on it, pointing out that it snows a lot in Northern Europe. As the movie reveals the actual motivations and M.O. of the killer, we learn that connection is indeed flat-out wrong. Of course, it turns out she’s out for revenge on Arve Stop (Simmons) because she believes Stop is responsible for her father’s death because her father was investigating the cold case before it became a cold case. Did you follow all that? In short, she’s a bad detective bent on murder.

You see, it is all about falling snow.

The parade of bad characters continues while the plot contorts itself into a Dali painting. Stop may or may not be raping orphans and abortion patients, but definitely has a weird phone fetish and is leading the bid for Oslo to be awarded the Winter Cup Games (don’t ask). Hole’s ex-girlfriend (ex-wife?), Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is kind of sympathetic until bad scene #78, where she goes to Harry’s apartment to yell at him for forgetting his camping trip with her son, then hikes up her skirt and rubs around on Harry’s bumpy part for a minute because her live-in boyfriend, Mattias (Jonas Karlsson), goes to a lot of conferences. Then, because this really isn’t porn, she just stops all the rubbing before the movie has the decency to remove either actor’s clothing, which should have been the reward to the audience for sitting through 119 minutes of reheated leftover Hot Pockets.

At this point, you are probably just hoping to hear about whatever clever thing the movie does with the snowmen, but clever is wildly optimistic. As I noted earlier, there is no cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the police, despite what the movie poster promises. The killer is never taunting Harry or leaving clues. The killer leaves a snowman sometimes, the body of a snowman with a human head sometimes, the head of snowman and a human body sometimes, and sometimes just builds a snowman on the back of other snowmen. Most of the time, the snowman goes completely unnoticed by Harry and Katrine, if it is there at all (the partial snowmen melt before the cops show up). The snowmen in the movie serve the same purpose as every snowman you have ever built - decoration or building something to distract your mind from dwelling on just having seen your parents 69-ing it through the Norwegian viewing window.

For about four minutes after the movie ended, I tried to talk myself into the movie not being that bad, but my friends immediately started crapping on the film, which is usually my lead. But can you really blame me for hesitating? Fassbender and Simmons are amazing actors, D’Arcy and Jones are great character actors, Ferguson shows a lot of promise, and Val freaking Kilmer. Every one of them gave it the old college try, but the college was Trump U. Bad writing, undeveloped characters, sluggish pacing, cliched dialogue and motivations, and false promises combined to form a movie so bad that not even Kilmer’s doppelganger should have been forced to appear in it.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, plus the last fifteen years of Val Kilmer’s career.

Monday, October 16, 2017

“The Foreigner (2017)” – Jackie Chan for the win.

Of all the actors you’ve seen in a film or television, can you name one that appears to love their job more than Chan? You know when you hear he’s in a new movie, you are in. You don’t even need to know the title; just when the film opens in a theater near you. Thus, I present to you The Foreigner, a movie in which a 94-year old Chan fights the IRA.

Okay, so Chan is actually just 63, but the make-up people for The Foreigner made him look old enough to have witnessed the birth of flight. Don’t worry - he still gets to kick some ass. Also, IRA means what you think it means - Irish Republican Army. This film is based on a book published in 1992 called The Chinaman by Stephen Leather. If you know anything about the IRA besides bombings it is that the official peace between the IRA and the United Kingdom happened in 1998. Having been written prior to 1998, the plot of the novel is the Chinaman getting revenge for the death of his daughter from one of the bombings. The film takes place in 2017 and, this being 2017, a couple of things were changed about the story to make it current.

The Vietnamese Chinaman Foreigner.

The first thing they changed was the title because the main character in the novel is Vietnamese. While the movie mostly features Brits and Irish, the productions companies behind the film are all Chinese. I know next to nothing about Chinese culture or politics, but I’m guessing they must not be very keen on a Vietnamese, revenge-bent, special forces soldier murdering people being referred to as a Chinaman. I’ll even go so far as to guess they frown upon Vietnamese people in general being referred to as Chinamen (and vice versa). So, Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, a Vietnamese, revenge-bent, special forces soldier murdering far fewer people. Not having read the novel, I can’t say how much they changed the character, but Quan is very restrained in the killing department.

