Movie Review: 65
The bland title "65" is because someone already used the title "65 Million Years Ago." It's sci-fi so I had to see it. I didn't care for the previews. Watching them, I actually thought they were doing some kind of time travel anomaly: Humans get sent back in time by ____ to the time of dinosaurs. The truth is far dumber. This movie is about another race exploring the Earth mere hours before the dinosaur-killing asteroid hits it.
Yeah, that's right. There's an alien race of completely human people that decide to explore the Earth or something near it. They open the movie with a lot of subtitles to explain the setup. Of course, once I saw that, I thought they were going for some Earth-seeded-by-aliens angle. The problem with that is that the fossil record shows hominids evolving over perhaps five million years yielding something like the modern human about 200,000 years ago. So that plot would fly in the face of current science. Having seen the movie, I can say that even that stupidity would be better than what they delivered.
I intend to spoil this movie for you, so stop reading now if that will annoy you. I do it without misgivings because there's precious little to spoil about this movie.
The actual plot is more boring and many times as stupid as whatever you thought it might be. A man goes on a two-year mission to explore something--we're never told what. He's ferrying a bunch of people in cryo pods. Ostensibly that's a year out and a year back. So, somewhere within a year's travel of Earth is their amazingly advanced planet filled with perfectly human inhabitants. How does that travel occur? Well, on screen, it looks like three engines spitting blue flame do the job. Oh, and when they crash, they can send messages home in mere hours. How? Who knows. At the very end, their little escape pod will apparently be able to meet up with a rescue ship.
Why am I being a hard-science-fiction dick about all that? Mostly because it destroys the tension of the plot. If you can have real-time communications with home and can arrange a rescue rendez-vous in near real-time, what's the tension? They aren't so badly stranded. This isn't Gilligan's Island, just a breakdown on the side of the road with AAA on the way.
But wait, don't harp on gritty little plot holes, let's focus on the emotional heart of the piece. Adam Driver's character has a daughter that dies while he's away. The one survivor from the cryo pods just happens to be a little girl about his daughter's age. She even shares her long dark hair.
Ostensibly the pilot's broken parent-heart is supposed to inject some pathos into this movie. It really doesn't.
What you really get is a dinosaur movie. It's a guy and a child running through the wilderness fighting off dinosaur attacks. Think the fat guy in Jurassic Park getting hunted when his Jeep breaks down. What was appropriately a little side interlude in that movie was the entire plot of 65.
I'm leaving out a lot of the plot holes, but I want to share my favorite one. At the end, their escape ship is upside down. It can't launch. Instead of the A-Team montage of let's upfit the van, er, fix the ship, we have a dinosaur attack and magically flip the ship over into launch position without breaking its FTL drive and sensitive systems. It was at least a good laugh. You'd have a harder time jump-starting a car than they had getting back into space with their vehicle that had survived a crash and rough handling by a dinosaur.
My point is that there isn't much of a plot, setup, or characters here. Adam Driver is boring to watch. The setup is laughably stupid. The timing of crashing on Earth mere hours before that famous extinction event is absurd. Driver's character having a handheld thingy that could identify and time the asteroid from him pointing it at the sky was even more asinine.
This movie is so empty that they frontloaded fifteen minutes of Adam Driver's character and his family just to get this thing to come up to ninety minutes.
For me, the most interesting thing about this movie is wondering how it got made. People sat around a table with this script, nodded their heads, and decided it was worth spending forty-five million dollars to make it. Even more confusing is why you would put Adam Driver at the head of this two-person cast.
There's got to be something good in it, right? Some little chunk 'o goodness? There is. If you love dinosaurs, there are a couple of excellent dinosaur scares.
Intoxicants might make this an enjoyable movie to watch, either by making you too torpid to notice the problems or by kicking it into the so-bad-its-good zone.
Movie Review: Missing
Missing surprised me by having an excellent plot with great twists. So I was disappointed that they couldn't leverage that plot to produce an excellent movie. For me, the way they shot this movie destroyed it. The fact that the main character was about the single most unlikable teen girl didn't help either.
