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Spy

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.38.20 PM

With “Spy,” Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig have made a fine, mostly well-observed movie that is both a spoof of spy flicks and a functioning spy flick itself.  I think it works because it doesn’t just satirize the obvious tropes of spy flicks, but goes after the deeper assumptions and foundations of those kinds of movies, and really, most movies. McCarthy does the best work of her career playing a woman who gets passed over again and again because she’s not one of the beautiful people – like Jude Law, Morena Baccarin, Jason Statham and Rose Byrne, who surround her in the spy business. And the movie business.

McCarthy plays Jude Law’s handler, feeding him vital info from a (rat-infested) basement office so that he can look cool taking out the bad guys she just told him we’re coming. She’s also got a bit of a crush on him, of which is, of course, completely unaware.  But then something goes south, all the good-looking agents are exposed, and it’s up to McCarthy to get out from behind her desk and into the field to save the day.

Of course McCarthy is just as competent, and often more competent, as the rest of them, but when everyone — especially her boss, Allison Janney — looks at her, they see a cat lady, a Mary Kay mom, a grade school teacher or a telemarketer.  I’d like to say there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but the movie makes it clear that being a spy is way cooler.  The movie finds a balance – woozy at times, to be sure — between slapstick physical comedy rooted in McCarthy’s size, and portraying her as actually pretty good at this spy thing. I could have done without some of the fat jokes:  McCarthy on a Vespa is not nearly as funny and McCarthy telling Jason Statham what a jackass he is.  It’s pretty obvious that, just as her character is competent in spycraft, McCarthy is a gifted comedienne; she’s funny, and she’s plus size, she’s not funny because she’s plus size.  The movie sometimes gets that, and sometimes forgets.

Statham is fantastic as a dim-witted agent who excels at the physical side, but can’t tell the difference between a lake and the ocean.  Rose Byrne is great, in a risky performance, as, well, excuse the language, but a complete asshole. She’s funny because she’s not trying to be cute. But the movie belongs to McCarthy, who brings both an energy and intelligence to the role that’s absolutely vital, and an anger and weariness to the way she’s treating that gives her performance dimension — and makes it that much funnier.  I wonder how much of this movie is autobiographical. I wonder how many of this character’s experiences are pulled from McCarthy’s experiences in Hollywood.

There are a few places where the film seems to be trying to make things funnier, and just falls on its face. The primary one is the infestation of — bats or mice or whatever — in the CIA basement.  Not needed, not funny.We also don’t need the gore, or the puke.   Just distracting.  But when it sticks to comedy rooted in character, it succeeds.  It’s easily one of the funniest, warmest, smartest movies of the year.  Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.35.14 PM

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Captain America – Civil War

Of all the individual Marvel titles, “Captain America” was probably my least favorite origin story. “Iron Man” introduced us to the lightness and wit that would come to be a Marvel trademark (DC wishes they could manufacture an iota of it,) as well as a character with a believable arc. “Thor” was plenty of fun because director Kenneth Branagh made it feel like Shakespeare. I even liked Hulk – both of them. But “The First Avenger” just didn’t work for me, and still doesn’t. It’s too hokey, too romantic, too forced in its plot and pacing.

The funny thing is, all the others got worse, but Captain American got better. The bottom of the list of Marvel movies has to be Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, the order doesn’t matter, they all suck and I’ll never re-watch them.  But “The Winter Soldier” was really, pretty good.  And now “Civil War” – which is both a Captain America movie and another team-up – is even better.

Continued…

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Phoenix

It’s difficult to find a new angle on the Holocaust.  Seems like every year there’s a new movie, or three, that features the Holocaust in some way. I think we return to the same well because we are fascinated by the depths of human depravity.  And yet we keep returning to Germany, 1942, as if it’s the only event of its kind, ignoring or forgetting about events like the Sikh holocaust of 1762, the Ukrainian holocaust of 1932, Cambodian genocide, Armenian genocide in 1915, and many others.  Examples of human depravity on a mass scale are, sadly, not hard to find throughout history, and sometimes it feels to me like our cinematic focus on this one particular example dehumanizes and disrespects the memories of those who were slaughtered in the others.

