Archives for the month of: June, 2017

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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

This is, naturally, based on the 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning Herman Wouk novel. It is worse than the book–it lacks a lot of its humanity and complication, but that’s not surprising, as the book is very long and the movie is not.

MV5BMTQ4ODg4NzA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDcwODI5MjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_It is late in World War II, and the USS Caine is a modified destroyer doing minesweeper duty in the Pacific. Newly assigned to the Caine is the young preppy ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis). He left behind in New York a cabaret-singer girlfriend, May Wynn (May Wynn), and an over-bearing mother (Katherine Warren). He’s tall and blank-faced and not nearly as interesting or intelligent as his character in the books. Also on the Caine are the executive officer, Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), and the communications officer, Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray), who is working on a novel in his spare time. Life aboard ship is chaotic and sloppy, and many of the officers are pleased when they get a new captain, Philip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), who is a neurotic martinet.

But it turns out that tucking in shirt-tails and insisting on shaving and going slightly mad about a disappearing quart of frozen strawberries does not actually constitute being a good commanding officer, and the officers start increasingly to resent Queeg. This culminates when Maryk relieves Queeg of his command in the middle of the typhoon, and the rest of the film is dedicated to the court martial for mutiny. Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer) defends Maryk, because in the fifties and sixties every sort of moderately swarthy person was apparently interchangeable.

In the book I was irritated by Willie’s romance with May, and what a doofus he was about it, because I thought it detracted from the human drama of the Caine and the trial. But in the film she’s too vestigial to add anything, and it makes Willie disappointingly one-dimensional. The main problem, however, is (and it pains me to say it) Bogey. In the book, you’re drawn in to the resentment against Queeg, but the choice of Bogey rather precludes that. You’re predisposed to like him, or, at the worst, pity him. It makes it difficult to be on Keefer’s side, and thus the emotional clout of the dénouement is largely lost.

Stray observations:

  • The film is dedicated to the US Navy, which I guess is nice.
  • Issues of class and ethnicity–particularly Judaism–are much more deftly handled in the book, and it’s disappointing not to see them addressed here.

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Rating: PG
Length: 124 minutes
Score: 3/5

MV5BZDRiOGE5ZTctOWIxOS00MWQwLThlMDYtNWIwMDQwNzBjZDY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU0OTQ0OTY@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Into Darkness was so uninspiring that Beyond didn’t prompt me to go to the cinema. And while perhaps it was better on a big screen, I’m glad its cost was only the marginal one of a Hulu membership rather than whatever crazy amount the kids are asking at the movies these days.

Jim Kirk’s (Chris Pine) birthday is coming up. You may recall that this is also the day on which his father died, and, if you don’t, this movie is going to have some daddy issues come out of nowhere to remind you. That’s right, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, all of like twenty-eight years old, and in command of the nicest fanciest fastest awesomest starship ever to grace the galaxy, is moping into his stolen scotch about how he’ll never achieve anything.

And then he acts like a dumbass.

Some lady alien (I think Lydia Wilson?) comes hurtling out of a nebula towards a space station bleating a distress call. So the Enterprise goes into the nebula after her crew that is obviously a trap. And some other alien, Krall (Idris Elba), cuts the Enterprise apart with swarms of tiny spaceships and she crashlands on a planet and the crew is dispersed and/or enslaved until Krall can unleash a weapon to destroy the Federation.

It’s basically The Rock, but in space and worse.

Because (spoiler alert, and I don’t even care) of course Krall is actually some Starfleet captain who disappeared centuries ago and then felt abandoned by the Federation and now he’s hanging out on space-Alcatraz until he can destroy space-San Francisco with his weird space-nerve gas. Somehow he has also developed some sort of magic-adjacent skill whereby he can suck the life out of people and prolong his life. All he has to do is touch them and then he starts looking increasingly weird and unlike Idris Elba and seriously why hire Idris Elba if you’re going to put him in nineteen tons of make-up.

It’s really dumb, and it doesn’t hang together, and it’s not even that much fun, even though Simon Pegg helped write it. Sulu’s happy home life is maybe the best part, and that’s fifteen seconds.

Director: Justin Lin
Rating: PG-13
Length: 122 minutes
Score: 2/5

This movie came out 20 years ago, and I had almost no idea what happened in it. That is to say, I thought it was Air Force One, but with Nic Cage as Gary Oldman. It’s not.