These days, production values tend to be high, so what about the way that they shot this is so bad? It's all cell phone and webcam footage. When I say 'all' I mean every damn frame of this movie. Most of the footage is the main character sitting at her Mac Book. We watch as the teen slacker navigates websites, and interacts with other characters. I get how the occasional scene filmed that way could be evocative, but trust me when I tell you, by the end of the movie, it's infuriating. I saw it as cheap, boring, and lazy way to tell a story. That's how they got this wide release out the door for $7 million.
Then there's the main character. I actually forgot her name. She is a lazy teen slacker who has a scare because momma money tit goes missing. The first part of the movie is a rote, parents-away-kids-party sequence; the kid throws a house party with the 'emergency' money that mom gave her while she's away on a trip. She's so damn lazy that she hires a maid service to clean up after the party--on mom's dime. Even worse, the kid is a camera, not a character. She has no distinguishing character traits, goals, aspirations, or ambition.
Also, as good as the plot is in essence, there is a huge plot hole near the end that amounts to the movie chickening out, lacking the guts to give us anything but sunshine blown up our collective asses at the end.
My suggestion is that you not watch this movie. Even intoxicated, enjoying this movie would be tough.
Movie Review: Babylon
This movie was one I looked forward to seeing. The previews made it look like a wild ride behind the scenes in Hollywood. It was to a point, but ultimately I consider it an interesting failure.
The performances were quite strong. Jean Smart has a smaller role as an aging gossip reporter, and she surprised me to the upside. I didn't even realize it was her until I looked up the credits. Margot Robbie is always a strong performer. I could watch her read the phone book. Despite those strong performances, something between the writing and editing failed in this film.
It starts as a chronicle of Nellie LeRoy, a young beautiful wannabee actress in the silent era. I originally thought that was an interesting perspective--silent film. Her rise is entangled with that of a Mexican immigrant named Manny. Brad Pitt's character seemed to be there for decoration. The thing is, I had it all wrong.
Babylon is not about Nellie LeRoy or Manny or Brad Pitt's character. It's about Hollywood. We don't really find that out until the last third of the movie when all the characters blow up and the audience is left with nothing. They show their hand in Jean Smart's last scene where Brad Pitt confronts Jean Smart about a nasty article her character wrote. The speech she gives him lays out the ethos of the movie: Hollywood is a monster that doesn't need any of us.
Philosophically, I'm not against any of that per se, but the way the writing and editing are done, it comes across as one movie with an odd switch-up at the end.
It's not a spoiler to tell you about the ending because it's a mess. It's a two or three-minute montage of scenes of Hollywood transforming into its modern form; old buildings get torn down as the town relentlessly grows.
So, Babylon is a collection of vignettes: the crazy orgiastic parties; early production techniques in the desert; secret underground forbidden entertainment; the growing pains of the sound era; the traps for the young idiot who gets her first real paycheck. Then it ends with that insipid montage that just turns the knife. Yes, you got interested in a bunch of characters that never went anywhere, but haha, we fooled you. Aren't we so clever?
To my taste, no. They weren't clever. The screenplay didn't give us a cogent narrative and went full-bore cliché. And the editing? Obnoxious. Over three hours long, this thing could have had 40 minutes cut out of it and been stronger for it.
If you're a movie-industry junkie, this is required watching if only for some of the technical details that make it on screen. Everyone else should stay away from this.
Movie Review: Bones and All
I guess I'm showing my age by saying that this movie is the kind of thing that just wouldn't have gotten a wide release when I was young. Why? Because it's about cannibals, "eaters" they like to call themselves. They are people that eat real food, but periodically feel the strong urge to eat other people. As much as it sounds like sideways vampirism, they don't offer any supernatural explanation for it. The only "powers" they have is a sense of smell that lets them identify other eaters.
Thematically, the eating thing is a stand-in for any addiction. There is even a tertiary character who tells the main character that he reminds him of every addict he's ever met. As vague and artsy as that sounds, Chalamet seems to have embraced the concept. He is emaciated in this movie. When you see him, the first thought you'll have is: addict.
The strongest part of this film is the sense of place. The time is set back in the '80s, ostensibly so the characters could get away with casual serial murdering without running afoul of modern technology that might catch them. Every location is deep in poverty. It's shot and textured in such a way as to imbue the audience with a powerful sense of operating in this sub-world of poverty in the US. There isn't a nice location or even the barest sense of optimism in the entire picture. It was stunningly effective.