And yet, “Phoenix” does manage to find a fresh angle, a new patch of ground to explore, and perhaps one that is more universal that some of the others.  Set just after the liberation of Germany by the allies, Nina Hoss plays a woman who miraculously survived the concentration camps, despite being shot in the face and left for dead by the Nazis. Reconstructive surgery on her face is successful, but she is upset, because she doesn’t quite look like herself.  She is the same, but different.  You can see the metaphorical value of that.

Nina Kunzendorf is her friend and caretaker, and she believes that hoss was betrayed and handed over to the Nazis by her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld, who looks a lot like Russel Crowe.) Kunzendorf wants to leave for Palestine and start a new life there, but hoss can’t quite believe that her husband would betray, so she starts looking for him.

When she finds him, he doesn’t recognize her.  He thinks his wife is dead, but he does see a woman who resembles his wife – only her voice, her gait, her mannerisms are all different (death camps will do that to you.) With a nod to “Vertigo,” he convinces her to play the role of his wife — with his coaching – so that they can collect her sizable inheritance.

Now, granted, that’s a bit contrived. It suffers from While You Were Sleeping syndrome, where characters can only keep on believing what they believe if nobody ever says the wrong, and often the most obvious, easy thing to say. But man, if you are going to use a hokey contrivance in a movie, this is the way to use it.  It sets up a fascinating exploration of memory and identity, of guilt and complacency.  Perhaps most of all, it makes “Phoenix” an examination of past and present.  You can never go back and make things right; what has happened has happened, and trying to recreate what was is a fool’s errand.

In that way, this film feels a bit more universal than other Holocaust films have.  Art is about telling the truth, and surely every survivor of every trauma – as massive and unimaginable as the Armenian genocide or as small and personal as a sudden and surprising death of a loved one – can identify with what Hoss is feeling and struggling her way through.  The world has shifted on its axis; there is no going back to the way things were. For some, there may be no way forward, either.

 

 

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

While We’re Young

Noah Baumbach somehow managed to make two movies in 2015.  “Mistress America” is a great example of the things I don’t like about Baumbach’s films. It features angular, difficult to like characters riddled with insecurity. Smart, witty dialogue that doesn’t sound like anything I could imagine a real person saying. It feels like a rough draft of “Frances Ha” – the characters Greta Gerwig plays in both are very similar – and “Frances Ha” makes it feel mostly unnecessary.

“While We’re Young,” on the other hand, is my new favorite Noah Baumbach film. It’s broader and funnier than most of Baumbach’s films, and while “broader” is usually a knock against a comedy, here it’s a mark in his favor.  Baumbach’s particular frequency can be awfully narrow and hard to find; I liked that this movie had some easier, more obvious jokes, some bigger laughs and goofier setups.  Not everything– in life, or in film — needs to be difficult to be good.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a 40-something couple of New Yorkers who watch their best friends transform in front of their eyes from hipsters into parents (though still hipster parents.) Feeling stuck in life — he’s been working on the same documentary for years, she’s been trying to be pregnant but feels the time has passed — they befriend, or really, are befriend by — Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfriend, who are younger, more energetic, and somehow seem to be living the Bohemian life that somehow passed Stiller and Watts by (in spite of their earnest pursuit of it.)

This is a movie with multiple layers. On one, it’s a comedy of manners, satirizing the “creative class” of two generations, poking fun and the often ridiculous things they say and do. (For instance, Stiller thinks it’s fantastic and a bit odd that Seyfried and Driver are married at 25 – no one in his generation (and social station) did that.  Seyfried tells him they got married in an abandoned water tower with a mariachi band and a slip n slide.  “Some things are traditions for a reason,” she says with a straight face.) On another level, it’s a critique of millenials by a Gen Xer – Stiller as a stand-in for Baumbach. “It’s like he met a sincere man once and has been imitating him ever since,” Stiller complains of Driver, once the bloom is off the rose.”  (I confess I drank that Kool-Aid being an Xer who works every day with millenials.)  On yet another level, it’s a lot like “Frances Ha,” about aging and realizing all your dreams aren’t going to come true, spinning your wheels for a bit and trying to relive the past, then finding ways to modify those dreams without compromising or giving up on them, ways to continue doing what you love and makes you happy, even if it doesn’t make you rich and famous.

