Archives for posts with tag: 3 out of 5

You know what I love about the Mission: Impossible movies? I love the lack of lady-nonsense. Possibly I should resent that they don’t even attempt to pass the Bechdel Test, but I only tolerate the string of disposable beauties in Bond movies out of habit, and I’m glad I don’t have to do that here. It’s great that he’s married and can’t see her, that Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is essentially the dog from John Wick, except living. Could there be ladies without lady-nonsense? Rogue Nation suggested that the answer might be yes–Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) was tough and not especially interested in Ethan–but here we get mired in sentiment and silliness.

MV5BMTk3NDY5MTU0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3MDE1NTM@._V1_UY268_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The rest is pretty great, though. The Syndicate from previouslies has metastasized into The Apostles, and they’re looking for nukes. Ethan (Tom Cruise, as you know) accidentally sort of loses track of the nukes. So he and a CIA agent called Walker (Henry Cavill, whose accent is admirable) have to halo-jump into Paris and blah de bloo de blah it’s a M:I movie and there are shenanigans and hijinks galore.

There’s a pointlessly goofy super-villain(-spy?), the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), who only wears white and seductively sips martinis and is probably the worst part of this movie. There are Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, who are great, because they’re always great and they see no reason not to be great here. Alec Baldwin isn’t even phoning it in. There are chases and gadgets and it may not make much sense but it is mostly loads of fun.

Except when it isn’t, and, bear with me here, but I don’t like my M:I movies with gravity except of the literal kind that makes Tom Cruise fall out of and off things. Sure, Ethan has the occasional feeling, that’s good. Ving Rhames makes the occasional speech, which is fine because it’s Ving Rhames. And, yes, the stakes are usually very, very high. But they are usually cartoonishly high, and here it’s a little too grounded and serious.

Also the lady-nonsense.

Stray observations:

  • Motorcycle chase? Amazing.
  • Jump? Incredible.
  • Rooftop chase? Tom Cruise, he cray.

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Rating: PG-13
Length: 147 minutes
Score: 3/5

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MV5BOTM2NTI3NTc3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzM1OTQyNTM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Solo: A Star Wars Story is basically Space Oliver Twist followed by Space Any Double-Cross Movie. Maybe particularly that later Pirates of the Caribbean movie that didn’t make any sense. That is: Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) grows up in a gang of thieves led by a disgusting worm, and then he escapes to the glamor of smuggling, via the army. Since it is directed by Ron Howard, it at least resembles, in many useful ways, a film.

Also there is a girl, Kira (Emilia Clarke). Oh, sorry. Qi’ra.

Oh man. I was lukewarm on her until I realized her name was stupid for no reason, and now I hate her. She starts out also as one Fagin’s Lady Proxima’s gang, but she does. not. escape. She is forced to enter a life of misery and crime and large jewelry as organized crime honcho Dryden Vos’s (Paul Bettany) right hand lady. She and Han of course meet again, and this is most of the movie.

But first Han has to enter his own life of crime, via a small gang of smugglers: Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio (Jon Favreau). They are disposable, but they teach him valuable lessons about trust and introduce him to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Lando still owns the Millennium Falcon (with all her upholstery and other, you know, useful parts), and dresses like it’s the sexy space-70s. Billy Dee Williams should be extremely flattered. Lando is the best part of this movie, because Donald Glover appears to be having the time of his life, and his character makes sense.

The women in this movie are okay. At least they dress more or less appropriately to context, so that’s a step forward on The Last Jedi. There may be a fleeting moment when the film passes the Bechdel test, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an angry rebellious droid provides almost the right amount of moderately intelligent humor and social commentary (she is worse than K-2SO, but that’s a hard act to follow).

It was fine. I don’t think it was necessary. Sure, it’s neat to meet Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but I already knew about as much about Han’s past as I wanted. Ugh. Why was there a girl? Just give me Han, Chewbacca, and Lando. I would watch hours of that.

Stray observations (Spoilers):

  • Darth Maul? Why.
  • Han’s surname is made up on the fly by a bored Imperial pencil-pusher. Possibly I love this.
  • I want Edna Mode to talk to Lando about his wardrobe.

Director: Ron Howard
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes
Score: 3/5

Remember when this movie came out? It was kind of a while ago and it’s difficult to recall my feelings on it. Wait, no it’s not. I loved it. I loved new Q. I loved Ralph Fiennes. I loved the Barbour jacket. I loved the theme song. I loved the old Aston.

Most of all, I loved that it wasn’t Quantum of Solace.