Cameron Poe (Cage) is an Army Ranger from Alabama. We are told. His accent is from nowhere on Earth and presumably from nowhere else either. Some guys are unpleasant to his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter), in a bar, and then try to beat him up too. He accidentally kills one of them, and goes to prison. Eight years later, a parolee, he is put on a prison transport plane home. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and he’s never seen her.

MV5BMGZmNGIxMTYtMmVjMy00YzhkLWIyOTktNTExZGFiYjNiNzdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Here is our second infusion of characters. There’s a young, by-the-book US Marshal Larkin (John Cusack), and an older swashbuckler who drives a convertible with the plate “AZZ KIKR” (Colm Meaney) on the good side. For the villains, a litany of goofy nicknames and surprisingly major actors: Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich), Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), a serial rapist called Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo), and total weirdo who apparently once wore a victim’s face as a hat (Steve Buscemi), among others. They hijack the plane. Nic Cage tries to stop them from escaping.

Aside from the accent, and the terrible hair, and the outfit, Cage is mostly fine. Malkovich and the rest of them are convincingly off-putting in various stations on the train line to Psychotown. John Cusack is a weenie, Colm Meaney is a jackass. Dave Chappelle is Dave Chappelle.

It’s bad. But it commits, so I’ll allow it.

Director: Simon West
Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes
Score: 2/5

Do you think that Chris Evans is cute and charming enough that you want to watch a version of Before Sunrise that he directed and in which he stars? Because then you should watch this, but probably for no other reason.

Brooke (Alice Eve) is an art dealer in Manhattan possibly cheating on her husband, and her handbag is stolen, so all she has is her phone and a train ticket. She misses the last train. Nick (Evans) is in town for a band audition, but is busking in Grand Central to avoid running into an ex at a party. He is bad at paying credit card bills. They spend all night having various misadventures trying to get Brooke back to Boston.

They’re both attractive, but they talk about their feelings a lot and it’s irritating. And, frankly, it’s evident that the facet of this movie that involved the most thought was stranding them. In 2014, it’s tricky to be truly stranded, between phones and credit cards, MV5BOTMxNzE0NjY4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjIxNjIzNjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_and the film does a lot of work to make sure you know they’ve tried everything. If only the writing had involved that much effort.

And I hope it doesn’t bother you that we are asked to believe that somebody spends a night in a hotel with Chris Evans and doesn’t sleep with him.

Director: Chris Evans
Rating: PG-13
Length: 95 minutes
Score: 2/5

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So this was always going to be refried Captain America. And to a certain extent they tried to make it not that, but not so much that they could avoid a guy, named Steve, leaving his lady love, in a plane, with a horrible weapon on board, and not planning to make it back. So not very hard.

Which is a shame, because a lot of the other stuff was quite good. It’s the first DC Comics movie in a while that didn’t make me fall asleep or want to die, for starters (Between this and “Powerless,” there’s rather a charm offensive going on, isn’t there?). Lucy Davis as a harried secretary was delightful. And Diana’s advance across No Man’s Land was visually stunning and emotionally affecting.

Quick capsule of the plot, for those of you currently living under rocks: Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on the island of Amazons, who are biding their time until Ares is released back into the world and they must defeat him. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is an American spy and pilot who stumbles upon them. Diana decides that she must help him rescue the Germans from the influence of Ares. Imperial Germany is represented by General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who are developing a still more terrible gas to release in the trenches. With their ragtag bunch of not-heroes–a vaguely shell-shocked Scottish sniper, Charlie (Ewen Bremner), a womanizing would-be actor, Samir (Saïd Taghmaoui), and a First Nations smuggler whose name I didn’t catch and who is billed as Chief (Eugene Brave Rock)–they go into Belgium in search of the plant that produces this weapon.

Diana’s childhood and origin story are well done, and her relationships with her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) are largely charming if, you know, pretty exposition-heavy. The introduction of Steve and their mutual lack of comprehension is played for perhaps not enough laughs, and Diana’s failure to understand Edwardian fashion would be unbearable if not for Lucy Davis’s tremendous side-eye. The action stuff is not half-assed, although I suspect the effects will age rather badly. The film utterly fails to give the audience a sense of the scope of the war.