The performances were very strong. They were what kept me watching. The plot is rather asinine and the setup incredulous, but the way it was shot and the performances kept me immersed.
That's the problem with this film. There is enough there to keep me watching, but the pacing and plot didn't deliver. They didn't lead to a payoff. The movie eventually just ends, much as it begins, with a cleared-out apartment. In that sense, it's a vignette more than a story. All that's to say that when the lights came up, I was bemused.
And yes, they show people eating people in this movie. It's revolting in the extreme. Most importantly, it's not worth sitting through those bits in hopes of some poignant resolution or payoff. It never comes.
I don't recommend you watch this movie.
Movie Review: The Menu
I had been looking forward to this movie. The previews with Fiennes in his chef whites acting like a pretentious culinary twat were fun to me. It is mostly the strength of his performance that carries this movie.
If you haven't seen the previews, the movie is about a restaurant that costs $12,500 to get dinner at. They only serve twelve patrons a night. It's on a private island where the staff lives. But it turns out that this particular night is special; something dark is afoot. A lot fewer people leave the island than arrive.
Because I have been to culinary school, I was particularly interested. But fear not, this is not a flick for pretentious foodies. Most of the culinary bits in the movie are a send-up of the entire fine-dining industry. Everything from the martinet cooks yelling "Yes Chef!" to the utterly pretentious plates of food that the Chef actually informs his clients will not fill them up.
More than a pastiche of Gordon Ramsey and his ilk, there is an interesting psychological theme running through this movie about the cooks and their relationship with the industry and the clients. When the cooks talk about the dishes and the menu, they exude a passion that isn't mockery. At least I didn't think it was. Whatever it was, it walks a fine line, at once intriguing me about how that cook brain works, and making me chuckle at what I presumed were humorous bits. But that's just it, some of the deep bits of culinary talk are such a fine mixture of serious exploration and cultural send-up that it's all the more interesting to watch.
Everybody gets skewered. The initial main character is the maximum foodie idiot. Fienne's character eventually brutally mocks him, going so far as to say that people like him ruined dining. There is a prominent--the prominent--food critic in attendance with her publisher. She gets both barrels, figuratively speaking. The rest of the diners have murder-worthy backstories that aren't culinary related. The guy who is the restaurant's angel investor is physically brutalized in front of everyone.
It all works, but the writer in me can't help but see what could have been. Because what emerges is a glimpse of an utterly fascinating character in Fienne's Chef. We get to meet his mother, hear childhood anecdotes about his abusive upbringing, and see his bizarrely kitted-out cottage on the island. He is by far the most interesting character in the movie, yet we are stuck focusing on Anna Taylor-Joy's character who is much less interesting, and her face is hard for me to look at; it's got some subtly odd geometry that just really grated on me by the end of the movie.
My only real complaint is that they left the best material on the table. It would have been much more interesting to have a movie about that restaurant, the lives of the staff, their devotion to their chef, the restaurant's discipline, and of course the food.
Go watch this movie. Even if you don't like it, I think you'll find it a more interesting failure than the rest of the tripe out there.
Movie Review: Black Adam
The last few DC universe movies had been disappointments to me. So I wasn't hopeful when I decided to see this one. But I figured that The Rock might bring something to it, and the previews looked promising. Unfortunately, Black Adam turned out to be a sloppy mess.
As you saw in the previews, we have this vastly powerful character who has been asleep for 5,000 years and is a generally disagreeable fellow. He gets woken up and we have to wonder whose side he's on. There's a lot to work with there. So I figured they couldn't go too far wrong. I didn't expect brilliance, but I didn't even get the typical mediocre superhero movie.
First, there's the setup. There's a fictional Middle Eastern country with some cool mineral that everybody wants. It's being exploited by an evil multinational company that makes billions while the downtrodden people starve. The company has a free hand in the little nation-state, erecting armed checkpoints wherever they like. In a sideways way, they are invoking the Palestinian refugee situation. There is even a scene where the main female character bitches out the would-be heroes for showing up when they did. She rails at them for a minute or two for not giving a crap about the plight of her people until they want something. It gets really political for a minute. Then it's back to the tongue-in-cheek tone we're accustomed to. The movie can't decide on a tone. It wobbles from farce to serious political commentary and generally all over the place.