MV5BNDVhZmJiYWMtNmIzMC00ZWNiLTkzZDYtNGNlZmViMGM4OGExXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTIzOTk5ODM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_But it turns out that this isn’t actually good, just by virtue of not being a steaming pile of garbage. Yes, it has everything you want out of a Bond movie: hot car, casino, some crack shooting, a fight on top of a train, rivers of booze. Many of these things it has more than once, as an apology for its precursor.

And therein lies the problem: this movie has far too many acts, even for a Bond movie. By my count, we have:

  • Istanbul
  • drunken obscurity
  • London
  • Shanghai
  • Macau
  • dumb island
  • London redux
  • the A-9
  • the Highlands

That is too much. Combine Shanghai and Macau. Leave out the dumb island. Maybe spend less time not eating scorpions in drunken obscurity. Or give the girl there at least one line.

Then you have time to spend on new Q (Ben Whishaw), who is a delight. Of course Q is now a tiny nerd! And time for the rest of MI-6, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who inject a pleasingly average Britishness and a velvety steel respectively. I suppose you can also spend time on Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), but please let it be different time, and please let it be less sad, somehow. Old Moneypenny was less sad, possibly because she had less of a chance? I don’t know, but fix it.

Other than that, fine. Silva (Javier Bardem) is menacing; his face is weird and off-putting even when all of it is there. Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) is very tall and very beautiful, so that’s nice. Kincade (Albert Finney) is old and great and dresses exclusively in Barbour. Judi Dench denches it up, and is magnificent because of course she is.

Oh: and Adele. Adele is perfect. Yelly, ballady, incomprehensible. Perfect Bond song.

Stray observations:

  • The elevator is cool and all but that’s a borderline Mission: Impossible stunt and these new Bonds are supposed to be vaguely within the realms of possibility.
  • Cut the shaving scene. Burn it with fire. It is nauseating and unsexy and unnecessary.
  • During M’s scene with Mallory, early in the film, the continuity people blow it badly with her briefcase. I noticed in the cinema.
  • What is the health and/or life insurance like as a henchman? Because I’m going to go with “not good enough.”

Director: Sam Mendes
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes, which is solidly half an hour too long
Score: 3/5

MV5BNThjMzczMjctZmIwOC00NTQ4LWJhZWItZDdhNTk5ZTdiMWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDYyMDk5MTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Nope, I don’t like mob movies. Even the good ones. Just like prison movies. There’s just something about the squalor and the casual violence that puts me off.

This one is a true story! Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) goes from childhood to mob peon to informer. He can’t actually achieve much, because he’s not all Sicilian (his father’s Irish), in which boat he joins Jimmy Conway (the very Irish Robert DeNiro). The chappie who can become a made man, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), is rather unfortunately a touchy, sadistic nutbar. The film opens as we dispose of the body of a man who reminded Tommy he used to shine shoes. It turns out he’s not quite dead. It’s disgusting.

On the way, we meet Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who doesn’t seem very bright, but she will give him a blow job when he gives her shopping money and doesn’t seem to mind being slapped around, so that’s nice. He cheats on her repeatedly and flagrantly. Sometimes with Debi Mazar!

The film is well-written, well-shot, and well-paced, but it’s also super fucking gross. And the tone is not lacking in admiration. Which bothers me. Sometimes you have to make movies about things that aren’t nice, but this is too glamorizing. Henry is supposed to be sexy and appealing, at least until the coke really makes his face go blooey. And then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when Paulie (Paul Sorvino) will only give him $3200 to go away. I don’t.

The only good thing about this, as far as I can tell, is that Robert DeNiro is still trying.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Length: 156 minutes
Score: 3/5

Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is a talent-booker for a nationally syndicated television talk show that for some reason desires to book, on the one hand, Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro, and, on the other, a batty old lady with theories about male infidelity.  Her boss, Diane (Ellen Barkin), speaks in smug clichés and sits with one foot tucked up under her. On TV. In a skirt. At her job as a hot-shot talk show host.

MV5BNWIwMGYzOGYtMDY2Yy00NDk5LWI5MTItMDI2YzExMzI4ZDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDY4Mjk@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Also working on the show is Eddie (Hugh Jackman), who wears black Levis and mock turtlenecks and too much hair gel but apparently gets all the ladies. It was 2001. And, to be fair, he still looked like Hugh Jackman. And then there is Ray (Greg Kinnear), who is sensitive and has glasses and a girlfriend but they’re having problems. So Jane falls hard and digs her diaphragm out of a shoebox, in a touchingly hilarious moment.