And this might be where it lost me. Diana–despite being a superweapon and speaking however many languages–was painfully dense. She never figured out how big the war was, partly because she interrupted everyone who tried to explain, and her constant lecturing just made her look self-righteous and naïve. Which, pardon me, is not a great look. I get that we’re trying to say something deep about humanity and evil or whatever, and something feminist about how women something or other, but if your paladin is too dumb to understand metaphors or numbers larger than four, it’s rough.

She was gorgeous and noble and athletic and her trench salon blowout was truly remarkable, but complete the goddamn thought.

Stray observations:

  • I would have thought that, in an equestrian society without the male gaze, there might be more trousers.
  • It was nice to see some downtrodden Belgian soldiers with their tasseled caps; they always get skipped. In fact, there is a refreshing variety generally of Allied forces.
  • She knows the difference between hydrogen- and sulfur-based weaponized gases, but not what the “front” is? Okay.

Director: Patty Jenkins
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes
Score: 4/5

I’m going to be unfair to this movie, because I’ve read the novel by Irène Némirovsky, which is brilliant. Suite Française was written during the war, before Némirovsky was murdered by the Nazis, and, though unfinished, it has a much broader and clearer vision of humanity than the film does. It follows, among others, a middle-class family whose son is away at the fighting as they flee Paris, an aging bon-vivant who sticks to his champagne amid the German bombs, an absolutely awful matron of late middle age who values her silver more than people, and a young married lady in the country in whose house an officer of the Wehrmacht is billeted.

MV5BMTczMjg3MzQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDYyNzY4NDE@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_The movie, naturally, concentrates on the last grouping, because there’s the most smooching in it. Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) is unhappily married; luckily her husband is a POW, but unluckily her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) is around to be unpleasant to her. When the Germans invade, Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) is put up in their house. He is polite, has a nice dog, and can play the piano. Lucile lacks a personality entirely.

Meanwhile, the mayor, Viscount Montmort (Lambert Wilson) and his wife (Harriet Walter) are trying to accommodate themselves to reality; a horrible German officer (Tom Schilling) is billeted on a farm belonging to the Labaries (Sam Riley and Ruth Wilson), which ends about as well as you’d think; a Jewish woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) and her daughter are…there.

This movie is stupid and melodramatic. You don’t need to add pathos to the Nazi invasion of France, or insulting inanities to Némirovsky’s novel. I suppose that, once one has hired the extremely handsome Mr. Schoenaerts, one feels he ought to be on screen, but every other story in the novel is more interesting than Lucile’s and Bruno’s, and less well-trodden.

Director: Saul Dibb
Rating: around PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 2/5

To be honest, I enjoyed the hell out of this. Does that mean it’s any good? Yes and no. Look, it’s not my fault if you expected this to be either the happy-go-lucky nonsense of the Brendan Fraser original or an actual proper film. Would either option have been better? Probably.

You know the plot. An Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), nearly manages to summon Ultimate Evil into the world, but she’s stopped just in time, mummified alive, and buried in the desert. Some time later, an unscrupulous antiquities looter, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his dimwitted sidekick (Nick from “New Girl”), and a beautiful archaeologist, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), find the mummy, free the mummy, and must defeat the mummy. Since this one is set in the present, there’s more ISIS and science-adjacent goofiness. Neither of these is an improvement.

MV5BMjM5NzM5NTgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDEyNTk4MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Among the film’s strengths are its energy, Cruise’s commitment, and, occasionally, Nick from “New Girl”‘s comedic chops. One gets the impression that every pitch meeting Cruise attends now ends with him saying, “Sure, but turn it up to eleven.” Mummy not enough for you? Crusader zombies! Tom Cruise has been on screen for seven whole minutes? Drop a missile on him! Archaeologists in films aren’t wifty enough already? Add Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the mix! And Edward Hyde (Russell Crowe with less make-up)!

So, yeah, it’s not half-assed. But it’s not really something worth whole-assing. It doesn’t add anything except unnecessary moralizing and special effects. It’s not quite silly enough–one feels the lack of John Hannah keenly. Boutella, one feels, is wasted in her rôle. We all know she’s athletic and beautiful, but Ahmanet could have slightly more personality. And whatever, Jenny. I get that we don’t want to have Evelyn’s cutesy incompetence, but you’re a cipher. And no woman archaeologist wears her hair down in the field.

Everyone told me this was awful, and it wasn’t awful. It was mindless and full of explosions, which is what I expected and wanted. Get a great big bag of popcorn.

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes
Score: 3/5