(Note: they also made a minor change to the character’s name for the film, which I have no explanation for at all.)

The screenwriter also had to have added or modified Pierce Brosnan’s character, Liam Hennessey. Liam is the First Minister of Northern Ireland, but was a former bigwig in the IRA. I’m assuming the book has a very similar character because both book and film have the protagonist demanding the names of the bombers responsible for his daughter’s death. Anyway, Quan goes to the British police first to get names and meets with Commander Bromley (Ray Fearon), who assures Quan that his top priority is identifying and catching the bombers. Bromley is telling the truth, too, because we see him and his team chasing clues and homing in on IDs throughout the film. Of course, it wouldn’t be a very entertaining movie if Quan heeded Bromley’s advice to be patient, so, Quan redirects his focus to Liam, whom Quan believes knows who the bombers are.

As a politician, he kills people in a different way.

As with Bromley, Liam assures Quan that he does not know who the bombers are, but is trying to find out. Unlike with Bromley, Quan believes Liam is lying and enacts plan B where B is for bomb. Recalling his special forces training, Quan resorts to terrorism to frighten Liam into giving up the names. This is where the movie is a bit weak. It’s a safe assumption that Quan thinks the only thing an ex-IRA member would understand is violence, but he never hints at that rationale. He just jumps straight to bomb, bomb, bomb it out, though doesn’t kill anyone and does everything possible to limit the injuries. This is weak writing because, while his motivation is solid, his jump to violence seemingly comes out of nowhere (we don’t find out about his training until much, much later in the film). While nobody is going to root against old man Chan taking on the IRA, it is hard to root for Quan at first, especially when everything we’ve been shown and told so far is that Liam and Bromley really are trying to find out who are the killers. At this point, I’m kind of with Bromley - Quan should just be patient.

Forgiving that is pretty easy though. While that part of the writing is weak, other parts are quite strong. The cat and mouse game between Liam and Quan is pretty entertaining, especially as Quan ramps up the terror. In addition, we know almost immediately that someone within the IRA ranks is trying to restart the bloodshed. What’s fun is that Brosnan does an excellent job of showing exasperation at being harassed by Quan because he really doesn’t know the identities of the bombers. Not to be outdone, Chan is remarkably sad and morose and comes off like your grandpa. Well, until he starts blowing things up, that is.

I may look ancient, but you should really help me.

As entertaining as the movie is, I do have one more criticism. There is one too many investigator in this movie. At no point do Quan and Bromley’s investigations overlap with each other or help/hinder each other. Each of them solve the puzzle independently, so are redundant. Since we came this movie to see Jackie Chan kick someone, Bromley and team should have been reduced down to brushing off Quan multiple times, then disappearing from the film. It would have been as easy as Liam requesting a few days to ferret out the bombers to remove the cops from the film and let us focus more on Quan and his campaign of guerilla warfare.

Again, forgiving those minor writing issues are easy with this film. Watching Quan morph from a hobbled old man to an IRA member’s nightmare is borderline cathartic. I also liked the subtle commentary on how the decades of bombings and shootings only ever lead to death and not an independent and unified Ireland like the IRA wanted. It’s a clear allegory to the current state of affairs in the Middle East, though nobody in a position of power (on any side of the conflict) is going to see this movie and have a change of heart (unfortunately for all of the innocent people who are caught up in the bullshit). If allegories aren’t your thing, just enjoy the 63-year old centenarian terrorizing a bunch of assholes. That’s always worth the price of admission.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and hope Chan never stops loving his job.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

“American Made” – This actually happened.