It’s also acutely observed, clever, funny, melancholy, heartfelt, and somehow, finally softer, and more forgiving and compassionate that Baumbach’s previous films. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking, a movie I keep thinking about after watching it, and one that reveals new things with each new viewing.  I’ve seen it twice in the last few months; I’d be excited to watch it again tonight.  That’s the mark of a well-made movie.

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Great Movies Roundtable: Ben-Hur

Courtland and I are going to start a monthly roundtable, discussing the films on AFI’s 100 years… 100 movies list.

Starting #100 and working our way up the list, our first film is “Ben-Hur.”  Made in 1959, directed by William Wyler, “Ben-Hur” is famous for its chariot race (in which no one actually died, regardless of what you read on the internet) and its spectacle. The tale of a Jewish aristocrat who lived the same time as Christ, “Ben-Hur” is about revenge and redemption… but it’s mostly about sandals and swords.   It won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

 

General thoughts/feelings about this film? 

 CRH: I think Ben Hur is a great movie. The movie still thrills me in its action and moves me in its drama and romance. It has a gorgeous cinematography and music.  The sound is utterly incredible. During the chariot race you feel the hooves of the horses thundering all around you as you watch. The score by Miklos Razsa is beautiful and stirring. I was transported to the Bibleland of this story.

Some of the special effects have not aged well. The great naval battle is obviously models. It almost works, but they are still dated. Another downside is that the film has a slow pace which is fine when you are in a theater and immersed in that environment but it makes it harder to watch when my cell phone is right there. Lastly the story is good but not great. It feels a little underdeveloped.

WK: I don’t think Ben-Hur is a classic, or really, all that good. Charlton Heston is barely serviceable as the lead. It doesn’t help that he’s at least 50 pounds heavier and six inches taller than anyone else in the movie.  It’s too long, too melodramatic, and too racist for me (I can’t believe Hugh Griffith won a Best Supporting Actor for his brownface role has Sheikh Ilderim.)

It’s interesting watching films like this – I find myself paying more attention to the work of the crew than the director or actors.  I see the costumes and the set design and just how many extras must have been hired, coached and costumed to get some of these scenes. That’s all work the director has little to do with.  (I also can’t believe Wyler won Best Director for this.  What exactly did he do that was so great?  The best scene – the chariot race – was directed by a second unit director!)

It’s big – it has that going for it. But we’ve gotten better and better at creating spectacles over the years, and this pales in comparison to others. But when it comes to big films that depend on exciting setpieces, I can think of several that I’d rather watch than “Ben-Hur” — films like “Master and Commander,” or “Terminator 2,” or even “Gladiator.” None of those are currently on AFI’s list.

 

Aside from the famous chariot race (too obvious), which is your favorite scene in the movie? 

 CRH: My favorite scene (Besides the Chariot Scene which is a glorious action scene) is where our hero, after being wrongly convicted is thirsting to death on his long march to the slave galleys he is denied water by a cruel soldier. He collapses at the end of his rope and utters a desperate prayer. And a stranger comes and gives him water touching his hand and quenching his thirst. This scene is beautiful, soft and glorious. When I think of compassion I think of this scene. Hope swells for our hero after this incident and life moves on. I was greatly moved watching this again.

WK: That is a good scene, and probably my favorite of the Jesus cameos – and yet it’s still almost spoiled by Jesus’ gloriously shampooed and styled hair.  We never see his face, but surely hair like that will inspire worship!