Of course Ray goes back to his girlfriend. And, instead of drinking heavily or eating all the ice cream or something else hackneyed but cathartic, Jane dances on the career implosion tightrope! She decides, having read an article about how bulls don’t like to mate with the same cow twice, that this is why Ray left her, and she creates an entire fake person whose research is about this “new cow theory.” And then, because fact-checking was not a thing, she manages to fool the world into believing this woman is real, and she gets booked on her own show! It is insane.

But, otherwise, the movie is cute. It has annoying voiceovers, sure, and annoying intertitles, sure, presumably because Tony Goldwyn was trying to be Richard Curtis, but I’ll allow it. And this is because the other stuff is nice. Jane’s best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei), is nutty but supportive in classic Marisa Tomei fashion. They pass the Bechdel test. And Jane’s sister (Catherine Dent) is trying to get pregnant, and she and her husband (Peter Friedman) are an unsubtle but still pleasant contrast to Jane’s wackiness.

Stray observations:

  • Fashion was terrible. Jane deliberately wears a tank top and some kind of sport…skirt? Like, basketball shorts, but a miniskirt. And she has a coat that resembles nothing so much as a silk dressing gown.
  • Seriously. Jane thinks they can book Fidel Castro. But this is a show that does not do the very simple digging that will reveal that the new cow theoretician does not exist. Ah, 2001, and careers in movies.

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Rating: PG-13
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 3/5

How much I liked this hovers between 1 and 2 out of 5. How capable an adaptation of the book it is hovers between 4 and 5 out of 5. How good a movie it is probably lands about average.

Look, Gone Girl the novel has a lot of aspirations about being a satire, and it’s well enough executed that you often wonder whether the over-writing is deliberate. The film compounds the problem–were the casting choices likewise deliberate, to emphasize the hollowness and artificiality at the heart of the narrative? Or is it just bad casting? I think it might just be bad casting.

Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike) grows up rich and beautiful in Manhattan, and eventually marries Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), even though he is from Missouri. Her parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) buy them a brownstone (notably not a brownstone in the film, though it is still called so), and life is wonderful for the first few years of marriage, until they lose their jobs, because both of them work for magazines.

MV5BYjgwY2E1N2QtNDJkMi00YzE4LThiYTItYWI5YmE4NWMzMGFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjU3OTA4NzQ@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

They move back to Missouri to take care of Nick’s dying mother, and Nick buys a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). He calls her “Go.” It’s trying too hard to be verisimilitudinous. I suspect that she is the best actress in the film. Nick also adjuncts in the journalism department at the local college. Amy doesn’t work. Obviously Nick meets a hot young student, Andie (Emily Ratajkowski), and has an affair with her. It’s not obvious to me that Andie can read, much less write, but sure.

Then Amy disappears, and it looks like Nick murdered her and incompetently covered it up. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) investigate. They are the only people in the film you can stand, and they don’t have enough to do. Amy’s parents arrive, a nationwide campaign to find her begins, and so forth. It’s worse, because her parents wrote a series of books about her as a child, so she’s universally beloved. And everybody hates Nick, because he has a charming smile (ha! Ben Affleck in 2014! as if!). Because of course.

There are some other people around. Tyler Perry plays the lawyer, the last chance option for men everyone thinks killed their wives. Missi Pyle is a gloriously angry Nancy Grace type. Lola Kirke condescendingly plays a trashy woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend. And Neil Patrick Harris plays Desi Collings, a man Amy dated at her posh boarding school and has kept on the hook ever since. He’s awful. I’m sure Harris can act, but he’s totally ludicrous as Midwestern old money, and I don’t think it’s on purpose. Sorry, Barney.

In the novel, the suspense and innovation more or less made up for the cringingly terrible gender politics and the vacuity was arguably by design. Here, no.

Directors: David Fincher
Rating: R
Length: 149 minutes
Score: 3/5

Herman Wouk’s novel about the last few years before the Second World War goes for coverage, both geographically and circumstantially. It smacks, rather, of a modern War & Peace, following several, sometimes overlapping threads. This works better in a book, but this series gives it the old college try.

MV5BMzY1NTEzODA4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM0NzUyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR50,0,182,268_AL_Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) is a career naval officer. His life ambition is to command a battleship. A cursory knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent naval history will indicate that this is an ambition unlikely to be realized. Luckily, Pug has a host of other qualifications, like a working knowledge of German and Russian and an uncanny ability to predict geopolitical developments (he alone of everyone in the world predicts the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, e.g.). He starts out as military liaison in Berlin and ends up a military observer of Lend-Lease efficacy in Moscow.