If the only thing you think of when you hear the word contra is up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a-b-a-select-start, you’re not alone. Even with as much history as I consume, I still haven’t jumped into the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s involving the Central and South American rebels and their U.S. backing. But, I did know of them prior to watching American Made, which probably puts me ahead of most people. Also, I never did beat that game in just three lives.

I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise the human, but I am a big fan of Tom Cruise the actor. I especially like him when he plays against type. In other words, when he’s not sprinting somewhere or hiyaah-ing people. In American Made, Cruise plays Barry Seal, and actual guy who flew covert missions for the CIA, including capturing photographs of enemy Junta camps and running guns to arm the contras. I know that sounds exactly like Cruise’s typical characters. Admittedly, I thought the same thing prior to this film because the only thing I knew about it was the movie poster, that Tom Cruise is in it, and that it’s billed as an action-comedy. Just trust me or look at this actual photo of Barry Seal.

I mean, look at that guy.

Believe me now? The actual story begins with TWA pilot Barry Seal. Barry is bored of his job, smuggles Cuban cigars, and doesn’t have sex with his scorching-hot southern belle of a wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright). One night, Barry is approached by Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleason), a CIA agent who blackmails and bribes Barry into working for him. It starts with Barry taking the photos, but Barry is soon captured by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia), who would eventually come to be known as the leaders of the Medellin drug cartel. They offer Barry a lot of money to smuggle drugs back to America for them and Barry’s only concern is how much cocaine he can carry in his CIA-gifted plane.

The film follows the same formula as movies like Gold and The Wolf of Wall Street. The hero rises to the top, has piles of money and spends a lot of it, then crashes back down to Earth in spectacular fashion. What makes this movie more fun than those two is that Barry is just a schlub in way over his head. The lead characters in those other two movies are both conniving thieves trying to screw people out of their money, whereas Barry is just doing what people ask him to do because the money is really, really good. Okay, Barry is not completely innocent. He has a deal with the cartel to trade some of the guns to them for shipping cocaine back to the United States, and Barry gets a massive amount of money. And he figures it is fine because many of the contras don’t really want to fight anyway, but they are still getting some of the guns. Incidentally, those are not the same contras in the Nintendo game. The Nintendo guys are dead serious.

It's like Schafer is looking at toe jam.

Of all of the Tom Cruise movies I’ve seen, I’d argue that this is one of his top five performances. Barry is a lovable schmuck that gets to play secret agent and live it up in a massive house in Arkansas with his wife and kids. He doesn’t have to sprint anywhere or hold his breath for eight minutes or shoot a gun. All he has to do is fly a plane, be a bit of a southern goofball, and sprinkle some trademark Cruise cockiness on top. You will root for Barry, not just because Agent Schafer is an arrogant prick, or because drug lords are bad people, but because Barry is friends with those drug lords and is genuinely just trying to provide for his family.

Gleeson is also really good, delivering an agent who clearly looks down upon Barry and treats him little better than plastic eating utensils. Schafer never grows a conscience and never does anything to defend Barry. He doesn’t even try to get Barry more money when Barry asks for what is essentially hazard pay. Then, there’s Lucy. Wright isn’t given much to do, but she owns the little she has. Lucy tries to have morals a couple of times, but succumbs to the riches as quickly as Barry. But, she’ll defend her family to the death, even if it means giving up everything they’ve amassed from Barry’s adventures.

Giving new meaning to the phrase "riding high."

American Made is neither an action film nor a comedy, but does contain a bit of both. As I have said in past reviews, I love a good based-on-a-true-story history film, especially one that doesn’t tell me a story I already know. This one keeps the story front and center by not overdoing the action and comedy, but using it in just the right places to enhance the tone the film. It’s the kind of move that makes you want to read more about what actually happened and about the full scope of events referenced. As much as I enjoy Mission: Impossible and every science fiction movie Tom Cruise does, American Made reminds us that Cruise isn’t just an adrenaline junky who must run everywhere he goes. Now, if you’ll excuse…b-a-select-start.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and look at that picture of Seal again. Seriously, that guy.

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.