Then there's the sloppy plotting. It drove me crazy. The super-secret blessed 5,000-year-old crown of muckety-muck is sitting inside a mountain--with an open ceiling to the sky--where anyone could walk in and find it (but hasn't in 5,000 years). At another point, Black Adam is trapped in some kind of suspended animation pod (by the 'good' guys), and magically wakes up when needed and can pull out his respirator. Even better, he doesn't just fly off to save the day. Instead, he fights and almost gets destroyed in the process. Ostensibly these movie makers thought that was a cool bit of drama. It hit me like one of the dumbest sequences put into a wide-release movie. The movie is full of that kind of nonsensical plotting. Guess what word Black Adam has to utter to relinquish his powers? Shazam. I'm serious. It's painful.
Back to the tone. They actually have Black Adam walk through masonry walls several times instead of using doors. I think the idea was that he was a sort of newborn naïf that didn't understand our modern world although the flashbacks make it clear he came from a world with doors. And wouldn't we all expect the very smart fellow to get the idea after the first time? It's just the kind of utterly stupid humor they drop in all over the place when they aren't trying to convince you that the fate of the world is at stake.
All in all, the logical inconsistencies make this a movie I couldn't immerse myself into--just go with it. Then when you get the tone wobbling between juvenile shenanigans and world-ending danger, it turns the movie into an odd presentation. It's something, but I didn't find it engaging or entertaining.
Let's say that's all fine to you. The tone wobbles are fun to you. The logical nits are just noise in what's a great plot. The setup isn't political pandering. Say that all works for you. At the end, the woman commanding the superhero team calls in Superman to talk to Black Adam. Seriously. We go through all this artificially tense insipid plot only to find out that Superman was a phone call away. He could have ended the whole affair in seconds, literally.
The one bright spot in this film was Pierce Brosnan. His performance was strong and his character arc was engaging. So, yes, this movie is utter garbage, but in that stinky little pile is some great work from him.
If you have to watch this movie, don't do it sober.
Movie Review: See How They Run
I like to go to the movies every weekend. The pickings have been slim, in my opinion. So, last weekend I was casting around for what to watch and settled on See How They Run. Sam Rockwell's presence encouraged me, as did Saoirse Ronan's. Both of them generally have good taste in picking their projects. Overall, it's a strong cast.
The tone is more than a little tongue in cheek. It centers on a production of Agatha Christie's Mousetrap. So we have a murder mystery movie about a murder mystery production. It's shot in an exaggerated color palette which made it look a touch cartoony.
Where this movie fell down for me was the writing. It is a boring script. Rockwell plays this aging, alcoholic chief inspector who emotes so much ennui that it infects the whole movie. Nothing gets under that guys skin, nothing shocks him, and he seems to take nothing seriously. This contrasts, purposefully no doubt, with Ronan's rookie constable character who is hyper-dilligent. As a dynamic, it works. But when this duo is put into motion, they are not fun because the plot is so insipid. For instance, a good chunk of time is spent on the constable catching the inspector drinking on duty. It's cute, but for the time they spend with it, it's not enough. Then they make a joke out of the inspector's excuse for not being on the job while he's boozing--a dentist's appointment. They return to that insipid bit two or three times in the movie.
That's the movie in general: cute but not enough.
David Oyelowo and Adrien Brody likewise play their quirky characters well, perhaps purposefully a little over the top. But like the stars, their characters are given weak bits with which to mine their quirkiness for comedy. Again, it comes off a little cute, but really not enough.
The tone they picked is difficult, but they pull it off. The performances are all strong. The production values are likewise strong. It's just a boring script..
Movie Review: Nope
The first trailers that came out for Nope were bizarre to me. They had this shtick about how such-and-such horse trainers had these deep Hollywood roots intercut with shots of the star galloping his horse down a road with those inflatable stick men you see outside car dealerships flailing alongside the road. I immediately said hell no. Later they had a trailer that said it was about aliens. They also gave us enough of a tease to make me say I'd try it.
I was gunshy about seeing another Jordan Peele movie because I absolutely loathed his second one, Us. Unfortunately he's fulfilled his M. Night Shamalamadingdong curse. After a brilliant debut with Get Out, we've now had two god-awful flicks from him.