Divine locks

Divine locks

 

In general, I felt like the depiction of Jesus was pretty heavy-handed – especially in the way it directly affects the story, causing Ben-Hur to give up his hatred and stop seeking revenge against Rome. Really, I could have done without the last half hour of the film – basically everything after the chariot race.  From that point on, the writing takes a serious deep, the pace becomes glacial, and it feels like we are just going through the motions in order to label what is essentially a revenge flick “A Tale of the Christ.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 1.51.05 PMI think my favorite scene is one early in the film between Heston and Israeli actress Haya Harareet.  Wyler directs almost every scene with emotions turned up to 11 – especially after Ben-Hur’s return to Jerusalem in the second half – and it’s pretty exhausting.  But early on, Harareet brings a grace and naturalism to her scenes.  We see her flirting with a man who is clearly beyond her social station, and testing to see if he feels anything for her, or can be seduced into feeling anything for her. Heston matches the tone she brings – there’s a bit of physical action where he takes a ring from her and tries to put it on, first his middle finger, then ring finger, then finally his pinkie finger, that subtly illustrates just how gigantic he is, especially compared to her.

I suspect the scene was written more straightforwardly than she acted it — I guess she was supposed to be madly in love with him from childhood or something — but she brings a playfulness to it that I found enchanting.  Plus it’s gorgeously shot, a night scene against window blinds that provide a striking contrast.

Buying or Selling? In 1998, this film was #72 on the list.  In 2007, it fell to #100 – a drop of 28 spots.  The list will inevitably be revised again in a few years.  Do you think it will rise or fall on (or off) the list? 

CRH: Now on this film’s legacy as a classic, I must say it will remain so. The only thing I can say is that it is the best movie of its type. It’s less corny than “the Ten Commandments” and more competent than the films that came afterward which include “Samson and Delilah” and “Cleopatra.” At the very least it’s a glittering remnant of a Hollywood long past.

 WK: I’m selling. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this fall off the list by the next revision – in fact, I definitely prefer several of the films that have already fallen off the list – like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Manchurian Candidate, Fargo, and Frankenstein. I don’t really see what sets “Ben-Hur” apart from other big spectacles, aside from its budget and awards. It has some nice setpieces, like the famous chariot race.  But that’s not enough, in my mind, to make it a classic.  Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t really imagine needing to see it again.

Up Next Month:  #99: Toy Story

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Classic Movie Series.

Bone Tomahawk

With “Bone Tomahawk,” director S. Craig Zahler has set out to make a traditional Western in a nontraditional way.  First he has to deal with the sexism and racism of his premise – this is a movie about a bunch of cowboys out to rescue a damsel in distress from a band of bloodthirsty savages. He does that by first making the damsel extremely capable and probably smarter than her rescuers, and then by making the bloodthirsty savages something beyond Indians – even the Native people of the area fear and avoid them. It’s not even clear if they’re actually human – in some ways they resemble the aliens in “Predator” more than homo sapiens.  If they are of this world, they’re the brown-skinned equivalent of the hillbillies in “Deliverance.”  All the same, I’m not really sure, given the history of Natives in cinema, that it’s enough to say “not ALL Native tribes eat their captors – just this particularly savage band” – but, well, it’s an attempt.

Patrick Wilson plays a cowboy whose wife (Lilli Simmons) is kidnapped while she’s taking care of a desperado, shot in the leg by the sheriff (Kurt Russell.)  Then they all disappear – kidnapped by a mysterious band of cave dwellers, identified by friendly Native Zahn McClarnon (from “Longmire”) as “troglodytes.” Russell, his deputy, and a gunslinger in a fancy suit (Matthew Fox) go after the troglodytes, with Wilson hobbling along, refusing to be left behind.

Zahler does a solid job of capturing the humor and color of some of the best Westerns, movies like “Unforgiven” and “The Wild Bunch.” I really enjoyed “Bone Tomawhawk” up until a point. Richard Jenkins’ supporting performance as a bumbling back-up deputy is fantastic, and Kurt Russell is just as good as he was in “Tombstone” – in fact, his facial hair makes him even look the same. The dialogue is enjoyably funny and offbeat, and the characters develop a palpable sense of chemistry and camarederie as the movie ambles its way along.  Many of the middle scenes are very good, and it’s not as stiff or stylistic as some of the other indie Westerns I’ve seen recently, like “Slow West” or “Dead Man’s Burden.” I’ll be curious to see what Zahler does next; hopefully, it won’t have some of the issues that crop up in this movie.