He has a lot of relatives, and they get into various scrapes. His wife, Rhoda (Polly Bergen), is dumb and shallow but has kept her figure, so that’s going to go badly. His daughter, Madeline (Lisa Eilbacher), is very young and goes into radio; she’s not interesting until later. His elder son, Warren (Ben Murphy), is a naval aviator in Hawai’i; his younger, Byron (Jan-Michael Vincent), is a Columbia grad and naval reservist who finds himself in Siena doing research for a famous author because he can’t settle to anything else.

This introduces the second thread, Aaron Jastrow (John Houseman) and his niece Natalie (Ali MacGraw). Dr. Jastrow is a Jewish author, which will allow the series to follow in detail the declining status of Jews in Europe, because he is stubborn and flighty, which means he refuses to leave when it is simple and then lacks the paperwork and wherewithal when it becomes difficult. Natalie is…an asshole. I had forgotten. She spends all her time keeping men on a leash and then being unpleasant when they venture to be concerned for her welfare. With a better actress in the rôle, it is broadly possible that Natalie would be captivating and impulsive, but…she’s just awful. Also, people keep looking at her askance because she’s so very Jewish-looking, and that is just insultingly silly.

Through Natalie we meet her distant cousin Berel Jastrow (Topol!), a Polish Jew who documents the early activities of the SS Einsatzgruppen. No one believes him, except Leslie Slote (David Dukes), who is a minor functionary in the US State Department and also manages to be in interesting dangerous places at interesting dangerous times. He’s very in love with Natalie and she treats him like dirt. I like Leslie, possibly the best of everyone, because all he ever does is try his best for people and get no credit. Leslie knows Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), a young Englishwoman with a journalist father and an airman fiancé who globetrots around after her dad and incontinently falls in love with Pug. We come full circle!

Apparently no expense was spared in this production, and it was filmed on approximately nine thousand locations. This is a plus, but it doesn’t fix the problem: this was made in the early 80s, when subtlety was unknown and costumes only made a bare minimum of effort. In general, women’s dresses and hats are more or less in the style of the 40s, but in hideous fabrics, and no attempt for verisimilitude is made with respect to hairstyles. Men’s clothes, fortunately, escape disaster by retreating to uniform. The large cast, as usual, results in a quality of acting most generously described as uneven. This is not helped by Wouk’s limited talents as a screenwriter, which pale in comparison to his skills as a novelist.

At about twelve hours, it doesn’t save all that much time over reading the book, and is worse. But it is to be admired for its ambitions and its care.

Stray observations:

  • There is something inescapably 70s about Ali MacGraw, and she doesn’t even try to escape here. Also I think she might be a terrible actress. She’s definitely a terrible Natalie Jastrow.
  • The most affecting moment is FDR’s walk across the gangway to the Prince of Wales to accept Churchill’s invitation to church. Ralph Bellamy is generally excellent in the part.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: PGish
Length: 720 minutes
Score: 3/5

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

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

This came out in between A Few Good Men and Interview with the Vampire, and that feels about right. And apparently there was a time when you could cast David Strathairn as Tom Cruise’s black sheep of a brother. The early nineties were weird.

Mitch McDeere (Cruise) works his way through Harvard Law by waiting tables. He is married to Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who is from a well-off family and gave up everything to be with him. This comes up a lot but never pays off. Every law firm wants to hire him, but despite Abby’s Stepford heebiejeebies, he takes a job at a small family outfit in Memphis. They assign him Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) as his mentor.

MV5BMTgxMjM5NDYwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkzMzk5MDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Abby’s reservations do not go away, and then people start dying in the Caymans, which, in the nineties, was probably the most suspicious place for inconvenient people to die. To stir the pot unnecessarily arrives an FBI agent in the person of a bald Ed Harris. He wants Mitch to help the FBI take down the eponymous Firm, which launders money for the Chicago mob. But this interferes with Mitch’s honest lawyering! Disclosing those documents would violate lawyer-client confidentiality, which sounds less bad than laundering money for a crime family, but I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong.

Meanwhile Mitch’s mom lives in a trailer park and his brother is in prison and he hires Eddie Lomax (Gary Busey) to investigate things. Tammy (Holly Hunter) works for Lomax, because of course she does. And everyone is being hunted by a near-albino man.

Obviously this will proceed in the manner which will allow Tom Cruise to set his jaw the most righteously. And apparently everyone just had Mickey Finns lying around all the time back then, and few qualms about using them. Basically, most of the people in this movie play painfully close to type, which works because most of the plot in this movie is a series of painful clichés. I’d cut it slack for being the Casablanca of overwrought legal dramas, thereby exonerating it from the charge of banality, but it’s not that good even if you correct for that.

Director: Sydney Pollack
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes
Score: 3/5