Nope starts by introducing us to the incompetent main character, OJ (Otis Junior; kudos to Jordan for screwing up the movie's tone with that overburdened name). Remember all that horse heritage in the preview? Well, this scion of all that supposed greatness is a muttering fool who couldn't handle the most simple task of an on-set safety meeting. All he had to do was tell the cast and crew how to behave around horses, but he couldn't manage it. In rushes his sister who also fails, preferring to take the opportunity to sell herself. Then, less than a minute later there's a horse incident because the crew wasn't properly briefed. The Haywoods are fired and we're stuck with a film about two unlikable idiot siblings.
Then we're bizarrely introduced to the Haywood siblings' neighbor. We're shown a bloody set wherein a chimpanzee sits after having apparently killed a cast member. It turns out the boy actor in that show becomes the Haywood's adult neighbor. No fewer than three different views of that same asinine TV set are presented throughout the movie. It had no direct relationship to the story. It was backstory for a small side character. It's just one of a hundred choices Peele made in putting this movie together that had me shaking my head.
Long story short, it's an alien hunt. Can we capture aliens on film? I won't tell you, but I will tell you that the alien proper is the lowest-quality special effect I've seen in a modern movie. There were movies in the '50s that had better looking aliens. The alien in this movie looked like it was put together with dingy WWII parachute material.
The plot is so stupid that it hurts my brain to think about it. Mercifully, the movie does eventually end, but not with any sense of climax. It's just a shambles of a movie that lurches from scene to scene delivering a barely cogent narrative about three of the dumbest humans put on film trying to get their Ancient Aliens on. There is no rising tension, no climax, and no epilogue to tell us what happens to the Haywood twits.
Overall, it's a weak narrative about unlikable incompetent characters edited to be as unengaging as possible.
Don't watch this movie, not even for free. I don't think it would be improved by intoxicants unless you can come up with a mocking drinking game for it.
Jordan Peele is the new M. Night Shamalyan. I had such hopes for him.
Movie Review: The Black Phone
The thing they sell you on in the previews is the black phone in the basement that isn't hooked up yet nonetheless receives calls from a supernatural source. I generally don't enjoy Ethan Hawke, but that phone gimmick was a strong hook.
The movie starts out fairly strong. It's the 1970s, so for those of you of a certain age, there's some nostalgia value in just seeing the '70s brought to the screen.
They have a decent setup: kids disappearing, taken by the Grabber. The main character is an abused boy whose classmates have been going missing. They set up a little parallelism between the abuse of kids in general and the kid's father who beats the crap out of his kids. So there's a lot to mine for engagement: abusive family, tight bond with sister, sister's psychic powers, and a whodunit regarding the kidnappings. But the moviemakers fail to capitalize on any of it.
The problem with this movie is that once the kid is trapped in the serial killer dungeon, the moviemakers didn't know what to do with the movie. So they throw out some side content about the kid's psychic sister, but generally speaking the movie just wanders around until it kind of ends all of a sudden.
Yes, there is a cogent narrative thread, but there's no pacing, no suspense, very little of a climax, and no epilogue or denouement. So in terms of being emotionally effective, this movie is weak. The ending isn't particularly satisfying.
Ethan Hawke does a good job with what they give him, but they don't give him much. So we don't get a portrait of a sick mind or engaging weirdness.
My biggest complaint is that they don't do much with the supernatural angle. Other than a few mysterious phone calls, there is almost nothing. The direction is flat. The scariest moment for me was when the little sister is riding around and gets a stunning hint from the Grabber's victims that she's in front of the dungeon house.
As a writer, I could sense there was a drama behind getting the screenplay written. Something went very wrong in translating the original short story into a shooting script. Likewise, the direction was weak. So in the end, we get a thriller that isn't suspenseful or thrilling. Since the short story was written by Stephen King's son, I suspect that this project was a square peg that a whole lot of influence got crammed into a round hole. Without that name behind this movie, I don't think it would have been made.
I don't recommend you watch it, but if you must, I suspect that intoxicants will greatly improve your viewing.
Movie Review: Men
Actual discussion of this movie would just allow the movie makers to take more of my life.
Simply said, I recommend that you do not watch this movie under any circumstances.