Because when it approaches its climactic battle, “Bone Tomahawk” suddenly turns into a horribly violent and grisly film, well beyond what I’d expect from a western and into the realm of exploitation films. There are definitely things on the screen I didn’t need to see. Add that to the fact that I’m not really convinced that this movie goes far enough to avoid the “bloodthirsty Indians” stereotype of so many westerns, and I have to recommend that, in spite of its many admirable qualities, “Bone Tomahawk” be a movie you avoid.

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Charlie’s Country

David Gulpilil has been around Hollywood movies for a long time.  He’s the actor most often called when productions need an Australian aborigine (really, it’s kind of depressing how often on his IMDB page he’s just credited as “Aborigine”), and you’ve probably seen him in movies like “Crocodile Dundee,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “Australia,” or “Walkabout.”  He has one of those faces you’ll recognize, even if you don’t recognize his name. It’s easy to see why he keeps getting cast; he has a laconic humor about him, a way in front of the camera that is both mysterious, sad, world-wise and slyly funny. But I doubt he’s ever been in a movie like “Charlie’s Country.”

This film moves Gulpilil from the sidekick/local color role into the leading role, and focuses on what it’s like to be indigenous in Australia today. Gilpilil co-wrote the script – he would throw out suggestions and director Rolf de Heer would shape them into a cinematic narrative —  so you can trust that the film hews close to Gulpilil’s lived experience. It’s an episodic, leisurely paced film with plenty of laughs, but also a strong dose of heartbreak.

There are plenty of movies about active, hateful racism, but this one is about passive, complacent, systemic racism, of the kind where those in power probably aren’t aware the degree to which they’re making it hard for those without power to succeed and survive. The irony of the title is that Charlie is the only one who seems to remember that this is his country.  “You didn’t find me in the bush,” he tells a whitefella.  “I was born there.”  And most of the time, when he gets in trouble, it’s for doing something his ancestors have done since time began – like making spears or hunting water buffalo.

A lot of “Charlie’s Country” is depressing, as Charlie first attempts to return to the bush, only to realize he doesn’t have the skills of his ancestors, then falls in with a group of aboriginals who spend their time getting drunk and high, and eventually ends up in prison for a short time.  But there’s a ragged optimism to the film as well, as if it’s reminding us that, though things get tough, indigenous people are tough and don’t give in easily.  Charlie has weathered plenty from the whitefellas, and he’s not going anywhere. They may run things, but it’s still Charlie’s country.

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Zootopia

Judy Hopp is a bunny who wants to be a cop in Zootopia, a world where bunnies are farmers, not cops.  It’s also a world where foxes used to eat bunnies, but not anymore… now they all get along. At least in theory.  In reality, foxes are just as boxed in as bunnies — according to everyone, they are tricksy and dishonest, and you should never trust them.  Are foxes criminals because they’re good at it, or because it’s the only economic opportunity available to them?  Nobody in Zootopia is really asking that question, but the movie itself is asking it with force.

Some people have gone on record saying that this is a Disney movie about race in America.  I find that problematic.  There are some clear parallels, but other places it just as clearly breaks down – or delivers the wrong message if interpreted through that lens.  Instead it makes more sense as a movie about prejudice in general, and the dynamics of Zootopia draw on multiple biases. When Judy wants to be a cop but nobody believes she can be any good, she is a woman in a man’s world.  But when the predators are stereotyped and feared because of the actions of a few predators, they are black men — or maybe Muslims. I think this is a strength of the film: it speaks to contemporary issues, while transcending them.  It’s about race in America, or religion in the Middle East, or sexism anywhere.  It’s about any time — and there are myriad examples — someone in power uses fear and prejudice to multiply or amplify that power.  Unity sounds nice (and everyone says they want it,) but fear is high-octane political fuel.  It also captures aptly how racism (or pick your prejudice) can feel like something “those people over there” need to stop doing, until you suddenly find things coming out of your own mouth that are hurtful to people you care about deeply.

Like most premises, this one is pretty simple, and “Zootopia” would be a pretty simple movie if it weren’t for writers working overtime to load it with insights and subtext, parallels to real life (“A bunny can call another bunny cute, but when another animal does it…”) and most of all, humor.  As a result, “Zootopia” really jumps, and I look forward to seeing it again, because I’m sure there were clever little asides and visual bits and dynamics that I missed.  In that way, it resembles, “Inside Out” which still reveals new things on subsequent viewings, and “Wreck-It Ralph,” which was loaded with nostalgia.

It doesn’t always work.  I personally hated the trailer, and the scene in the film that became the trailer, because it’s a one-joke gag that goes on and on… and on.  And the plot becomes a little convenient towards the end — unless someone can explain to me why carrot farmers also grow poisonous berries that make people go crazy right alongside the carrots.  But it’s without a doubt a notch above most animated fare, and I look forward to seeing it again.

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Batman vs. Superman, AKA Critics vs. Audiences

So much e-ink has been spilled about Batman v. Superman, I don’t have much that I can add at this point.  I have found it interesting  how much heat the divide between critics’ response to the movie and audience response to it has been.  It currently has a “44” on metacritic.com, which honestly, is higher than I think it deserves.  At the same time, its opening weekend was the fourth-largest of all time, meaning a lot of people are shelling out their hard-earned cash to go see it.  (Interesting side note: it fell off sharply after its opening weekend, and is still in danger of not make its (ridiculous) $800 million budget back.)

This has raised questions about whether critics are relevant, if anyone pays attention to them, and if “real people” are just looking for different things than movie critics are. I think the answer is “yes” to all three of those questions.  Let me address them in reverse order.

Are “normal people” looking for something different than critics when they watch movies? I think yes. Critics make their living writing about movies.  I don’t consider myself a critic, just a movie lover who likes to write.  I occasionally get paid to write about movies, but I don’t think even a widow in Africa could live on the money I make from movies each year.

I would guess that most paid critics watch more movies in a week than most people watch in a month, and more than some watch in a year. I think what when most people go to the movie theater, they are looking for an entertaining escape from reality, a diversion, an entertainment that distracts them from quotidian worries about rent and kids and bosses and co-workers. If a movie isn’t actively, aggressively stupid, annoying or offensive, it’s probably going to do the trick, and most audiences will feel like they got what they were looking for.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Critics watch movies differently.  Movies are their job. Knowing that you’re going to be required to write 1,000 words about a movie in order to pay your rent and put food on the table automatically changes the way you watch a movie. In addition, watching movie after movie after movie ends up being kind of boring, even if you’re a hardcore devoted cinephile.  You start to gravitate towards the ones that are unique, that do something differently, that stand out from the pile.  I see this especially reading reports from festivals, where a critic will watch 20-30 movies in a weekend.  They praise the ones that are different, even if different doesn’t mean good.

As an avid movie lover, I’m somewhere in between. I watch movies every chance I get, but I very rarely watch them back to back. Movies still serve as an escape and release from the stress and frustration of everyday life for me, but I see enough to see patterns and even feel bored by movies that play it safe from beginning to end. I watch movies differently than my wife does, but not quite the same as the critics I read.

So if critics watch movies differently from “normal” people, what good are they? 

So here’s the thing about a movie like Batman vs. Superman: I went to see it knowing that it was probably going to be bad. I don’t like Zack Snyder’s movies.  The trailers looked bad.  But I went to see it anyway, because, hey, it’s Batman and Superman. It’s an event.  This isn’t Fantastic Four, after all.  We say audiences loved this movie because it had a big opening weekend, but I imagine there are a lot of people like me.  What’s more telling, I think, is the steep dropoff between week 1 and week 2.  Nobody who saw it on the night it opened went back to see it again. Nobody told their non-comic book fan friends, “you should see it. It’s really good.”  We saw it, and moved on.

But let’s look at another movie that opened just a week later: “Midnight Special,” Jeff Nichols’ supernatural thriller. Haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised. It opened on just 5 screens, making $190,000 its first weekend.  Who went and saw it?  Critics, and cinephiles (like me) who know who Jeff Nichols is, and have been excited about this film for months.  It got positive reviews, it generated buzz, and its 3rd week, it showed on 58 screens, and made $550,000.  Last week, it jumped to almost 500 screens, and made $1.1 million.  That’s because of critics. I think it’s fair to say that if this movie had been panned by critics, it would never have made it past 58 screens.

The point being that critics are most relevant and helpful to the rest of us because they see so many more movies than the average movie-goer, which is exactly the same reason why they watch movies differently.  It’s two sides of the same coin.

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to be able to share movies that I love with people who many never hear of them otherwise. I’d much rather write a review of “It Follows” or “Ex Machina”  and help somebody discover something they might love than add to the cacophany of voices talking about Batman vs. Superman.

But – since you asked.  Yeah, I thought it was bad.  I thought it was visually a mess. I thought somebody needed to reign Jesse Eisenberg in before he started literally chewing the scenery.  I thought it was both overwritten and underwritten – the courtroom scene and the Middle East rescue serve the same purpose, as far as I could tell.  I don’t know why Batman hates Superman, and I don’t know why Superman can’t just use his super hearing and X-ray vision to rescue his kidnapped mother.  I don’t know why his mother’s name matters so much.  I don’t have anything new to say; all my problems with the movie are the same as everyone else’s.  It’s a mess of a movie, but it was kind of fun to watch, in the same way watching a building be demolished is kind of fun to watch.  So let me leave you with this:

I mean, that’s pretty entertaining, right?

 

 

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

About halfway through “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a quiet and touching moment.  Afghan translator and general compation Fahim (played by white guy Chris Abbott, who may have the saddest eyes in the world,) sits down with journalist Kim Baker (Tina Fey.)  He talks to her, in his gentle and indirect way, about addiction.  About how the rush gets more and more elusive, and the addict must do more and more dangerous things to attain that feeling. It’s a one man intervention, and it’s a really fine scene. Fey blows him off, hard.

It was at that moment that I thought I understood what “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” wanted to be about.  Fey plays a mild-mannered journalist who decides to break out of her boring, routine life by going on assignment in Afghanistan. At first, everything is new, exciting, and confusing, and Fey gets some solid comedic mileage out of playing the fish out of water. But the newness and novelty wears off pretty quickly, and is replaced by an environment where nothing normal is normal. By this point in the film, Fey has covered a few stories, been on CNN (or whatever 24 hour newscycle channel she works for,) and is seeking the rush of seeing herself on television again.  But in order to for that to happen, she has to corral more and more dangerous stories.

She has to go after the dangerous stories because her viewers — that would be you and me, dear reader — have grown fatigued of the war in Afghanistan, and aren’t tuning in any more to watch stories about bombed wells and hospitals. It felt like an apt metaphor – this woman was going to nearly kill herself in desperate attempts to get us to care about this war we’ve all but stopped caring about.  Her motivation may not be that pure and true — really, she just wants to get back on TV — but that’s what it boils down to in the end.  It felt convicting and powerful.

And then… the movie drifts away from this point.  It decides it wants to be about a bunch of other things as well, like the way women are treated in strict Muslim countries, and the way women journalists are treated in a male-dominated corner of the profession.  Or about how journalists can easily move beyond observers and become players in wartime decision-making.  Or about how the whole profession is cutthroat, and the guy you’re sleeping with one day will steal the story you’ve been working on for months the next.

And that’s the real problem with “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” – it wants to be about too many things all at once, and ends up with such a diffuse focus that it doesn’t feel like it’s really about anything in particular.  And then, at the end, Tina Fey just decides she’s had enough, packs her bags, and heads back to the states, where she covers a Washington beat – meaning she’s covering much more trivial stories, but gets on TV much more often.  What are we supposed to take away from that?

Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.